Partner Marketing: Growing an Ecosystem

ISV marketing is about growing an ecosystem. It’s not difficult to sign up partners, it’s much harder to make those partners active advocates and grow that ecosystem.

In general, ISVs are looking for some combination of these four things:

  • Exclusive information, knowledge and expertise to help them build their business and solve problems
  • An understaning of your technology roadmap, so they can plan for their own
  • Access to resources that they don’t have on their own including people, money and equipment
  • Credibility association with your brand brings.

Additionally, a partner ecosystem is a community and it follows the rules of the community.

  • A reason to come together (see above list)
  • Needs that are not being met elsewhere
  • Relationships within the community that are dynamic
  • A sense of security (we’re all in this together)


One size doesn’t fit all

As organizations evolve, their needs change.  An established company has less need for access to resources and brand association than a startup, but has a greater need for a product and technology roadmap.

A few years ago Microsoft identified this and started customizing its partner program. They created new offerings and services for different size partners, but also began providing specialized content for different core competencies. One thing they discovered though this, was the need to support startups who were building solutions on the Microsoft stack and they created BizSpark.

BizSpark offers software, services and support to startup companies using Microsoft software in their solutions. Just over two years old, it already has 40,000 partners. With this program Microsoft has helped extend it’s eco-system in a space just two years ago was completely dominated by open source technologies.

IBM has one of the most active programs.  IBM’s Partner World program stands out for the amount of personal training and education they provide partners. But what both Microsoft and IBM have in common, is the goal to make the partner feel special.

When determining what you offer partners, keep in mind that they want to feel special. How can you treat them differently than other stakeholders? What can you offer them that is unique and exclusive?

Some ideas for making ISVs feel special:

  • Personal relationships with leaders in  your organization
  • Give them a voice in your product roadmap or the direction of the industry
  • Help them shine at events and in PR opportunities
  • Actively engage in their social media discussions
  • Host exclusive events where they can meet with their peers
  • Introduce them to luminaries and invite them into the dialog


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