Welcome to the first part of our podcast series on Partner Onboarding Insights, brought to you by Zift Solutions. In this episode, Kylinn Kraemer and Ken Snyder delve deep into the strategies and methodologies behind effective partner onboarding, a crucial aspect for enhancing partner engagement in PRM and channel programs.

Meet the Speakers

  • Kylinn, Business Intelligence Analyst at Zift Solutions, who has extensively researched and authored parts one and two (coming soon!) of our insightful ebook on partner onboarding.
  • Ken Snyder, Senior Technical Account Manager at Zift Solutions, who brings his expertise in technical account management and a keen interest in optimizing partner experiences.

Episode Overview

Kylinn and Ken discuss the inspirations, challenges, and findings from Kylinn’s research on partner onboarding strategies. They explore various phases of partner onboarding—pre, during, and post—and their unique impacts on partner engagement. The discussion extends into tactical approaches such as segmentation, gamification, and the integration of dynamic content to maintain and heighten partner activity and involvement.

Key Topics Covered

  1. Different Phases of Onboarding:
    • The conversation covers 3 distinct phases of onboarding: pre-, during, and post-. Each phase is characterized by different levels of partner user activity and engagement.
  2. Engagement Insights:
    • Identification of engagement drop-off periods and strategic intervention points.
    • Use of gamification to enhance the onboarding experience and maintain high engagement levels.
    • Personalization of onboarding tasks based on the roles and needs of different partner users to ensure relevance and effectiveness.
  3. Strategies for Reengagement:
    • Employing tactics similar to those used in digital marketing (e.g., notifications for incomplete tasks) to reengage dormant partners.
    • Continuous content renewal to keep the offerings relevant and engaging.
  4. Future Directions:
    • A sneak peek into Part Two of the ebook, which will focus more on specific onboarding tasks, their effectiveness, and strategies to optimize completion rates.

Why Listen?

If you’re a channel professional who is actively involved in managing and optimizing partner relationships, this podcast is for you. Get practical insights, innovative strategies, and recommended tactics from research gleaned from our own active client base.

Whether you’re looking to refine your approach to partner engagement or seeking fresh insights into partner management, Kylinn and Ken offer valuable perspectives and data-driven strategies that can be adapted to a variety of scenarios in the partner relationship management space.


For those who prefer reading, find the full transcript of our discussion below:

Kylinn: Hi, everyone. My name is Kylinn. I am the business intelligence analyst here at Zift Solutions, and I worked on our ebook part one and part two and all of the research around it and I’m really excited to talk about it a little bit today.

Ken: And my name is Ken Snyder and I’m a senior technical account manager at Zift Solutions and I’m very excited to be talking with my colleague, Kylinn, about the virtues of partner onboarding and how vendors and suppliers can optimize that experience for their partner communities. So, Kylinn, first of all, my initial question for you is what was the inspiration for you to undertake this quite frankly extensive research into partner onboarding strategy?

Kylinn: It’s a great question. I feel like every great data analysis and starts with a big theoretical question like partner engagement and onboarding. So in the market of PRM and channel, the age old question is how do we get partners engaged in our programs? We kind of embarked on this journey, and wanting to understand and help our suppliers in that way, and we’ve figured onboarding was a an awesome place to start, and kind of helping them empower their partners to be able to participate and to be able to engage through onboarding plans.

Ken: So was there anything in particular that you were seeing from a data analysis perspective that defined a need for a deeper understanding in providing suppliers or vendors with strategies?

Kylinn: At times we see these super successful clients with very robust collateral libraries, and they have these amazing campaigns set up in there, but they’re not empowering their partners in an effective manner, which leads to low partner engagement, which was where we’ve got the inspiration for it, but also felt that there was a need. And this is where we wanted to start with onboarding to actually see, does it increase partner engagement? Does this differ for certain demographics of clients, for larger clients versus the smaller clients? Does engagement change over time after onboarding, during onboarding? And then we also later on get into kind of the nitty gritty. So I feel like overall, the need was there because we see a lot of clients with great partner programs and great in terms of like their content and their campaigns and their enablement, but they’re not empowering their partners to know how to engage.

Ken: Maybe before peeling back the layers of the onion on that, it might be helpful to sort of set a baseline, with the terminology that is used in the report and that we’ll be using during the course of the podcast today. And that question would be could you provide us with your idea, or definition of what differentiates pre onboarding, during onboarding, and post onboarding? How are those unique in their own ways?

Kylinn: So those were the three periods, like you mentioned, that we looked at when considering, login frequency and partner user engagement. So the pre-onboarding phase is just like when a user gets set up. They’ve either not completed an onboarding task or plan, and they’re just kinda there enabled their license is active, but they’ve not onboarded. The onboarding during the onboarding stage once they’ve started a task or plan, they’re now in the onboarding phase. And then once they’ve completed, we set our threshold at sixty percent. So once they’ve completed sixty percent of that process, then they move into the post onboarding phase. So they don’t need to always not all partner users are gonna complete every partner user, onboarding task to be considered onboarded. They just have to be completing, you know, most of the tasks. And we felt like that was an inclusive definition from onboarding out, if that makes sense. And then post onboarding is just like what I said. After they’ve completed sixty percent of those onboarding tasks that they were assigned, now they’re in the post onboarding period. What are they doing then? What are the logins looking like in their engagement. So that’s how we defined it.

Ken: So I’d like to transition into a little bit of a conversation about unexpected findings. And I’ll share one that I got out of the report and then I’ll ask you for yours. For me, the thing that was interesting in pre-onboarding was that you could make the argument or I would make the argument anyway that you should treat that phase almost like a demand gen exercise in terms of a vendor or supplier communicating with the partner and the partner users, right? They’re still a lead at that point. They haven’t really taken any meaningful interaction yet or given any buy signals. And so you market to them pretty heavily in a way to generate demand and interest to come back and actually participate in the onboarding tasks and continue on their engagement journey. What was one of the more interesting and unexpected findings that you extrapolated from your research?

Kylinn: Yeah. I love that you pointed that out because that’s definitely that is a great way to look at it. And I think that will kind of come up again when we talk about recommendations later on. I’m sure we’ll get to that. But I think one of the coolest insights that I gleaned from the analysis was, the engagement drop off periods. And we didn’t talk so much about that in the blog, but it’s definitely a good portion of the ebook. And what I’m talking about is that there are certain periods during the post onboarding period where partner users begin to drop off and we see their engagement is lowering. Maybe they aren’t logging in as much anymore. And what’s really cool about that is when we understand when these drop offs occur, we actually can figure out when people should be intervene or when the supplier partner should be intervening, and then communicating to those users and reaching out, switching things up, doing something to then entice them to large scale clients and small scale clients. So knowing your demographic as a supplier and partner and understanding when the drop off periods can occur is really cool. So I definitely recommend to check that part of the ebook out if you haven’t already.

Ken: You’re making me think of the reengagement strategies and maybe this is a good time to tackle that. When I read the report and got to the section on reengagement, and so I’m thinking of this because you were just describing these drop off points. I thought about online shopping experiences and receiving notifications that I left something in the shopping cart or, you know, and that I hadn’t completed the purchase or maybe that I had added something to a wish list and later received a low price notification from my virtual voice assistant whose name I will not say. How can vendors sort of use those similar tactics to get dormant partners reengaged? 

Kylinn: That’s a great analogy there. I love that. I don’t know if I have the best answer, but I can try. That would be such a cool thing if we could instill something like that into  the channel. I feel like reengagement here. I like to think about like keeping content fresh. Maybe there’s, like, a new product that’s out or a great new campaign that they need to be aware of. Keeping things new and relevant is really important. So, you know, notifying the users when they wow. Look at this new product we have. Come do this task related to it. Maybe it’s a video. Maybe it’s a, you know, maybe there’s gamification involved. On this new onboarding task about our amazing new product, you will get a shout out or a new badge or whatever. Like, you’ll be a certain new product certified user. Whatever the case it is, I think that things new and fresh, but also intentional is really important. So like you said, being able to check-in and, you know, talk to the users about what what is actually fresh and new, and then they’ll come back, but not giving away too much, of course.

Ken: Yeah. I think I think you do a good job in the report of also encouraging vendors to be mindful of the formats that they’re putting these tasks in to make sure that they’re that they have the maximum appeal. Right? So if you find that, you know, that partners aren’t watching the videos, but they are reading white papers or data sheets or something like that, that’s helping to inform or increase their competency, and you’re getting a better response rate on those to sort of stick with those or make those the most prominent on the site.

Kylinn: Yes. Exactly. And that’s, like, really the meat of our part two, which is gonna come out soon. It’s talking about what are the most effective means for the different topics that we are, you know, interested in our partners completing onboarding around. So me, for example, training, onboarding tasks are best completed in a video format. We see the highest amount of completion rate there. So just being mindful of what are the means of the onboarding tasks that we’re having, and are those actually being completed or our partner users not engaging with them because they don’t like, let’s just say, like, reviewing a document. They don’t wanna read this lengthy paper about x y or z. They wanna do something about it. It just depends on different types of, topics. But I think that’s also a really interesting, you know, finding that we that we found in the analysis.

Ken: Okay. A lot of what we’ve just spent the last couple of minutes talking about ties into the importance of personalizing, whether it’s communication or tasks or content to support and enhance partner engagement. Is there anything else you would elaborate on there, in terms of, you know, effective strategies in that regard or have we kinda covered the topic pretty well by this point?

Kylinn: Yeah. I just still like to add that being intentional about onboarding plans is really important. Certain partner users, depending on their roles, need different things. So if you’re a sale Partner user or an administrator versus a technical support user, those all of those users are gonna need different things and be onboarded about different topics. So by creating personalized communications, personalized plans, We’re able to kinda target the users and make sure that the onboarding plans are relevant. And that may help them stay engaged and maintain high levels of engagement and completion if they are doing tasks that actually mean something to them. If they don’t, then I can see why they would, you know, not wanna participate in the partner program. So I think being intentional about this is key.

Ken: So that that kind of being mindful of, you know, sort of the user or the partner user to be more specific. I love that idea. I agree with it. It’s part of a sound segmentation strategy overall. Let’s zoom out a little bit and consider the size of the partner, or the vendor or supplier? And how does the size sort of factor into how you might engage or what strategies you might implement for improving engagement?

Kylinn: I think for large scale clients, they can just benefit from those regular updates and just trying to sustain engagement overall. They have higher engagement in general across the board. So their pre, during, and post onboarding periods and the login frequencies there are generally higher than our small scale clients. They have lower engagement from the start. So they, you know you had mentioned prior to treating them like a demand gen exercise and really nurturing them and the relationship right off the bat since they do have lower engagement from the start. And I think for small scale clients, that personalization is even more important. And always just with both of them, just continuously monitoring their engagement and reaching out during different times.

Ken: Yeah and I’d imagine a larger vendor, probably has more product lines and therefore has a requirement for more content to be put out for more educational materials, more touchpoints, the partners that they have may represent multiple product lines, whereas on the smaller scale vendors they night just have one or two products and the amount of news and information and content just doesn’t trickle out as frequently.

So all right, let’s see, there was something that we talked about a little bit earlier that I wanted to circle back to and that was gamification. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the role of gamification is in sort of creating dynamic and rewarding onboarding experience and the overall contribution to increase partner engagement.

Kylinn: Yeah, so gamification is integrating some of these game-like features into the tasks or the overall arching plans that we have, whether it’s something like a leaderboard or point system, maybe there’s like a badge involved for completion of a task, stuff like that can entice partner users to actually, you know, go ahead and complete the plans, not just look at it and you know make it. Maybe engagement with it maybe not. I don’t have much personal experience with a great gamified onboarding plan but I imagine it kind of looks something along the lines of what I said, if you add a completion badge or maybe some sort of reward for registering a certain amount of deals, whatever the task is, would improve completion rates and just incentivize partner users to want to engage. There’s a little boost in motivation behind it.

Ken: A little bit of carrot, a little bit of a breadcrumb trial to see what their path to success might look like and especially if it’s laid out for them, it could be really nice. I’m curious if you can get into this or not, how this partner onboarding and ongoing partner engagement and the gamification with all the vendor tools and information, how does it impact the end customer, their buying journey and their observed benefits? How does this stuff trickle all the way down to the person who’s making the buying decision. And then I want to segue into both the partner and the vendors bottom line. So let’s tie all that stuff into onboarding and engagement with partners.

Kylinn: If the end user has you know, they’ve done their due diligence, they’ve completed their nice personalized onboarding plan, they’re now empowered to go do whatever it is that they’re supposed to do in an effective way. Like, they’ve consumed the content that they need to consume whether it’s a sales user or like a technical support user to then go and do their job at the you know, as a user of the partner Which will benefit the vendor, I guess. I don’t know. What do you think?

Ken: I guess I well, yes. For me, it the reason it’s sort of important to me is that, you know, as a vendor, your partners are an extension of you and your values and your industry knowledge and expertise. And it’s hard to monitor that. And onboarding plans, I think, sort of foster this idea that, a certain level of competency is expected and required in order to provide a good experience or journey for the customers who are interested, who contact you. Right? And so I think there’s great relevance and merit to taking these onboarding plans very seriously and using them almost as a, like, a compliance tool so that you do have this sort of bare minimum of competency amongst the people who are out there trying to generate demand and drag, you know, closed won deals across the finish line. And so when that competency level is high, the end customer is gonna have a good experience. The partner is gonna take a lot more joy and pride in the selling experience and representing, you know, the vendor. They’ll be perceived by the end customer as being knowledgeable and worthy of a purchase transaction. And the vendor then takes, I think, a little bit of satisfaction in knowing that, hey, you know, the feet on the street, they’re as good, maybe even better than our direct sales team. Or is there or they’re as close as possible as, you know, as we can expect them to be. And that just provides a comforting experience for everybody involved in the loop, the vendor, the partner, and the buyer.

Kylinn: Yeah. A hundred percent. You nailed it.

Ken: Awesome. So let me look and see. I’ve got a list of questions. I guess a good question is how is Zift utilizing this data from our system to inform our recommendations to our clients in regards to partner onboarding?

Kylinn: At Zift, when we use data analysis and our proprietary data, it’s basically just to do things like this. We use these types of things to identify engagement patterns and uncover insights that we can tailor strategic recommendations, whether it’s, like, when you’re working with, you know, vendors or other people at Zift are, and we’re just trying to, you know, utilize data driven insights to kind of help provide recommendations with what we’re seeing. We’re sitting on a mountain of data, so let’s use it and not just be the ZiftONE software. Let’s be thought leaders and help our suppliers have great partner programs.

Ken: Awesome. I’ve got a kind of a fun one, at least I hope it is. I’ve always been fascinated by the instructions on a bottle of shampoo. You put it in your hands, lather it up, wash your hair, you know, wash your hair, rinse, and then repeat again. So that repeat part, to me, it’s an algorithm. Right? Or a framework or a recipe for successfully, you know, thoroughly washing your hair. Is there any chance you can break down this partner engagement into sort of a repeatable framework or motion or algorithm that just gets repeated on a regular cadence that can help sort of ensure, success or increase the likelihood of success?

Kylinn: First start somewhere. Come up with a strategic onboarding plan with tasks you feel are personalized towards different segmentations as you put it or user roles. And then just monitor. See how the completion rates are going. Are partners tending to engage more after they complete? Are users completing the partner onboarding tasks? If not, then we need to reevaluate. We need to think about, okay, let’s say we have a video task and a document. All the users completed the video task, none of them completed the document. Great, so now we’re gonna reframe our onboarding plans and we’re gonna push more video content. Once you start with an intentional segmented onboarding plan for your different users, then monitor, and I think the last part is reach out on a certain cadence, whether it’s every quarter, every month, or whatever, as long as it’s regularly.

And support and engage with the users to try and entice them to come back and complete and ask them, is this working for you? Why are you not completing them? What do you want to see? I think there’s something wrong, or something right. Asking for feedback is a great tool.

Ken: And in my day-to-day dealings with customers and partners, what seems to often be missing is that returning back to see what happened, like that analysis part, and then making a change based on data. Everybody talks about the importance about, you known, data-driven decision-making but I don’t see it put into practice as much as I would think or would hope for. And you mentioned some of the things like does a particular task not get completed by a larger audience? But it might also be sort of a category or a bucket of types of activities, right? So it might be something like are they not completing the basic things like the pre-onboarding things of setting up their profiles, adding colleagues, and stuff like that, are they falling off during that phase? Are they falling off during demand gen phase? Are they falling off during the sales motion phase? Like where is it that they’re falling short? And if you can identify those things, like kicking into high gear and target that audience that fell off there with one of those strategies like we talked about earlier that you, hey, you abandoned the shopping cart during the competency phase. You know, this is critical, finish this up and you’ll be ready to start generating demand and dragging closed won deals across the finish line. So perfect. I love it. So I think we’re probably at a good point to wrap up. So I’ll leave you with one last question. Can you by any chance give us a sneak peek into what we’re going to expect from part two? I know you mentioned that there was another ebook coming out. We’d love to know what we can expect when that gets published. 

Kylinn: Yes. We talked a little bit about it already, the meat of part two is delving deeper into those onboarding tasks and completion rates. So we talk about, effective onboarding task topics and the means that they’re being completed. So it just kinda contributes to, our overall knowledge about the onboarding journey and what’s working, what’s not working. So I would say stay tuned for more insights and helpful little strategies there to just elevate partner engagement efforts. And, yeah, thanks for talking with me today.

Ken: I love it. You did a great job. We’re so grateful to have you on the team. I think everybody in the company can vouch for how much we learned from you and the things that you’ve shared with us, since you’ve been at the company. Hats off. Thank you.

Stay tuned for Part Two of our series for more advanced insights and strategies!

Helpful Links:

Ebook: Partner Onboarding Insights Part One

Blog: Partner Onboarding 101

Download: Partner Onboarding Checklist

Blog: 10 Best Practices for Channel Partner Onboarding