What Really Incentivizes Agency Partners?

How do you incentivize your agency partners_ (3)

What Really Incentivizes Agency Partners?

Just like any successful relationship, with software-agency partnerships, they must be built on equal benefits, trust and communication. Yes, you have to give to get. But it’s not that simple… 

*NOTE: For the purposes of this article, “Agency” and “Consultancy” are synonymous. 

Jay McBain of Forrester estimates there are over 100,000 software companies today – up from 10K ten years ago.

“I estimate there are more than 100,000 software companies (ISVs) today around the world — up from 10,000 only 10 years ago.” – Jay Mcbain, Forrester

But even if we look at marketing technology (a great segment for partnerships), we’re looking at over 7400! And they all need to grow, or die. And agency relationships are a necessary factor in that growth for many of them. 

The issue is, most software companies have the wrong interpretation of why an agency chooses to ‘partner’ with (align with, refer, resell, co-market, etc…) a particular software provider. 

And just like relationships and blackjack, an agency taking the enormous risk of choosing to double-down on any software is only chosen for self-preservation. 

Before we get into defining what actually incentivizes software-agency-partnerships, let me first clarify what it means for an agency to ‘double-down’ on any particular software: 

  • The agency is exclusive to one software per category / use case. 
  • The agency devotes resources in learning that software inside and out. 
  • The agency builds retainers around services with this software powering those. 
  • And, the agency will even provide you invaluable product roadmap feedback… 

This is what we at Partner Programs call an agency-software “Partnership”. And the result of having it can be the lion’s share of your revenue.


Let’s start with a scenario that comes across my desk often; It begins with a conversation with either the CEO, or someone in a senior revenue position (i.e. CRO, VP of Sales…) at a software company, and goes like this: 

Software provider: “We’re preparing our strategy for agency partnerships, and we are interested in working with Partner Programs to help us curtail it to the agency persona’s, and get the word out.” 

Me: “That’s great to hear, where are you at now?”

Software provider: “We have persona’s developed, a list of current customers matching this persona, a partner manager hired, and a landing page.” 

Me: “And what made you want to open up this agency channel?”

Software provider: “We have numerous agencies enjoying and referring to our product now. We think we can grow this channel by offering them an incentive to do so.”

Me: “You have a few boxes checked, which is great, but may I ask what you are planning to use for ‘incentive’?”

Software provider: “We are considering a minimum of 20% on recurring revenue from anyone they bring to us. Is this sufficient to get them to bring in more referrals?”

A Real Example

[Backstory – I have never referred anyone to this platform, nor had a single conversation with this partner manager about being a partner of theirs prior to her sending this]

Here is what we know: 

  1. Your product has to work very well and solve a “material” need for your software to be in a position to even consider a partner program (or be competitive at all). There are a few other partner program viability signals that we discuss here in detail
  2. Yes, you can get people to signup for a partner program with a pure rev-share incentive. But, our experience tells us that those who sign up based purely on referral credit are those who end up in the 80% of partners who rarely send a referral, if ever.
  3. If you do not build incentives into your program which makes your agency partners more valuable TO THEIR CLIENTS, and/or BRINGS THEM MORE BUSINESS, your program will fail. 

Agency Incentives

What will NOT create an agency “Partner”:

  1. Referral fees.
  2. Extended trial periods.
  3. A one-size fits all program.

What agencies actually incentivizes them:

  1. __% back to the agencies referred clients.
  2. Multi-client dashboard access from one login.”
  3. Co-marketing relationships.
  4. Being included in product roadmap decisions.
  5. Referrals from your directory.

What to do now?

Well, take our course when we publish it.

But here’s what you can do today: 

  1. Talk to non-affiliated agencies – those who resell other products and do not use your product – find out why they are partnered with the tools they chose. Ask them what the true incentive relationship looks like. 
  2. Start building your incentives list without any referral revenue – using those aspects we mentioned before. 
  3. Create a document that would be sent to potential agency partners showcasing options for this relationship – option A may be more referral fee’s back to the agency, option B will be more discounts back to the referrals from the agency partner. 
  4. Create a Google Form with questions about incentives asking them to choose which group of incentives is ideal for them. 
  5. Send that document out with a link to the Google Form and offer them ___ to fill it out (free coffee coupon, amazon gift card, PLUS early access to this program). 
  6. Finally, ask those who fill it out to take part in product road mapping and added incentives to be early partners.