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How to Drive True Partner Engagement: 10 Smart Strategies

Partner engagement isn't just a strategy; it's a commitment to growing faster, together. But what exactly is partner engagement, and why is it so vital? What partner engagement strategies can supercharge your efforts? How do re-engage partners who are checked out? Finally, how can you put all of these strategies into practice without dumping a ton of extra work on your team? We'll explore all these questions and more in this comprehensive guide.

We'll delve into smart partner engagement strategies, offering actionable insights and real-world examples to help you implement them effectively. Prepare for a journey of growth, collaboration, and success with your partners. Together, you'll achieve remarkable results. Let's get started.

👉 What you’ll find:

What is partner engagement?

Partner engagement refers to the dynamic process of building and nurturing strong, collaborative relationships with your external partners, such as channel partners, resellers, distributors, and other third-party entities. Overall, it's about creating a sense of community, where your partners feel valued, supported, and motivated to actively contribute to your ecosystem.

Partner engagement is both an art and a science. When done well, it will help you build strong, long-lasting business relationships that benefit all parties involved.

The role of partner engagement

Partner engagement is not just a checkbox on your to-do list; it's the key to unlocking the true potential of your partner ecosystem. Engaged partners don't just align with your business objectives; they become champions of your brand, opening doors to new markets, nurturing stronger relationships with customers, fostering innovation, and strengthening the bonds that hold your ecosystem together.

These are the major partner engagement benefits you can achieve with these strategies:

  • Increase revenue: Engaged partners are not passive entities in your ecosystem; they are active advocates for your brand. They invest their time, energy, and resources into promoting and selling your products or services, leading to an increase in partner-sourced and partner-influenced deals.
  • Expand market reach: Tap into new markets and customer segments without shouldering the entire burden of market entry. Your partners bring with them a wealth of industry-specific knowledge, local expertise, and established networks. By actively engaging with your partners, you gain access to these invaluable assets.
  • Enhance customer satisfaction: Engaged partners are more than just intermediaries; they are extensions of your brand. When partners are deeply committed to your same goals, they can provide superior support and service to your customers.
  • Drive innovation: When engaged partners come together, they pool their collective expertise and creativity to develop new solutions and offerings. Engaged partners are more inclined to co-create, experiment, and explore new opportunities, ensuring that your ecosystem remains at the forefront of industry developments.
  • Become your partners' #1 pick: Many partners work with multiple competing vendors when selling or serving products. Your goal is to become the easiest vendor to work with, ensuring that they prioritize your products over others!

At the heart of every thriving ecosystem lies trust and camaraderie. A strong partner engagement strategy puts these goals at the forefront. This sense of unity and collaboration ensures that your ecosystem is not just a loose collection of entities but a tightly-knit community, ready to adapt and grow together.

What is a partner engagement model?

A partner engagement model is a structured framework or strategy that outlines how your team plans to interact, collaborate, and build more active relationships with your partners. This model should define the principles, processes, and best practices that will get you there, and cover the entire partnership lifecycle.

You'll use the strategies we'll explore next in this post as your action items, but this model should also include:

  • Clear objectives and KPIs: What you measure is what you get. Set engagement goals that are aligned with your business objectives and establish the measurable key performance indicators you'll use to track whether your efforts are successful.
  • Partner segmentation: Categorize partners based on expertise, industry focus, capabilities, and other factors to tailor engagement strategies to different partner groups.
  • Resource allocation: Identify the internal resources, team members, technologies, support, and training materials you'll provide to meet partners' unique needs.
  • Communication channels: Establish the channels you'll use for effective communication and collaboration between your organization and partners.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Define the roles and responsibilities within your organization for who will be involved in rolling out these efforts.
  • Feedback and evaluation: Implement a continuous feedback loop and evaluation process to improve your partner engagement strategies over time.

How do you drive partner engagement?

Partner engagement isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It requires a tailored approach that aligns with your partners' diverse needs and expectations. To drive partner engagement, begin by setting clear objectives, segment your partners based on their needs, and create custom strategies to engage and incentivize each one of them right where they are.

Use any or all of the following strategies to get started. Throughout, you'll also find links to in-depth resources to learn more about each topic!

1. Start with a channel partner satisfaction survey

How can you figure out where to improve when you don't know where you are?

One of the best ways to measure partner engagement and gather actionable feedback is through a channel partner satisfaction survey. This will give you insights into their levels of satisfaction with your partner program, what's helping and what's hurting your efforts, and where you could improve.

Encourage partners to provide feedback on various aspects of your partnership programs, resources, and collaboration processes. Don't make it a one-time thing, though. Set up a partner feedback portal where partners can submit suggestions, report issues, and track the status of their submissions all year. Then, plan to act on their suggestions and concerns promptly.

🎉 Free resource: We developed a free channel partner satisfaction survey template that you can use to kickstart your efforts. Download it now!

2. Communicate often and consistently

The simplest strategy is also the most important. Effective communication is your top way to increase partner engagement, because it helps you stay top of mind for your partners.

Schedule regular check-in meetings to understand their challenges, successes, and evolving needs. Host more in-depth quarterly review meetings where you discuss performance, address concerns, and jointly plan future strategies. You can also communicate with partners in your partner portal with notifications, open forums, or even by hosting monthly office hours in an open video chat.

Finally, consider implementing a monthly newsletter. This not only keeps partners informed but also strengthens their sense of involvement. At a minimum, your newsletter should contain information about:

  • Valuable highlights on new industry and customer trends
  • Company and product updates
  • New sales and marketing materials
  • Upcoming training and certification opportunities
  • Success stories from your partner ecosystem
  • Updates on ongoing or upcoming incentive programs
  • Upcoming events

🔎 Discover more: Find the five things every channel partner newsletter should include to generate amazing ROI.

3. Build joint business plans

Engage in strategic business planning sessions with your top partners. Collaboratively set goals, create action plans, and align strategies to ensure you're working toward shared objectives. These should reflect mutual interests, such as revenue targets or market expansion.

Plan to conduct annual business planning meetings where you review past performance, set new goals, and co-create strategies for growth. Tie these to increased incentives (as we'll discuss shortly) to drive true, meaningful engagement.

Finally, provide partners with value-added resources they'll love. Give them access to your own internal experts on sales, marketing strategies, and more so they can reap the benefits of your partnership.

Aligning partners' objectives with your own is crucial. When partners see how their efforts contribute to your company's success, they become more invested in achieving those goals.

✅ Level up: Share, create, and track goals together effortlessly with Impartner's partner business planning tools. Co-create goals and monitor progress in real-time throughout the year.

4. Make engagement simple, easy, and on-demand

Create a single one-stop shop where partners can interact with your brand, wherever and whenever they are. Instead of managing your partners with emails, develop a centralized partner portal where they can find everything they need.

Implement a user-friendly partner portal with a robust search feature, making it effortless for partners to locate the resources they need. In this portal, partners should be able to access support resources, CPQ tools, marketing materials, sales collateral, product documentation, deal registration, training modules, and more whenever they need it.

⭐️ Partner engagement win! Mambu creates a one-stop shop for partners

"It's our partners' one-stop shop. It's everything that they need at their fingertips. The tool is just so robust, and it really helps set the standard.” Learn more about Mambu's partner engagement journey in the following video.

5. Develop personalized training journeys

One size rarely fits all when it comes to training. Develop customized training programs that cater to partners' skill levels, roles within your ecosystem, and specific areas of interest. Offer on-demand training journeys and certification programs to keep partners engaged and informed.

Go beyond this, though, and differentiate your training into a true benefit of being a part of your ecosystem. Rollout courses that can help partners stay updated about the latest industry trends and technological advancements. Offer exclusive access to advanced training sessions with internal or industry experts.

Paid access to industry conferences, seminars, webinars, and thought leadership content can also show you're committed to their ongoing development and growth.

🎉 Free resource: Access our channel partner onboarding checklist, which contains the ten things you need to do when onboarding new partners!

6. Offer truly collaborative marketing opportunities

Partners often take pride in their association with your brand. Include partner logos on marketing collateral, social graphics, websites, or product packaging to showcase your joint efforts. Allow them to co-brand your products, services, or marketing collateral, creating a greater sense of engagement.

When appropriate, develop co-marketing campaigns that highlight your joint offerings. Launch joint webinars, co-authored blog posts, or co-branded events to showcase the collaboration between your brand and partners, attracting more attention.

Or collaborate with partners to co-create value-added solutions. Encourage them to provide input and ideas that can lead to innovative product enhancements or new offerings. Sharing the success of co-creation reinforces engagement!

✅ Level up: This is a big topic. Discover how to rollout your co-marketing plan, along with real-life examples, in our full guide!

7. Design incentive programs that drive engagement

Money talks. Even if every other part of your program drives engagement, you won't retain partners if they're not profitable selling and supporting your products. 

In-depth PartnerPath research found that partners prioritized a few monetary incentives over others. Margins for discount reselling came in at the top, followed by qualified sales leads and referrals. Market development funds (MDFs) were also a strong motivator.

However, you must also think about incentives in a personalized way. Based on your survey results, find incentives that matter to each partner and their stage of growth.

For example, you could offer tiered incentives where partners unlock progressively greater rewards as they achieve higher sales targets or customer satisfaction ratings.

You could also recognize and reward loyal partners with a partner loyalty program. Acknowledge their efforts with incentives, awards, and non-monetary exclusive benefits to reinforce their commitment to your organization.

🔎 Discover more: Find 20 channel incentive ideas to help you power your partner program here!

8. Publicly honor and recognize your top partners

In addition to monetary incentives, the most dynamic ecosystems actively celebrate their partners' accomplishments and wins.

Acknowledging and rewarding outstanding partner contributions can boost engagement. For example, publicly recognize top-performing partners through awards or accolades. You can host an annual partner awards ceremony where you celebrate partners' achievements and highlight their successes, or simply do a monthly social media shout-out.

Encourage partners to establish themselves as thought leaders in their respective industries. This can be achieved through guest blogging, speaking engagements, or participation in industry panels that you help connect them with. You can also feature partner-written articles on your blog or invite them to speak at industry conferences where you are present.

Finally, consider establishing a partner advisory board that's comprised of your key partners. These boards provide a platform for partners to offer their own expert insights, shape future strategies, and deepen their involvement in your business.

9. Make data-driven decisions

On a program level, leverage real-time analytics and insights to understand partner behavior better. Refer to those key performance indicators (KPIs) you established to evaluate engagement levels and adjust your approach based on the results. Simply put, analyze the data to see what strategies are working and which ones aren't, and refine from there.

Offering access to your data can also empower your partners as well. Provide partners with actionable, real-time insights with customized dashboards that offer real-time sales and market data, enabling them to make informed decisions.

✅ Level up: Gain actionable and crucial insights into partner performance and engagement with Impartner Analytics, your real-time partner analytics tool.

10. Prioritize transparency at every stage of the partner lifecycle

Finally, transparency is the cornerstone of trust and true engagement. Transparency creates a sense of ownership and involvement, making partners feel like integral parts of your company's journey—because they are!

It should be easy for partners to register deals and get rewarded for their efforts promptly. An efficient deal registration process demonstrates your commitment to fair and transparent partnerships, by reducing any channel conflict or attribution issues.

Your partners should also always have access to a dedicated support person for addressing complex issues. Establish a tiered support system where partners can escalate issues to a specialized support or technical team for swift resolution.

Foster a culture of transparency by openly sharing company goals, challenges, and successes. Conduct quarterly transparency sessions where company leadership shares insights into company performance, roadmaps, and future plans.

How do you engage non-engaged partners?

The previous strategies will work for partners who are already contributing to your ecosystem. But how do you engage partners who aren't actively participating in or contributing to your business?

These non-engaged partners might have started off engaged, eager to sell your products or services, but for various reasons, they've pulled back. They might not be meeting sales targets, participating in training sessions, or staying in regular contact with you.

Non-engaged partners may not seem like a problem, but they can be a drain on your resources. Their lack of involvement means missing out on potential sales. And, as we've noted, a partner ecosystem thrives on collaboration and mutual support. Non-engaged partners can weaken the overall value of your ecosystem for your other partners as well.

Finally, allocating resources, such as time, funding, and support, to non-engaged partners may divert your team's attention away from actively participating partners.

So, is it worth engaging these passive observers? Re-engaging these types of partners may still offer advantages. To do so, take the following steps:

  • Assess the reasons behind their lack of engagement. Is it due to resource constraints, inadequate support, or misalignment with your offerings? Is it due to challenges on your end or theirs?
  • Categorize your non-engaged partners based on their potential value to your ecosystem. Some may possess untapped potential or specialized expertise that can enrich your network.
  • Initiate conversations with them to understand their challenges and needs better. Tailor your messages to clearly articulate the value they stand to gain from increased involvement.
  • Provide targeted tools, resources, incentives, or training to address their specific pain points and help them overcome barriers to engagement.
  • Begin by involving them in smaller, less demanding activities before gradually increasing their participation in more significant initiatives.
  • Regularly track their engagement levels and assess whether your efforts are yielding increased involvement.

You likely have a lot on your plate, so prioritize non-engaged partners who align with your objectives and display a willingness to collaborate. If a partner remains consistently non-engaged despite your efforts, consider reallocating resources to more engaged partners and parting ways.

The future of partner engagement

As businesses continue to adapt to evolving market dynamics, technological advancements, and changing customer expectations, these are a few key trends and insights to expect for the future of partner engagement:

  • Data-focused initiatives: Partner teams will increasingly rely on data analytics and AI-driven insights from their partner relationship management software. Businesses will use these advanced analytics to understand partner behavior, identify engagement patterns, and predict future trends.
  • Ecosystem expansion: Partner ecosystems will continue to expand, with businesses forming alliances with a broader range of partners. These expanding ecosystems will open up new opportunities for collaboration and revenue generation.
  • Sustainability and CSR initiatives: Joint initiatives focused on reducing environmental impact, ethical sourcing, and community engagement will become more common.
  • Automation and AI integration: Chatbots, automated onboarding processes, and predictive analytics will streamline partner interactions and reduce administrative overhead, allowing for more strategic engagement efforts.
  • Personalization at scale: Partners will increasingly expect personalized experiences from vendors. AI-driven personalization engines will better enable companies to deliver customized content, training, and resources to partners at scale.
  • Global expansion: As businesses look to expand into new international markets, partner engagement will become crucial for navigating local regulations and customs.

Successful partner engagement strategies will adapt to these trends, fostering thriving partnerships that drive mutual growth and innovation.

How to automate your partner engagement strategies

Partner engagement isn't merely a strategy; it's the very essence of growth. When you commit to this path, you unlock the potential to build ecosystems that not only thrive but redefine industries, where every partner's success is intertwined with your own.

With Impartner, you can make this dream a reality. 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 solution provider on the market. Our partner relationship management (PRM) and through channel marketing automation (TCMA) 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.

Ready to effortlessly engage your partner ecosystem? Let's get started.

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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