Partner programs are an organized structure where companies work together with other businesses or individuals to achieve mutual goals. Such programs offer several benefits for startups, small businesses, and large businesses alike, including lead generation, marketing, and sales. 

But what is a partner program, and how can it help your business grow? In this article, we’ll discuss what partnership programs are, the types of programs you can choose from, how the partner ecosystem works, and how to build a successful partner program for you and your partners’ needs.

What is a partner program?

A partner program is a structured method of partnering with third parties to market, sell, and/or distribute your product or service to new audiences. By partnering with individuals or other businesses, partners can achieve mutual goals that they cannot accomplish on their own. 

All partner programs involve some sort of formal, written agreement with another business or individual. The agreement will spell out the value proposition and the partners’ role, which may include marketing, lead generation, and/or sales. This may take place via product or service links, or through sales of your products on their channels.

All partner programs also include an incentive or compensation structure, based on partners’ performance. The compensation for partners can be commission payouts or another incentive.

partnerships fuel your growth engine


What are the types of partner programs?

You have many options for partner program types, depending on your business and goals. Here are some of the most common types of programs to consider.


With an affiliate program, affiliates promote your products or services on their channels, such as blogs, websites, or social media pages, and place a trackable link to your website on those channels.They promote your product and direct interested leads to your website instead of selling the products directly. They might not be familiar with your products before they become affiliates – they’re selected for an audience that matches yours.


Resellers directly sell your products or services on their own channels. This is a common model with SaaS companies, where partners resell the SaaS platform’s services to end customers (often with added services or guidance).


Distributors purchase large quantities of your products at agreed-upon wholesale prices and get them into the hands of resellers. They’re a powerful way to expand into many new markets. 

Referral partners

Referral partners are individuals who know and love your products and refer leads that they have a personal connection with. They might not bring in large quantities of leads, but the leads they do bring in will be more likely to convert thanks to the trust factor.


Ambassadors love your products and promote them online and offline, helping to build brand awareness and extend your reach. These powerhouse promoters commit to sharing your products authentically, over long periods.

Agents (Brokers)

Agents are third parties who make meaningful connections with people or businesses that could benefit from the products they represent. They don’t sell your products directly, or even sell products directly to others. They only bring potential distribution or marketing partners to you. 

Integration partners

Integration partners are software companies whose API integrates with each other’s programs to add features and enhance the user experience. They will promote each other’s software on their website as a compatible integration with their own software.

What happens in a partner program?

In a partner program, your business formally partners with third parties to market, sell, and/or distribute your product or service to new audiences. In all types of partnerships, the partners stay independent from your business – they are third parties, not employees. 

It’s best to run your program with PRM software (partner program software), which tracks and automates key components of your program. 

Partner programs involve compensating partners with a commission or other incentive, as per the terms of your formal, written agreement with the partner. The incentives are based on performance – the more products sold or distributed, the more rewards partners earn.

This is why having a PRM software application is essential for tracking every detail of your program, such as clicks and sales generated. Not only will PRM software ensure your partners get compensated fairly, but it will also help you see which partners and channels are the most effective at helping you meet your revenue goals.

(Be sure to read our guide to the 21 best PRM software tools for 2023, where we provide detailed reviews of the top PRM software programs.) 

How do you build the best partner program?

Building the best partner program involves several steps, including:

  • Setting measurable goals
  • Selecting the right software
  • Finding good-fit partners
  • Deciding on partnership incentives
  • Creating a partnership agreement
  • Onboarding and training partners

Let’s dive into these steps in more detail.

steps to building a partner program


Set measurable goals

The first step in building the best partner program is to set measurable goals and decide on detailed metrics to track the success of your program overall. Example goals include:

  • Generate at least X amount of partner-driven revenue in a given month, quarter, or year
  • Acquire at least X new customers through partnerships within a given month, quarter, or year
  • Grow your customer base by X% through partnerships in a given month, quarter, or year
  • Increase monthly, quarterly, and yearly purchases from a specific demographic or channel by X%

Make sure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound). Here are some questions you can ask to identify SMART goals and ensure that your goals are well-defined:

  1. Specific: What do you want to achieve? What are the key details of the goal? What is the end result you’re looking for? Who is involved in this goal, and what is their role?
  2. Measurable: How will you measure your progress toward your goal? What are the quantitative metrics? What are the metrics that will help you determine if you’re on track? What milestones can you use to track progress?
  3. Achievable: Is this goal realistic given the resources you have available? Do you have the necessary skills, time, and resources to achieve the goal? Is the goal challenging, yet still possible to achieve?
  4. Relevant: Is this goal aligned with your overall objectives and mission? How does this goal fit into your larger strategy? Will achieving this goal contribute to your overall mission?
  5. Time-bound: When do you expect to achieve this goal? What is the deadline? When do you need to achieve this goal? What is the timeline for achieving each milestone? 

Select the right software

It can be overwhelming to manage a partner program manually. PRM software streamlines the tracking and management of your program, making the process seamless and automated. Make sure the software you choose: 

  • Can manage the type(s) of partners you want to utilize
  • Integrates well with your existing software and processes
  • Enables you to onboard and communicate with partners, including through a partner portal
  • Automates partner engagement
  • Manages many types of partner reward structures
  • Tracks a variety of actionable metrics to help monitor the success of your partnerships

Referral Rock is flexible enough to manage and track all types of partnerships – and you can set up your program easily, without the need for developers.

What makes Referral Rock affiliate software different

Find good-fit partners

By being selective and thoughtful about your partnership choices, you can increase your chances of achieving your goals. It’s crucial to ensure that a potential partnership is a good fit by identifying unique advantages for both parties, determining if you can help the partner achieve something they can’t do alone, and ensuring that their values align with yours. Before you start your search, ask yourself the following questions to find the right partners:

  • What level of reach do you want partners to have (local, regional, national, or global)?
  • Is there a minimum or maximum audience size that partners must have?
  • What type(s) of partners do you want to recruit?
  • Do you want partners who are already familiar with your products or services?
  • How do you want partners to distribute your products?
  • Based on your goals and budget, how many partners are you planning to work with?
  • If you’re interested in partnering with companies, who are the key decision-makers you will contact?

Once you’ve made a shortlist of potential partners, keep these considerations in mind:

  • Can you identify unique advantages that you would receive from the partnership?
  • Can you help the potential partner accomplish something that they can’t achieve on their own?
  • Do their values align with your brand mission and values?

Decide on partnership incentives

Partnerships are a two-way street, and incentives are one way to ensure that both parties benefit. Monetary compensation is a common way to motivate partners to sign on and achieve their sales goals. When deciding on incentives, consider the following questions:

  • What type of monetary incentives will you offer? Flat-fee commissions on each sale, percentage commissions on each sale, wholesale discounts, a co-op fund, or a sales performance incentive fund (SPIF)?
  • Will you offer non-monetary incentives, like trips, gift cards, or valuable tech items?
  • Will the value of the incentives grow as the partner makes more sales?
  • How will the incentives be paid out, and on what schedule?
  • How will you track and measure the partner’s progress toward their sales goals?

Whatever incentives you choose, make sure that the more sales a partner generates, the more the incentives grow in value. 

Create a partnership agreement

Creating a partnership agreement is an essential step in establishing a successful partnership. This agreement outlines the terms and conditions of the partnership, so both parties are aware of expectations and obligations. It is crucial that both you and your partner sign the agreement before any partnership activities proceed. 

The terms of the agreement will vary depending on the partnership, but you should always cover key areas such as incentive terms, rules for promotion, and expectations for the partner. The agreement should also detail the responsibilities of each partner and how they will contribute to the success of the partnership. By having a clear and concise agreement, you can avoid misunderstandings and conflicts down the line.

Onboard and train partners

Onboarding and training a new partner is another critical step in ensuring a successful partnership. To start, make sure to brief them on your products, brand, messaging, and unique selling points, including those that will best resonate with their audiences. Cover the standards for how your brand should be represented, and provide marketing materials and key product information that a partner should mention during the sales process. 

It’s also important to show them the partner portal and how to use it, including how to share partner links and how to track their performance. Provide promotional assets like whitepapers, images, and videos to make promotion easier. Lastly, give them a point person and a way to reach out to you if they have questions. This will make them feel supported and more confident in their ability to promote and sell your products.

Keep communicating with and supporting partners

Once your partners are onboarded and trained, keep the lines of communication open and stay up-to-date with your partners’ progress. Schedule regular check-ins to discuss the partnership’s performance and identify areas for improvement. Use tools like email, Slack, and Zoom to stay in touch and provide ongoing support to your partners. 

Remember, supporting your partners is just as important as supporting your sales team, so be responsive and attentive to their needs. By maintaining a strong relationship with your partners, you’ll be able to build a mutually beneficial partnership that drives success for both parties.

Wrapping up

Hopefully, by now, we’ve given you a good answer to the question “What is a partner program?” By leveraging the resources and expertise of your partners, you can reach new audiences, generate leads, and drive sales. To build a successful program, remember to set measurable goals, select the right software, find good-fit partners, decide on partnership incentives, create a partnership agreement, and onboard and train partners. Additionally, make sure to regularly optimize your program based on the metrics you track and communicate with your partners.

Overall, a partner program can be an incredibly effective way to grow your business and reach new audiences. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can start building partnerships that drive results for your business. For more help, reach out to us at Referral Rock to schedule a demo and discover how a partner program can help you grow your revenue for the long term.