WEBINAR: Transitioning from CMO to CRO: Insights from the Front Lines.

Register Now


Why partnership marketing programs fail.

Read Time: 5 Mins

Many companies are gun shy when it comes to partnership marketing because they’ve had a bad experience. While it’s tempting to fault partner marketing itself, in most cases it’s how companies approach partner marketing that’s to blame.

We’ve worked on hundreds of B2B partner marketing campaigns and while no experience is exactly the same, we’ve seen some trends emerge.

In our recent post, we outlined a strategy for driving successful partnership marketing outcomes. Here are the five most common reasons partnership programs fail and what you can do differently.

1. Didn’t have the right people on the call(s).

Just like your internal marketing programs, partner marketing campaigns typically involve a lot of moving parts and resources to do them well. We’ve seen a lot of partner programs stagnate during the planning process because the team members either lacked the authority to make necessary decisions to move the project forward, failed to understand internal process, technology, or resourcing barriers to the proposal. An even bigger problem is not having a flexible, strategic thinker involved who can help both companies break out of their individual boxes and figure out how to work together.

Here’s a typical example: Partner A is a small organization with limited resources but the ability to switch gears on a dime. Partner B is a large enterprise, with all of the process constraints that come with that. Without on-the-ground resources in the room, these two organizations may very well plan a campaign that is impossible to execute given Partner A’s resources, and Partner B’s timelines.


At a minimum, make sure to include the following team members from both companies in your initial discussions:

  • Open-minded, strategic person
  • Decision maker
  • Budget owner
  • Someone who knows your processes and resourcing well
  • A neutral leader who can drive the project to meet the mutual goals

In most companies, this means including a VP, CMO, product manager and program or project manager from each side.

In addition, asking these questions at the outset can help make sure the project starts off on solid footing, even if you’re missing some key team members:

  • What will the production process look like?
  • Who will need to sign off on deliverables? Will there be a legal reviewer? How long will that take?
  • Are there brand guidelines, logo files, and templates that you’ll need?
  • What tools will you use for video meetings, file sharing, and file reviews? Does everyone have access?
  • What is the process for scheduling social posts, posting web content, setting up nurtures, and getting reports? What is the lead time for getting these functions set up?
  • What will your meeting cadence be? (We recommend a weekly meeting between the two teams.)

2. Didn’t agree on who was doing what.

Without clearly defined roles, two things can happen—either you will end up with too many cooks in the kitchen, making it hard to get decisions made and move the project forward; or you will end up with gaps in coverage. This may seem obvious, but each team brings with it their own set of assumptions about how the project will proceed, based on the way they normally operate. This can lead to a lot of misunderstandings, especially when partners come from very different size organizations, and thus have wildly different processes, technology and resources.


Forget about how you “normally operate.” When you put together a partnership campaign, it’s like working for a new company. Establish roles and responsibilities for the partnership up front. Don’t be afraid to get granular—you should agree on everything from who is setting up the meetings, to who needs to attend, to which company’s social media and web channels will be used.

3. Doing co-marketing but expecting co-selling results.

There are three common types of partnership marketing programs, each of which is capable of producing different results. Co-hosting a webinar or co-branding a landing page with another company can bring you clout, expand exposure to your brand, and even bulk up your database. But without a longer joint campaign, joint sales support, and the ability for both partners to track conversions—you are not likely to prove ROI from these efforts


First, make sure you know which level of partner marketing you’re engaging in, so you can set realistic expectations and KPIs. For a one-off partner event, you might measure success by the number of net-new leads generated, or more specifically, by the number of new leads matching your ICP or from your target accounts—rather than by increased sales. On the other hand, if you want to do more than create awareness and share a few leads, reserve your partner engagements for longer, more integrated, multi-tactic programs (we call these co-selling programs). The greater investment will be worth it.

4. Didn’t build in reporting from Day 1.

The most common reason why companies don’t see results from their partner marketing programs is that they do not build in a way to track program performance. As with any other campaign, you need to identify goals and KPIs for your partner program from the outset.


Reporting and analytics cannot be an afterthought. The question, “How will we measure success?” needs to be part of your first meeting, followed by “how and how often will we share data?” Building reporting into your campaigns from the outset can be challenging even in internal projects. With partner programs, you not only are unlikely to have any control over how you access program data, but you must also navigate differences in reporting, lead status values, and more.

5. Didn’t have regular meetings.

One of the biggest issues that co-marketing programs have is not establishing a structure for the two teams to engage and connect. During the planning stage, regular communications help identify and resolve problems early. They also help build a strong relationship between both companies. During the execution stage, regular meetings allow you to track performance and optimize accordingly, just like you would with your in-house projects. Without regular communication and information-sharing, projects can derail quickly; without an established structure for engagement, it can be even harder to get them back on track.


Establish how you will share information at the beginning of the partnership. We recommend weekly meetings throughout the planning and execution phases of the campaign.

The Iron Horse insight.

With the right partner, the right partnership level, good communication and a strong leader, partner marketing programs can be a boon for both companies. However, past unsuccessful partner marketing experiences may lead some members of your team to reject the process outright. To convince a wary team member or stakeholder, look deeper at those previous programs; it’s highly likely that at least one of the problems laid out above was at play.

Related content.

Subscribe to our blog.
Get unstuck with the most interesting business ideas and our insights delivered to your inbox.

© 2024 Iron Horse. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy