No one succeeds in business entirely on their own. We need mentors, educators, support staff, software developers, and other companies to help us grow our own ventures from their initial conception to the successful enterprises they deserve to be. In many cases, these relationships are one-sided: we pay someone else to do a service or make a product for us, and then, at the end of the day, we go our separate ways. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of arrangement — it’s how business works — but sometimes there’s a better way. Partnership programs help elevate your business beyond your area of expertise by helping you provide omni-channel services.
What is a partner program?
Most people are familiar with online retail partner programs: You refer a friend, and the retailer gives you some sort of reward (cash, free products, discount codes, etc.) for helping bring them the sale. Business partner programs work in much the same way. You help connect customers with the right business for their needs and that business rewards you in some form for assisting them to build their brand. In the best partnership programs, these arrangements are mutual; two businesses that offer related services work together to help grow each other’s brands.
There are two common ways for a partnership to work. The first way is for the brands to engage in co-marketing endeavours, such as shared content creation (like blog posts or webinars), team events, and co-branded projects. The second (perhaps more common) way is through sales incentives and referral commissions. For example, if your business partners with Iversoft and you bring us a new client, you could receive a percentage of the initial contract price as a thank-you for introducing us.
What benefits does a partnership program offer?
There’s no one-size-fits-all partnership program so the benefits will vary with each business. Nearly every partnership will offer at least one of the options mentioned above, but it need not be limited to rewarding referrals or sharing a particular marketing initiative.
Partner organizations can work together on joint IT solutions, helping clients reach their full potential. They can share metrics or data (subject to privacy regulations) from a successful product launch or marketing campaign. They can create products or services to be offered for sale through their partner’s store, such as training courses, templates, or add-ons for products that the company already sells. Companies like Microsoft and Shopify offer these kinds of partner programs, encouraging partners to create apps or content that helps customers get the most out of their products.
In addition to financial returns, partner programs also offer access to an increased network and the ability to build upon each other’s reputation and professionalism. If you’re looking for a new service provider and someone you know and trust recommends a company, some of that trust is passed on to that new relationship. The ROI in these cases is harder to calculate, but it can provide massive gains in brand recognition and trust, which in turn leads to financial returns.
How do you know if a specific partner or partner program is right for you?
Because every partner program is different, they won’t all be advantageous to your brand. Look for programs that encourage mutual growth and promote each other’s strengths. A partnership with a brand that offers nearly identical products/services as you is unlikely to be beneficial; one with a company that operates in your field but provides a different specialization makes an ideal candidate.
Different partners lend themselves to difference partnership programs. There might be a brand with which you can offer high-quality shared content, but it wouldn’t make sense to enter into a referral program — and vice versa. Be willing to discuss what each brand has to offer and how you can balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
To put this into context, let’s examine what we look for in a partner here at Iversoft. We’re a full-stack development and digital marketing company, so we typically look at other companies in that field. Perhaps it’s a company that does digital marketing, but they want to offer a service that they can’t do in-house. We could work together to handle that service for them. In exchange, we might share ideas for marketing strategies that have worked for us in the past — or the partner might simply refer the client to us and receive a percentage commission for bringing them to us.
One of our top areas of expertise is in start-to-finish mobile development. A potential partner might be a business that offers similar tech services, but not necessarily for mobile. Conversely, perhaps we have a client who wants something that isn’t in our wheelhouse. We could leverage a partner’s expertise to ensure that the client receives the best possible service.
The best partnerships focus on a problem they can solve together. When companies are getting off the ground, it’s often difficult to know what you need and when. With our background in mobile development and digital marketing and a potential partner’s experience in finances, for example, we could create content (blog posts, videos, a webinar, an ebook, etc.) for start-ups and small businesses looking to grow their ventures. By working together, we can create something that helps solve a problem (How do I grow my business?) and highlights each of our areas of expertise. This kind of content wouldn’t be possible without a strong partnership.
What caveats should you look for in a partnership program?
Like any new venture, it’s important to do your research before entering into a partnership. Your business becomes associated with the reputation and professionalism of your partner — not always for the better. Be careful and thoroughly research any potential partners. Keep yourself apprised of any new policies or changes in their reputation during the partnership.
Even the best companies can have some red flags when it comes to their partner programs. Sometimes companies rush into creating a partnership program and don’t flesh out the details first. Make sure that everyone is on the same page. There needs to be fully outlined contracts in place to protect both parties and eliminate confusion about who gets what in the partnership. There shouldn’t be any gaps or holes in the documentation.
When Iversoft first started offering a partner program, we didn’t leverage co-marketing opportunities and resource sharing. This was a missed opportunity for everyone — one that we’ve now rectified. No one gets it perfect on the first try, but a commitment to growth and trying new ideas ensures the best partnership for everyone.
Not all partnerships are two-way streets. In many cases — particularly with larger companies — one partner is granted access to specific resources belonging to the other, but there is no flow of knowledge or resources in the other direction. Sometimes this is all you need, but it doesn’t feel like a true partnership. No matter how large or established a business is, there is always something to be gained from working with others in the field.
What makes Iversoft’s Partner Program great?
We’re proud of our partnership program. We’ve learned from experiences early on and are always open to new types of partnerships. One of the things we’re particularly proud of is our “Lunch and Learn” initiative. With any new partner, we invite their staff to our office to meet with us and see how we work. It gives our partner a better understanding of what we’re really like and all the things we have to offer. In return, we love to learn as much as possible about our new partner. However, what a partner shares with us is ultimately up to them.
We know our strengths, and we play to that. We’re a full-stack development shop that offers a complete experience, not just a tech partner. Our reputation and professionalism are paramount, so we work hard and ensure that everything we do is always up to our high standards and choose our partners with that in mind.
There’s no single correct way to set up or participate in a partner program. Every partnership is different and depends on your industry, strengths, gaps in your offerings, etc. Pay attention to how well-documented the partnership agreement is and whether your potential partner is interested in a strictly one-way or a more give-and-take relationship.
Overall, set the same ground-rules you’d expect for any relationship: clearly defined boundaries, on-going communication about what’s working and what needs to be improved, everyone is happy with what they’re getting out of it, and you’re proud to tell people that you’re in a relationship with them. With that in mind, it’s time to get involved in a partnership program.
What do you look for in a partnership program? Share your must-haves and deal-breakers in the comments below.