Corporate reputations take time to build up, but can be lost very fast in a social media-driven world. This has huge implications for working in partnering arrangements, and particularly for partner marketing channels. Here, we discuss what marketers and partner managers might want to consider about approaching reputation management when working with partners.

How do you select your partners? Do you have a process for ongoing review to ensure alignment?

Choosing the right partners is crucial for effective partner marketing—and therefore for reputation management. It takes a lot of time and effort to create and then maintain good partner relationships. It makes sense to focus that effort on the most rewarding partnerships. The selection should start with a strong strategic alignment over where you both want to be over the next five to ten years. It is also helpful to have similar organisational values and approaches, because this makes operational alignment easier to achieve. It is also important to review your partner relationships on a regular basis to ensure that you are still putting effort into the most valuable partnerships. 

How do you decide which partner relationships to prioritise?

Realistically, you cannot prioritise every partner—and neither can you expect every partner to prioritise you. You need a process to help you to decide which partners to prioritise. This should consider the value of that partner to you, but also your value to them. You need to recognise that partners will generally focus on just one or two brands. If you are number three to them, it is not worth spending too much energy on that relationship. You may get some sales through them, but probably only if their customers already want your brand. Putting money into partner incentives will simply give that partner money for nothing. Instead, focus on the partners for whom you are number one or two, and work together to generate value.

Who is responsible for relationships with your partners?

The overall responsibility for managing partner relationships should generally lie with the brand marketing team. They will be key to ensuring that partners have all the necessary material to market your brand to their customers. However, this simple statement is complicated by the fact that there will be relationships across your organisations at multiple levels. Strategic alignment happens at the top of the organisation, through c-suite conversations. However, there will be operational relationships and communication happening at all levels, including with technical support and sales teams. The brand marketing team therefore needs to see itself as a coordinator, rather than sole point of contact. 

What processes do you use for providing information to partners before a product launch?

It is always tempting to roll out new products and services as quickly as possible. However, this may be too fast for some of your partners. Before you launch any new product or service, you need to make sure that you have provided all the necessary information and equipment to your partners. Do they have the ability to demonstrate the new product and provide information to customers? Do they understand the reason for the new product? You need processes in place to make sure that this always happens. Again, this responsibility lies with the brand marketing team. 

How do you approach ‘to partner’ and ‘through partner’ marketing?

It is tempting for marketing teams to concentrate on the ‘through partner’ marketing campaigns, focused on the end-customer. However, this is likely to be an expensive mistake. It is often wiser to focus on ‘to partner’ marketing materials first. You need to consider your partners’ needs for information and the messaging that you and they will use. You also need to consider how to train and incentivise your partners’ sales teams, because they are crucial to reaching customers. ‘To partner’ marketing cannot be an afterthought.

What processes do you use to gather information from your partners?

Do you see your partners as a valuable source of information about your end-customers? If not, you need to think again. Partners are much closer to your customers than you are. They are therefore likely to hear much more quickly about any mismatch between reputation and operation of your products and services. They are also better placed to identify any changing customer expectations, beliefs or other factors that may affect your reputation in the marketplace. See them as a barometer, warning you of potential problems—and have processes in place to gather their valuable intelligence.