Why the perfect partnership program must remain at the heart of your business

Dave Plunkett on Sep 27, 2021 8:49:12 AM

If you’re the owner of a growing business, I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with referrals. The act of recommending people is the oldest form of marketing but it’s often done on an ad-hoc basis and doesn’t have any strategic thought behind it which, in our experience, means many leads not being introduced.

A strategically designed Partnership Program can be hugely beneficial to business growth and they are used to great effect by the biggest brands (such as AirBnB or Uber) through to small start-ups.

If a business isn’t aware of the inherent value of a partnership program, they may resent investing too much time, money or resources into it. However, those who are aware will appreciate what a dramatic effect a lucrative program can have on business growth.

According to statistics published by Thinkimpact.com, 78% of B2B referrals create viable customer leads for the business and referrals end up creating 65% of new business opportunities.

However, as I hinted earlier, the most likely difference between a successful or failed partnership program is the strategy behind it.

It’s easy to offer people a free fifth coffee or give them a fiver when they introduce their friend. What’s harder, or at least requires more effort, is getting ideal partners to work with you, sell your services as a value-add to their own and, in doing so, turbo boost your growth.

Why you simply must start with your ‘real why’

The ‘real why’ is important because it will be the hook on which your strategy hangs. You need to understand why other businesses should partner with you because that’s a big part of your messaging.

So, why should businesses bother to partner with YOU?

There’s no right or wrong answer but could include:

  • The service we provide will enhance the service our partner provides so the program creates a win-win
  • By engaging in our program, partners can offer an increased range of services to their own clients, resulting in greater revenue and customer loyalty
  • Partners can use the program to build their reputation as ‘problem solvers’ in the eyes of their clients
  • Partners who are smaller or newer to business might use a partnering program to build their credibility and reputation – by being attached to your brand, they can convey the quality of their own service
  • It could, of course, be purely financial, and that’s ok too.

Whatever the ‘real why’ is, you need to keep it front of mind when creating your partner program strategy.

Relationships are long term, so your program needs to be too

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”

Coined by the 4th Earl of Chesterfield in 1774 (who I’m fairly sure wasn’t talking about partnership programs), this is probably one of the most overused quotes ever, but it has stood the test of time for a reason.

If you invest the time and resources in creating a first-class partnership program, it’ll serve you for years, grow with your business and appeal to all sizes of partner so as you get bigger, so can they.

You wouldn’t expect a client to take you on after a quick five-minute phone call so don’t set your expectations at a lowly level for your partners either. There are a few key things to think about when it comes to creating a program that will scale with your business:

  • Put the effort in on the research. If you don’t know who your ideal partner is, you’re unlikely to find them and the program will probably fail. At the end of the day, any partner will probably bring in some quick wins, but you will benefit from finding strong, ideal partners who can do so repeatedly;
  • Weave your program into every corner of your business. It should be part of your culture, your internal and external messaging, your values, systems and processes and your business analytics. If you live and breathe it, you can be sure your partners will be able to as well and it’s this omnipresence which makes it more likely to succeed;
  • Don’t stop engaging partners when they sign up. You need to continually review their performance to see whether the program is right for them (or they are right for you), whether they have the information they need to ‘sell’ it. If it’s not easy for them to activate, they won’t. It’s as simple as that so nurture them, have reviews with them, help them to make it second nature.

Why expectations need to be set and how to measure who’s meeting them

A lack of expectations is probably the single greatest reason why partnerships end badly. They need setting at the start of the arrangement and monitoring throughout. They are another element of the regular communication you send to your partners.

Expectations are important because they ensure partners take time to recommend you to the right people, they set a mutual understanding that this is a formal business arrangement, not just doing each other a favour here and there.

Depending on the complexity of your program, expectations will differ. For example, you should always be tracking the performance and trends of referrals that come from your partners (reporting these can even be made into a light-hearted competition to encourage maximum effort!) but you might even require partners to commit to a minimum level of marketing activity for your services. Don’t be afraid to set up regular reviews with your partners and share their performance to understand the trends that appear. You might be able to make a small tweak or provide an extra piece of information which will dramatically change their performance.

While agreeing expectations is important, they’re not there as a stick to beat your partners with. This is about continually reviewing your program and understanding where it is and isn’t working. It will help you review your partners to understand which are the most suited and potentially that can feed into your ideal partner avatar work.

How focusing on the admin and management of the program will pay for itself in no time

Just check back to the statistics at the start of this article if you are in any doubt as to whether it’s worth investing time and money in running your program properly.

Going back to the point about embedding your partnership program in every corner of your business, the more you document, monitor, manage and review, the easier you will find it to consistently and effectively implement your program. The best partnership program needs to be frictionless. The moment a partner comes up against a challenge, there’s a chance they will put the referral on the back-burner. Give them every reason to sell your business to their clients. Keep your communication regular, provide them with FAQs so they can meet any challenges directly, make sure they are aware of the benefits and value your business brings to theirs. And finally, remind them of what they stand to gain by referring you.

I’ve seen first-hand how amazing these programs are when they work. And I’ve witnessed too many of them fail because small details have been overlooked or because there’s a tiny weak link, somewhere in the process, which results in a loss of momentum, lack of enthusiasm and a program that’s dead in the water.

Hopefully the thoughts and examples shared here will set you on the right path to creating a robust and sustainable partnership program which delivers, long-term, for your business and generates goodwill and growth for your partners too. I think that’s what you call a win-win situation.


Dave Plunkett is the founder of Collaboration Junkie. With over 20 years experience in partnerships, he now helps ambitious business owners leverage their credibility to achieve a hassle free lead generation process. Helping them get strategic about their referral based marketing to receive high quality leads, that convert quickly and don’t haggle on price, on a consistent basis.