When you feel like you've exhausted all your revenue channels, the natural next step is to look outside your business. This is what I did for the company I work at, JustCall—and our partner program now contributes 16% of our total revenue.
Here's what I learned, including my tips for how to build a partner program from the ground up.
What is a partner program?
A partner program is a revenue channel that involves working with people or businesses outside of your company. There are a few ways to look at it, but generally, you can break it down into three categories:
Affiliate partnerships. People work for commissions and charge an upfront fee to list your product or service.
Reseller/agency partnerships. People have a suite of clients, and they implement your product or service (for a fee) or act as an intermediary.
Channel partnerships. These are usually bigger companies that negotiate terms and contracts beforehand to sell to a higher quantity of clients.
If you're just starting out, you should go with an affiliate program.
How to build your partner program
If you can get the basics right before you dive in, you'll have a better chance of finding high-quality, revenue-generating partners.
1. Build a basic structure
The first thing you need to do is determine what the payout structure will be. Make sure it's not too complicated: a basic percentage is a great starting point, and somewhere between 15% and 25% per conversion is standard.
If you're not sure what to offer, see what your competitors are doing (search for things like agency partner program, affiliate program, partner program, solutions program, and reseller program—they're all referring to something similar).
You might even test the waters with non-monetary incentives like lead sharing or backlinks.
2. Create an application
All you need for the application is a simple form on your website. Clearly state the offer (e.g., commission), and have a CTA to sign up for the program. Here's our form.
You don't want to go overboard with the information you collect, but you do need to get enough information to verify it—which you should do personally for every partner you accept. It's not worth the risk of partnering with a sketchy business.
3. Lay out the terms
You need to lay out some terms, and it's probably best to work with a lawyer on them if possible, but don't make it complicated or full of jargon.
You'll want to include things like:
How do referrals get tracked to the partner (e.g., affiliate link)?
How long can the time from referral to purchase be where the partner will still get the commission?
What do you do about missed customer submissions (when a customer signs up but fails to use the partner's link)?
How often will payments be approved?
The more flexible your terms and conditions, the lower the barrier to entry. Here's a look at our terms—and you'll notice from the form above that applicants need to acknowledge that they've read those terms before applying.
4. Choose your software
Make sure you have the tools you need for a successful program. Here's what you'll need, at minimum:
Analytics and tracking
A dashboard for partners
A leads dashboard
PRM (partner relationship management) software is developed for this exact purpose, and I highly recommend you use an existing tool instead of trying to piece it together yourself. I currently use FirstPromoter, which has an accessible price point, and I've also used Rewardful, another excellent tool.
5. Create necessary assets
Before you start getting inbound submissions, make sure you have all the primary resources you'll need to give your affiliates. That includes onboarding/training materials for the partners, as well as marketing materials: everything from high-res logos to enablement content like product guides, so they can share information with their customers.
6. Start your outbound search
Ok, so you have all of that in place. But how do you actually start finding partners? Start with people in your network, friends, or warm intros. Trust is huge with a partner program—there's an exchange of money and you're representing each other's brands—so working within your network is important as you get started.
Ask for recommendations and introductions to anyone you think might be a good fit for your program. I used LinkedIn to approach 1st and 2nd-degree connections to do this, and I was able to get a few leads. But even though you're working within your network, you still need to do this outreach at scale. Most people will say no (that's expected!), so you need to do a broad search.
I've put together a bunch of email templates for cold outreach, too—feel free to use and repurpose them however you need.
7. Support your partners
Getting a partner is great, but you want to be sure they're motivated to stick around and generate revenue. Some tips:
Give them a point person (partner manager) at your company so they can develop a more personal rapport.
Make sure you have an excellent onboarding process so partners know exactly what to expect.
Pay all commissions on time, even if the amount due is $1.
Provide marketing-level support, at the very least through monthly or quarterly newsletters.
Generally offer the same support to your partners as you do to your sales team.
Showcase your partners on your website—it builds trust for new visitors, but it also shows that you want to mutually promote your partners.
As you start out with your partner program, keep things simple. Then, once you figure out what works, double down. Add more features like lead sharing and reward programs, and continue to test the waters. And as you grow, I suggest connecting with other partner managers to get some inspiration—including me! I'm always happy to chat.