Building a Partner Program
When launching a new partner program designed to increase referrals and new sales, what should you think about? We asked small business owners and partnership managers for their best insights. From setting realistic goals to establishing communication expectations, here are several tips to help your company launch a partner program.
Here are nine considerations for launching a partner program:
- Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
- Focus on Connection, Not Currency
- Consider Existing Relationships
- Consider Good and Bad Referrals
- Build Relationships with the Community
- Have the Same KPI as Your Partner
- Have a Dedicated Project Owner
- Research to Accurately Measure Success
- Establish Communication Expectations
Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
What are your expectations for your partner program? It’s important to know these going in. You need to set firm, realistic goals for your program to measure its effectiveness and ROI. A year down the line, you’ll be able to compare performance to your goals and see whether you need to make any changes.
-Francesca Yardley, Threads
Focus on Connection, Not Currency
I get hit with 10+ "partner program" emails a week from different tech companies offering a commission on referrals. These companies fail to understand that an effective partner program is about connecting people at various companies rather than currency and monetization. The most effective partner program I've ever seen is Mailchimp's Partner Program. Why? They put people before the partnership and referral percentages.
-Brett Farmiloe, Terkel
Consider Existing Relationships
Do you have any established relationships with other businesses? Those could serve as a starting point for finding a referral program partner. Look into who you know, and feel them out about launching a partner referral program. It’s always better to make use of existing relationships in these scenarios. There is already a certain level of trust, and there may also already be an informal referral partner relationship that you can make more official.
-Vicky Franko, Insura
Consider Good and Bad Referrals
Not every referral program is going to succeed with your first partner. They may not be the right fit for your partnership model, or they might have goals that don’t align with your own. I’d recommend looking closely into prospective referral partners first. This will ensure that the company is the right fit for you.
-Kyle McIntosh, MAC6
Build Relationships with the Community
Consider developing partner relationships with schools and programs within your area. Many schools and programs like to support their own students and alumni. By maintaining your relationships with your former or local community schools, through regular grants and donations, you can earn valuable business referrals and sales opportunities.
-Henry Babicheknko, Stomadent
Have the Same KPI as Your Partner
Suppose you and your partner(s) focus on different metrics for success. In that case, you may find yourself having to weed out misleading contractual language, which is advantageous for them but harmful to you, and you may find them unenthusiastic about taking actions that will increase your success but will do nothing for them. You want to build the partnership around a joint success target, such that when they win, you win, and in about the same proportion.
-Matthew Ramirez, Paraphraser
Have a Dedicated Project Owner
We found out the hard way that it's challenging to manage a partner program of any size without a dedicated owner. Having a partnership manager or someone overseeing the program will ensure you identify issues early and that the program stays on track. This person should also manage the program's reporting to make the results easy to track and understand.
-Sylvia Kang, Mira
Research to Accurately Measure Success
Think deeply about who you’re looking to partner with and why. Consider what your organization will get out of the partnership and how. Research what has worked for others in your field, and benchmark that experience for your program. By the time you’re ready to launch, you’ll be able to measure success.
-Mike Orchard, College Athlete Advantage
Establish Communication Expectations
Once you’ve agreed on the specifics of the partnership, establish an open line of communication. To maximize the benefits of your arrangement, you should outline how you plan to communicate regularly. As issues come up, you can address them promptly. Also, as new referrals and sales opportunities arise, you want to be able to jump on it as soon as possible. Especially when these opportunities arise from trusted partnerships, you can bypass some of the additional background verification steps and build a rapport sooner for a quality customer or client relationship.
-Lily Yu, Oak Springs Realty
Just like marriages, business partnerships often run into rough waters. To ensure your partnership stays on course, follow these tips.
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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.