How to Build and Maintain Successful Integration Partnerships: Complete Guide

February 16, 2024
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Integration partnerships open new revenue opportunities, reduce churn, and deepen industry relationships. Read our step-by-step guide to building lasting partnerships.

A lack of integrations between your product and other software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools can be a dealbreaker for potential customers. In Gartner's 2023 report, B2B buyers ranked integration with their existing tech stack as the third most crucial factor in provider selection. To stay competitive, companies are increasingly turning to integration partnerships.

Simple integrations aren’t enough. Today’s customers demand seamless data exchange, but they also expect customizability and that the features of each tool will work in harmony to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Integration partnerships lay the foundation for creating this kind of user experience.

In this article, we'll discuss everything you need to know about building successful integration partnerships—from how to choose the right partner and best practices to common challenges and how to overcome them. We'll also answer some frequently asked questions.

Let's dive in.

What is an integration partnership?

Partnerships don’t always involve integrations, and vice versa. Software providers can form partnerships with one another for a variety of reasons—to cross-promote their solutions or share resources, like splitting the cost of a co-branded industry report. Similarly, two companies can integrate their applications through an open API under developer terms and conditions governing use. 

An integration partnership is the combination of a formal business relationship and a software integration between systems. These partnerships can support stronger, more strategic integrations and formalize a working agreement between both companies that empowers both to grow.

Companies that offer distinct but complementary services and share the same ideal customer profile (ICP) will partner to blend services, technologies, and resources that make both products stronger and enhance the customer experience. This offers a distinct advantage over competitors whose products don’t work with the other tools in their customers’ tech stacks.

Often, integration partnerships also involve cross-promotion efforts—they may list each other on their product marketplaces, share leads, or establish referral programs to mutually grow one another’s business.

The benefits and business value of integration partnerships

A good integration partnership opens new revenue opportunities and fosters business growth for both parties in several ways:

  • By accelerating business growth and expanding your total addressable market (TAM)
  • Through reduced churn and increased product stickiness
  • By leveraging deeper industry relationships to raise brand awareness 

Accelerate business growth

The ultimate goal of integrations and partnerships between SaaS applications boils down to driving more revenue, which is achieved through better products and an elevated customer experience. Integration partnerships can add to your bottom line in several ways:

  • Mission-critical product integrations expand the total addressable market of one or both companies. For instance, Calendly expanded its TAM by integrating with Google Calendar, allowing the massive Google Calendar user base to leverage their calendar data, greatly improving the utility of the app itself.
  • Integrations can help products to stand out among the competition—those that integrate with the existing pieces of their customers’ tech stack are more useful for new users, since the integrations make it easier to layer a new piece of technology into an existing tech ecosystem.
  • Partnerships expand your market reach and build credibility through cross-promotion, marketplace listings, and referral programs with your partner. For example, if a customer uses ADP and is looking for a new 401(k) recordkeeper, they’re most likely to first look at the list of ADP partners on the integration marketplace since data needs to be shared securely and accurately between the two systems. 

Reduce churn and increase stickiness

Integrations help applications improve their product offering and automate workflows. This increases the utility of your app—making it integral to your customer’s tech stack and difficult to replace. 

For instance, tax credit platform MainStreet uses Finch to integrate with their customers’ payroll and HR systems, which allows MainStreet to programmatically pull the data they need from each customer in moments. This means the end user no longer has to get on a support call with MainStreet to integrate their payroll system, dramatically improving the user experience.

When two companies establish an integration partnership, they may be able to offer more useful integrations by collaborating on use cases and common customer requests.

Deepen industry relationships

Establishing strong partnerships with industry leaders can bolster your company’s reputation, potentially paving the way for future partnerships. These partnerships can include referral agreements that send leads to your company when your partner has a customer who would benefit from your solution.

Integration partnerships also lead to co-selling opportunities by creating a bespoke solution that combines both companies’ strengths. For example, last year Workday and ADP announced an extended partnership to improve data visibility between systems and provide a technology-first experience to their joint customers. 

The bottom line is that building integrations and creating strong, lasting partnerships can offer both direct and indirect benefits that will help your business to grow.

When should you consider integration partnerships?

Given their time and resource-intensive nature, whether or not to enter an integration partnership is a strategic business decision that should be made carefully and depends on how important the use case is to your ideal customer.

You should consider opting for an integration partner in the following scenarios:

  • When you are losing customers or sales because your application lacks connectivity to the other tools your customers use
  • When you need to quickly add support for a product feature that's not core to your business but is essential for attracting and retaining customers
  • When there’s an opportunity to make your product more valuable by syncing seamlessly with a customer’s systems of record

Step-by-step guide to establishing integration partnerships

While the details may differ by industry, the general process for building integration partnerships is roughly the same. Here's what a standard integration partnership process entails:

Step I: Reaching out to potential partners

The first step is finding a potential partner and starting the conversation. Many vendors have an established partner program and an intake form on their website; others may require more direct outreach to Partnership or other company executives. Be prepared to explain what you’re looking to accomplish and how a partnership would benefit you both.

Step II: Negotiating terms of partnership

Next, you need to outline how you want to collaborate, which may include setting timelines and goals and agreeing to both technical and commercial terms. Some common conversations at this stage include:

  • How both parties will measure success
  • Partnership exclusivity
  • Conditions for terminating the partnership
  • The level of access and functionality available through the API
  • How to address product updates and new versions of the API, and how those will be communicated
  • If and how the companies will co-sell, cross-promote, or co-market their products

Step III: Legal discussions and contract submissions

Most companies will have a standard set of legal contracts, such as NDAs, licensing agreements, terms of use, privacy contracts, liability and indemnity clauses, and so on. These contracts clearly define ownership, intellectual property usage, and risk mitigation clauses.

Step IV: Building the integration

Once all parties are in agreement, the engineering teams can begin testing technical compatibility, synchronizing data, and building the integration. In some cases, developers can leverage an integrations platform like Finch to eliminate the need to build a bespoke integration and go live with their partnership in much less time.

Step V: Leverage the partnership

Now that the integration has been established, both companies can leverage the benefits of their new partnership, whether that’s through co-selling a robust solution, co-marketing the new integration features, advertising one another on their marketplaces, or whatever other benefits the partnership entails.

Best practices for forming and maintaining integration partnerships

Remember: integrations and partnerships are distinct, and they’re not mutually inclusive—one can exist without the other. Applications can integrate with each other without a formal partnership, and partnerships can be established without ever connecting technologies. 

When two companies form an integration partnership, they connect their applications and institute a formal agreement that leverages the integration to help both companies grow.

So, best practices for a successful integration partnership include best practices on both the technical side (the integration) and the business side (the partnership). The following best practices may apply on one end, the other, or both, as we’ll discuss below:

  • Identify and assess the right integration partner
  • Invest in your partner relationships
  • Carve out revenue opportunities
  • Onboard the partner
  • Establish agreements about how both parties will maintain the integration throughout its lifetime
  • Use tools to expedite building new integrations

1. Identify and evaluate the right integration partner

Integration partnerships require a lot of work to do well, so the first step is to choose the right partner—one that will offer long-term value to your business. 

To choose the ideal partner, you’ll have some considerations that are specific to the integration, some that are specific to the partnership, and some that apply to both. We’ll explore the best practices based on where they fall on each side of this coin. 

Both the integration and the partnership

  • Objectives Identify shared business objectives and how an integration would help both parties satisfy them. Understand how integrating the applications will provide a better user experience. Integrations that involve a partnership will need to benefit both parties, or there will be no basis for, or value to be gained from, a partnership. 
  • ICP overlap — Partner with a company that offers a distinctly different solution than your own to a similar user base. Ideally, you’ll both be able to introduce new users to each other’s platforms through the integration partnership and address your respective TAMs more effectively.


  • Technical discovery — Consider the other company’s technical and resource requirements and confirm their technical setup, API type (like REST or SOAP), and the quality of API documentation. This ensures a smooth experience when building, maintaining, and using the integration.
  • Integration difficulty — Once you have performed discovery and determined the level of effort, assess your bandwidth and capabilities to determine whether the project is feasible.


  • Reputation — Evaluate your potential partner’s reputation in the industry. Analyze what their customers have to say about their reliability by checking reviews on sites like G2 and Capterra. Gather testimonials, check social media, and get a holistic view of their tool’s performance and their business values to ensure you’re partnering with a brand that reinforces your own brand values and reputation.
  • Priority alignment — Ensure the other company is willing and able to engage in a lasting partnership. Discuss how you’ll help each other achieve your business goals once the integration is built.

2. Build relationships and appoint a Partner Manager

Once you’ve identified the right partner and both parties have agreed to work together, you’ll need to build trust to be effective partners. 

Large organizations recruit entire partnership teams to effectively develop and maintain relationships. If you’re a smaller organization without a dedicated Partnership team, start by assigning partnership responsibilities to someone who can own the relationship with the partner organization. These Partner Managers play a pivotal role in maintaining healthy relationships between the companies—they’re responsible for identifying opportunities to drive mutual revenue and user growth with your partner. 

3. Find revenue opportunities

There are two things to consider here: how the integration itself may be monetized, and how the partnership can lead to new revenue from customers.

Many SaaS tools charge direct and indirect fees to their partners, like API usage fees and flat partnership fees. In this case, one company or both may pay for the right to use the integration they’ve built. Be aware that while they’re common practice, API usage fees often lead to friction and frustration between the two parties. 

On the other hand, the business partnership may include agreements to promote each other’s products, with incentives like referral bonuses or customer discounts. These formal agreements can help one or both companies grow their user base at a lower customer acquisition cost. 

Separately, partners may engage in co-marketing commitments like co-hosting events, campaigns, and webinars, which typically don’t involve exchanging money. These collaborations can build mutual trust and goodwill while bringing each company new leads.

4. Set up a solid partner onboarding process

Partner onboarding can be helpful both for building the integration and defining the partnership. For example, you may exchange product walkthroughs so both you and your partner develop a better understanding of each product and how they can best work together before engineering the integration.

Once the integration is built, sharing enablement resources and marketing collateral as well as  establishing support paths can help each partner to effectively serve shared customers and engage in cross-promotional efforts. 

5. Establish a plan to maintain the integration over time

Integration partnerships, like any long-term relationship, require ongoing maintenance—both to the technical bridge and the human one. It’s good practice to assign dedicated points of contact to your partnerships—you may even establish routine meetings—to keep both parties on the same page about:

  • Technical maintenance to keep integrations updated, fix bugs, handle versioning or user migrations, etc. 
  • New products and services or shifts in focus and strategy
  • Enablement opportunities like lunch-and-learns to strengthen the relationship and learn about each other’s offerings

6. Leverage a unified API to scale your integrations 

The dual nature of integration partnerships can make them especially taxing, because they require the effort of building the integrations and the effort of establishing and maintaining a business relationship.

Unified APIs like Finch can alleviate the strain on your team, empowering you to build integrations at scale. Instead of investing time, money, and resources in one-off integrations, companies that use Finch build just one integration to access hundreds of systems of record for HR and payroll. Finch’s Unified Employment API is intentionally focused on the employment ecosystem, but there are other unified APIs that serve additional markets and verticals.

Once you’re able to support connections to hundreds of providers through a unified API, you may choose to augment some of those connections with a formal partnership. In that case, unified APIs like Finch can speed these partnerships' time to launch by eliminating the technical element and giving your team the freedom to focus on building relationships and investing more heavily in your core product.

In short, you should consider a tool to leverage more integrations in the following scenarios:

  • When customer data is falling out of date because you don’t have the necessary integrations to systems of record
  • When your customers are forced to make manual updates to their data
  • When you’re losing deals or churning customers because your integration coverage isn’t sufficient
  • When you need to focus your engineering resources on core products and not integration work

Common integration partnership challenges

Finding the right integration partner that is collaborative and fits your strategic roadmap can pose several challenges:

  • Lengthy negotiation process
  • Technical checks
  • API integration challenges
  • Monetary burden
  • Difficulty of scaling

Lengthy negotiation process

Negotiating legal contracts and commercial terms can take weeks or months to finish—often delaying time to market. This is especially difficult for startups or companies who want to go live with partnerships quickly and launch integrations with customers.

Technical assessment

Some companies may require their prospective partners to undergo technical evaluations to ensure compatibility, security compliance, and adherence to data protection standards—this is especially true of systems of record that hold sensitive data like PII. 

Many also require their partners to have a minimum number of shared customers before allowing them into the integration marketplace, which acts as a barrier to entry into the partnership ecosystem for early startups.

API integration challenges 

Most integrations are built through APIs. Integrating with a provider’s API is challenging for multiple reasons, including data mapping errors, API versioning, ongoing maintenance, and more. We expand on these hurdles in our article "Common Challenges of Building Multiple API Integrations."

Additional cost 

Integration partnerships are often a source of additional revenue for systems of record. As a result, partners may charge a flat fee or incremental fees for API usage—adding to the monetary burden for budget-conscious companies.

Difficult to build and maintain at scale 

A lot of time, energy, and resources go into building just one integration partnership. Companies that want to establish many integration partnerships face long timelines, tricky resource allocation decisions, and compounding long-term maintenance work—rendering it nearly impossible to scale without sufficient resources. 

Scale your integrations with Finch

Few companies have a surplus of time, talent, and capital. Invest those precious resources in your partnerships and product by using Finch’s Universal Employment API to access integrations to 200+ HR and payroll systems. 

Finch partners with industry leaders like Gusto, Paycor, Personio, UKG, and others, empowering innovators to focus on building their core product while leveraging our partner network to deliver a smooth user experience.

Talk to our sales experts or sign up for free.

Common FAQs

What makes integration partnerships successful?

Almost all successful integration partnerships involve the following:

  • A clear value proposition and revenue-sharing model for long-term partnership planning and getting executive buy-in
  • A commitment to technical support from each provider to ensure a smooth customer experience
  • A demo environment to educate customers
  • Co-marketing materials 
  • (Preferably) Dedicated partnership resources

How long does building partnerships with top HR and payroll providers take?

Partnership efforts—identifying a partner, vetting them, developing outreach programs, building integrations, and implementing a shared go-to-market strategy—can take a few months to a few years.

Who does Finch partner with?

Finch is a unified employment API that helps you scale HR integrations faster. You can unlock integrations with 200+ HRIS, directory, and payroll systems by building and maintaining just one integration with Finch. Finch also partners with multiple HR and payroll providers your customers use, including Gusto, Paycor, Personio, UKG, BambooHR, HiBob, and more. By leveraging Finch's extensive network, you can save months of integration-building efforts and reduce time-to-market while creating a more integrated, seamless customer experience.

What are the technical requirements for an integration partnership?

Typically, integration partnerships involve:

  • Application programming interfaces (APIs)
  • Clear and concise documentation
  • Data-sharing protocols
  • A sandbox environment
  • Security compliance checks
  • Legal contracts

To protect their customer data, sometimes applications will decline partnership offers if data and security standards are not met. It’s crucial to ensure you meet the technical requirements, such as encrypting data in-transit and at-rest, before entering into a partnership.

97% of HR professionals say it’s important for your app to integrate with their employment systems

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97% of HR professionals say it’s important for your app to integrate with their employment systems

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