3 Steps to Cultivate Profitable Partnerships

Latest posts by Kenneth Burke (see all)

A good partnership will elevate both brands, empower you to serve customers better and bring in more money for everyone. That’s why we do this. But finding a good partner isn’t so easy, and turning that relationship into revenue takes more than a handshake and a press release.

So what do you do? Follow these three steps to cultivate profitable partnerships, and you’ll be at least 95% of the way there.


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What type of partnerships are we talking about?

We—and most software companies—have three types of partnerships.

Tech partnerships are with other software companies and involve an integration between the two technologies. MSP partnerships’ are with managed service providers (think marketing agencies and IT firms), where they sell your service to their clients and manage it for them. Affiliate partnerships involve individual experts or influencers referring your service to their audience.

Affiliate partnerships can be mostly automated through a platform like PartnerStack. The rest of this article is about creating great tech partnerships, but you can also apply it to MSPs.

Make sure you can come through for partners.

True partnerships are not pure sales. They’re two-way relationships where you have to add as much value to the partner as they bring to you. Too many startups want to partner up with bigger names because it’s good for them, but they can’t actually offer value to the partner.

If you can’t yet, that’s OK. You aren’t ready for partnerships. But if you are ready, then these three steps will help you create great tech partnerships.

Step 1: Pick the right partner.

Not everyone will be a great partner for you, even if they’re a great product or a beloved brand. They need to meet three criteria before you really consider them:

  • Shared audience: You serve the same customers.
  • Complementary offerings: Customers need both of you, there’s no competition between services.
  • Commitment to co-marketing: You’ll both promote each other and the partnership.

To make sure it’s worth everyone’s time, you need to research each potential partner for these criteria before starting a partnership conversation. Bonus points if you already have customers asking for your two companies to work together.

Step 2: Run a full go-to-market strategy.

The best results come from treating a new partnership like a new feature, and running a full go-to-market (GTM) campaign. That includes launch, ongoing co-marketing and sales enablement. Each of these are critical to making the partnership profitable.

Launch

Tell the world! Otherwise, how will they know? Tell existing customers, tell your general audience, provide resources for them to dive deeper, and prompt them to take advantage of the partnership (ask you for more info, purchase, etc.). A typical GTM launch includes:

  • Internal training and communications that this is happening.
  • A joint press release, and earned media coverage where relevant.
  • An announcement to customers (email, text, in-app notification).
  • An announcement to non-customers (social media, email).
  • Website coverage (banner notification, landing page).
  • In-app coverage (notification, landing page as relevant).
  • User documentation, showing how to use.
  • Any materials your team or your partner’s team will need to promote and sell this.
  • You may also consider sponsoring content in a key association or newsletter.

Essentially, create professional materials to announce the partnership and why it’s helpful to customers. Get that update everywhere your customers (or potential customers) will see it.

Co-marketing

How is this different from launch? It’s a lot of the same stuff, but it’s what happens after Day 1. It includes:

  • Internal links on your site to the partner/integration landing page.
  • Joint events (webinars, local meetups, cosponsored happy hours at conferences).
  • Continual inclusion in your marketing materials (social media, email, blogs, etc.).

Sales enablement

As much as I love marketing, you need sales for these partnerships to work. Invest in training your sales team how to sell the partner’s services to your own customers. Invest in training your partner’s sales team on how they can sell your services to their customers. Webinars or lunch-and-learns are good for this. Then have a one-pager (“battlecard”) created for the partner’s team that covers the why, how, and cost of your service—like a cheat sheet for selling your service.

Other things that help mobilize sales are referral discounts for customers to sign up for the other’s service, and internal competitions for who can sell the most, complete with a prize at the end.

Do not give up on your partnership early because you don’t see immediate results.

Step 3: Measure and improve—or cut it.

Even the best partnerships take time to pay off, especially in software. It might not feel like it to you, but your customers are having to learn something new and go through the buying process all over again. That can take months. In fact, the typical time line we see for a new partnership to gain significant traction is about six months.

Do not give up on your partnership early because you don’t see immediate results.

The typical partnership contract is for one year anyway. Commit to promoting this partnership for that full year. The best partners will do the same. But be responsible. Measure new leads (referrals), meetings booked, new sales or sign-ups, and total customers actively using the integration or partnership.

If you see progress that’s worth continuing, keep it going. If you give it a year and nothing happens, you may need to let this one go.

A few good partners are better than a thousand duds

Focusing on a few good partners makes it easier to manage, easier to promote to customers, and easier for all of you to grow your brands and revenue together. But it’s tough to know who will be a profitable long-term partner at the outset, even if they meet the three criteria above.

Make your best bets, commit to being a great partner yourself, and keep running this playbook until you have those great partnerships helping you grow your brand and creating new pipeline opportunities.


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