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What Makes a Partner Program Work?

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If you’ve read our blog before, you’re well-aware that referral programs are effective for companies operating in the digital space. After all, referred customers are 18% more loyal, spend 13.2% more and have 16% higher lifetime values than non-referred customers (source).

We talk a lot about customer referral programs. But if you’re looking for more ways to find new clients, it might be time to link up with other businesses to help widen your reach and amplify your message.

A magnet with a dark green background is attracting white paper cut-out figures representing lead generation.

Implementing a Partner Program strengthens your salesforce by letting brand champions, corporate partners and resellers sell for you in exchange for a commission.

You may be thinking that you’ve already set this up by enlisting that well-known Instagram star to post a picture of them using your app, or letting that blogger sprinkle affiliate links throughout their website to drive traffic to your landing pages.

A partner program is much more.

Before we dive into the details of a Partner Program, let’s clarify the differences between the three most common referral strategies that enlist third-parties to help you sell:

  • Influencer Programs
  • Affiliate Programs
  • Partner Programs

What's the difference between each program?

Each of these programs involves pairing up with third-party brand advocates to send customers to your business. In these types of performance-based marketing arrangements, the third-party is asked to promote your brand and as a reward, is compensated - typically in cash - for the revenue you receive as a result of their marketing efforts.

Although often talked about interchangeably, we can easily distinguish these programs by answering two questions about the business-referrer relationship:

  1. How closely/often does the business engage with the third-party?
  2. Is the third-party an individual or a company?

This is a visual representation of a graph with an X and Y axis. The X axis is divided into two sections, one labeled "individual brand" and the other labeled "corporate entity." On the left side of the X axis, there is an "influencer" section, and on the right side of the X axis, there is a "partner" section. The Y axis is labeled "engagement," with the top labeled "high engagement" and the bottom labeled "low engagement." Finally, there is an "affiliate" section located on the bottom left of the graph.

In today’s post, we’re diving into what you need to build and sustain a successful partner program.

Check out this article for a full comparison on customer, affiliate, influencer and partner referral programs.

What makes a Partner Program?

As pictured above, the relationship between your business and an official partner is characterized by a high level of engagement from both parties.

A partner program is formalized relationships with existing businesses who have their own customer base, website visitors or other sales channels, from which you can benefit being exposed to.

The idea is that your partners help you gain a presence in new markets and verticals in order to raise your brand awareness, increase leads and ultimately increase sales.

Here’s an example from Sleeknote: once approved, partners can earn up to 25% recurring commissions on successful referrals. The program highlights quarterly payouts to partners, and free marketing resources to help them attract the right kinds of leads.

This is an image of the Sleeknote Partner Program page. On the left side of the image, there is a text box that says "Sleeknote Partner Program: Earn up to 25% commission on referrals and unlock exclusive partner benefits." Below the text box, there is a purple button that says "Apply Now" with a small arrow next to it. On the right side of the image, there is a picture of three people standing together in an office environment, symbolizing a partnership.

A strong partner relationship is built through consistent communication, clear goal setting, and regular check-ins to assess partner needs and progress. Due to the formality of a partnership, the setup process requires more upfront planning, communication, and resource commitment, but has the potential to yield powerful results.

At the end of the day, a partner program is all about finding ways to maximize your reach and grow your business. It’s an incredibly valuable asset for any company looking to expand its customer base and increase sales. Start by conducting research into different types of partners that can benefit both you and them, and then take the necessary steps to establish a partnership. The opportunities are endless!  

Important elements that make a successful partner program include building win-win relationships with the right partners, creating formal agreements, and committing to ongoing maintenance:

Build Win-Win Relationships

A successful partner program equally benefits both your business and your partners.

A mutually-beneficial arrangement is only possible when both parties have expressed clear goals that can be realistically achieved by working together.

Start by determining your own goals – why are you implementing a partner program? To expand into a new vertical? Promote a specific product? Increase free trial signups? Penetrate a new market?

Next, come up with a value proposition for your partners. Will you reward them with a flat fee for their marketing efforts, or will they receive a percentage commission from every new customer they help convert?

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your reward structure to attract better partners and incentivize improved performance. For example, offer an increasing commission amount for more referrals, or reward tiers based on the size of the deal.

The rewards distribution process is best managed when you leverage a referral software solution. Define your reward criteria once, and automatically pay partners for the revenue they generate, while easily identifying your top performers.

A common frustration is that the partner feels the relationship is one-sided. If you can’t articulate the value you can provide to your partner, you’re missing the point. Your partners should be confident that they will benefit from teaming up with you.

Focus on developing relationships based on trust, transparency, and continuous feedback to create long-term partnerships that are profitable for both organizations. With an effective partner program management system in place, your business is poised to take its growth rate to the next level.

The image on the left shows three screenshots from the SaaSquatch platform overview document. On the right, there is an orange button that says "Read Now" and text that says "Download the SaaSquatch platform overview to discover the features that will help you engage and grow your customer base.”

Find the “Right” Partners

With clear goals and value propositions in mind, the next step is to carefully enlist the right kinds of partners that align with your brand.

Start by answering these questions about potential partners:

  • Can they help us achieve our goals?
  • Can their customers benefit from our product or service?
  • Does the company have values similar to ours?
  • Can they help us reach our target audience in ways that we can’t?
  • Do they have a good reputation?

Many companies may want to partner with you, but working with the wrong kinds of partners can be worse than having no partners at all.

Even with the best partners, it’s common for 12 -18 months to pass before you start to achieve real performance through this kind of channel. This is why it’s so important to only be spending time and money on the right partners.

Once you’ve identified the right partners, it’s time to develop your partnership strategy. This includes setting objectives, establishing processes and laying out clear metrics for success. It’s essential to have a concrete plan in place in order for partnerships to be successful.

Partnerships are an incredible tool for reaching new audiences, creating innovative products and services, and driving revenue. But to make them work for your business, it’s key to put in the upfront effort of identifying and establishing relationships with the right partners for you.

By dedicating time and resources to setting up partnerships that align with your goals, you can unlock a powerful growth engine for your company.

Create Formal Processes

The key to a successful program is to keep a relatively low barrier to entry, while ensuring that your partners are equipped with the knowledge to accurately represent your business’s value proposition to potential customers.

Have a Partner Admission Strategy

Partner programs typically have a much more rigorous admission process than affiliate or influencer programs and may come with some legal obligations.

The admission processes can include paying fees or going through a certification program. This is a great time to ensure your partner’s goals and expectations align with yours.

Due to the formality of the partnership, official partners are often able to state that they are associated with your company and may be listed on your website to represent their credibility.

It’s essential to have a great partner admission strategy in place. This should include criteria for selection, the process for onboarding and any legal paperwork that needs to be filled out. Additionally, you’ll want to clearly define what your partners can expect from you and vice versa. 

Take the Time to Train Partners

Partners usually undergo training with your marketing, sales, and/or technical teams to become product experts and understand how they should advertise for you.

It’s a good idea to provide partners with marketing materials such as brand guides and email templates, as it can be detrimental if your brand is being misrepresented.

Shopify even created an academy for their partners complete with online courses, exams, and certifications to ensure partners have the tools and knowledge needed to excel.

When you share the right information with partners, you have a better chance of receiving high-quality leads, which increases the chances that your partners will reap benefits and keep filling your sales funnel.

Remember, the more invested they are in your success, the more successful their partnership will be.

So don’t skimp out on training and ensure that all partner personnel are up-to-date with product updates, new launches, or any changes you might need them to know about. It will save you time and effort in the long run!

Offer Ongoing Support

A partner program isn’t something you can set and forget. Unlike affiliate and influencer referral programs, successful partner programs require a higher level of continuous care and maintenance.

Keep partners up-to-date with product developments and industry trends, and continuously educate them on how to sell and overcome roadblocks. For your largest partners, you may even dedicate account managers to each partner to offer personalized support.

Because the development of a partner program requires the ongoing investment of resources, it’s crucial to regularly review the financial value created by each partner relationship. Based on this data, you may want to adjust your partner relationship by changing incentives, providing new resources, or ending a relationship altogether.

By offering ongoing support and regularly reviewing the value created, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your partner program.

Use the Right Tools

Creating beneficial partnerships is one thing, but managing your relationships and expectations is crucial for continued success. Trying to run a partner program manually without the right tools increases the risk of late or incorrect payments, and not providing your partners with the resources they need to succeed.

Instead, leveraging a dedicated software platform (also referred to as a PRM - a Partner Relationship Management platform) lets you scale quickly, while managing your spending and legal responsibilities. It helps you maintain positive relationships with your partners by keeping them engaged and informed.

Partner Dashboard Overview in the Vacay Partner Portal app

Features to look for:

Partner portal to manage relationships

Let partners log in to their dashboard and view the status of every referral and payout, and easily share their links and codes to keep earning. This becomes their one-stop-shop for marketing resources, tools and support.

No need to wait for emails or messages, they can manage their relationships with us from one convenient place. Additionally, make sure that the partner portal is designed to be user-friendly and intuitive so it’ll be easy for them to start driving more referrals and earning more money.

Program administration dashboard

Being able to measure and manage your partner relationships is key to keep revenue rolling in. Make sure you’re able to quickly find you best partners, check on their earnings, change their links and codes, and block them from the program if necessary.

An easy-to-use program administration dashboard makes it a breeze. With simple drag-and-drop navigation and clear visuals, you can easily access all the data you need in one place. Plus, an intuitive user interface ensures that your time spent managing and analyzing your partner relationships is efficient and enjoyable.

W9 support

If your business needs to adhere to United States W-9 Compliance, you can easily manage this with a tool like the SaaSquatch W-9 Compliance feature. This ensures that participants will not receive in excess of $600 USD in rewards within a tax year, unless a W-9 tax form has been marked as collected. If a participant without a collected W-9 tax form receives any rewards that would exceed the limit within the tax year, the rewards will automatically be set as Pending and the participant will receive an email notifying them of their pending reward.

Once the participant’s W-9 is collected, their rewards are reset to Confirmed and they can collect them accordingly.

The text describes W-9 tax compliance for users earning rewards. Users without a valid W-9 form cannot earn more than $600 in rewards per tax year. Rewards that exceed this limit are marked as "pending" until a W-9 form has been collected from the user. The text includes a warning sign for users whose W-9 form has not yet been collected, and a button to collect the form. Additionally, there is a table with two columns: "Year" and "Rewards Earned." The table shows that in 2021, the user Bob Testerson has rewards listed as "pending" with a value of $599.99

Partner Program Examples and Inspiration


Sleeknote is a website popup builder that lets you create popups for email capture, cart abandonment, or any other goal.

sleeknote partner program dashboard overview

Once approved, Sleeknote partners can earn up to 25% recurring commissions on successful referrals. The program highlights quarterly payouts to partners, and free marketing resources to help them attract the right kinds of leads.

However, before earning commission, partners must prove that they are engaged and active by referring three clients with their unique link.

Sleeknote’s partner program also features a tiered reward system to let partners unlock new rewards and a higher payout.

To top it all off, Sleeknote is so confident in its product that it offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee on plans purchased through its partner program. With opportunities for long-term recurring commissions and a generous satisfaction policy, what’s not to love about Sleeknote’s partner program? Sign up today and start raking in the rewards!


Slack referral partner program overview

As a well-known business communication platform, Slack offers a variety of different partnership types, one being a Referral Partnership.

While compensation details aren’t readily available, Slack takes their partner approach seriously with a set of criteria that each referred lead must meet such as:

  • The company has at least 200 employees
  • The customer is a net new opportunity.
  • The customer is ready to start an active evaluation of Slack.
  • The primary contact for the customer is a decision maker or key influencer.

These requirements ensure that each referral is viable for the sales team, and increases the likelihood that it will result in a qualified sale and benefit the partner.

Slack also offers a Partner Program for Services and ISVs. This program provides an API-level integration with Slack, enabling partners to build applications and services to connect their customers directly with the platform. Partners are even eligible for co-marketing opportunities, such as joint case studies or webinars.

Last but not least, Slack offers a Strategic Partnership Program that supports their largest customers and partners. This program rewards organizations that have integrated deeply with the platform, such as creating an internal app or building a custom integration to help scale their customer’s usage of Slack.

No matter what level of partnership is desired, Slack can work with an organization to find the best fit for its customers. Whether that's a Referral Partnership, Partner Program or Strategic Partnership, Slack can make sure the customer gets the most out of the collaboration.


Accelo is a cloud-based platform providing professional services with the tools and resources they need to manage client operations including sales, quotes, projects, tickets, retainers, timesheets and billing.

The Accelo Referral Partner Program is designed for those who want to promote Accelo to their own networks. Before being accepted, Accelo gets in touch with prospective partners to learn about their business and the types of leads they would refer.

As an Accelo partner, you earn up to $250 for each new account that converts from a trial to a paid account. Additionally, you can benefit from Accelo’s marketing efforts, including email campaigns and online advertising.

Accelo also provides partners with a dedicated account manager to help ensure successful onboarding of new customers. The Accelo team is always available for questions or assistance in getting set up. So if you're looking for an easy and lucrative way to promote Accelo, look no further than the Accelo Referral Partner Program.

an overview of benefits for Accelo partner program


Kajabi is a platform used to build, market and sell your online course, membership site or coaching program.

Official partners can share the Kajabi platform with fellow entrepreneurs and earn a 30% lifetime commission for any new referral that stays active past their trial period.

The program features a dedicated partner dashboard, and a significant library of resources like swipe copy, help articles, webinars, and brand guides complete with writing tone and brand voice to help partners reach the next tier.

Kajabi offers a generous rewards program, allowing partners to collect badges as they reach different milestones like referrals and/or sales. These badges can be used to unlock special product discounts or other prizes.

Kajabi is designed to help entrepreneurs grow their business online with ease. It's simple yet powerful system allows users to create beautiful and engaging websites, build automated marketing funnels, manage their customers and track the success of their campaigns.

partners tiers overview for Kajabi platform

Wrapping Up

When done right, a partner program can increase your market reach, overall sales, and accelerate growth. As you’ve now learned, these powerful outcomes are a result of careful planning and maintenance.

A solid understanding of your own corporate goals and what you have to offer will help you identify and attract the best partners, while a clear outline of expectations from both parties will keep everyone on track.

Remember that it can take 12 -18 months before you start to see real performance through a partner program, so don’t be discouraged if the channels aren’t producing immediate results.

Ready to learn more?