Why give-to-get isn't the only way in SaaS partnerships

Yes, give-to-get is nice. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours is the founding principle of the SaaS partner ecosystem, after all. But when it comes to developing partnerships that pay off over the long haul, there’s something much more important than an exchange of referrals for ecosystem development.

There has to be a balance of contributed value coming from both sides. 

Sourced revenue is not the only metric of value

Sourced revenue is not necessarily a metric by which to measure a partner’s value. 

When I scaled my previous business (that one that drove 50% of all revenue from partner referrals, scaling to 8-figure revenue), we never gave partners referrals at all. Why? Because we partnered with almost every tech platform in our space, so giving a referral meant helping someone swipe a customer from one of our other partners – not a great way to make friends and influence people. 

So we were clear with our partners about this. They weren’t going to get referrals from us. But we still managed to add so much value to their platforms that almost all of our major partners gave us “Tech Partner of the Year”, “Focus ISV” or “Hero Integration” awards. 

Some alternatives to give-to-get

There are many ways to add value to your partner ecosystem which don’t necessarily involve referrals. 

Be a closer

No matter how big you are, your services and expertise can add the extra bit of value that helps close a deal for your partner. The more this happens, the more deals you’ll be brought into – a great position to be in. Keep an eye out for opportunities to position yourself as a closer.

Be an innovator

No matter how advanced or comprehensive the platform, they often need agile, innovative partners to fill essential, niche feature gaps and help keep them in step with dynamic, ever-changing user requirements. Aim to be the one to fill these critical gaps. Customer satisfaction often hinges on these features, which means it hinges on you. 

Be the delighter

If you’re significantly enhancing a platform’s users’ happiness, you’re indispensable. Even on the most powerful platforms, a few key integrations make customers happier. These are often small things that make a big difference to workflow, or the user’s ability to carry out complex tasks easily. Solve these problems for your partner, and they’ll love you for it.

Be the influencer

Even if you have nothing tangible to offer a platform, if you manage to excite their user base and build a big reach, even the biggest tech platforms may go out of their way to be associated with you. This isn’t the most sustainable strategy, but I’ve seen it work well in the short term.


Never underestimate the importance of making sure your partners understand the value you add to their customers, their ability to close deals and to their platforms. If you’re adding value anywhere, tell them about it. Consistently. Enthusiastically.

For partner managers with hundreds of partner relationships in their portfolio, this can be a challenging thing to keep up with. But it’s vital for helping you foster close, fruitful SaaS partnerships that go the distance, and it's a key aspect of partner ecosystem development. 

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