SaaS Partner Programs: Are they worth it?

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Written By adammartelletti

Stop selling and diagnose the problem first.

If you’re looking to Start a SaaS Partner Program for your SaaS product. In this evergreen post, I go through my experience in SaaS Sales and Relationship Development.

I also link to external resources and tools that will guide you in creating the most successful partner program to grow your SaaS company.

Building a profitable SaaS product requires a lot of work and dedication, from product development to sales and customer support.

Many startups do eventually succeed, but more fail than succeed and a lot of the time, this comes down to brand awareness, customer adoption and retention.

One way to increase your SaaS success is to create a partner program.

When you create a partner program for your SaaS product, launching a partner program isn’t that difficult on its own, but it’s not about just creating a partner program.

It’s about creating a successful program for growth, and this means using the right tools and understanding the initial and ongoing investment required to create a successful partner program.

Types of SaaS Partner Programs

It’s essential to understand the difference between partner options and what is involved.

Let’s start by looking at the types of Partner Programs you can offer as they are not all created the same, and be careful of how you use the terms.

Programs

  • Affiliate Program
  • Referral Program
  • Incentive Program
  • Reseller Program

Partners

  • Channel Partner
  • Education Partner
  • Technical Partner
  • Strategic Partner
  • Support Partner
  • Sale Partner
  • Integration Partner

Referral Partners

The referral partner program is a way for companies to reward people for referring new leads. Companies pay commissions when the referred leads become paying customers.

Education Partner Program

The Education Partner Program is for Online/Offline Trainers and educators who want to bring theory and practice.

Technical Partners

Technical partners provide the technology and expertise needed to run your business efficiently. They offer support, advice, and assistance when you need them most.

Strategic Partners

Strategic partnerships involve working together towards a common goal or sharing information and integrating technology for the benefit of both partners.

Take Slack, for example, through strategic partnerships with enterprise companies like ServiceNow and Google.

Slack can expand its offering to include more enterprise customers and connect its tool with the products and services its customers are already using.

Sales / Support Partners

These partners recommend your product and company to their customers when it makes sense.

They will also provide co-marketing resources, shared training, development resources, and certifications.

Affiliate Programs

The affiliate Partner Program is for bloggers, review sites, and other content creators who want to monetise their content.

The Affiliate / Referral partners will generate and pass leads to the SaaS signup in return for X% commission payments from the first few months of the customer’s contract, one year or for as long as they remain a customer.

Integration Partner Programs

Integration partner programs are partnerships between two companies that integrate each other’s technology. They do this through the use of APIs, SDKs, and other methods.

Incentive Programs

Incentive programs reward employees for good performance. They may be financial incentives like bonuses or non-financial rewards like holidays or gifts.

Reseller Programs

Resellers are companies that sell another company’s product at a discounted price. They may have the right to market the product themselves, but they often need training on how to do so effectively.

The 3 Main Partner Categories

Affiliate Partner

Promote your product through content created for larger-scale audiences. Affiliate partners likely won’t have a direct relationship with their audience.

Affiliate Partners will drive traffic to your product website through tracking links and earn a cut when that traffic converts to a paid user. (self-service)

Referral Partners

Referral Partners often have a direct one-to-one relationship, meaning the leads they send tend to be highly qualified, and there are two types or some that use both methods.

  • Link-based referral partner: Similar to an affiliate program, using tracking links. (more hands-off).
  • Lead form-based partner: Partners send qualified leads for you to close and support the customer. It may sometimes involve co-selling. (more hands-on)

Reseller / Channel Partners

Partners sell on behalf of you. They register the deal, create the account, and set the end client up on behalf of your company. More enterprise and more complex sales pipelines and deployments. (more hands-on)

 Affiliate PartnersReferral PartnersReseller Partners
Number of partnersHighMediumLow
Average Deal SizeLowMediumHigh
Resources RequiredSomeA little moreA lot more

What to start with first?

  1. First start with affiliate partners: The high reach that affiliates have, combined with the limited resources required to set up this type of program, make it the ideal way to start generating indirect revenue.
  2. Scale-up into referral partners: Launching a referral program enables us to take practical steps toward becoming fully channel-ready and solidifying the pillars of our partnerships strategy while driving new revenue.
  3. Finally, launch a reseller partner program: You can start reaching out and building relationships to get the appropriate systems, features and contracts in place while we start with steps 1 & 2.  

Estimated Timeline

How long will it take to implement and deploy either solution?

This will vary from company to company.

This would include but is not limited to finding a product/platform to manage the program, commission structure, legal, marketing material, promoting and onboarding partners.

Timeframe
Affiliate Program3 to 8 WeeksYou can always start with your current user base
Referral Program8 to 12 WeeksPersonal outreach & conversations
Reseller / Channel Program12 to 18 months

Why build a partner program for your SaaS business?

Partner programs expand your reach beyond just your own site. They allow you to attract partners who may be interested in promoting your product.

This helps you grow your brand awareness and ultimately generate more leads.

  • Grow Your User Base: This means attracting more customers. One way to attract new customers is through advertising, another is referral programs, and yet another is content marketing.
  • Effective Scaling: Partner programs are great ways to reduce marketing & sales costs. They’re free to join and offer a lot of benefits to partners.
  • Reduced Cost: Partner programs are great ways to reduce marketing & sales costs. They’re free to join and offer a lot of benefits to partners.
  • More Trials Ending in Conversion: If you’re running a subscription-based business, there’s no better way to grow your revenue than through trials. Having partners discuss your product builds trust before the end-user has even tried the product, often converting trials into more paying customers.