Create a Successful Partner On-Boarding Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

When it comes to creating successful partner relationships, a clearly defined, efficient on-boarding process is critical. As Fabian mentioned in his guest post about the people needed to make a partner program hum, soon after the initial partner hire, you’ll need to operationalize the process. This post focuses on the on-boarding process for new partners. On-boarding marks a new partner’s first experience with your organization and let’s face it, first impressions matter. A successful partner on-boarding provides the opportunity for your business to establish trust within the relationship, set accurate expectations and begin generating revenue faster.

I recently completed an on-boarding optimization project with a client. This post reflects the lessons learned during that process. I hope it gives readers a shortcut to creating their own on-boarding process and although this is specific to partner on-boarding, it could be repurposed for employee on-boarding, client on-boarding or any use case where you have a group of people or companies folding into your own. Enjoy!

Map, Document and Optimize

As simple as it sounds, the first, and arguably most important step to optimize a partner on-boarding process is to map and document the process internally. Once documented, you can leverage this process map as both a partner facing guide to help set milestone and timeline expectations and as an internal guide to ensure all members of the team are aligned when it comes to next steps.

While having a well-documented on-boarding process is undoubtedly a valuable asset, there is a sneaky side effect. The on-boarding process discovery as a chance to uncover areas for improvement and optimization such as:

  • Pain Points Across Various Teams and Departments
  • Areas at High Risk for Potential Scope Creep or Timeline Delays
  • Unclearly or Lack of Defined Process
  • Operational Inefficiencies
  • Handoff/Communication Lapse

With visibility into these gaps, we are able to leverage tools, technology and resources to optimize and improve the on-boarding experience for ourselves and our partners. Neat, huh?

Partner On-Boarding Step #1: Establish the Structure

Before diving into the details, you must first understand the foundational elements of the on-boarding process. Use the first discovery meeting as an opportunity to map the entire process at the highest level. In order to best accomplish this, you want to keep the group small. Limit the meeting to include only those absolutely necessary for providing visibility to the process from start to finish. The initial discovery conversation can easily be derailed by too much detail. However, the full process must be outlined before effectively diving deeper into the specifics. Here are some tips to keep the initial discovery conversation out of the weeds and on track:

Prepare for Discovery

Even if it’s only the very first step of the on-Boarding process, come to the meeting prepared with a starting point for the discussion. Using a visualization tool such as Lucidchart or Draw.io, create a working document you will share with the team during the meeting. This enables everyone to visualize the process. While they visualize, you can add, update and rearrange the process steps, mapping the journey in real time.

Set Expectations for Discovery

Kickoff the Meeting with the ACE Method; Agenda Summary, Confirmation Meeting Time & End of Meeting Outcome Alignment. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

“Today we are going to walk through the New Partner On-Boarding Process from start to finish at the highest-level. We have a lot cover in only 2 hours but by the end of today’s meeting, we hope to have the structure of the process fully documented.”

Reset if Necessary

With so much process knowledge in the room, there is a high risk of losing sight of the end goal if the conversation becomes too detailed. To prevent the loss of too much time, use these tricks.

  • First, listen for words like “except” or “not always”. These are indicators the conversation is headed down the dark scary path to the “exceptions”. In every partner on-boarding process there will be times when it will be necessary to diverge from the standard process. However, we need to first understand the standard process. Then, we can tackle the best way to handle these exceptions. If the conversation shifts focus to account for the exceptions, take the item down as a separate note and let the group know you’ll revisit it in a separate meeting.
  • Second, stop at the half way point. If you get half way through the meeting but you haven’t mapped at least half of the process you may want to ask the group to quickly outline the remaining process steps without any detail so you can add them into the process map and use any remaining time to circle back and add the color. This check in at the half way mark helps to ensure you leave the meeting with the information needed to move forward documenting the On-boarding Process.

Partner On-Boarding Step #2 Divide and Conquer

Once you have a bird’s eye view of the on-boarding journey, you will be able to break the process into smaller phases. Schedule discovery meetings with the key players for each phase of the process to dive deeper into the specific steps within that phase. For each step, be sure to identify things like:

  • The action or trigger which initiates this step of the process
  • Upfront Requirements
  • Responsible/Involved Parties
  • Output/Deliverables
  • Timeline
  • Tools/Technologies Used

Again, the purpose of these discovery meetings is not only to understand the current process, but to gain visibility into the areas where there is opportunity for improvement. Use the below questions during your discovery meetings to help guide the conversation and uncover those opportunities:

  • What is working great right now? What isn’t?
  • Where are partners getting stuck or encountering a bumpy road in the process?
  • What tasks are you repeating for every new partner?
  • Do you experience any blockers at this stage of the process? If so, what are they?
  • Have you experienced any misunderstandings or confusion on the partner’s end during this stage?
  • What type of experience are partners having now and how/where can you improve it?

The answers to these questions will shed light on the changes and adjustments you can make to improve the on-boarding experience. For our complete list of Process Mapping Discovery Questions, click here.

Partner On-Boarding Step #3: Leverage Tools & Technology

Once your current on-boarding process is clearly defined and mapped you can evaluate the current state and identify areas for improvement. By leveraging the right tools and technologies you can streamline, automate and improve the overall process for your new partners and internal team alike. Keep an eye out for these common pain points where tools and technology can help do the heavy lifting:

Delayed Delivery/Difficulty Obtaining Required Information/Assets from the Partner:

Within the on-boarding process, it’s common for timelines to be pushed due to delays in obtaining necessary information or assets from the partner. Creating a reusable form using a free tool like Google Forms can help you collect this information sooner in the process and prevent this type of blocker. You may also want to consider how you can automate the delivery of this form and any follow up communications.  We recently helped document and optimize the on-boarding process for a client who uses Marketo. Using the Zapier integration tool, they were able to trigger the delivery of different follow-up emails based on whether or not the form was submitted. Here is a look at what that process looked like:

Automating the initial delivery request and follow-up communications enabled our client’s team to focus more time on areas of higher value within the process. The result? A more effective on-boarding and overall improved partner experience.

Reoccurring Tasks & Communication:

Any tasks or communication that take place with each new on-boarding at the same stage in the process present an opportunity for automation. Consider leveraging a Marketing Automation Tool, like Marketo, to create easily cloneable emails with behavior based send triggers. Marketo’s program cloning and token capabilities make replicating and updating complex, multi-email campaigns a breeze.

Program Cloning: Marketo program cloning allows you to create a new version of a program and its elements like smart campaigns and assets, with the click of a button. It even updates the smart campaigns to reference the new assets automatically. Once you have built a master program template and all of the necessary assets and workflows, rather than rebuilding this program with each new partner on-boarding, simply hit ‘clone’, sit back and watch Marketo do the hard work for you in a matter of seconds!

Program Tokens: Tokens are variables you can use to replace content in smart lists, landing pages and emails. You can add a token multiple times across your various program assets and with a single change to the token value, update the what’s displayed across all instances where your token used within the program.  For example, if you reference the launch date of your new partner program 15 times within your various emails, by replacing all instances of the date with a program token you simply update the Program Token each time you clone your program rather than updating each of the 15  date references.

Example of Marketo Program Tokens

Frequently Asked Questions:

While you may have on-boarded a hundred partners and understand the process like the back of your hand, for each of your partners, this process is new and unfamiliar. During the on-boarding process, your partners will likely have a myriad of questions. And let’s face it, sometimes answering those questions can be frustratingly time consuming. By creating an online resource center or series of landing pages where you host information like FAQs, How-To Documentation, Explainer Videos, Process Overviews, Requirement Documents, etc., you can save time internally. Plus, your partners will have a valuable resource to help educate and assist them through the process.

In Conclusion: Optimization Never Ends

With the on-boarding of each new partner, lessons will be learned and areas for improvement will be uncovered. An internal debrief meeting upon completion of each on-boarding can help you continue to optimize the on-boarding process. To gain visibility to the partner’s experience, consider sending a post on-boarding survey email as the final step of your process. The internal debrief meeting is a great time to review the Partners survey results. Remember, like any successful strategy, your Partner On-Boarding process should continue to evolve.

Happy On-Boarding!

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