Navigating Partnership Ecosystems: Channel, Tech, & Strategic

Navigating Partnership Ecosystems: Channel, Tech, & Strategic

Jasmine Jenkins 8 min
By Jasmine Jenkins
Zoe Kelly

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 an “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 confidently take on the world of partnerships, we put together this handy resource guide on the 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.

In this post:

An overview of the three major partnership categories

Channel, technology, and strategic partnerships are the three major partnership categories. 

While each kind of partnership program is unique, it is common for companies to have a combination of all three. As outlined in our 2022 State of the Partnership Ecosystem Report, the majority of companies with partnership programs have a channel, technology, and strategic partner programs. (Get the 2022 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report here.) 

Ultimately, the configuration of your partnerships program 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. Read up on the jargon and acronyms that can be confusing (even for partnerships professionals). Understanding the nuances and inner workings of each partnership category will help you determine which partnerships are worth exploring for your own company. 

Type #1: Channel Partnerships

Think of a channel partner as an extension of your sales team. They resell, manage, and/or deliver your product, helping you (the company or vendor) go to market faster. They make money through referral fees and/or by selling complementary services like consulting training, and customer support.

There are several different kinds of channel partners, including

  • Indirect seller partners: your partner (a third-party entity) sits between you and the customer, brokering the sale for you.
  • Reseller partners: a type of indirect sales where the reseller is a company that helps a vendor sell its products and services to its end customer. Reseller partnerships also include value-added reseller partnerships (VAR) where a company resells a vendor’s product, but it also offers add-on products and/or consulting, configuration, implementation, or training services — thus, the “value-added” piece.
  • Agency partners: partners who manage marketing campaigns and/or the implementation of a company’s product for their customers.
  • System Integrators (SIs): a partner that audits, leads, and manages improvements to a client’s tech stack and business processes. Basically, they tell companies what they can be doing better and take care of all of the changes once the company gives the go-ahead. 

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 complimentary consulting, training, implementation, and customer support. 

Some examples of channel partnerships: 

According to our 2022 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report, channel partner programs are the most common of the three types of partner programs, with 73% of respondents having one. 

Before you get started…

Launching a channel partner program can come with some roadblocks, so be sure to as yourself these 6 questions before you launch your program. From understanding your product’s maturity to assessing internal resources and more, these six questions might offer some clarity.

As we learned from two anonymous Global System Integrators, channel partnerships require strong, conflict-resolving leaders. Before launching your partner program, read up on how to stop channel conflict.

Type #2: Tech Partnerships

When two or more companies integrate their products with one another, they’re in a technology (tech) or “integration” 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 customer’s 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:

According to our 2022 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report, there has been an increase in technology partnership programs between 2021 and 2022. 

Our Tech Ecosystem Maturity Diagnostic is designed to help you see the strengths and weaknesses of your tech partner program. Respondents are asked a series of 14 questions about specific parts of their program, and each answer is used to rank how mature that program is. 

We also curated resources to help you advance the maturity of your tech partner program. 

Check out these articles and more under the Tech Ecosystem Maturity tag on the Crossbeam blog. 

Before you get started…

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 identify when Tech Partnerships are a waste of time and this post offers actionable steps for you to turn your ideas for a technology partner program into a reality.

Type #3: Strategic Partnerships (or “Alliance”)

Strategic partnerships are broad, multi-department agreements that align the strategic efforts of two or more companies with overlapping products or markets towards a common goal. 

Some types of strategic partnerships:

  • 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:

Before you get started…

Familiarize yourself with why you might need a strategic partner program. 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. Then, learn about how to launch a strategic partner program and not take forever to deliver results

Jasmine Jenkins 8 min

Navigating Partnership Ecosystems: Channel, Tech, & Strategic

The three major partnership categories can be confusing — sometimes they overlap and most partner programs include some configuration of all three types. In order to help avoid some of that confusion, we are breaking down channel, tech, and strategic partnerships for you.

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