Leveraging Partner Ecosystems: A Strategic Guide For Customer Success Managers (2022)

Reducing customer churn and increasing customer growth through renewals and expansions - isn’t that the dream? Not for everyone, but for you, Customer Success Managers (CSM), it’s the ultimate goal. However, a common oversight that may prevent you from achieving your goal is not getting ahead of renewals. 

To mitigate the risk of losing your customers at renewal time, you must proactively plan ahead and be more connected to your customers. The more insight you have into your customer’s goals, pain points, adoption and satisfaction with the product, the more you’ll understand what success and value look like for them. And hey, with this information, you’ll understand if you have a champion customer—a customer that’s a potential candidate for renewal, growth, or expansion. One way to do this is by setting yourself up for success with partner relationships. 

Partner relationships can help you learn about your customer’s full tech stack—a combination of technologies a company uses to build and run a project. 

The more you are connected with your customer’s full-stack, the more you will understand what success and value look like to them. It will also help you determine whether you’re talking to the right person. 

With this information ahead of renewal time, not only will you be renewing your customer come renewal time, you’ll likely have up-sell opportunities that you’ll be looping in your sales team for. 

At this point, it should be obvious that leveraging partnerships is a no-brainer. 

In this strategic guide for leveraging relationships for customer success managers, we’ll answer the following questions:

What Is Co-Selling?

In short, co-selling is when one company strategically joins forces with another to mutually scale its business through a partnership of referring leads and collaborative selling.

You know how Apple and Nike teamed up and created the Nike+ line, which added a small sensor to a Nike shoe that synced with an iPod for real-time fitness tracking? That’s co-selling. The two giants have customer overlap and saw an opportunity to join forces. It worked! In fact, Apple and Nike have continued their partnership creating the Apple Watch Series.

This win-win strategic approach to partnership can be incredibly beneficial to both parties, especially in the saturated B2B SaaS industry. 

In co-selling partnerships, the two partners are in lockstep throughout the sales process. Depending on the agreement, the partnership may include sharing revenue generated from the partner sale.

Now you know what co-selling is. But what is a partner ecosystem, and why is it important?

What is a Partner Ecosystem?

To keep it high-level, a partner ecosystem is a single company’s network of partners. In a single network (or ecosystem), your partner(s) could also be in partnerships with each other.

One of our favorite examples of a partner ecosystem is the SaaS giant Salesforce. With well over 2,200 partners in its ecosystem, many of Salesforce’s partners have joined forces because their technology’s functionality is complementary. Similar to Nike and Apple, Salesforce and its partners have customer overlap and recognize the plethora of opportunities that come along with tech integration partnerships. 

But, hey, it’s not only Salesforce and its 2,200+ partners that recognize the benefits. Almost every major player in the B2B SaaS world uses a partner program to connect with complementary companies and drive growth. This can even mean partnering with competitors.

Why do Partner Ecosystems Matter?

A well-established partner ecosystem can be a game changer for your product or service. How? By getting it in front of the right customers and getting your business into new markets.

A partner ecosystem can help you discover new ways to provide value to your customers. It can also help you to increase brand loyalty, qualified leads, and market share.

A partner ecosystem is the competitive edge you’ve been looking for. 

Once you build or have access to a partner ecosystem, you’ll be ready to reap the benefits.

The time is now!

As a customer success manager, staying connected with your partners will help set you up for success with your accounts, which is why building and maintaining partner relationships is highly recommended. It’ll make your life easier in the long run.

Some of the key benefits of partnerships are:

  • New introductions and leads: Cost-effective growth opportunities in a crowded market
  • New access: Access to key decision-makers at prospective companies
  • New information: Access to historical data and new intel, including geographies, markets, and buying trends

How Do You Build a Healthy Partner Ecosystem?

As a CSM, it’s important to maintain contacts across the organization all the way upward with key decision-makers. However, it’s also important to build your partner ecosystem strategically. 

To do so, you’ll need to find prospective partners that can be part of a mutually successful relationship. But, before you populate your ecosystem, you must begin by identifying your customer’s pain points and potential solutions. 

What is the problem you want to solve or overcome? What pain points need to be addressed?

Once you answer those questions, you’re ready to start looking for partners.

Find the Right Partners

There are two straightforward ways to find partners.

  1. Leveraging your internal networks for introductions, connecting with your prospect, and building and nurturing that relationship.
  1. Using an account-based partnership platform (ABP), like Partnered—a cloud-based platform that allows you to track, manage, and share data with partners within your partner ecosystem. 

We’ll get to finding partners using an ABP later on in this guide, but before we do, it’s important for you to know how to properly deal with a partner manager.

What Is the Proper Etiquette for Working With a Partner Manager

Once you’ve identified target partners, you need to make contact. Start with your partner manager—their job is to recruit partners that align with your goals.

But before you approach a partner manager for introductions, be sure that you’re prepared and respectful of their time and the process. 

Start by doing your due diligence. Research your prospective partner, and know:

  1. What they do
  2. How their product integrates with your product

When you approach your partner manager, you can ask the following:

  1. How customers have been successful using your prospective partner’s product?
  2. What sort of joint initiatives have happened between the partner and your company?
  3. What information do you have on their relationship with the client?
  4. Can you introduce me directly to the partner?

Once you get the information and introduction you were looking for, connect with your partner.

Download the Email Templates and Agenda Tips to help lead you to success with your partner interactions!

You need to be ready for a clear and direct discussion with your prospective partner. It’s important to establish upfront expectations for the relationship and arrive at a mutual understanding of both company’s goals. 

You’re both better off laying your intentions flat on the table so both parties know what to expect and can explore how to best provide mutual value.

Come Prepared With Questions

Be efficient and make the most of your meeting. Be sure that you take time to prep prior to your meeting with the partner manager and have a list of questions that you’d like to ask based on your goal.

If your goal is to get more information on contacts, some questions you may ask are:

  • Who’s their champion? 
  • Who’s their decision-maker? 
  • What other companies do they work with?
  • What groups would they like to get introduced to? 

Pro Tip: Don’t get too comfortable and ask explicitly about how much money your partner’s customers are worth to the company. It’s important to be clear about expectations in your partner relationship, but money is a sensitive matter, so it’s important to approach it with caution. 

NOTE: As your relationship strengthens, you can consider creating a joint organizational chart with prospective organizations and contacts to see who you and your partner want to approach together. Don’t forget; this is a two-way street. They help you, and you help them.

If you feel that your meeting is going well, then keep the momentum going by preparing a call-to-action call-to-action (CTA). Ask for another meeting to continue building the relationship.

For the next meeting, you and your partner can come prepared with a list of accounts you can help with, and accounts they can help you with.

  • Action Items on Accounts/Prospects:
  • Which accounts you’ll be helping them on
  • List out the account(s)/action item(s)
  • Which accounts they’ll be helping you on
  • List out the account(s)/action item(s)

Once you have the list above, now it’s time to schedule your regular check-in cadence. 

Best Practices for Partnership Nurturing and Cadence

Once you’ve completed your account review and identified the top accounts you want to focus on, you’ll need to determine the duration of your strategic engagement (i.e., is it for the quarter?). 

If you’re creating quarterly strategies, for example, it’s important to keep your partnership warm. 

Not everything will go smoothly. You need to ensure that you have a cadence and a relationship to be able to work together closely and resolve any issues that may arise.

We recommend checking in with your partners at least once per quarter to stay top of mind with your partner.

And whenever you go to a meeting with your partner, you should have the next meeting planned. Right before the meeting comes to an end, request the next touchpoint. Book the meeting on the spot for the next quarter.

However, there will be times that you may want to connect before the scheduled quarterly check-in meeting. And that’s fine.  

For example, let’s say you’re getting ready for renewal and you’re looking to present your customer with a cross-selling opportunity—selling your customer a complementary product or service. 

There’s a prospective group that you’d like to bring into the renewal and growth discussion that your partner happens to work with. So, you connect with your partner to get insight about the prospective group. 

This is perfectly acceptable. But know that someday you may have to reciprocate. As long as you’re okay with that, then feel free to contact your partner and set up the sync.  

Keep Your Partner In The Loop

We said it before, and we’ll say it again — partnership is a two-way street. Always reciprocate.

If you come across some intel that can be beneficial to your partner, share it with them. 

If you find out that one of your partner’s champions - a high-value, long-term customer that has invested in renewals and expansions with your company’s product -  will be terminating their contract before they do, let them know they’re about to lose a client.

This type of intel will be greatly appreciated. It gives your partner the chance to address the situation and potentially salvage the relationship proactively.

How To Leverage Partnered for Partnership

Managing even a single partner relationship can feel like a full-time job. And you can’t afford to let anything fall through the cracks in these crucial relationships. That’s why support from the right tools is so important.

Partnered is a fully automated platform that will specifically help you, Customer Success Managers, with getting the full scope of your contact list. 

It will help you determine the following: 

  1. Number of contacts you have
  2. Who the executive sponsor is
  3. Who the key decision-makers are

Partnered will also show you who the overlapping CSMs are in other organizations. This gives you the opportunity to connect with other CSMs and exchange mutually beneficial information such as who the key decision-makers are. You then can compare your account lists and find out who the champion customers are to ensure that you’re nurturing the right contacts. 

But, that’s not where Partnered’s benefits end.

Key Benefits of Partnered

  • Allows you to identify which accounts and partners you should focus on
  • Unlocks relationships you didn’t know existed
  • Delivers insight to you on a silver platter
  • Provides a platform for collaboration
  • Proactively identifies who to go after
  • Quickly sees the state of partners
  • Offers account mapping
  • Delivers data analysis
  • Ensures security

When to Use Partnered

  • Account planning
  • Measuring and evaluating, ROI
  • Identifying issues and finding solutions
  • Identifying growth opportunities for driving results
  • Identifying use cases for making the customer successful 
  • Strategizing events or joint product sessions that you can do together

Partnered is the first sales team network. With the best practices for leveraging partnerships and insights learned in this guide, combined with a powerful tool like Partnered, you and the rest of the customer success team will be on your way to achieving or exceeding your goals with ease.

Want to learn more? Chat with a Partnered professional today on how to best set up and take advantage of your sales network - schedule a free strategy call!


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