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It’s not enough just to find a partner, negotiate a great deal and sign on the dotted line. A successful partnership depends upon stellar partnership management from the word go. After all, partnerships don’t just run themselves!
With that in mind, we’ve listed 10 key traits of an excellent partnership manager. This list is for you if you’re:
- Wondering how to become a strategic partnership manager.
- Thinking of hiring a partnership manager for your brand.
- Growing a company and wondering how to manage a partnership yourself.
Sound familiar? Then grab yourself a notepad and pen and settle in for the ride.
What does a strategic partnership manager do?
A good strategic partnership manager will look after a brand’s partnerships and ensure that they’re smooth sailing. But an excellent partnership manager will do a whole lot more. Here are 10 of the most important things that the best strategic partnership managers do.
1. Identify new partnership opportunities
As a partnership manager, it’s your job to use partnerships as a tool that can help your company to achieve its goals.
That means you’ll constantly need to be on the lookout for new opportunities that can help you get there – whether that’s championing new projects with existing partners or discovering new partners to expand your ecosystem. In fact, we discovered that affiliate and partnership managers spend an average of 35% of their time on partner discovery (hence why we built Breezy, to help partnership managers free up more of their time for making those partnerships a success).
You’ll also need to have a solid understanding of the different types of strategic partnerships out there and how they can help you achieve your brand’s goals. This might mean implementing partnership types your brand hasn’t tried before, whether that’s partner marketing tactics like affiliate marketing, referral agreements and content marketing partnerships, or more complex strategic partnerships that involve brands collaborating more closely (for instance, sharing personnel, technologies and resources).
Ultimately, it’s your job to shape your company’s partnership strategy and make sure the partnerships it engages in are working as hard as they can.
2. Understand and help shape a partner’s high-level strategy
As we’ve touched upon, any decent partnership manager will need an understanding of their company’s high-level strategy and where partnerships fit within that. But it takes two to tango, and a truly excellent partnership manager will keep a close eye on each partner’s high-level strategy too.
Think about it: if a partnership doesn’t help to achieve both parties’ goals, it’s not going to last very long!
For that reason, a partnership manager needs to make it their business to understand a partner’s growth goals, and to really put themselves in a partner’s shoes, so that both partners' priorities can be reflected in a partner marketing plan. This includes an awareness of their budgetary and resource constraints and the ability to work within them. Which brings us onto…
3. Be a partner’s voice internally
Although as a partnership manager, you’ll often be employed by one company, you’ll usually represent the interests of many. What that means is that partners will rely on you to advocate for them internally, especially when things don’t quite go to plan (talking of which, check out our piece on why partnerships fail to learn how to avoid the common partnership pitfalls).
A study by McKinsey revealed that 35% of managers see alignment on objectives as one of the key things missing from failed joint venture partnerships. But by acting as a partner’s voice in internal meetings and discussions, you can fight their corner and reassert their objectives where they can’t.
They might not be the ones handing out your paycheques, but at the end of the day, protecting their interests will be beneficial to both parties, paving the way for a frictionless and productive collaboration for (hopefully!) many years to come.
4. Nurture, maintain and strengthen relationships
When it comes to partnerships, you can’t just put all your energy into negotiating an agreement and then drop the ball. You may have closed a deal, but the hard work’s far from over. In fact, it’s only just begun!
Think of a strategic partnership a bit like a romantic relationship. You wouldn’t embark on a new relationship only to stop putting in any effort (at least, we hope you wouldn’t!). Instead, you’d need to continue to show your partner that they’re valued and help them to feel special. You’d also need to work on key skills, like tailoring your communication style to suit theirs and changing your bad habits based on their feedback.
As a partnership manager, safeguarding your company’s ‘relationships’ falls down to you. Not only do you need to get to know each partner so that you can advocate for them internally and support their growth goals, but you’ll also want to be that reassuring voice on the other end of the phone for them. These are the little things that make all the difference when it comes to a happy collaboration!
5. Answer questions quickly
In the spirit of being that reassuring voice on the other end of the phone, you’ll need to be on-hand to troubleshoot any problems that crop up and resolve them quickly and efficiently. This is particularly important when you first launch a partnership, as things are rarely smooth sailing from the get-go!
Having a fantastic partner support system is a great way to attract potential partners – particularly if you have an affiliate, reseller or co-selling program that you’re trying to market. If your partners love working with you, the word’s sure to get around. And those nice extras such as a dedicated partnership manager and easy-to-access support are great things to shout about.
That said, this isn’t just about keeping your partners happy. It’s also key to making sure your business’ partnerships are as impactful as they can be, instead of falling at the first hurdle.
6. Design new policies that will allow partnerships to thrive
As you go on to grow and scale your brand’s partnerships, you’ll want to make sure you have solid policies and protocols in place. This will ensure that even when you have hundreds of partners demanding your attention, you can still manage them just as effectively as when there were only two or three.
As a partnership manager, you’ll need to keep an eye out for consistent issues and find ways to deal with them. By formalising the solutions and turning them into policies, the idea is that things will be a lot smoother next time.
The trick is to never stop improving things. If something’s not working, the last thing you want to do is justify it by saying ‘that’s how we’ve always done it.’ Instead, you’ll need to recognise that the partnership landscape is shifting and changing all the time. If you want your partnerships program to stay relevant, your policies and protocols will need to shift and change accordingly.
7. Support a partner in creating impact
The best partnership managers won’t be afraid to get hands-on when it comes to helping a partner to successfully implement a collaboration.
Let’s look at distribution marketing partnerships – and specifically reseller agreements – as an example. If your partner’s struggling to close a sale, you might need to jump on a sales call to help reiterate the benefits of your brand’s product.
Alternatively, take affiliate marketing. If an affiliate is struggling to get clicks on content designed to promote your brand, you might need to provide them with more marketing assets or guide them through tactics that have worked for other affiliates in the past.
Whether you’re helping a partner to achieve a joint goal you laid out at the beginning of the partnership or you’re simply helping them to achieve their own objectives, it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it benefits both partners to make your collaboration as impactful as possible.
8. Provide training and coaching
Another way that you can support a partner in making your collaboration more impactful is through ongoing training and coaching.
Product knowledge is essential for partnership types like co-seller or reseller agreements. As a partnership manager, you’ll need to find ways to help a partner know your product inside out so that they can effectively describe its value when selling it on. This will probably mean arranging and delivering training sessions and workshops. And it’ll almost certainly mean keeping a partner updated as new features are released and the product evolves.
But it’s not just product training that you’ll need to oversee. You’ll also want to think about sales training and coaching. We know what you’re thinking: ‘surely my partner’s an expert in all that already?!’ Well, they might well be. But your brand knows its product better than anyone, and you’ve probably seen what works and what doesn’t. By sharing your knowledge and experiences with your partners, you’re giving them a shortcut to promoting or selling your product even more successfully.
The world of strategic partnerships is largely based on technology. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that it’s changing and shifting all the time.
Just a couple of examples for you: Forrester’s channel software tech stack only started recognising ‘ecosystem management’ as a category in 2020. And Google announced in January that it’ll soon be making third-party cookies obsolete (according to The Independent), providing a big unknown for tracking partnerships such as affiliate marketing.
All this means that it’s not enough just to be experienced as a partnership manager. Instead, the best partnership managers will acquire new skills to keep up with advances in tech, as well as monitoring changes to legal regulations and keeping their brand’s partner ecosystem strategy ahead of the game. We've curated some resources to help you be a successful partnership manager now and long into the future.
10. Report on performance
Last (but not least!), a partnership manager will be responsible for analysing and reporting on partner initiatives and collaborations, as well as forecasting for strategic changes and reporting on key metrics.
If we assume you’ve demonstrated all of the traits we’ve listed above, we can (fairly!) safely assume that the results deserve a good old pat on the back. But either way, your work’s never done. You’ll need to scour the metrics to find room for improvement and constantly find new ways to reach your business goals using partnerships. You can do it!
How to become a strategic partnership manager
Normally, a strategic partnership manager will have a degree in something along the lines of business, communications or administration and management. But let’s face it: being a truly excellent partnership manager isn’t about ticking boxes and waving around a certificate.
More than anything, it’s about developing the right skills. So, whether you’re planning on becoming a strategic partnership manager yourself, or you’re a founder who needs to manage your own partnerships for the foreseeable, here are some key skills you’ll need:
- Communication skills
- Strategic thinking
- An analytical mindset
- Organisational skills
- The ability to prioritise
- The ability to do well in a fast-paced environment
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
Ready to manage a partnership?
If you’re ready to take your brand’s strategic partnerships to the next level, what are you waiting for? You know what to do – the only question is whether you’re going to be managing those partnerships yourself, or whether you’re going to be hiring a partnership manager or an even wider partnership team to handle them for you.
Either way, if you want to cut down on the amount of time your team has to spend discovering new partners (and instead spend that time optimising those partnerships to make them as successful as they can be) then book a demo for Breezy. It’s the quicker, easier way to uncover hundreds of relevant partnership opportunities for your brand. Enjoy!