What is a Partner Manager?
Partner Manager is one of the more interesting titles to emerge as part of the modern business economy. While business-to-business partnerships themselves have existed for centuries, the management of those partnerships has evolved considerably in recent years. This has made the role of Partner Manager one that is always in flux, defined uniquely from organization to organization, and too often poorly described and measured.
This website is designed to help readers understand the many facets of a Partner Manager’s role and the areas where they have the opportunity to create value within an organization.
Partner Manager Job Description and Responsibilities
If you read job descriptions for Partner Managers across a dozen different organizations, it’s entirely possible that you may find differences so large that they don’t seem like the same job at all. Much of this is rooted in the fact that the nature of partnerships themselves can vary greatly based on a company’s industry, size, and revenue model. Below, we detail some of the most common job responsibilities of partner managers.
Maintain Relationships with Strategic Partners
This is the “account manager” side of the job. Many partner managers end up spending a high percentage of their time interacting with their counterparts at other organizations. Check-in calls, meetings over drinks or dinner, and catching up at events creates a cadence of communication that ensures no news goes unshared and no opportunities go undiscovered or unexplored.
Critics of this side of the job often ask a fair question: “If a Partner Manager just spends their days talking to other companies’ Partner Managers, who is really managing whom?” Indeed, the challenge with this side of the job is managing the signal-to-noise ratio that comes with such a high level of “hand to hand combat.” This is why the other responsibilities on this list are all that much more important.
Assess New Partnership Opportunities
Depending on the size and influence of the company, managing the pipeline of new partners can be a daunting task. The tactical side of this task may be as simple as reviewing applications, researching products, and communicating with your counterparts at those companies.
There is a more strategic component to partner pipeline management, however, that is often within the scope of responsibility of a Partner Manager. This component involves actually determining the framework and criteria by which you prioritize your partnerships.
While it may be tempting to simply slap a “partner” badge on anyone who comes through the door, the reality is that investing in partnerships involves real costs. In addition to the time you spend keeping the channels open, most modern partnerships also involve building a technology integration or making a minimum commitment of some kind. These commitments can add up fast, and the number of partners you can realistically invest in may be a minuscule fraction of those available to you.
Finding an answer to these more strategic questions can often require some analytical prowess, which includes the areas of procuring and analyzing data about partners and precisely how they overlap with your target market. Your ability to manage this kind of data collaboration can be a major differentiator in a Partner Manager role.
Using Partnership Software
Partnership software comes in two flavors. The first, PRM software, is specifically focused on cataloging and tracking a company’s partner relationships. Interactions with key players, the distribution of collateral for co-selling and enabling partners to promote your products, and registering leads and referrals are the key features of PRM software. It’s the central repository for tracking productivity and conversations, and doing so is critical for turning the qualitative day-to-day of partner management into qualitative outputs and Key Performance Indicators.
The other flavor of Partnership software is much newer and much more powerful. Data escrow software like Crossbeam actually enables partners to automate the discovery and actionability of opportunities that exist between their organizations. These tools can scan customer lists, lead lists, and sales pipelines to find cases when partner interests are highly aligned, all while keeping the rest of each party’s data secret and secure.
Depending on the business model and maturity of the organization, use of these kinds of tools may range from nice-to-have to absolutely critical. As time goes by, however, their criticality will only increase. In any modern, high-growth technology company, the ability to manage both will soon be table stakes.
As much as Partnerships can be strategic in nature, when Partner Managers are judged by metrics, most of them end up boiling down to revenue generation. It’s only fair, after all -- the value created by partnerships is supposed to be about growing addressable market and increasing market share. Both of these have revenue as a long-term output.
Where and how partners impact sales is another matter. You can make a case for partnerships touching just about every part of the funnel, from lead generation to qualification to closing to retention. In most cases, the “lead generation” and “closing” stages are most closely associated with partnerships.
Lead generation comes into play by getting partner organizations to register or refer new leads that are potential customers for your company. Partner Qualified Leads are a special flavor of leads, however, because the partner’s willingness to refer them often says something about their goodness of fit, giving them a higher success rate than your average lead.
Closing deals is another great place for partners to create value. When partners have a relationship with a buyer (either because they use a partner’s product or the partner is literally in your sales channel making the sale as a reseller or system integrator), that relationship is a point of leverage for your company and should be something that helps increase the chance that you win the business. If the partners you manage are generating these results, you’ll be considered a hero.
How to Become a Partner Manager
The career journey into partner management is as varied as its job description. It’s typically rare for a Partnership role to be someone’s first position out of college, as the role often draws heavily on skills and relationships picked up in other sides areas of business. Below are a few of the more common paths to owning partnership responsibility.
Founding Team Members
Many partnership leaders in mid-stage companies are company co-founders or very early employees that have held numerous non-executive roles over the life of the company. These individuals hold uniquely well-honed perspectives on the company’s history, market position, and founding vision. They also command a certain level of credibility and prestige due to their tenure, which helps reel in bigger fish.
It’s very common for salespeople to eventually transition into Partner Manager roles. This profile is usually someone who was able to be successful in sales, but didn’t enjoy the “bag carrying” role nearly as much as thinking about the bigger, more strategic questions facing the company. If you have that mix of “Sales DNA” and strategic IQ, this path could be a good fit. However, don’t try to “escape” sales too soon. There are far more sales reps out there than Partner Managers, and the best way to make the transition is to excel in every role you have along the way.
An increasing number of partner programs are rooted in technology and product integrations. Plug-ins, marketplaces, bots, and more are helping craft the way companies collaborate and create value for customers together. As a result, it’s increasingly common to see former Product Managers transition into Partner Manager roles, owning relationships with technical partners who fit this bill.
Becoming a Partner Manager is an exciting career step, but it requires staying on your toes. Because the role varies so greatly from organization to organization, it can be frustrating to find a concrete way to measure your success or feel like you’re getting recognized for good work.
However, the upside of finding success as a Partner Manager is tremendous. Good Partner Managers innovate on how value is created through partnerships and creating leverage for every other team at the company in the process.