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Many companies have figured out that training their employees is a must.

Onboarding, training, and retaining employees creates the foundation for any sort of HR strategy. There is an entire industry of businesses and supporting professionals that make this happen, and much of the learning and development conversation revolves around improving the strategies and processes in employee training.

As essential as this type of training is for employees and their organizations, there is a burgeoning learning trend attracting new attention: partner onboarding.

Partner onboarding (often called extended enterprise training or partner education) is typically used by software and SaaS companies, but increasingly, other industries are taking note of the benefits. Over the last year, I have started working with more companies from traditional industries wanting to accelerate their online education programs, and for good reason – It’s a competitive advantage. 

The companies I’ve worked with have an enormous number of partners who have the power to influence customer purchases. They might be in-channel sales reps, contractors, distributors, wholesalers, franchisees, or other associations to name a few. These partners likely have multiple competing companies at their fingertips to recommend to their clients. Therefore, educating them about your product or service becomes essential to differentiate.

Bottom line: educating your partners is great for business. Here’s why:

  • Increase revenue and Lifetime Value: support your partners in communicating your value proposition to reach and inform the right customers, and retain them for life.
  • Ease 1-on-1 support burden: when partners understand your products and services, they can be an extension of your support team, decreasing the need and cost for support. 
  • Quicker activation: partner education speeds up the onboarding process and new product roll-outs, by giving your partners the knowledge they need to start selling or supporting your customers faster.
  • Strengthens your message: create brand consistency by educating all of your partners with the same value proposition and courses.

Partner Onboarding In Action

Now that we understand the value of partner onboarding, let’s put the idea into action.

As an avid mountain biker, I can easily find myself in the local bike shop that carries four different brands of bikes and dozens of different companies’  parts, accessories, clothing, and even food. I may be familiar with some of these products but there’s certainly a lot of them that I don’t know about. That’s why there are employees at the store to help inform me and guide my purchasing decisions.

Think of how the sales process would be shaped if these salespeople had an in-depth product understanding of a particular bike company/channel over the others. Undoubtedly, the salesperson could speak to the specific benefits, services, warranties, etc. if they were educated about those products. Not only would increased product knowledge help in their selling capacity, but if the education process also included sales training, the benefits would be compounded. The best way for this to happen is if the bike company provided online learning opportunities for these people to indulge in and supported them in the sales process.  

As an example, check out this case study.

If you run one of these bike manufacturing companies, providing these partners with the information and knowledge required to stay on top of your latest products would not only allow them to recommend and sell more of your brand, the training would also allow you to maintain an ongoing digital dialogue.  It would help strengthen the connection they have to your business and build brand loyalty.

Why partner education should be the new norm

Partner onboarding should be seen as an education-based sales and marketing strategy. It empowers the ambassadors of your company and makes it easier for them to be your advocates. By investing in an education program, you are demonstrating your commitment to supporting your partners and customers which builds trust and creates a growth-oriented business strategy. 

If you want to create a partner onboarding program or want to propose the idea to your leadership team, shape it as a tool in your overall customer success strategy. Implement some of these best practices for education, measure your results, and share those insights!

The challenge: implementing an education program

Before you get too enthusiastic about diving into your partner education program, you must confront the elephant in the room:  partner education is not mandatory.  There is no requirement for any of your partners to invest their time (or their employees time)  into learning about your products or services. So, how do you make sure your program is worthwhile? 

Step 1: Determine how you want to deliver the education

This can be as simple as an email, blog, or video, or you can take it one step further with an enterprise learning management system (LMS). Assess how complex your education program should be and determine the best method for learning, from your partner’s perspective. 

Step 2: Create a marketing strategy for your educational program

When developing this strategy, ask yourself:

  • Can you use existing channels?
  • How will it add value to your partners?
  • How will you communicate the value efficiently?

Engagement is the key to online education. Think of ways you can retain your partners in your program and keep them coming back for more. Consider how you can have them create a habit of learning about your business; this will enable them to learn new features quickly and increase their lifetime value.

Step 3: Consider the scope of your project

  • Are there specific audiences or geographic areas that you should prioritize? 
  • What are your growth plans?  

If done properly, your partner onboarding program can be an engine for growth!

Step 4: Measure everything and experiment

Keep tabs on enrollments, completions, and certifications.  See if you can connect those numbers to your sales metrics and determine if your program is positively impacting your business. Get feedback from your partners on their experience and make sure your partner onboarding program is an evolving process. 

It’s an exciting time to be working in online education.  There are so many possibilities in this digital age to connect with your partners and improve their understanding of your business.  It’s becoming more apparent that this unfolding competitive advantage will become a common offering among any business looking to make a deeper connection with their customers. Ultimately, if you don’t start educating your partners, one of your competitors will.


On October 15, Thinkific Plus hosted Thinkific Activate, our first-ever customer education summit! This one-day summit brought together a lineup of industry experts to discuss how customer education can reduce customer churn, increase product adoption, and help companies scale more quickly.

Screenshot of Thinkific Activate virtual sumit

During Thinkific Activate, participants heard from Jeff Campbell, CEO and Founder of Motrain, a gamification and rewards platform that connects with your learning management system (LMS) to increase customer learning and engagement. We invited Jeff to share his insight on the value of integrating a partner onboarding program into a business in this blog post.

Check out the Activate Summit replay to watch Jeff’s session and hear from other industry experts!