Partnering Strategy
Min read

Automating Partner Management Processes Across Their Lifecycle


Managing a partner program can be challenging.

Working with multiple companies and diverse partner categories can often leave you feeling overwhelmed and short on time.

To simplify your tasks and enhance the efficiency of your partner program, consider adopting automation for partner management.

However, automation isn't a standalone solution. It's essential first to streamline and operationalize your partner management procedures to harness automation effectively.

This article will shed light on the essential partner management processes to streamline before diving into automation. Additionally, we'll provide actionable strategies for partner managers to automate various tasks throughout a partner's lifecycle.

If you're a partner manager seeking to reclaim your time and optimize your workload, this article is tailor-made for you.

Checklist for Creating Partner Management Processes

Before diving into each stage of the partner lifecycle, it's worth starting off by setting some ground rules to follow when formalizing processes that are going to govern how you manage your partners.

There are a few core principles that you should aim to stick including:

  • Replicable and easy to teach to other
  • Void of unnecessary complications
  • Well planned and thought out
  • Leverage automation wherever possible
  • Future-proof

By following this checklist when deciding upon your partner lifecycle process you will not only ensure that everyone on your team is able to understand and implement the procedures set out, but you will also have a replicable playbook that can also be implemented easily by new members to your team.

Formalizing Processes for Partner Recruitment and Selection

Without partners, you don't have a partner program.

So it makes sense that the first step of a partner lifecycle that needs to be thought about is how you go about selecting and recruiting partners to join your partner program. Fixed processes not only increase the likelihood of future partner retention and success, but also ensures that your program is properly represented and casts your company in a positive light. 

Ideal Partner Profile

At the beginning of this article, we highlighted the challenge partner managers face due to limited time. Without a clear partner profile, they might end up spending excessive time on every potential partner they encounter.

Streamlining this aspect of the partner lifecycle is crucial. One effective approach is to establish a comprehensive ideal partner profile.

To craft this profile, consider various factors: the primary objective of your partner program, your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), and the company demographics that align with your business.

(For more information on how to define who is a good partner for your business, read more in our blog post “How to Choose the Right Partners”)

Once you've identified these elements, it's beneficial to compile a concise document or one-pager detailing this profile. This document can help you further tailor partner recruitment processes to ensure you attract valuable leads.

Partners not aligning with this profile should be given lower priority. Consequently, recruitment efforts should strictly adhere to the outlined criteria.

For added efficiency, tools like ChatGPT can be employed. By inputting your ideal partner profile into ChatGPT, you can then direct it to analyze a potential partner's webpage to determine its compatibility with your profile.

Recruitment messaging and policies

We discussed in the paragraph above, around your partner team only trying to recruit partners that fit a certain partner profile.

The process of recruiting these partners is a distinct procedure in and of itself, and it should be systematized before attempting automation.

In creating a robust policy around partner recruitment, thought should be taken in defining things like messaging, how to craft an outreach message, and what mediums you should use in order to reach target partners.

Once defining these key pillars your partner team should have a set of guiding principles that they should be able to follow in partner recruitment efforts.

When you have defined these core components, you can then broach the topic of automation.

When automating these parts of the partner management process, seek tools designed to help scale recruitment efforts.

There exist many tools that enable messaging at scale, such as sales engagement platforms like Gong and Clari, in addition to ways to send engaging materials such as personalized videos at scale such as Sendspark.

With core principles defined and automation platforms in place, you will have a replicable scalable process for this part of the partner management process.

Formalizing Process for Partner Onboarding & Training

When you think about the sequential steps that form parts of the partner lifecycle, your next step is to ensure program participants  know and understand your product in depth.

In order to do so, you need to provide them with a robust onboarding and training plan to set them up for success. Providing new partners with well-defined processes underscores your program’s professionalism to help instill confidence in their decision to join. And, when these processes are augmented with automation, partners can operate semi-independently, allowing you to scale onboarding partner management.

Welcome materials and meeting talking points

The initial impression partners have of your program is pivotal. Hence, it's essential to determine what your team should showcase during the introductory call.

A common approach for such calls is to use a slide deck that outlines vital aspects of your product, program, and partner expectations.

To guarantee a consistent onboarding experience for all partners, your team should agree on the deck's content and structure. Additionally, a collective review ensures everyone is familiar with the primary discussion points to be addressed.

Learning tracks – putting learnings in sequence

Once you have got the kick off call out the way, your next step will be to either run a training session with the key stakeholders at your partner's organization or alternatively get them into some type of partner portal so they can take training through an LMS.

One important thing to consider at this stage is ensuring that training is constructed in an ordered manner, which is likely to be easy to follow and will provide an optimal partner experience as the lessons build on one another.

Having this decided upon by your team ensures that everyone is aligned and understands how to direct their partners in the best way.

Defining activation 

Most partner managers know that merely completing training and attending a welcome meeting isn't always sufficient.

Genuine activation, meaning when a partner is truly prepared to contribute to your revenue stream, is subjective. Hence, it's crucial for teams to collaboratively define what "activation" entails.

To maintain team alignment, establish a clear checklist for partners to be considered "activated". This might include:

  • Attending a welcome meeting
  • Finishing their training course
  • Making their first referral

A clear definition aids your partner team in prioritizing tasks and focusing on activities that show partners might not be fully activated.

Formalizing Processes for Marketing/ Sales Practices and Material Usage

Marketing is essential for driving demand in any business. For your partners, it's crucial to equip them with promotional assets, strategies, and potential funding  to enable them to boost revenue for your partner program. However, allowing them to represent your brand (and potentially spend your money) without well-defined processes can lead to mismanaged opportunities and poor ROI. 

Therefore, at this stage of partner lifecycle management, fixed processes serve as the guiding hand your partners crave, and automation can help reinforce your procedures while reducing common sources of inefficiencies. 

Determine how to disseminate materials with most efficiency

In partner programs, equipping partners with resources to promote your product is essential.

Yet, with many partners, distributing these materials becomes challenging. 

The sheer scale of partners in you program means that its difficult to easily get the right resources into the right hands.

Without figuring out a way to do this, your resources can end up getting buried in inboxes and missed, resulting in nobody using the resources you have put time and effort into creating.

To streamline this vital aspect of partner management, it's advisable to create a structured process.

Depending on your program's resources, the approach can differ:

  1. For well-funded programs, a PRM solution efficiently ensures timely distribution and automates many of the processes related to managing this stage of the partner lifecycle. Many include valuable features like search bars and content tagging that determines which partner groups can access which marketing and sales materials.  
  1. For resource-limited programs, consider having a shared library of content hosted in a drive that partners can access and use.

Determine who can put their logo on which materials

It is common to have materials that can be co-branded by partners in order to promote your software or solution to their customer base.

However, not every asset will be appropriate to be co-branded.

Defining this with your team is another thing that is an important part of your partner management process.

In order to work this out, consider creating a folder for “approved” assets which are free for partners to co-brand.

This folder can then be pulled from by your team when partners ask for specific collateral.

Additionally, for those looking to automate this step further, PRM providers typically have this functionality as part of their platforms. The benefit of this is that partners will have no choice but to follow your co-branding processes with no opportunity for misunderstanding. PRM users will be able to add their logo alongside yours (in a way of which you approve) without involvement from your partner management team, freeing up account managers to facilitate more partners at once.  

Formalize playbooks on how to represent the products and brand

In most company marketing strategies, brand guidelines dictate elements like color schemes, language, and product representation.

The same applies to partners.

For partner teams, it's essential to establish clear guidelines on how partners should discuss your product and what they should or shouldn't mention.

Crafting a detailed playbook or one-pager is an effective method to encapsulate these guidelines. This not only educates partners on product representation but also prepares your team to address queries from your partners' sales and marketing teams.

Formalizing Processes for Co-Selling and Ongoing Management

The above-mentioned management processes are prerequisites of sorts, that go into ensuring your partner teams are prepped and ready to go to market with your product.

The next phase in the partner lifecycle pertains to working together to close deals, as well as the additional steps you need to to take to ensure your partners are happy revenue-producing parts of your program.

Information sharing

To effectively co-sell with partners, it's crucial to devise a strategy for sharing information and data, ensuring accurate targeting and planning.

The power of data, when used correctly, is a single pane view of all the potential opportunities that you have with your partners, that helps you not only quantify the economic potential of the partnership but also so that it becomes easy to work together with your partners to plan how to go to market together.

This critical step however, is largely unformalized in many partner programs that resort to antiquated methods of sharing data, such as the swapping back and forth of spreadsheets, which leads to opportunities being missed.

In order to not only streamline this, but also to create a replicable process that considers tools like WorkSpan. The WorkSpan platform facilitates seamless sharing of opportunities between your CRM and platforms like AWS ACE and Microsoft Partner Center. This not only provides transparency for deal closures but also prevents potential revenue loss from overlooked deals.

Customers that use WorkSpan have saved hours of time sharing information with partners and have accelerated revenue growth as a result.

Expectations around meetings

Managing numerous partner relationships at differing lifecycle stages can be challenging, especially when it comes to scheduling and tracking meetings.

Without established protocols for meeting frequency and content, partner management can quickly become chaotic and unstructured.

To instill a structured process, start by categorizing partners based on the revenue they contribute to your program. Then, determine the frequency at which your partner managers should engage with each group.

For instance, partners not generating revenue might only need a monthly touchpoint. In contrast, high-revenue partners might benefit from weekly meetings to ensure they have the necessary resources. More strategic partners might also require quarterly business reviews for in-depth technical discussions.

Additionally, remember that partners’ needs vary based on where they reside within their lifecycle, and that the talking points of the meetings should reflect as such. Equip your account managers with insights into the type of questions and feedback to touch upon based on a partner’s current maturity level.

Once this structure is in place, consider automating communication for lower-tier partners. Instead of regular meetings, system-generated emails might suffice.

Tools like WorkSpan offer asynchronous collaboration functionalities, reducing the need for direct meetings and enabling your team to collaborate efficiently with partner sales representatives on deals.

Formalize Process for MDF Requests and Approvals

A significant component of many major channel programs is the option to request marketing development funds (MDF) to enhance product promotion to their clientele.

Navigating the MDF process is intricate. It encompasses partners applying for funds, receiving approval, obtaining the funds, and then providing proof of appropriate fund utilization.

Given the financial implications, this aspect of a partner program MUST be well-defined, as it entails direct monetary transfers from the company to partners, contingent on specific prerequisites.

As with other steps highlighted in this article, it's advisable to establish a criteria or scoring system. 

Partners must meet certain benchmarks to access MDF funds in most cases, with criteria they must meet including:

  • Revenue milestones
  • Activation status
  • Organizational size

The benchmarks you choose should align with your unique partner program requirements and budgets, so there is not a one size fits all approach to determining them.

Qualifying partners must then be given clear processes for how they should submit MDF requests. 

This includes who receives the submission using what form of communication and what details to provide.

Our tip? The easiest way to manage this process is to have partners submit MDF requests using a designated form that details exactly what you need in order to make a decision. Which leads us to our next recommended process for MDF management.

You must formalize how your team will choose which request to fund. 

After all, not every idea will have equal merrit and you’ll have limited budget. Therefore, set forth processes for MDF approval while keeping in mind that a quick turn-around time is essential to successfully managing partners. 

What’s more, make sure to regularly refresh your internal guidelines; with each new campaign’s success or failure, you’ll glean new insights into what marketing strategies work, a concept we further explore in Collaborate for Success: Building a Co-Marketing Partnership Plan to Maximize ROI.

After determining the above, this segment of partner management is ripe for automation, given its financial nature and multi-step process.

Tools like WorkSpan offer features to streamline this via their Co-Invest solution. With WorkSpan's Co-Invest, companies can craft and oversee incentive programs encompassing various stages of the customer journey, from business planning and training to customer support and other result-driven incentives.

Define Processes for Handling Channel Conflict

Addressing channel conflict is vital in any partner program, both for retaining partners and preparing for future automation.

Effective conflict management requires clearly communicated processes for managing issues when they first arise to minimize any escalation . While these guidelines will differ based on your program, some potential rules include:

  • Awarding deals to the first-registering partner
  • Setting stages for deal "reservation" for a partner, like reaching the procurement phase
  • Assigning specific territories to partners for exclusive deal handling

This part of your partner lifecycle can be semi-automated using deal registration portals, where partners submit and seek approval for leads. 

While human intervention remains necessary for final deal approval, a portal offers a comprehensive view of registered deals and highlights those needing attention.

Formalizing Reporting 

A partner program that isn't able to report or track their successes is one that will never be able to reach its potential.

Being able to have set KPIs which you track against and are able to gauge your progress on is another critical component of partner program management.

Define which KPIs to track and present

To structure this process effectively, it's essential to collaborate with primary stakeholders in the company to discern their priorities, which will likely encompass net revenue derived from the program.

When viewing the partner program holistically, a more detailed approach to metrics is necessary. Key metrics to define might include:

  • Total leads generated
  • Co-sell win rate
  • Co-sell deal sales cycle duration

(For a comprehensive list of metrics, refer to our blog post titled Measuring Partner Program Performance: Metrics You Should Be Tracking)

After pinpointing the crucial metrics to monitor, the subsequent phase involves automating the collection and analysis of this data.

Explore tech solutions adept at effortlessly tracking and presenting pivotal data. WorkSpan is one such platform, offering automated reporting and a centralized database of all partnership activities. 

This data can then be seamlessly integrated into reports for broader organizational sharing.

Auditing Your Partner Processes to Pursue Improvements

The preceding sections have guided you through various phases of partner lifecycle management, providing strategies and insights on structuring processes and, where feasible, automating them.

An essential aspect of the partner management journey to note is its iterative nature. The entire process outlined should undergo periodic reviews to assess its effectiveness.

Certain elements must be explicitly incorporated into your partner management strategy to guarantee this continuous evaluation.

Leverage data to form hypotheses

As highlighted earlier, data plays a pivotal role. By monitoring metrics across your partner ecosystem, you can gauge the vitality of your partner program.

Data not only offers insights but also empowers you to refine your program and conduct tests. It's the factor  that indicates if your experiments yield desired outcomes.

For instance, consider establishing a procedure in which every significant modification to your partner program—like recruiting different partner types or altering the onboarding process—is data-driven.

This approach ensures agility, allowing you to swiftly identify and rectify ineffective changes or further invest in beneficial alterations to your partner program.

After structuring this process, automation can be achieved using software solutions mentioned earlier, which can track data and present it in a user-friendly dashboard format

Verify your hypotheses with partner feedback

Valuing your partners' perspectives is crucial to continuously improving your partner lifecycle management processes.

Beyond just monitoring data, it's essential to actively seek feedback from your partners.

To integrate this into your partner lifecycle management strategy, establish a procedure in which, during strategic QBRs with partners, you include a segment to inquire about their overall satisfaction. Document this feedback for team review.

This feedback collection can be streamlined using survey tools like Simplesat and Survey Monkey. These platforms allow you to schedule regular quarterly surveys, ensuring timely capture and storage of partner insights.

Evaluate and Iterate on Partner Program

Consider your partner lifecycle management plan as a dynamic program, always open to evaluation using the techniques discussed.

What's effective now may not be in the future due to shifting business priorities. This could necessitate significant changes to your partner program.

As a partner team, always seek ways to enhance your program. By doing so, you'll offer a top-notch partner experience, potentially boosting revenue.

A Final Word of Automating Your Partner Management Processes

This article has comprehensively charted the partner lifecycle, highlighting the integral elements of a strong partner program and the processes necessary to strategically manage them.

We've delved into the structuring of each segment to ensure team alignment and laid the foundation for automating many labor-intensive tasks that occupy your partner team.

By adhering to the guidelines presented here, you'll not only refine your partner program but also implement strategies that optimize efficiency, allowing you to focus more on the heart of your partner program—your partners.

As reiterated throughout this piece, WorkSpan provides a software solution that alleviates many of the burdensome tasks your team faces.

For a tool that streamlines your partner team's operations, consider exploring what WorkSpan has to offer.

About WorkSpan

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