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With various marketing strategies, a multitude of apps and platforms to use for promotion, and a range of tools on offer, marketing and sales teams have never been so well-equipped.
Yet working with other businesses and individuals has become increasingly common, with widely used options including influencer marketing, affiliate schemes, and partner programs. These make business marketing more effective, with professional entities using their expertise and platforms to promote products like yours.
To use multiple programs together, however, you need to scale these and build a partner ecosystem into your business model.
Identifying what initiatives to run and how to facilitate a partner program can be challenging. Luckily, this guide will take you through everything you need to know to scale your partner program and set you up to develop beneficial eCommerce partnerships that deliver quality results.
What is a partner program?
Before we go any further, what exactly is a partner program? This is a network used by your company to promote products and services through external businesses or individuals. The idea is to aid marketing lead generation and target consumers with interests related to your products or services, without this requiring additional research or initiatives from your team.
A partner program seeks out existing promotional channels to use with your products. Partner programs are used for many reasons. Startups, for example, might be looking to save on costs or the time required for metrics analysis, while more established businesses may be hoping to use the high-level functionality of a partner’s promotional channels.
To access these benefits, businesses switch from working alone on their marketing strategy to adopting a partnered approach. In recent years, this has seen many companies either create affiliate programs or scale these by moving existing partner programs to a SaaS platform.
There are three main partner program templates to choose from. These reflect how external companies interact with your business. They can be used simultaneously, in combination, or individually to create uniquely integrated eCommerce marketing strategies, with the aim of reaching specific customer bases, discovering new verticals to sell your products within, and so on.
Let’s take a look at each of them below.
Affiliate partnerships use a commission-based partnership model. They may pay an upfront fee or base pricing on how many direct sales are won or customers referred by an individual or business through their affiliate scheme.
Affiliate partnerships are reliant on incentives to work, paying partners for winning them more leads and/or closing deals. By commissioning individuals or businesses to promote their products and services, affiliate partnerships often allow companies to reach new verticals and boost lead generation with no work needed from sales teams.
Affiliate partnerships can be used with your existing customers, encouraging them to advocate for your brand and rewarding them for direct sales if their friends purchase from your business.
This style of partner program can also be used when collaborating with influencers – for example, by providing unique discount codes for their followers to input. These incentives may reward partners for every new customer they attract to your business or for reaching a certain referral milestone.
Businesses that offer channel partner programs tend to have a larger platform or customer base to sell your services and products to. They typically negotiate contracts and pricing before selling on your behalf.
This exposes your products to more consumers than is usually possible for your marketing department, engaging with and acquiring them for lead generation. In turn, this increases product impressions, leading to more channel sales.
These types of partnerships are useful for promoting new or highly popular products, as well as raising brand awareness among a larger crowd of consumers. They’re often exclusive to an industry, meaning the customers being marketed to have a common interest that relates to your business or products.
As a rule, channel partner programs are on a much larger scale than affiliate partner programs.
Rather than just promoting your products and services, agency partners implement them for their pool of clients for payment, effectively acting as resellers. This guarantees you new users and customers.
In some templates, agency partnerships may also act as intermediaries, introducing your products to new customers and providing support where needed. This relies on the agency to provide CRM, as contact between new customers and your business is minimal.
Agency partner programs are particularly useful for ISVs and SaaS sales, implementing and reselling software for new users. For B2B companies, agency partnerships can help to negotiate with many businesses at once, although this won’t necessarily build brand loyalty alongside lead generation.
Even so, your products are guaranteed to be purchased through reselling with less of a burden on your marketing and sales teams.
Next steps: how to build a partner program
Creating successful partner programs is no easy feat, requiring planning and a clear vision of how you want to use these with your products. The more partners you wish to include, the more complex partner management becomes.
However, using our simple process as a template for building your program will make sure you discuss the right information with your new partners, collect important metrics, and generate more product sales.
Build a solid foundation
All successful partner programs require structure. You’ll need to decide your pricing, how much you intend to give your new partners, and in return for what.
For example, with affiliate partner programs that use existing customers to bring new buyers in, you may decide to give free products or store credit as an incentive for closing deals. However, when partnering with other businesses or marketing services, this is unlikely to be a sufficient payout.
The foundations of your partner program will depend on what you spend and the results you’re aiming for. Learning partner marketing terminology can help you describe your vision, build a template, and identify the resources required.
This helps your business to approach others knowing your budget and what contracts you can offer. A larger outlay allows for a wider spread partner marketing reach, although other types of payment may nonetheless facilitate more personal customer acquisition styles.
Create an application
For businesses or individuals wanting to become partners, there needs to be a clear way to sign up or apply. This could be through an online form on your website, an email, or a link on your LinkedIn profile.
The form should have a call to action near the top, making sure users are in the right place and encouraging them to sign up. This is where you should state the commission proposition i.e. how much you intend to pay, how often, and for what.
The rest of your application doesn’t need to be long. Simply collect basic details from potential partners so you can get in touch with them. At a minimum, this should include their name, email, and phone number.
This is a good opportunity to find out what company they represent and get some references to verify who they are. At a later date, you can discuss their previous partnership program experience, so this doesn’t need to be on this initial form.
Review and layout your terms
Terms and conditions are often approached with trepidation, but they’re important to ensure your program is legal and transparent to potential partners. Try to keep them as simple as possible, being clear about exactly what you mean.
Be aware that the more conditions there are, the more hurdles your partners will have to jump, making it harder and less attractive for applicants to join (even if this does assure certain standards within your partnership program).
Your terms should cover – in detail – pricing, what’s considered as a referral, how you measure and track your referral marketing, and what support is available from your business for partners.
These need to be agreed on by applicants, so must be reasonable terms that are easily understandable to new sign-ups. Reviewing these with applicants will help clear up any confusion or misinterpretations, so everyone in the partner program is on the same page.
Prepare your primary resources
Partner programs require basic equipment to function. This must allow your account manager to track referral initiatives and ensure your partners get paid. Similarly, sales resources and/or webinar training programs for onboarding potential partners are essential to successfully market your products and promote lead generation.
Naturally, these need to be available before you launch your partner program. Otherwise, it won’t be long before mistakes crop up and partners feel ill-equipped to make direct sales. Your primary resources should include software tool integrations for data management with partner portal APIs, which show lead generation and payment information.
Aside from functional partner relationship management (PRM) tools and apps, partners also require promotional content, logos, and product information from your sales team to market your goods. These can be shared as a resource library or folder that new partners obtain during onboarding.
Begin with outbound search
When starting your program, you’ll need to seek out new partners until it scales to a certain point. Successful partner programs are built on trust and, initially, the greater risk is to businesses and individuals that are taking on promoting your brand, particularly with startups.
That’s because you’re an unproven entity. Once you have other representatives building your credibility alongside a well-respected brand image, more risk-averse potential partners may be willing to make direct sales too.
Start by asking people you know and have connections with to promote you. Whether these are personal or professional contacts, these should be ideal partners to advocate for the quality of your brand, and will already trust your program.
From these initial partners, get recommendations of potential partner businesses or individuals who might want to join. Using LinkedIn to find partners and resellers can also expand your partnerships to those less familiar with your business.
How to scale a partner program
Once you have a successful partner program and your startup is thriving, it’s time to scale it up. As your business model grows and more products sell to customers, you’ll want to increase brand awareness.
Scaling your partner program will generate new leads and allow you to reach different customer bases or verticals. However, your program structure and software API will need to facilitate adjustments to your partner portal and partner relationships to maintain a high-quality program.
Have mutual goals
Communication with partners is crucial to ensure you’re effectively co-marketing and aiming for the same goals. If you’re hoping for increased lead generation but your partner is focusing on reselling and direct sales, you’re not going to both see the results you want.
Discussing goals and how you intend to measure them helps with partner management and allows you to support one another, using the same language and indicators to assess progress.
Make your goals specific and realistic, knowing which KPIs and metrics will measure them and determine your success. This includes stating the exact numbers of customers, subscribers, or sales you’re aiming for. Statistics analysis can be used to track your progress.
Likewise, set timeframes for your campaigns with key checkpoints for you and your partners to review performance. At these points, adjust your goals to be more attainable or more challenging.
Establish a reporting system
As your partner program grows, your reporting system and partner portal API need to maintain functionality with an increasing number of leads and conversions, correctly attributing them to the right partners.
As this affects the commission paid to your partners, your system must identify affiliate referrals according to your definitions. The more partners in your program, the more complex it becomes for your account manager to manage leads and/or direct sales coming from each partner.
Using tools or apps to track URLs and links can separate which customers approach your business through partnership marketing and which are organically gained through your sales team.
Additional parameter functions on your trackers can recognize the different partner initiatives your customers are being referred through. These tools can also be used by an account manager to generate URLs or links for new partners joining your program.
Participate in guest blogging
Partners will often have expertise and areas of insight that may be of interest to your business and its customers. Setting up guest blogging on your website allows customers to access knowledge pooled from across your partner program. This builds trust between your customers and partners, as well as creating content covering relevant topics to use as part of your co-marketing strategies.
On the other hand, writing your own guest blogs for partner websites will boost your business SEO, helping expand your online exposure. Done well, this improves your placement in search engine results and leads web traffic toward your eCommerce site.
It’s also a chance to show off your knowledge and prove your business knows what it’s talking about. This builds brand credibility, promotes lead generation, and encourages potential partners to join the program.
Create co-branded content
Use of your partner program doesn’t have to be restricted to marketing your products; it can extend to collaborating on content ideas and organizing events together.
Creating mutually designed resources for your customers can attract greater interest for both businesses through co-marketing. In addition, hosting events together reduces your workload and costs while appealing to a larger pool of potential attendees and reinforcing your partnership.
Co-branded content often features in influencer partner programs and can include anything from webinars to live streams, social media content, ebooks, and leaflets. Depending on your respective customer bases and verticals, different styles and formats of content will gain greater attention or lead to more engagement.
This should still cover relevant and useful information linking to your business knowledge and brand values, no matter who you write it with or how well known they are.
Set partnership tiers
Especially when managing several types of partnerships with businesses in your program, a tiered approach can differentiate between their various functions and the methods used. This combines multiple program setups into one partner ecosystem, grouping them by partner initiatives.
Migrating your affiliate program to a SaaS company can make PRM easier when introducing tiers, allowing you to group partners by commission terms, reach, and partner marketing strategy.
The number of tiers your business model includes should be based on the businesses and individuals within the partner ecosystem. Affiliate or referral tiers can be used for customer advocacy programs, while co-marketing and co-selling partnership tiers suit partner business relationships.
Each tier should have its contracts, aims, and incentives or payouts. Partnership tiers help with PRM, avoiding confusion when running multiple programs.
Scale your partner programs with Affise
With the abilities and tools to build successful partner programs, Affise recognizes the importance of strategic partnerships for revenue and long-term business success.
Affise is a SaaS company that creates platforms and solutions to improve partner programs and manage partner ecosystems. Their case studies show how all businesses, from startups to successful enterprises, can launch effective company partnerships using their extensive software to track and measure partner referrals.
Affise offers analytics and CPAPI options to easily collect and share data metrics with your partners and account manager. With automation and AI, your partner program is protected from fraud and constantly monitors your traffic, checking and performing bulk actions.
Tracking and attribution functionality correctly credit your partners for their referrals and affiliate marketing too. Partner program rules can also be quickly personalized to best serve your affiliate network.
Scaling a partner program is a great way to collaborate with businesses and individuals to better market your products and services to new customers.
There are many ways of going about it, depending on your available budget, existing partners and contacts, and intentions for the program.
Channel partner programs can be used simultaneously with affiliate or agency partner programs, often within a tiered framework that allows you to expand your program even further.
With Affise, launch your partner program today and give your business the exposure it deserves. Utilize the PRM functions it offers to make tracking and managing your partner ecosystem simple. You’ll benefit from both its expertise and the existing pool of ideal partners, who are all ready to promote your products to new audiences and verticals.
With solutions and pricing to suit all business models, make a successful partner program your next marketing strategy.
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Affise is a partner marketing platform for brands, advertisers and agencies to scale via all possible performance marketing channels. Synergy of technology and our long standing experience lets you expand your partnerships, automate every step of the campaign lifecycle and make data-driven decisions.