A SaaS partner program defines business relationships between two SaaS companies. Partner programs are usually based on increasing sales, improving functionality, or otherwise enhancing a company's ability to market, sell, deploy, and support its software. SaaS partnerships have had a hugely positive effect on the SaaS market.
Partnerships must be mutually beneficial and built upon shared goals or linked incentives (rewards). SaaS partnerships are often, though not always, based on linked incentives. The rewards of the partner program (partner ecosystem) are often not identical for each partner in the relationship. But these rewards need to be significant and quantifiable, or there is little point to the partner program. Not all rewards are monetary, though a payment or commission is typical for companies participating in a SaaS partner program.
Each company participating in a SaaS partner program knows that a single software company can't reach everyone by itself. Partner programs allow each company to leverage relationships with other SaaS companies to reach more customers, sell more products, execute projects more rapidly, or provide better services than it could by itself. In short, a SaaS partner program can be a force multiplier for a company. And while a SaaS partner program may be a key piece of a company’s marketing strategy, its impact is much greater than that.
Without partner programs, many well-known SaaS companies, including HubSpot and Zendesk, wouldn't have a fraction of the reach they do today. These companies show that a properly executed partner program can make you stand out from the competition – in the best possible way.
Companies use many different terms for types of SaaS partnerships, but they generally fall into one of two groups: channel partnerships and technology partnerships. There is also a category called strategic partnerships. These are typically comprised of channel or technology partnerships (or combinations of those types of partnerships) that are elevated to a position of high importance due to their impact on a company's business strategy.
Partnerships primarily focused on revenue generation are often referred to as affiliate partnerships, referral partnerships, reseller partnerships, broker partnerships, or services integrator partnerships. Revenue-based partnerships usually come under the general heading of channel partnerships.
SaaS partnerships focused on enhancing or extending app capabilities are called technology (or tech) partnerships. Tech partnerships are also referred to as integration partnerships. Integration partnerships focus on automating workflows, improving the user experience, and making apps stickier. While integration partnerships may include selling as part of the relationship, it is not the primary goal, as it is with many channel partnerships.
Because SaaS partnerships vary substantially, the benefits do as well. And the benefits for a reseller, for example, may not be the same as for the company whose SaaS app is being resold. But the benefits of integration partnerships are often more equal for each partner. That said, SaaS partner ecosystems usually benefit marketing, sales, or customer service. Not all types of partner programs will drive the same benefits, so one program may provide an advantage in marketing but not customer service.
Here are the types of benefits you can expect from participating in a SaaS partnership:
- Marketing benefits. Getting the word out is a common reason for a SaaS company to join a partnership. Your marketing budget only goes so far for things like web-based advertising and trade shows. A partner program lets you substantially expand your company's marketing reach and presence without expanding its up-front costs. Partners are rewarded for bringing you up in discussions, including you in their marketing materials, and ensuring that your name and products are part of your partner's marketing message.
- Sales benefits. Once your company's name and product are visible to more prospects through your partner's marketing efforts, your sales will increase accordingly. For some companies, partner-driven sales may be a small fraction of their business, but for others, the bulk of sales is based on partners.
- Customer service benefits. Working with integration partners can help you drive faster onboarding, self-support capabilities, and improved times for support ticket resolution. Services integrator partnerships can also benefit you in areas from onboarding to support, depending on the nature of those partnerships.
- Customer experience benefits. Integration partnerships in particular can drive an improved customer experience by saving time, automating workflows, giving customers visibility into integrations, and allowing them to do their own configurations and troubleshooting.
Let's look at a couple of successful SaaS partner programs by Auth0 and Slack. Each of these companies has built powerful, multi-faceted partner programs. And they've done so in a relatively short time.
Auth0 rolled out the first version of its partner program in 2016. Its current partner program includes strategic alliances, managed service providers, ecosystem partners, and solution providers.
- Strategic alliances are for the partners with the largest cloud platforms used for building and hosting apps.
- Managed service providers are partners who manage and run Auth0 for clients.
- Ecosystem partners (technology partners or ISVs) provide integrations or other technology to extend the Auth0 product.
- Solution providers are those partners who design, build, and implement the Auth0 products.
Auth0 includes many top companies, such as Google, Apple, and Slack, as its partners. The company lists hundreds of other partners, large and small, between its partner portal and its marketplace.
Slack began pitching partnerships in 2018. Since then, it has matured its partner program into four areas: technology, services, security and compliance, and promotional.
- Technology partners are companies whose products integrate with Slack to streamline workflows and increase productivity.
- Service partners are those companies who provide services to Slack's customers to power workplace collaboration.
- Security and compliance partners are a special subset of companies whose products extend Slack to address the areas such as data loss prevention, identity management, and e-discovery.
- Promotional partners are those who provide discounted Slack plans to their customers.
Given Slack's prominence (having some 20% of the collaborative software market), it is no surprise that its partners include companies like IBM, Amazon, Deloitte, and PwC. However, the list also includes hundreds of lesser-known SaaS companies.
SaaS partner programs allow you to leverage other SaaS companies' connections and visibility to market, sell, implement, and support your products. Such partnerships can enable you to substantially extend your market presence without a corresponding increase in marketing costs.
Many partner programs primarily focus on revenue-sharing, but others focus on directly extending the capability and functionality of SaaS apps. Regardless of your current product stage and market maturity, partner programs provide many ways for you to move your product and company forward.
Prismatic is the integration platform for B2B software companies. It's the quickest way to build integrations to the other apps your customers use and to add a native integration marketplace to your product. A complete embedded iPaaS solution that empowers your whole organization, Prismatic encompasses an intuitive integration designer, embedded integration marketplace, integration deployment and support, and a purpose-built cloud infrastructure. Prismatic was built in a way developers love and provides the tools to make it perfectly fit the way you build software.
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