Tips for Starting a Partner Developer Program

Partner programs are hotter than ever in the tech space. By collaborating with third-party service providers, development houses, and individual app developers, you can build powerful, mutually beneficial relationships. Whether you’re looking to develop new revenue streams or increase the value provided by your core offering, a partner program is seriously worth considering.

In this brief guide, we’ll learn the best practices for starting a successful partner program, as told by Xero Lead Developer Evangelist Sidney Maestre at our Platform Summit. With 700 happy app partners — and over one million small businesses using their platform — the Xero team knows a thing or two about building a successful partner program!

Watch Sidney Maestre present at the Platform Summit:

Start with Why

Whether you’re creating a new partner program or re-evaluating an existing one, Sidney says the why should be your starting point. So, why are you building a partner program?

One of the most common reasons for building a partner program is to generate additional revenue. Having generated tens of billions of in-app store commissions, Apple is the classic example of this. They provide developers with a framework they can use to build and sell apps for iOS devices, and, in exchange, they keep 30% of every sale.

The other big reason to consider launching an app marketplace is explicitly to increase the value of your core offering. By allowing third-party developers to build apps for your platform, users have more functionality at their fingertips. Not only does this allow you to sell more of your product or service (since it’s now a more significant solution), but it also reduces churn, increasing the lifetime value of your customers.

Know Your Audience

Understanding your target developer is paramount for new partner models.

Once you know why you want to build a partner program, it’s time to start thinking about why partners would want to contribute. In other words, what’s in it for them?

Most partners will want to collaborate for the same reasons as before, i.e., to enhance their offerings, or for a direct return on investment. You may also find that some partners want to leverage your existing infrastructure or functionality. Sidney mentions that some of Xero’s partners saved time and money by using the current accounting engine, instead of having to reinvent the wheel and create their own.

Another big benefit of partner programs with marketplaces or directories is publicity. By listing their apps on your marketplace, partners can get their offerings in front of a hyper-targeted audience, essentially for free!

The Perks

Above, we discussed some of the most significant benefits from the partner’s point of view. However, Sidney also draws attention to the smaller-benefits, which can help retain partners in the long run.

Once you get them in the door, keep giving!

Here are some of the smaller perks to consider:

  • Access. An easy way to reward partners is by giving them extended access to your products. Whether that means more access to individual products (in the form of, say, additional free API calls) or access to new products, Sidney says developers love to unlock stuff!
  • Support. With partners investing so much to leverage your platform, you can (and probably should) show your appreciation by giving them exclusive support. This may mean access to partner-only support materials, but will most likely involve a prioritized support queue.
  • Influence. Partners may also want to influence what you build and how you build it. Allowing partners to suggest changes to your roadmap is an easy way to let them do so.
  • Recognition. Finally, show your partners some love. You can give out training and certifications, awards, t-shirts, or even all-expenses-paid tickets to your summits.

Best Practices for Partner Touchpoints

Once you know why you’re launching a partner program (and why partners will want to join it), everything falls into place much more quickly. Sidney shares some additional insights on how you can design partner touchpoints for optimal results:

Qualify Your Audience

Having clearly identified your target audience, you can use partner touchpoints to qualify them. Sidney suggests that you communicate who you want to partner with on the primary page for your partner program. This way, potential partners don’t waste time wondering whether they’re a good fit.

At Stripe, they’re looking for:

platforms, plugin builders, and extension developers

At Mailchimp:

high-quality agencies, designers, freelancers, and developers

And Sendgrid:

digital marketing agency, a boutique design shop, a system integrator, or an ecommerce solution provider

Sidney recommends you use exact language to describe your target partner, as it will encourage those who fill the criteria. Also, if potential partners don’t fill the requirements, it will allow them to disqualify themselves and save time for all parties in the long run.

Share the Benefits

You put a lot of time and effort into designing the benefits of your partner program, and you must share those benefits openly. When partners come to learn more about your program, you can bet, “what’s in it for us?” will be one of their first questions.

Sidney says that Shopify does this exceptionally well. They list the benefits of their program as:

  • Earn revenue
  • Build your portfolio
  • Attract new clients
  • Priority support

Sidney draws particular attention to the concrete data Shopify uses to entice customers. For example, they include the statistic that, in 2016, over $430 million was paid out to partners. In addition to the revenue, Shopify boasts extended trials, certifications, and partner-only forums.

Sidney also uses the example of Sendgrid. Here’s what they offer partners:

  • Expand and Enhance Your Offerings
  • Attract New Customers
  • Improve Efficiency and Cost Structure

As you can see, there’s only one commonality in the two lists of benefits: attracting new customers. This demonstrates that partners aren’t always in it for the money, and you really have to do your research!

Here are a few other program-specific benefits which Sidney picks out:

  • Mailchimp: Exclusive partner content (e.g. webinars, case studies)
  • Twilio: New technology early access program
  • Slack: Deeper user engagement
  • Dropbox: Built for developers

Clever Onboarding

Once potential partners are hooked, all that’s left is to close the deal. This step is all about learning more about your partners without adding too much friction:

  • At Slack, they ask for a phone number — this seems like overkill.
  • Stripe requires partners need to log in. You can this causes some partners to bounce straightaway
  • Eventbrite gets it just right. They reiterate the benefits of the program, identify the partner in just four fields, and include two qualifying fields to learn more about them.

The Takeaways

Building a partner program can offer huge rewards for everyone involved. With these suggestions, you can leverage Xero’s years of experience in building an app marketplace or other partner programs with massive reach. In any case, it starts with knowing why you want to create a partner program and what’s in it for the partners!