How to run partnerships effectively without a software budget

in on

The premise:

Times are tough for SaaS teams. And even more difficult for partnership teams. 😥

That means more pressure from the salespeople at the SaaS companies you use to run your partner program. 

It's a vicious circle no one wants to be a part of. 

Thankfully, we are entering a period of democracy within our tech stacks as partnership people. Much like what HubSpot did for sales with their free CRM. You do not have to spend a lot of money to effectively manage and automate a partner program! 

In fact, I'm about to show you how to do it for $0 a month...

Below is a video of how to run your partner program effectively, on the cheap. But, please read as well because it's important we are on the same page: 

The main things partner managers feel they need to solve with their stack

I once received a very long (6-page) document detailing the "Must have" requirements from a PRM for a new partnerships team. It included just about every integration, automation, feature, and capability... This person was a new partner manager building a brand new program for a brand new technology company.

And I get it, we all want all the boxes checked. 

But, where do we come up with those boxes? 

Well, I remember my 20s - as a VP of Growth - shopping for event tracking + messaging software to build the perfect tech stack. I had a Google sheet of 50+ requirements and spent hours and hours on calls with the newest and coolest technology in the space. 

I finalized my recommendation to the product and marketing team. Then, the head of product simply told me "It's too complex, it will break down, and we already use Sendgrid." 

What I learned from those experiences is that more does not equal better. More equals unnecessary. 

Here's what teams believe they "need" to run their program: 

❌  Complex commission schedules and automated payouts. 

❌  Triggered everything so no one lifts a finger. 

❌ Training, enablement, and tier management.

❌  "Synced" everything.

❌  Portals, certs, and automated everything.

Let's tackle these issues one at a time: 

Partner payouts

If you follow me, you know I am not a fan of paying "partners." Not that I don't believe they deserve it.... I believe it creates the wrong relationship with your partners - they become vendors and debt collectors, not partners.

 That being said, some of you have partners you are currently paying out, and cannot back off the ledge. If you believe you are, read this article on how to reverse out of a commission-based program. 

Check this explanation from @Jeremiah Prummer on why they decided not to have commissions as an incentive in their (wildly successful) agency partner program:


What Jeremiah stated in his explanation is all true. 

Partners should not be paid. The reciprocity for their referrals should be referrals. And the commissions are meaningless. 

Ask Pete Caputa - CEO of Databox, and originator of HubSpot's partner program - he told me he lobbied internally to not pay commissions to partners when contriving the initial partner program. He lost to their CEO, but he knew what Jeremiah and others know - that commissions are not an incentive for "partners." 

Commissions are for your "affiliates." 

And, affiliates are not partners.

**If you have an "affiliate marketing" campaign, you need to leave that to your marketing department much like any paid media campaign. And, the software for managing affiliate marketing campaigns is not the same as partnership management. 

Further, setting up complex commissions based on tiers requires complex, expensive, unnecessary software. 

Deciding to pay commissions is the shovel in the ground that leads you down a rabbit hole from which you will regret ever starting. 

Partner program Tiers

Should a program even have tiers? Let's investigate... Here's the full argument/article if you'd like to read.

While we may never know the answer to that, we do know these facts:

  • SaaS half-lives are incredibly short these days - most failing in the first years, and the successful ones getting acquired. Few reach the age to grow their partner program to anything close to the size of HubSpot's.
  • Even fewer are or will ever be ecosystems (supporting hundreds of tech partnerships and thousands of agency partnerships) and want to gamify with tiers and incentivize current partners to tier up.
  • Regardless of company size, partner programs are already difficult to create and manage. Launching with tiers is yet another thing your team has to educate partners on, create training to tier them up, and then track and report on... That's a lot of software that can drown an early program and the partners in it.

An argument you may have at this point is; "But tiers can be based on certifications, and the SaaS needs to offer certifications so agencies can attract customers."

The argument to that is; certifications, for the most part, are seen as a waste of time for agencies. don't take my word for it, we ran a poll asking about the ROI of certifications and the results are 76% of respondents found certifications to provide little or even no return on their time. Read that article here >

Instead of creating complex tiers, segment off your "top partners" into exclusive relationships based on (what I will show you below) Marco's partner health scoring system. When partners are a great fit, put them into a private Slack channel or "Circle" (in Parnterhub®) wherein they get exclusive access to referrals, co-marketing, and market development funds. 

If they go stale, remove them from the closed group. They should want back in and become active again to get back in. 

CRM "Sync"

Someone was comparing Partnerhub® to one of the top PRMs on the market and stated the need for a "Sync" with Salesforce. Upon reviewing the video they sent us on this integration, we determined it was not a sync, but a one-way push completed by third-party IPAAS Workado, which the marketing team had defined as a "Sync" in their onboarding emails...

"Syncing" means that when the record is updated in either integrated solution, it is automatically updated in the other.

Think about that... In order for a true sync to be in place between your PRM and CRM, ALL of your referrals from ALL of your partners would have to be checked (API calls) every single day by the PRM's integration sync and re-written when any of the records do not match...

Say, on average you have 50 referrals a week within your program. That's 200 per month, and 2400 per year. Per program. Say that PRM supports 1000 programs, that's 2,400,000 referrals a year that need to be checked daily - API calls - every day.

Your PRM is not "Sync'd" with your CRM. And it shouldn't be. You need referrals in your CRM, and maybe updated pipeline stages or alerts sent to partners when a stage is updated... but that is not a sync. That's a triggered push. 

Check out how it works here > 

Certifications, Portals, and Messaging

Put yourself in the shoes of a busy, or struggling, partner of yours. They need to focus on their customers. They cannot be distracted. 

Your certifications are not providing much [if any] ROI (sorry, we asked, and most certifications are worthless to the their holders). 

Read this article for more on why certifications are not useful. 

And your partner portals are only relevant to a type of partner we call a "Power Partner" - those partners who built most of their business (sometimes all of their business) on top of your solution (think Salesforce, HubSpot, Microsoft, Shopify, Webflow...). In these Power Partner relationships, the partners' team may actually need to log into a portal and use it for customer success, co-manage client projects with your team, and register deals so they can continue to gain more favor within your program. 

99% of the teams reading this will never have Power Partners, and therefore never need portals. 

For the rest of us, requiring a partner log into a portal is like when the government requires you to put a $25 check in the mail with postage... when most of us stopped carrying checks in 2005, and def don't have stamps... It's annoying.

Finally, messaging... dear god... do we honestly need more messaging to enable our partners? We asked, I tried to find the poll results but couldn't, and I believe the result was in the realm of "Please don't send me another reminder to review your documentation or book a lunch and learn..." 

Messaging is our friend when it includes a referral CC'd. That's it. 

We even stopped sending weekly newsletters because, if we're honest, partnerships are not top of mind for anyone right now. Our users need to focus on current customers. 

The solution to your partner program management tech stack

Alright, so hopefully you now agree with: 

👌 You do not need to pay commissions. 

👌 You do not need complex tiers.

👌 Your CRM is not going to be "synced" and should be. 

👌 And your partners do not need another portal, more "enablement" messages, or certifications that don't bring any ROI.

    "Ok Alex, what's your proposed solution to this dime store tech stack for managing our program?" 

    I'm glad you asked 😉

    I've gone ahead and covered all that you need to "manage" and even automate your program in these three FREE Airtable bases: 

    Link to get them here >

    You'll also need: 

    Setup or execution steps to run your partner program using this stack

    More resources on this subject:

    Partner Ops using Partnerhub® (free account):

    Partnership Memorandum (template) Use this to help define what your partnership is, expectations, timelines, promises...

    Strategy for cold outreach to partners (document) A breakdown of how to reach out to partners.

    How to attract and retain top digital agency solutions partners w/ Blend Commerce (podcast) Let's show this all in practice.

    How you can convert Partnerships from Cold Outreach! (video) https://collective.partnerprog... How we find and convert partners.

    Free Partnerhub account so you can find these partners (partners marketplace) Where we find and manage partnerships in one place.

    Partnerships GTM Bootcamp (course) A course for our team on going-to-market with partners.

    Creating your Partner Acquisition Flywheel (video) https://collective.partnerprog... How to make this a repeatable engine.

    All agency-led roundtables in the Collective (workshops) https://collective.partnerprog... Hear from the horses mouth.