The Ultimate Guide to
Account-based Partnerships

Account-Based Partnerships 101:
Definition, Benefits, Best Practices, and ROI

One of the best things about partnerships is that there’s always a way to improve some part of the process.

Can you get more sales that partners sourced or assisted with? Can you do it in less time? How can you improve your day-to-day workflow as a partner manager? Can you use partnerships to benefit even more people in your sales team? The list of questions goes on.

If you’re looking to take your partnerships to the next level, this guide is for you.

We’ll cover:

  • What are Account-based Partnerships?

  • Why the Focus on Information, Not Transactions, Matters

  • Benefits of Account-based Partnerships

  • Account-based Partnership Best Practices

  • Account-based Partnerships and Account-based Marketing

  • How Account-based Partnership Attribution Drives Bottom-line ROI

  • Who needs an Account-based Partnership Platform?

What are Account-based Partnerships?

An Account-based Partnership (ABP for short) is a type of partnership in which one company works with another to sell into specific accounts.

For a long time, partnerships have been primarily transactional and focused on reselling. It meant that Partner A had a financial benefit of reselling Partner B’s products.

Account-based Partnerships are based on non-transactional, information-based relationships.

What does this relationship look like in practice? Here’s an example:

  • Partner A works with Nike.

  • Partner B wants to work with Nike.

  • Partner A helps Partner B to sell into Nike.

  • Partner B doesn’t pay Partner A for their help in selling into Nike. Instead, the expectation is that Partner B will eventually help Partner A with another account that Partner A wants to work with.

Take any two companies you can think of, and there will be information asymmetry between them. This is why Account-based Partnerships can drive incredible value for a company, from finding new business to fast-tracking existing deals.

Thanks to the insights and knowledge that partner’s sales teams have about an account you’re targeting, you can find out:

  • Who should you talk to in the company you’re targeting?

  • How much is that company spending with your partner?

  • What are their biggest priorities this year?

Of course, they can also give you an introduction to your target account, or recommend you to them. The beauty of Account-based Partnerships is that once you start layering these insights, your overall sales success will improve because you have access to much better information.

Why the Focus on Information, Not Transactions, Matters

We already mentioned partnerships used to be heavily transactional. What changed?

As it turns out, a lot. Jay McBain, Forrester’s Principal Analyst for Global Channels, Alliances, and Partnerships, says that this new, non-transacting approach to partnerships is part of what he calls a trifurcated channel.

First, there’s the journey a buyer goes through before spending any money or even speaking with a sales rep. This is now where the majority (68%!) of customer’s time goes, so brands know that reaching their customers early and often is key. This sits on the left of the transactional channel, and it’s called an influencer channel.

Then, there’s the post-purchase side, where you want your customer to stay with you for a long time, especially in a subscription-based business model. In other words, the customer journey never ends, and your work isn’t over after that initial purchase. This sits on the right of the transaction channel—it’s a retention channel.

Here’s what Jay McBain said to Partnered.io on how this new reality challenges partner managers:

“You’re now going to have to figure out how to bring in these alliances, advocates, ambassadors, digital influencers, super connectors, and how to attribute their ability to influence early in the journey, because you can’t count sales because they don’t transact. Then, there are the players who are in with your customer forever: integrators, consultants, agencies; people helping you cross-sell and upsell every 30 days forever. It’s another non-transacting channel, but a highly influential one.

Everything surrounding the actual transaction is information. The account-based approach to partnerships helps you understand how your relationship with a partner and the knowledge they gave you influenced the sale you’ve made.

Benefits of Account-based Partnerships

By now you know that great partnerships focus on more than just getting paid for sending a new customer in a partner’s direction. This new approach based on relationships and knowledge-sharing may seem more complicated than you’re prepared for.

So why should you focus on Account-based Partnerships in the first place? Let’s dive into some key benefits.

Partnerships are a significant business opportunity generator

When you look at the acquisition channels you’re currently using, they all have one thing in common: there’s a ceiling to their potential. For some of them, you may have even hit that ceiling already and can’t move your conversion rate any higher.

The magic of Account-based Partnerships is that you can create new pools of opportunities every time you want to partner with a company that:

  • Offers solutions complementary to yours

  • Has a list of focus accounts that overlap with yours

Not just that: the close rate for deals that involved a partner in the process is often higher than those that didn’t.

Henry Prevette, Director of Channel Partnership Development at Impact, shared this with Partnered.io:

“Of all the acquisition channels for the company, we have by far the highest conversion rate. So if we land a meeting through outbound cold calling, we have a 10 to 15% conversion rate from discovery call to signed contract. For agency channels, that’s 44%, so around four times higher.”

We heard a similar result from Andrew Massad, Leanplum’s Head of Alliance Strategy:

“We tend to close them at about, and this is not a joke, a 50% higher rate. All thanks to a much tighter value proposition and we can align business incentives.”

Partnerships help you move through the sales cycle faster

The inherent trust that comes with a partnership can speed up the sales process and help you win deals quicker.

Cold approaching a prospect, or even an inbound opportunity, can take a while. From getting an initial response to reaching the right person in the company, even starting the conversation can stretch into weeks and lose momentum.

With partnerships, your go-to-market team can move faster through warm introductions, instant first conversations, and valuable information you get from partners. You can easily reach the right person and move through the first couple of stages of your sales cycle pretty quickly.

Partnerships create higher-value deals

If your business/pricing model supports it, Account-based Partnerships can result in a higher deal value. Just like consumers spend more money with a business that has excellent reviews, a recommendation or introduction from a partner can influence the size of a deal.

Take it from Joey Fulcher, Head of Sales for Americas at Liftoff, who shared this about one of his previous roles in partnerships:

“We tracked that very closely. A customer would spend two or three times more over two years if there was a partner involved.”

This benefit is way more than just better-looking numbers on your sales reports. Larger deals will help you set the foundation for hiring and scaling. Account-based Partnerships can unlock your next stage of growth.

Partnerships empower your entire go-to-market team

Partnerships give your reps and AEs a clear advantage—it equips them for more focused and informed sales conversations.

But the benefits don’t end with sales. Your entire go-to-market team can put partnerships to great use and see better results on either side of the sales process:

  • Sales Development Reps: Your SDRs can use partnerships to schedule more meetings, make them happen faster, and generate a more qualified pipeline as a result.

  • Customer Success Managers: Your CSMs can put the information they get from partners to win more renewals, reduce customer churn, and generate long-term value for the customer.

Account-based Partnership Best Practices

Here are some essential ways you can lay a strong foundation for Account-based Partnerships and maximize your chances for success.

Relationships first

In the long run, Account-based Partnerships will lead to better, larger, easier to win sales deals and renewals. It’s the nature of having the best information you can when going into a sales conversation.

But to get there, you must start much earlier. At the core of every non-transactional partnership is a relationship built on trust. It’s a proactive process that takes time, but the rewards can last for years.

Here’s how Michelle Lerner, Director of Business Development at Branch, emphasized the importance of relationships in partnerships:

“I feel I’ve been really lucky, and I’ve made a lot of really good friends with people I’ve worked with in these partnerships. Real, genuine relationships. And that’s the biggest thing about building trust from day one. Once you have this great rapport and trust going, you can eventually ask for things, start building the joint value prop because both of us as partnership managers are already sold into that.”

This approach also helps you to get specific about who you want to work with and send business to. After all, when you make introductions or offer recommendations, your reputation is on the line. Take an intentional approach to partnering with companies you can work with and trust in the long run.

As Liftoff’s Joey Fulcher said:

“If you go out and spend time building a relationship with a partner, you build trust, you build an understanding. You demonstrate credibility with the partner that if I were to introduce you, my client is going to look on that favorably. On the flip side, I know now as a partner, I can come back to you, and you would return the favor and now we have this mutually beneficial relationship. It’s what our successful AEs have done.”

Account mapping and understanding account overlap

For a partnership to work, account mapping is crucial. This is where you take your CRM data and your partner’s CRM data and look for an overlap in accounts.

Account mapping helps you see which accounts you want to sell into that your partner may already have as a customer, and vice versa.

With this clear overview and the overlap in accounts you’re selling into, you can:

  • Know who to talk to in your target account

  • Get a warm introduction from your partner

  • Run co-selling and co-marketing campaigns with your partner

  • Get valuable context about the account

Partnership teams are usually the ones owning the account mapping process. This way, salespeople don’t necessarily have to worry about it, but they’ll know which partner helped them on a deal.

Specificity > breadth

Once you go through account mapping with a partner, it’s really tempting to try to team up on all the accounts you have a customer, opportunity, or prospect overlap on. Do everything you can to resist that temptation.

Why? Because you’ll end up with a list of 1,000+ accounts that is neither manageable nor actionable. Your time is limited and you’ll dilute your efforts if you try to work on all of the overlapping accounts at once.

Instead, look for a small number of accounts—up to 10 to start with—that you can focus on right away. Here’s how Liftoff’s Joey Fulcher sees that approach:

“Going for 1,000 accounts isn’t very effective. It’s much more effective to say, what are the 10 that are going to move the needle for Liftoff in 2020? What are the 10 that are going to move the needle for this partner in 2020? When we focus there, it’s a lot more collaborative, more effective, and easier to get traction and attention there.”

And that’s another key point in favor of going specific instead of broad. You can see success much faster and keep the momentum going. Leanplum’s Andrew Massad explains:

“It’s about starting with a small list and finding quick wins. Find a few key deals that are highly visible, that you can get some quick wins with. It works out well for everyone, from customer success folks and AEs as well as for VPs and C-suite. Showing wins and showing results rather than showing just activity and movement is really important both for your success in the role and the success of the partnership.”

More heads are better than one

The ultimate advantage you’ll get with Account-based Partnerships: seeing everything through more than one lens.

Other people and teams—both in your company and partner’s company—have insights into different parts of the business you’re selling into than you do. This will help you get answers to questions such as:

  • What is our target account’s tech stack?

  • How much are they spending as our partner’s customer?

  • What is their strategy this year? What are they focusing on?

  • Who should you talk to early on in the process? What about later on, and after winning the deal?

This is a healthy approach not just for your sales, but for your company culture, too. Here’s how Branch’s Michelle Lerner describes it:

“I do think it takes a village. If you’re just a salesperson who’s super resourceful, that’s great, but you’re missing out on other perspectives. When you involve your marketing team, your business development team, your partners, there are so many different insights that other people can bring into a deal. At Branch, we have these emails that go out for a closed won deal synopsis, and you shout out everyone who’s helped you with that deal. It’s never just, ‘I did this on my own.’”

Get company-wide buy-in

Getting specific about your target accounts, aiming for quick wins, and involving others in your deals has another key impact: you can get buy-in for partnerships from the top down at your company.

With buy-in, you get support, resources, and involvement from everyone. It makes partnerships an important framework for sales built on relationships and adding value to partners, instead of just a band-aid and a temporary solution.

But with the non-transactional nature of Account-based Partnerships, you may struggle to get that buy-in. Here are a few things you can do to build your case:

  • Take account of all your open opportunities and map them to your partners

  • Highlight partners that have supported you, referred you business, or helped you push a deal over the line

  • Map out how a partner involvement impacted the company’s bottom line

Remember that every interaction counts. Every bit of context you got from a partner will help you make your case to show the long-term value of partnerships.

Check in with partners regularly

Just like in any good relationship, regularly talking to your partners is crucial. The frequency will depend based on the number of partnerships you’re managing, but make sure there’s a regular meeting on your calendars so you can check in with each other.

This helps you accomplish a few things.

It makes it easy to keep the relationship going. Sounds simple, but regular check-ins will show your partner you care and that they can count on you when an opportunity comes up. It’s a lot easier to start a conversation about a new opportunity when the last time you spoke wasn’t too long ago. This is a win for both sides!

It keeps the information fresh. This is particularly true when you do account mapping sessions in spreadsheets because if the information about prospects and customers isn’t updated manually, it’s out of date almost immediately.

It helps you understand your partners’ priorities and be proactive. Recurring check-ins will give you a look into what your partner is focusing on in the current season. This way, even if they don’t reach out about a certain account, but you know you can help them with it because they’ve shared it with you during a check-in, you can be proactive and reach out to them with valuable information or offer an introduction.

Account-based Partnerships and Account-based Marketing

In many ways, Account-based Partnerships are very similar to Account-based Marketing.

Account-based Marketing (ABM for short) is a strategic approach to growth in which marketing and sales teams collaborate to create content, communications, and campaigns for individual high-value accounts (as opposed to for an entire market segment).

Account-based Partnerships fit into this picture in two ways.

First, Account-based Partnerships focus on being specific about who you partner with. Instead of partnering with hundreds of companies, you choose those you have a complementary offering and an account overlap with. Just like you wouldn’t target a broad market with ABM, you choose your partners wisely.

Secondly, Account-based Partnerships add a layer of depth to your account-based marketing efforts. Think about it: Account-based Marketing already has a more streamlined sales cycle compared to a standard one because it’s focused on your target accounts. Non-transactional partnerships bring additional context and information to your conversations.

This lets you tailor your every message and conversation. Here’s how Noah Rahimzadeh, Strategic Alliances Manager at Airship, makes the most of it:

“We need to think about a messaging strategy. We want to really understand the businesses that we’re going after before we even reach out for the first time. We don’t want to reach out with some generic message, and partners are a huge part of that effort.”

Account-based Partnerships are the catalyst of Account-based Marketing. It’s another reason why getting company-wide buy-in into partnerships is so important—it’s essential if you want to enable both sales and marketing with information and help from partners.

How Account-based Partnership Attribution Drives Bottom-Line ROI

Tracking ROI of non-transactional relationships is more challenging than straightforward referrals. How do you quantify the value and impact of each helpful detail or introduction you got from a partner?

Jihyo Kim, Senior Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Remerge, shared her approach with Partnered.io:

“Let’s say we’re not working with Airbnb, and Airbnb is working with Branch, our partner, for three years. We go to Branch and ask for a recommendation, which automatically increases our credibility with Airbnb because they’ve had such a good experience with Branch. We also learn about Airbnb from Branch and get helpful information. But at this stage, there’s no tracking.

However, once they’re in our sales cycle, we can track how Branch helped us close this account. We can see how long it took to close this deal. And we can compare this with a similar customer, like Booking.com, and check the difference in the end. It can be less clear to track this compared to straight up sales, but our Salesforce system helps us track and compare revenue for these deals.”

How can you then see where these partner interactions influence your sales and bottom-line ROI? Leanplum’s Andrew Massad says they use a two by two matrix to track the influence of partnerships:

  1. On one axis, you have new and existing business

  2. On the other axis, you have sourced/generated and influenced/assisted opportunities

This means partners can affect your deals and interactions in four ways, from influencing a completely new sale through to generating opportunities in existing accounts when there’s a lot of room for cross-selling and upselling.

Branch’s Michelle Lerner takes a similar approach and uses what she calls "BD Impact Points" or "BIPs", split up into two areas:

  1. Account-based activity (upper funnel). The objective is to collaborate with the partner to get valuable information. It’s less measurable, but if useful insights come out of these interactions, that’s still really valuable.

  2. Opportunity-level activity (lower funnel). The AE can decide, out of all the different partner interactions from the beginning of the deal cycle, which ones were the most impactful in closing the deal.

Who Needs an Account-based Partnership Platform?

This detailed, targeted approach to partnerships is ideal for B2B SaaS companies working with larger enterprise deal sizes, such as $50,000+ per year in contract size.

The more you focus on these partnerships, the harder it can become to keep track of your activities and insights. For example:

  • Which partner have you spoken with about a specific account?

  • What was the outcome of your conversation?

  • Did your sales rep get all the information they need? Will they need more, and from who?

  • Has the deal successfully moved forward after that conversation or insight?

The answers to these usually live in various emails, Slack messages, a CRM, and someone’s memory. An Account-based Partnership platform will help you centralize your workflow and give you the space to focus on your main priorities each day.

Partnered.io is a Partnership Automation platform that will simplify how you manage your sales partnerships. It’s ideal for companies investing in tech and agency partnerships who want to really maximize and measure the output of their partnership efforts.

Here’s how Partnered.io can make a difference in your partnership efforts.

Automated Account Mapping. Accounts are changing fast, so manual mapping via spreadsheets is outdated almost instantly. In Partnered.io, account mapping happens automatically after both partners connect their Salesforce data and determine which accounts they want to map.

From that point on, everything is updated right away. For example, when an account changes from opportunity to closed won, Partnered.io will reflect that. You’ll never have to manually map accounts again.

Arm your sales team to maximize partnerships. Partnered.io makes it easy to get a conversation started. For example, if a sales rep is working on an account and a partner is already working with that account, that rep may want to know how much is that account spending with the partner.

They can simply jump into Partnered.io, or use the Slack integration, and create a request for the partner manager that’s in charge of that partnership. From here, both the sales rep and the partner manager can keep track of the progress and update the status of that request. They’ll also get automated reminders to do so, so nothing will ever slip through the cracks.

Track the true value of partnerships. All requests and interactions you log with Partnered.io are sent straight into Salesforce. This means you can see every single partner touch point that helped you win a deal.

You’ll also be able to show the impact of partnerships to your C-level executives and make your case for support and resources they can give you.

Double down on Account-based Partnerships

You now have a roadmap to start with (or improve) your Account-based Partnerships. Here are some main points to help you implement this:

  • Account-based Partnerships can create more sales opportunities, speed up the sales cycle, and increase your deal size

  • Focus on relationships is key, as this builds trust, credibility, and reputation and pays off for years to come

  • Specificity around accounts you’re partnering on helps you gain quick wins, momentum, and company-wide buy-in

  • Partnership Automation is essential for managing and measuring partnerships efficiently and empowering your sales team

If you want to see how this approach works in practice and how you can make the most of it, be sure to schedule a demo of Partnered.io. You’ll never spend endless hours in a spreadsheet just to catch up with account mapping again, and you’ll maximize every opportunity that comes your way while getting full attribution for your partnership efforts.

With Partnered.io, you can easily manage and measure your partnerships to drive the most partner sourced & influenced revenue out of your partnerships. Integrated directly with Slack & Salesforce for easy setup, simple partnership automation, and best-in-class attribution.

About the Author:

Adam Michalski is the Co-Founder and CEO of Partnered.io, the leading Account-based Partnership Platform, and host of The Partnered Podcast.

With Partnered.io, you can easily manage and measure your partnerships to drive the most partner sourced & influenced revenue out of your partnerships. Integrated directly with Slack & Salesforce for easy setup, simple partnership automation, and best-in-class attribution.


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