What does it take to launch a successful B2B partner program (or referral program)? Let’s go through it.
If you’re planning to launch a B2B partner program, I’d be glad to share Leadfeeder’s experience with you.
Let’s start with what Leadfeeder’s B2B referral program involves, and then I’ll share the steps we took to start a successful partner program.
Thanks to the nature of Leadfeeder’s product, many advertising and marketing agencies were already actively recommending the platform to their clients.
Despite being a 10-year-old company, we’re not rigid and slow. We pride ourselves on being flexible enough to keep learning and evolving. This allowed us to look at B2B partner programs from a different perspective.
For instance, in the past, we didn’t offer tiers as many other companies do. We started by operating on a case-by-case basis. However, tiered partnership opportunities are currently being improved for 2023 which we’re thrilled about. We took our time working case-by-case in order to learn as much as we could — we’re now ready to put more of a concrete system in place.
You see, agencies are used to the classic affiliate programs with a fixed payout. Sure, it’s a simple and time-tested strategy. But we wanted to build more profound relations than only offering affiliate links from influencers.
We focused the partner program for Leadfeeder around personal, long-term cooperation, and when you do it right, partner agencies end up becoming an extension of your marketing and sales.
The referral partner program is designed to be inclusive of agencies who are looking for a scalable solution for their clients and people who are simply excited to recommend the latest and greatest. We’ve developed three partnership scenarios for this:
Why different programs for different types of partnerships? We understand that every partner has different goals and luckily our product offering and pricing can support the needs of different partners.
And to sweeten the deal, we offer incentives such as commissions, discounts and offer marketing support such as marketing efforts through co-webinars, quotes on each other’s websites, link-building on blogs, and other opportunities that bring additional traffic and expand our audiences.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that the shortest route to a successful partner program is through steady relations with all partners.
When Leadfeeder helps an agency get good results for a client, and helps the agency grow their own book of business, they in turn trust Leadfeeder. The agencies then include Leadfeeder in their offerings to prospective clients, talking about our software and brand to others. Word of mouth and being talked about by thought leaders is invaluable.
But that’s not all.
Most often, agencies come to us because they’re focused on solving an issue for their clients. They don’t partner with us because they’re looking to refer us necessarily. That might happen as a by-product but it’s not the initial incentive.
Agencies also use Leadfeeder to grow their own business.
First, it helps build trust and credibility. When an agency refers to a product that brings actual results, it leaves a good impression with the client. They’re confident that the agency knows what they’re doing if they recommend good software.
Second, clients have a nice outlook on your product. Hear me out: when you recommend something, you have to make sure it’s really good first. Because if you go around praising something that’s bad, your credibility plummets.
This makes our partners pay close attention to Leadfeeder’s functionality and the benefits the software can bring to their clients.
Third, as easy as Leadfeeder is to use, it can still be challenging for users to get the most out of our data. Well, agencies — our trusted partners — act as go-betweens for us and the customers (end users), explaining the intricacies of targeting, sales, account-based marketing, various custom feed filters, and more.
When these users feel like the agency is holding their hand throughout their experience with third-party software (like Leadfeeder), it adds to the overall positive customer experience and loyalty toward the agency.
I’m very satisfied with what Leadfeeder’s partner program has become and even more excited about what’s to come! But of course, there were specific goals to be met. Here are the ones that we focused on.
Leadfeeder’s B2B referral program goals
Here are the priorities we've set for the program:
Grow our relationships with key agencies globally. Focus the growth based on our ICP and understanding which markets we do best in.
Attract new clients by getting referrals from agencies, affiliates, and community organizations.
Turn prospects into clients. Sometimes asking to work with a prospect’s marketing agency will get the deal over the line.
Engage brand advocates. The old adage of “it takes a village” definitely applies to brand awareness.
Improve brand recognition. This happens when thought leaders include your brand in their conversations.
Increase retention — agencies become an extension of our Customer Success team since they are on the frontlines of helping their clients find success.
You can take this list of goals and expand it with the ones that are important to your business before jumping into creating your B2B partner program.
These are the steps I recommend you take if you’re serious about launching a B2B partner program.
Step 1. Make sure you really need it
Yes, start with the simple question, “Does my B2B company need partner marketing?” Because though this marketing approach looks good, it doesn’t fit every business. And it’s normal to go with a marketing strategy where affiliated marketing is only a part of the whole.
I mean, Leadfeeder’s customers were already referring to our product before the program and probably would have continued to do so without it. If your product isn’t the talk of the water cooler yet, it’s just a matter of time.
Staying true to yourself will also help set realistic key performance indicators (aka KPI). And, of course, it’s not a one-person decision; launching a referral program requires buy-in from multiple teams (marketing, legal, finance, product, etc.), and convincing them will take a clear vision.
Step 2. Research tools for referral programs
When the decision to have a partner program is set, start looking for software that will help you launch and maintain it. The tool should be easy to install, use, and configure. Plus, its pricing system should be transparent, and it should support various partnership scenarios.
Right now, it’s also important to think of the channels for communication with your target audience.
As for Leadfeeder, it was important for us to own the data, and that’s one of the reasons we selected PartnerStack as the tool we use for our B2B partner program. Their API allowed us to sync data between our data warehouse and PartnerStack, which gave us full control over the data and complete transparency.
However, we’re always looking to grow and evolve, so we recommend assessing all of the products on the market to select the right one for the stage of the partner program that you’re in.
Step 3. Coordinate your actions with the marketing team to announce the venture
At this stage, you will have to devise a marketing strategy, and build group interaction within the team, including sales teams, to reach out to potential partners and notify them about the program. They can use various instruments — from landing pages to referral links.
I personally advise to divide the spheres of influence and responsibilities to achieve the marketing goals set. That way, you will know who’s responsible for what and avoid the common “I didn’t know it was my task” issue.
Additionally, this creates transparency over what has been communicated and who has communicated to make sure our clients and agencies have the best experience.
Step 4. Create a playbook for partnerships
When the preparation steps are behind, you can proceed to specific actions. Start with setting the metrics you must hit:
Leads generated per partner
Average contract value
Average time to close
New business sales versus expansion sales
Next, define your customer base and an ideal customer profile (for both partners and clients). Understanding your audience will help you:
Improve lead-generation tactics
Onboard and nurture partners
Create the enablement materials partners need
Keep partners and clients happy
Plus, this is the moment when you must choose whether you’re going to only work with referral partners or run a referral marketing program open to affiliate marketing. This decision is the basis needed to jumpstart the partner program.
Step 5. Continue to evolve and optimize the program
Congrats, your program is live! Now that you’ve analyzed the first results, it’s time to bury yourself in numbers and metrics to see how to move forward.
When your vision of the future of your program is a bit clearer, you’ll get a better idea of what to do next. Can you add new features or incentives to the program? Should you hire additional people for the program team? The numbers will tell.
Need more data? Try A/B testing new product offerings and messaging with partners.
Eventually, you’ll expand the program to existing customers, co-working spaces, general customer referral affiliates, or influencers on social media. And the results will be smashing, I’m sure.
Once your partner program goes live, referral leads will start pouring in. Does that mean it’s working? Not if these leads don’t convert into clients.
Yes, it’s time to do some lead qualification.
If you’re not familiar with the term, lead qualification means evaluating your potential clients to see if they’re likely to convert into customers. When we’re talking about referral lead qualification, it involves evaluating the leads that took your partner’s advice and showed interest in your offering.
To qualify leads, you need to get specific information about the company, like industry, location, company size, etc., and see if it matches your ideal customer profile (ICP). If it's a solid match based on all of your criteria, the lead becomes a prospect.
My advice is to keep track of your referral leads, their information, and conversion using a CRM or other referral software. I know, I know, you’re used to MS Excel, but there are just some things it can’t do. For instance, it won’t notify you that a lead has become a client and whom you should reward for that.
Usually, referral leads are already pre-qualified by the partner involved in your referral program. After all, they aren’t telling just anybody about your services — only the people who will win from using your products or services.
For instance, the agencies that Leadfeeder has a relationship with know our ideal customer profile, who our target audience is, and that we only work with B2B businesses. We give them all this information during the onboarding process when an agency wants to become our technical partner. As a result, we get a shorter sales cycle. Here’s why.
Referral leads are warm — I mean middle-of-the-sales-funnel warm. If your partner did their job right, this lead already knows what great things your company can do and is eager to try them out. No wonder the conversion rate of referral leads is four to 10 times higher compared to leads from other sources.
This is lead evaluation in a nutshell, but you can click here to read more about lead qualification and scoring.
I know that launching a B2B partner program can be daunting because of the unknowns. What if you don't have enough partners? What if your offering doesn’t meet the referred customers’ expectations? What if the program doesn’t bring the results you’d hoped for?
You’ve got this! Following the suggested steps above should help you jumpstart your program successfully. Sure, you’ll have to keep an eye on it, but thanks to thoroughly developed referral processes, automation, and PRM tools, you can focus on the strategic plans for improving the program. At least, that’s my story.
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