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How to structure your partnership team?

6 min read By June 15, 2022 No Comments
Image with a white background showing a building site in progress a man with a clipboard and a woman from the back

Partnerships are a hot topic, as well they should be. Predictions are that from 2022 onwards, more and more companies will turn to partnerships as a result of economic difficulties. 

Take this example from SaaStr’s LinkedIn post:

post by Saastr showing that partnerships are an unexpected marketing channel that performed well
New companies entering partnerships means new partnership roles, new goals, and new ways of working. So how do you structure your channel partnership team?

First of all, let’s just emphasize that today’s partners are more demanding than ever. As a vendor, that means you need to offer the ultimate partner experience. You’ll need to invest in a strong partnership team that can engage and enable partners. Ultimately this will help grow their business so that they can help grow yours!

Image with a white background that shows images of different people in the partner team and text explaining the various roles

What should your channel partnership team look like?

We spoke to dozens of vendors, scoured job boards, and devoured state of channel partner management reports to bring you the picture-perfect channel partnership team.

So what should it look like?

Head of Channel 

Channel chiefs are the ultimate orchestrators. Fulfilling a combination of sales, marketing, and operations, they are responsible for bringing the entire partnership team together. They set the team up for success, rally for channel budget, and are ultimately responsible for proving the ROI of the channel.

The Head of Channel typically oversees anywhere from a few 100 to 1000s of partnerships, maintaining contact only with the top 20%, or managed partners.

Channel Marketing Manager

Channel Marketing Managers oversee the development and translation of marketing campaigns into campaigns that will speak to partners’ end-users. They help partners with MDF funds and plan joint go-to-market campaigns.

Channel Sales Manager

Channel Sales Managers identify high-value partners. They develop business plans to increase revenue growth on both sides. They also oversee the Channel Account Managers.

Channel Account Manager

The Channel account manager is the traditional point of contact between vendor and partner. Their job involves pipeline forecasting, strategies for co-marketing and co-selling, as well as developing partner business plans.

Great Channel Account Managers will take pride in growing their partnerships and nurturing them through various lifecycle stages. Not only in terms of revenue. But especially in terms of enablement.

Growing a partner from unregistered to registered, silver, gold, and platinum, for instance.

As you can see, in this role engaging partners is paramount. But there are some caveats to this role in its traditional form. It often relies on a partner pull; requiring partners to initiate sales or marketing activities instead of coming up with plans to engage them. There is hardly any focus on getting partners to collaborate and share knowledge. Data and feedback remain as opaque as a rock.

Partner Success Manager

One role that we’re seeing advertised more and more – and the one most commonly seen as the transition from Channel Account Manager – is that of Partner Success Manager, Associate, or Specialist. 

How does the Partner Account Manager differ from the Channel Account Manager?

First of all, they are more proactive than their channel account managing predecessors. Although some key competencies overlap. Empathy is key in this role. Being able to understand the time and resource constraints that partners have.

What makes the Partner Success Manager different from the Channel Account Manager is also their support across the entire partner lifecycle. Where a Channel Account Manager is responsible for the expansion of current partners, helping execute marketing and sales, and getting feedback from them, a Partner Success Manager steps in even before a partner is onboarded.

The top priority in this role is the engagement and enablement of channel partners. Activities that a Partner Account Manager should perform include:

  • identifying potential partnerships
  • onboarding new partners
  • deepening and expanding partner’s knowledge and use of the product/service
  • helping partners execute marketing opportunities
  • helping partners get (technical) support
  • getting feedback from partners, collecting data, and recommending process improvements

What should your channel partnership team goals be?

Once you have an idea of what your ultimate channel partnership team should look like, it’s time to start thinking about your goals. We won’t go into absolute specifics as they obviously vary for each team. But here you will get a pretty good idea of what your channel partnership goals should be.

A strong partnership program.

When building your partnership program there is a lot to consider. But always think from a partner’s perspective.

  • What benefits will joining your partnership program have for a partner?
    • margins, rebates, and discounts
    • exclusive access to products and services
    • access to channel account managers
  • What are your joint goals and how will you measure them?
    • shared KPIs
    • review moments
  • What support will you offer your partners?
    • tech support
    • access to engineers
    • 24/7 chat bots
  • What kind of marketing support can partners expect?
    • marketing activities
    • marketing assets
    • MDF funding
  • How will you enable them to grow their business?
    • co-marketing
    • co-selling

Engaged and enabled partnerships

Onboarding partners is one thing, engaging them – and keeping them engaged – is quite another. How do you do it?

  • Identify your top 20% partnerships through:
    • highest sales volumes
    • biggest relative sales growth
    • highest engagement with your brand
  • Have a solid marketing plan in place
    • campaign and content calendar
    • all assets and information readily available
  • Initiate co-marketing opportunities
    • prepare playbooks for co-marketing
    • define what a successful campaign looks like
  • Initiate co-selling opportunities
    • determine which end-users to approach
    • approach together with new partners
    • let the partner take the lead
  • Keep a constant feedback loop
    • NPS feedback
    • open lines of communication

Engaging and enabling unmanaged partners 

Your channel partnership program is great to reel in high-rolling partners. But these partners only make up around 15-20% of your partnership base.

We realize that managing these with the little resources your partnership team has is already a big ask. But ignoring the unmanaged partners, or leaving it all up to your distris, means you are potentially leaving 80% of partner revenue on the table.

Traditionally, all partners will have access to partner portals, with their myriad of downloadable assets, manuals, campaigns, and more. Yet most unmanaged partners don’t have the know-how, resources, let alone time to go fishing for marketing campaigns.

So how do you reach these unmanaged partners?

  • create and share a campaign calendar with your partners
  • create customizable marketing materials that can easily be shared through social media
  • give your partners access to automated campaign management tools
  • make sure partners opt-in for campaigns beforehand, that way they will be automatically distributed through their marketing channels

Ready to start partnership marketing?

In this article, we looked at how to structure your ideal partnership team, and what KPIs to focus on. Now it’s time to put it all into practice.

Just like SaaS matured thanks to Customer Success, partnerships will flourish with Partner Success. Keep laser-focused on engaging and enabling your channel partners and success will follow.

Cassandra Pizzey

Cassandra Pizzey

A Channexteer since 2021, Cassandra has been copywriting for the past 10-years, broadening her horizon as content marketer since entering the B2B SaaS industry. Connect with Cassandra on LinkedIn for more.

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