Partner Program: A Guide to Build the Perfect Program in 7 Easy Steps [2023 + Examples]

Brands can drive much more traction by working with quality partners. A good partner program will expose your brand to a wider audience of qualified buyers, while elevating you and your partners’ businesses. 

Strategic partnerships generate about 28% business growth, while paid ads gain around 18%. And by 2025, almost a third of global sales will come from partnership ecosystems. 

But partner programs are challenging to build, and you need the perfect value proposition and partners to succeed. Between 60 and 65% of strategic partnerships fail because of a lack of trust or communication and unrealistic goals.

However, if you take the right approach to develop a partner program, you can achieve outstanding results!

Which is why we’ve done the research to find the best and easiest 7 steps to create a great partner program to multiply your bottom line.

Plus, you’ll learn what you need for a partner program that really works, and which KPIs to track!

Ready to learn about partner programs and boost your revenue?

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    Partner Program: What Makes it Successful?

    Partner programs are agreements between your brand and another business. The business markets your products to a wider audience aligned with your ideal buyers. You’ll pay your partner for every sale they make on your behalf.

    Partner programs are effective because you may not know about some of the targeted customer segments that your partner has in its customer base, along with established channels to reach that audience. 

    So, what makes a lucrative partner program?

    Let’s take a look:

    1.The Right Partners

    Who you choose to work with majorly impacts your partner program. Picking the wrong brands will result in poor results and wasted time and resources. However, the bright side is you’ll be able to learn from this mistake and improve your next attempt.

    Be meticulous with how you choose potential partners and do extensive research on them. Understand which customers they target, what value they offer, what they share with your brand, their values, and how you can help each other. There’s no need to rush agreements. Be realistic and analytical when evaluating partnership proposals.

    2.A Strategic Start

    Partner programs are no doubt profitable ventures. But don’t let greed get in the way and pour loads of money and product into a new agreement. Use a passive approach at first and test how quickly customers are buying your products before progressing with your strategy. Measure your partner’s performance and determine whether your program works. For instance, if customers aren’t engaged in your program, find ways to improve on this before investing more in your partnership.

    3.A Competitive Edge

    To benefit both you and your partner you must have a competitive edge. Buyers must want to purchase from your brand instead of your competitors because you offer more. And partners should want to work with your brand instead of your competitors for the same reason. How you define your competitive edge depends on your value proposition and what your competitors are doing. Don’t be afraid to be authentic and develop a brand identity like no other.

    Summary: Partner Program: What Makes it Successful?

    1. The right partners
    2. A strategic start
    3. A competitive edge

    Source: Nordic APIs

    Partner Program KPIs to Track

    Track these KPIs to evaluate your partner program:

    1. Number of active partners: Which % of partners are currently active?
    2. Number of inactive partners: Track which of your partners are inactive and how many become inactive over time.
    3. Activation rate: How many partners become active, right after sign-up vs. those that don’t contribute to your program?
    4. Conversion rates from partners: What are the conversion rates for your partners independently and overall?
    5. Partner signup rates: How many new partner signups do you get monthly?
    6. Types of partners: What partners have been most interested in working with your brand? 
    7. New partner sources: What are the sources from your partners?
    8. Total revenue earned from partners: How much have you profited from your partners every month? How does this compare to your desired ROI?
    9. Total commission paid to partners: How much have you paid partners every month? How does this compare to your revenue?
    10. Leads generated: Although they didn’t buy your product, is your partner generating quality leads? Where are the sources of these leads, and what prevents them from converting?

    All these KPIs reveal the details of how your partner program is performing. You can understand what brands are interested in your brand, what are your pain points and whether your pricing structure works.

    Here’s a few statistics on what businesses with partner programs have to say:

    partner program stats
    Source: CrossBeam

    7 Easy Steps to Build Your Perfect Partner Program

    1.Define Your Brand’s Value Proposition

    Before you find the perfect partners for your brand, there’s a lot to do. Starting with defining your value proposition. Determine what sets you a part of the competition and why buyers need your brand. Potential partners want to know this information to decide if working with your brand will benefit them. If you copy your competitor’s identity and approach, quality partners won’t find value in your brand. 

    Your value proposition directly tells your audience why you matter. Developing a value proposition will take research and time. Align your value proposition with your brand identity and missions. For example, if your brand’s value proposition is recycling all your resources and product materials, does this match your brand identity and values?

    When you have an idea of your value proposition evaluate this against the market, your competitors, and target buyers. 

    Does your value proposition give you an edge against your competition?

    Does it connect with your buyers and what they want to achieve through your product?

    With a solid value proposition, you can lay out the rest of your program partner strategy and know how to pitch to potential partners.

    value for partner program stats
    Source: FullSerge

    2.Do Extensive Competitor Research

    Competitor research it’s a component of your value proposition. You’ll need this to win over partners too. Not all businesses you reach out to may want loads of research and statistics to prove your worth. But those with impactful customers will. Evaluate and track EVERY aspect of your competitors, from how they market themselves to their social media followings and credibility.

    No business is perfect. With all this research, you’re bound to find a crack in your competitor’s approach. Your product and brand must make target buyers reconsider the businesses they’re currently supporting.

    Let’s look at a simple example of this. I found and stayed loyal to a fantastic nail technician. For months my undying support strengthened the brand-to-customer relationship until my friend shared another nail technician’s work on Instagram. This one had a much more established social following. Her profile was scattered with pictures and testimonials of happy clients and jaw-dropping nail designs I’d only seen on Pinterest.

    And guess what?

    Yep, I do my nails there now.

    It’s a silly example, but it proves how a minor difference in social proof, product quality, and online reputation influenced me to opt for the competitor.

    You need to be the competitor in this story and find a way to redirect your competitor’s buyers to you by offering something they don’t.

    3.Understand Your Target Audience and Sales Funnel

    Partners with quality dedicated buyers will want information on your existing customer base. They need this information to determine whether you’re what they want in a partner.

    What would be the point of a business selling your products if it’s not relevant to what they sell? 

    Understanding your target audience also helps you determine what you want in a partner for a customer-centric strategy. Your partner must have customers that fulfill your ideal buyer personas to drive traction to your products. 

    Target audience for partner program
    Source: AGS

    Not all the features of your target audience and your partner’s customers will be the same. You must identify which factors change and whether this affects your approach. For example, if you’re an Ecommerce store wanting to partner with a brand in France, consider the buyers in that geographical location.

    What is relevant to them, and what market challenges do they face?

    What trends exist in that location, and how will this give me an edge or disadvantage in pitching to partners?

    Detail all your competitor and target audience research into actionable insights. Start with writing down your research and create visuals like buyer personas, competitor and market trends, etc.

    4.Determine Your Pricing Structure

    It’s time to consider how you make a profit from your partner’s sales. The best place to start is on a commission basis. Your partner taking between 15% and 25% is ideal. How much your partner takes depends on your products, your traction, and how likely your product is to succeed. Ensure your pricing structure is simple. You don’t want to scare off quality partners through a complicated process.

    Some businesses use non-monetary payments like lead sharing or backlinks. Many partners may consider this if you have valuable data and your backlinks are likely to drive targeted web traffic. This approach relies on your resources and authority. 

    5.Pin Down the Terms and Conditions

    Don’t forget to define the T&Cs of your partner program. Work with a lawyer on this for clear terms, avoiding or solving potential conflict. There shouldn’t be anything for you and your partner to argue over. All the details of your agreement must be clear and direct.

    Your partner program’s terms and conditions must consider factors like:

    • Your compensation and pricing structure.
    • When will you approve and issue payments?
    • How will you track customers to your partner?
    • What is the time limit from customers engaging with your partner to buying your product?
    • How long is this agreement valid?
    • The cancellation terms of your agreement.

    The more direct and intuitive you can make this information for partners, the better!

    For example, Influitive details all the information about their partner program in an easily digestible way:

    Influitive program
    Source: Influitive

    6.Decide on the Type of Partners You Want to Partner With

    Which brands or professionals do you consider to be your most ideal partners? Do you want to work with a major retailer, a thriving Ecommerce store, or a professional that markets themselves as a brand?

    There are loads of partners to consider. A few of these partners include entities like:

    • Agencies: These include marketing and design agencies that can sell third-party products related to their target audience. Eg. web hosting services and SEO tools.
    • Consultants: A consultant is an expert in a specific field. Businesses may hire them over agencies. Consultants help brands make the best choices for profit and growth.
    • Ecommerce stores: Online stores that sell products complementary to yours. It’s best to define how your products will complement the store’s current offerings. Avoid stores that offer products like yours because we’d consider this competition.
    • Retail stores: Instead of an online store, do you want to sell your products through brick-mortar businesses? The T&Cs will be a little more complicated for these types of partners.

    7.Choose Your Software and Secure Brand Partners

    Software makes managing and tracking your partner program easy. Not every venture may achieve your desired results, and tracking your program will tell you. Choose partner program software that works for your goals and budget. But there are some standard features you’ll need.

    Your partner program tool must offer features like:

    • Payment integration
    • Detailed tracking and analytics
    • An intuitive dashboard to view and manage your partner program and performance
    • A dashboard to track partner leads

    After choosing the best partner program software, reach out to possible partners. There are three ways you can do this:

    1. Go out and find partners.
    2. Attract partners to come to you.
    3. 1 & 2!

    The third choice is the best until you have an established number and a list of partners. At that point, you’ll be in the position of other brands wanting to partner with you, where strategy #2 comes in.

    Until then, actively network to secure brand partnerships and use a dedicated landing page or contact form for interested partners.

    Finding Partners

    You can use just about any social media network to reach out to partners. Depending on your ideal partner, it may be easy to contact the brand. Some businesses have contact forums for dedicated interested partners. Others you may need to cold email/call. Many are small enough to reach out to stakeholders on social media. If you need contact information, use LinkedIn or find valid email addresses with a tool like Hunter.io.

    The bigger the business, the harder it will be to get directly to the relevant department or person. But some enterprises have online forums for interested partners. So how easy it is to connect with partners 100% depends on the brands you’re targeting.

    Have a look at how Unbounce uses a dedicated landing page for it’s partner program:

    Unbounce example
    Source: Unbounce

    Attracting Partners

    Bring partners to your business through a dedicated contact form or landing page for interested partners. You can promote the link to this page on your social networks or using a website popup. Many businesses also create ads to attract brand partners or use content strategy to appeal to targeted brands.

    2 Examples of Hugely Successful Partner Programs 

    1.Appland

    Appland is a tech company based in Sweden. They develop white label app store products for mobile companies, mobile devices, SMART TVs, and some online communities. These businesses then resell optimized app store products while relying on Appland to develop them.

    Appland program
    Source: Appland

    When Appland was founded in 2011 it had a clear value proposition – fantastic quality game subscriptions without ads. There wasn’t much competition, and Appland positioned itself miles ahead with high-quality mobile games. Fast forward to 2018, and world-renowned global mobile services company, OnMobile buys Appland in cash for about $15 million.

    So how did Appland reach this value in just 7 years?

    Well, the trick lies in their successful partner program.

    There were four steps to this partner program strategy:

    1. Extensive customer and competitor research.
    2. A professional and robust sales representation. 
    3. A revamped website personalized to their target audience.
    4. Pre-sale and post-sale tools for partners. 

    Speak to buyers and customers in your sector for as much information as possible. Without these four steps, Appland wouldn’t have been the success it was.

    2.Airbnb and Flipboard

    Here’s a very different example of a successful partner program. Airbnb is a globally used platform to find and offer paid accommodation in all shapes and forms. But Flipboard is much less well-known than Airbnb, making it a valuable partnership for this brand. Flipboard is a news-reading app that produces tailored smart magazines based on your interests and trends.

    Airbnb and Flipboard
    Source: Flipboard

    The Airbnb and Flipboard partnership was straightforward. Flipboard would share Airbnb experiences with targeted users. When users respond to any stories featuring Airbnb’s experiences with a “Heart” they automatically get entered into a competition. The winner of this contest received a free Airbnb trip.

    What made this partnership possible was the shared values and interests between Airbnb, Flipboard, and their audiences. This is a win-win partner program with Airbnb wanting higher traction and awareness and Flipboard wanting to optimize reader engagement.

    Boosting this partner program, Airbnb and Flipboard used marketing tactics like:

    • Popups
    • Email newsletters
    • Push notifications
    • Video ads
    • Social ads
    • An immersive microsite

    So what were the partner program’s results?

    The click-through rate (CTR) from Flipboard to Airbnb was about 3.4% over one month. Over 440k users liked Airbnb’s experience content over 70k times, and Airbnb’s Flipboard profile followers went from 0 to 29k. More than 38k users visited Airbnb, leading to an overall CTR of 9% for all total users.

    Flipboard also generated more than 4.2 million page flips!

    Conclusion

    To reach a wider but targeted audience, build a partner program. These programs work to benefit both partners and can optimize your traction and sales by using another brand’s resources and customer base.

    To create a successful partner program you need the right programs, a strategic start, and a competitive edge. Avoid losing track of your partner program’s performance and track KPIs like the number of active partners, partner signup rates, and how you secure new partners.

    Creating a profitable partner program starts with defining your brand’s value proposition, doing extensive customer research, and understanding your target audience. Following this guide for partner programs that drive traction, you can maximize your reach and sales!

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is a partner program?

    A partner program is an agreement between your brand and another business. The business will promote your products to thier customer base which is aligned with your target audience. This article covers the features of successful partner programs and simple steps to build a personalized partner program for your brand!

    What do you need for a successful partner program?

    The building blocks for a successful partner program include finding the right partners, using a strategic approach and developing a competitive edge. To build a thriving partner program start with understanding your target audience and defining your value proposition. Read this article to find out how to build a profitable partner program with maximum traction.

    What KPIs must I track for a partner program?

    Vital KPIs to track for your partner program include partner signup right, overall revenue generated, overall commission paid to partners and new partner sources. Tracking these KPIs make it easy to stay ahead of your partner program and achieve your desired goals. Read our article to find out to build a partner program in 2023 and what it takes!

    References

    Breezy: 110 stats you never knew about strategic partnerships

    Flipboard: Marketing Case Study: How Airbnb and Flipboard Teamed Up to Introduce Experiences

    Forrester: Invest In Partnerships To Drive Growth

    Mckinsey & Company: McKinsey Quarterly 2018 Number 1: Overview and full issue

    VCCircle: OnMobile Acquires Swedish Gaming Platform Appland

    Appland