How to Set Up a SaaS Partner Program

Now that you know all about the structure and benefits of a SaaS partner program, it’s time to take the next step:

Figuring out how to actually set up such a program.

Whatever type of partner program you opt for – be it a channel reseller relationship, an advocacy / referral arrangement or a strategic partnership – the key is to work closely with your new partners to align your messaging and make sure they are consistent in delivering your value proposition. Getting to that point requires education and onboarding.

Read on to learn how to set up a SaaS partner program and what are the 4 key onboarding steps to take.

Finding the Right Partner

The first step is to find the right partner, and make sure they are fully onboard and bought in to what you are both trying to do. When sourcing for potential partners, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Fit matters, A LOT! – You can’t find just anybody or any company to be a partner. Partnering up with a poor fit could ultimately do more damage to your bottom line and your brand perception than if you just had no partners at all. Look for partners that are either part of your target vertical and market, or who make sense to be affiliated with your product. This doesn’t mean you can’t be creative – thinking outside the box of your niche wheelhouse could reap some surprising gains.
  • Broad coverage helps – Broader coverage will open your company up to new, previously uncharted addressable markets, which is a huge benefit of SaaS partnerships. For example, we are a lot more well-known in the Boston area than, say, in the Pacific Northwest – it would make sense for us to seek our partners there. This also means you don’t want partners to overlap geographic reach, so don’t actively seek out partners in the same area.
  • Will they make you look good? – Finally, you want to find partners with sterling reputations within the industry. Linking up with an unreliable, untrustworthy and unsuccessful company will drag you down with it.

Gaining Full and Mutual Buy-In

A partnership means both sides are fully committed to the cause, whatever it may be. Once you’ve identified the partner you want to work with, it’s time to bring them fully on board.

Of course, for starters, that means identifying what you’re both trying to get out of this relationship. Broadening your market reach? Identifying a new source of hot leads? Improving the brand perception of both your companies? Collaborating on strategic initiatives? Making a little bit more money through a revenue-share program?

Beyond the motivations of the partner program, you should also vet each other with heavy scrutiny, making sure that you both work with the kind of clients that your respective software or product offerings are good for. Do you know what each other’s customers look like, and what they need to solve?

One thing to remember is that while you do want a committed and aligned relationship with your partner, you don’t want a strict, rigid and complicated onboarding system, with a multitude of hoops for them to jump through. Make sure you have low barriers of entry when beginning a relationship.

Time to Go to School

If another company is going to either help you sell your software or refer the right clients to your solution, they had better know what they’re talking about! This means becoming intimately familiar with the in’s and out’s of your product. The beginning of any SaaS partnership means a healthy amount of education – on your product, company and target market and ideal customer profile – is required.

Start by demoing your product to the team members at your new product. This will be a little different than your typical sales demos, so make sure you tailor it accordingly. You want frontline salespeople, project managers, and any other technical resource – along with the manager in charge of partnerships – to be at this demo. Encourage them to ask tough questions – you want everyone to leave the room feeling comfortable not only using, but selling and recommending your product to others.

With key accounts – such as our partnership with – it’s important to work more strategically, including on the initial educational portion of the partnership. Some of these partnerships might include co-marketing collaborations, which entail an even more intimate knowledge of each other and especially the ideal customer profile and target market for both sides of the partnership.

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Reinforce Messaging and Tactics

But the education should not stop after your initial onboarding demo. In fact, the most successful partnerships are the ones where both parties co-engage with a customer within the first 1-2 weeks after the initial demo. It’s important to talk to new partners about this expectation upfront, so throughout their demo, they’re thinking about how your product could benefit a specific customer. Partners are busy, and until it becomes routine, staying top-of-mind and having clear call-to-actions are important.

Make sure you provide your new partner with plenty of marketing collateral and other useful resources (such as any eBooks or whitepapers you’ve written) that they can use to both educate themselves, and to share with the clients they refer. Make sure to schedule regular calls to answer any questions or tackle any issues your partners might have. The best and most successful SaaS partnerships are those that work closely together throughout the relationship, not just when it first begins.

This is probably the most crucial element of any partnership – making sure that their messaging and sales or referral tactics are consistent and aligned to your core values. When partners go off-brand, they can severely damage the relationship, and potentially jeopardize any deals coming in. If they get your value proposition wrong, and communicate that erroneous message to a referral who becomes a customer, that unhappy customer might feel misled once they start using your product, and churn quickly.

The benefits of a SaaS partner program can only and fully be realized if you set it up properly and continuously maintain the relationship. Follow these four steps, and measure your partner program on the right metrics (which we will be covering in an upcoming blog post) and you should see your partner relationship blossom.

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