Partnerships can be a good thing for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies.
They can deliver more value to customers, without requiring lots more work from your internal development team.
For marketers, a partner could provide credibility, broaden exposure, find leads, and even win deals.
That’s if they’re done well.
Too often though, partnerships don’t deliver as promised. The only thing the company gets from it is a press announcement and a logo for the website. No visibility, no leads, no customers.
This is especially true when it’s a smaller company partnering with a larger company. Think partnerships with IBM, salesforce.com, or Oracle.
Sure, these large companies run well-managed partner programs that offer a full menu of joint marketing opportunities. These programs have attracted thousands of partners.
And that’s the problem for small companies. Among the thousands of partners, it’s very tough to get attention.
When you’re just one small vendor among thousands, their marketing folks can’t afford to spend much time with you. And their sales folks may not pay much attention either.
Partnerships require work
I don’t mean to say that all partnerships are useless and not worth pursuing. Done well, in fact, they can be very useful.
To work well, your smaller company needs to actively market itself to the larger partner. A signed agreement won’t work all by itself.
Marketing to the partner has a few key objectives:
Make it crystal clear to the partner who your product is for. When they’re pursuing an opportunity, it should be easy for them to recognize when they should bring your solution into the discussion.
The partner’s sales and marketing people should easily grasp what problem your product solves. Don’t force them to struggle through all your technology, features and functions. (See “Before you talk about the solution, point out the problem.”)
Distinguish your product from alternatives. It should be obvious why they should pitch yours and not someone else’s.
Be available as an expert to support the sale. The partner should be able to rely on you to provide specialized expertise, understand the prospect’s business, and speak their language.
Make it easy to sell your product. The partner wants to know that your solution can help them sell more of their own product. Don’t get in the way of that goal.
Think about it. If one of the partner’s sales executives is working with a prospect, their number one goal is to win the account. If they need to reach into the portfolio of thousands of partners’ solutions to help them win, you want to be sure they reach for your solution, not somebody else’s.
They should have full confidence that by bringing you into the opportunity, they’ll have a much better chance of winning the business.
Don’t rely on “paper partnerships”
I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade here. Partnerships do have the potential to be helpful to smaller companies.
But recognize that a signed partnership agreement doesn’t work all by itself. The signatures and the press announcement are really just the start of the process.
To be effective, companies need to actively market themselves to the partner. Along with other prospects, the partners are another important target audience that needs care and attention.