How to build a successful business partner network ?

We all know that identifying the right business partners is a tedious exercise. Finding candidates is not so complicated but starting making real business together is more challenging. This is like when meeting someone in love, everyone wants it to work at the beginning but it takes some time before you consider it really does.

Identify the right candidates

To avoid costly mistakes of selecting poor-performant partners, it’s important to find candidates that have a business strategy matching your expectations. For example, as a software vendor, I like working with a mix of large IT consulting companies – able to identify very big projects at the C-level – and small IT consulting specialists who are focused on specific areas of expertise where my product makes a lot of sense.


Set the expectations

To make the relationship work, developing a common business plan together is key, as well as monitoring it on a very regular basis during the first year of the collaboration – I think twice a month is a good frequency.


Develop the relationship

Schedule regular events with your partners. This allows to bind tighter human relationships and to provide the last company updates, marketing materials, information on the upcoming marketing campaigns and the sales strategy. This is also a good mean to “feel” the local market and make your own opinion. Trusting your partner feedback is extremely important but this is also good to make your own opinion to assess his capacity to grow your business.
Regular webinars also help animate and engage the partner community.


Grow your partners

I’ve identified 5 maturity stages in developing partnerships:

Phase 1 – “the new partner”

You provide basic training on common use cases and assist them in the whole sales cycle.
You forward them the leads you get in their region, you develop marketing events with them and assist them to qualify the opportunities, demo the product, make an offer and sign the contract. Once the first contract is signed, you send over your technical experts to help them delivering the professional services and make the project successful.

Phase 2 – “the growing partner”

You are in phase where your partner has already implemented one project and you keep assisting him on the first three deals.

Phase 3 – “the premium partner”

The partner can now sell the product and implement the project on his own. He still needs support from you but on very specific topics only.

Phase 4 – “the strategic partner”

The strategic partner has reached a volume of business that requires a very tight relationship with a dedicated alliance manager. Your global business performance is tightly linked to your partner performance.


Reward your partners

Animating your partner network efficiently will help you progressively grow your new partners to strategic partners.
As your resources are limited, putting a reward program in place can prove to be very powerful. As an example, you can create different types of events and also different levels of pricing according to your partner ranking.
Loyalty is also important to be rewarded: small partners with recurring business over years are also key to the company.


What can you expect from your Product Marketing Team ?

As a “Pragmatic Marketing” Certification Graduate, I often refer to this definition of Product Marketing in large organizations, especially software vendors:

“Product Management looks at the needs of the entire business and the entire market. Recognizing that existing and future products need different levels of attention, some companies split the product management job into smaller bits: one group is responsible for next year’s products while another group provides sales and marketing support for existing products. These companies often add a product marketing component to the marketing communications effort, supporting them with market information and product content.”


Let’s go into more details and see which specific activities are managed by a professional Product Marketing team.


Business support

Daily business support is a key part of Product Marketing. Goal is simple, this is about encouraging and helping sales reps make the most business with your product. The more responsive and committed to business success you are, the more sales teams will be willing to sell your product.


Action list:

  • Supporting sales reps for customer meetings and workshops
  • Working closely with sales specialists
  • Continuously improving the RFP answering process
  • Providing access to the right experts when needed
  • Gathering and analyzing feedback from the field
  • Understanding customer maturity and success criteria per region



Planning events with the field marketing teams and participating to them as a specialist is an important part of the job as well. If you cannot speak well of your product, who could ?


Action list:

  • Selecting the most appropriate events with the field marketing teams
  • Speaking at events
  • Creating new business relationships at events


Go-To-Market Strategy

A Go-To-Market strategy (GTM strategy) is an action plan that specifies how a company will reach customers and achieve competitive advantage.


Action list:

  • Defining target audience and related horizontal and/or vertical value proposition
  • Prioritizing marketing investments (from Corporate & Customer Marketing to Demand generation)
  • Identifying market opportunities
  • Working with Product Management on focus & priorities
  • Setting up lead generation campaigns
  • Measuring outcomes


Sales enablement

Sales enablement can mean different things to different companies. I would refer to the definition given by Brainshark:

“A systematic approach to increasing sales productivity, by supporting reps with the content, training and analytics they need to have more successful sales conversations.”

I also like the definition from IDC:
“Getting the right information into the hands of the right sellers at the right time and place, and in the right format, to move a sales opportunity forward.”

Action list:

  • Building great internal assets supporting the corporate sales methodology
  • Building external assets with high impact (see “Technical writing” below)
  • Federating information on a dedicated sales portal
  • Aligning every support team on sales objectives and helping them define how they can contribute
  • Training sales and presales teams on best practices and available assets


Web marketing

Web Marketing generates awareness and develops awareness for your product. This is a vital activity to provide your sales teams with a continuous flow of qualified leads.



Action list:

Writing content for your Product Web site

  • Working on SEO with SEO experts
  • Working on SEM campaigns with SEM experts
  • Working on DRIP campaigns
  • Engaging conversation with influencers


Technical writing

In a technology company, your job as product marketer is to make your technology the most simple to understand to your target audience. Goal is to provide every target user with the right level of information and show that you have strong market recognition.


Action list:

  • Writing datasheets, white papers and infographics with the corporate marketing team
  • Preparing webinars with the field marketing team
  • Working with the customer advocacy team to get targeted customer case studies
  • Helping with press release content


Product expertise

When it comes to product expertise, people should turn to your team. You are the main point of contact with access to the top product experts in the company. You work closely with most critical resources of the company and know who to call when sales teams on the field face particular challenges.


Action list:

  • Animating internal workshops to foster team work
  • Hosting a “product academy” to increase internal knowledge
  • Feeding teams with “Product and market” news
  • Developing customer intimacy and know-how on delivered projects


Market research

Keeping ahead of the market is a daily activity that requires a lot of reading and discussions. Working as a team is essential for having different people with different types of market expertise. We live in a world of specialist and this is important to go into details when analyzing the market and check your understanding with real-life customers. “One mouth, two ears”: Let people talk, listen carefully and try to synthesize the messages. Your idea doesn’t count, your customer needs do.


Action list:

  • Following Web alerts
  • Exchanging with a community of peers
  • Keeping tight relationship with analyst firms
  • Curating relevant content
  • Listening to your customer needs
  • Informing internally and help the Executive board take the right decisions



Influence of technology evangelists have grown over the past years. Companies have realized that their target audience are more interested in reading articles and opinions of thought leaders than software vendor assets. Technology evangelists are technology or business matter experts who have strong communication skills (both written and oral). As Product Marketer, identify the rare persons in your company that can help you with this activity.


Action list:

  • Developing thought leadership through tribunes and blogging
  • Participating to keynote sessions and round tables at major events
  • Help your people grow internally

Software trial: how to leverage your marketing tools?

Do you plan to promote your software with an online trial version ?

In a previous article, I shared my experience on the 15 tips to build a successful software trial.

The ultimate goal for this trial is to generate qualified leads for your sales team and I would like to provide today with a few recommendations on how to integrate the trial with the existing marketing automation tools of your corporate web site.


1. Plug your trial behind the contact form of your web site

Your contact form is a privileged time with your visitors because that’s the time when you ask them to trust your company and give you their contact details. Don’t use it systematically. Why ? This is a matter of psychology, i.e. understanding the motivations leading  visitors to provide you with their name, email and phone number.

Usually, I recommend:

  • to keep your articles, news and global datasheets public
  • to activate the contact form before accessing the most appealing content such as thought leadership white papers, ebooks, trials.




2. Configure the form handler

Upon form submission, two actions are triggered:

  • An API call to your marketing automation platform – e.g. Pardot or Marketo – to create the new prospect and be able to analyze the navigation path of your prospect.


  • An API call to the trial user provisioning system. This system is in charge of creating a trial account for the prospect.



3. Send a welcome email 

Upon contact creation, your marketing automation tool sends a welcome email to the prospect. This email is very useful if the visitor wants to access the trial later on. Polish the template with your corporate branding.

Your email should contain:

  • a clear and professional welcome message
  • a link to click to access the trial
  • additional links to:
    • documentation (link to a documentation portal for example)
    • sales contact information

All links are automatically tracked by your marketing automation system for optimal performance measurement.

The credentials – login and password – to access the solution are generated by the user provisioning system independently and will be sent in a synchronous but separate email.


4. Display a confirmation page

A confirmation page is important because it explains your visitor that his/her request is being processed. There is so much to say about how to write an optimized confirmation page that I think I will let it aside for a next article.

At this stage your visitors are the most receptive to any information you might give to them. Take this opportunity to engage further and provide them with relevant information:

  • sales contact information
  • link to interactive product presentations such as videos of which impact is much greater than more classic materials.

Don’t bother your prospects with irrelevant information. They want to test the product, so they simply expect content that would help them better understand it, nothing more.



5. Integrate with your CRM

Now that the prospect is registered in your marketing automation system, you can use an automatic rule that will assign a high scoring and trigger an automatic import into your CRM, Salesforce for example.




6. Define your lead nurturing mechanism 

It is extremely important to define the lead lifecycle and how you want to interact with it according to a precise timeline.

If you take the generic example of automation timeline below, you could consider following steps:

  • D: “welcome” email
  • D+1: “additional information” email
  • D+5: “Reminder” email due to inactivity or “Satisfaction” email due to activity.
  • D+[duration of the trial] – 5: “end of trial period warning” email
  • D+[duration of the trial] – 1: “end of trial period warning” email



7. Define and follow your metrics

When it comes to online performance, it’s important to monitor it through automated reports that would be generated out of your marketing automation system. Reports could contain for example:

  • Number of trial requests
  • Number of trial activations
  • Number of login attempts per user

And for your upcoming marketing campaigns, you will also be interested in those numbers per campaign.


software trial

Top 15 tips for building a successful software trial

As a software vendor, you might be thinking of making your product available for trial.

Here are the top 15 tips to make it the most successful:

Tip#1: Identify the main drivers

main driver Don’t just copy your competitors and decide to go this way for the only reason they do it. It’s important to understand why it took you so much time to go this way and what are the current main drivers.

  • Do your prospects keep asking for trying your software and do your sales have internal difficulties to fulfill the request ?
  • Does your marketing team need a stronger call to action for their campaigns, something more appealing than data sheets or white papers?
  • Any other reason?


Tip#2: Quantify the expected outcomes

outcomeOpening your product for trial is not a goal, it’s just a mean. What do you want to achieve with that ? Try to quantify the outcomes of such a project:

  • Number of trials initiated by sales reps/direct campaigns/indirect campaigns?
  • Conversion ratio to opportunities?
  • Size of expected pipeline?


Tip#3: Build the cross-functional project team

cross_functionalAs the project will involve different departments in your organization (web site, traffic acquisition, lead nurturing, product marketing, sales, presales), build a cross-functional project team to be aligned with the objectives, resources and planning. Inform your top management about the project and ask support from them in case of sudden difficulties.



Tip#4: Give an online access

onlineAs all new modern software are now internet based, install your product on a dedicated server or on the cloud to access it with a dedicated public url.

If you expected your prospects to download the binaries of your solution or a virtual image in order to test it, simply forget it, this time is over.


Tip#5: Give a free access

freeThe trial is aimed at letting people discover your solution, do not even think of charging for it or your initiative will turn into a disaster.




Tip#6: Limit the access in time

sandglassA trial access should not last for ever. The goal is to get people test your solution and want to engage further, either with your sales team or with a subscription plan. If no deadline is defined, there will be no reason for your prospects to test your solution rapidly, they will simply forget about it.





Tip#7: Focus on your top features

Best-of-the-BestIt is like a first date, show your best assets and hide the rest. Your trial users won’t never blame you for that and they might not even notice it as the average time for an active trial evaluation is often less than 10min.





Tip#8: Activate the account immediately

Yoactivateu might want to send a confirmation email to make sure the email is valid and you can add it into your marketing conversion campaign. However, think that many emails directly land into the “spam” folder or take sometimes a few minutes to be delivered (if your email provider has congestion). If clicking on the link in this email is the only way to access your solution, the risk is too high for the potential lead to disengage.

While sending the email, I suggest you to also display a confirmation page with a direct link to access your trial. I experienced that if users don’t want to fill their real email address, this doesn’t mean they are not interested in your product or want to hide, it’s just that they don’t want to be spammed with lots of your emails.

If you want people to trust you with their real email address, you will get better result by adding an explicit text telling that you won’t be sending them emails if they don’t optin by checking the box in the form (and make sure you don’t break your promise).

Tip#9: Don’t be afraid of spies

spy-eyeIf you think you should reject generic email addresses like gmail or addresses of your competitors, I don’t think this is the best move.

If your competitors really want to access your solution, they will find a way to access it easily. They can just create an email on a tier-2 email provider or simply create a fake domain for a few dollars.

Don’t be afraid of showing you have the best product on the market. Be proud of it and shout loud. Besides, better keep a close eye on your competitors than having them away!


#10: Focus on the user experience

user_experienceThink yourself in the user’s shoes. What would you expect if you are trying to use the solution “for dummies” ?

Everything should be intuitive. Think of user being kept busy with many other things (emails, phone calls, sms …), how can you make sure they get the best value and experience of your solution within just a few minutes ? Once the user disengages, it becomes really difficult to have him back, even with well tuned email reminders.


Tip#11: Publish videos

video_turorialIn terms of documentation, I recommend using short video tutorials. Ideally, they should not last more than 3 minutes. If they last too long, split them into multiple parts.

Prepare the scripts before recording the video and adopt a similar structure for all of them to be consistent in your message.

I recommend you to also post interesting promotion videos about events, corporate message, expert interview …



Tip#12: Activate an online support

Chat computer key.An online support is extremely important to me. It gives assistance to the user while manipulating your product. That’s the best time to engage conversation.

There are today very interesting tools on the market to engage with users through a simple chat window: SnapEngage, UserLike, LiveChat … Take time to select the best solution for your organization. Personally, I like following features:

  • Discrete window (but visible)
  • Auto detection when the user gets lost or idle, opening the chat window automatically
  • Creation of a dynamic pool of people to answer incoming requests
  • Plugin into Skype, no need to activate any other product.
  • Fallback to email when nobody is available for chat

Tip#13: Define a clear call to action in your trial

A red button with the words Act Now on itHaving people use your trial is good but not the goal. You need to turn them into qualified prospects ! Define a clear call to action for trial users to engage more. A good strategy is ask a few things that do not give the feeling of too much engagement. Goal at this stage is to transition from the user liking your product to the user liking your customer service.


Tip#14: Have your marketing machine ready

marketing-machineMany people will sign in for your trial but they won’t have time to spend much time on it. Make sure you have the right digital marketing machine in place to turn those leads into opportunities.

  • Notification emails are sent according to user’s activity: welcome email, tutorial email (D+1), inactivity email (D+3, D+5), end-of-trial-period email (D-5, D-1, D).
  • Information emails with suggestions.

Show you understand the profile of your prospect, never push unrelated content.

Tip#15: Be mobile-ready

If yourresponsive_design solution is not responsive designed, think of adding this capability asap. This applies even if your solution is mainly used on desktop (enterprise software for example). Why? Because people are the most available to try your solution when they are away from the office – on business trip or commuting in public transportation. Once back to the office, life goes on as usual with every daily priorities and emergencies.

If you don’t believe me on this, just think I wrote most part of this article in the train on my way to the office. Once there, I just had a few minutes available to finish it before the rush of the day.