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Image by Lyle Wilkinson
  • Writer's pictureGary Lam

Salesforce ISV Partners: Are You Ready to Create a Partner Program?

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Are you an ISV partner looking to create a partner program to accelerate revenue? If so, this article is for you. And because there are a lot of moving parts in the process of creating a successful partner program, we will be discussing this topic through a series of articles. The following is part 1 and it covers:

  • Why do you need a partner program?

  • How to know if you’re ready for a partner program?

  • A partner-ready checklist

  • The top 3 questions to ask

Why a Partner Program?

This is probably not the first time you hear of creating a partner program. You’ve been in business for some time now, and you probably have a solid product that generates a successful customer experience. Some people might even recommend you create a partner program for partners. After all, what is not to like about that structure? You save on hiring salespeople, you focus on developing your product, you don’t even have to worry about generating leads because the partners will do that for you.ƒ

Sounds like a dream, doesn't it?

Well, not too fast. As tempting as it may sound, there are some crucial preliminary steps you need to take before you commit to creating a partner program. After assessing your readiness (and we will get to that later), you need to invest time designing the right program for your company, as opposed to rushing into it and attempting to fix it down the road.

I cannot stress this enough: getting the fundamentals right, then building upon it later, is the only way to go. We recommend building a Minimum Viable Program (MVP) and enhancing as your business scales. You simply lay the track in front of the train and let it run its course.

The Rubber Mallet Theory

Simon Sinek is an author and inspirational speaker. He is best known for his book: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, where he discussed the importance of spending time designing the right program for your company and how it will lead to revenue and expected results.

He shares in his book a wonderful story about “a group of American car executives went to Japan to see a Japanese assembly line. At the end of the line, the doors were put on the hinges, the same as in America. But something was missing. In the United States, a line worker would take a rubber mallet and tap the edges of the door to ensure that it fit perfectly. In Japan, that job didn’t seem to exist. Confused, the American auto executives asked at what point they made sure the door fit perfectly. Their Japanese guide looked at them and smiled sheepishly. “We make sure it fits when we design it.” In the Japanese auto plant, they didn’t examine the problem and accumulate data to figure out the best solution—they engineered the outcome they wanted from the beginning. If they didn’t achieve their desired outcome, they understood it was because of a decision they made at the start of the process.”

Are You Ready for a Partner Program?

A key milestone for any fledgling company is strategizing and proving the go-to-market model for their products and services. One of the many decisions in the GTM is what is the route to market?

Often in the earliest stages, this would be a direct Salesforce or business development team. Since at that point, you may still be experimenting and testing ‘what really works’. The goal of this phase is to assess what the right positioning for the product is, the right use case, the right pricing, the right minimum feature set, etc.

As tempting as it may be, going to market through partners when you don’t have your basic business model and offer in place would be abject chaos. On the other hand, once you’ve succeeded in executing a few pivots, you will begin to see a winning pattern. That is the point where you can start thinking about scaling and extending your sales motion through partners.

The Only Partner-Ready Checklist You Need

Norma Watenpaugh is an established leader in collaborative business relationships and partner ecosystems. She not only co-wrote this very article with me, but we’ve also developed a Partner-ready checklist to help evaluate a company’s readiness to partner.

You see, it takes a certain level of business maturity and established systems to adequately support partner success. And we believe that any business can save themselves the headache of a chaotic partnership experience by being thoroughly prepared. This is exactly what this ISV series is all about. In the coming months, Norma and I will go in-depth into why each of these prerequisites is important and how they contribute to your success in partnering.

Top 3 Questions to Ask

Now that we’ve established the prerequisites to considering a partner program, to get you started these are the 3 main questions you should be asking yourself.

1. Is partnering a viable strategy for your company?

We can all agree that each company is different. Before taking on any business initiative you need to assess its viability. As far as partnering goes, it can be a beneficial strategy for your business. A successful partner program will extend your market reach, develop your products, and provide partnerships that give you credibility.

However, if you don’t already have some sort of momentum in the market or your products are not ready for prime time or you do not have reference accounts, your timing for partnering may not be the right strategy for your company.

2. Do you have a culture and values around partnering?

This is an extremely important question to answer because the whole premise of partnering is having a collaborative attitude and having all company executives be on board.

The downfall of partnerships happens when you start looking at partners as competitors. Unless you have an established collaborative culture, you may not be ready.

3. Are you willing to commit to creating a successful program?

There may be no doubt in your willingness to create a successful partner program, but when it comes to putting theory to work it might get tricky. You see, you need to get everyone on the same page. You are not only responsible for investing in creating training assets, you also need to align your sales model to be inclusive of partners.

The minute you start thinking of them as a bolt-on to the business and not an integral entity, your program’s success might be in jeopardy.

Final Thoughts

It might take a lot of effort and resources on your part to establish a partner program, but once you get a jump start on it, the benefits of it will propel your business forward.

As a matter of fact, Norma and I are committed to supporting all ISV partners through this series. So how about you tell us which of the following topics you would like us to write about next.

Check out more of Norma’s writings here.


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