6 Go-To Partner Retention Steps & Strategies You Can Steal.

Let’s think of your partner program as a boat; if it has a significant leak, your team can only bail out water for so long before their arms tire and their efforts slow. Likewise, a channel partner team that focuses too much on recruitment and not enough on retention is acting inefficiently and will never see impactful growth. 

Why do partners “jump ship?” The short answer is that they stop believing in your products or program procedures as a worthwhile (or profitable) investment of their time. However, the longer answer is much more complex, one which will ultimately fall on your shoulders to answer.  

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  1. Managing early expectations
  2. Setting partners up for success
  3. Diagnosing weak spots within your partner journey
  4. Keeping your program competitive 
  5. Keeping seasoned partners excited about your brand
  6. Strategically focusing retention efforts for the highest ROI

1. Managing Expectations When Enrolling and Onboarding Partners.

Soon-to-be partners should know exactly what to expect from the program and sales process, including the intensity of the onboarding process, the payment structure, and the average sales cycle. What’s more, guide them through parts of your PRM so they can witness what capabilities will (or will not) be at their fingertips for ease of use. 

Part of managing expectations is to offer clarity into the specific capabilities of your products or provided services. Educate them on the value of your offering and what product development lies ahead, as well as how these features can supplement their own brand’s specialties.  

Your enhanced transparency should naturally entice more partners to join. More importantly, you will filter out those who were never good fits for the program in the first place. Having them drop earlier rather than later spares your team from investing time into a partnership that was never meant to be. 

2. Setting Partners Up For Success.

Partners will only stick with your program as long as they believe it to be profitable, even if indirectly. Perhaps they believe your product to be the best on the market and want to leverage it for their customers’ satisfaction, or think that your integrations unlock the full potential of their own offering. Maybe they simply appreciate the boosted bottom line from selling your products in conjunction with their own. Regardless of their reasoning, they won’t put forth the leg work of promoting your technology if it proves not worth their while. 

Therefore, one of the best ways to boost partner program retention is to create first-rate materials that sell partners and their audiences on your capabilities. Examples include:

  • ROI calculators for resellers/co-selling
  • Prepared sales pitches partners can co-brand 
  • Product roadmaps
  • Case studies 
  • White papers
  • Customer testimonials
  • Battle cards

Simply creating the content isn’t enough, though. Using your PRM data and partner feedback, measure the effectiveness of the various materials compared to one another, as well as amongst different audiences. These insights should inform future content development strategies, identify gaps in your repertoire, and let you know which duds to discard. 

Using Technology to Improve Turnaround Time

Select PRM technology enables you to streamline various processes associated with partner content distribution for better overall efficiency. For example, some portals enable partners to co-brand designated materials as needed, rather than put in a request for a channel account manager to manually fulfill. 

Additionally, the portal can automatically recommend specific sales enablement content based on partner information submitted during the deal registration. The pre-programmed playbooks will guide partners on what to send to whom and when, lessening guesswork or needed input from channel account managers. 

The point is, semi-automating sales enablement lessens process delays and allows scalable growth without hurting the partner experience, all helping to improve retention.

Tori Barlow Headshot
“With today’s PRM technology, partner portal experiences improve because of (and not in spite of) automation. Channel account managers can curate which content and capabilities are available based on individual participants’ specifications, whether that be language preference, industry, etc. As partners onboard and achieve established milestones, the portal can unlock new features and content. Through automation, you lessen the likelihood of partners hitting portal dead-ends or confusion.” – Tori Barlow, VP Marketing Allbound PRM

3. Diagnosing Weak Spots Within Your Partner Journey.

Let’s return to the analogy of your partner program as a ship; if you struggle to stay afloat, the wisest step would be to stop the source of the leak. 

If you utilize a designated PRM, you should be able to track an individual’s and partner groups’ portal logins and content interactions. When combined, this data should illuminate behavioral patterns and junctures at which partners withdraw. 

Once you identify the points at which partners frequently “fall-off,” consider what specific elements may dishearten program participants and actions you can take to address barriers. For example:

  • Do many partners fail to start or make significant progress within the onboarding process? The fault may lie with lackluster welcome materials or a subpar portal interface. After affirming the source through qualitative feedback, upgrade the lackluster program component. If partners sign into the portal but fail to continuously interact, create a “how-to” training that walks them through the many features. 
  • Do partners disengage mid-way through training? The first question to answer is whether the training is too confusing. Gain clarity by pairing lessons with quick quizzes; a concerning “fail” rate indicates that your instructional materials need work. 

However, if participants pass the quizzes with flying colors but still taper off, your onboarding process may be too long. In response, consider consolidating lessons when possible or employing more engaging mediums, such as video. 

Alternatively, offer extra motivation throughout onboarding. Perhaps achieving certain milestones will unlock product discounts or gift cards, or completing the full onboarding process within a fixed deadline will result in you allotting them their first lead.

  • Do partners complete training but fail to register a lead? If this is the case, keep partners “on the hook” by passing them leads. The experience of closing their first deal may go a long way to building their confidence in pursuing the next. 

Low lead counts can be a symptom of a number of factors, including the competitiveness of your product offering and global events that impact industry behaviors. One potential source is inadequate training. Consult with your Direct Sales department, collect feedback from program participants, and test whether introducing additional onboarding materials improves the average leads per partner. 

  • Do partners generate leads but fail to convert? Some partner portal software collects engagement data that lets you connect specific content utilization to sales, as well as to segment conversion data by a particular partner or prospect type. These insights can help you pinpoint which messaging resonates the most and with whom (and vice versa). 

As with the previous point, low conversion rates can come from several issues both within and outside of your partner program. Consider all avenues—inferior product packages, rushed onboarding, industry trends, etc. 

Data is the Foundation of a Hypothesis Worth Further Testing

When armed with a hypothesis, scientists don’t just accept it as infallible and yell it from the rooftops. Instead, they consult with others and collectively run tests, trying to disprove their theory. 

You should apply this same principle to your data-driven hypotheses. Explain your reasoning to Direct Sales and other departments to gain new perspectives. Ask for the opinions of trusted channel partners and/or run program-wide surveys to collect more feedback. 

Additionally, test any significant changes to the program or sales enablement procedures. Let’s say you introduce product demonstrations to help conversion rates; evaluate how often partners send these to prospects and whether this improves conversion rates compared to partners who don’t use these materials. 

4. Keeping Your Partner Program Competitive.

Remember, you’re not the only company courting partners. If you offer a ho-hum program (or your products are substandard), your partners will pull away in favor of a rival technology provider. Keep your channel program competitive by: 

  • Providing commission that is on par with industry standards (or better). 
  • Incorporating new services, features, integrations, and incentives based on partner feedback.
  • Choosing a commission percentage that appropriately counterbalances the partners’ time investment (onboarding, length of sales cycle, etc.).  

5. Keeping Seasoned Partners Excited About Your Brand.

Like all busy professionals, your partners have a lot on their minds and on their plates. Your product offering may fall to the wayside in light of other pressing needs or exciting opportunities. Therefore, regularly find ways to reignite partners’ enthusiasm. Strategies can include:

  • Offering fresh materials. Under no condition should your content grow stale. Consider how you can rejuvenate top performers with new value or create accompanying materials in exciting new mediums. 
  • Invitations to events. Examples can include complimentary conference tickets for upper-tier partners, exclusive happy hours, or partner summits (click here for additional ideas). Just remember not to overwhelm partners with too many invitations, or else each event will yield diminishing returns. 
  • Worthwhile incentives. Keep profitable partners hooked with new rewards. These can range from added assistance to boost their selling (like marketing development funds) to gift cards for the individuals to enjoy. 

Consider throwing sales contests (also known as SPIFF campaign) to rouse friendly competition and remind partners of the profit levels they can achieve when they push themselves. The key to successful competition is to define concrete conditions (the time frame, the qualifying products, the “winning” conditions, etc.), and to throw them only a few times a year. Evaluate the results of each contest to gauge the amount of participation and the impact on sales to determine if the goalposts were too easy or too ambitious. 

Such incentivizing activities help to retain current channel partners and may reactivate those who previously lost interest. 

6. Strategically Focusing Retention Efforts for the Highest ROI.

While opportunities for partner program improvement may be endless, your budget is not. Therefore, you will need to tactically apply your resources to the relationships that will yield the most returns.

Defining a partner tier structure naturally enables you to reward the relationships it would hurt most to lose while simultaneously allowing them to achieve greater potential. Examples of strategic incentives for high-performers can include:

  • Marketing development funds (MDFs)
  • Website or content spotlights
  • Co-marketing opportunities
  • Exclusivity to certain markets

Partner Retention is Fundamental to Program Growth.

To summarize, reinforce your retention rate by routinely auditing your program to identify sources of friction for partners, rejuvenating your content and perks, and investing in designated PRM software that is easy for participants to use. Such steps ultimately yield a solid foundation on which your partner program can grow.

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