Programmatic partner engagement in five steps

It’s rough out there

The 2023 SaaS partnership environment is, to be quite frank, brutal. Partner ecosystems are exploding, both in size and complexity. Revenue targets are flying up into the stratosphere, and a tricky economic environment is making them increasingly difficult to reach. The role of the partnership manager is also getting more complex, too, with smaller partnership teams expected to manage more and more data on a day-to-day basis, and then leverage it into revenue. Hectic.

The bottom line: partner managers need a solution that allows them to do much more with much less.

Putting the awe in automation

One answer to these growing pressures is, of course, automation. Because let’s be real: it’s not possible to regularly and successfully reach the hundreds of people in your partner ecosystem without some level of automation. But should we be automating everything?

The perfect human-machine mashup

The short answer is, no. Full automation is not it. Essentially, you’ve got to hit the perfect balance between automation and the human touch. 30%-60% of the partner manager’s job involves repetitive messaging interactions (yawn!), and automating these tasks frees you up to focus on the parts of your job that require authentic human interactions to solidify and maintain great relationships.

How to make friends and influence people (other than the PAMs)

Possibly the most important mistake I made when I built an 8-figure partner ecosystem myself was focusing on just building relationships with partner managers. Don’t get me wrong, I love partner managers. But while these relationships are obviously important, they are not the relationships that are going to bring you leads, referrals or deals. In reality, these are going to come from the AEs, the CSMs, and the consultants in your partners’ organizations. These are the people who need to know who you are, who need to feel valued and trusted, and who certainly need to trust you. What are you doing to excite these people? You better get it figured out, ASAP.

How to make friends and influence HUNDREDS of people 

This is why programmatic engagement is absolutely key. In reality, great partnerships are the result of hundreds (or thousands) of great individual relationships (that’s a lot of birthdays to remember). Sure, you can manually manage 3 or 30 partner managers. But what about the 300 AEs who work in an organization? How do you even begin to build relationships with that many people?

The road to sweet, sweet programmatic engagement

Before you start: consolidate your data. Creating a successful programmatic engagement set-up starts with wrangling all your data in a way that makes it useful. The more data you have available, the more sophisticated you can get with your sexy automations. 

We all know how it goes in this biz: at any given moment, the data are all over the place. Your PRM, account mapping platforms, LMS, and other tools need to get with the program, so to speak. You need a single source of truth (ideally that’s your CRM).

Next, you need to identify the key personas in your ecosystem. What do they need? You probably already differentiate between SI partnerships and tech partnerships, but you need to do a little better than that. Who are the different people within these organizations? Each of these personas is living in a different world, each with their own goals, needs and preferred channels of communication. You need to meet them where they are, by communicating with them in a way that works for them. 

This means bringing them the right information, at the right time, through the right channels, in a format they understand. Get this right, and you’ll see things start to take off faster than a SpaceX rocket (not the ones that exploded, we’re gonna leave those out of this metaphor).

The next step is to plan your partner lifecycle. This means sitting down and properly mapping out the specific journey you want each persona to take, from onboarding, through enablement and portal adoption, to nurturing and the moment of the co-sell – then beyond. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Think of yourself as the conductor of a very lucrative train. You need to deliver your partners to each stop with style, without you (or them) running out of steam. All aboard!

Now it’s time for some homework. Map the touchpoints in the partner journey, drilling down to develop a specific touchpoint series for each individual persona. This will take TIME. It might be BORING. But it is CRITICAL. 

Think about the specific triggers which need to set off an automation. Every journey will look different, depending on the persona, and you’ll be surprised at how much data you already have in your CRM to help you map this out.

This is easier than it looks. Luckily for you, we have some great partner journey templates which you’re welcome to have. Feel free to reach out if you'd like our templates.

Granular, detailed, comprehensive. For each journey you need to think about triggers, segments, emails, and tasks that will need to be completed along the way. This is a map, and following it should lead you to the treasure – leads, referrals, fabulous robust partner relationships.

At this stage, done is better than perfect. Just start to build it. You can refine and adapt as you go. 

Make sure the touchpoints feel nice and human. Trust me – fancy HTML messages sent by a system simply don’t perform as well as emails that feel like they’re coming from a partner manager’s mailbox. 

Keep your messages short and conversational, with one message per email. Video works well, too, so consider including video elements. Lastly, aim for balance. It’s a fine line you’re walking between spam and neglect. Aim to get it juuuuuust right, and you’ll win.

Here are the facts: if you go non-programmatic, you either need to reduce the number of partners you’re engaging with regularly, or hire more PAMs. There are no two ways about it.

If you do decide to go programmatic (which by now should be obvious as the good choice), you have two options:

  1. You can McGuyver your existing tech stack, tweaking existing tools to try and build this setup yourself. 

It’s possible – I’ve done it in the past. But the problem with repurposing existing tools that have been built for something else is that small details won’t work the way you want them to. You’ll have to work around these issues, which is not only annoying, but also not always possible. 

  1. You can use purpose-built partner engagement tech like Superglue which is designed specifically for this.

It’ll make your life easier, trust me. I’m biased though! 

Step five: OPTIMIZE. Tweak, jiggle, wiggle and craft until your system is working as well as you want it to.

When it comes to KPIs, I like to break them down into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some examples:

  • Good KPIs: the number of new partners that drive revenue. Yes, that's normally what truly matters. So lets focus on that and figure out how to boost it.
  • Bad KPIs: the number of new partners that log into the portal. Because... why do we care? It's not about logins, it's about value we deliver to them.
  • Ugly KPIs: the number of new partners. Not saying you should not measure that, since it's an early indicator. But don't let that one be your north star.

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