How to Build a SaaS Partner Program: Lessons from the Experts

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

Partner programs are a great way for SaaS companies to grow. Rather than a single sales and marketing team, they get to rely on the resources of dozens or hundreds of others.

Pretty cool, huh?

Given the benefits, it’s no surprise that tons of companies are rolling out their own programs. But it’s not easy to build a SaaS partner program.

(At least not an effective one.)

There are pitfalls – hidden and obvious – that can cost you time and money. How do you avoid them?

To get some answers, we went straight to the top.

Bryn Jones is the co-founder and CEO of PartnerStack, a top provider of partner program technology. (He’s also a former Canadian National Team swimmer, which is neat.)

We asked Bryn to give us some tips on how to start and build a SaaS partner program. He’d know; his company has helped hundreds of firms do just that.

Here’s what he had to say. (Paraphrased, of course.)

How to build a SaaS Partner Program

#1: Never Forget the Partner Experience

A SaaS company’s agency and consultant partners are very much like customers. Make their lives simpler, and they’ll reward you with increased loyalty and mindshare.

How can you deliver a fantastic PX? To start, use centralized tech – like PartnerStack. Partners get annoyed when they need to learn and check a new system for every program. Centralized partner technology give a single source of truth and easy onboarding.

Beyond software, focus on transparency, training and enablement. Give your partners visibility into what happens with leads they deliver. Provide early updates on new features, and exclusive materials. You can’t build a SaaS partner program without partners, and this is the stuff they love.

Enabling partners, rather than trying to control them, is the key. They’re almost certainly selling multiple pieces of technology. Make their lives easier. They’ll reward you.

(Altitude’s talk at last month’s PartnerStack Power Summit covered PX from the partner’s perspective. You can access it here.)

#2: Develop a Partner Persona

Your company probably has buyer personas. If you want to build a SaaS partner program, you need partner personas, too.

What does your ideal partner look like? What do they want? How can you reach them? This is all stuff you need to know to optimize recruitment and retention.

In the world of SaaS partner programs, the 80-20 – or really 90-10 – rule very much applies. A few great partners are doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. Make sure you can get and keep them.

How do you build a partner persona? Try soft launching your program on your website. A simple “Partner” tab in the navigation will do. Create a low-barrier-to-entry form, and see who fills it out. These are the types that will be easiest to attract. Are they what you need, or do you need to adjust?

Sales ops changed sales forever. Partner ops is doing the same thing. Approach your SaaS partner program scientifically. Build a funnel. Bring a system to your efforts. Test, test, test. You’ll reap the benefits.

#3: Listen to Your Partners

Your partners are your feet on the street. They’ll know what your customers want. They’ll probably have ideas that can improve your product or processes.

Why would you not want to hear that?

Yes, you’ll get some pretty out-there ideas. That’s fine! You’ll end up with some good ones, too. The best partner program managers regularly seek out – and act on – feedback.

As a bonus, you’ll give your partners the feeling that they’re part of the team. Make the experience about more than just money and they’ll work even harder for you.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.