How to Build and Grow Your Partner Marketing Program in 2018

We understand that building a partner marketing program is a hefty task. In this article we outline exactly what steps to take to build, launch and grow a successful partner marketing program in 2018.
Luke Swanek
Luke Swanek
April 5, 2018
How to Build and Grow Your Partner Marketing Program in 2018

Building and growing a partner marketing program is exciting - but it can also be daunting.  One wrong move and your efforts go down the drain, along with all the time and resources you’ve invested to get it off the ground.  You’re not alone, thousands of businesses struggle to succeed in this area.    In this article, with 4 simple steps, you’ll learn exactly how to build and grow your partner marketing program, like a pro.

Let’s start with the basics...what exactly is partner marketing?  There’s a plethora of definitions floating around about this topic, and so we’ve really gone to great lengths to consolidate, and present it to you in the most simplistic but inclusive way.  Here it goes, Partner Marketing is,

“A smart collaboration of two or more organizations with the intent to develop a mid-term or long-term marketing program designed to meet each of their respective business goals.  It is where a primary brand has the ideal product or service to complement a secondary brand; utilising target audiences to improve their value proposition."

Makes sense, right?  The thing is, partner marketing is not a new concept per se.  It has been around for years, and isn’t going anywhere.  Traditional marketing strategies have long focused on creating “brand synergies”. The definition of synergy being,

“the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects”.  

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? In the past, and even today,  partner marketing is disguised in so many forms; from job adverts for joint marketing opportunities, to merchant marketing and more.  

There are many different types or models of partnership marketing that exist today, including but not limited to:

Distribution Marketing:

  • Parties typically work together in a greater capacity and are more integrated in their efforts beyond the initial transaction.
  • New and different channels can be opened this way by leveraging new distribution, through the partnership, broadening the customer base.  This is extremely powerful for both companies involved.

Affinity Marketing Partnerships:

  • Keeping in mind that an affinity is essential, a similarity of characteristics suggesting a relationship(age, race, nationality, likes, dislikes etc.), it only makes sense that as humans, we are attracted to, and are influenced by people within our own affinities.  Affinity marketing can be leveraged in two ways: the brand can seek to join and establish a relationship with an existing affinity group, or the brand can try to merge different types of affinity groups together, with likemindeness.
  • You can use Affinity Marketing Partnerships to target a group of segmented individuals or businesses, and offer discounts that are relative to the partner brand.  This rings true especially if they have a high tendency to buy products in their respective categories.

Added Value Partnerships:

  • Similar to Distribution Marketing Partnerships however, Added Value Marketing Partnerships are typically free to the end-customer.
  • The obvious end result of Added Value, is that the customer is getting that “bonus” or “complimentary” service or product.  A great example of this would be complimentary WiFi at a restaurant, powered by a partnered brand of the restaurant.  

Co-Marketing Partnerships:

  • Co-marketing speaks for itself in that two companies work together on promotional efforts with a joint offer.  By sharing the effort and promoting to each party's networks, a co-marketing partnership, results in added value and revenue for both!
  • Through this type of partner marketing, your brand has the opportunity to dive into untapped markets, by leveraging the audience your partnership! Ideally, this could help you to double your benefits without doubling your efforts.

Sponsorship Marketing:

  • Sponsorship marketing is done financially or through the provision of products or services to support an event, activity, person, or organization where two or more parties benefit from the arrangement.
  • Sponsorship marketing is mostly used for promotional purposes and to generate publicity. Sponsorship offers the possibility of achieving several goals at once such as, enhancing image and customer attitudes, driving sales and creating positive publicity.

Content Marketing Partnerships:

  • Content marketing involves the creation and publication of media content in order to acquire customers. This information can be presented in a variety of formats and platforms!  Think blogs, Instagram posts, Facebook blasts and videos, How-Tos, instructional videos, the list goes on and on.

The obvious purpose is to catch the attention, capture, and then retain customers (new and old), by consistently posting relevant and valuable content.


There are so many factors to consider when deciding to enter into a partnership marketing program, and ensuring it’s a successful one.  There can be a great deal of time, money and other resources that go into creating a program of this nature, and hopefully we can help ease some intimidations in the rest of this article.

If you are looking to grow as an organization and are considering various options, partnership marketing can be a very powerful option if done right. With partnership marketing, everyone wins: customers are introduced to several brands, initiatives, new products and features, and a host of other promotional activities that can build loyalty and increase sales for the organizations involved.

Ok, so who should participate in partner marketing? The programs are best suited for businesses that are looking to leverage external resources to grow efficiently. Partnership marketing can be a solution for branching into new markets or flourishing in your current market, all while staying lean as an organization..

The need for a Partnership Marketing program exists when one organization can accomplish their goals more effectively by leveraging the complementary strengths of another organization, pursuing a similar customer base. It’s a mutually beneficial strategy.  Partnership Marketing can also contribute to increasing brand awareness, product distribution, customer acquisition and program funding. Sounds like a no brainer, right?

Laying out the foundation to build, and grow this program is crucial in order to see the results you want, at the investment you’re willing to make..  There are four steps you can take to make this happen.emember, it doesn’t happen overnight, but trust us when we say the payout is worth it. Some of the most successful partnership marketing campaigns are ones you’ve likely benefited from - Nike and Apple = Nike+, Uber and Spotify = Your Ride, Your Music and Starbucks AllStream, = Free Wifi in Starbucks, (can you even remember Starbucks before it had free Wifi?) Nope, us either.


Step 1: Why? What? How?  (Design and Build the Rocket)

The first step to build and grow your partner marketing program in 2018 can be the hardest one. What is your end goal? What is pushing you toward building, or growing your partner marketing program?  The obvious answer being that you’re looking for growth, but think bigger.   Think about what you would like to accomplish with another company(s), and why.  The “why, what, how” is a crucial first step.  Remember, partner marketing is not a “quick fix” to your revenue...think of it as a long term, mutually beneficial investment.  Partner marketing has the potential to soar your revenue to new heights, and open doors to markets that may be untapped for you right now.This can happen with the right planning, execution, and management.  So, what are you looking to accomplish?

  • Are you looking to expand into new markets?
  • Are you looking to amplify brand awareness within your current market?
  • Do you want a partner that's going to complement your technology?
  • Do you want a partner who is going to support your innovation and implementation of new products and services?
  • Do you want to reach new heights with your user base?
  • What value assets can YOUR brand bring to the table, for potential partners?

With goals complete, we can look into prioritization.  Choose 2-3 of your top goals from the list you just made, and hyper-focus on those, for now.  If you already have a partner marketing program in place, how can you expand it? There is always, always, always room for growth, especially when it comes sales and marketing.

Who is your audience?  Who do you want to target using this new plan?  You could be looking to grow your current market segment, or maybe diversify your brand into a new market(s).  Either way, putting these thoughts down on paper not only helps you envision the process a bit more, it also helps you to stay on track.  Having clear goals, and market definition are key in any type of marketing campaign, but I’m sure you already knew that :)

Sometimes it can even be useful to do a bit of research in this phase, look to your competitors, or brands in the industry that have been successful in launching something like this.  There is absolutely no harm in taking good advice, and learning from your peer groups.

When you feel satisfied with the goals laid before you, it’s time for the next step!

Step 2: Define and Build Objectives (Create the Flight Plan)

Set your targets! What kinds of quantitative goals can you set for your partner marketing program? Think ahead about getting internal buy-in from decision makers on your team. What kinds of revenue targets would be important for them to sign off on launching a partner marketing program? Are there larger strategic objectives you can align partner marketing to? Get creative with your expected outcomes as you’re now presenting a new solution for growth that doesn’t suck  up all of your well deserved marketing budget dollars. With partner marketing, you’re sharing the effort and resources with another organization. You are not alone!


It’s helpful to analyze other initiatives your organization has previously pursued. What has been successful in the past? Which of your previous or current marketing and sales campaigns have brought in the most revenue? What is it about them, that made them successful?  This is probably going to take you the most time, digging and analyzing data, experiences, trends and numbers..  Not only is it a logical step toward launching a successful partner marketing campaign, you might actually learn something new about your current brand!   Gather success stories, talk to your customers and colleagues.  All of this gathering and intel will help you zero in on what and how exactly you’ll be able to create a campaign to rock their socks off, customers and VP’s alike ;)

An important next step is to think about scale. How can you maximize the outcomes of partner marketing while minimizing the internal resources required to make it happen.  

  1. If this is your first partner marketing program:
  2. What is your predicted partner-led revenue as a percentage of your total revenue?
  3. What is contributing to this, are you targeting multiple streams? Where are you the most profitable now?
  4. Are you able to equate to the same revenue in-house without utilizing a partnership?  (If no- consider doing an evaluation of cost with partner marketing, try to get some quotes and get this ball rolling! If yes - perform a more in depth cost- analysis and try to upgrade your solution)
  5. If you have a partner marketing program in place:
  6. How much revenue has your current (or past) program generated in the past year or two?
  7. Evaluate areas of growth, and create new goals!  If you’re branching into a new market segment, what does that look like for your bottom line?
  8. Check out our guide: “How to Rethink Your Partner Marketing”

Having these questions answered and laid out will help you to stay accountable, and also on track for obtaining, and succeeding those goals (and keep you in your VP’s good books).  The best thing to do next is create a clear vision of success, and figure out the right partner that can help you on that path.  Planning is key and should really be 80% of the work.  Similar to the iceberg theory, or the 80/20 theory, the work you put in before you launch is more impactful than the campaign itself.


As part of your plan, it's smart to think about how you’re going to incentivize your partners to work with you!  You don’t want to get all the way into a booked meeting with potential partners and have a deer in the headlights look when they ask, “so, what's in it for me?” , because let’s be honest, we’re all wondering that right?  The best approach for this is structure your partner marketing program using tiers.  Tiers allows room for growth, improvement, and all sorts of different types of partnerships!  Tiers also allows your partners to feel incentivized and motivated to push harder for you by creating a competitive environment.  We’re only human, we naturally push to be better, especially when we know there's gold (or platinum) at the end of it.  Below is an example from Newbreed Marketing, this is great starting point, but feel free to tweak the incentives to suit your brand and partner:


Build a financial model to go hand in hand with your incentivized tiers that are linked back  to your business goals, and keep it aligned with what’s important to your sales and marketing teams.  Its best when everyone is on the same page, and you also create a benchmark for measuring success that feels like a team win.

Step 3: Create Your Own Home Base (Prep the Rocket for Launch)

We’re almost there! This crucial step is often overlooked when taking steps to build and grow a partner marketing program.  Where is this program going to live? What or where is the home base for all of your new partners, campaign information, financials, tracking, visibility?  Sure, you could spread this information across email chains, excel lists for tracking the financials, a random Wordpress login for your partners, or even worse, communicate solely by email.  Is that really scalable though? Thinking back to our point of maximizing growth while minimizing the operational burden. Set your team and your partners up for success by avoiding   archaic and convoluted methods of organization. If not, it’s going to suck the life out of whoever is running these programs.  Instead of having that team or individual  focusing on seeking out new partners, or leveraging current ones, they’re going to spend the majority of their time calculating payouts, managing request and questions, and inputting data for metrics.

A good campaign is only as good as the efficiency within which it’s run.

Save yourself the headache.  Consolidate. Organize. Review. Measure. Grow.  By utilizing a partner marketing software program, not only are you giving your partners a home base for information, you can also manage, track, grow, and pay all of your efforts from one spot…Sounds like a dream right? Well, it can be your reality too.  

You need a partner marketing oversight page (for the public), a landing page for your partners (because soon everyone is going to want to work with your awesome brand), and a tier-page for your partners (current and potential).  By utilizing an all in one platform,  not only will you create an automated process to help you scale your program, it also gives your partners the visibility, tools and path to grow, on your behalf. I know, I know-  its another no brainer!  

Step 4: Launch, review and adjust (Ready for takeoff….And Continual Orbit)

Ok, you’ve got your partners picked out, goals and objectives, incentives/tiers, and most importantly, a platform to manage the entire program (so that you can focus on the big stuff).  From this angle, you’re looking ready for the program launch! How exciting!

Pressing the blast-off button on this should be the easiest part.  You have done all of the leg work! You’ve planned, processed, planned some more, and you even have a major platform in place to manage it all in one spot.

Now comes the fun part! Watching the magic unfold, and seeing that rocket launch into the sky. All of your hard prep work, research, data collection, planning, organizing can now be put into motion.  As you know with any campaign or program put into place you need a process to manage this.  Whats working? What's not working? Are their different angles or customer bases that are responding better than others?  Are there different partnerships that are working greater than others?  

Wait, how are we measuring all of this? Well, if you go back up to Step 3, we talk about putting a platform into place that will compile all of this data for you, so if you don’t have this in place…..go back and rethink that decision. Or else you’ll be plugging, prying, calculating, and analyzing data for hours...constantly.  You want to be able to stay up to date at all times with what's working, and what's not.  Efficiency is KEY to really getting the most out of any partner marketing program.  

Measure your results.  Check out what worked, and how you can make minor (or major) adjustments in your favour.  Use the information gathered and measured to improve the current programs you have, but also use it to create new ones.  If you have a platform in place (a la step 3), it should do this leg work for you!  Win-Win!  


Partner Marketing Programs can bring in some big revenue for your brand, especially when executed with the type of finesse and planning prompts laid out here.  You only get one shot at creating that first program, make sure you don’t cut corners that will lead you down a messy path.  Creating a partner marketing program may not be a walk in the park, but the results are two-fold, and then some.  It may seem like a ton of work, and if you’re new to this, don’t be intimidated!  If you take anything from this article take this, actually no, take all of it! Please, please take all of the advice listed here, and again, there is such a heavily weighted importance and significance on a plan of action, and a platform to organize it on all levels.  Create a plan, define your goals, incentivize, organize/manage, launch/review/measure/adjust.  If you want to build and grow your partner marketing program in 2018 for sucess, and yield results like Nike, Uber, Apple and the other big guns, download our free report, “The Guide to Partner Marketing: 4 Pillars of Success”. 

Now, go ahead, you’re ready for takeoff...

Luke Swanek

Luke Swanek

VP Sales, Cofounder at GrowSumo

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