The main goal of any partner program is to recruit an ideal partner and turn them into a productive machine. While some rare high-performing partners hit the ground running, most successful partnerships hinge on a comprehensive and well-thought-out partnership development plan.

What is Partnership Development?

Partnership development is identifying, vetting, launching and managing a mutually beneficial partnership between two or more organizations.

In one of our recent blogs, “What Are the Stages of Partnership Development”, we covered each stage of developing a partner into a productive member of your partner ecosystem, including:

  1. Determine Your Ideal Partner Type
  2. Recruit Your Ideal Partner
  3. Enter into a Formal Partnership Agreement
  4. Onboard & Train Your Partner
  5. Enable Your Partner
  6. Engage Your partner on an Ongoing Basis
  7. Assess & Adjust Your Partner Business Plan Quarterly

In this article, we’ll go over what a successful partnership development plan entails.

What is a Partnership Development Plan?

A partnership development plan is a joint business plan between a supplier and a partner company that outlines how to reach desired targets for both companies due to the partnership.

There is baseline company-wide information that vendors need to acquire from their partners before they’re able to develop the plan. You must understand your new partner’s full capabilities, resources, go-to-market motions and department/business unit performance.

Questions programs should ask of their partners during their partner onboarding process include:

  • What is the partner’s current total monthly recurring revenue (MRR)? How much of the current total partner MRR comes from solutions like those your company offers? What is a realistic increase in MRR in six months or a year?
  • Does the partner currently see opportunities to increase MRR with your company’s solutions? If so, how many opportunities? If not, what vertical or horizontal industries does the partner feel capable of targeting to offer your solution? Can you spearhead penetration in these markets for the partner?
  • Will the partner sell into their existing customer base with your solution? Or is their existing customer base not a fit?
  • How well-developed are the partner company’s sales, marketing, customer service and operations departments? Are they missing core capabilities?
  • Does the partner have the capacity and staff to handle front-line customer support inquiries? Or must all requests be fielded by your organization?
  • Where does your partner believe they need the most support from you? Can your company fill those gaps? If so, to what extent? If not, can you connect the partner with a third party that can?
  • How familiar is the partner company with your type of solution and the industries you typically serve? How much education or assistance can you offer in this area? How does their level of knowledge impact the long-term timeline for ROI?
  • What market development funds (MDF) can you contribute to this new partnership? How will you allocate MDF and ensure agreement for its use?
  • How important are you as a vendor to the partner’s overall business? Are they partnering with you so they can close an immediate opportunity or fill an unmet need? Or are your solutions “nice to have” as an add-on or another variation of similar offers in their portfolio?

What Are the Elements of a Successful Partnership Development Plan?

A successful partnership development plan includes these key elements:

  1. Set Clear Goals + Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  2. Establish Tactics to Reach Goals + KPIs
  3. Schedule Monthly + Quarterly Check-Ins
  4. Monitor Progress Regularly
  5. Conduct Annual Reviews
  6. Hold Both the Supplier + the Partner Accountable, Not Just the Partner

Partnership Development Plan Element 1: Set Clear Goals + Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

The most essential element of a partnership development plan is setting milestones and benchmarks tied to specific dates. Once you have a firm and realistic timeline, you and your partner will understand precisely when the partnership will be contributing and what resources are required to reach that target. 

While you may have primary indicators of the partnership’s progress, such as revenue milestones, product development phases, marketing campaign launches, joint services integrations and other targets depending on the type of partnership, it may be several months before either company reaches these end goals. 

This lag time from partnership inception to desired outcomes means your program needs to measure other KPIs, especially at the beginning of the partnership, during onboarding as your companies get to know each other. Count joint planning, training and enablement thresholds as genuine wins and provide positive feedback to keep your partner motivated to continue through the rest of the process.

Note that it’s important to share these wins internally within the supplier organization so that leadership continues to buy into the premise of a given partnership and investing resources. Certain partnerships may not necessarily be tied to revenue generation, so advocating for these initiatives is critical since they may be subject to more scrutiny.

For example, some partnerships may improve the product set you offer and your user experience, but despite these enhancements your company may be unable to charge more for your services to remain competitive in the market. This partnership’s end goal would be focused on improving the product to compete in the marketplace, which is necessary for revenue retention rather than revenue generation.

Common KPIs to measure include:

  • Revenue closed
  • Partner participation in technology, sales and marketing training
  • Partner attendance at supplier events or webinars
  • Partner engagement with the portal and portal resources
  • Number of campaigns the partner sent (if supported in the partner portal)
  • Number of demos or proofs of concept the partner performed
  • Number of deals the partner registered
  • Number of joint planning sessions held and follow-up action items completed

Below is a map of what the first 90 days (and beyond) may look like for onboarding a new partner:

  • Day 1-30 – During the first 30 days, onboarding typically consists of the following:
    • Conducting the discovery
    • Introducing members of your respective teams
    • Assessing vendor-partner alignment
    • Creating a business plan with the partner
    • Providing access to the partner portal and relevant sales and marketing materials
    • Starting initial sales and technical training
  • Day 31-60 – By day 60, onboarding moves to:
    • Discussing longer-term business planning
    • Reviewing use cases and case studies
    • Beginning demand generation
    • Engaging sales opportunities together
  • Day 61-90 – By day 90, onboarding activities include:
    • Selling collaboratively
    • Growing the sales pipeline
    • Celebrating an initial win
  • Day 90-180 – Day 91 through 180 is when the training wheels slowly come off and partners practice what they’ve learned in the first three months and develop confidence and competence to sell independently.
  • Day 181-365 – At the end of the first year, it’s time to revisit the business plan with new goals and milestones for year two.

Partnership Development Plan Element 2: Establish Tactics to Reach Goals + KPIs

Once you and your partner have set goals and timeframes, you must determine the specific action items to meet each target. For example, if one of your significant milestones is to have closed a deal by day 90 of your partnership, you’ll need to ask these questions:

  • Where should we be looking for an easy win?
  • Do we have marketing and sales campaign resources (email cadences, collateral resources, call scripts, voicemail scripts, etc.) already created to deploy for our solution set?
  • Which members of the supplier sales team and the partner sales team will use these resources to joint-sell opportunities together?
  • On average, how many sales motions (cold calls, cold emails, etc.) must the team achieve each day?
  • How frequently do those sales team members need to meet to keep sales motions on target? How frequently do sales and marketing need to check in with each other on lead quality?
  • Does the first closed deal need to be closed entirely by the partner? Or is this an actual joint sale? What counts as a win?
  • If meetings with prospects aren’t being scheduled, at what point do we revisit sales training or the quality of marketing materials for this specific vertical?

The answers to these questions, even around a single goal like the one outlined above, will help you work backward to determine the roles and responsibilities required of both the provider and the partner. The same principle applies to the activities leading up to a closed sale, such as training, demos and certifications for technical and sales personnel at the partner company.

Please note that a required element of meeting these goals is having them documented and easily accessible by both the provider and the partner. How often have you left a meeting where action items were verbally spoken about and agreed to but never followed up on because they weren’t written down and followed up? A quality PRM system can help your program document tasks and responsibilities internally and externally with an online dashboard.

Partnership Development Plan Element 3: Schedule Monthly + Quarterly Check-Ins

Establish frequent check-ins with your partner so you can work together to adjust the ongoing plan. At a minimum, your program will want to establish quarterly check-ins as a baseline. However, suppose you have a more involved partnership with joint go-to-market motions in place and you’re actively selling together. In that case, you may need to establish a more frequent cadence for these check-ins and meet monthly or biweekly, depending on the volume of activity.

Note that you’ll want to be wary of meeting too frequently, unless your partnership is so extensive that you need those check-ins to keep everything straight with each other. Typically, there is only so much progress that a partner company can make each week through your engagement. It can be discouraging to a partner to have made little to potentially no progress in the period between when they last met with you.

Partnership Development Plan Element 4: Monitor Progress Regularly

While this may seem obvious, your program needs to track quantitative and qualitative metrics on reaching the agreed-upon goals before arriving at those major milestone dates. If regular tracking isn’t in place, it will be too late to act if the provider or partner staff deviates from the target objectives. 

The KPIs established will allow you to monitor your partner and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Documenting partner progress in a regular report will help:

  • Set realistic objectives (it’s possible milestones were set too aggressively or may have been too easy to achieve)
  • Monitor the implementation of tactics in place and how they need to be adjusted
  • Determine if something is off in the onboarding, training or enablement phases

Ongoing monitoring will help you understand quickly if a partner is all talk and no action. If you have several goals that have to be achieved by day 30, but there’s been no movement from the partner of any kind on day 25 (which is visible if onboarding is tracked in a PRM), then it may be time to discuss if the partnership is a good fit and whether you should part ways so you aren’t investing too much time in a non-accretive partner.

Partnership Development Plan Element 5: Conduct Annual Reviews

Any good development plan, whether for an employee internally or for a relationship with a partner, involves an annual review in some form. This is particularly useful for partners with whom you’ve had years- or possibly even decades-long relationships and have been self-sufficient in deploying solutions, bringing deals to the table, and generating new MRR. Key stakeholders should be part of this annual review, especially the supplier company, as it will help communicate how important the partnership is to the partner company. 

In this review, you’ll want to cover the following:

  • Opportunities for growth
  • Where the provider and partner both succeeded in sales, marketing and technical support in the last year
  • Where the provider and partner both could improve in sales, marketing and technical support in the last year
  • How to improve any weak areas
  • What goals and targets to address weak areas for the next year

Try to end the annual review positively and explain how you’re looking forward to growing with the partner in the next year.

Partnership Development Plan Element 6: Hold Both the Provider + the Partner Accountable, Not Just the Partner

It’s critical to remember that your partnership is just that, a partnership. A common source of friction in transaction-oriented partnerships between providers and partners is that partners typically feel hounded by vendor channel account managers around registering new deals and sending them fresh leads. Your program needs to be the one that asks, “How can I help you sell more accounts this quarter?” not “Where are my leads?”.

This same principle applies to non-transacting partnerships as well. A technology alliance partnership focused on product integration may require more heavy lifting from one side or the other at different points during development phases. If your partner is encountering a roadblock in this scenario, see how your own team can pitch in and help them solve the problem rather than letting them get stuck for potentially weeks on a problematic phase.

Meeting this need involves holding your own staff internally to KPIs and metrics, which may be more straightforward during onboarding, training and enablement phases, but less so as target goals of the partnership are surpassed and new ones need to be set.

For example, a transacting partner may have more clear targets to meet, such as simply increasing to a new revenue threshold in the next quarter, but how can your own team help them reach this new goal? What specific resources can you deploy in the next month to boost them? You could run a new go-to-market campaign, put your own direct sales team to work and hand off leads to your partner to encourage them or show them new ways to sell your solutions.

Non-transacting partners, such as influencer partners, will have different forms of collaboration your team can assist with. If they have a popular podcast or media property in your industry, perhaps you can design a six-month joint marketing campaign where you agree to the mutual promotion of interviews between them and staff members to promote your company as thought leaders and provide them with fresh content.

All this is to say that the vendor needs to keep the onus on themselves to keep the partnership headed in the right direction and progressing, rather than only looking at the partner company. It’s easy to be excited and make progress in month six of your engagement, but what about when you’re in year five? Keeping your own team accountable and actively supporting the partnership type in every way possible is vital to escalating and meeting new targets.

Implement these elements in your partnership development plan to keep your partner on track to producing results.