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SaaS affiliate marketing: common partnerships and how they work for affiliate marketing

SaaS affiliate marketing is more than influencers and celebrity endorsements – it’s part of a larger partnerships economy. Learn who you should consider as an affiliate and how different partnerships contribute to success.

Foundations of SaaS Affiliate Marketing
Matt Moore
Matt Moore
Associate Manager of Product Marketing
Read time: 4 mins

Affiliate marketing kicked off in the late 80s, but today’s affiliate programs look nothing like the ones around when MTV launched. Today, affiliates are part of a larger partnerships economy. 

SaaS affiliate partners are third-party companies, influencers, subject matter experts, or other publishers that are incentivized to promote your brand to their audience. A strong partnership benefits all parties — with both the advertiser (SaaS business) and publisher (content creator) operating a vested interest in the program growth. 

According to a recent Forrester study, companies with mature partnership programs grow their partner channel revenue nearly two times faster than companies with loose partner connections. These companies exceed stakeholder expectations not only on revenue growth, but also on other key business metrics like stock price, bottom-line profitability, and the growth of their partnership programs. 

Who can be a SaaS affiliate partner?

We often think of affiliates as existing customers — and while your current customer base is the perfect place to start building your list of potential partners, affiliates include a wide variety of people, businesses, and organizations. Expanding your idea of a partner diversifies your affiliate program to grow your reach and make your program more successful. 

The most common affiliate partnerships for  SaaS companies are:

  • Ambassadors. Your business can incentivize people to evangelize for your product. Dropbox went from 100,000 users to 4,000,000 users in 15 months with a viral customer referral program, allowing users to earn more free space by referring friends and family.
  • Content and comparison sites. Customers go to these sites during the research phase of their customer journey. Partnering with these sites incentivizes authors to include your product in more content and provide more thorough solution explanations. 
  • Influencers. You’ll often find influencers among consultants and thought leaders who use your products or could benefit from them. They post on Facebook, Reddit, and LinkedIn to share advice and connect with their audiences.
  • Communities and associations. Organizations ranging from trade associations to civic groups make excellent referral partners. Microsoft, for instance, partnered with various local chambers of commerce to reach the SMB market.
  • Strategic brand-to-brand and native integrations. Software companies form alliances with other companies to reach further than they are able to on their own. This ranges from a simple co-branding partnership to integrating a partner’s software into your own product. For example, Canva partnered with HubSpot to allow users to create email templates and more with Canva’s design tools directly within the HubSpot platform.
  • Traditional affiliates. These are the partnerships you know best from the world of retail marketing, including coupon, deal, and loyalty sites. Packaged software companies have long had a presence in traditional affiliate channels, and SaaS companies do find success with these partnerships as well.

The most successful SaaS affiliate programs focus on partner diversity. Your company needs to assess the right mix of partners to meet its business goals, since different types of partners drive different results.

Some partners, such as affiliates and native integrations can put you in front of your target audience at the right stage of the buyer’s journey. Others may be more useful to influence renewals, retention, and expansion down the line. Your target industry, location, and maturity all affect your ideal partner mix.

How to know if an affiliate partnership is right for your SaaS product?

Assess your business goals, what your company has to offer, and how a partnership mutually benefits both parties to build a strategy for finding partnerships. 

There are five metrics for assessing partner compatibility: 

  • Complementary business objectives. Potential partners come together because they’re convinced the value they co-create exceeds what either could create on their own. Their goals may differ, but their product and audience should be complementary.
  • Brand fit. When partners work together, their brands become associated with each other. If your product doesn’t fit the needs of their customers, audiences, and other stakeholders — you’ll hit a dead end. Be strategic about the message your association sends.
  • Competitor status. Evaluate whether your potential partner works with a competitor, and how you can gain an edge through this partnership. For example, you may offer a better commission structure or fit their audience with greater precision.
  • Ability to work together. Partners want to feel supported, so consider onboarding, product education, and the time you’re willing to spend to ensure they’re comfortable with your agreement.
  • Desire to work together. Finally, you both have to want it. It will take a mutual commitment of time and resources to make a partnership work. Find partners who not only pitch your product but also work through challenges and want to scale your program strategically.

No two businesses will have the same needs and goals for their partnership programs. However, the most popular kinds of referral partnerships for SaaS companies are content partnerships, strategic brand-to-brand, and influencers. Once they reach maturity, partnership programs have the ability to catalyze massive growth for your company. 

When you’re ready to start laying the foundations of your partnership program, reach out to a growth technologist at or request a demo.

For more ideas and guidance on SaaS affiliate marketing, check out these other resources for SaaS affiliate marketing and the basics behind successful affiliate marketing:

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