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Navigating Partnership Ecosystems: Channel, Tech, & Strategic

Much like your friend that just got out of a five-year relationship, it seems that the partnership industry is evolving and very much in a “I’m finding myself” phase. Because of this, the lines between partnership terminology, categories, and nomenclature can get blurry, and quite frankly, confusing! 

To help you take on the world of partnerships with confidence, we put together this handy resource guide on channel, technology, and strategic partnerships. 

Whether you’re a partnership rookie or a seasoned veteran, there’s always something new to learn or brush up on in the evolving world of partnerships. 

Let’s begin.

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The three major partnership categories

three partnership categories

Channel, technology, and strategic partnerships are the three major partnership categories. As outlined in our 2020 State of the Partnership Ecosystem report, 41.3% of surveyed partnership professionals use all three categories, while most of the others use various combinations of them. 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all partnership program. It ultimately depends on the needs of your business, your customers, and your partners—and when you’re juggling all three, it can be chaotic and complex without the right strategies and tools.

Before you tackle a partnership program, do your homework. Understanding the nuances and inner workings of each partnership category will help you determine which partnerships are worth exploring for your own company.

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Partnerships 101: ISVs, VARs, SIs, MSPs, and the Glue that Holds them Together

Partnership language is often jumbled with jargon and acronyms that can be confusing to follow (sometimes even for partner professionals). Learn the definitions of GTM, VARs, SIs, MSPs, and more, and become a pro at distinguishing the differences between them.

Type #1: Channel Partnerships

channel partnerships

In a channel partnership, a vendor (the company that makes the product) uses a partner (a third-party entity) to resell, manage, and/or deliver the product to end customers. 

If that sounds awfully similar to an indirect sales relationship, that’s because it is! Partners sit between vendors and customers, providing an indirect sales “channel” for vendors to distribute their products. 

Using channel partners, vendors can go-to-market faster and reach more customers without their internal teams needing to invest time and money acquiring new office space, hiring sales and marketing personnel, providing training, and all the other resources required for distribution. 

In turn, channel partners can develop revenue streams via referral fees and/or by selling complementary consulting, training, implementation, and customer support. 

Some examples of channel partnerships: 

  • The web development firm that installs and manages a content management system for clients as part of a website redesign project.
  • The managed service provider (MSP) that sells and manages an installation of an office software suite for a mid-sized company and charges a recurring management fee.
  • Deloitte acting as a value added reseller (VAR) to resell and implement SAP products to their clients and customers.
  • Best Buy reselling Apple hardware and providing repair services in its stores.

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Channel Partnerships

A “101” level primer on how channel partnerships work, the pros and cons of channel partnerships, and an explanation of indirect sales, resellers, VARs, agency partners, and affiliate programs (plus examples of each).

6 Questions to Answer Before Launching Your Channel Partner Program

Are you noodling on whether or not you should invest in a channel partner program? From understanding your product’s maturity to assessing internal resources and more, these six questions might offer some clarity.

How to Stop Channel Conflict and Tech Partner Conflict

Partner conflict is like kryptonite for a partnership ecosystem. It damages partner and customer relationships and your credibility. Understand how channel and tech partner conflicts arise and discover three options to help you steer clear of them.

Type #2: Tech Partnerships

tech partnerships

When two or more companies integrate their products with one another, they’re in a technology (tech) partnership. Tech partners work together by exchanging data, creating workflows, triggering events, enriching data, and/or creating go-to-market strategies. They make money by co-marketing and co-selling their integration to mutual leads and customers.

Tech partners will sometimes build a series of integrations to solve customers’ use cases, thus improving customer retention. Think about it: You’re less likely to cancel a SaaS tool if it integrates well with the other tools in your tech stack. Unlike channel partners, which tend to be sales-driven, tech partners are usually product-driven. 

Why enter a tech partnership? Because it's next to impossible for a technology company to meet all its customers wants and desires on its own. 

From Slack and Zoom to Spotify and Amazon Alexa and more, think about the different tools you use daily and how well those tools sync with one another—it’s become second nature for us as buyers. We expect our tools to connect and work together seamlessly.

That’s why companies form technology partnerships, to build onto one another’s products and deliver a combined solution that increases customer value and delight. 

And when customers are delighted, you not only grow your user base and usage, but you also increase customer retention and loyalty—key drivers for revenue growth.

Some examples of tech partnerships:

  • Typeform automatically loading survey answers into HubSpot. 
  • Mailchimp automatically tweeting new newsletter links on Twitter.
  • Zoom generating a call link in a Slack message with a simple command.
  • SalesLoft automatically sending call recordings to Gong for faster transcription and analysis of conversations.

Read more on tech 

The Beginner’s Guide to SaaS Tech Partnerships

Get an in-depth breakdown on technology partnerships, including how they came to be, why they’re seen as a “channel”, and how they influence companies’ partnership ecosystems. Plus, we cover specific examples of integrations, marketplaces, and plugins, and share how to assess your readiness for a tech partnership.

When is a Tech Partnership a Waste of Time?

To position your technology partnership for success, we recommend you do a little research before racing to build a new integration. This blog post will help you understand exactly what a tech partnership entails and what data you’ll need to justify your tech partnership investment.

How to Launch a Technology Partner Program

From attracting and finding tech partners to writing a tech partnership agreement and more, this blog post offers actionable steps for you to turn your ideas for a technology partner program into a reality.

Monetize Your Technology Partnerships With These 8 Tactics

After studying the ecosystems of  Salesforce, Shopify, VMware, Box, and more, we break down eight tactics to monetize technology partnerships. Explore how each tactic works, including their benefits and drawbacks, and learn which elements of a tech integration affect what you can charge partners.

Type #3: Strategic Partnerships

strategic partnerships

Strategic partnerships are broad agreements that align the strategic efforts of two or more companies with overlapping products or markets towards a common goal. They can shake out in a few ways:

  • Strategic alliance - Company A and Company B share alignment between their customers, product, and/or brand, so they lean on each other to pursue growth opportunities. This includes building integrations, creating go-to-market strategies, running co-branded campaigns, and influencing product development. 
  • Joint venture - Company A and Company B pool together resources to grow a separate business entity that serves the needs of a mutual audience or market. 
  • Industry alliance - Multiple companies join an industry alliance (similar to a trade group or association) to share industry-specific knowledge, resources, and strategies with one another. 

Typically, these partnerships are led at the executive level (sometimes even by the CEO) and usually extend beyond a single campaign or project. 

Strategic partnerships can (and often do) involve elements of tech and channel partnerships, but tend to be recurring, long-term commitments. They can also include co-branding, product roadmap development, and/or public relations. 

Some strategic partnerships examples include:

Read more on strategic

What is a Strategic Alliance, and Why Do I Need One?
Dive deeper into strategic alliances, including why they're beneficial for SaaS companies and how to know if you're ready for one. Plus, explore 10 examples of successful strategic alliances.

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Want more partnership basics? Read all of our "Partnership 101" posts.