What is a partner?
At its simplest definition, a partner refers to any entity that collaborates with another business. You may recognize them as the distributors, resellers, or wholesalers who help you sell your products and services. But they can also be strategic partners that help you reach new markets or partners who provide crucial support services for your customers. Today’s partner ecosystems include a wide network of partners, vendors, and third-party service providers who collaborate together to solve business problems and provide incredible value to customers.
Partners come in all shapes and sizes, depending on your business needs. Here are a few common types you might encounter in your partner ecosystem but know that some partners may play multiple roles for a company.
- Distributors: Distributors purchase products from manufacturers in bulk and distribute them to retailers or resellers, often providing more efficient logistics and broader market reach.
- Resellers: Resellers purchase products from manufacturers or distributors and sell them directly to end customers, offering localized support and customization.
- Value-added resellers (VARs): VARs not only resell products but also enhance them with additional services, integration, and support to meet specific customer needs.
- Wholesalers: Wholesalers purchase products in bulk from manufacturers and sell them to retailers or resellers at a lower cost, serving as intermediaries in the distribution chain.
- Referral partners: Also related to affiliate partners or influencers, referral partners actively promote products or services through their online platforms, earning a commission for each sale generated through their referral.
- Value-added referral partners (VARPs): Value-added referral partners go beyond traditional referrals, actively promoting products or services to their networks while also providing additional value or services, such as training or implementation support, to customers.
- System integrators: System integrators combine various technologies and products to create comprehensive solutions for customers, delivering seamless implementation and support.
- Dealers: Dealers purchase products from manufacturers or distributors and sell them directly to end customers, often focusing on specific geographic areas or markets.
- Consultants and agencies: Consultants offer expertise and advisory services for companies and their customers.
- Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs): OEMs manufacture products based on designs provided by other companies, often branding the products as per their clients’ requirements.
- Original design manufacturers (ODMs): ODMs design and manufacture products based on another company’s specifications, offering expertise in both design and production.
- Managed service providers (MSPs): MSPs deliver ongoing managed services, often related to IT and technology, providing continuous support and maintenance to customers.
- Technology partners: Technology partners collaborate to integrate complementary technologies, enhancing product capabilities and offering complete solutions to customers.
- Agents or brokers: Agents act as intermediaries, connecting buyers and sellers and facilitating transactions in exchange for a commission.
- Strategic alliances: Strategic alliances involve partnering with companies to achieve common goals, often through joint product development, technology sharing, or market expansion.
With more complex buying journeys, long-term subscription models, and cloud-based solutions, the role of partnerships has evolved to put customer experience at the center. A well-managed partner ecosystem isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity for businesses today. A McKinsey article notes that the shift to ecosystems is only accelerating, forecasting that: “By 2030, ecosystems will play a major role in almost every aspect of global economy, driving around $80 trillion in annual revenue—a third of total global revenue.”
Smart, scalable partner ecosystems will be the true competitive differentiator for companies in the future. Strong partnerships are how you capture that.