Want to be a great Chief Partnerships Officer? Here are 5 top tips

impact.com’s Greater China branch is growing exponentially, and as General Manager, I have a lot to celebrate and reflect upon. Of course, it also had me thinking about what lies ahead both for our organization and the industry. And one trend I foresee is the expansion of the new role in the executive suite: the […]

Jennifer Zhang
Jennifer Zhang
General Manager, Greater China
Read time: 5 mins

impact.com’s Greater China branch is growing exponentially, and as General Manager, I have a lot to celebrate and reflect upon. Of course, it also had me thinking about what lies ahead both for our organization and the industry. And one trend I foresee is the expansion of the new role in the executive suite: the Chief Partnership Officer (CPO).

As partnerships gain ground as a vital channel for growth, CPOs will be essential in helping companies shape new business models and address the challenging issues faced by digital marketers in the new era.

CPOs may come from an existing affiliate team or revenue enablement team, but they will be involved in all aspects of partnership programs; including driving business growth, improving branding, ensuring precise product marketing, optimizing customer lifetime value, and more. Based on my experience in partnerships, I’d like to give five pieces of advice to future CPOs.

5 Top Tips for Future CPOs

  1. Manage and improve your partnership mix
  2. Adapt your strategy to match your industry
  3. Understand your consumer journey
  4. Invest in automation
  5. Understand the 80/20 rule in partnerships

1. Improve the maturity of your partnerships, and continuously optimize your partner ecosystem.

There are over 3,000 global brands and advertisers on the impact.com platform driving growth through partnerships. For the past few years, we has commissioned Forrester to conduct in-depth surveys with these advertisers. Last year, we investigated 454 of them and reached some conclusions, supported by data, that are relevant for decision-makers.

If you are new to partnerships and partnership programs, your company is likely at low maturity. For low-maturity companies, network affiliates are often an important partnership channel and remain so as maturity increases.

But in mature organizations, other types of partners, including strategic partners and influencers, will also play a role in your partner ecosystem.

As a CPO, you should be aware that program maturity is the result of long-term input of resources, experience, and data.

2. Take into account the characteristics of your industry; there is no one-size-fits-all partnership mix.

For example, it makes sense that a CPO from the retail industry partners with Jiaqi Li (the “King of Lipstick” in China) to sell lipsticks in live-stream shows. But should a CPO from the financial services industry ask him to sell financial products and insurance?

Know yourself and your partners, and be realistic about your market space.

Because the retail industry features high-consumption frequency, variable consideration products, lower order value, and lower risk, consumers will be distracted by more factors.

But the financial services industry features higher order values and risk. So what works in this case? Consider partnerships with agents, network affiliates, or agency channels.  Of course, affiliates still play an essential role, and influencers are becoming increasingly important.

3. Understand your consumer journey to better build your partnerships.

Partnerships come in many forms and sizes. The CPO needs to evaluate a suitable combination of partners to achieve business goals at each stage of the partnership journey. Different types of partners can achieve different marketing effects. Social media influencers, affiliates, and brand ambassadors can help you attract a specific target audience. Partners that influence customers in the early stage of the purchase journey may have little contribution in renewing, retaining, and expanding customers later on.

When designing a partner ecosystem, the CPO must look at each stage in the context of the entire customer journey. Understanding the customer journey, including buyers’ behavior and psychology, is very important for determining whether your current channel partner is appropriate. Finding the right combination of partners will be one of the biggest challenges your business faces across all stages of the partnership journey.

4. Increase your investment in partnership automation, and automate manual processes. 

It shocks me that according to the research conducted by Forrester, there are still 7% of companies doing partnership tracking manually. I don’t even know how they do it.

In the Tracking phase, key decisions must be made to determine which indicators are most important to your company, how to measure them, and how to report them. Most indicators do not require real-time or near real-time measurement, but some indicators may need to be checked on a daily basis, others weekly or monthly. 

In the Tracking phase, automated and scalable measurement is crucial.

For companies at all maturity levels, the most important tracking capability is to track the journey of customer acquisition and retention. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) decision-makers want to know whether a partner brings new traffic into the customer journey and facilitates customer conversion. They also report that this is where they spend the most time in the Tracking phase.

It’s hard to imagine how they can accomplish daunting tasks like the sorting, analysis, attribution, and optimization of massive data without automation.

5. Understand the 80/20 rule of partnership management.

As a CPO, you need to maintain good relationships with your best partners, as they bring 80% of the business to the company.

How can you maintain your key partners? It’s not just about money. Are your tools working well? Are your reports accurate? Do you still use Excel to make reports or do you have an automatic reporting system?

But at the same time, you need to work at reducing concentration risk. Having 80% of your revenue generated by only 20% of your partners carries considerable risk, so you will need to also collaborate with the 20% and see how you can grow their contributions.

Creating self-service, flexible, and simple portals and tools for your partners will make life easier for them. And by automating operations and business functions, you can increase customer engagement in sales and marketing.

Don’t go it alone

As CPO at your company, you hold the levers for an enormous amount of growth and success for your organization. And while your program needs to reflect your industry and your marketplace, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Automation tools will help you move faster toward maturity; the example of successful high-maturity partnership organizations can help you design your strategy. Plus the Impact team is always here to help — contact us at grow@impact.com.

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