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Mastering Multi-Partner Deals to Build a Thriving Ecosystem

We've talked a lot about partner ecosystems at Impartner, but how does an ecosystem actually operate in practice? Multi-partner deals and processes are one of the best ways to understand what a thriving ecosystem can look like, as well as highlight the benefits of thinking in terms of ecosystems versus channels.

As the Global Head of Partnerships at Impartner, I've seen firsthand the power of these ecosystems and how our incredible roster of partners has made it possible for us to provide even more exceptional levels of service to our customers. It felt like our ecosystem ignited into being in a single room in Salt Lake City a few years ago, but the origins of our ecosystem were built even earlier than that.  

We'll return to that room in a bit, because it happens to be the center of our literal and figurative ecosystem. But, before that, let's cover some of the basics so you're equipped to build multi-partner processes that drive growth.  

What are multi-partner deals and processes?  

Multi-partner deals involve multiple partners supporting a vendor’s efforts with a customer or prospect. This could mean having various partners in the same account working together to close a new deal or collaborating to drive expansion revenue, provide customer support, technical support, and/or save accounts. These partners can include those that support sales motions, service-based partners, technical partners, and more.  

For instance, consider a cybersecurity company that services enterprise clients. For any one customer, the company might collaborate with a network of service-based strategy and consulting partners as well as technical implementation specialists and managed security service providers (MSSPs). Through this cooperative effort, each partner contributes their expertise, ensuring the customer receives incredible service at every step of their lifecycle.  

But how do you build these ecosystems? I'll break it down a bit more later, but it's the most important element of any ecosystem: trust, trust, trust.  

Before you ever mention the word ecosystem, ensure that you've built enough trust and goodwill with your partners that they feel comfortable sharing the room with potential competitors and coordinating their own unique swim lanes to better support your clients.

What are the benefits of multi-partner processes?

As my colleague, Curtis Brinkerhoff, notes in Forbes partner-led ecosystems "represent an incredible force multiplier for tomorrow's market leaders." Creating a successful multi-partner process to support this ecosystem offers numerous benefits, including:  

  • Brand awareness and visibility: Supporting and broadcasting your combined efforts significantly boosts brand visibility for all involved.
  • Goodwill with your partners: By building collaborative multi-partner deals, you can become the vendor of choice, potentially even encouraging partners to build their entire business models around your solutions!
  • Partner mindshare: Stay top of mind over competitors and stand out in a crowded market by keeping your partners closely engaged and providing depth of value they won't get with other vendors.  
  • Market intel: Gain unique insights from listening to common questions and needs from your partners. The trust and credibility you build within your ecosystem can allow for an open exchange of information, helping you better understand and serve your market.
  • Business growth: Finally, working and aligning in cooperative ways helps overturn the competitive business paradigm, fostering faster and more robust growth for all involved.

How to get started with multi-partner management

Let's go back to that room I mentioned earlier. Our industry conference, ImpartnerCon, had been going strong for a few years by then, and I decided to host an exclusive day at the beginning of the event just for partners. Partner Day gave them a chance to engage one-on-one with our executives, gain insights into our technical roadmap, and understand our plans for future growth.

Of course it was helpful, but I didn't expect the seismic aha moment that occurred. For years, these partners had operated under a competitive mindset. By simply getting them in a room together and encouraging open dialogue, our partners began to interact.  

Technology partners met service consultants, uncovering better processes they could build to help customers. Marketing automation teams connected with strategy specialists, each excited to discuss how their tools could benefit end-clients. They realized where their competencies lay, and where they didn't, and how other partners could jump in at a different stage of the customer lifecycle to help.  

We were all in one room together, creating a shared story for how we could better serve our customers. Even today, it warms my heart a bit to think about all that cumulative goodwill happening in that room.  

Ready to build your own ecosystem? This is where I recommend getting started.  

1. Build trust and value from the start  

We know that partnerships are based on people, but rarely do we get to see this play out so clearly as I did that day. But none of it would have been possible without a solid foundation of trust—from Impartner's executives down to our front-line teams. We not only made promises but also diligently followed through, focusing on delivering substantial value beyond mere transactions.  

Before you get started, always consider this as your driving question: What's the unique value you can offer partners on top of selling your solution that you can actually deliver for them? Sure, commissions are great, but offering deep value in other ways, such as networking, exclusive events, or introductions to big brands, is what will help you stand out.

2. Create environments for partners to interact

This seems simple, but it's so often overlooked. As I learned that day, nothing beats simply getting a bunch of good people in the same room and having them work together towards a common goal. ImpartnerCon, now in its ninth year, still kicks off every year with Partner Day.  

We've since expanded to monthly partner webinars and build in time for dedicated dinners and events at every other industry event we attend throughout the year. 

3. Set up tools for collaboration  

In your partner portal, facilitate spaces where partners can network, share ideas, and collaborate. This could be through message boards, social network-like setups, or messaging features.  

These tools help maintain continuous, effective communication and collaboration, acting as digital meeting rooms where partners can discuss strategies, troubleshoot issues, and celebrate successes together.

4. Establish shared objectives and goals  

Aligning on both short and long-term goals ensures that you and your partners are accountable and moving in the same direction.  

For example, you might set objectives like increasing joint sales by a certain percentage or improving customer satisfaction scores. Track these metrics regularly in a shared analytics dashboard to assess progress and make necessary adjustments. Lindsay Jensen's post on partnership KPIs is a great starting point.  

5. Develop shared processes and strategies

Bringing multiple partners into conversations with new leads to communicate a shared story can be hard. Coordinating multiple partners at each stage of a customer's journey, from strategy to launch to ongoing maintenance is—again—hard. However, creating fair processes from the start that appropriately attribute revenue to multiple partners in a deal, avoid channel conflict, and allow you to build hand-off flows is well worth the upfront effort. But, these processes need to be able to scale as your ecosystem grows (which it will if you've built it on this collaborative foundation!).  

Invest now in partner relationship management tools like Impartner that can help you automate multi-partner deal registration processes, create and maintain your portal with ease, and build out partner reporting in shared dashboards. Shared processes and automated tools ensure consistency and efficiency in how partners engage with customers and each other, enhancing the overall experience and outcomes.

Let's build more cooperative ecosystems together

You've likely heard of Hell Week for the Navy SEALs. One of the central trials of that week is carrying a massive log through deep sand up a beach. It's impossible alone. But, with enough hands working together, the impossible becomes possible. Together, the load is lightened for all.

Managing a partner ecosystem is nowhere as hard as that (not even a little bit), but the image is a motivator for me as I work with our partners. Together, we can do incredible things and provide a level of coordinated care for our customers that we could never manage alone. 

The power of any ecosystem lies in this collaborative energy. For Impartner, it all started in a single room, but the impact has been exponential. By building trust, creating environments for interaction, and establishing shared goals and processes, we've created a thriving ecosystem. We've found a way to reach the top of the beach, together.  

About the Author

Ryan Knapp is the Global Head of Partnerships at Impartner. A 2024 CRN Channel Chief awardee, Knapp has been a driving force in strategic partnerships for over 15 years. With a career spanning roles from VP of Channel Development to Senior Director of Partners, and now as Global Head of Partnerships, Knapp's expertise in crafting and executing successful partner ecosystem strategies is unparalleled. Knapp's approach to partnerships emphasizes active engagement, ROI-validated investments, and leveraging partner ecosystems to drive business growth.

Profile Photo of Ryan Knapp