My name is Alex. I am the founder of PartnerPrograms.io. I am a former agency owner and agency consultant, and I've also worked as VP of marketing for a couple marketplaces and SaaS brands. Currently, we are at around 35 tech partners that we have vetted strongly, like CallRail, and have chosen to represent to our agencies. Our main goal, our focus, is to show agencies how to build services on top of vetted SaaS and really show how to make better partnerships together and grow revenue.
- Bread and butter of agency tech partnerships
- Why you should really double down on a tech partnership
- Strategies for partner marketing
- What you should be looking at for tech partnerships to build for you and your agency
What agency founders should have in place before they look to expand
This is the main thing that we all, hopefully, have in place as agency founders before we look to expand and take advantage of some partnerships in the key areas that we're going to talk about today:
- Do you have streamlined operations in your definition?
- Can your team sell? A lot of the expansion of an agency revolves around: The ability to sell, cross-sell, co-sell, etc.
- Do you have repeat business and sales on retainer?
- Do you have thought leadership in the vertical that you're in and amongst your peers?
What a partnership really is
We want to define partnerships. We talk a lot about partnerships. Depending on the agency's position, depending on their experience, they may have a different definition of what a partnership really is.
Some of you may consider partnerships as the affiliate relationships that you have with your SaaS, where you send them some business and you have an affiliate account where you get paid. What we mean by partnerships is really built on the mutual benefit, the non-transactional compensation that you two receive.
One of the really great anecdotes or examples I've heard in the past said, "Would you grab a beer with that person if you're in their city for a layover?" Do you consider them someone that you would actually call up or text to have a beer with if you're in their city? That, to me, is a partnership.
Agency analysis reports and what makes a great partnership
Now, the agency analysis report that we put together, we did this for all of our SaaS partners. We wanted to look into what really makes a great partnership, why you as agency founders choose to partner with software, and what you're doing with those partnerships. We interviewed about 200 agencies, and we analyzed the data. We came up with some really interesting findings that I think help set the tone for this presentation. I wanted to go over a couple of the main things that we found before we continue. Here is a chart that shows the partnerships by percentage, by total agency size. We interviewed agencies up to, I think, about 220 employees. And above 50 employees, you see there that it's clear: 100% of them are partnered with one software or another. What was most interesting is, as we got into the lower agency size, we actually found that many of them—a good majority of them—were still partnering with software. That was great to see, and it's happening more and more as the months go on.
Why are agencies choosing to partner?
Why are they partnering with software? What are the reasons that agencies are choosing to partner? This is really interesting and compelling. We found that referrals, and training and support, were the two most compelling reasons.
Training and support
You can imagine—depending on your agency size, if you're in the two-to-10 range—that training and support are key. As you're growing your agency, as you're selling more, as you're becoming more and more of an operational system, you need training and support. You need your SaaS to come and help you with that additional level of support for your clients that you're selling.
As you grow, it's obviously referrals. You want to make sure that you have support from your partners, that you're on their agency directory, and that they are assisting you with that growth through referrals. Now for the main reasons why your agency can add new revenue streams and grow using tech partnerships. The main thing, I think, is optimizing retainers.
1. Optimizing retainers
If you're not currently selling retainers, hopefully you're thinking about it. I assume most of you are selling retainers. Now, what can a tech partnership do for your retainer? When you're thinking about the full workflow of your retainer, the knowledge and the support, and the overall benefit of having one or two of those SaaS as partners can change things dramatically for young agencies—especially when you're talking about selling retainers.
With new agencies, when you are dealing with tech partnerships and you are looking at retainers, one of the biggest things is lead flow. One of your retainers is supported by a partnership, and you have made it clear to the SaaS partner that that retainer is something that you are focused on selling, and that their tool supports that retainer. You're going to get some love from them and their team, hopefully by way of some new referrals.
2. Become more full-funnel
The ways that you can partner with software, obviously, are to widen but also to deepen your full-funnel services. We look at some of the things that you can do as a PPC agency. It sounds like there's a lot of SEO and PPC agencies in here, but one compelling thing to think about is, obviously, the full-funnel.
CallRail sits at the top of the funnel with call attribution. During the funnel, there's landing page builders like Unbounce. There’s a whole lot of additional service layers that you can build on the data side of things. You can look at it as, “Okay. Well, I'm currently selling PPC, and I'm living in AdWords, or I'm living in Business Manager for Facebook. But what can I do before and afterward? What software lives at each side of the funnel? How can I look at those additions to better my retainers, to make those more valuable? And who offers partnerships at each side of that equation?” That's what we definitely want you to look at. How can you deepen the services and become more full-funnel?
That was the example that I just gave: the PPC agency that's currently operating inside of their client's CMS and building the campaigns inside of AdWords, and they're leaving it at that.
- Adding CallRail for call attribution
- Looking at landing page builders and deepening their impression
- Deepening their value for their clients by adding more conversion rate optimization services—and in order to do that effectively, look at the partnership with those services
3. Capture more of your client’s ad spend
The other aspect of this is widening to capture more of your client's ad spend. This is why we look back to the beginning of the presentation, when we talked about, “Do you have operations? Do you have sales in place?” Because when you look at widening, that is something that you need to definitely make sure, that you are ready to go wide. It's a lot easier to go deeper than it is to go wider, but look at relevant services first.
Look at the business lifecycle for your clients. Where are they at currently with their business? And what are they also maybe looking to do while they're engaging with you for whatever services that you offer? I'll give you some examples in a minute. Refer to certain software implementation that has an additional layer of support when you go wider. This is where partnerships are almost a necessity, in my opinion, because of the partnership side and the partnership angle. If you are looking to build services on top of that solution, they can and often will give you an additional layer of support that they don't give the end users if you're just coming through the sales funnel.
Widening your services doesn't mean you need to be the expert if you do rely heavily on those partnerships to go ahead and go wider, and then you become the expert as you continue to sell those services.
A perfect example of this is a web app development. Why stop at developing the site when you can go ahead and offer things like on-page SEO, ADA compliance, chat, and forms automation, these kinds of things? You see it, and I think some of the best agencies out there are doing it very strategically, where you're not going outside of your purview. You're staying in your purview, but you are, in fact, widening your services. Check out those. I think ADA compliance is one that's really interesting right now, too.
4. Partnering simply to gain leads and referrals
Partnering simply to gain leads and referrals, this is why we saw back in the chart why a lot of the larger agencies are partnering. It is that lead flow. You know, you see the HubSpot platinum partners. Why are they continuing to invest and expand and train on HubSpot? Because they get more lead flow from that additional layer of partnership. Leads may be the reason and why you're stuck to that partner—not necessarily because they're the top technology provider, not necessarily because your clients are demanding that, but they are sending you the most leads. As you get deeper into the partnership, that can be something that you are staying around in order to do.
As an agency, you need to weigh the overall benefits of a partner and look at what aspects of the partnership are most intrinsic to your agency growth and why should you invest your time and energy into that software. Why should you take those additional phone calls? Why should you train your team? Why should you go down the certification route? It needs to align with your overall growth goals, but the benefits of being a partner for those tools are everything that we talked about here. But it's more of a relationship that you can build and expand on. It's additional help. It's everything that you should be looking at, especially as a young agency, to continue to grow if that's what you're looking at doing.
When you're looking at new tools, instead of going and looking through the demo route, looking through the sales route of joining that tool. Look through the partnership funnel.
If you can, go and fill out a form on the partnership page and onboard to that tool through that partnership angle. That's going to set you up in a different light within their ecosystem. And I think what you'll find is a much different experience overall with that software if you go and onboard through their partnership funnel, as opposed to through their sales funnel.
- When vetting new software, start with their partner program form.funnel as opposed to the standard free trial + demo funnel.
- Look for programs with more than just affiliate commissions. Look for those non-compensatory incentives, like support. Do they have a directory that you can join? How many pass-through advantages do they have for your clients?
- Ask them how they can help you close more business.
- Check out our favorite programs: https://partnerprograms.io/top-software-partnerships-for-agencies
- Email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. With partnerships and the affiliate commissions that people sometimes get, that's a pretty easy revenue stream to be able to maybe have less risk right now. But if someone were to, say, start white-labeling their agency to work with other agencies, do you have any recommendations for that, about how an agency could get started?
White-labeling their agency for other agencies, not vice versa. We have a community, community.PartnerPrograms, where we often represent white-label agencies. That's one option if you are looking to advertise that. But strategically, how you would get started—and I've talked to a few agencies that have done this and run into some walls—but the main things with white-labeling is you have to understand that the representation of your agency is going to get pulled into a sale that doesn't necessarily give you any sort of thought leadership, any sort of additional intrinsic value for your agency.
You’ve got to be aware that before you go into that (I've heard and I believe this to be true for the best agencies out there that I've seen white-label their services) is that almost has to be a positioning decision where you, as an agency, decide to become a white-label agency. And you're sort of going down that road with one new client at a time, but your end goal is to be 100% white-labeled, and you set your entire agency operations up to do so. And that, I think, is for good reason.
The agencies that I see try and have bad experiences with white-labeling are going down that road. They don't fully understand all the nuances that happen with a white-label relationship, and then they have to backpedal out of that really quickly. That's a very careful and slippery slope, I would say, for agencies. Before you go into white-labeling, I'd talk to a couple of other agencies that are doing it now. I'd maybe consider white-labeling one service that I really have ironed out, that I really have streamlined, and then go into it with the knowledge and expectations of what it really is going to be for your agency. And it is a heavy sort of sales effort because you can't do a lot on the organic side. You can't do a lot on the thought leadership side for white-labeling, so it is going to be something that you'll have to focus more on the sales side. Have your sales operations buttoned up, too.
2. Just thinking about partnerships in general, some agencies are hesitant to partner because they want to be agnostic, and they want to recommend the best thing for the client. What do you usually say to people like that?
Yeah, so the “biases” answer. The one thing about being software-agnostic, remaining unbiased, you are essentially just saying to your client (and this is in my opinion) that you're letting them be the professional in the software—which you should always be, the professional. You should always be the one telling your clients which software is the best for that specific situation, and sometimes it may not be your "partner." But the main thing there is saying you're unbiased, saying you're agnostic. Working inside of their stacks, it sort of prevents you from becoming the true expert and the thought leader in any particular software. Because you're constantly changing stacks, and you're constantly trying to learn and adjust, and it's impossible to.
You see just how much MarTech, specifically, software there is out there. It's impossible to be even close to an expert in any one tool—let alone multiple tools. The weight of the value of saying that you're software-agnostic, of saying you're unbiased, of even giving that impression, it's not nearly as valuable as the latter, which is essentially saying, "I am the expert in this stack. I've run multiple campaigns through this stack. I manage them day-to-day, and I can tell you everything you need to know about this software stack. But also, I've got the support of them as my partners, and that's because we've done so many builds together."
There's an additional layer of value there, not being agnostic. And if you are agnostic, in my opinion, it's just pretty much saying that you don't know any one stack inside and out. You aren't that thought leader in any one stack.
3. Do you have any general pieces of advice, things that you've seen with the agencies that you've been working with during COVID? Do you have any tips or tricks that you've learned from them?
Some things that are really working well—and this is one of the slides there—is widening your services. So, I just spoke to an agency last night that had about 60% of their business pulled out from under them. We talked about their entire client base, who they have now, what sort of verticals and industries they were in, and the size of the client base. And we came up with, I think, a half-dozen different strategies for how to widen their services and go back to those clients and say, "Hey, I didn't sell you this when we first started, but here's something that I can do for you now."
And we got them in touch with a couple of partnerships. I mentioned ADA compliance. That one's huge right now, but if you look at widening your services, you look at widening your impact for your clients. You can reach out to those providers and find out what they have going for COVID, specifically discounts and any offers that you can extend. Just approach them. Find out what they're doing. Go back to your clients with that offer, plus the service that you're going to provide. Get really strategic about the service. And have a positive conversation, where you're not necessarily going back to your clients, trying to sell them something they don't need at this time, but you are coming to them with a value-add. You've done the research to find an offer for them that's relatable in this time, and you're going to go down and start to widen your services.
Use this time as sort of an opportunistic time to be a little bit more flexible and be a little bit more positive. And understand that you can use the time that you have to learn something new, widen your services, and maybe even pivot in a small sense. But at least look for it, and do the research, and you'll find some opportunities out there. You just got to be a little creative.
Agency Expert Q&A Schedule:
- Session 1: Helping Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Temporarily Pivot To E-Commerce | Tony Lael
- Session 2: Managing Through The Crisis: Facebook Ads Strategies for Turbulent Times | Noah Freeman
- Session 3: Free Money from Google & What To Do With It | Ryan Garrow
- Session 4: How Agencies Can Build Additional Revenue Streams | Alex Glenn