3 Signs That Your Partner Program Is Going Belly Up

How to ensure your partner program is set up for success, rather than ending up a total dud.

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By Kumar Srivastava

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While launching partner programs can offer many benefits to businesses, if not set up correctly, they can also spell disaster.

For those a little confused about what exactly a partner program entails, it is basically a formal program and process operated and managed by a business with the goal to attract, engage and retain other partners. For example, Google offers an advertising service to publishers and advertisers. The ultimate goal of these programs is to increase revenue generated from these partners. In addition to the services offered to partners (i.e. advertising platform), a partner program includes trainings, tools, support, documentation, help and strategic services to empower partners to succeed.

For a program to be considered a success, there should be a strong partner membership, robust usage of the services offered and large stream of revenue generated per partner.

If your partner program is struggling to stand on its legs, you may be making one these three following mistakes:

Related: A Crash Course on Licenses, Joint Ventures and Partnerships

1. Your return on investment is low or not being measured.

Without clear metrics and goals, most partner projects end up getting defunded as the return on investment (ROI) is simply not there (or not measured) to justify continued investment.

Another symptom of a flawed partner strategy is a misalignment of expectations between senior management/executive sponsors of the platform and the actual implementers. If ROI does not match the expectations of the sponsor, a partner program can be classified as a failure.

To ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to ROI, determine metrics right off the bat. To do so, companies need to know exactly what metric is important to them and to their partners. For example, the rate at which partners sign up or the time it takes for a partner to go from onboarding to generating revenue might be relevant metrics. Companies need to understand and establish the baseline for these metrics and then measure the efficacy of their program by ensuring the metrics move in the right direction.

Once you have figured out metrics, make sure your platform can deliver. A well-designed service platform makes it easier and cheaper for other teams in the enterprise to go to market with new services, products. If the cost to enhance and expand the platform is not getting smaller for each additional new service, your program might be in trouble.

2. You have built an ineffective service platform.

If your partner program has struggled to attract, retain and enable partners to develop and grow their businesses, it is an ineffective service platform.

To fix this, you have to make your platform sticky, meaning partners cannot succeed without your services. If this isn't the case, you have a serious problem.

For example, if your partners are signing up to work with both you and your competitors, it might be because they consider you a risky investment. If your partners build only a single one-off application on your platform, your program is probably not on their investment roadmap and growth strategy.

Related: The 5 False Expectations That Could Destroy Big-Brand Partnerships

One company that does offer a sticky program is Microsoft's BizSpark. Initially, startups can build on the platform for free but after a certain time frame – and after a lot of resources have been built on it – Microsoft starts charging. And this creates a huge revenue stream for the company, as what startup is going to want to jump off the BizSpark platform and start over?

3. Your monetization strategy is all wrong.

If you are not making money off of your partner program or generating leverage from its usage, your monetization strategy needs to change.

The key to successful monetization is identifying and expose only products and services that have a high demand from partners. For example, a great tactic may be to survey your potential partners or analyze the needs of your targeted partner persona. This will inform you about the matching subset of services in your arsenal that offer enough value to the partners that they will pay for it.

If you not thinking about your program monetization by investing in marketing, pricing optimization, adoption and growth or performance management of the platform, you are probably stuck with a stagnant partner program with sluggish usage and high churn rate. A successfully monetized partner program requires that it be constantly analyzed and optimized.

If your partner program is an IT initiative and does not have a business team behind it thinking about its ROI, effectiveness and monetization, it will not only struggle to get adopted but also starve for investment dollars from your executive sponsors and revenue dollars from your partners. As these investment dollars dry up, the partner program that runs on top of the platform will be considered a failure and will eventually shrink, get branded as a failure and cease to exist.

The key to success with a partner program strategy begins with carefully selecting what your program offers, convincing and onboarding partners and doing everything and anything to make them successful. Once that is the case, you can monetize the partner program and as you open up new revenue streams for your enterprise, see the program grow, expand and become a line of business.

Related: Richard Branson on the Value of Debate in Business Partnerships

Kumar Srivastava

Senior Director of Product Management

Kumar Srivastava has extensive experience in product innovation, design and management and has built several products and services across security, social networking, mobile apps, etc.

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