Agency Growth

Partner Up! What We Uncovered About Partner Programs First-Hand (& You Need to Know)

Vin Gaeta

Head of Strategic Partnerships & Web Specialist, 5+ Years of Development Experience, 8+ Years of Project Management Expertise

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Partner Up! What We Uncovered About Partner Programs First-Hand (& You Need to Know) Blog Feature

Published on April 26th, 2018

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You use a product; you love it. You tell everyone you know about it, but did you ever consider formalizing that relationship?

If you’re an agency or a B2B marketer, it’s likely you utilize a product, service, or software with a partner program.

You’ve probably never thought about actually partnering with another company to help fuel your own growth, but I’m here to tell you that partner programs could potentially be the missing link in your strategy.

It was a key piece for us here at IMPACT.

There are many types of partner programs, with varying degrees of value to companies. Finding the right fit for your business’ age could propel you to unforeseen levels or even be a major regret.

But we’ll make sure it’s  not the latter ;)

In this article, I’m going to give you some insights on what to look for in a partner program, the value they offer, how partner programs, specifically HubSpot’s, helped IMPACT grow,and give you some insight into the next we’re going all-in on and why.

Ready to dive in? Let’s go!

What You Need to Know About Partner Programs

Not all partner programs are created equal.

Before we dig into the potential value of partner programs (a.k.a. the reasons you should or should not take part), it’s important to go over the different types of programs. They typically take the form of one of the three below.

Every partnership has pros/cons and many companies actually offer all three program options, depending on their business model and the value they can offer.

Types of Partnerships

Channel Partner Programs

Channel, reseller, or value-added reseller (VAR) programs are the partner programs you’re probably the most familiar with.

They typically look pretty similar to this: the partner purchases the vendors software and offers it to their personal clients either as an add-on or a stand-alone offering.

It’s great for companies that want to offer services pertaining to a specific software and are are frequently recommending it their customers..

Awesome examples of Channel Partner Programs are HubSpot’s Agency Partner Program, Drift’s Partner Program, and DigitalMarketer’s Certified Partner Program.

Check them out! :)

Affiliate Partner Programs

Affiliate, or referral, programs rely on a network of bought-in companies to send traffic/prospects/leads which require your service for your for fulfillment.

Typically there’s a one-off “finder’s fee” for the referral, which is tracked using an affiliate tracking link (or something similar).

This type of program is great for compensating companies that love your product, but wouldn’t necessarily have clients or customers who could use it. They can simply send prospects to you, and get a one time payment or percent of their sign up.

Some great examples of Affiliate Partner Programs are WP Engine’s and LuckyOrange.

It’s a win-win!

Integration Partner Programs

Integration partners are primarily for companies that are software-based. In them, you have a partner network of other companies/softwares/tools which actually integrate with yours.

This allows you as a software company, capitalize on the established audiences of other tools to grow yours and also  helps the end-user get more value out of both tools.

But which is best for you?

The answer ultimately comes down to where your company is in its growth plan and its business model.

For us, going the channel route early on had the biggest impact for us (punny, I know).

Then, once we were a bit more established, we dove deeper into affiliate route.

Take a look at your industry, product/services, and how you’re set up to sell. That can shed light on what the right route is for your business.

If you have tons of third-party tools that you’re already using, or recommending, and they have an affiliate program - that’s likely the quickest way to make some money back on those referrals.

Ultimately, it comes down to what provides you the most support and value for your specific situation.

The Value of Partner Programs (and Our Experiences)

Our involvement with partner programs, specifically the HubSpot Partner Program, has helped IMPACT grow from the five person team I joined seven years ago, to the 50+ person team we are today.

This happened for a few reasons.

1. Revenue Stream

This one is a bit “on the nose” but should be stated nonetheless. Partner programs can be a great source of revenue you would otherwise lose out on.

Most partner programs have some sort of commission structure. For HubSpot, we get a nice commission pay out once a quarter as compensation for sending them new business..

In addition to being a HubSpot partner, we joined WP Engine’s Affiliate Program a year or so ago, simply because it made a ton of sense.

All of our WordPress sites have been hosted on WP Engine for years and we’ve been referring most of our clients to them.

Now that we’re an affiliate partner, we’re able to get a “finder’s fee” for what we were already doing.

The program really takes no effort on our part, as we’re doing business as usual, but since we have WordPress clients - and WP Engine is an amazingly secure, fast host - it was a no brainer for us to join.

Look at the tools and products  you’re already utilizing, or referring others to. If they have affiliate programs, it could be a huge untapped revenue stream for your company that you didn’t realize was available.

2. Tools & Resources

To help make achieving this revenue easier, most partner programs provide ready-to-use assets to help market and ultimately sell services or products, so you don’t have to spend time researching or developing them on your own..

Partners can also rely on the provider to help train them on how to best sell their product. This may seem labor-intensive, but it is both your and their benefit.

If you’re knowledgeable in their methods, product/service, and way to get things done it’ll ultimately help them generate more revenue in the long-run.

For IMPACT, resources and support from the HubSpot Partner Program were critical early on.

They helped support our company as we learned, grew, and ultimately came into our own.

We received a lot of support when we were starting out. It took a long time to get fully up to speed, but we were willing to put the time in, learning about the inbound marketing methodology, of how to actually do it, learning how to sell it. The hardest part ultimately was finding the right people who can do the work.”

- Bob Ruffolo, CEO/Founder @ IMPACT

HubSpot provided us co-brandable assets that helped us immediately start generating leads early on.

Because we were (and are) resellers, it was important that our content resonated with people prime to use HubSpot. Giving partners ready-made content to help drive that conversation was a great way to see return on a partner program and made striking the right chord easy.

We were able to leverage the partnership to make sure IMPACT was setup for success - and because it ultimately came back to HubSpot’s success their Channel Managers are super helpful and always available.

3. Community

HubSpot’s Partner Community is an added bonus of its Partner Program. Through it, we’ve forged great relationships with other agencies, that while they may be competitors, we can work parallel with and learn from.

While that type of ecosystem may not be present in every Partner Program, if you can find one with Partners who are open to collaborating and helping each other, you’ll get even more value out of the relationship.

By learning from each other’s failures and successes, you can actually grow together - even while competing.

Being open to collaborating with other partners and agencies has tremendously helped IMPACT. A few years back we actually did a “meet-up” with a handful of other partners to share ideas, see what’s working, and pass some inside insight around to help everyone improve.

That type of ecosystem is a great foundation that helps everyone improve.

4. Credibility & Trust

Another big benefit is the credibility you can gain by partnering with a more established brand. When you’re just starting out, affiliations with well-known and influential names speaks highly of you and your work.

This was exactly the case for us with HubSpot.

IMPACT started as just a tiny WordPress shop here in Wallingford, CT. After partnering with HubSpot, learning the tools, getting support from their team, and putting in a ton of people hours - we started gaining more traction and recognition in the industry because of our relationship.

Within 4-5 years of partnering with HubSpot, and generating some strategic content (that they shared), we were able to grow our audience and client base nationally, and eventually globally.

And a big chunk of that, in my opinion, was due to the decision to partner with a strong brand and business.

What Can Go Wrong with Partner Programs

While there are numerous advantages from partner programs, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

Just like any endeavour, things can potentially go wrong. Here’s just a few examples of some of the drawbacks:

Competition

Conflict and competition between channel partners are a real concern in any partner program, which is why fostering a collaborative community can be extremely helpful to the longevity of your partner relationship.

We always strive to be the top-tier partner for any program we’re involved in, as do many, but we always have the greater good in mind.

Some partners enter programs with a much more “cut throat” mentality so this is something you may want to consider researching by chatting with existing or past partners before diving in.  

Sean Higgins actually has a great article on Channel Partner Conflict over on the HubSpot blog that goes into a few of them and how to solve some of these conflicts.

Guilt By Association

Another big concern many people have is if the partner makes a misstep or has a major issue that affects their individual business.

The easiest example I can give you is website hosting. If you manage the hosting for your client’s website, and the hosting company has a massive outage.Regardless of who is at fault, the client will ultimately look to your for the resolution.

If the issue is a major problem, like anything pertaining to secured information, the potential fallout could be quite severe.

Take into account a potential vendor’s reputation and contingency plans for situations such as these.

What to Look For In Partner Programs

When researching and deciding if a partner program is the right fit for your company, there are plenty of things to consider.

For us at IMPACT, there are a few critical things we like to see in every partnership we start (in addition to the benefits mentioned above).

Note: The list for your company may be different, but it’s important to have key decision makers sit down and list out the most important things you need to see before signing on the dotted line.

Transparency Rules All

One of the reasons our relationship with HubSpot is so strong is the absolute transparency we’re able to have with everyone we interact with.

From conversations with our Channel Account Manager to interactions with Brian Halligan (CEO) and Dharmesh Shah (CTO), there’s a deep understanding that honesty and transparency help both sides grow.

If there’s ever an issue with the product or program logistics, we’re able to be extremely direct about it and it’s received with welcoming arms. The same goes for them giving us feedback.

With transparency in mind, the honest conversations you have should lead to amazing improvements in products, processes, and relationships.

Feedback to either party should be given very candidly, as any fluff could be misconstrued and actually be detrimental.

The best relationships at IMPACT are ones where we’re able to give and accept constructive criticism, both internally and externally, and quickly pivot based off of it.

We strive to have feedback loops with all of our partners to help make sure we’re improving as much as possible. If there’s a cause for concern it should be brought to the table so we can collectively plan how we’ll solve it together, and grow from the experience.

Not every company will be able to do pivot quickly, but as long as they show the want to improve and make strides to make it happen you’ll be in for a great partnership.

Unity

On a related note, knowing that both parties are coming from a place of trying to help everyone improve is key. Otherwise it can be seen as simply complaining, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.

In a healthy, mutually-beneficial partnership, both parties are there to help each other improve their performance.

There’s no room for sugar-coating in a great partnership. That only leads to impediments or miscommunications, which can end up being costly for everyone.

Brand Credibility

We touched upon this earlier, but it warrants being repeated.

The last thing you want to do is partner with a brand that doesn’t have great “curb appeal.” That could be setting yourself up for disaster.

Do your research into the brand offering the partner program. Make sure they are engaging their audience on social media, responding to any bad reviews (because they do happen), and ultimately acting like someone you’d want to be in a partnership with. It’s also important to ensure that their public image in their industry is untainted and they haven’t had any major issues.

What’s Next For Us

We’re super happy to announce that we’re partnering with the awesome team at DigitalMarketer and their Certified Partner Program.

The team over at DigitalMarketer (DM) share a lot of the same beliefs as IMPACT and have a very similar culture, which makes the partnership a no-brainer.

Shameless plug - They’re also sponsoring IMPACT Live 2018! You should absolutely make sure to get a ticket to see Justin Rondeau give an awesome keynote ;)

So, What is DigitalMarketer’s Certified Partner Program?

DigitalMarketer’s Certified Partner Program is all about setting partners up to be able to train, coach, and educate partner teams and customers to be the best they possibly can.

As a partner, you get access to tons of world-class, DigitalMarketer trainings, templates, and worksheets for you to repurpose for your team and clients.

It's literally a double value. You can "level-up" your own team, as well as sell the trainings and collateral as add-ons to your current clients!

I sat down with Michael Meola, the Manager of Partner Success at DM, and asked him what the one thing he’d want people to know about the Certified Partner Program, and DM as a whole.

His response? DM always leads with value. This is absolutely critical. They focus on giving their partners value in 6 key areas:

  1. Growing Passive Income
  2. Filling Your Pipeline
  3. Converting More Clients
  4. Improving Client Retention
  5. Growing Your Network
  6. Increasing Your Brand Authority

All of the tools DM provides partners help them achieve mastery in these areas, which ultimately helps their team hit their goal of doubling the size of 10,000 businesses (like yours) in the next 5 years.

I absolutely think they'll crush it!

Why It’s Awesome

Education is super powerful - which is why IMPACT has branched out  into workshops and trainings to help our audience learn how to grow their organizations with or without an agency’s help.

DM’s Certified Partner Program helps set us up for real education success with easy-to-implement assets like the Co-branded Training Center,  a robust library of training videos that we can use to launchpad our training and education programs.

DM, like all great partners, want you to succeed early on and provides the necessary assets to help jumpstart your activity.

Things like dedicated partner-only trainings, for example, are super helpful in not only learning about the community and audience, but ultimately starting you on the path to an ROI.

They help you understand the ins-and-outs of DM so that you can answer any and all questions confidently and be able to explain its value in any situation.

Not only that, but again there is an amazing community of other DM Partners that thrives on collaboration and some healthy competition.

90% of certified partners find the most value in the CPP community. They don’t compete but actually work together to improve.” - Michael Meola

Plus, having access to the amazing team at DM is a nice added bonus. ;)

How Your Agency Can Get Started

Getting started with DM’s Certified Partner Program is pretty simple. Head over to the program page and apply to learn more. DM actually vets all of its partners to ensure they’ll be successful with the program.

Some of the things they look for when vetting partners are:

  • Agencies that are struggling to grow their retainers.
  • Agencies that are looking to scale but don't know how.
  • Businesses that find value in educating their internal team as well as their clients.
  • Bring a great mindset and demeanor to the relationship. They have to fit into the community.

That level of accountability helps DM keep its partner community strong and coach those that “aren’t ready” to eventually join the program.

So don’t wait, go check it out :)

Key Takeaway

If you’re looking to grow your company or agency, finding a solid partner program is a great way to help fuel that growth.

It’s something that can work extremely well, as it has for us, but requires some research to ensure it won’t be a detriment to your growth.

Ultimately it comes down to finding a “right-fit” partner that shares your values, and wants to grow together.

IMPACT Live 2019