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SaaS Growth Strategies: How to Build a Kick-A*s Partner Program

Matthew Buckley
May 7, 2015 8:00:00 AM  |  Matthew Buckley

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Lead-generation and pipeline-marketing efforts that use techniques such as inbound and content marketing are critical to the successful growth of a SaaS business, but there are other levers that must be pulled by SaaS founders and leaders to enable high growth. Building a powerful partner program—just like leveraging APIs, piggybacking on free marketing platforms or building a wait list—is a proven way to accelerate SaaS growth.

HubSpot has one of the most successful SaaS partner program stories, and one that we know well. Its partner team now consists of more than 100 employees and generates a substantial amount of its monthly new recurring revenue. In fact, in the first quarter of 2014 HubSpot's VAR program produced approximately 42% of the company's customers and 22% of revenue

In today's post, we're going to take a deep dive into the key mechanisms, goals, structures, and business questions that you need to consider when developing a partner program. 

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Is a channel sales program right for my company? 

Of course, before diving into this any further it's important to determine if a channel sales program is a good fit for your company. Here are some of the most important things you should consider when deciding if a channel sales program is right for you: 

  • How much training and support does your product require?
  • Is your sales process straightforward and will you be able to effectively train your partners to sell your solution? 
  • Is your product ready or are you still ironing out the kinks and building out important features? 
  • Do you have a scalable and repeatable sales model internally? 

Getting started a partner program as a growth strategy for your SaaS business

Once you've decided that a channel sales program is right for your business. Here are a couple challenges you should keep in mind as you work to get it off the ground:

  • Building partnerships with established resellers will take considerable time and effort up front and your pitch to your potential partners must illustrate that you clearly understand their business.
  • You will need to be able to enable the partner's sales team to resell your product; sales-enablement content will be critical to success.
  • It will take time for your channel to start to generate revenue. In fact, it's not uncommon for it to take 12 - 18 months before you start achieving your channel goals. 
  • The product-development feedback cycle from your partners will be slower than from your direct customers, meaning that it's better to ensure you've reached product/market fit before you commit to a partner network.

Establishing goals and mechanisms

Of course, the goal of your partner program should be to generate customers through your channel as or more effectively than your direct efforts. To achieve this, you'll need to be ready to track the same metrics through your channel as you do your direct efforts (LTV/CAC, payback period, etc.). 

However, this will take time. Start experimenting with a small number of partners and reasonable customer goals, and then increase your personnel and marketing budget as success is proven. 

The primary mechanism used to create a partner program must, of course, be a model that can be easily communicated to your channel partners and empower them to be a) working advocates for your product and brand and b) rewarded as your company grows, while helping them grow their own. Not only will this allow you to reach their networks as a trusted source, but also it will lower your cost of acquisition. If the VARs offer services on top of your platform, it can also act as an outsourced customer-success engine.

Structuring the program

A great way to structure your partner program is using tier levels to acknowledge how successful a given partner has been in reselling your product. This can also help create a competitive ecosystem that provides achievement levels and rewards, such as additional support from your channel team. Here's what a sample model could look like:

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Diamond

1 New Customers

6 New Customers

9 New Customers

12 New Customers

3 Months Free Service

6 Months Free Service

9 Months Free Service

12 Months Free Service

Building a financial model

For the program to be successful you'll need to have a clear financial model associated to the tier status. This model should be built based on your business's growth goals and align with your direct marketing and sales teams. This way, the channel is being compared against the same metrics as the direct team across the organization. 

Rolling out

Once you have the model and framework in place and have experimented and proven that the channel is viable for your business, it's time to take it to market. Here are a few key assets you should create: 

  • Partner-overview site page (public)
  • Partner sign-up landing page
  • Partner-tier site page: This shows each partner its status by tier. It does not show exactly how many customers/revenue each partner has generated. Here's an example from HubSpot. This provides great visibility for your partners, and also incentivizes them to reach the next tier levelhubspot-diamond-partners

With this business framework and these marketing assets ready, your startup is now ready to begin its partner program.

Partner programs aren't right for every SaaS business and certainly take a clear strategy and time to develop. Start small, set clear goals and performance indicators up front. When executed correctly, a successful channel can be a huge driver of your business growth and the success of your customers. 

If you want to read more about building a channel sales program for your business, I highly recommend reading this ebook Unlock the Channel:
The Complete Guide to Channel Sales & Marketing published by Open View Partners.

Have any questions about partner programs and utilizing such for business growth? Leave us a comment below.

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Lead Generation
SaaS Marketing

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Matthew Buckley

This post was written by Matthew Buckley

Matthew Buckley is New Breed's Lead Marketing Strategist. He specializes in developing successful inbound marketing programs and is a HubSpot expert. Matt’s expertise has led to the launch of many successful inbound marketing campaigns.

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