What Is a Partner Business Plan, and How Do You Create One?

Updated April 18, 2024
Published in Channel Management, Channel Success

A partner business plan is a key component of successful channel management — getting and keeping your partner on track.

But what goes into a partner business plan?

How do you know your partner is on the same page? And how often do you review your progress?

In this post, we’ll review what partner business plans are and how to institute a business planning process that keeps your channel program running smoothly.

What Is a Partner Business Plan?

A partner business plan is a document that summarizes annual or quarterly goals for a partnership. Often, these plans touch on:

  • Training and certification
  • Marketing efforts
  • Co-selling strategy
  • Revenue targets
  • Customer expansion and retention

Overall, they hold vendors and partners accountable for meeting specific key performance indicators (KPIs) and mutual objectives. To agree on the content of a business plan, both parties brainstorm go-to-market tactics, create target account lists, and perform SWOT or other competitive analyses together. 

Sam Kadel, founder of KBA Web, a specialized SEO agency, explains, “By collaborating with your partners to create a shared plan, you ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and has a clear roadmap for how to get there. It also provides a framework for measuring progress and identifying areas for improvement along the way.”

partner business plan

4 Steps to Partner Business Plan Success

Business plans are straightforward in theory but can be tricky to implement in practice. Follow these four steps to make your planning process as efficient and effective as possible.

1. Determine Which Partners Need a Business Plan

If your partner program is fairly nascent, business planning can feel like overkill. And it probably is.

Raegan Wilson, VP of GTM Ecosystems at Spur Reply, explains, “Business plans aren’t in 100% of programs for a reason. Not all programs are actualized enough to warrant the time and effort it takes to draft and monitor business plans. Not all partners are ‘managed’ partners. And not all companies have the partner tools and automation in place to ensure plans get reviewed and updated regularly.”

For example, Rachel Huffman, Partner Marketing Manager at ButterflyMX, only started drafting marketing plans with her partners when “the company’s integrations began getting more attention and became more valuable to our shared customers.”

Even if your program is in a more intermediate stage, it may make sense to roll out business plans only with your most strategic partners and only when you clearly understand the partner’s capabilities, market potential, and alignment. That way, you’ll know exactly where your product or service fits into their strategy.

Raegan says, “Drafting business plans not only conveys your commitment to strategic partners, it gives you a sense of where you stand in their stack ranking and inch your way up that list. If you’re vendor #1, partners will treat you differently than if you’re vendor #5 or #6.”

Business planning with your partners is a lot of work, but it can pay dividends. So think of it as a quality over quantity game — it’s better to do business planning well with a few partners than poorly with many.

2. Create a Business Plan Template

Templates are a great way to promote consistency across your business plans. While no two plans will be exactly the same, there will probably be a few sections that show up in every plan. Our customers typically include:

Communication Standards

How often will you and your partners meet? Will you communicate via the portal, email, or a joint Slack channel? Maybe you want to set SLAs for you and your partners when responding to sales-critical communications.

This section doesn’t have to be long, but setting expectations early can avoid confusion or radio silence down the road.

GTM Strategy

At the end of the day, partnerships are about growing mutual revenue. But reeling in leads and closing deals doesn’t just happen. You and your partner build pipeline by going after the right partners with the right messaging at the right time.

Use this section to outline:

  • Joint ideal customer profiles
  • Joint value props with success stories and/or key wins to back them up
  • Specific technology and/or solution focus areas
  • Territory or industry targets
  • Marketing channels

Marketing Projects

If your partnerships involve some kind of co-marketing, you’ll want a section to define what campaigns you’ll run, when you’ll run them, and the rough number of leads you hope to generate from them.

Get specific here. Rachel recommends adding “Campaign launch dates that work for partners, expectations for what each partner is responsible for (like who is going to draft the press release), and a value statement about the benefits of the partnership.”

You might also confirm whether or not you or your partner are offering marketing development funds (MDFs) and how much budget you’re putting behind channel marketing activities.

Sales KPIs

This section typically details what you and your partners are selling and how much revenue you’ll generate through leads, deal registrations, or referrals. We often see customers break these numbers down by quarter to match their internal sales motion. This also makes revenue goals feel more attainable and gives both parties natural check-in points.

Partner and Vendor Training

If you and your partner have training and certification programs that affect partner tiering or commission structures, add a section showing:

  • How many team members need to take a specific course
  • What certifications do they need to get, and by when
  • How many certifications must be held at once per tier
  • Breathing room you or your partners need if a certified individual leaves the company

While there are many things you could put in your business plans, it’s important not to go overboard.

Per David Miles, Founder and CEO of The PPC Machine, “At one company I worked with, we realized our business plan was too complex, with over 50 pages of details our partners didn’t need. We streamlined it down to a single page that highlighted our vision, three key objectives, and hard revenue numbers.

He shared: “This simple yet impactful plan resonated much more strongly with partners and helped double our partner enrollment within a year.”

3. Draft Your Plan With Your Partners (and Get Their Approval)

Now it’s time to meet with your partner to collaborate on the draft business plan. Use the template as a starting point and adjust each section according to your partner’s needs.

A word of warning: While you have high hopes for partner training, co-marketing, and the caliber and frequency of partner-sourced deals, it’s important to make the plan more about your partner than it is about you.

“Business plans should show them that you’re intent on driving their business forward, not the other way around,” says Raegan.

“If you don’t know how to make them more profitable and drive their customer success, you need to figure that out. Every part of the business plan should center around adding value to their business.”

Once you’ve finalized your draft, send it to your partner for one last round of review. In a PRM like Channeltivity, you can automate this process and lock the document after final approval. Store the signed business plan in an easily accessible place like your partner portal for easy reference.

4. Review Progress Regularly

Most companies review their partner business plans quarterly, but the best partner managers pull up business plans at every partner meeting.

Why? Because joint business plans serve as a built-in agenda. Each section becomes the perfect conversation starter for partner training, co-marketing ideas, or market trends.

Of course, if you have a lot of partners — and therefore a lot of business plans to cover — it may be tough to go this far into detail. And you’ll need the right people in the room for certain conversations. If you’re retro-ing an integration build, for instance, you’ll need technical folks present. If you’re debriefing a co-marketing campaign, you’ll want partner marketers on the call.

Raegan recommends having different business plan review “flavors.” “For example, you might consider reserving more in-depth, hour-long conversations with higher-tier partners and sending lower-tier partners an automated email notifying them of their progress each quarter and who to contact for questions.”

What to Do If Your Plan Goes Off-Track

Your business plans may not be followed to a T. That’s generally ok, so long as you and your partner are in communication and both aware that your original plan was perhaps too ambitious or didn’t account for unforeseen circumstances and you’ve amended your plan accordingly.

But if you’re seeing a really big shift — you haven’t seen any movement on co-marketing for a few months, for example — it’s important to check in with your partners to see what’s going on.

Maybe they lost a big contract and have been scrambling to make up for it. They may be seeing far less interest in the vertical you both are going after. Or, perhaps co-marketing isn’t on their priority list anymore.

Finding out what’s going on behind the scenes can help you problem-solve and get the partner back on track. It could also help your partner team in unexpected ways. 

Raegan explains, “If you see something go sideways, it’s often a sign that your partner knows something you don’t. And that could be a good thing — maybe they see a big hurdle coming that your team doesn’t, giving you ample time to prepare and change direction.”

She continued, “Even positive swings are a good opportunity to check in. Maybe a particular industry is going bananas, and your peers could benefit from that knowledge.”

Streamline Your Business Planning

Business planning is one of the most effective ways to establish joint accountability and sustain partner revenue growth over time. But keeping track of outcomes and metrics is tough to do when your business plans are stuck in Google Drive or Dropbox.

Instead, automate your business planning and reporting with Channeltivity. Designed with partner managers in mind, Channeltivity’s joint business plan module is fully customizable, supporting custom fields, sections, and tables.

Partner managers can leave comments for partners, and partners can upload other documentation your team may want to keep track of. PMs can even set up a partner approval workflow to guarantee everyone is on the same page and get mutual acceptance in writing.

The best part? PMs and their partners can access business plans from the portal anytime, anywhere.

See the business planning module for yourself and learn more about what Channeltivity can do by scheduling a demo with one of our channel pros today.

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