Field Guide
ToolsButton Text
Design Partners

SaaS sales experts share top tips and a tactical checklist of questions to help qualify prospective design partners.

Tab 1
Tab 2
Tab 3
  • TL;DR
  • Design partners are individuals who can help shape product direction and evangelize your product within their organization.
  • They are early adopters of new technologies, have clout, and are willing to seek new ways to improve the business. They are motivated to use your product because it solves a problem they have right now and can immediately see how to use it to solve that problem.
  • To identify potential design partners, discuss workflow pain points with several individuals and ensure they are engaged with your product and its solutions.
  • Design partner advocates can be influential within the organization, providing direct access to decision-makers and helping refine your messaging.
  • When prospecting for design partners, look for those who have enthusiasm for your product and have tried to solve it before. The right design partner advocates should understand the problem you're trying to solve and have tried to solve it before.

Once you've identified prospects it's important to qualify design partners by speaking with individuals who you would collaborate with to achieve product-market fit. We call these individuals advocates.

Typically, an advocate is motivated to help you shape product direction and evangelize your product within their organization. They tend to be early adopters of new technologies, have clout in the organization, and aren’t afraid to seek out new ways to improve the business even though your technology may not directly align with their day-to-day objectives. They’re more than just a happy product tester. 

Advocates are motivated to use your product because it solves a problem they have right now and can immediately see how to use it to solve that problem. They should be able to tell you how they would like to use your product to solve their problem.

As you work through your outbound messaging plan to identify prospective design partners, you will discuss workflow pain points with a number of individuals. The individuals who will make effective design partners stand out through the way they engage with you and the solutions evident in your product.

Why are advocates so important, and how long does it take to make sure they’re truly onboard? 

You need an advocate to spearhead and rally others within their organization to test your product. In my experience, it often takes about two calls to get someone really excited to the point where you’re confident they’ll become a committed advocate for you within their organization.

Done well, all the time you invest into qualifying an advocate will pay off in the end. If you’re able to eventually sell your product to an awesome engineering organization, other companies are more likely to follow suit. At the end of the day, your design partners represent the kinds of companies that you’ll soon try selling to. If you can convert your design partner into a customer, you’ll set yourself up for success to replicate the process with other companies later.

What kinds of job titles do design partners have?

Short answer: it depends — for example, it doesn’t really matter if they’re an engineer or a CTO. While there aren’t any consistent job titles per se, design partner advocates tend to be influential within the organization and able to “get pull” with upper management and within their team. Their ability to influence others in their company and provide you direct access to decision-makers is precisely what makes an enthusiastic product tester a product design advocate.

A great design partner advocate also is willing to work with you to refine your messaging in order to make the right sales pitch when the time is right.

How do I know when I’m on the right track with a prospect?

You’ll talk to a lot of individuals as you prospect for design partners. Don’t waste time on those who don’t have much enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Look for responses such as:

  • "This looks like something we've been struggling with for a while — can we set up a deeper meeting with XYZ on my team?"
  • "This is amazing. Where do we go from here? How can we try it?”
  • "We've tried to solve this with XYZ, but I like your approach better. This is really sharp. I want to loop in my boss."
  • "In addition to what you laid out, you should talk to XYZ person. They know a lot about this. I will introduce you."

The right design partner advocates are those who:

  1. Understand precisely the problem you’re trying to solve.
  2. Have that very problem and have tried to solve it in other ways.
  3. Immediately want to introduce you to others in their organization.

Advocates might even begin suggesting how to solve their problem with your product in ways you hadn’t yet considered.

Stated another way, the right design partners begin behaving like design partners in the first or second meeting in that they’re already advocating for you within their organization and helping you see how to iterate toward product-market fit.

Here’s a checklist you can use to help identify the right design partners. After some initial discussion, these questions will help you identify the prospect’s level of interest and commitment. To check a box, look for answers similar to those we’ve included.

Design partner qualification checklist


  • Can you meet to talk about how you’re using our product and provide your honest feedback once or twice a month for 30–45 minutes?
    A promising answer will be something like: “Yes, I’m happy to. In fact, I have some ideas right away to enhance how this can fit within our workflow.”

  • In addition to our product, what other solutions did you consider? 
    Ideally, they’ll talk openly about how they tried to solve the pain that your solution fixes either through human resources or other vendors. The more open and honest they are, the better.

  • What do you think about those other products?
    Again, look for honesty and for exactly why the other solutions didn’t work out. Dig in deeper: “If it had X, would it have worked for you? What was the final decision criteria as to why you passed?”

  • What pain will our product improve or solve for you?
    Walk the customer through a series of questions to flesh out their pain and how they would like to use your product in order to solve their problem. Don’t ask them to list features. Ask them what they would like to accomplish.

  • How will this solution benefit your business?
    The best situation here is to talk in terms of metrics. For example, “Your product will save us X time, Z cost, drive Y more revenue, or mitigate revenue in some way.” The more you can tie to business outcomes, the better.

  • What’s blocking you from becoming more effective?
    The goal here is to understand enhancements to make your solution even better. A good response would be something like: “This is great, but it would help a lot if it integrated into XYZ or I could get to Y outcome faster in the product.”

This is an example of a slide to wrap up a design partner introduction meeting. It clearly lays out the value for both sides and makes expectations clear. You can use this Google Slides template to create your own slide.

How to close a design partner

Companies ultimately decide to make a software purchase for one of these business reasons: 

  • mitigating business risk of X
  • reducing total cost of ownership of X
  • and increased collaboration/velocity of X. 

In order to successfully close a design partner it’s important to understand how that organization evaluates new technologies through these lenses.

Who is responsible for making product purchasing decisions? 

This ultimately highlights who the decision maker is. The decision maker is the person the team needs final approval from before evaluating and purchasing any software. You need to make sure you meet this person to address any concerns/questions they may have about your product.

How does the company evaluate new technologies?

A great way to get an answer to this question is to ask how they’ve previously purchased software.

Their answer will highlight the company’s evaluation process.

Why do they need to solve this problem now?

The answer helps highlight the urgent buyer problem.

What alternatives does the design partner have?

It’s important to understand how your competitors are positioning themselves against you. This way you can mine for competitive intelligence as well as combat objections.

Highlight the onboarding path

  • Clarify what is required on both sides (design partner and internally at your company) to make sure the deployment is successful. E.g., does the deployment require someone with AWS admin credentials?
  • Set time bounds for the design partner. Set the expectation that the design partner phase is temporary until the product is in GA. Say, “We expect this to be around X weeks. Post-GA, we’ll be implementing pricing but will work with you to  understand what the right pricing model looks like.” 
  • Agree on the expected business outcomes. Remember the prospective design partner is having these types of conversations internally whether or not you are involved. Understanding the business outcomes they are targeting will prepare you and the team for a pricing discussion that is based on business impact rather than discounts alone. 

Give the design partner an MNDA to sign

As we mentioned in the Innovator outreach and interview tactics module, if your design partner hasn’t already done so, ask them to sign a mutual non-disclosure agreement, so you can speak freely with each other.

No items found.
Working with design partners