Channel partner agreements are a key growth lever for many businesses – how can automation make them easier to manage?
This deep dive is from our specialist blog, Superpowered contracts, and looks at what a channel partner agreement is, who it affects and the benefits that automation can bring to their workflow. Use the navigation below to find out more, or explore our deep dives on other contracts, like NDAs and SaaS agreements.
What’s a channel partner agreement?
In a channel partner agreement, two businesses set out and agree the terms of their commercial partnership. An example might be the contract between one SaaS company and another, whereby one party agrees to include the other in its marketplace or to provide referral traffic in exchange for a percentage of any revenue the referrals bring in.
Channel partner agreements are extremely common in technology and SaaS in particular. Many businesses derive a significant chunk of their revenue from partnerships like the Salesforce AppExchange, the Slack app directory or the HubSpot marketplace. The purpose of this type of contract is to codify the revenue relationship between the two parties.
Who do channel partner agreements affect?
Channel partner agreements can be crucial to a company’s revenue and growth. Because of this, they can affect lots of stakeholders across the business, including:
Legal counsel. There’s typically asymmetry in channel partner agreements, and the obligations they create – both in terms of revenue and data use – can have long-lasting impacts. Because of this, the in-house legal team will usually own and manage these agreements.
Finance. The commercial terms set out in channel partner agreements can have a big effect on financials and forecasting, so a business’s finance and revenue operations teams will want to be in the loop when it comes to headline terms.
Sales. Channel partner agreements might concern various sales roles. There may be a partnerships manager who looks after channel partner relationships, the sales operations team might need to feed in to the process, and the individual salespeople who take forward any leads that arrive through the channel might also be involved.
Marketing. If a channel partnership is a key distribution channel for the business, the marketing team will want sight of their obligations and responsibilities when it comes to promotion, revenue sharing and so on.
The channel partner is also a key stakeholder, of course; and the company’s authorized signatory. In SaaS companies and marketplaces this is often still the CEO, who signs on behalf of the business.
What’s the manual process for channel partner agreements?
Businesses looking to automate contracts usually start with high-volume documents like NDAs, or perhaps employment offer letters. But channel partner agreements can quite quickly become high-volume too – particularly if the company hosts a platform like an app or integration marketplace. In these cases, manual processes can quickly trip up legal and commercial teams.
The manual process for channel partner agreements usually looks something like this:
The legal team, supported by external counsel, creates the template for the channel partner agreement as a Word document. When the partnerships manager is looking to sign a new channel partner, they hunt around for this Word template, or find a previous contract and change key details. This is negotiated with the channel partner across multiple systems – tracked changes in Word, back and forth over email and by phone.
The agreement is sent back for legal sign-off. Further revisions and changes happen, and numerous versions are created. Eventually, the parties agree, and the contract is converted to PDF and signed, either with a wet signature or using an eSignature provider. It’s then emailed to the signatories and (at best) saved on a shared drive.
Why it’s painful to manage channel partner agreements manually
This manual process involves lots of different pain points that create friction and risk. The most common are:
Multiple systems. Moving between Word, email, phone calls, meetings, an eSignature platform like DocuSign, and shared drives is time-consuming and can lead to problems with version control.
Data loss. When channel partner agreements move between systems, audit trails around edits, approvals and negotiation are lost. This makes it hard to keep track of which changes were made, why and by whom. PDFs and Word documents are also static files made of unstructured data, meaning it’s hard to search within them (without buying yet another tool for contract review).
These pain points lead to friction between legal teams and partnership and sales teams. The latter feels like deals are being held up by paperwork and bureaucracy; the former feels like too much risk and uncertainty is creeping into contracts. Innovative businesses often tackle these problems by self-serving on contracts, with automation.
How to automate channel partner agreements
Develop the perfect template and terms
The legal team creates a master template in the contract collaboration platform. All channel partner agreements will be created from this template, so it should represent the company’s latest thinking on commercial terms and should be reviewed regularly to make sure it’s always up to date.
Create compliant and easy-to-sign contracts
Using the template, partnership managers or salespeople can create a contract that they (and legal) know will be compliant. In Juro, users navigate through a natural language Q&A flow, and their answers populate the contract’s key fields – names, dates, commercials, and so on. Get in touch to find out more.
Negotiate, together, in real time
In an automated workflow, negotiation happens within the contract collaboration platform. This means commenting, suggesting and editing in-browser, with parties notified of changes in real time via email or Slack.
Approve with ease
Legal or finance will likely still want to approve channel partner agreements before they’re sent for signature. In a contract collaboration platform, you can set up an approval workflow to make sure legal is notified and has sign-off before contracts are sent out for signature.
Sign securely, anywhere, anytime
Both parties sign the channel partner agreement digitally, securely and on-the-move in-platform. Once signed, the PDF is automatically sent to each party, without you having to lift a finger.
Be ahead of game on renewals
In an automated workflow, business teams can track analytics, spot bottlenecks and minimize hold-ups. You can also set up reminders ahead of the contract’s renewal, so you’re always ahead of the game.
In an automated workflow, negotiation happens within the platform. This means commenting, suggesting and editing in-browser, and notifications in real time
Useful features for automating channel partner agreements
If you want to automate your channel partner agreements, these features will make it easier:
Locked templates. Legal teams can define the terms of channel partner agreements at a template level and prevent partnership teams from deviating. This minimizes risk and uncertainty.
Smartfields. These hold contract metadata, making sure key fields are always tracked and searchable.
Analytics. Channel partner agreements are all about the numbers. If the contract is the mechanism that enables revenue recognition, then stakeholders will need rich analytics – both in CRM and in the contract collaboration tool – so they can report on the channel’s performance.
Defined playbooks. If terms are commonly negotiated, you can use conditional logic to bake fallback positions into your templates. Clauses can then be swapped out depending on, for example, the contract value.
Visual timeline. Some channel partner agreements are simple, but high-value contracts might go through significant negotiations. With a visual timeline, you can scroll back through previous versions to see who made what changes, when.
Two-way data sync to CRM. If either side of the relationship is managing high volumes of these contracts, they’re likely to be doing so in a CRM like Salesforce or Pipedrive. Make sure that your contract collaboration platform and CRM sync in both directions, so that changes to the contract are reflected in CRM and vice versa.
Salesforce. As the dominant CRM and system of record for a majority of SaaS businesses, a frictionless integration with Salesforce is really useful when automating channel partner agreements. Integrations with other players like Pipedrive and HubSpot are useful too.
Slack. Partnership teams might find it useful to receive notifications in Slack when changes are made to the contract, or when it’s signed.
Companies House. The best contract automation solutions allow UK users to use the Companies House API, which makes sure that information like the company’s legal name or registered address is always accurate.
Email. Automated email notifications can help maintain momentum while channel partner agreements are being agreed.
Why automate channel partner agreements?
An automated workflow for your channel partner agreements can deliver significant benefits to the business.
There’s a system of record. With all contracts generated, negotiated, approved, signed and stored in one system, visibility pre- and post-signature is no longer an issue.
Partnership teams are empowered. A self-serve process, with a transparent approval workflow, means partnership managers don’t feel like they have to wait on legal.
Legal get their lives back. With an automated contract process, legal don’t have to crawl through email chains to unearth risk or harangue salespeople to check they’ve used the right template. Lawyers can enable the business instead of blocking it, all without losing control.
You’ve got a single audit trail. when the channel partner agreement is up for renegotiation, it’s clear how and why any changes were made last time.
No more double-work. Automation cuts out duplicative data entry into contract and CRM systems, with live-synced paperwork across both.
Is managing channel partner agreements a pain point for your business? Is your SaaS company or marketplace growing so fast that the contract process is out of control, with friction pre-signature and a lack of visibility post-signature?
If so, try Juro and see if you could benefit from a contract collaboration platform that enables businesses to agree and manage contracts all in one unified workspace.