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Product-Led Partnerships: Strategies and Examples

Product-Led Partnerships

What it is: 

When Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) companies make partner-created use case templates available to other users, often as part of user onboarding or in a marketplace:

  • Allowing partners to create and brand themes or templates.

  • Listing templates in a marketplace.

  • Making the templates available to other users after registration with just a few clicks.

  • Maintaining the partners’ branding throughout.

What it’s not:

It’s not simply forming integration partnerships where product and engineering steer the conversation. It’s about the UI/UX and how your software’s users onboard into, and customize your product. 

Why do it:

Increase your conversion rates, boost product usage, and expose your customers to your partner’s capabilities.

  • Reduce CAC.

  • Speed conversion from free to paid accounts.

  • And… enable partners to create more and share their templates.

It’s a prevalent practice amongst the top SaaS agency partner programs, but we’ll articulate using these examples from progressive SaaS products:

  1. Databox

  2. Bubble

  3. Kiite

  4. Airtable

  5. Zapier

*A Note About "Partnerships-Led Product Decisions"

The practice of involving partners in product development and future roadmap prioritization. This is a recommended practice because while your typical user is thinking about their own immediate needs today, agencies and consultants have the job of helping your users plan for 6 months or a year from now. So, instead of letting daily users steer product, work with their agencies and consultants to steer product for the benefit of future user needs.

But for this article, we’ll focus on the former.

Let’s walk through a handful of examples… 

Databox: Peter Caputa IV, CEO of Databox who formerly started and scaled HubSpot’s renowned partner program to thousands of agencies is continuing to revolutionize how SaaS companies and agencies align. He shared, 

“Many people who looked closely at the HubSpot partner program told me that we built what franchisors should have built: a turnkey training and operating system that taught agencies how to market, sell and service their clients, as well as access to an audience through co-marketing, a partner directory and the content management system (CMS) template marketplace.” 

Caputa then shared how he’s continuing that mission at Databox and taking Product-led partnerships to the next level. Like HubSpot’s CMS Theme directory, Databox’s dashboard template directory is a perfect example. It enables their users to quickly launch a dashboard with their own data in it. They simply have to connect their HubSpot, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, or any of their other 70+ integrations and they can instantly see their data in professionally designed dashboards. 

What makes it a great example of a product-lead partnership?  They let their partners publish branded templates to the directory. Here’s a great example from one of their partners, Nextiny Marketing. 

The templates are available on the Databox website and in the app for logged-in users too. 

Caputa shared more of their strategy with me, “The dashboard templates give our partners an opportunity to show off their analytics knowledge and also give our other users an easier and more effective way to get set up with our product. Since the templates are public, we also work with our partners to promote them via blog posts and short videos, giving our partners even more exposure to our audience and users.”

As are most product-led partnerships, the Databox template directory is a win-win-win for Databox, their partners, and their users. However, since launching the template directory in 2017, they’ve made quite a few advancements to their product-led partnership strategy.

Caputa shared more about their recent moves:

“The template directory was actually a bit too successful as we quickly got inundated with too many templates from partners that were not adequately differentiated. While we will still publish new templates from partners if they can build something unique, we’ve raised the bar significantly. 
But, we didn’t want to limit our partners’ ability to innovate and reach our audience. So, we expanded the program so that agencies can create their own library of branded analytics templates that they can make accessible to their clients via the app.” 
Further, via tight integrations with no-code integration platforms like Zapier and Integromat, our partners can also build custom integrations. So, now, there’s no limit to how many templates a partner can create and make available to their clients or promote via their own marketing. And since we let them contribute to our articles, they can still promote their own capabilities via our content. For agencies who use our white-label capabilities, they’re actually able to launch their own proprietary analytics service with their own templates and custom integrations.”

In addition to their product-led partnerships strategy explained above that drives search traffic, signups and product  usage for Databox, and  leads for  their  partners, they do a few other agency-friendly practices that really make their product-led partnership strategy work: 

  1. They have “Find a partner” in the main navigation in their website header. 

  2. They publish 20+ articles every month and feature their partners’ insights and templates in every article. 

  3. They treat their partners more like traditional resellers (and not like salespeople) by giving them significant bulk discounts instead of charging their clients and paying the partner a commission. Given that the cost of the service per client is very low and agencies can add or remove clients on their own at any time, the agencies have full control over the billing relationship and their resale margins. 

You can get started as a Databox agency partner with a free account

Kiite’s Marketplace Joseph, their founder, realized early on that tech partners and consultants made onboarding into his product faster and his product stickier. He started to build his funnel with partners included. Here’s the flow: > Kiite’s template library >> Click one and view registration page >>> start using this template inside Kitte’s app. 

Now these next two do not have “partner programs” at the time I wrote this, but they still allow for users to generate templates they display for anyone to onboard through: 

Airtable Universe templates are a great way to onboard into Airtable so you do not have to start from scratch – easily browse and copy the base from someone who’s had a lot of success with theirs. 

E.g. here is our Agency PRM we customized and made public in the marketplace for anyone to copy >>

Bubble Agency Templates takes it a step further and allows partners to publish branded themes for their sites and charge users to download them, or they can make them free. Then, they allow the developer of the template to list how they can help the user customize it (costs/contact info). 

Here’s the Bubble marketplace

In all 4 examples, the product team worked with partnerships with the goal of bettering the user experience. The partner team wins by scratching the back of their agency partners, and the organization experiences lift in all the right KPIs: 

  • Increase Conversion Rates on the site.

  • Reduce CAC.

  • Speed conversion from free to paid accounts.

  • And… enable partners to create more and share their templates.

Execute Product-Led Partnerships in your SaaS:

  1. Find agencies within your current user-base. They do not, at this time, need to be current partners, only current users.

  2. Add those agencies to a sheet or Airtable base.

  3. List out all of the workflows your tool is ideal for.  

  4. Mockup (in docs) each workflow or automation template, or have marketing help (think UX mockup, but for your workflow). 

  5. In the sheet/base, link to each template and define (in the other column fields) what vertical and use case each workflow is best for.

  6. Mapping: Now, bring up your list of agencies and start to try and define each to match your workflows. (i.e. if it’s an eCommerce marketing agency, list the workflow that is related to product checkouts or product PPC ads…)

  7. Mockup a landing page profile for your partner + the workflow – Agencies name, logo, description of the workflow, screenshots, maybe a video, link to the agencies site, what the agency is best for, and product demo options.

  8. Now, work with the product team on phase 1 and phase 2 deploy plan: 

  9. Phase 1 could be: Create a category in your blog – i.e. /blog/partner-workflow-template/{{partner__name}}

  10. Phase 2 could be: After 10 posts are live, and another 10 in the queue, Product creates pages for these partner workflow templates (as opposed to blog posts).

  11. When you have 10+ live templates, you link to them in the footer. 

  12. Final stage – incorporate templates into your product onboarding…

    1. IF/WHEN a website visitor lands and converts on a template, they clearly want to use the product for that specific use case.

    2. THEREFORE you need to ensure they can easily do just that. 

    3. Discuss with product/engineering how you can achieve this funnel > user lands on the template page >> signs up >>> can easily deploy that workflow template inside their dashboard in your product. 

    4. This is something products like Databox do to scale using partner templates.