Sales Series: 10 Lessons Learned in Year One of Building a Partner Program

Thanks to Joe Durfey for contributing this post. 

In my first year building a partner program at Grow, here are my top ten lessons learned:

  1. Buckle up. Building a partner program, especially for a young tech startup, can be a roller coaster. There will be highs, lows, and a lot of uncertainty along the way. Consistency is key. Don’t get too high or too low. Keep working, keep grinding, keep pitching. Refuse to accept defeat.
  2. Narrow your focus. Effective partner profiling is critical. Since our BI solution is targeting mid-market companies and has 150+ integrations, it is used in just about every vertical you can think of, and the range of partner candidates is endless. I’ve been approached by hundreds of companies, coaches, entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, business coaches, accountants, consulting organizations, tech companies, and many more. Trying to partner with everyone that knocks on your door is never a good idea. Be selective. Think big. And choose partners that have customers that you want to be your customers.
  3. Organization-wide alignment. Align your partner strategy with your company strategy. If your company has a vertical strategy, focus on finding partners inside those verticals. Clearly communicate your vision for partnerships, and what each department’s role will be in making partnerships successful.
  4. Be patient. High-value partnerships take time to develop. Be patient, but don’t lose your sense of urgency. Push as hard as you can push without overstepping. The quicker you can fill up your pipeline with quality partner-referred leads, the sooner you’ll see success.
  5. Think about your partner value proposition. How are you delivering value to your partners. Are you helping them reduce churn? Are you filling a product gap? Are you adding to your partner’s bottom line through a rev share agreement? Are you helping your partners land new clients?
  6. Partners aren’t that different than customers. Think about your partner user experience. How will your partners interact with your product? How will they demo your product? What does your partner onboarding/implementation process look like? How will you train and support your partners? What content will your partners have to market your product?
  7. Content. It’s really important. You need to have a well thought out channel content strategy. Blog posts. Webinars. Case studies. Targeted Emails. Press Releases. Newsletters. You have to enable and empower your partners to talk about your brand by putting exceptional content in their hands. When it comes to content needs, think of your partners as an extension of your sales team.
  8. Understand the role of software and technology in your partner program. If you’re building an affiliate program, how will you track leads? How will partners access content? Will you have a portal for partners to register deals, or start simple and track with email/spreadsheets? These are really good things to consider as you start down the partner path.
  9. Product. Partners can have a profound impact on product roadmap, for better or worse. Spend some time thinking about how partners will impact your product roadmap, and what you will and won’t support. Can your product support a product-driven partner strategy? For example, if your vision for partnerships is based on integrations with other SaaS applications, do you have the technical resources to support the integrations?
  10. Whatever you do, don’t quit. Commit to the long-term. The longer you stick with it, the more success you’ll have, and the more revenue you’ll drive through partners. Don’t be afraid to pivot and try new things if you’re not making the progress you think you should. The truth is, if you’re building from the ground up, there’s going to be some trial and error. Keep trying till you find what works.

Joe Durfey is the VP of Strategic Partnerships at Grow. He can be reached at joe@grow.com.