If someone is always a bridesmaid, never a bride, they never quite get the commitment they’re striving for. Our research reveals that most partner reps manage one or two key relationships and up to six minor partnerships – each vying for greater mindshare. How can a supplier command enough of a partner’s attention to obtain the coveted top spot?  Engagement is key. Not the kind that comes with a diamond ring and a promise of forever, but rather the commitment of a partnership reciprocated by both parties.

Suppliers often mistakenly view partner engagement as just another marketing or sales objective, to be checked off when a partner initially commits to the partner program or begins down the path to training/certification. This treats engagement as a one-time transaction instead of an ongoing effort that must be sustained over time. Engagement is not just about grabbing but holding a partner’s attention, and a supplier’s goal should be to grow and sustain the partnership.

Here are the top three things to consider when evaluating partner engagement:

  • Incenting partners to engage in your partner program. Consider using incentives to entice partners to join your program. Rather than reward them once they’ve reached a pre-determined revenue level or cooperatively advertised with you, move the carrot to influence initial engagement activities. This can be done in the form of starter funds – using dollars or market development fund (MDF) points – available to new partners when they sign up for your partner program. Front-loading incentive funds for partners to use in their first campaign offers them an upfront benefit to join your program.

  • Timing demand generation campaigns as engagement offers at critical stages. Partners are three times more likely to engage in a demand creation activity when they’ve just finished training or certification. As partners finalize training or certification, engage them on the spot with campaign calls to action. Offer them co-funding and/or turnkey programs that not only support their efforts to generate demand but also show the supplier’s interest in their success.

  • Applying engagement incentives to drive program adoption. Our research shows that program adoption by partners averages 40 percent and can be as low as 20 percent. Incentives can play a big role in influencing partner engagement behavior – for example, through a deal registration program. Suppliers can get more deals registered into their systems by offering additional margin, MDF dollars/points or rebates. Extending this to allow partners to accumulate additional points/margin when updating their deal data, on through to close, extends suppliers’ engagement reach throughout the selling process. Partners have limited resources to invest in supplier programs, so rewarding them for their investment can build loyalty and stronger relationships.


    Engagement should become the strategic process to guide and migrate a partner along the partnership lifecycle. Suppliers should use the incentive process to engage and reinforce desired partner behavior at key stages and then measure whether each objective has been achieved and whether or not a partner has advanced to the next step. The more engaged partners are in your program offerings, the less likely they will be to change partner programs. Suppliers must be diligent in their efforts to win over the hearts and minds of their partners to develop not just a casual date, but a true marriage.