Building partnerships programs: A guide for project managers

Nov 29, 2023
We get real on what it takes to launch a partnerships program in-house; the steps and costs associated, what to watch out for, and when to hire a third party to help get it done.

Partnerships can unlock a green field of customer engagement tactics. Mutually beneficial relationships can help increase brand awareness, generate new revenue streams, and increase the value of your products and services.

Whether you choose to build it yourself or work with a third party like Paylode, we'll cover the best practices for both, to help you decide what's best for your company and business goals.

An amazing partnerships program can:

  1. Provide additional value to your customers (increase engagement, CSAT, NPS, loyalty, retention).
  2. Stand out from the competition and elevate your brand through co-marketing.
  3. Unlock new channels of revenue and increase customer lifetime value.

Unfortunately most companies struggle to make this happen because because the effort and expertise it requires to launch is vastly underestimated. It's nearly impossible to slip it into existing OKRs without experiencing bandwidth constraints.

  1. It takes hundreds of hours of FTE work to find, negotiate and manage partnerships with other companies.
  2. Engineering resources are required to embed partner offers into a company’s customer journey, website or mobile app.
  3. Ongoing technical and administrative work is required to track the performance of partnership programs.

Faced with this inertia, many partnership programs don’t work over the long term, nor provide enough value to the company to keep it going inhouse. 

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of professionals are employed in the role of “Head of Partnerships”, “Partnerships Marketing”, etc – and simply do not have a strong set of tools to help power and accelerate their day to day efforts. Partnerships teams can sometimes become an overlooked group inside companies, lacking its own category of software to help them be their best at their job.

Sales people have Salesforce. Customer Success people have Gainsight. Support people have Zendesk. Marketing people have Hubspot. Now partnerships people have platforms like Paylode.

The case for outsourcing

While building out an internal partnerships program seems like it might be straightforward on the surface, it requires significant investments of time, money and labor. For resource-strapped businesses, partnering with a specialized agency may be a better solution. Robust perks software like Paylode's provides you with instant access to technology, processes, pre-negotiated deals, and partnership expertise without the high overhead costs of establishing these flywheels in-house.

Before making plans to launch on your own, carefully weigh the tradeoffs. Working with a third party can be a cost-effective way to launch partnerships quickly, test the waters, and defer major investments until you’ve validated the return on investment. Get a free consultation and quote.

Cost differences between in-house and third party perks programs

  • Partnerships person (1 FTE) = $120k
  • Engineering work (1 FTE) = $150k
  • Marketing and activation promotion = $30k
  • Content manager (1/2 FTE) = $60k
  • Legal reviews = $16k for initial contract set up, $500 for each additional review / red line.

Total inhouse in Year 1: $350k+ depending on company and program size

Third party
  • Pilot program = $12-24k
  • Marketing expense and activation promotion = $15k

Total agency Year 1: $27-39k

Two hands are seen shaking in front of a white wall. Image represents the power of aligned partnerships.

How to build a partnerships program

Trying to go in house? Here's a sample timeline for your first 12 months: 

1. Size up the opportunity. Ask yourself and your team questions like...

  • How many people are in our audience? (EG: # of Customers, members, subscribers, residents, policyholders that you have connections to via apps, dashboards, or email)
  • What are we hoping to achieve with this program?
  • How much revenue and increased engagement could we hope for?
  • What types of partners are we trying to attract (industry partners, influencers, experts, affiliates etc.)?
  • How can partnerships support our current business goals?
  • What resources can we provide to potential partners?
  • What benefits or incentives can we offer partners in return?

2. Narrow down 1 or 2 key results. Clearly defined goals will help you focus your efforts on partnerships that deliver the most value.

  • What metrics, milestones, or outputs would make this program a success?

3. Assess and hire required resources. What budget, staff and tools do you need to manage partnerships in-house? How long will it take to evaluate, hire, and train them?

  • Partnerships manager: A dedicated FTE to spearhead the program and manage relationships. Estimate 1 manager for every 50 partners.
  • Software engineers: FTE to integrate perks and deals into your customer flow.
  • Relationship management system (RMS): A CRM-style system to track, manage and report on partnerships. Popular options include Partnerize and Impact.
  • Budget for activations: Promotions, co-marketing campaigns, and other partnership activations will have hard costs. Estimate 10-20% of revenue generated.
  • Legal services: Lawyers to assist with drafting partnership agreements. Can be outsourced as needed.

Realistically decide how much you’re able to invest upfront to lay the groundwork for a sustainable program.

4. Build standard operating procedures (SOPs). Process solves 90% of all issues. Make sure you have clear steps and principles to:

  • Identify partner prospects based on your goals. Brainstorm a wish list of ideal partners.
  • Create a streamlined system for contacting and vetting prospects. Include email templates, questionnaires, follow-up sequences, and criteria for qualifying partners.
  • Build a simple partnership agreement template to standardize terms.
  • Develop workflows for activating and managing partnerships long-term. This may include checklists for onboarding, preparing launch assets, reporting, and more.
  • Create guidelines for relationship management including frequency of check-ins, strategies for resolving issues, and when to renew or retire partnerships.

Take time to carefully map out these processes before bringing on partners.

5. Launch a pilot for 1 year. Once your program infrastructure is ready, you're ready to secure launch partners. Being clear that this is a pilot program allows you to:

  • Test and refine your partnership processes in a low-risk environment
  • Build case studies and leverage results to attract future partners
  • Start small while you learn the ropes of managing these complex relationships
  • Build flywheels that operate daily over the long term.
  • Build a marketplace of deals.

Aim to bring on just a handful of pilot partners in your first quarter. Focus on securing partners that most align with your goals and have potential for big impact.

6. Scale up sustainably. With initial success, you can steadily expand your program. Be cautious not to scale up too quickly. Partnership management is extremely labor-intensive. Give yourself time to:

  • Hire and train additional staff as needed to maintain partner-to-manager ratio
  • Onboard partners in manageable monthly cohorts so as not to overwhelm your team
  • Evaluate what’s working well and what can be improved, and adapt your processes accordingly
  • Develop benchmarks and KPIs to track partnership performance as you scale

Evolving your partnerships program is an iterative process, requiring patience and continuous optimization. With the right foundation and pacing, your in-house program can become a thriving engine for business growth.

Get help with your launch

Paylode is the backbone behind hundreds of companies' partnerships programs. During our initial market research, we spoke with over 100 business owners about building perks programs in house, and built our platform software to meet these needs and solve common pain points.

Already launched? Its not too late to switch. Paylode's platform allows you to import your existing perks so you can keep what you've already built, plus get access to our huge marketplace of pre-negotiated deals.

75% of our current clients had already launched too, and they saw the value in switching to a fully managed program.

Let's chat about it – schedule your free consultation today.

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About the author
Adrienne Kmetz
Marketing and startup expert with 15 years of writing about business, finance, and entrepreneurship.

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