Partner Marketing Software and Partnerships: Interview with Don Gustavson

Kelly Sarabyn

Those that lead partnerships at partner software companies always have unique insights into partnerships. Don Gustavson is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Partnerize, a global leader in partnership management technology. Don has held leadership positions at Pepperjam, Epsilon (acquired by Publicis), Affinion Group and He shared his north star metric, the power of integrations, and how he sees partnerships and affiliate marketing changing in the next 5 years.

What type of partnerships do you have at Partnerize? Do they all report to the same person? What job title do you report to? Any advice for how SaaS companies should structure their partnership teams?

As a leader in partner marketing software, we partner with a wide array of companies to facilitate the connection between brands & consumers.

In addition to our brand partners, we work with media publishers, individual bloggers, influencers, podcasters, agencies, as well as a variety of technology companies.

Partnerize understands that partnerships are not one-size-fits-all — and we treat them as such. Our team allocates dedicated expertise to brands, partners and technology solutions to provide each user group with easy access to the most relevant strategic guidance they need, when they need it.

And, these teams are readily available as a complement to our Resource Center and Community, our exclusive communication and collaboration channel, with a level of support superior to that of legacy affiliate providers.

By structuring our support teams to serve segments of the partner channel ecosystem, we’re able to maximize the benefits of our cross-departmental functions and skillsets to provide each platform user with the best possible experience — a goal that helps us to delivery on our primary goal of customer centricity. 

Do you look at technology partnerships as more of a product enhancement or revenue driver?

Of course partnerships should be a revenue driver, but our priority and focus is on delivering best-in-class technology and services that drive profitable growth for our clients.

Partnerize supports winning marketers with an end-to-end partnership platform that automates traditionally tedious tasks associated with partner management to help brands find and convert their target audience at scale — functionality necessary to creating critical operating leverage necessary for survival in today’s environment. 

Our integrated technology solutions are created specifically to help power marketers to build that leverage. Partnerize’s API-first approach makes integrating partner channel data into technology vendors of choice — and vice versa — effortless for marketers that understand the importance of making data-driven decisions.

Partnerize is fully integrated across the technology ecosystem, and as a result, we’re able to provide marketers with the plug-and-play functionality they need to not only achieve omnipresence at a cost they can control, but also gain transparency into the consumer journey in order to effectively drive profitable growth — a focus on customer centricity that mutually benefits Partnerize and our library of platform extensions.

Related Content: Building Product Integrations with the Most Business Impact

How do you decide which tech companies to partner with and invest in?

We believe marketers should have the ability to easily integrate their partnership channel data with their technology vendors of choice. It is with that in mind, that we consider the value our clients and partners would yield as a result of an integrated technology partnership.

Beyond the value of the technology itself, we also consider the x-factor, meaning whether or not the partner upholds the same or similar values and core tenants to which we hold ourselves.     
How do you track and judge the success of your technology partnerships?

Partnerize is committed to providing a customer-centric experience, and this approach informs our process for determining success metrics. When it comes to integrated tech solutions, we deem a partnership to be successful based on its ability to drive profitable growth for our clients. If the end result brings value to our customers, we consider the partnership a success.

Do you have any advice for effectively working with product and engineering on technology partnerships?

The litmus test for preserving alignment between partnerships, product and engineering is this: which feature will drive the most value for our clients? Although this process seems simple, it allows our teams to maintain open lines of communication regarding the opportunities associated with each partnership or product release so that we can effectively prioritize the roadmap and set our clients up for success. 

What does your agency partner program look like? 

Agencies are key contributors to value creation for clients. Whether the agency is a holding company, independent multi-channel solution or boutique shop, with Partnerize, they can always expect a customer-first approach and collaboration that yields a win-win for all.

Do you have advice for SaaS companies trying to scale their agency partnerships to a formal program?

Absolutely. By now you can probably guess what the theme is.

My biggest piece of advice is to make sure that both the agencies and SaaS companies collectively put the client first. I have seen the dynamic flip - companies put their own profits above the goal of creating long-term success for the client, and that is always a recipe for failure & ultimately client churn. 

We would rather grow successfully with a client for 10-15 years than try to nickel-dime extra revenue out of a relationship to hit monthly numbers. 
Do you have any advice for SaaS partnership leaders trying to prioritize their resources and decide which types of partnerships and specific partners to invest in most?

Recent shifts in the consumer path to purchase have put the customer in control, and they demand a seamless omnichannel experience in order to ultimately convert. SaaS partnership leaders must adapt to this shift in behavior by prioritizing partnerships or software that will allow them to deliver on the demands of the modern consumer, and focus on achieving omnipresence at a cost they can control.

Do you have any advice for SaaS partnership leaders trying to get more internal resources or get the C-suite more excited about the potential of partnerships?

Data demonstrates that leaders are leaning into the partner channel for its ability to acquire new customers at a controlled cost, with 65% of CMOs citing a rise in planned spend for partner and affiliate marketing this year. The partner channel is attractive to these leaders for its ability to leverage diverse partnerships on a performance-based model in a brand-safe, high-engagement environment.

Related Content: Lessons Learned from the Partner Marketing for Ecosystems Roundtable

How do you see the partnership landscape changing in the next 5 years? What do you think the biggest challenges are for partnership leaders?

Three major changes I predict over the next several years for the affiliate and partnership space are:

Continuous need to offset the cost of primary sales and marketing channels. As the cost of Facebook and Google ads continue to rise, marketers will continue to lean into performance-based channels that allow them to acquire new customers at a cost they can control and make data-driven decisions that enable their business to drive profitable growth.

An increased awareness for the importance of a diverse network of partners, including content, savings, loyalty, influencers, integrated technology solutions and more. Marketers that deliver on the seamless omnipresence we discussed earlier must create touch-points across the entire consumer buyer journey to catch the attention of new customers. 

Ongoing browser changes that negatively impact persistent tracking for performance marketers. Affiliate providers and marketers alike must ensure that the appropriate tracking infrastructure is in place to mitigate tracking loss which results in incorrect data—inaccuracies that make appropriate optimization and spend allocation impossible.

Overall, these challenges can be solved with the appropriate partner channel software provider that automates tasks, enables dynamic payment functionality that ensures partners are equitably rewarded for the value they bring to transactions, and future-proofs tracking to ensure the channel data is clean and consistent—accuracy that is the foundation for driving profitable growth.

How can potential partners or customers engage with Partnerize?

Visit for more information about our software and service. Or, take a deeper dive into the partnership channel by joining Global Partnership Day, Partnerize’s 24-hour event being held on Wednesday, June 23rd. It features insight from some of the top thought leaders in the industry and it's free to attend. Reserve your spot here as a guest for any of our sessions

Keep up with Pandium

We regularly create quality content on how to leverage tech partnerships and integrations to grow. Subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter so you don’t miss any of it.
Keep up with Pandium by subscribing to our newsletter