Blog Post

How to Start a Scalable Partner Training Program

Robyn Hazelton
November 2, 2022
July 11, 2023
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Starting a partner training program can help you grow your revenue faster.

Well-trained partners have the skills needed to close new business and retain customers.

A partner network is a lot like an investment fund. The more you put into your partnership program, the likelier you are to reap big rewards. 

Most enterprise companies—like Google, Meta, and IBM—have robust partner learning initiatives in place. That said, startups can (and should) educate their partner network, too.

IBM's partner training program screenshot
IBM's partner training program is called IBM Partner Plus™

So how do you start a partner training program that is scalable?

A mistake many companies make is building an education program from scratch. Without a blueprint to guide you, you might skip essential steps that ensure your eLearning content drives the desired behavior change. (It’s not enough to learn information; partners must also apply their new knowledge.)

To start a successful partner training program at your organization, follow The Intellum Methodology™. It includes eight focus areas or “strategic thrusts”:

  1. Business goals
  2. Audience strategy 
  3. Resources
  4. Content strategy 
  5. Delivery strategy 
  6. Marketing strategy 
  7. Measurement 
  8. Application 

The Intellum Methodology, developed across the span of 20 years, enables you to build a curriculum-based, formalized, and scalable partner training initiative.

As you can see from the graphic below, certain types of training initiatives drive better business outcomes.

graph detailing the type of educational initiative and revenue increase from the 2022 organizational education report curriculum based 60% formalized 56% scalable 51%, informal 25% ad-hoc 22%

But before we dive into the specifics, we want to address the elephant in the room.

There’s a Partner Training Gap.

According to a recent Intellum survey of 500+ education leaders, only 25% of businesses educate partners. The same study revealed that companies are three times more likely to educate customers and employees than partners.

which audiences, if any, does your company educate? 9% customers 76% employees, 25% partners

There are several known benefits of training partners to better serve customers, including:

  • Improved customer retention 
  • Improved partner success
  • Decreased support costs
  • Increased revenue

So, then, why is this happening? Why are companies neglecting their partners?

First, while most every company has employees and customers, fewer companies have partners (channel partners, partner resellers, etc.). So it’s natural that partner education has the lowest adoption rate.

Beyond that, there is a key reason why companies don’t educate their partners. Some leaders mistakenly believe that each audience within the workplace requires a separate content initiative—and they don’t have the resources to invest in employee, customer, and partner training.

Leaders mistakenly think they: 

  • Need to create completely different content for all three audiences (customers, employees, and partners).
  • Need to manually add all that content to various places (video library, sales enablement platform, marketing website, etc.).

And when businesses don’t have the resources they need to create new materials for all three audiences, guess what? They choose to educate only their “most important” audiences. 

woman covers her face in reret

This perfect storm of mistaken beliefs plus resource constraints creates the partner training gap. And, if not addressed, this gap can hinder your potential.

illustration of a person walking over a bridge of puzzle pieces with one missing, illustrating a partner training gap

You must train and enable your partners. 

Scalable training programs drive better business outcomes. 

In the context of corporate training, “scalable” means having the ability to support additional learners with minimal administrative effort. 

Some education professionals don’t realize they can repurpose content for different audiences. But you absolutely can.

For example, customers, partners, and employees all need better product onboarding and education tied to a user maturity model. You might use the same video product training video within your customer, partner, and employee training programs.

If you use a learning management system (LMS) built to educate multiple audiences, you can share content between customers, employees, and partners. This ability to repurpose content and build personalized learning paths helps you create a scalable education initiative.

A company creates a product onboarding video for customers as part of a customer onboarding course.  They repurpose that video within an employee onboarding course.  They repurpose that video within a partner onboarding course.  They use an education platform that allows them to share content across multiple audiences.

Companies with scalable education initiatives are most likely to experience improved partner success, according to the same report mentioned above. 

Type of education initiative and improved partner success All education initiatives Scalable education initiatives 60 > 54% 50 40 > 36% 30 20 10 Improved partner success

Starting a scalable partner training program with the 8-step Intellum Methodology 

Below you’ll find details on each of the eight focus areas within our methodology. You don’t have to complete one step to move on to the next; they can happen in tandem. You must execute all eight successfully.

1. Business goals

Partners have a lot to learn. 

At a basic level, your partners must understand the product and how to sell it. Of course, you must offer product education and sales training. But that only scratches the surface.

For example, if you are trying to create a market category, you need to teach them about your category. If your partners will be delivering workshops to clients, you might offer public speaking training.

We recommend conducting a training needs analysis to determine “gaps” between the current state (what they know) and the desired state (what you need them to know and do). Once needs are clear, then you can create education goals that tie to the overarching business goals.

2. Audience strategy

Audience strategy is about defining your audience segments and learner personas. Only then can you make smart decisions about content and delivery methods.

Audience segments

Not every partner is alike. You can choose to segment your audience by tier (e.g., legacy partners, new partners), by niche (e.g., manufacturing, finance), or some other way. 

Learner personas

Within each audience segment, you can group learners who share common characteristics. For example, training goals, job responsibilities, or skill level. 

3. Resources

The size of your education team will vary depending on company size, stage, and budget. However, here are seven roles you need access to: 

  1. Program owner/strategic lead
  2. Curriculum developer
  3. Instructional designer/learning experience designer
  4. Education marketing specialist
  5. Graphic designer/media specialist
  6. Facilitator
  7. Data analyst

(Learn about the responsibilities of each role as well as traits to look for when hiring here.)

The phrase “need access to” is intentional, as it means you don’t need to hire and employ all these job roles full-time; you can bring on vendors as needed. The one role that MUST be in-house is the program owner/strategic lead.

4. Content strategy 

There are different types of content within an organization. Education content drives behavior change. (Or at least it should if designed and executed well.)

CONTENT TYPES ACROSS AN ORGANIZATION MARKETING Primary Goals: Awareness, Conversions, Call-to-Action + Blog Posts Webinars & Presentations + Marketing Videos + Newsletters + Case Studies THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Primary Goals: Brand Awareness, Relationships, Loyalty + Podcasts + White Papers † E-Books * Research Reports EDUCATION Primary Goals: Change Behavior, Meet Obiectives + Help Center Articles + Tutorials + Classes + E-Learning + Instructor-Led Training + Videos

Building a learning content strategy allows you to gain alignment on:

  • Substance: What content to develop
  • Structure: How content will be delivered across channels
  • Resourcing: What you can create, given available skills, budget, and time
  • Governance: Who’s in charge of ongoing content creation and quality 

5. Delivery strategy 

This is where you map delivery to the learner journey. For example, you might have multiple onboarding assets: a virtual training session, videos, and help articles. When building your partner training delivery strategy, you’ll answer:

  • How do partners navigate these?
  • How does each asset connect to each other? 
  • Must they be consumed in a certain order? 
  • When do you point a person toward one versus the other?

If you have several types of partners with different learning needs, answer these questions for each learner persona.

6. Marketing strategy 

There are four elements of marketing strategy: 

  1. Go-to-market strategy: What is the value proposition for each audience segment? Which channels will you use to promote your education initiative? 
  2. Launch plan: How do partners navigate the learning platform? Where can they go to find support? How can they find content tailored to their specific needs?
  3. Awareness building: How can education help learners reach their long-term goals?
  4. Engagement tactics: How will you continue to engage learners over time? 

7. Measurement 

You need to know if your program is successful. One helpful model for measurement is the Kirkpatrick Model, which measures learner proficiency across four levels: reaction, learning, behavior, and result.

the kirkpatrick model Result Behavior Learning Reaction Level 4: What benefits has the organization experienced as a result of the training? Level 3: How much did participants learn from the training, and have their skills improved? Level 2: Have participants applied what they learned from the training? Level 1: How did participants respond to the training?

(Discover questions you can ask learners and metrics to measure at each level here.)

8. Application 

Application is the process by which you share learnings, iterate, and republish. In other words, you’re not always best served by creating more content. Many times, your channel partner training program will go further by improving and refining your existing content. 

Continue your learning with these related partner training resources:

About the Author

Robyn Hazelton headshot
Robyn Hazelton
Vice President of Marketing and Growth
Robyn is the VP of Marketing and Growth at Intellum and helps to ensure that every interaction an individual has with the brand is as awesome as possible. An experienced and trusted leader with a history of consistently impacting revenue, she's always talking about funnel management and biased toward action.