Today’s business leaders are increasing their focus on partnerships as a channel for revenue growth in 2019 —and with good reason. In a survey of more than 1,200 brand marketers our company commissioned last spring, more than half of company leaders reported that performance partnerships drive more than a fifth of total sales for their organizations. Further, three-quarters of executives identify partnerships as a high or very high priority for their companies for the next year.
As partnerships take on greater weight within organizations, business development teams are challenged to evolve their approaches to identifying, establishing and ensuring the success of these vital and increasingly dynamic relationships. Here are the key trends to watch.
Speed and Scale Rule
As with any area that business leaders identify as a strategic growth opportunity, we’re going to see the heat on partnerships turned up in 2019. Senior management focus is, of course, a great sign for the future of the space, but it can cause some growing pains as business development teams race to reorganize company structures, contracts, systems and mindsets for better scalability. The focus will be on getting into the market quickly with partnerships and getting sales results to critical mass.
For some organizations, partnerships have traditionally been most deeply established within the affiliate realms. While that class of relationships will remain vital, the nature of partnerships in 2019 will expand, with sectors including brand-to-brand alliances, premium content partners, and relationships with social media influencers joining affiliate at center stage.
This expansion and the need to quickly drive toward scale with these relationships means that business development teams need to put some time and energy into standardizing their efforts where possible. Yes, partnerships should be tailored according to the strength of each company, but there is groundwork that can be laid to get partnerships up and running more quickly. Standardized partnership structures, compensation models and proposal and contract language that’s pre-approved by a legal team can go a long way in streamlining partnership growth.
Accountability Becomes the Expectation
As partnerships necessarily become more standardized to accommodate scale requirements, so too will performance measurement. In this regard, we’re going to see a measurement of partner performance drive both deeper and broader in 2019. Simple conversion measurement will expand into more-sophisticated multi-touch attribution and lifetime value schema around a common set of metrics.
Meanwhile, performance measurement will become the norm, not the exception, even for influencer-based partnerships. Now that unique tracking codes and measurement can help companies see the exact revenue emanating from clicks and traffic driven by each influencer, tying activity to results becomes more straightforward than in the past. As a result, organizations will be able to move away from simple flat-fee influencer engagements to compensate more fairly based on outcomes.
Quality Trumps Quantity
Just as organizations sharpen their focus on performance, so too must they prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to partnerships. In 2019 and beyond, the emphasis will be on finding the right partners, rather than filling a quota on partner numbers. Business development teams will be increasingly tasked to grow major partnerships with organizations that offer scale, audience alignment, shared brand values, and category relatability.
Deeper Data Flows Both Ways
Going forward, data integration will be an expected part of the partnerships package. Quite simply, partnerships won’t be forged if they’re not measurable across all activities. And in that regard, the data needs to flow both ways.
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Tracking and sharing of data and insights around all key metrics (subject to privacy laws in all regions, of course) will become standard, and both sides stand to benefit from this deeper flow of information. Just as companies will be able to better understand performance variances among partners, so too will the partners be able to better refine their efforts based on the criteria shown to drive the greatest lifetime value for the company.
Partner Management Gets Streamlined
Finally, as a necessary step toward achieving the scale and speed expected with future partnerships, management and tasks like payments and measurement will need to become centralized and streamlined. While business development teams are typically focused on closing deals, they increasingly need to ensure that their companies can quickly put newly established partnerships into action. As such, helping to established strong systems for program management and payment falls under their purview.
In the coming year, we’re going to see the partner development space reach a new level of maturity that will enhance the efficiency and productivity of these programs within the enterprise. The business development teams that focus on building strong processes and structures to accommodate partnership growth in 2019 will be paving a smoother road to revenue growth for the long haul.