Partner program paralysis. Yes, we made it up.
You could do a trillion things to elevate your partner program, but it’s tough to know where to start when you’ve got partners to onboard, co-marketing campaigns to create, and co-selling to make happen. Your to-do list is long, and it can feel unproductive to take a step back and set the foundation for Ecosystem Ops.
Where should you start? With revenue. More specifically with partner-sourced revenue, the holy grail of KPIs and the one that can help you best prove your value and get more resources, both for you and your team.
To help you advance your partner program and get credit where credit’s due, we compiled eight tips and tactics you can adopt right now to level up your partner program, drive partner-sourced revenue earlier, and become an indispensable partnership leader. But first, an explainer:
What is Partner-Sourced Revenue?
Partner-sourced revenue is direct revenue from a partner. For example: your partner thinks their customer would benefit from your product. They make a warm intro for your sales team into the account. This is a net new lead, or ecosystem qualified lead, for your sales team. In this scenario, your partner is responsible for sourcing the deal if it closes.
Partner-influenced revenue is indirect revenue from one or any number of partners. If Partner A provided your sales team with critical information about a prospect account (like how to engage the stakeholder with the most buying power), and Partner B put in a good word for your team, which led to a demo, the revenue that results if the deal closes is partner-influenced.
Partner-influenced revenue is often easier to get from partners since it requires less of an investment. Your partner can simply influence one phase of the sales cycle to get credit for influencing the deal.
Yet when partnership leaders are able to use the proper Ecosystem Ops to focus on partner-sourced revenue, the results are inspiring. For example:
We hope you find the following tips helpful in surfacing the business impact of your partnerships and driving more revenue earlier in your partner program’s lifespan.
Let’s get started:
Tip #1: Establish Partner Attribution Methods Early On
Don’t wait to build your partner attribution tracking model into your CRM. When we launched our tech ecosystem in June 2021, we implemented four tactics to set our partner attribution up for success. We:
- Created a new record type in Salesforce for “partner accounts”.
- Created a custom object in Salesforce called a “Partner Relationship Object” (PRO), which provided a link between the partner accounts and the sales opportunities managed by our AEs.
- Set up tracking for every API call made using Segment to monitor which integrations are being used, when, and by whom.
- Discussed plans for tracking the influence specific integrations have on retention as our partner program matures.
Establish partner attribution methods early on to help affirm the value of partnerships earlier in your partner program’s maturity and avoid common attribution challenges.
In addition to building tracking into your CRM, train your sales team to ask prospects how they heard about your product and to tag relevant partners in your CRM. You can also set up notifications from tools like Chorus and Gong to track mentions of partners on sales calls.
Tip #2: Encourage Your Partners to Co-Sell by Assigning Them to Partner Tiers
Partner tiers hold your partners accountable. Roll out partner tiers to make it crystal clear what’s expected of each of your partners, and what each partner will get for doing what’s expected of them (and for going above and beyond). Use your tiers to incentivize your partners to graduate from one tier to the next by providing more ecosystem qualified leads (EQLs), closing more deals, and so on.
“Our tiers are primarily partner-facing for that reason. They give us trackable milestones and standards for what partners are and aren’t eligible for at different tiers, giving them something to work towards,” says Hanna Daboul, Partner Manager at Bullhorn.
Reward the partners who contribute a high percentage of partner-sourced revenue by giving them the opportunity to participate in more collaborative partner motions that require more of your team’s time.
“For us, we’ve found at Zapier, our SaaS partners want exposure more than anything else, and so we’ve built that and baked that into our program at certain tiers. They get a very valuable reward when they’ve done what we’ve asked of them,” says Cody Jones, Head of Partnerships and Alliances at Zapier.
Tip #3: Look to Your OKRs as Future-Goals
Early on in a tech partnership program, you’re likely going to be measured on the number of new partnerships or integrations.
Early on in a channel partner program, you’re likely measured on partner-sourced revenue — but it can be difficult to invest in your channel partners’ success to drive more revenue at scale.
In either case, you should implement objectives and key results (OKRs) that encourage you to grow that partner-sourced revenue number — whether it already exists or not!
“Sourced revenue is the goal that we’re working towards. Depending on which goal you set for yourself, that’s going to influence the actions you take,” says Nouras Haddad, Vice President of Alliances at Firebolt. “We are working back from, ‘Okay, for us to drive 20% net new revenue a year from now, what do we need to achieve?’ That’s our North Star.”
John Smit, Channel Sales Manager at Introhive, says, “Even if you don’t get deals in for the first three to six months, you have to have those targets you’re working towards. It may be that you set a target up and then you realize that target is high. It’s a way of tracking against those targets and understanding, ‘Where do we sit?’ ‘Where do we want to be?’ You can start to look at ‘number of partners’ and how much revenue you’re getting through those partners.”
Without a goal in mind, it’s easy to keep your partner-sourced revenue at a minimum. By implementing a far-reaching OKR, you might be surprised at how quickly you’ll see revenue growth.
However, there isn’t widespread agreement on prioritizing partner-sourced revenue from the start, especially for tech partnerships.
Asher Mathew, VP of Data Cloud at Demandbase, says, “The partnerships leader should always be on management by objectives (MBOs). One of those MBOs can be partner-sourced revenue. If there is some serious revenue potential from partnerships, then that role actually becomes a channel role because it’s a sales channel. At that point in time, the partnerships team should provide overall program support, but have the channel team roll up to the sales leader — Only if a sales leader also understands and cares about the channel team.”
He adds, “If you’re building a tech ecosystem only, you’re paying for the partnerships leader out of research and development (R&D), and giving them a partner-sourced revenue number is going to incentivize the wrong behavior.”
Oftentimes for tech partnerships, the partner-sourced revenue comes after identifying prospects who are a good fit for integration adoption and thus getting a warm intro from your partner. You can’t measure the resulting revenue until your integrations have proven their value through retention and renewals first.
Tip #4: Stop Focusing on the Partners Who Aren’t Delivering
Before you know it, your sales team could be spending all of its time on the wrong partners and not enough time on the most promising partners. A problem like this could swallow your program whole — resulting in a loss of trust from your sales team and leadership team. Without co-selling evangelists shepherding deals to close, partner-sourced revenue is only but a dream.
“You’re always either earning or burning that ‘relationship capital’ through your words, your work, and your follow through,” says Ashley Scorpio on how she got buy-in within 90 days of joining Hawke Media.
Allocadia, for example, noticed that it was getting most of its partner-sourced revenue from system integrator (SI) partners; yet, Allocadia’s sales team was spending most of its time working with tech partners. Isaac Smith, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Allocadia, developed a partner program evaluation exercise, which helped him identify:
- Which co-selling activities his sales team should be spending time on
- Which co-selling activities each of his partners’ teams should be spending time on
- The enablement process to help partners get up to speed for the activities they drive the most success in
“We’ve done more work with our SI partners in the last quarter than we have in the last three years combined that I’ve been at Allocadia,” says Smith. “And the best part, other than revenue, of course, is that we’re seeing these partners able to make a significant impact in the experience and success of our customers.”
John Smit at Introhive, also developed a channel partner evaluation exercise, to identify where his team should be focusing their co-selling efforts. In three months, Smit’s team removed 150 of Introhive’s partners from its database who weren’t a strategic match, weren’t delivering a high volume of EQLs, or weren’t delivering leads that were high quality.
Learning which partners are driving the best results early on will prevent you from missing revenue opportunities later on and avoid wasting your team’s time.
Tip #5: Enable Your Top Partners to Drive More Success (and Enable Other Partners to Level Up)
Your tech partners and your channel partners can bring in more EQLs with the right training and resources to guide them.
In your channel partner’s case, driving revenue is the clear-cut goal. Your partner intros you to a new lead, recommends your product to their client as part of a tech stack overhaul, or closes the deal on your behalf. Regardless of the type of channel partnership you have, don’t expect your partner to perform to their maximum potential right off the bat. In order to be successful, your partner will need to:
- Educate their sales team about your product and joint solution, and enable their sales team to sell your product
- Understand the results they’re expected to achieve now and in the future
- Get relevant materials and resources for educating mutual prospects about your product
- Establish some level of Ecosystem Ops for working with you and your sales team effectively
Invest in your partner enablement program to get your partners up to speed faster. To develop your partner enablement program, first you should conduct a partner enablement discovery phase to identify your priorities, the deliverables you need to produce, and which internal stakeholders need to contribute to the launch of your enablement program.
WP Engine launched the bow-tie funnel for its partner enablement program, which led to a 50% increase in its number of agency partners. WP Engine’s more than 5,000 agency partners have gone from prospective partners to full-on advocates pitching WP Engine to prospects by making their way through the bow-tie funnel.
Matt Irving, Manager of Global Partner Operations at WP Engine, says the “time to first referral” is the main KPI the partner operations team is responsible for. “That’s where a kind of self-perpetuating flywheel happens. A partner gets a win and they’re like, where else can I apply this?”
In your tech partner’s case, your partner will want to drive adoption for your integration throughout the customer lifecycle. A quick way to identify potential new business from partners is to map accounts through a partner ecosystem platform (PEP) like Crossbeam.
For example: identify which of your partners’ customers overlap with your prospect list. The resulting overlaps are accounts your partner can:
- Give you more context about (like who the top stakeholder is)
- Provide an intro to for your sales team
- Drive integration adoption on your behalf
- Support your sales team in closing the deal
You should bake the expectation for your partner to identify its customers overlapping with your prospects on a regular basis. This way, your partner will have a consistent flow of opportunities to provide you or your sales rep with. With Crossbeam, you only need to map accounts once, and you’ll instantly know of any new overlaps that surface. Through our integration with Slack, you can get notifications sent to you, your partner, and your sales team so you’ll never miss an opportunity.
A great way to get more EQLs from your partner? Return the favor by doing the inverse. Identify which of your partners’ prospects overlap with your customer list. Then, offer to make an intro.
For both tech and channel partners, you should build templatized collateral for co-marketing and co-selling early on in your partner program’s maturity. As your program (and team) grows, you can expand on the collateral you have and create ad hoc, customized collateral for more strategic partnerships. You can also create resources in your partner portal or public-facing partner page to help point partners in the right direction — without requiring much of a lift from your team.
For example: Zapier has a partner kit page on its website featuring a checklist of actions its partners should take to be successful.
Tip #6 Identify Partnership Evangelists on Your Sales Team
The more invested your sales team is in your co-selling motions, the better the results will be. Work with your sales leader to identify potential partnership evangelists among your sales team.
Once those evangelists start closing deals with partners, share their successes in Slack, at your All Hands meetings, and in other internal meetings. These stories will provide the rest of your sales team with context for jumping into their own co-selling motions with partners and will encourage them to follow in your evangelists’ footsteps.
Test out some partnerships-focused KPIs and OKRs for your top-performing sales reps, and then expand those goals to the rest of the sales team. Include sales accelerators that reward your sales reps for co-selling with partners even after they’ve met their quota for the quarter, or provide your reps with quota relief for closing deals on behalf of your partners.
(Find more tips for enabling your sales team in the second edition of the Partner Playbook.)
And, if they do really well, it might very well be time for a promotion. By promoting sales reps that champion partnerships, they’ll set a leading example for more junior sales reps to get on board with partnerships.
(Ready to turbo-boost your co-selling efforts? Check out the four levels of tech ecosystem maturity to identify where your partner program falls, and find out how to advance your co-selling workflows.)
Tip #7 Analyze Data Over Time to Identify Trends, and Tie Leading Indicators of Success to Revenue
Identify which partners influence the most deals, which integrations have the most influence on renewals, and which integrations your users provide positive feedback about over and over again.
- Typeform customers using the company’s Zapier integration showed about 40% less churn than those who don’t use the integration. This stat can help Typeform invest more heavily in its Zapier integration and make the case for building additional integrations with Typeform’s partners that would impact retention.
- RollWorks observed that customers using partner integrations renew at a rate 30% higher than those who don’t. This stat can help RollWorks prioritize integration adoption during their customer’s onboarding and throughout the customer lifecycle as well as make the case for additional integrations with RollWorks’s partners.
- And, ahem, Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft, and Amy Hood, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft, attribute the company’s $32 billion in revenue during Q2 of 2019 to partnerships.
For channel partnerships, trends tying back to partner-sourced revenue are a bit more straightforward. Your partner sends you a lead, you track the deal through your CRM and partner relationship manager (PRM) tool. A year later, you tally up the numbers and see that Partner A generated 50 leads, but only 2 of them closed. Meanwhile, Partner B generated 20 leads, and 85% of them closed — for, like, a lot of money.
For tech partnerships, you’ll need to play detective a bit more. You develop X new integrations. A year later, you notice your average annual contract value (ACV) has increased by 30%. Of those contracts, 90% were interested in the integrations you launched and adopted the integrations at onboarding. Your tech partner program (and more specifically those particular integrations your customers have adopted) has a pretty clear tie to your partner-sourced revenue.
“We capture all of the touchpoints with integrations, so we know how many integrations are deployed, how many accounts, how many API calls,” says Zubery. “We re-slice and dice the data. We’ve done that over the years at Clicktale and now Contentsquare. I can tell you how many integrations and what type of integrations lead to a higher gross retention and increase in upsell opportunities.”
One way to analyze the business impact of partnerships is by bringing your partner data into your data warehouse. There, you can get insights about attribution, engagement, revenue, and other metrics.
Asher Mathew at Demandbase says, “You should hire a partnerships leader once there are a few partnerships in the monetization phase already.” He adds, “Once you do bring a partnerships leader on, you then have to give them time to build that machine. If the partnerships leader is chasing short-term targets, they’re not building the machine. When the machine is not built, they’re going to be a short-term thinker, and all of their peers are going to be long-term thinkers.”
Tip #8 Establish Frameworks for Identifying the Most Promising Co-Selling Opportunities With Partners
Level up your co-selling motions by focusing on only the best opportunities with each partner. If you’re asking your sales team to co-sell with partners on opportunities those partners aren’t a great match for, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and will lead to a deteriorating partnership.
For example: Perhaps you have an overlapping opportunity with your partner Hextall & Co. but that partner doesn’t have as strong of a relationship with the opportunity as your other partner KSaaS. If your team syncs up with Hextall & Co. to co-sell, it’s kind of like going up to bat with a blindfold on. Your sales team and partner can take a swing, but the deal’s likelihood of closing is much less than if you had teamed up with KSaaS. Do this again and again, and that’s a lot of missed revenue (and frustrated sales teams).
Below, you’ll find two frameworks that can help you ensure you’re working on the best co-selling opportunities with each partner at any given time:
- Use Freshworks’s 3-step framework to identify opportunities most likely to be interested in your partner’s integration; then, offer an intro for your partner into the account. Ask your partner to do the same, and let the EQLs flow in.
- Use Airship’s 9-step partner impact score methodology to identify the most strategic co-selling opportunities with a given partner, and increase the amount of qualified opportunities from each partner.
Make the best use of your sales team’s time and your partner’s time to influence a forward momentum of co-selling motions and accelerate deals with the highest likelihood of closing. Then, let the numbers speak for themselves.
According to our 2021 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report, partner-sourced revenue is the top KPI for partnership professionals (61%) working at companies that have between 50-249 employees. At 1,000+ employees, 72% of partnership professionals are held accountable for partner-sourced revenue. Meanwhile, company size is not necessarily a sign of partner program maturity. Build the foundation for generating and identifying partner-sourced revenue earlier, and outdo your competition by accelerating your partner program’s maturity to “Supernode” status.
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