Strategy & Best Practices

3 Ways a Partner Summit Can Boost Your Ecosystem

By Ideas @ AppDirect / August 9, 2022

3 Ways Blog

Picture this: A mall is located in a prime downtown commercial area with an established buyer community but few retailers are interested in setting up shop on the property. As bizarre as that sounds, it’s the same thing that happens when a marketplace doesn’t focus enough on its partners.

Whether it’s a physical location or an online storefront, a well-developed partner ecosystem is the mainstay of a successful marketplace. For a marketplace to thrive, it can’t solely rely on a wide customer base. It also needs an engaged partner community.

A recent Demand Gen Survey stated that 96 percent of B2B leaders expect to increase revenue directly attributed to their partner ecosystems. What’s more, a survey by Accenture revealed that 76 percent of business leaders believe that current business models will be unrecognizable within five years, and partner ecosystems will be the main change agent.

Though these numbers clearly point to the importance of a strong merchant partner ecosystem, managing an ecosystem is easier said than done. It involves building engagement and commitment. In addition to continuous recruiting, and incentivizing, a sure way to bolster the ecosystem is to host a partner summit.

Post-pandemic, many people are craving in-person events and real-time connections. This is a perfect time to host your partners, make up for lost opportunities, and build a deeper connection with them. A summit is an ideal gathering where partners can meet peers to learn, exchange ideas, and address top issues related to the market.

Hosting a summit doesn’t necessarily need to mean going all out with a formal cocktail-studded, week-long extravaganza. It can take many different forms, and the scale of your event should be dictated by its purpose, the potential number of attendees, and, most importantly, the size of your ecosystem. For example, if it’s a smaller ecosystem, consider smaller-scale options, like inviting partners to your offices to make them feel invested and integrated with your brand. If you have very few partners, you could also take the event to them in the form of a trade show or a roadshow. You could also hold even shorter, more targeted, events such as dinners or award ceremonies.

In this article, we’ll focus on a partner summit as the ideal way to create an optimized sharing and learning experience. Read on to learn three top strategies to create engagement around a partner summit, and how doing so can boost your partner ecosystem.

1. Provide time and space for networking and training

    When you host a summit, you’ve got a captive audience for anywhere from several hours to several days. To use that time wisely and maximize your time together, create a well-planned agenda with a balance of networking, learning, and keynote events to build partner engagement.

    Giving attendees enough time and space to network with each other is a catalyst for creating an engaged partner community around your marketplace. The following is an example of how you can weave breakout sessions and networking events seamlessly into the summit.


    Partner summits are not just a platform for partners to learn more about the marketplace. They’re also a fantastic way to engage them on a more personal level. Provide as many opportunities as possible for partners to connect with each other, along with partner managers and the sales team.

    Partners often face similar challenges, and networking allows them to learn from each other and find creative solutions to improve performance. Also, partners who connect with a larger community through your brand leave the event with a sense of belonging and are more likely to act as brand ambassadors.

    Training, workshops, keynotes

    An ideal way to create more partner engagement during your summit is to integrate learning and development into the agenda. Hands-on marketplace demo stations, training sessions provided by other partners, marketplace-led training, and industry leader keynotes are just some of the options available to create an engaging agenda that makes your partners feel that attending the event is worth their time. This reinforces their decision to do business with you. If your attendees include potential partners, showcasing a broad and engaged customer base can help convert prospects to partners. You can also host sessions to highlight positive customer experiences and advantages offered by the marketplace to the end user. Great learning opportunities make it more likely that partners will come back to learn more the next time and encourage others to attend, as well. A well-planned agenda builds confidence in your marketplace, demonstrating to partners that they’re a vital part of a large ecosystem that provides value to customers.

    Here are a few engaging session ideas:

    • End customer panel—Highlight real-life examples of end customers leveraging the power of your marketplace.

    • Partner panel—Ask your partners to give the audience a deep dive into why they joined the marketplace, how long they’ve been a partner, and the value the marketplace brings to their organization. Engage participants in the discussion.

    • Sales panel—Leverage your sales team members to highlight best practices, how they sell third-party solutions to customers, how to work with the marketplace’s sales organization to maximize results, and how to get the most from the partnership.

    2. Reward behavior and initiatives that model best-in-class partner relationships

    No partner summit is complete without awards. Rewarding partners celebrate their successes through formal recognition and is invaluable for two reasons:

    • It goes a long way in telling your partners how much you value their contribution. In turn, partners will see that you are investing in them and the relationship over the long term.

    • It helps partners understand the kinds of behavior they should be modeling to drive the most value for end customers while driving sales.

    All awards should be thoughtful and relevant to the audience. Include multiple categories so that every partner has an opportunity to compete. Recognizing a partner’s contributions and highlighting them in front of a larger audience is a great brand awareness opportunity for both parties. During the ceremony, explain in detail why each partner won an award in their category. This makes the partner receiving the award feel valued and helps other partners strive toward measurable goals in the future.

    When partners win awards they’re likely to take it to social media and other press release platforms to announce their success. Promotion aside, awards and recognition also add a fun and celebratory atmosphere, giving attendees an added element of excitement and an extra incentive to attend the event.

    Consider these award ideas, and remember that you can have multiple awards for each category. For instance, if you have a large ecosystem and would like to recognize more partners, you can create regional awards for all the categories listed below:

    • Rising star award—Recognize the contributions, commitment, and accomplishments of a partner who recently joined the marketplace.

    • Sales choice award—Recognize the partner that created the solution that resonated most with customers.

    • Greatest value to an industry vertical—Recognize the partner that best adapts their solution to a specific vertical and provides the most added value within that vertical.

    • Marketing award—Award the partner that produces the most exceptional marketing assets, including case studies, thought leadership articles, blogs, external media coverage, and social media programs.

    • Best customer experience—Recognize the partner that provides the best service and support to customers’ end users.

    • Top international partner—Reward the partner who saw the highest volume of sales across the widest geographical area.

    3. Create a buzz in your ecosystem to help it expand

    A stellar partner summit with an impactful agenda can create a buzz if you promote it correctly, and getting the word out about your event is as important as planning the event itself. It not only engages your current partners but also encourages less active ones to be more involved.

    An email campaign, marketplace banners, targeted ads in industry publications, and social media around the summit are great ways to promote engagement with your active partners and lure back dormant partners when they see the value they missed by not attending.

    Since your partner summit is likely a private event for your existing partners, you’ll want to heavily leverage email marketing to get as many attendees as possible into seats at the summit. You can also promote the summit on your marketplace—for example, with banners that provide a link to a registration landing page, over time, provide updates and teasers about the agenda, speakers, and so on to build up excitement and boost registrations.

    Even if you don’t want to promote the summit externally in advance, promoting it afterward can be useful to rally partners who attended around the success of your event, and to convince those who didn’t that they missed out on great learning and networking opportunities. One way of accomplishing this is to post a short, dynamic video with highlights of the conference on social media.

    With so much riding on your overall ecosystem strategy, you can never over-plan a partner summit. To get ideas from partners who have unparalleled experience in planning summits, check out how Cisco, Sage, and AWS are doing it.

    For more ideas on how to expand your partner ecosystem, see Zendesk’s Ecosystem strategy.