A quick guide to new partnerships nomenclature

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Wow, what a crazy ride partnerships have been these past 12 months. There are so many new things to know, communities and consultants and platforms...

And terms to follow.

I've spent a few minutes collecting, sourcing and defining these terms.

Trending terms in partnerships now:



Used by: Reveal and PartnerHacker

Coined by: The Reveal team

Meaning: Deploy sales and marketing motions with those companies closest to your org as opposed to going direct alone.



Used by: Commsor

Coined by: Mac / Commsor

Meaning: Similar to Nearbound, Go-To-Network implies you are strategically leveraging your existing community connections in your launch and growth.



Used by: Digital Bridge Partners

Coined by: Alan Adler

Meaning: Building relationships around a target ICP to establish an ecosystem you can then sell with.

"Ecosystem-Led Growth"


Used by: Crossbeam, PartnerHacker, Digital Bridge Partners

Coined by: Alan Adler

Meaning: Similar to "product-led growth", it implies the core growth strategy and execution begins and ends with your ecosystem - integrations, and various partner types.

"Partner-Led Growth"


Used by: Crossbeam, PartnerHacker

Coined by: ? (unknown origin, but made popular by the PartnerHacker team)

Meaning: Similar to "product-led growth", it implies the company's primary growth lever is partnerships.

Some of the partnership's terms we've coined:

"Partnerships-Led Growth"


Meaning: The company believes partnerships as a practice will be the primary lever for its growth over time. We use the plural of the noun because we want all partnerships are included ("Partner-led" implies one of your partners is steering the strategy).

"Power To The Partners"


Meaning: We tag our posts with this to hopefully remind those in a partner program they have the power and shouldn't be dealing with pushed and pulled and left in automated sequences from a new partner manager every two weeks. The partners should dictate their relationship with the program they are the lifeblood for. Not the other way around.

"Product-Led Partnerships"


Meaning: This term defines those amazing partner ecosystems that are established, activated, and enabled not by a partner team, but by the product itself. Think about themes developed by third parties for Shopify, WordPress, Webflow... Or expert-created templates that fast-track your usage of the product by giving you the exact build you needed (Airtables' "Universe" or Databoxs' templates).

These features and databases are product engineering-backed and have been the foundation of some of the most-used SaaS available.

Finally here are two partnerships terms we should stop using:


For the same reason generating backlinks, guest posting, or being listed in marketplaces is traditionally a job for the Marketing team, so is "Affiliate Marketing."

When you are an "Affiliate" of a product, you are one of hundreds or thousands of third parties who add tracked links to your digital properties in order to earn commissions from the conversions generated by those links.

Over the last decade, the industry of affiliate marketing moved from mainly physical products and courses (this Commission Junction), to B2B SaaS using marketplaces like Impact or PartnerStack.

And all of a sudden Partnerships teams were running affiliate campaigns.

The issues with this are as follows:

  • "Affiliates" are typically unknown individuals running a blog or YouTube channel, while "Partners" are entire companies you work closely with for mutual growth.
  • Affiliate campaigns need to be handled by savvy marketers... And most Partner Managers are not savvy marketers.
  • There are totally different software needs to enable affiliates than to enable partners because affiliates are only motivated by commissions, while B2B partners are motivated by direct referrals and ecosystem growth.

My suggestion: Your marketing department should handle affiliate campaigns and the affiliate management software because they will be including influencers, bloggers, other marketing teams who trade links or guest posts, drop-shippers... in their marketing campaigns as "affiliates," who are not "partners."


This is the generic term for a third-party network selling your product. It can encompass hardware, software, affiliates, resellers, OEM's, marketplaces... Basically all of it from what I've heard.

To understand where this term came from, I reached out to Bob and requested a call for his opinion on our position in this industry. On our call, Bob and I discussed the state of ‘channel,’ the nomenclature, and where he believes it’s headed. After our call, Bob further-elaborated on our talk with this email. If you are not familiar with the history behind phrases like “Solution providers”, “Specifiers”, “Managed service provider”, “Cloud broker”, or “hosting services provider,” then read this quick explanation of software partnerships nomenclature:

(for definitions, visit this article on partnership types)

“Hi Alex,

Interesting talk, thanks for reaching out.

Your question about “channel” is particularly interesting. You’re absolutely correct that what is happening today doesn’t fit the normal “channel” paradigms. And you may be able to get a lot of industry attention by stressing this Doesn’t-Fit-with-Current-Channels to channel executives.

If you decide to do this, I can introduce you to Rod Baptie who runs Channel Focus.

The history of “the channel’ began for high tech with the personal computer. This is when the PC was still a hobbyist kit…something to build. Not yet even a “pc.”

This is when the PC was still a hobbyist kit…something that came in pieces and you needed to build (and create your own applications).

You have to imagine that no one knew how to sell, let alone where to sell the very first PCs. Remember, at that time, there were no real applications…even the spreadsheet was still be developed.

Top executives from IBM and DEC which made huge commercial computers laughed and were quoted:

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Thomas Watson, president of IBM, 1943

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

And makers had to find their own routes to market. Computer dealers were invented… Paul Terrell, in Moutain View CA, in December 1975 founded The Byte Shop, one of the first personal computer retailers.

Instead of “computers,” we started calling these things micros. (That’s why Microsoft has “Micro” in its name.)"

My suggestion: Allow your sales team to sell through established channels in co-selling motions, use that nomenclature when referring to other established sales channels... But don't use the term to describe your own partner program or team.

I hope this was helpful!

Comment if you I missed anything : )