The 3 Things Your Partner Program Can’t Live Without

By Elizabeth Hilfrank

Batman needs Robin, Oprah has Gayle, and who could imagine Beyoncé without Jay-Z?

Partnerships are everywhere, and B2B is no exception. And, if these three examples are to be believed, I’d argue that partnerships can take a company from average…to superhuman.

I’m definitely not alone in thinking that. For Chris Samila, VP of Partnerships, and Matt Nicosia, Director of Growth at Crossbeam, partnerships are a key channel for business growth — and they’ve experienced it all firsthand.

Chris joined Crossbeam, a partner ecosystem platform, in 2020 to lead the company’s partner program. Since then, he and Matt have worked together to build a partner team that drives growth, just like their customers. (Some might say they’ve formed a partnership of their own.)

So, as someone who works with Drift’s partner team daily, I needed to know: What is the recipe for creating a partner program that propels growth?

According to Chris and Matt, these are the three things your partner program can’t live without 👇

Chris and Matt originally shared their thoughts with us on our podcast, Growth with Matt Bilotti. If you want to listen to the full episode, click here. Otherwise, keep reading for all the insights 💡

1. Customers

Starting a partner program might feel like standing at the base of Mount Everest. Where do you begin, and how do you know the right first steps to take?

As with everything, your best bet is to listen to your customers. In his former role at Optimizely, Chris’s team realized there was a potential organic growth channel after learning that the digital agencies buying their software were giving it to their clients. This became the basis of Optimizely’s partner program.

By understanding who is buying your product and how they are using it, you can easily identify customers who will be able to drive your solution downstream to their own customers. For tech and software companies, these insights will also help you pinpoint integration opportunities.

The golden rule when looking for partners is having empathy. As Chris puts it: “Their job is not to sell your software. Their job is to sell their service or their software. If they can blend your solution in with what they’re offering…they’re going to come to you en masse.”

Ask yourself why a customer should care about selling your product or integrating their product with yours — and don’t be afraid to come up empty-handed. Take the time to figure out which customers best fit the partner puzzle, and push on if you don’t find the right piece on the first try.

2. Collaboration

Collaboration is everything to partner programs. But what I’m talking about isn’t necessarily the collaboration between you and your customer. For your partner team to be successful, it needs to be cross-functional.

Historically, partner teams have sat under sales and focused on generating leads. However, if you only think of your partners as a lead channel, you leave a lot of growth opportunities off the table.

Many partner teams now work with product teams to decide where a partner integration could fit into their product roadmap. If you can find the right integration, you won’t have to build a new product from scratch and your engineers will have more time to spend on other projects.

Partner channels are also a great place for experimentation. Partners can provide valuable insight into new products and integrations, which then helps you decide what gets built first. And, as Matt points out, “None of that has anything to do necessarily with leads sourced.”

When you hold your partner team to their leads sourced, it blocks collaboration. Partner teams might find themselves competing with marketing to claim attribution.

Effective collaboration comes from having a shared goal. So work on aligning your revenue teams early and often. Then, it will be easier for your partner team to jump in with marketing, sales, customer success, and product to hit business goals.

3. Iteration

There’s no way for partner teams to know what will work until they test the waters. Expect to build one partner program, then change it six months later.

Chris’s advice for this: Don’t get caught up in the closed-won metrics too early. As he explains, “If you measure them too early, they’re going to…build a program that’s not the right fit for your business needs long term.”

This is where your growth and partner teams can really support each other. Growth is all about iteration, so growth teams can help validate how partner teams spend their time through A/B testing.

Moreover, the partner team has access to a shared customer base that the growth team can tap into to encourage adoption — which is especially useful if you follow a product-led growth (PLG) model. Over time, these partnerships will drive ecosystem-led growth, or as Matt describes:

If you’ve got channel partnerships or agencies that are helping to evangelize the integration you just built…they’re now going to go talk to all of their customers and contacts about this integration…Then, that just keeps feeding this continuous loop all the way around.

And let’s not forget about the data 📊 Partners and integrations will generate second-party data that will be extremely valuable as third-party data falls to the wayside. By working across teams to analyze this, you’ll be better equipped to iterate on partner processes as well as strategies across your entire organization.

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Final Thought

Creating a partnership program opens up a new opportunity channel for your business. But don’t expect it to be perfect from the start.

Partner programs come in all shapes and sizes. To find the one that fits you, take the time to find the right customers, collaborate with your revenue teams, and constantly iterate on your existing processes. By focusing on these three things, you’ll be on the right track to drive significant growth through some awesome partnerships.

Want more growth strategies like this? Listen to the full episode here, and don’t forget to subscribe to Growth with Matt Bilotti.