The Complete Guide to Partner Marketing in 2023
In B2B SaaS, partner marketing is a fairly new concept.
That means it has a high potential of being misunderstood, deprioritized, or delegated to a marketing team that already has its hands full.
Why is that a risk?
Because without a solid better-together story, without co-marketing, without lead-generating events, it’s really hard for partners to sell.
And if they can’t sell, they can’t sustain your program.
So, what is partner marketing? Why is it important? How do you do it successfully?
Keep reading to find out and gain inspiration and advice from 5 pros in the B2B SaaS partner marketing space.
What is partner marketing?
Partner marketing is a go-to-market strategy in which two companies collaborate to increase their chances of getting in front of and converting ideal customers.
How do they do that? By executing activities and campaigns that pique their mutual prospects’ interest — things like ads, webinars, trade show booths, happy hours, and more.
But that’s easier said than done.
Good partner marketers need to cultivate a deep knowledge of their partners’ backgrounds, goals, and resources and keep a finger on the pulse of the market. They have to know their own company’s product inside and out and be able to connect its value to their partners’ products and services.
Despite the broad scope of this role, the partner marketing function typically has limited resources, as it sits outside of the traditional marketing org in the partnerships team. That means the best partner marketers form relationships with teams across the company. And most of all, they’re scrappy.
Katie Bird, Founder and Principal Consultant at KTB Consulting, shares, “The number one qualification for partner marketers is scrappiness. You’ll never have all the resources you need to do your job, so you must rely on your own power of persuasion and the relationships you’ve built to get the job done.”
Why does partner marketing matter?
So, if partner marketing is so hard, why do it? There’s a simple answer: reach.
Partners have the connections and network that you don’t. By co-marketing with partners, you can amplify your message to your ideal audience — prospects who may already have relationships with your partners or are specifically looking for a pair of tools or services that complement each other.
According to Neha Verma, an independent partner marketing consultant, the close collaboration that partner marketing requires also strengthens a company’s relationships with its partners overall:
“The biggest benefit of partner marketing, in my opinion, is getting the reach. But it also helps build trust and focus into your partnerships — a sense of direction.”
Partner marketing is also a must-have in economically tough times: “In the down economy, partner marketing is the linchpin to success. It helps close deals faster, retain customers, and helps vendors scale their GTM motions with limited internal resources,” Katie says.
5 Ways to Elevate Your Partner Marketing (With Examples)
There are five key ways to reap the full benefits of partner marketing:
1. Nail the Better-Together Story
You can’t co-sell without a rock-solid better-together story. The value of your partnership will be lost on prospects, and they’ll start to explore other options.
So, the first step in marketing with a partner is to get specific on how your products and services work together and what customers will get from engaging with you and your partner.
Per Katie, “No partner is exactly the same, so it’s critical to understand the reasoning behind the partnership. How are you going to market together with each of your partners?”
Case studies highlighting joint use cases, glowing joint customer testimonials, and concrete ROI numbers bring the partnership to life.
Kerry Desberg, Fractional CMO of PartnerOptimizer, explains, “Being absolutely pedantic about what the ‘better-together’ story is is key. So many conversations are loose, and poor definition makes them messy in terms of ability to execute and drive specific, measurable results.”
She also proposed a litmus test for whether or not you have a hard-hitting story. See if you and your partner can outline a landing page to which both of you could drive traffic. Is the ROI for the prospect immediately clear? Is the landing page too one-sided?
If it doesn’t feel right, map out the win-win-win — for you, the partner, and the end customer and try again. It’s worth taking the extra time to craft a better-together story. Once you have it figured out, it’s easy to translate it to various marketing activities.
Kelsey Kinzer, Digital Marketing Lead at JumpCloud, can attest to the value of better-together stories in engaging webinars for their MSP audience:
“One of the most consistent efforts we’ve used to engage MSP prospects is partner-led webinars highly specific to better-together stories and highly relevant to what’s going on in the market.
For example, we co-led a webinar with Datto, a backup and recovery vendor, to preview big trends that MSPs need to have on their radar as they plan for H2 — things they need our help and Datto’s help to prepare for.”
Another easy win is to give your best partners opportunities to share your better-together story at marketing events you plan to host or attend.
Kerry once created an advisory board of top channel leaders in her company’s partner program, and invited them to exchange content and speak at their customer conference. Those engagements gave partners extra visibility and showcased Kerry’s partner program in a positive light — well-known thought leaders wanted to work with her team.
2. Work With Smaller Partners
Everyone wants to go to market with the big leagues — Salesforce, GCP, Adobe, AWS. And for good reason: they have a huge captive audience.
But the chances of getting their partner marketers’ attention are slim. Even if you do, they will likely offer some financial resources and call it a day.
As Neha says, “Most large partners may pay for marketing activities or dole out Marketing Development Funds (MDFs), but may not help execute your plan as they may have a large partner ecosystem. Unless you are high up in the ranks, they may not have the bandwidth to help with a custom one-on-one execution.”
Smaller, mid-sized companies dedicated to a partnership are the best candidates for partner marketing. Even though they may have limited resources, they are hungry for leads and willing to meet halfway.
In fact, Neha has seen 20-30% increases in deal registration post-demand gen campaigns with small to mid-sized partners.
Small partners may grow into your biggest assets one day. Katie mentioned that one of her direct reports at an enterprise cybersecurity company was passionate about strategic marketing with a small partner. The proposed activities were easy wins, so she got Katie’s support.
Fast forward a few years later, and that partner made up a considerable chunk of the company’s partner-sourced revenue.
3. Help Them Help You
Partners must understand your products or services in order to market them, and they can’t do that without proper enablement.
Neha suggests, “Provide partners with the right messaging, sales pitch, and resources. Only then, turn on your laser focus and go after select accounts with commonality in vertical, tech stack, or region.”
When her team focused heavily on partner enablement and activation, Neha saw a 50%+ increase in deal registrations quarter over quarter.
Real Example 1
One way to accelerate the partner onboarding process is to use interactive product demos, which walk partners through how your product works step by step, showcasing the value prop and specific use cases along the way — just like they would if they were in a live sales demo or hands-on with your product.
Natalie Marcotullio, Head of Growth and Ops at Navattic, explains, “We’ve seen customers use interactive demos as a way to co-sell and market an integration for partnership marketing. Our customer Bombora uses interactive demos to design experiences with their counterparts at different partner platforms.”
You can even repurpose and adjust these interactive demos to market the value of partner integrations to prospects via email campaigns, webinars, and sales call leave-behinds.
Real Example 2
“Something successful I have done in the past is packaging up campaigns or events and integrating them with our marketing development funds (MDF) so partners can pick and choose. The easier you make it for companies to partner with you, the better the results.”
At Tableau, Will used his campaign-in-a-box to take their annual roadshow to new geos. If partners could host an event in a city Tableau couldn’t reach, they would cover half the costs of putting on the event. They’d also provide all the designs, content, and sales playbooks partners needed to make it a success.
“Originally, the Tableau roadshow had 15 stops around the world. With the contribution of partners, that number went up to 100. That increased our reach and brand exposure, strengthened our partnerships, and helped us maximize the utilization of our partner marketing hub and MDF funds.”
4. Reserve Adequate Budget
Referral partners can contribute upwards of 20% of your annual revenue. And for enterprise companies that sell almost exclusively through the channel, that number is even higher. Microsoft boasted over $32 billion in partner-sourced revenue in 2019.
Investing in partner marketing could boost those figures even higher. So why not ask for it?
As you prepare for your next QBR, do the math. Neha recommends thinking about how much business you plan on getting from partners first. “Work closely with channel sales on this. Then, do a reverse funnel to see how many sales qualified leads (SQLs) you need. And from there, figure out how much budget you need to hit those KPIs.”
For Kerry, allocating significant budget to partner marketing is a no-brainer — particularly if your better-together story resonates with prospects.
“If you have a better-together story mapped out for each partner with clear objectives, strategies, value props, and metrics, partner marketing should be a minimum of 25% of your marketing budget.”
But, she warns, “If you’re just approving random MDFs, your approach is devaluing partner marketing. It’s hard to justify getting funding when you didn’t spend the time upfront to understand what mutual success looks like.”
As you plan out your budget and what you want to ask for, Katie reminds us to leave a little extra flexibility.
“Not all of your partners will need money, and some will need a lot more than others. Partners are marketing on their own cadence and may have bursts and lulls of MDF activity. I would recommend safeguarding 5-10% of your quarterly budgets to support the inevitable unknowns.”
6. Publicize Your Success
Documenting and sharing your wins can go a long way toward sustaining a partnership. Neha notes, “The more partner reps hear your name, your story, and your wins, the more brand recognition you will get within the partner organization and the stronger your case for more activities and joint campaigns.”
Highlighting your success internally bolsters your partnership team budget. Knowing that partner marketing is actually leading to closed won deals, new market penetration, and brand awareness justifies the time and money you spend on campaigns.
Power Your Partner Marketing
Clever partner marketing tactics have the potential to be lead-generating machines. But tracking partner marketing activities, managing your marketing development fund budget, and measuring attribution can be complex, especially if you’re doing it in Google Sheets.
Why not let a platform do that for you?
Channeltivity is built for high-tech B2B SaaS partner programs, streamlining partner recruiting, management, enablement — and most relevant to this post — partner marketing.
Whether you’re marketing to your partners (to-channel-marketing) or with your partners to their prospects (through-channel-marketing), Channeltivity acts as a centralized platform for sharing collateral and executing marketing initiatives.
- A Resource Library, which allows you to share marketing materials and other assets
- To-Partner Email Marketing to remind partners of collaboration opportunities and drive co-marketing engagement
- An MDF module to manage joint marketing funds
- A Co-branded Collateral module to enable partners to create professional co-branded marketing materials within your brand guidelines
Best of all, each of these modules is easily configurable to your partner marketing needs.
Want to see Channeltivity in action? Schedule a demo with one of our PRM experts today.
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