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A Thought Exercise for Determining the Potential Success of a Partner Program

This is a thought exercise for leadership to go through with their brand new partnerships team before determining revenue predictions, budgeting, and when/what for revenue quotas.


Outside of your product's features, benefits, support, and integrations, your partner programs' incentives are what will make ‘partnering’ with you attractive. Therefore, those incentives are your partner team's ammunition for growing the program.

The more ammunition (incentives) you give them, the faster the program will gain new partners and convert referred accounts from current partners. 

What benefits are truly the most attractive to agencies? 

These first few are “table stakes” - they will be decided on before the agency replies to your first message or even considers your program.

  • Alignment

    • The agencies that you want to work with are aligned with your values

    • They have a great reputation and deliver on their promises.

  • Product

    • What are examples of packages that other partners have created around your product that are getting results for clients and are profitable?

  • Price point

    • Is it competitive?

    • Can it be profitable?

    • Is there a margin for commission?  

If all of the above boxes are checked, then the conversation can proceed to the specific value your partnership program can make available.

Examples of Partner Program Benefits:

  1. Free and sponsored co-marketing (see email example below)

    1. [Sponsored] MDF funds - Marketing Development Funds

      1. Tip: Present this to your partner prospect as, “I have a budget for the right opportunities to co-market with my partners." Using “I” not “We” lets the agency know that you are the partnership point of contact. Even if you have to get approval, maintain control over that partnership so your agencies do not feel they are wasting time getting on calls with you.

    2. [Free] Highlights in the blog

      1. MUST BE A DO-FOLLOW BACKLINK - Note: do not pitch this as a benefit if your marketing team will not allow/enable do-follow backlink.

    3. [Free] White-Label/Brandable Decks

  2. Referrals

    1. Having an SOP for taking users and introducing them to agencies. 

    2. Shared pipeline - closed lost leads intros to agencies. 

    3. Implementation partner track - if they become an expert, what’s in it for them in terms of referrals?

    4. Directory listing:

      1. GOOD directory example - highlights the agency, expertise, examples, backlink, their own landing page…

      2. BAD example = DOMO - no unique pages, everyone is on the same page which makes it hard to find agencies for their traffic… 

    5. An actual profile for your partners - a landing page on your domain

  3. Free accounts and pass-through discounts

    1. To enable them to sell your product, they have to be power users first. 

    2. And, agencies should not be asked to pay to learn how your solution works. 

    3. Creating a product-level check in the new account signup for URL tokens or coupon codes from partners, and apply a discount to that users’ account if/when they use a partners’ code.

  4. Sales support 

    1. Sales process templates

    2. Leads and good quality leads

  5. Training

    1. Training on how to sell, service, and market - make these short and effective

  6. Commissions

    1. More important will be where the agency can make a good profit on service 

Now, here’s the thought exercise to help your team align on the true value of the various incentives for agency referral, implementation, and reseller partners:


*Note: the column showing the increase in program success is purely a rough estimate based on the impact that incentive has on the attractiveness of the program.

Incentives and offers for partners:Description:Increases programs success by:Examples:
Extended support for partnersDirect phone numbers, account manager, Slack… 5%Zapier only provides phone support for their expert partner agencies, not the end user. This ensures the partner is valuable for the end user at all times.
A Marketing Develop Fund (MDF) A monthly budget to promote with and sponsor partners’ content or events.15%Any budget the partner team is free to allocate how they feel is best, and they choose to earmark some for sponsoring partner content.
Owning their partner directoryAs opposed to a static directory which product manages, use a subdomain with it’s own CMS built specifically for partnerships (like APIdeck.com) and let partnerships manage it.10%https://directory.partnerprograms.io/
Robust and indexed profiles that show off the skills or use cases of your partnerThis goes above a directory and is more of a product-driven setup where partner profiles have sections showing what they do with your product and their other tool expertise.5%-10%
[Depends if users can onboard starting with a partners’ template]
https://databox.com/partner/pepperland-marketing
Free accounts The ability to give away free accounts (with limitations) to partners or their clients.15%https://partnerprograms.io/resources/free-saas-for-our-agency-friends/
Pass-through discounts partners can give to those they referTheir referral link  triggering a discount for the user - this gives the partners’ referral a good reason to use their link or code.5%Unbounce does this with success.
Co-marketing content calendarA spot in the content calendar for partner-sourced content15-25%
[Depends on frequency and type]
Here’s a great example from Heap: https://heap.io/resources/paving-the-funnel-scott-breitenother

Maddy Martin, of Smith.ai gave us her list of highest-impact incentives for partner teams

  • The biggest revenue/account-volume impact is 25% easy of onboarding, 50% portal to check on their accounts (often it's a non-starter), and 25% allowing them to set their margins/mark-up (within reason). Sensitivities vary by agency type, how well staffed they are, how attentive to details they are, how experienced they are in working with products like yours, and -- most of all -- how impactful your product promises to be on their bottom line and their clients' results (read: happiness & retention). Regardless, be on the lookout for onboarding flubs, portal feature requests, and other business-stalling, momentum-halting things.

  • The biggest activation impact (getting the partner to bring in their first client, initiating the first revenue-generating activity) is 20% offering extended free services and 80% featuring them (with MDF, backlink, co-webinar -- with the latter being the most impactful and evergreen with a recording, email list & accompanying blog recap). The big guys like HubSpot (no dissing, I love them, but they're huge) take ages to pay attention to you and proof precedes action. If you've got a smaller SaaS company or product, showing attention is sometimes the most surprising and positive thing you can do. It's not often your vendor trots you out, but smaller companies (or just more nimble ones) can scoop up attention by the agency with an almost unfair competitive advantage this way. That leads to the next point about how easy you make it to work with you in general.

  • The biggest ongoing revenue impact has little to do with what you offer up, and much to do with: 1) how easy you are to work with, 2) how little extra work you add for them, 3) your positive impact on clients' successes and their praise from clients as a result that your product/service generated. Are you making them look great with little extra work and more revenue from happier clients? That's #1 all day long. A few bonus points if you replaced a poor-performing or ho-hum product; loads of bonus points if you opened up a net-new revenue stream.


Next steps: 

  1. Take that data and have a team meeting to align on agency needs and creative ways to fulfill them. Include co-marketing schedule/options, what you do with your stale lost leads in terms of referring them to agencies… anything you can do to build the relationship. 

  2. Now, test those assumptions. Create a survey to find out what your agencies care about. Here’s one we did for AudioEye on ADA compliance: https://airtable.com/shrBHOYxAjYFURAmy

  3. Put together your landing page.
    Great example - the page and incentives section of Justcall’s partner program:
    https://justcall.io/hubspot-agency-partner-program

  • Look at the URL

    • it's focused on one persona

  • Check the incentives section - in particular - the co-marketing and highlighting of their partners: 

    • Co-marketing Opportunities - We will do quarterly co-marketing activities with our HubSpot agency partners. Co-marketing activities include webinars, Twitter chats, videos/podcasts, PR, case studies & more.

    • “Extra Visibility - Every HubSpot agency partner will get extra visibility on JustCall in the form of a logo on our partners program, a dedicated page about your services, and a blog post announcing our partnership.”

  • Backstory is - their marketing manager pushed hard for an agency partnerships initiative because he did not see it happening in their space for agencies. 

  • Every day he wakes up and checks the usage of agency-clients/partners on the platform have usage spikes. Then, he reaches out to them to offer the agency to upgrade their client to annual through them as the partner. 

  • This became the largest deal in the companies history.

  • The incentives they chose to lead with were support, co-marketing, and extra brand visibility/show of trust