3 Expert Strategies & Tips for Increasing Partner Engagement in Your Online Community

Corporations, Community Strategy // Find out how to use your online community to engage your SaaS partners - while getting valuable content you can use to increase customer engagement.

Chris Detzel
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Many B2B SaaS companies rely on the partner ecosystem to generate revenue through upsell, resell, or product implementation. There are often entire teams in these SaaS companies dedicated to managing the partner ecosystem.

If you have a reseller, dealer, or partner program, you know that engaging your partners is important to the program’s success. They have to see value to participate – and the more engaged they are the more dedicated they’ll be to your program.

One of the best ways to get your partners engaged is to use your online community. I’ll walk you through how I’ve set up the partner engagement program at my company, Reltio, a Master Data Management vendor, and I’ll also share three expert tips from other community builders below.

Let’s dive in.

Developing Your Partner Engagement Process in 3 Steps

Step Zero is to come up with a process. Here’s mine:

  • Show your partners and resellers ways they can engage and why they should engage.
  • Create a small program to guide them through the process.

Step 1: Communicate the Why

What’s in it for the partner? Share the benefits of getting involved. Here’s how I do it.

At Reltio, I share seven benefits of being part of a community to both partners and customers.

  1. Share expertise with the Community.
  2. Get solutions from peers that have Reltio products.
  3. Help shape the community as a valued Reltio customer or partner.
  4. Give input on the direction of Reltio’s product strategy.
  5. Get access to Reltio experts.
  6. Share ideas and make Reltio’s products better for you and others.
  7. Attend Community Webinars, which include how to’s, new products, and more.

Step 2: Get Partners Engaged Early

If you are building a new community from scratch, there is a huge opportunity for both partners and customers to get engaged early to help seed your community. Not only does early involvement and seed content help you as a community builder, because you have content ready to go and bugs worked out, but it can also help the partner. They get brand exposure to every user that joins the community and sees their content.

partners seed community

Here’s how I promote this:

  • Ask questions and answer questions. (Seeding the content from them and getting answers from them is a must to get early access)
  • Get early access to the Community
  • Shape the Reltio Community
  • Become a founding member
  • Become a spotlight on Community

Step 3: Create an Engagement Pathway

As I mentioned before, having a process in place is important. The process I started, which is by no means the only process, starts with a simple approach.

Anyone can join the community, but how do you get them to engage more? Here’s how I lay it out:

partner community involvement

Create simple instructions for your partners to follow and guidelines for engagement.

Join: 

  • Create an account.
  • Set up your community profile.
  • View unanswered questions.
  • Answer a question you have knowledge in.

Activate:

  • Be a dedicated go-to expert in key subjects on the Community.
  • Create your own process to listen and respond to posts that you have expertise in.
  • Sign up for and take our partner activation training series (Updated profile, how to post, how to add a blog, how to add videos, etc.)

Partner:

  • Craft original knowledge articles (Community blog).
  • Develop and post original product video content.
  • Host a community webinar (how-to’s, etc).
  • Get a Partner Ribbon added to your profile.

This is how I approached the partner landscape. It is not the only way, but it is a process and a good place to start.

3 Expert Tips for Getting Partners to Engage in Your Online Community

I also posed the question of partner engagement question – specifically, “How do you get Partners to engage with your B2B Online SaaS Community?” – to my peers, leaders in the community industry.

They shared plenty of excellent partner engagement tips. Read their tips below or check out the full conversation on LinkedIn.

Tip #1: Create a Compelling Reason to Engage

“If there is a reason (compelling purpose) for such partners to join, things work efficiently. Such reason will depend on specific user persona: a sales rep vs. a consultant for example.”

Matthieu Laurenceau, Senior Manager, Online Communities, BMC Software

“I think there’s many similarities with how we think about trying to keep customers engaged and in the Community – like Matthieu said, give them a compelling reason to be there – why would they come? Why would they do more than just come? Being active in your Community, answering questions and sharing tips and best practices is great for their exposure without a doubt.

From my experience most partners seem to get this – we have at least one person from almost all our partners, somewhat active in our Community – some more than others but for sure they provide a ton of value to our members and that for them is a big thing. Help them do that, spotlight them, build them into your champions/advocacy program in some way. Reach out, build and nurture relationships with them. They’re just like customers. but different. Treat them as such. Do some of the same things – just a bit different. First – give them a reason to be there, make it hard for them not to be there.”

Nick Emmett, Community Manager at FinancialForce

“For engaging with partners, they need to understand A) the value and B) what are the options for them to be involved? Once you have the infrastructure in place and are operational it is much easier to plug/play. Pie in the sky stuff with partners where it feels too abstract will just lead to too many tires being kicked and going nowhere fast. Build up materials that explain this through PDFs, high-level PPTs, and get your messaging down. Once ready send out the collateral and start booking 1:1 time with the right contacts at your partners. You also need a community calendar so you can book/schedule various deliverables/opps better.”

Blake Ethridge, Community Manager at DZone

Tip #2: Train and Onboard So Engagement Stays Valuable

“My guiding principle here is partners can add value to B2B community especially around knowledge share and best practices. Training and on boarding should be done as you don’t want these convos becoming aggressive sales calls for their business. It needs to stay on point and on brand. Pilot a subset to onboard then iterate and open up. We can do an entire podcast on this topic.”

Dani Weinstein, Senior Director, Customer Community and Growth at Kaltura

Tip #3: Define Partner Personas & Community Engagement Expectations for Each

“To build on Matthieu’s point – it depends upon the Partner persona. We created four personas and built interactions for each. By doing so we managed expectations for what we should expect from Partners:

  1. Technical services – these partners are most likely to contribute and add knowledge to a community
  2. Intermittent technical services – many of our partners work with a variety of products. Some partner users only use Flexera once a year. Our use case would be for these individuals to quickly ramp up on changes made to the product since their last engagement and to ask questions of the community.
  3. Sales and marketing – these partners gain value from education available in the community but are unlikely to post
  4. New to Flexera – this is an overlay role to #1 and #3. These users need to understand the company philosophy, our use cases, target personas, etc. They need a light version of employee onboarding to create a foundation before diving into more technical work.

By having these roles defined and journeys mapped, we offered clearer calls to action and gave staff better talking points and requests for use in conversations with Partners. I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have these roles defined when communicating up.

Otherwise you can run into a scenario where execs may be wondering why partners don’t care or don’t show up. It changes a conversation from one of frustration to one of targeted tactics. For example, personas help you narrow the conversation from “Why aren’t our 100 partners users from our 25 partner companies actively contributing to community posts?” to “Which partners don’t have a technical employee engaging and what barriers exist (e.g. does their contact even belong to community? Do they feel they have knowledge gaps and can’t offer input? If so, can we fill those knowledge gaps or is it confidence?”

Katie Paffhouse Bussey, Community Manager at Flexera

The Road to Improved Community Engagement with Partners

As you can see, there’s a ton of opportunity for partners to engage with your online B2B SaaS community. I think it is crucial. Partners are people and they can contribute in big ways. The more they learn, the more they connect to peers and customers, and the better off your business will be from a revenue standpoint and just from a contribution standpoint.

In my podcast with Michael Sandoval, we talk about how we are doing this today and how we have done this in the past on our Peers Over Beers Community Expert Podcast, Episode 048 – Part One New B2B SaaS Communities – Common Questions Asked By An Organization, or you can learn more in my blog, Online B2B SaaS Community Q&A. Have questions? Jump into the conversation on LinkedIn.

Chris Detzel

Community Program Manager, Reltio

Chris Detzel is a versatile digital Community Strategist with several years of experience. He owns community vision, strategy, and execution at Reltio. He is responsible for leading the development and execution of community engagement programs, creating compelling content for customer communities, and acts as the voice of the customer. He is skilled at building the “Digital Self-Help Customer Experience” when thinking about how his customers and partners get self-help.  He believes that data should drive decisions as it is the key element of any long-term successful strategy.

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