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How to Build the Best SaaS Partner Program (with Examples!)

Building a high-impact SaaS partner program can be the game-changer your business needs to drive continued and scalable revenue in a volatile tech industry. This comprehensive guide is packed with real-world insights from SaaS partner leaders from around the world, and dives deep into the essentials of establishing, nurturing, and scaling successful partnerships to ensure growth.  

Whether you're refining your existing program or starting from scratch, partnerships can unlock new levels of success for your SaaS business. Let's get started.  

👉 Keep reading to learn more about: 

What is a SaaS partner program?  

A SaaS (software as a service) partner program is a strategy used by software companies to grow their business with the help of other third-party companies and individuals. In these partnerships, both parties benefit from selling, promoting, or enhancing the company's software products. 

Types of SaaS partners can vary widely, but often include:  

  • Resellers or distributors, who sell software to end-users 
  • Affiliates or influencers, who promote the company's products in exchange for a commission 
  • Service partners, who add value by offering additional services such as implementation, customization, training, or ongoing technical support 

For example, imagine a company that creates accounting software for small businesses. They may partner with a network of accounting consultants. These consultants recommend the software to their clients and help with implementation and support. In return, the consultants receive a commission for each new customer they bring in, earn ongoing business from their clients, and may also get access to premium features of the software that they can then offer as part of their own services.  

This creates a win-win situation: the software company gains new customers without having to directly market to them, and the consultants enhance their service offering, making themselves more valuable to their clients. 

The goal of any SaaS partner program is to extend the company's reach to new customers and markets through the networks and expertise of its distributors, affiliates, ISVs, implementation specialists, MSPs, value-added resellers, and other types of SaaS partners.  

Why are SaaS partner programs important?  

In today's tech world, setting up a great SaaS partner program is key to growth and staying ahead of the competition. When you're being asked to do more with less, a partner program is a game-changer for growing your business in a scalable way. Major SaaS partner program benefits include:  

  • Expanded market reach: Access new markets and customer segments through partners' existing networks. Partnerships also enable quicker scaling of your business operations into new geographies or industries by utilizing your partners' established presence. 
  • Enhanced customer satisfaction: Provide more comprehensive support and services through your partners, improving customer experiences by ensuring your end-users receive prompt, effective assistance tailored to their needs. 
  • Grow revenue and reduce costs: Leverage your partners' sales and marketing efforts to boost revenue, benefiting from their established credibility and sales channels. You'll also share marketing and sales expenses with partners, reducing overall costs by capitalizing on the partners' resources and expertise in various markets. 
  • Support product development: Gather insights from your partners for product improvements and innovation. Collaborating with partners can also lead to new solutions to meet evolving market demands and customer needs.  
  • Improved market intelligence: Access to your partners' market insights and data can provide valuable information on customer behavior, market trends, and your larger competitive landscape. 
  • Strengthen your business: With partners, you can diversify your revenue streams and reduce dependency on a single channel or market, making your business more resilient to market fluctuations. 

SaaS partner programs contribute not just to immediate financial gains but also to long-term strategic growth, market positioning, and innovation. 

Transforming relationships with your partners with a dedicated partner program is a smart growth strategy. As economic forces remain unpredictable in the tech sector, partner ecosystem leaders are confronted with the challenge – and opportunity – to stand out with true partnership transformation.  

🔎 Learn more: Find the major benefits of channel partners in our full post on the topic!  

How to build a SaaS partner program 

A thriving ecosystem of technology partners can become a powerful revenue-generating machine for your SaaS company. But we know building the best SaaS partner programs takes dedicated time and effort. We're here to help you on your journey. Keep reading to learn where to get started, but we also encourage you to explore our additional resources. Find links to these throughout. Within each linked article, you'll find more in-depth information with actionable tips to get started.  

Further, you'll want to learn from the best. Throughout, we've also shared examples from leaders at the best SaaS partner programs on how they crafted their programs. Find even more stories from today's ecosystem leaders here. You can also find longer presentations from industry experts from our ImpartnerCon conference.  

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

1. Understand your market and partnership potential 

Analyzing your market is a critical first step in developing a successful SaaS partner program. This involves thoroughly understanding your target audience, the competitive landscape, and identifying potential partners that share your customer base or complement your product offering.  

It's about finding opportunities between what your product can offer and what your potential partners are looking for to enhance their own value proposition. This alignment is crucial as it creates that win-win situation that leads to more successful collaborations. 

Assessing your product’s readiness for a partnership program is equally important. This means evaluating the maturity of your product, its demand in the market, and its integration capabilities with potential partners' systems or offerings.  

In most instances, your product needs to be at a stage where it can easily integrate or add value to your partners' existing solutions. For example, a project management tool should seamlessly integrate with popular communication tools or CRM systems used by your potential partners, ensuring a smooth workflow for end-users. 

Watch the following video to learn how AvePoint, a major Microsoft vendor, built a partner management strategy for their network of global partners.  

2. Set clear partnership goals and metrics  

Before you begin building your SaaS partner program, define what success looks like. And you must tie your efforts to quantifiable ROI-driven metrics. Why? Your C-suite will invest in your ecosystem programs if you can create trackable and predictable ROI.  

An ROI-validated partner program empowers you to report on actual return on investment in your ecosystem, so you can instill confidence in the C-suite, unlock investment opportunities in your programs, and make yourself indispensable at your company.   

Part of that is creating specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for your program. These goals not only provide a clear direction for your strategy but also serve as benchmarks for measuring success along the way.  

Whether it's expanding into new markets, increasing revenue by a certain percentage, or growing your customer base, having clear partner metrics ensures that your efforts are aligned and focused on achieving tangible outcomes.  

For example, a SaaS company that wants to enter the European market might set a goal to partner with 20 local resellers within the first year to tap into their established networks and customer base. This objective is specific (partnering with 20 resellers), measurable (the number of partners), achievable (based on research and outreach capabilities), relevant (entry into the European market), and time-bound (within the first year), providing a clear roadmap for the company’s expansion efforts. 

Level up: Today's leading SaaS partner programs are building ROI-validated programs to gain C-suite confidence and investment. Find our full checklist for creating an ROI-validated ecosystem here.  

3. Identify and recruit your potential partners  

Identifying the right types of partners is crucial for the success of your partner program. Affiliates, resellers, referral partners, and more, each bring unique benefits to your business.  

Affiliates can help increase your online presence, value-added resellers can bundle your product with theirs to reach new customer segments, and non-transactional service partners can extend your ability to support customers. Understanding the strengths and market position of each partner type allows you to leverage their capabilities to your advantage. 

Segmenting potential partners based on their market influence, customer base, and alignment with your business goals is another strategic approach to ensure you collaborate with the right types of partners.  

For instance, if your goal is to expand into the healthcare industry, partnering with consultants who have a strong presence and credibility in healthcare can provide a quicker route to market. Similarly, if you're looking to expand your product's functionality, collaborating with ISVs or MSPs in the healthcare sector could be beneficial. 

🔎 Explore more: The partnership world is always evolving, and there are types of partners to meet many needs. Find our full guide to the many types of partners here

4. Build a compelling value proposition and incentive program 

Why would others want to partner with your company? From the beginning, it's essential to communicate how your program will help partners grow their business. This involves understanding your partners' needs and goals and positioning your program as a solution to their challenges.  

For example, Shopify's partner program offers developers, designers, and marketers the opportunity to use its platform to build eCommerce solutions for their clients. By highlighting benefits such as revenue share, access to a vast customer base, and extensive support resources, Shopify's value proposition effectively attracts a wide range of partners. These clear benefits have helped Shopify build a robust ecosystem around its platform, driving growth for both the company and its partners. 

In addition to this, establishing the right incentive and reward structure is crucial for motivating your partners. Different partner incentive models can include:  

  • Rebates  
  • Commissions 
  • Revenue sharing 
  • Tiered rewards 
  • Access to ongoing service contracts 
  • Performance bonuses  

Align these incentives with your overall business objectives, ensuring they encourage the behaviors and outcomes you want to see. For instance, if your goal is to enter new markets, consider higher incentives for partners who successfully penetrate these markets. Similarly, if product adoption is your focus, rewards could be structured around usage milestones achieved by customers. 

⭐️ Example: SoSafe achieves 300% YoY channel growth  

"The cybersecurity industry is developing at pace. Partnering with resellers and MSPs to help us scale, complement our expertise, and mutually grow our businesses is key."  

—Dao Tran, Global Alliances Director 

Discover how SoSafe built a partner program that drove growth and helped them incentivize a variety of different partner types.  

Read full case study.  

5. Develop a personalized onboarding and training process 

A structured onboarding process is vital for setting your partners up for success. This process should include comprehensive training on your product, marketing materials to help them sell your solution, and ongoing sales support.  

Your goal is to ensure that partners are fully equipped to market, support, and deliver your product effectively to their customers. A well-designed onboarding program enhances partner engagement and satisfaction and accelerates their time to first sale, contributing to the partnership's overall success. 

For example, Microsoft’s partner onboarding process is renowned for its effectiveness. New partners have access to a wealth of training resources, certification programs, and marketing materials tailored to different stages of their journey. This structured approach ensures that partners fully understand Microsoft’s products and are well-prepared to offer solutions to their clients, thereby strengthening the partnership and driving mutual growth.  

🔎 Discover more: From first login to first sale, our partner onboarding checklist breaks down the ten steps you need to take to onboard and train new partners.  

6. Create an automated indirect sales pipeline  

With any partner program, a major goal is driving revenue growth. With this in mind, build an automated and robust sales pipeline for your indirect channels that's designed to scale.  

Automating processes and systems where partners can easily access new deals, register leads, and track progress not only enhances efficiency but also empowers partners with the autonomy to manage their sales activities. These automated workflows can significantly reduce manual errors and delays, ensuring that partners are always equipped with the most current information and resources.  

Moreover, by providing clear visibility into the sales pipeline, these systems help in effectively reducing channel conflict, as each partner can see which leads are already being pursued, thereby avoiding overlap and fostering a sense of fairness and transparency within your partner ecosystem and internal sales teams.  

Want to see how this looks in action? Learn how Nintex created an automated workflow that united their pipeline data.   

⭐️ Example: Nintex builds automated sales pipeline workflows 

"In the world of partner strategies, the key is not just in finding prospects but staying ahead of the curve. Impartner’s technology ensures we’re not just keeping up; we’re leading the way.” 

— Anna Abramovs, Director, Global Partner Program 

Read full case study.  

7. Grow with an integrated partner management platform  

Choosing the right tools and software for managing your partner relationships is essential for the overall success of your SaaS partner program. These tools should enable you to track sales, manage communications, and share updates efficiently. The aim is to streamline operations and foster a collaborative environment where information flows freely between your company and its ecosystem of partners. 

Partner relationship management (PRM) software centralizes and optimizes the management of your full ecosystem, handling processes like:  

  • Onboarding and training 
  • Certification programs 
  • Lead and deal tracking 
  • Incentive management  
  • Asset management  
  • Partner business planning  
  • MDF management  
  • Marketing and sales enablement  
  • Partner marketing  
  • Performance analytics 

By leveraging a PRM, SaaS companies can maintain stronger, more productive relationships with their partners. Learn how to find the right partner management platform for you in our full post.  

As Dinara Bakirova, Global Head of Channel Operations at Lookout, notes: "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."  

Watch Dinara talk more about how a PRM transformed their partner program strategy in the following video! 

8. Drive continued growth with performance analytics  

To ensure the success of your partner program, set up regular performance checks. These check-ins should involve a clear process for evaluating partner performance against established KPIs like sales achievements, customer satisfaction, and the effectiveness of joint marketing efforts.  

By scheduling these evaluations on a consistent basis—whether quarterly or bi-annually—you can systematically review and assess the health and productivity of each partnership. Analytics in your PRM plays a crucial role in this process, enabling both you and your partners to track progress in real-time, identify trends, and pinpoint areas that need attention or adjustment. 

Integrating these performance insights into the broader context of building an ROI-validated ecosystem is the next step.  

Analytics not only highlight which partnerships are thriving but also provide the data necessary to demonstrate the tangible return on investment these partnerships are bringing to your company. By closely linking performance data with ROI analysis from the very beginning, you can create a robust framework for sustained growth and success in your partner ecosystem. 

The best SaaS partner programs start here 

The best SaaS partner programs are built with automation and tools that can help you validate the ROI of your growing program.  

If you’re doing everything manually, it will be 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 partner program efforts.  

SaaS leaders who run successful partner programs know that delivering a great partner experience is also essential. To do that, you need a platform that provides a great partner experience 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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