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How to Build a Channel Partner Program: 10 Steps

Channel partner programs are essential for businesses that are ready to grow. The best channel partner programs have become much more than an indirect sales engine, shifting towards sophisticated ecosystems made up of strategic service partners and alliances as well. However, this shift requires more dedicated planning and the need to prove the ROI of your efforts. Ready to learn how to build a channel partner program?  

Keep reading to learn how to build the best channel partner program that empowers you and your partners to grow faster, together.  

👉 Keep reading to learn more about: 

What is a channel partner program?  

A channel partner program is a business strategy that companies use to encourage third-party partners, like service partners, resellers, distributors, or ISVs, to sell and service their products.  

These programs leverage the strengths and market presence of an expanded network of partners to extend market reach, drive sales, and support customers more effectively than a company could achieve on its own. Companies often offer support through training, resources, and financial incentives to ensure a mutually successful relationship for both them and their partners.  

Why are channel partner programs important?  

According to McKinsey, channel partner ecosystems are expected to drive about $80 trillion in annual revenue by 2030 – that’s a third of the total global revenue! To capture this revenue, companies are racing to meet a huge shift in customer behaviors and demands.   

The consumers of today anticipate end-to-end, integrated, tailored experiences and expect companies to have a deep understanding of their needs. On top of that, today's B2B customers are highly savvy and want to build on their existing product investments with the right technology, at the right time. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in an increased complexity in buyer journeys where there is an increased focus on customer experience.   

Buying and selling are no longer just transactional. The sales and marketing landscape today requires companies, partners, and customers to move towards win-win scenarios together.   

Today, companies are evolving from traditional partner programs to performing as a partner ecosystem. This means – among other things – more interaction between a business and its partners, as well as a more seamless and integrated partner experience from start to end. In a successful channel partner program, everyone wins.   

🔎 Learn more: We cover the major benefits of channel partners, and how they can help you drive growth, in our full post! 

How to build a channel partner program 

As a channel leader, you probably have goals for how much you want to scale in the coming months and, if your growth targets are large enough, achieving them may seem like a huge challenge. 

But you can build a modern channel partner program that drives (and measures!) ROI for your company. A thriving ecosystem of partners can become a powerful revenue-generating machine for your company. Here's how to build a channel partner program that ignites growth. Throughout, we'll share links to more in-depth resources for you to learn more.  

1. Start with a partner-first ethos  

Companies with the best channel partner programs understand that partners have a wide variety of vendors to work with and choose from. This is why these companies prioritize trust, value, and reciprocity.  

Companies with great partner programs look at how they can create more pathways to revenue for their partners at every stage, such as:  

  • Providing support in the form of marketing and lead generation 
  • Offering additional ongoing service opportunities for your partners for increased revenue 
  • Creating more streamlined deal registration processes  
  • Building partner advisory boards and engagement events to build community  

Trust between an organization and its partners is key to developing strong relationships that will result in mutual benefit. However, this trust takes time to build and requires you to promote transparency and communicate value to partners at every touchpoint.  

2. Create a shared set of goals 

If you don’t set any performance goals or metrics, how will you know whether you and your partners are successful? This is why setting goals and laying out KPIs is something the best channel partner programs do from the outset. You can only create a framework for measuring success once you have defined your goals and objectives.  

This framework not only helps to set clear expectations for your future partners, but also makes it easy to track progress later on. With clearer benchmarks, you can quickly step in and provide additional support – before partners become unengaged.  

Understand the different goals for your different categories of partners as well and align your program with them to create a win-win situation.  

3. Plan your go-to-market strategies and get internal buy-in 

This can be difficult to do, especially because there are different team members who may oversee different parts of the reselling process. It’s vital that you get everyone on the same page internally.  

For example, you may want to OEM one of your products for another company – but as a channel leader, you’ve also got to think about how this might affect your other partners.   

How will doing things this way affect your brand? Will this change the pricing model? Will it make it harder for other partners to sell to their customers? You need to ensure that by signing one deal, you’re not potentially undercutting another partner.  

There’s a lot to think about and, often, what may seem like the fastest route to revenue may not necessarily be the best option in the long run. In the past, it may have been enough to have the channel live purely in sales or marketing, or at times crossing both. However, leaders of the best channel partner programs today recognize that to be successful, they have to cross the entire enterprise.    

A non-siloed channel program structure may be more complex, but it isn’t difficult to accomplish. However, it does require buy-in from all departments involved in the customer cycle. The channel needs to be integrated throughout all these departments, which may include product, finance, and more.    

Although your go-to-market strategies can (and will) evolve over time, you must consider it with all internal stakeholders early to get the most long-term value from your channel partner program.  

4. Set a foundation for growth  

When your program is small, it’s easy to get away with no documentation or processes. Everyone can just talk to each other and get the information they need to go off and sell. But at a certain point, a company needs infrastructure and automated procedures in order to scale. 

Imagine if you had 3,000 partners and only a thousand of them had contracts. What would happen if the person who brought on the contract-less partners left the company? Would the person taking over know that these partners exist? Are those contract-less partners free to do whatever they wanted with your products?  

The lack of structure makes it additionally difficult to manage partners. And if you don’t have standard processes in place, handling each new issue that arises becomes extremely inefficient because the people affected wouldn’t know what’s expected of them, or who to seek help from. This can affect your compliance and audit processes at a later stage too.  

This is why it’s so important to have automated and documented processes for onboarding and managing your growing partner program. Setting up a process is one thing, putting it down in writing and ensuring your team has access to it is another. It sounds simple – so simple, that this step is often forgotten – but can be difficult to enforce. Starting with a strong foundation makes it easier for you to progress and make further plans for the channel. 

Level up: From partner agreements to onboarding checklists, we've built a library of free templates that program leaders can use for their growing program. Check them out here!  

5. Build with automation in mind  

Building on the previous step, you’re likely selling and servicing your product in different global markets, with different types of partners, who may have very different selling behaviors and practices. Consolidating and managing everything manually is time-consuming and ineffective for a growing channel partner program.  

By automating processes from the very beginning, you free up your channel teams so they can spend their time on higher value work like building relationships, pushing through deals, and recruiting new high-performing partners to your ecosystem.  

🔎 Dig deeper: Channel partner program software can help you find seamless ease and automation. We cover the ten steps to take to ensure you find the right partner lifecycle automation solution for your needs

6. Recruit the best partners  

For your partner program to be successful, it’s crucial that you recruit the best partners. One way to do this is by targeting the right segments of prospective partners and communicating to them with the right messaging.  

Find partners by networking at events, using a sourcing agency, and more. Once partners are ready to join, make sure it’s easy for them to apply. The review process is where you can get more sophisticated and carefully select your authorized partners. You can also build in automated criteria to make it easier to screen and select new partners.  

🔎 Explore more: Find the partners that will fuel your go-to-market strategies in our guide on how to find channel partners

7. Communicate clearly and often with partners  

Personalize your communications so that you’re sending the right information to the right people, at the right time. This makes it easy for partners to share that information with their own teams and customers. By regularly communicating with your partners, they'll be more informed and engaged on changes or updates to your program.  

Include the latest marketing/sales enablement materials, product updates, brochures, use case documentation, and more when communicating with partners. The goal here is to ensure partners have everything they need to sell, consolidated in a location they can access quickly.  

Having this structure also means that they can easily scale up whenever they want to – which is also a win for you.  

⭐️ Partner program example: Siemens scales global outreach to partners  

"We needed to deliver the right message, to the right partners, at the right time. We started localizing newsletters and immediately saw amazing results. All of them had over 50% and some up to 70% unique open rates." 

Learn how Siemens doubled their partner engagement rates with Impartner.  

Read the full case study here.  

8. Build transparent and valuable incentive programs 

The best partner programs have transparency built into their processes. One of the most straightforward and important ways to do this is in your incentive structures. Set up partner tier structures, then plainly spell out how they'll reach higher rewards tiers, such as levels of access, benefits, and progress of rewards.  

This ensures that partners are clear on how incentives are distributed, what benefits they can expect to receive, and how they can work towards greater success. This can also help prevent misunderstandings and any ill feelings that may develop in a less transparent program.   

Today's channel manager also understands that there are other channels beyond the traditional, transactional channel, and ensures that their partner program incorporates other non-transactional channels into account, such as service-based contracts and more.  

9. Make it easy for partners to market you  

You may be handling one product or just a few but not your partners. They likely have hundreds of other products to sell and service – with limited time to do so. You must make it simple, easy, and beneficial for them. Your partner portal should easily contain all marketing materials, on-demand. Partner marketing automation tools should be built into your portal as well.  

Market development funds (MDFs) are powerful, but only when used properly. There are equally effective avenues for co-investing – specifically in collaborative innovation.  

Ability to innovate is the top priority for partners when deciding on a provider to work with. Rather than co-investing in the traditional MDFs, successful programs are also channeling funds into innovation development. These efforts generate higher return on investment and can contribute to more successful long-term partnerships. 

Another way to use MDF effectively? Rather than bogging your partners with complex product messaging, you can use paid media for partners to run advertising campaigns on behalf of your partners automatically. With centralized control, all paid ads run with a consistent brand and your partners benefit from hands-free advertising. 

10. Hold regular reviews to empower partners  

Providing consistent reviews periods is an important part of the best channel partner programs – and data is a necessity. Set clear expectations so your team members and partners know what’s expected of them, as well as what you and your executives will bring to the table in return. And do it all so you can prove out the ROI of your partner program efforts.  

Once expectations are set – and if they have been spelled out clearly – you can hold the relevant parties, including yourself, accountable. This could mean ensuring that your team is sending out consistent information and messaging, as well as delivering a positive experience to partners. It also means finding new ways to support underperforming partners.  

Always give partners access to partner analytics and insights that can help them improve their sales and marketing efforts. They can then craft more effective messaging that is relevant and resonates with their audience. You can also use the data to gain a better idea of what’s working and which partner actions are driving revenue – then double down in those areas.  

⭐️ Partner program example: Lookout empowers partners with a go-to platform 

"Our partners are our extended salesforce, and our partners’ success is our success. We wanted to provide the best partner experience and have everything in one place for them to navigate." - Dinara Bakirova, Global Head of Channel Operations 

Learn how Lookout's emphasis on a partner-first experience helped them rapidly reduce manual work, centralize their partner data, and more.  

Read the full case study here.   

How to build an automated partner program 

How to build a channel partner program? It starts with automation and tools that can help you validate the ROI of your growing program.  

If you’re doing everything manually, you’re going to find it extremely challenging to successfully scale your channel. By automating time-consuming manual processes, you reduce the amount of effort and cost required to run your program. Besides helping you do more with less effort and cost, automation can also track and prove ROI on your efforts.  

It goes beyond your team, too. Channel leaders who run successful partner programs know that delivering a great partner experience is essential. To do that, they need a tech solution that provides an optimized experience, with delightful PX and no friction. 

It's possible with Impartner.  

Each day millions of partners in nearly every industry across the globe access Impartner. Why? Because the partner experience matters and leading channel organizations agree. 

Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning channel management software on the market. Our partner relationship management (PRM) and partner marketing automation (PMA) solutions help companies accelerate revenue and profitability through their indirect sales channels at every partner lifecycle touchpoint. 

From partner training and onboarding to pipeline management, resource sharing, and performance tracking, Impartner handles it all and more with best practices and automation built-in.  

Need to accelerate your partnerships? We’re ready when you are. 

About the Author

Impartner is the fastest-growing, most award-winning provider of partner management and partner marketing automation solutions. We've been around for decades, and were the first to coin the term "PRM". Today, over 40,000 users leverage Impartner to manage millions of partners within their ecosystem of distributors, resellers, and more. We draw on decades of experience with best practices in the channel to create content that helps partnership leaders grow their careers and scale their programs.

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