Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Fundamentally, the concept of “through-partner marketing” means marketing through your partner channel. The term is ambiguous, and because there are various ways to go to market with partners, the lack of definition leaves many partners feeling confused and lost in terms of where or how to get started. Let’s start by breaking down the different ways you might go to market through your partner channel …
Bundling your product or service with a partner’s product or service simply means you’ve developed a joint value proposition and can clearly articulate to your customers how your shared offering is better than the individual offerings sold separately. Work with your legal and finance teams to determine how the bundle will be purchased by clients and accounted for in terms of the financial transaction. Perhaps one partner takes a lead role in the sales motion and manages the accounts receivable, and then compensates the other partner for solutions sold. Or, maybe both partners have a SKU to sell the bundled offering and reconcile the sales on a regular basis. Or, perhaps the product is purchased up-front from one partner, and then the services are purchased on a subscription basis from the other partner. There are many ways to monetize a solution bundle, but generally, the solution is a clearly defined entity that the customer recognizes as a solution to their business needs. Most customers prefer a single point of contact, but it is not entirely necessary that the customer be shielded from engaging with each partner for specific reasons. In fact, understanding the broad portfolio of both partner solution offerings may help the customer identify cross-sell or upsell opportunities from one or both partners that could further enhance their businesses.
Referring partner offerings
In a referral model, the partner that manages the customer relationship refers the partner’s solution to their customer—often in exchange for a percentage of the sale—either as a single transaction or as a recurring revenue stream based on the terms of the service contract. Partners will need to negotiate who manages the customer relationship, what is required to qualify for recurring revenue, what percentage of the sale is earned, and who will follow up with cross-sell and upsell opportunities. In a referral model, the customer generally engages each partner separately to define their project scope and contracts. But, the partners can work closely together to ensure there is a mutually beneficial way to manage the customer relationship.
Co-branding with partners
Co-branding is a tightly integrated marketing effort where both partners contribute to the marketing activity, and they have the opportunity to promote both brands. Perhaps you create a solution brochure with logos and messaging from both companies, or a co-sponsored event featuring branding from both partner companies. Each time you reference the joint solution, you mention the value that each partner adds to the solution. Co-branding is a good way to articulate the features and benefits each partner contributes within the context of the larger solution story. This is particularly important for partners that are trying to grow brand awareness and expertise in the market.
White-labeling partner offerings
Also called private-labeling, this partnership model is invisible to the end customer. In this model, the customer benefits from a joint partner solution, but they are not immediately aware that there is more than one partner involved in the solution. Think of the Kirkland Signature products sold through Costco, as an example. Trident Seafoods is the partner that provides Atlantic Salmon to Costco for distribution and sales, but the white-labeled product customers purchase is called Kirkland Signature, and the end-user is not impacted by any brand affiliation.
In a white-label model, partners can decide whether one or both have access to the solution branding, and either could sell it directly to the end-customer, depending on the terms of the relationship. Typically, the partner with the largest customer audience or distribution channel will take the lead on the sales motion while the other partner will be happy to share their solution at scale. But, again, every partnership is different and the gives and gets of the partner relationship are defined in the partnership agreement.
Your through-partner marketing model might change from partner to partner, based on specific partner relationship requirements. Or, you may have a large enough partner channel that you can standardize the partnership options you are willing to offer and ask your partners to self-select based on predefined criteria. Work closely with your legal and finance teams to clearly document the terms of your partner relationships and expectations for all parties involved in through-partner marketing.
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