Partner education is the strategic act of building an education initiative for channel partners (e.g., service providers, resellers, or vendors) to reach specific business goals.
Companies provide partner education to equip partners with the knowledge to resell confidently and to support the partner’s consultative services. Many partners deliver consulting or workshops related to the product. When partners are successful, they drive more revenue for your business.
Our State of Education Initiative Ownership report found that 33% of companies have partner education programs in place. While typically, companies build employee or customer education initiatives first, partner education warrants the investment as it offers companies significant business growth opportunities.
Failing to educate partners can be bad for your business’s bottom line. Our Transforming Organizational Education Initiatives report uncovered that 54% of companies that employ a scalable partner education initiative report improved partner success.
If you have a partner program with no formal education in place, considering what a partner education program could do for your business is a valuable exercise, regardless of company stage.
After reading this article, you’ll understand:
- The benefits of partner education
- What types of partners companies educate
- Common examples of partner learning formats
- Who in the organization should own partner education
- Partner education best practices (according to data and experts)
- How to build a partner education initiative at your organization
What are the benefits of partner education?
Improved partner success is not the only benefit companies gain by building a partner education initiative. Kevin Dunn, Senior Manager at HubSpot Academy, says partner education provides the following benefits:
Increased sales and revenue. Partner education provides a scalable method to grow servicing or account management arms to generate new business in a way that allows your company to be less dependent on headcount to grow.
Improved customer experience. Deeply enabled, educated partners who know your product comprehensively will improve your customer experience.
Increased customer retention. Partners help customers see and find value — and find it sooner. This makes your product a stickier solution and extends the customer’s lifetime revenue.
Improved partner alignment. As you identify your strategic objectives, frameworks, and the types of businesses you want to target now and in the future, you can bring partners along that narrative. Educating your partners and treating them as an extension of your team ensures your partners are set up to bring long-term value to your shared customers—including customers of today and the ones you want to attract in the future.
What types of partners do companies educate?
Typically, company partners are consultants, agencies, or other businesses that sell your product or offer services that correspond with your product. For example, you might have partners who not only sell your software but also provide workshops to software users to enhance their results.
Partner education enables these partners to make the biggest impact possible. It also ensures different partners speak about the brand, the product, and the corresponding benefits in a consistent and accurate way.
At HubSpot Academy, the Solutions Partner program is designed for managed service providers who are resellers of HubSpot’s software. As part of the HubSpot Solutions Partner membership, partners gain access to training and certification created specifically for them. These certifications show that HubSpot Solutions partners are HubSpot approved and ensure their partners are equipped to be successful.
What are some examples of learning formats?
While a small fraction of partners might attend in-person training, virtual opportunities make training accessible to all—and use fewer resources.
Robust, virtual eLearning programs can be built within a learning management system (LMS). The programs might house:
- On-demand videos
- Text-based resources
- Courses and certifications
- Virtual instructor-led training (VILT)
Additional features like gamification and community inside these platforms offer additional ways to boost learner engagement. These diverse features help you reach more partners and discourage learner abandonment. (Training abandonment is the No. 1 issue learning professionals contend with.)
HubSpot Academy is a perfect example of how to vary content formats and use community to boost engagement.
At HubSpot, partner education is housed within HubSpot Academy. Similar to the customer education experience, partner education includes self-paced, on-demand videos, text lessons, resources, and templates … with an additional component.
As Dunn explains, “Partners care deeply about learning from other partners, through educational content and in the community. Beyond concepts and strategies, they want to see proof applied in the real world; the practical application of concepts. While the packaging of our partner education is the same [as customer education], we find subject matter experts in our partner ecosystem and ask them to collaborate or bring their perspectives. We share features of partners who've learned the skill and show, ‘Here's how a partner is operationalizing this for their client.’ Weaving in the real partner experience and practical application is huge.”
Partners care deeply about learning from other partners. Beyond concepts and strategies, they want to see proof applied in the real world.” - Kevin Dunn, Senior Manager, HubSpot Academy
HubSpot also established mechanisms for more rigorous validation for partners to receive certifications. “We want partner certifications to have an enhanced value, a meaty weight. We want it to signal deep knowledge,” Dunn shares.
What exactly is rigorous validation? This might include:
- A call listening exercise where partners submit their interpretation of a call and the next steps
- Submission of a practical sample from a workbook
- File completion based on a scenario or case-based information
Don’t be afraid to challenge your partners. At the end of the day, the greater they perform, the more benefits they’ll reap.
Who should own partner education?
The same Education Initiative Ownership report found that partner education is most often owned by the Education team (which might also be called the Learning and Development team). The HR function was second runner-up. Not all companies assign a single department to own partner education, however; 13% of the time, ownership is shared.
The reigning theory among education professionals (66%) is that ownership of employee, customer, and partner education should be shared across teams. It’s interesting to note, however, that learning professionals with just one owner over all education initiatives are more likely to exceed their business goals.
While companies that centralize education ownership are more likely to see better business performance, a problem may arise from centralized ownership if the individuals lack the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
For example, HR professionals often lack formal training on instructional design and learning content strategy, making them more likely to feel underskilled and unconfident as compared to learning professionals on the Education team.
Beyond HR and Education Ownership
HR and Education aren’t the only departments to own partner education, however. Other departments bring valuable experience to the partner table. For instance, business acumen is a wildly important skill for partner education owners to possess, but it’s a skill undervalued by many learning professionals. In fact, it didn’t even make the top 10 list of most important education owners skills:
For example—our client, Gusto, launched a successful partner education program. Their head of education sits on the marketing team. What that leader lacks in a traditional education background, she makes up for by being:
She knows how to secure leadership buy-in to ensure she has the resources she needs to bring on the right talent—like an instructional designer, videographer, etc. For this team, strong business acumen was more than enough to make up for a lack of formal training.
Other teams find that partner education is better served by other departments, as well.
Samantha Parsons, Director of Partnerships Experience Academy (PXA) at Impact.com, shared that partner education sits under the product team.
“We didn’t want a sales or marketing lens to our [partner] content,” Samantha says. “As part of the product team, our goal is enablement. How can we enable people to use the product better?”
From Dunn’s perspective, who owns education isn’t the most important factor. He believes what’s important is for partner marketing and partner enablement teams to be involved in the materials, campaigns, and initiatives.
“The success of partner education is contingent on your ability to interlock it with the other partner enablement, partner-facing efforts, and partner-facing teams across the organization,” Dunn says.
“While education may own it, it needs to be in lockstep with your partner marketing or partner enablement teams on materials, enablement of the campaign, and initiatives. Whoever works and interfaces with your partners needs to be informed and your biggest advocates and champions of the content. They'll be your most effective distribution channel.”
Distribution is critical. After all, if your learner doesn’t have access to the content—or doesn’t know it exists—you might as well not have created it.
What are partner education best practices?
Data from our 2022 and 2023 research supports the following partner education best practices:
Elect one executive sponsor. Education programs succeed most when one executive sponsor is accountable to ensure a holistic strategy, seamless execution, and resource availability.
Curriculum-based and formalized programs yield the best results. A partner education program that’s goal-focused, partner-centric, and strategic across content creation, delivery, and measurement provides the most benefits to partners and companies. Don’t fall into the trap of creating ad hoc learning content.
Build scalable content, starting with the problem. When faced with budget and resource constraints, don’t start creating content by the audience; begin with the problem. Later, that content can be adapted for any audience. And if you use an LMS like Intellum, you can easily segment content into different learning tracks for different audiences.
Learn How DISCO Reached 10,000+ Course Completions one month post-launch using Intellum.
Advice From Partner Education Experts
Dunn stresses the importance of collaboration and leveraging internal subject matter experts. Best practices, from his perspective, include:
- Use a curriculum development strategy. HubSpot uses the ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implement, and evaluate) methodology for both customer and partner education to minimize reinventing the wheel.
- Build content collaboratively. You want your partners to be entrenched in your product and your solution. It becomes a tall, tough task for a curriculum developer and instructional designer to also be the owner of your subject matter expertise. Identify the subject matter experts across your business and build collaboratively across content, provisional outlining, learning outcomes, learning objective creation, script review, slide deck, and visual asset review. Do your SMEs have templates, resources, or a playbook partners can use?
- Understand the role and function partners play for your organization. Ensure your education strategy points partners in that direction. For example, if they’re selling your product, they might benefit from not only product education but also selling education. Are your partners segmented into tiers? Perhaps you structure your education with the goal of teaching them the skills they need to ascend to the next tier.
- Understand what your products or service allows partners to do. Where and how does it fit into the partner experience and the managed services provider's go-to-market? Make sure that’s the framing for how you present, package, and deliver that training. Ensuring the education you build is partner-oriented and partner-focused; talk to customers differently than you talk to partners. Ensure that your partner talk track, verbiage, and tone are always present.
Parsons emphasizes the importance of getting partner feedback on your education initiatives and keeping leadership informed of your progress. Best practices, in her words, include:
Launch, get feedback, and improve. It’s easy to get caught up and focused on the most high-quality video or getting everything perfect before you release it. What Parsons found in launching her first curriculum was, people aren't looking for perfection; they're looking for high-quality content that teaches them something they don't already know. Figure out what it is your partners need to know to be successful and present it in whatever way you have the bandwidth for.
Track KPIs and report on them. Use metrics to report on and keep your senior leadership team updated. A struggle Parsons had was tying education metrics to the greater company metrics. If someone is a PXA learner, is their churn lower as a client? If someone is a PXA learner, do they form more productive partnerships? Even if it's just the registered learner count, the number of course completions, or the number of certifications to start, get that in front of your senior leadership team and show them the impact you're having.
Address pain points. Be cognizant, especially if you're in a large organization, of how you can help other departments at the company. What are their pain points? How could education alleviate them? For example, churn is a big problem for the sales department. How can we help our partners educate their customers so they don’t churn? Partners and customer success reps receive lots of help requests. You might create micro-learning so that a partner or CS person can email the client a link to a video that explains it perfectly; they don't have to write a response.
How can organizations build partner education initiatives?
When you’re ready to start a partner training program, strategic frameworks are available to guide you.
One example is the Intellum Framework, which helps you build your education strategy by considering three perspectives — the perspective of your goals, your audience, and your content. The Framework, which derives from the Intellum Methodology, exists to help you align all stakeholders around the education’s anticipated business impact.
Grow Scalably Through Educating Partners
Investing in educating partners supports your company's growth, without additional internal headcount; this is an incredible opportunity for the current economic climate. Strong partner education programs equip partners with the knowledge and skills to sell confidently, deliver an incredible customer experience, and drive more revenue.
While partners are often the last audience prioritized, better business outcomes result from partner education built alongside customer and employee education. This unified front transcends work in silos to strategic organizational education.
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