Partnerships, ecosystems, and marketplaces are on the rise. However, talking about partnerships and creating a genuine mutually beneficial relationship/partnership with another business are two very different things. Partner (or partnership) marketing is a case in point.

The three-legged stool of to, the with and the through

For most partner marketers, the three-legged stoll is the starting point for programme development:

TO = vendor competing with other vendors for partners/resellers e.g. ‘why you should sell our stuff and why we can help you be more profitable, we’re great to do business with than brands X and Y with whom we compete’ . This also includes ongoing communications into the partner’s organization (across multiple functions and initiatives…SPIFF’s, sales incentives, awards for sales; payment terms and benefits for finance and leadership, marketing brand awareness building for marketing and sales  etc.)

WITH = as summarized e.g. addressing a common target audience together, often more strategic.

THROUGH = this is the simplest  where a reseller (VARS, retailers, Service Providers and the like) sells to their audience and the vendor gets a % of the total revenue generated across the solution. A vertical specialist partner selling into a niche market is a typical example. Through however has risks attached for the ‘vendor’ in that their brand is firmly in the hands of the partner. IF the ‘to partner’ messages and incentives haven’t been clear enough or are insufficient ‘switch selling’ is a strong possibility.

The bigger picture

At its simplest, partner co-marketing is when two companies or brands work together to market with each other to a shared audience. A simple but familiar example is the toys in McDonalds Happy Meals. These are often linked to a new film. The production company knows that families visiting McDonalds are an important part of their target audience, and the promotion will therefore raise awareness of the new film among that group. The purpose behind this type of partnering is usually to reach a new market segment, rather than simply market to the same audience in a slightly different way.

Partnerships of this nature may be ephemeral. The two partners are simply collaborating for a time because, they share an audience, or because one is interested in accessing the other’s audience for a specific opportunity. At its best, however, partner marketing goes far beyond simply selling something together to a broader audience. Instead, it is all about creating more value for both partners, and for their potential customers in common. This type of partnership is likely to be longer-lasting, because the two partners both have a focus on improving their customers’ experience’,and making their lives better in some way.

Of course, both also get the benefits of exposure to a new audience. However, longer-lasting partnerships are more likely to be built on shared values, and a desire to help each other and the shared group of customers, rather than simply hinging on a moment of mutual convenience. These relationships also require investment from both parties in training and enabling resources, certifications, specialisations, market development funds, and promotions.

Identifying good partner marketing

How, then, would we define good partner marketing? We believe it must be about generating and demonstrating value to, with, through and for partners. This means that the relationship is mutual—both partners get benefits from that relationship that they would not be able to obtain from another. It is also important that it is a partnership: this should not be about one ‘senior partner’ dictating the rules to the other and dominating the relationship.

One way to look at this is to see whether both partners have equal opportunities to generate leads through joint activities. In tech co-marketing the partner gets the leads and fulfills the sale. They have the proximity and relationship with the customer typically unless the vendor has a direct sales force (for big opportunites). It is also useful to look at the types of joint activities supported, and the funding arrangements.

Follow the money

If only one partner is paying, it seems likely that the arrangement will be somewhat one-sided—but the percentage of the marketing budget also matters. Similarly, do you produce joint marketing plans? In other words, are you thinking together about how best to generate value, or is the relationship more one-sided? And while we are thinking about generating value, how do you measure demand generation activities with partners and then distribute, qualify, and manage leads from those activities and hopefully avoiding creating channel conflict in the process?

Other aspects of partner marketing can also be informative. For example, is there a partner marketing function? Where does the partner marketing function sit within your company (and your partners’)? This can tell you a lot about how integrated your partner marketing is with both your marketing and sales functions, and your overall company strategy. Another interesting aspect to consider is how you select your partners, and particularly how you differentiate between them. This should, of course, be aligned with your overall strategy, and not just be about convenience, or who is prepared to pay the most.

Going beyond ‘good’

These questions will enable you to identify ‘good’ partner marketing. However, what makes ‘the best’ partner marketing? The key here is alignment and value. Partnerships need to be selected to align fully with the overall strategy and values for both partners. However, they also need to add real value for both partners.

Some of the best practices in partner marketing therefore go above and beyond the immediate cooperation and provide much longer lasting value. They might include shared platforms to support partner sales and marketing needs, shared case studies and content for thought leadership, or shared reporting structures. Some groups have built communities of partners to generate even more value, create economies of scale and share best practices.

Perhaps most crucially, it seems likely that the best partner marketing is carefully measured. In other words, it is not happening by chance. Those involved know exactly what creates value—because they agree, define and measure it. Excellent partner marketing goes beyond simple measures to attribution. This means that they can do more to provide value for themselves, their partners and ultimately, their customers—and that makes all the difference.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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