Partner marketing programs can be a great way to expand your reach and build long-lasting customer relationships; however, too often these programs deliver lackluster results.
There are many reasons why partnership marketing programs fail, but they all boil down to a lack of communication and process between the two teams. To be successful, partner marketing programs should be run just like your internal programs—with aligned teams that support each other from planning through execution to fulfill a common goal, led by someone who is accountable to the joint program, rather than either company’s individual goals.
We recommend a three-step strategy for partnership marketing campaigns.
Step 1: Align.
Alignment between stakeholders is an essential foundation for any partner marketing program.
At a minimum, you should ensure alignment in seven key areas:
There are three tiers of partner marketing: co-marketing, co-selling, and fully integrated, each with different requirements and very different outcomes. It’s important to agree on which you’re doing so both partners start with realistic expectations about what outcomes are possible, and which require a different level of partnership.
GOALS & KPIs.
It goes without saying that if both partners are not focused on the same outcomes, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to deliver a successful program. Is your end goal leads, joint sales, or something else? Will you be focusing on a particular offering, certain channels or specific accounts? The more specific you are about your goals, the easier it will be to determine the tactics you will use to achieve them, and the ways you will measure success.
IDEAL CUSTOMER PROFILE (ICP).
The ICP for your partner program will likely be narrower and more specific than either partner’s ICP. For example, imagine your company makes a high-end tablet for artists. You are partnering with an ISV that produces photo editing software. Your target market includes a wide array of digital artists, and the software vendor targets both hobbyist and professional photographers. The target market for the partner program is not all of these two groups, but the area where they intersect—professional photographers who need both a high end machine and professional-quality editing software to perform their jobs efficiently.
Without alignment on the audience for your campaign, you run the risk of wasting time and budget on irrelevant messaging, uncompelling offers, and the wrong channels.
WHAT’S BEING SOLD.
You would never start a campaign without knowing what the product was—but when it comes to partner marketing, it’s indeed possible for each partner to have a different idea of what you’re selling.
Continuing our photo-editing example, is the desired outcome for the customer to purchase a device bundled with a free trial of the software, to sign up for an annual subscription, or to purchase a small business license for 5 users? Each of these solutions involves different channels, sales motions and timeframes—not to mention metrics—so it is essential to make sure everyone understands from the outset which you’re pursuing.
JOINT TARGET ACCOUNTS (ABM).
Your partnership may be just the key for unlocking a previously unattainable contract with a target account. As long as your companies do not compete in any way, you should share information about target accounts, including the contacts you have been working with and what their needs are. Then strategize together about how your co-solution might change the conversation and get both companies in the door.
The best partnerships leverage the strengths of each partner to fill in the gaps of the other. For instance, in our device+software example above, let’s assume your company relies heavily on landing pages for different use cases, but has a limited social media presence. The software vendor, on the other hand, has a strong Instagram following. The most efficient and effective process would be for the software vendor to manage the social campaign that drives to a joint landing page developed and hosted by your company—right?
Unfortunately, too many partners gloss over this discussion at the beginning of the partnership, leading to duplicative efforts, or worse—gaps in coverage. To prevent this, make sure to identify which team and resources will be used for each tactic.
METRICS & REPORTING.
Which metrics will you track and how will you share them? What will constitute success? What else do you want to learn through this program about your audience’s needs, preferred channels, and buying habits? If you don’t build in reporting from day 1, you are unlikely to get the information you need to evaluate the success of the partnership, or demonstrate ROI. More importantly, you won’t be able to optimize your program to drive that success.
Having this discussion early (and often!) can also uncover differing expectations about what success looks like. Understanding how each company’s individual tactics typically perform is essential for developing realistic expectations for the partnership program. (If Partner B does not have much of a social presence, it does not make sense to focus on their social channels; if you do, you shouldn’t expect to blow out industry benchmarks for impressions.)
Step 2: Prepare.
Once everyone understands what you’re selling, who you’re selling it to, and how you will measure success, you’re much more likely to develop a campaign that will truly resonate with your joint audience and lead to sales. To prepare that campaign, both teams need to work together to create marketing specifically for the partnership, starting with a joint value prop and messaging that communicate why your two products are better together.
During this step, it’s important to have a strong, neutral project leader who can stay focused on the joint goals and make sure both teams are pulling their weight to accomplish them.
Essentials for a truly integrated partner program campaign:
- Joint value prop. Companies partner to expand their reach, break into new markets, and ultimately find and convert new customers. But why should your partner’s customers care about you? Unless you are simply hoping to sell your offering to your partner’s customer, there has to be a “better together” story that shows a beneficial overlap between your two solutions.
- Joint messaging. Which features best support your joint value prop? Which benefits does the joint audience care about most? Remember that your partner marketing strategy may require elevating different features and benefits than you do in your individual marketing materials.
- Joint assets. Solution briefs, joint web pages, and coordinated social media campaigns are some of the assets partners can create together. But remember, a co-branded template does not a joint asset make. Whether created by you or your partner, every campaign asset must tell a consistent story around your joint value prop.
- Joint go-to-market activity calendar. Create a joint calendar to ensure that all of your communications and activities—whether initiated by you or your partner—work together to present a coordinated campaign. It’s important to plot this out to make sure each company is taking responsibility for different weeks so you don’t end up with some weeks being too heavy and others being empty. If you haven’t already, make sure to answer questions such as, will you be using your social channel or your partner’s, or both? Who will post what and when?
- Joint sales training & support. This should not be overlooked. Without specific training about the audience for and benefits of the joint solution, sales teams are liable to fall back on what they know best—how to sell their own company’s solution. Create scripts, battle cards, or other sales support materials explaining the value prop and key benefits of the joint offering, and make sure to train both teams on their use before the campaign.
- Communications & tracking plan. How will you track the partnership’s progress and how will both partners be updated on that progress? We recommend setting up weekly meetings to make sure both teams stay in the know and that the planning and execution of your campaign assets stays on track.
Step 3: Sell.
If you’ve laid your foundation and worked together to build an integrated campaign, you should be in good shape for the selling or execution phase. During this time, you should continue to work closely with your partner to monitor and optimize the performance of your activities.
Drive successful outcomes with:
These meetings don’t go away once you begin your campaign. Instead, their focus shifts to reviewing campaign execution and performance. It’s important for each side to share this information throughout the campaign so you can rapidly adjust elements that aren’t working.
RESULTS TRACKING & OPTIMIZATION.
Successful marketers know that optimization is an ongoing process. This doesn’t change when you work with a partner—but it can be more difficult to get and act on the information you need. Drive success by regularly sharing performance results with each other—and then working together to determine how you will adapt and adjust based on what you are seeing.
Don’t confine your discussion to a specific tactic. Look for broad insights about your joint audience’s preferences by channel, and discuss how you can use these insights to optimize other parts of your campaign and pivot off of each other to accelerate success.
The Iron Horse insight.
To create successful partner marketing programs, teams from both companies need to leave their baggage at the door and come prepared to start fresh and create a totally new campaign based on a unified feature set and joint audience. Don’t overlook the importance of having a strong project leader who can stay neutral and hold both teams accountable to joint goals.