Why do partner programs fail?

Resource Center > Why do partner programs fail?

Resource Center > Why do partner programs fail?

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About the Author

John Common

John is Intelligent Demand’s founder, chief strategist and CEO. His energy and enthusiasm for transforming companies with modern approaches to marketing, sales, and customer success is palpable.

There is a lot of focus these days on partner-led, ecosystem-led, nearbound, channel, etc. GTM motions.

And for excellent reasons: partner involvement is often correlated with larger deal sizes, higher win rates, lower CAC, higher retention, and more scalable expansion. At Intelligent Demand, we know the power partnerships can hold. As GTM and growth consultants, we’re regularly approached by companies who’d like to partner with us, so we’re well-versed in how these programs get conceived, planned, executed, and evaluated. Any brand and GTM team would be wise to leverage the sort of trust and reach that a partnership can offer.

But the sad truth is, most attempts at partnership underperform, plateau, stall, and get shuttered after a few years. I know this because, over the past 15 years, I’ve seen plenty of companies attempt to grow with partners—and fail.

So what is causing so many partner programs to fail or underperform?

Here are 13 reasons why partner strategies can be unsuccessful, from an external partner perspective. I’m sharing these in the hopes that you can avoid these mistakes in your own partnership efforts.


1. No Ideal Partner Profile (IPP)

This leads to lots of underperforming partners, “pet partners,” or chasing “show pony” partners who often contribute little to actual growth after the press release.

2. Vague or Under-Defined Joint ICP

A clear, jointly defined Ideal Customer Profile is essential for aligning the partnership’s focus on the right customers.

3. Lack of Real Joint Value Propositions

It’s crucial to have a compelling, market-facing reason for customers to care about the partnership, demonstrated by employees from both sides.

4. Overextended With Too Many Partners

More is not always better. Quality trumps quantity. A focused, strategic approach to partnering is typically more effective than a “come one, come all” approach that forces you to spread your finite resources on too broad a front.

5. Over Indexing on Lead Sourcing

Defining partner success solely in terms of them generating leads for your sales team is short-sighted and deeply incomplete. A holistic approach that leverages partnership influence across the entire revenue cycle and ICP customer journey is more sustainable and effective.

6. Arrogance

Treating partners as if they are lucky to be working with you is a recipe for failure. It undermines the mutual respect and win-win outcomes that are essential for a successful partnership.

7. Transactional, Short-Term View

Partnerships can take time to pay off. A strategic, longer-term perspective rooted in each party doing the things that drive mutual success is crucial for building meaningful, productive partnerships.

8. Giving Sales Indiscriminate Veto Power

Allowing sales teams to unilaterally control partnership strategy leads to underperformance. Many companies put all deal-level decisions involving partners in the hands of a Sales Rep who is often under-trained regarding partner motions, under-enabled, misaligned in terms of incentives, and not receiving holistic management. Trust is the key here, built through clear early communication, shared goals, joint enablement, and solid management.

9. Lack of Integrated Partner Plays

Partnerships require targeted, well-planned, and well-executed strategies, not just ad-hoc initiatives.

10. Ignoring Partner Input

Partners often have valuable insights into customers, product issues, and opportunities. Ignoring this feedback can lead to missed opportunities and churn risks. Not listening to partners when they share honest information about your customers, product issues, opportunities, or churn risks is dangerous. Ask me how many times my team has known a partner is going to lose a joint customer. Ask me how many times we’ve tried to share that news and sensed a “kill the messenger” vibe. The customer almost always could have been saved.

11. Weak Partner Team Authority

Partner teams often have no real authority to make decisions. Or their decisions constantly get deprioritized, diluted, or reversed. Your partner team needs the authority to make decisions and the resources to execute them effectively. If your partnership team sits at the back of the line in terms of corporate focus, marketing support, RevOps support, and sustained executive involvement, your partners can tell. They begin to deprioritize the partnership or just go around your partner team. Both are bad.

12. No Framework or Process for Co-Marketing, Co-Selling, or Co-Serving

Effective partnerships are built on mutually agreed-upon processes that define and guide cross-functional collaboration across all GTM functions, not just sales.

13. Not Measuring, Learning, and Building

Partner-led growth is a fundamentally complex go-to-market motion. It takes time, patience, and lots of testing and learning together. These tend to be rare commodities in B2B companies. But if you can commit to creating a learning-and-achieving culture around your partnership plays, fed by clear goals and data, your partner strategy will build growing momentum and revenue impact.

Building Sustainable Partner-Led Growth

These 13 mistakes can happen with any indirect GTM motion, be it partner-led, channel-led, ecosystem-led, or nearbound.

Successful partner-led growth isn’t just about having partners; it’s about having the right partners and working together in the right way. And just in case it didn’t come through above, the partner has to do all of these things as well.

I hope this post provides something useful for improving your partnership strategies! And if you are working to incorporate smart partner-led growth strategies and growth plays at your company and need some expert help–reach out so we can talk shop.