Don't ask your partners to do something for you first. Do something for them.
The typical partner program pitch goes something like this:
- Apply or make initial contact to become a partner
- Do something for us
- Now we accept you and list you on our site
This all makes sense from your side of the table.
You know most potential partners will say they're interested but then not follow-through. So you need a way to vet them and make sure they earn their spot in your program before you spend resources on them, right?
What if you had it backwards?
What if the best way to build a successful partner program and attract high-quality, highly-engaged partners is to do the opposite of asking them for something? What if instead, the first step was to give them something?
Sounds scary and counterintuitive, but follow me here.
First impressions matter, and the first generous move often sets the tone for the relationship. Why would you pass up the opportunity to be the one who makes it?
Partner Managers have countless initial partnership conversations and they often fall flat after the first call. The best possible way to signal to your prospective partner that this conversation is different is to flip the script. Tell the partner how you are able to help them be successful.
So what might that look like in your partner program? How can you seize the first giver advantage and show your partner that you are worth partnering with?
Here are some give first ideas:
- Offer a time to get in front of your client-facing team - educating your teams about your partner is one of the best ways to fuel referral volume. Lunch and learns are often preferred, but you could also feature partners in an internal knowledge base where teams can learn about partners and their value props.
- Highlight them in your partner directory – feature new partners at the top of your directory, or tag them with a “New Partner” badge. This will increase visibility, especially with any customers that are looking for new/cutting-edge offerings that boost ROI across their tech stack.
- Introduce them to a power user/loyal customer - this is most effective after you've determined a joint value prop. Work with your client-facing teams like Support, Success, and Sales to source.
- Social post shout-outs - one of the easiest things you can do is tag and show some love on social media; e.g. include them in a recommended tech stack list.
- Newsletter callout - add a, "New supporting tech/services” section to your newsletter and show them some love!
- Include in other low lift co-marketing – identify other ways that you can highlight the partner without triggering a weeks-long project with your marketing team. Ex: include a quote in an upcoming and relevant blog post, etc.
- Hands-on support – if possible, offer dedicated support channels for your partners to surface issues that their team or your mutual customers are having. Oftentimes these sort of issues get kicked back and forth because they usually exist in the gray space between platforms or teams — facilitating quick resolutions is a huge win for everyone!
- Provide landing page templates, sample webinar agendas, and other co-marketing material up front.
- Like, comment, and share - it may sound small, but engaging with a prospective partner's social media (the personal account, not just their company) is a great way to give.
- Tell them about resources they might love - a book, podcast, or newsletter recommendation relevant to their work, if done genuinely and after listening to them, can start things on the right foot.
(Shout-out to Justin Zimmeran, Will Taylor, Miklós Kovács, Sandra K. Connor, Adam Pasch, and others for some of the ideas above, shared generously on LinkedIn!)
What happens next?
See how your partner reacts to your give first approach – do they try to reciprocate? Is the partner more engaged and motivated to create value from the partnership?
If the answer to these questions is “no”, your focus might better be spent on partners who understand that reciprocity is the name of the game.
This is a philosophical commitment and an approach to doing business that seeks to create partner value as quickly and generously as possible. Once the mindset switch has flipped, you'll begin to discover more tactics than you have time to try.
Partnership teams that focus on giving and helping will end up with the most engaged and motivated partners. And if you build and adopt processes so that your business can give back to partners, you can finally engage your partners at scale.