Partner Onboarding Best Practices: 5 Strategies for Success

Partner Onboarding Best Practices: 5 Strategies for Success

Congratulations! You just signed a new partner (or many of them) and are now looking at each other waiting for deals to begin, orders to flow, and customers to call. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that simple.

How do you up the chances of success as you expand your Route To Market (RTM) strategy? We’ve seen some best practices that when executed properly can generate momentum sooner rather than later while also rapidly identifying partners or partnerships who are not ready to make a full commitment.

Best-in-class companies follow a prescriptive process to create the highest odds of success. Here are five best practices you can utilize to help develop a productive partnership with fast and effective onboarding.

Develop a Joint Business Plan

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A joint business plan will document commitments and investments from both the vendor and the partner. These goals will be time-bound so they can be reviewed and measured. The three main areas to cover in your plan are:

  • Revenue - Revenue targets can be set by solution category, vertical industry, or customer. The vendor will outline what resources they will bring to bear to help the partner reach these revenue goals, and the partner will do the same.  Results should be measured regularly so that contingency plans can be put in place if necessary.

  • Marketing and demand generation - Marketing plans should cover building awareness (digital, traditional) as well as generating leads. This section of the plan should be as specific as possible to ensure the activities actually happen. Marketing results including pipeline generated, number and types of events, and the Return on Investment for each activity should be reviewed as regularly as sales results.

  • Competency, certification, and training - Competency commitments documented in a joint business plan should include the number of both sales and technical personnel that will be certified and or trained, and by what dates.

The most successful joint plans are truly co-authored and co-signed. Executives from both the vendor and the partner agree to and sign off on the plan and commit to a regular review. This top-down engagement sets the tone for the rest of the organization that this is a strategic partnership.

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Prime the Pump by Giving Partners Real Sales Opportunities

Another best practice is to provide a few high-quality leads to top new partners so they have the chance to run through a sales cycle with a real opportunity, not hypothetical. The vendor not only provides a fast start to these partners through these leads, but also runs through product training, sales training, resource training, etc. with the partner in the context of a live sales cycle. This makes the entire experience more impactful, useful, and sticky.

Some vendors also allocate funds for new partners and ask the partners to match for early demand generation campaigns. This investment is specifically to create demand, so when the “prime-the-pump” leads are exhausted, a new batch of opportunities is ready to go.

Provide Effective Training Focused on Solutions

Many companies think their job is done once they provide training on the technical specs of their product. In fact, this is table stakes. What partners really need is to know how sell the solution.

There are three major training constituencies at a partnership that need to be enabled:

  • Sales - Sales people need to understand what the target market is, who the target customer is, how to position the solution, how to overcome objections, and how to effectively communicate ways the solution solves the customer’s problem (why should they care). This constituency also needs to know how the solution fits in the competitive landscape.

  • Technical - Technical personnel need to have full confidence that the solution will deliver as promised and understand the “nuts and bolts” of how to put together a solution that will be successful. They should be equipped to effectively demo, configure, and support the solution.

  • Marketing personnel - The partner’s marketing team needs access to collateral, messaging, and tools that they can use to craft effective campaigns and events, both in person using traditional methods and digitally. Some vendors offer collateral that can easily be partner-branded, some vendors offer market development funds, and some offer training to get partners up to speed in digital marketing.

Offer Simple Resources for Ongoing Support

In addition to the training content targeted for each specific audience, partners also need to know what resources they have at their disposal along with how and when to use them.  A few examples of effective tools and resources include:

  • Partner portals that are intuitive and simple to navigate is another must-have resource vendors need to offer so that everything a partner needs to access is just a click away.

  • Customer references allow a partner to refer their prospects to satisfied customers. These also typically include hard results (e.g., by installing this solution we were able to improve inventory by x% and sales by y%).

  • Customer use cases are a great reference so a partner can understand specifically how and why a customer put the solution into practice.

  • Partner playbooks are designed to help a partner gain a full understanding of the solution. They typically include everything a partner needs to know about the solution including how to sell, to how to price, links to resources and sales tools, value propositions, etc.

Measure and Manage the Onboarding Process

There are a lot of moving parts in bringing on a new partner (from the vendor’s point of view) or adding a new line (from the partner’s point of view). Top-of-the-line onboarding programs include a timeline for each of the major milestones that can be used to objectively measure progress, along with a commitment for a review after 30, 60, and 90 days.  

As an example, in the first 30 days, the goal might be to get two sales people certified, two technical personnel certified, and one marketing campaign approved. If this is all running on track, that is great news. But if one or more of these commitments is not being met, these missed deadlines will be raised at the 30-day checkpoint review. There may be good reasons when commitments are slipping, or it could be a sign of bigger issues.  

Each of these checkpoints provides an opportunity to either create a Get-Well plan or a Get-Out strategy. In a Get-Well plan, the partner may ask for a few more weeks to accomplish the targets due to extenuating circumstances. Another possibility is to decide to part ways if either or both parties do not feel that the partnership is working.  

While this may sound painful, it is actually a sound business practice to stop investments and part ways if there is not a good fit instead of continuing to pour time and money into a partnership that is not destined to work.  

Partnerships are Too Costly to Leave Success to Chance

One other nuance in generating momentum with a new partnership is to identify and engage key influencers. While the above steps all require support from Sales, Marketing, Technical, and Executive leadership, my experience is that there will also be a few key influencers who can champion the partnership. Engaging them up front is essential to mitigate the risks of a stalled partnership or an outright failure to launch.   

Entering into a new partnership is an expensive proposition for both the vendor and the partner. It requires a deep investment in people, training, and marketing. It often involves investments ahead of revenue. The stakes are simply too high to leave the partnership outcome to chance once the agreements are signed.

What other partner onboarding best practices have you seen? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

This article was originally published in April 2018 and has been updated.

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