Partner marketing plan: How to set your partnerships up for success

Publication date
Author
Imogen Beech
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11 minute read

As far as we’re concerned, partner marketing is one of the most (if not the most) underrated growth tools there is. So much so that high-growth brands are a massive three times more likely to use marketing partnerships as part of their overall strategy than no-growth firms (according to Hinge’s 2020 High Growth Study)!

But it’s not enough just to embark on a marketing partnership and expect the growth to follow. Instead, partnerships have to be carefully planned and managed to ensure that both partners are able to reach their goals. That’s where a partner marketing plan comes in! Here, we’ll look at what a partner marketing plan actually is and where it should sit within your partner marketing strategy.

What is a partner marketing plan?

A partner marketing plan is a document that outlines all the ideas, goals, strategies and tasks related to a partnership. It basically formalises discussions between partners so that everything they agree can be referred back to in one centralised place.

In this way, a partner marketing plan is key to making sure that all partners are on the same page. It also helps to increase visibility and encourage both partners to take accountability for the actions they’ve agreed to.

What should you put in a partner marketing plan?

There’s no right or wrong way to lay out your partner marketing plan. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that your plan works for you and your partner and helps you to put into action a partnership that can benefit you both.

However, here are some things that can be really useful to include. 

  • A heading or title.
  • Who created the document.
  • The date it was last updated.
  • A summary of your joint value proposition.
  • Your idea or proposal.
  • Your target market.
  • The market opportunity or trends.
  • Your ideal customer profile.
  • Your marketing strategy (and who is responsible for doing what).
  • What each partner will invest (in terms of money and resources).
  • Key performance indicators (how will you know whether the partnership was a success?

Of course, these elements can vary depending on what type of partnership you put in place and what you want to get out of it. However, this is a good start!

We’d also recommend regularly adding to and updating your marketing plan as time goes on, to take into account any changes you’ve discussed in person. The last thing you want is an out-of-date partner marketing plan, as this can cause more harm than good!

Your partner marketing strategy checklist

As useful as a partner marketing plan can be, it needs to form part of a robust partner marketing strategy if your partnerships are going to be successful. There are many steps that you need to take as a business before you’re ready to create one and many before you’re even ready to find a partner in the first place!

To ensure your partner marketing strategy is as robust as it can be, follow this simple checklist.

☑ Set clear goals

First things first, you’ll need to set clear goals that you’re hoping a marketing partnership can help you reach. 

Yes, partner marketing can be a valuable growth tool. But there’s no point in creating a partnership if there’s nothing in particular you’re hoping to achieve. And similarly, if you have a goal in mind that can be better reached through a different method (other than partner marketing) then there’s no need to create a partnership right now either.

A few things that you might hope to achieve through a marketing partnership include:

  • Reach new markets.
  • Increase brand awareness.
  • Incentivise loyalty.
  • Boost sales.
  • Improve brand reputation.
  • Generate leads.

When you’re setting goals, try to be as specific as possible. Ideally, we’d recommend putting SMART goals in place (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) although there may be a few gaps or question marks that a partner can help you to settle on.

The ‘time-bound’ element is crucial. Although you probably won’t be able to put an exact timeline in place until you’ve followed a few more of the steps in our checklist, it’s really important that you know whether your aims are long-term, short-term or somewhere in between. This will affect pretty much everything else that follows, from what kind of partnerships are suitable, to the potential partners you approach.

Set clear partner marketing goals

☑ Identify relevant partnership types

Once you know what you’re hoping to achieve, you can start to think about the kinds of collaborations that could help you get there.

There are around 15 different types of strategic partnerships (that we’ve counted!), and 10 of them fall under the bracket of partner marketing. These are:

  1. Affiliate marketing
  2. Content marketing partnerships
  3. Co-branding
  4. Comarketing
  5. Distribution marketing partnerships
  6. Sponsorship marketing
  7. Product placement
  8. Incentive marketing partnerships
  9. Referral agreements
  10. Charity partnerships

While these are all ways of collaborating with a partner to market your brand or product, they work differently and can bring different benefits to your organisation. For instance, if you’re looking to improve your brand reputation (perhaps you’ve received some negative press, for instance), a charity partnership is likely to be a good choice. Or, if you’re keen to reach new markets, a comarketing or distribution marketing partnership could be just the ticket.

Of course, there’s nothing to say that you have to choose just one of these partnership types. You could choose to work with numerous brands in various different ways. Or you could engage in a partnership that involves working with a partner across many of these different categories. Often, the best partnerships don’t fit neatly into one – some of our favourite partner marketing examples involve brands collaborating in unique ways that span three or four!

If you’re going to be searching for a large number of partners to collaborate with you in one clear way, you may simply choose one partnership type to create a partnership programme around. For instance, you may decide to create an affiliate program for your business

However, don’t rule out collaborating in more bespoke ways with partners that could help you reach your goals in ways you hadn’t previously considered. While it helps to pinpoint the partnership types that can help you to achieve your goals, the best partnerships are true collaborations. So, be open-minded and leave some room to get creative with your partners!

☑ Picture your ideal partners

Now you can begin to build out an idea of what your ideal partners look like, making sure that any partners you have in mind would be capable of collaborating with you in ways that can help you to achieve those goals you outlined!

There are all sorts of entities out there that you could collaborate with, from affiliates and influencers to publishers and like-minded businesses. It requires caution, but you could even collaborate with your competitors (it’s not right for everyone, but we’ve seen a number of competitors work together to better compete against other brands in their sector). The sky’s the limit!

Remember it’s super important that any partnership you embark on benefits both you and your partner equally. That means that when you start brainstorming potential partners, you’ll need to consider what you could bring to them

Often, it helps if you think a potential partner might have the same goals as you (for instance, you might be looking to expand into markets they’re strong in, and they might be looking to expand into yours!). However, that’s not strictly necessary and there are tons of successful partnerships that involve brands benefiting in very different ways.

When you’re umming and ahhing about your ideal partners, it helps to consider:

  • Reach. They’ll need to have a big enough reach for you to be able to leverage their reputation and audience. But at the same time, if a brand is too big, you might struggle to offer them enough in return.
  • Relevance. Often, brands who sell similar, non-competing products to yours will be a good fit. However, most important is that a potential partner is targeting a similar audience. Their customers or readers need to be able to find value in your offering.
  • What you can offer them. You’ll need to be able to give your partner enough in return to keep them invested in the partnership. One of the common reasons why partnerships fail is that one partner is benefiting more than the other.
  • Reputation. Partnering with a brand that’s well-regarded can enhance your reputation, but a brand with a negative reputation is likely to harm yours. Potential partners should also share your values. For instance, if you market yourself as a sustainable brand, partnering with a large oil company would damage your credibility.
  • Previous partnerships. Looking at a prospect’s previous partnerships can give you an idea of the ways they’re open to collaborating and the kinds of partners that they might be looking for.

Our article on creating strategic partnerships has more tips on finding the right fit in a marketing partner.

That said, there’s nothing to say that all your partners have to be alike – you may decide that your perfect partners span a range of entities. In fact, this may even be useful in ensuring that your eggs aren’t all in one basket.

Picture your ideal marketing partners

☑ Work out the nitty-gritty

At this point, you’ll have a solid idea of what you want to achieve from a partnership, how you want to collaborate with a partner, and what kinds of partners you’re interested in. Now you just need to go about translating these ideas into reality.

First, we’d recommend deciding exactly what you want to ask a partner for, and exactly what you can offer in return. This will be really important for you to communicate when you start reaching out to potential partners and will form the backbone of your partner marketing plan if they agree to the partnership. For example, you might decide that you want to work with a partner brand to create a piece of content that sits behind an email capture wall, before you both go on to market the content to your respective audiences and share the leads generated.

As much as possible though, it helps to tailor your proposal to the individual brands you approach, adapting your ask and your offering accordingly. Going back to our previous example, you could suggest a different topic for the piece of content to each brand you approach, based on the content they currently have on their website and the skills that you could both bring to the table.

By working out the nitty-gritty before approaching a partner, you’re making life really easy for them and increasing your chances that they’ll agree to the partnership. However, remember not to get too married to your idea. Remaining open-minded and flexible will open the door to more creative collaborations with brands that have the time and resources.

Alternatively, if you’re hoping to scale up your partner marketing by recruiting a large number of partners through a dedicated partner program, now’s the time to iron out how it’ll all work. For example, if you’re creating an affiliate program, you’ll need to decide whether to run it in-house or via an affiliate network; what commission you’ll offer; your preferred attribution model; cookie duration and more.

Of course, this leaves less room for flexibility. But there’s no reason why you can’t run a partner program for brands who want to work with you in a more traditional way as well as collaborating more creatively with brands that don’t fit within the remit of your partner program. After all, building a partner ecosystem is all about recognising the diverse benefits that partnerships can bring to your business, and acknowledging the fact that they won’t all fit into one box.

☑ Recruit partners

Now you’ve done all that prep, you can finally get to work recruiting partners to collaborate with you in ways that can bring benefits to your business (and theirs, of course!).

If you’ve decided to set up a traditional partnership program (for instance to find affiliates), you’ll need to put together a plan for how you’re going to market it. This could involve using channels like paid advertising or email marketing.

However, much of the time, recruiting partners will centre largely around finding relevant prospects (which Breezy can help you do much more quickly and easily!) before outreaching personally. Although you should be clear about what kind of partnership you’re looking for in your initial outreach, your aim should be to initiate a meeting where you can discuss things in more detail and negotiate a partnership that can work for you both.

This is the point at which your partner marketing plan will come in. As you start to negotiate, set goals, assign tasks and commit resources, everything should be recorded in your partner marketing plan so that you can be sure you’re on the same page and you can easily refer back to what was agreed.

That said, don’t forget to create a signed agreement too! Your partner marketing plan is a collaborative document that can be revised and updated as your needs change. Meanwhile, your agreement is a contract that will protect you legally in case there are any hiccups in the partnership. Both your agreement and your partner marketing plan in combination will allow you and your partner to get a clear idea of one another’s expectations, in order to set your collaboration up for success.

If you’re recruiting a large number of partners to join a partner program such as an affiliate program, you often won’t have the time or resources to negotiate individually with each prospect. In this case, you won’t usually need to collaborate on a partner marketing plan, but you will need to get your partners to agree to the terms and conditions of your program.

This will include getting them to agree to the nitty-gritty details that you laid out in the previous step, like commission. But it may also include conditions for how you expect them to behave when they’re promoting your brand or product. For instance, you might ask them not to promote you via email marketing, or you might require them to disclose affiliate links (disclosing affiliate links is the law, but not all affiliates do it!).

Your partner will probably then create their own partner marketing plan for how they’re going to promote your products within the guidelines you’ve given them.

Recruit marketing partner

☑ Action your plan, measure, hone and repeat

Next, you just need to put your plan into action! The great thing about a partner marketing plan is that it will lay out exactly what you and your partner need to do. So, now’s the time to make your plan a reality and (hopefully!) reap all the benefits of a plan well executed!

However, that’s not the end. It’s really important to make measuring your activities a central part of your partner marketing strategy. Why? Well, it will help you to understand what went well and what could be improved on, to help you create even more effective marketing partnerships next time.

Make sure that you and your partner are clear about who’s going to be measuring what, and that you have a system for sharing the results. If your joint activities are ongoing, it’s really important to continuously measure them and collaborate on finding ways to make improvements. Or, if your partnership was a short, one-off activity, we’d recommend holding a meeting once it’s come to an end to review how it went and discuss your learnings.

It’s really important to do this together rather than separately as a partnership centres around making sure that both partners receive equal benefits. 

If you reached your goals but your partner didn’t reach theirs, that’s really important for you to know, as happy partners are central to a happy partnership. Equally, if you learn that your partner enjoyed working together as much as you did, that could be a great opportunity to discuss whether there might be scope to extend your partnership. Or, you could start brainstorming other ways you could work together to unlock new benefits and reach new goals.

Ultimately, whatever the outcome, making time to understand why a partnership did or didn’t work is absolutely crucial to enable you to hone your partner marketing strategy and start the whole cycle again – this time even more successfully.

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As you can see, a partner marketing plan is central to the success of your partner marketing efforts. Not only is it an important tool for keeping you and your partner on the same page and on the right track. But it will also increase accountability and transparency, which can only be a good thing!

Now that you’re confident in how to create a partner marketing plan, there’s just one thing left to do: start your hunt for partners so that you can put your partner marketing strategy into action! If that sounds like a plan to you, just sign up with Breezy. We’ll make it (way!) quicker and easier to find and reach out to relevant prospects so that you can focus on negotiating and honing partnerships that have the best chance of growing your business.

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