Sunir Shah, founder and president of The Small Business Web, joins me, Nicki Kamau to discuss the partner as a customer, the disconnect between SaaS and the world, the opportunity for channel sales to expand and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you see vendor organizations face when it comes to partner collaboration?
This is my bread and butter right now, because I'm doing a lot of consulting for folks, and it's pretty interesting. So the companies that are doing really well, view their partners as customers of the partner team. And the ones that do poorly view partners as somehow employees in the sense that they feel that the partners owe them something in order for them to get their respect. Like, you work for us to make money. And very few SaaS companies give enough money in commissions to a partner to make a difference. Because partners make all their money, almost, from actually providing professional services on top of the software.
It’s like if I my basement rented out. I'm sure my general contractor made money on the furnace. It was probably $500. But where he made real money is actually doing the work. And so, marketing agencies make all their money from doing the actual marketing communication work, not the software. But a lot of SaaS vendors think they're the most important thing in the relationship.
The partners that are doing really well view the customer as the team. They apply the exact same discipline that the product team would apply to the corporate customers of the core product, to the partner program. So they do a lot of customer development, they do a lot of customer interviews, they're very responsive, they have a support desk for the partners, they have a newsletter, they have a dedicated community manager/partner communications person. They have actual metrics they're measuring. They're looking at the finances that is a business line. They'll do Facebook ads at events and try to market to acquire more partners. They don't look at it as a passive source of revenue.
I mean, obviously, if you invest in something, it's gonna grow. And it's also the attitude of thinking of them as customers of your partner team rather than somehow they're your employees. And this is actually a very common thing in channel, it's not just in SaaS, where you look at your channel partners as your sales staff, you treat them as such. If they screw up, you can't yell at your partners and say, "I want more quota." Good luck with that! They'll drop you and find other vendors. They don't need that from you. They're customers, you know.
And so that's really the core attitude that I find is critical. Treat your partners like they're the customers of the partner team. And when you do that, it becomes a lot more obvious what they want. It's like, "Well, we want a heads up on feature changes. We want to have sales collateral. We want to have support, or a once-a-month phone call. When you're in town let us know so we can hang out for a meal/" Simple stuff, right?
What are the biggest opportunities that you're seeing for the market as you dig into your research?
I'm gonna be a little bit controversial. Well, a lot controversial. I've been working on this problem for a long time. In fact, when I ran partnerships at FreshBooks, it was the first time I became aware of how much of a problem it was. When people would call us up and say, "Hey, Sunir, I could sell a lot of FreshBooks to my customers. But I need a cut, and I don't wanna send the customers to you directly. Can I white label it? How do I manage, the visioning and the account management? I want to have an account login." And I'm like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. That's a lot of work. Why don't you try selling a few?"
And we had this problem where I didn't have any resources to build a channel program, or even a channel admin for them. And I didn't see any leads coming from it. And meanwhile, all the resources were going to the core product in the core marketing. Because that's SaaS. And the fundamental gaps between the traditional channel and SaaS is not the disconnect in ideas or concepts. When I was there, I had a lot of strange comments. A couple people said, "Oh, SaaS, that's just what the millennials are using." I'm like, "I don't think just millennials are using SaaS." I wouldn't call Salesforce the millennial tool, or Zendesk. It was a little bit strange to hear that. A couple people were like, "Subscriptions. Who buys that? Who buys subscriptions?" Like, everybody? Everybody.
The reason why, I think, is that when SaaS was conceived as a business model, you'd hear this language around it, especially from the futurists and the investors, that it was great because you could sell direct and make a recurring revenue. And when you sell direct, you disintermediate all the middlemen, all the value chain, and take all the gross margin for yourself. It looks like a cash cow. Because the internet, while it was a great marketing machine and you could reach all the customers just yourself. Because thinking that reach means they could reach you. But, actually, the problem is you need to reach them.
What happens was a couple things. One, there is no gross margin in SaaS. It's amazing. Because what happens is when you build one good SaaS product, guess what? The internet is huge. There are lots of competitors. It pushes a lot of the gross margin down. either because you dropped the price, or more likely, for the best products, they put a lot of engineers and designers and support, and customer success in behind the product to to keep the subscriptions going. And so there is a little bit of accounting magic. But if you realize that people won't keep using your software if you cut the engineering budget in SaaS. That's the thing. You'll lose them.
The second problem is because the SaaS companies are spending all their money on a product to be competitive. And so it's very hard to put engineering in the partner per channel. So you can't invest in the channel unless you have a vision.
The third problem is that there's a current view right now in SaaS that it's quite popular to spend a lot of money building a direct sales team inside sales, and more direct marketing to acquire. And that's fine. It works. But the problem with that is you can't literally phone everybody in United States who might want your product. You can't know everybody. You have to work the channel. And so the model of SaaS, it has disconnected itself from the channel. And you'll hear this talking to people who are potential resellers, solution providers, partners. They feel like when they send a customer over to a SaaS vendor, the vendor tries to steal the customer from them. And there's not enough money coming back to the partner.
The economics are not positive working with SaaS. And so there's a disconnect in the fundamental business model and the political economics, if you believe it, of SaaS versus the traditional channel. And I think all the exciting work will happen in order to make SaaS either work or fail will happen in fixing how SaaS can work with partners by providing them value and respect, providing them channel support. I mean, that's why Allbound exists, right? You believe in channel support in order to build up a channel. And I think a lot of the SaaS companies who have gone through the direct sales build that cycle, realizes there's a limit to that. You can only smile and dial so many leads before you've exhausted your relationships.
And those people who did direct sales a couple years ago have definitely moved more into partnerships now looking to build the channel. As I was saying earlier, the exciting stuff is that the resources are coming back to partnerships to invest in bigger, chunkier channel programs.
There's a couple ways of solving this problem. I don't think SaaS vendors will ever have enough resources that can apply to partnerships to build the middleware, to build a market. If you have a business degree, you know that supply chain management is built on logistic companies, and just SaaS, because the SaaS model broke a lot of the tech logistics. We're gonna have to build some new ones at the model, or work with existing partners like Ingram Micro or ScanSource, or distributors like that.
So there are other existing resources coming to market. And the reason I say that is that there's enough SaaS vendors now that are succeeding. There's an overall market size of B2B SaaS that has now reached a sufficient enough size. There's enough fractional resources, per vendor, that you can start paying for these middlewares, so Allbound is a good example.
There's an opportunity to start fixing some of these problems.
When I was at the ChannelCon, I would say about 20% of the audience there now had a pretty reasonable cloud or SaaS-based parts of their business. And that's a good sign too. So if you have endors like you, and maybe other vendors in the space trying to do channel support, and you have businesses on the other side who are trying to build businesses natural to it, and you have organizations like ChannelCon working on bringing people together, I just feel like a matter of time now. So I think that's the opportunity. And, of course, whoever figures out how to fix the problem stands to make a lot of money, because right now, the industry for SaaS, B2B SaaS, stands around $20 billion roughly, globally, out of $400 billion for all software.
So Microsoft alone made $90 billion. And then Salesforce probably makes $7 billion or something last year. So you could see the huge difference between the size of the SaaS market, which still is very much in the infancy, which is amazing after 13 years. It's only because we broke the business model for the distribution. But when we fix it, then it will go from $20 billion to $100 billion dollars.
And so if you think it's like, "Oh, it's not happening." It's going to happen now.
Aaron Ross, Author and Co-Founder of Predictable Revenue, joins Allbound's Director of Sales, Greg Reffner to discuss outbound and the partner channel, empathy and business, balancing inbound and outbound and more on the 43rd episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Joel Maloff, the Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances for phone.com, joins Nicki Kamau, Allbound's Director of Marketing, to discuss partner compensation, living channel marketing plans, staying engaged with your partners and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Narrator: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host Nicki Kamau as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast, the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Nicki: Welcome to the Allbound Podcast. I'm Nicki Kamau, and today I'm joined by Diane Krakora, principal at PartnerPath. For those of you listening who don't know, Diane has been awarded one of the 50 most influential women in the channel, and has worked in the channel for what seems to be her entire career. Welcome Diane.
Diane: Thanks Nicki. Thanks for having me today.
Nicki: Yeah, we're so glad to have you here. You know, you're bringing a really unique perspective to our podcast today. Our typical guest manages the channel and partner relationships, and we've also had a few guests presenting us with the viewpoint of the partner or reseller. But you're one of the few guests that we've had that runs a company that provides services and acts as a consultant specifically for the channel. So I'm really excited to dig in with you.
Diane: Yeah. We've been doing it for 18 years, so we've got a lot of history there.
Nicki: That's awesome.
Diane: And we're working with technology companies.
Nicki: That's great. And you know, because of the nature of your business I think it would be beneficial for our listeners to hear what PartnerPath does, and how your services benefit channel managers. So go ahead and take it away.
Diane: Great, thanks Nicki. We focus on helping mostly high-tech companies grow their partner sales, both channels and alliances. So, some of our research we do helps these channel professionals with a great benchmark on how you're doing against to the rest of the vendors. You're all fighting for partner mindshare, be the ISB relationships or the solution providers. You're all fighting for mindshare, so we're trying to give you some benchmark data to see how you're doing.
We also help you stay on top of trends with some of the research we do, some of the consulting. Really, the goal here is to ensure your partner programs are future-proofed. What's coming down the pipes to you guys in channels, and what's changing, what's gonna happen in 2020 and beyond, so that you can make sure that your channel partners and your programs are ready for these changes.
And then lastly, our consulting services ensure that the channel professionals are effective, really, at engaging and empowering partners. We all don't have as much budgets as we'd like to be able to go out and create programs. So we really need to look at that kind of efficiencies and effectiveness, and how you increase sales. Do more with less, really.
Nicki: That's great. That's really great. There was a blog post that you wrote, and it was titled "A New Age of Channel Partner Recruitment," where you talk about the differences in selling to potential partners now versus in the past. And in it, you know, you talk to your audience, and you tell them to seduce the next generation of solution providers like you sell your customers, nurture them and provide value to them. And you know, I couldn't agree more. It sounds like you're suggesting inbound marketing for partner recruitment, which, you know, we are all about inbound here. Could you talk to us and our listeners about that and the future of the channel?
Diane: Yeah, we're all about inbound as well, and we, you know, we do call it inbound. The goal here, the focus, is to think about buying journey, right? We all talk about the buyer's journey has changed. Really from selling to the consumer and/or individual buying it, right? So the funnel that we see is mostly marketing, right? You educate, you inform, and you allow, you know, you allow people to gather information and then choose to buy, right?
We just bought a new car about six months ago. My husband has done all the research on what kind of car he wants. He did all, you know, what colors were available, what extras were on, and he had it all tapped out. He knew exactly kind of the car, the color, the make, the model, all these things that he'd care about. And what…basically, he went to the dealer and said, "This is the car I want, and oh, by the way, it's five miles away in this town. Go get it for me." It's true.
So since we all know, we all agree that it's changing for end customers, but as technology tells people, we still think we can sell solutions providers into buying our stuff, right? There's still…a lot of the recruitment efforts are like, "Go, go find me 400 partners," right? And it's just like, that doesn't...if the buyer's journey has changed, why do we think the solution providers and them making their decisions hasn't changed with those times as well? So that's why we really think about it as inbound. You're always recruiting, just like you're always pulling to your customers, right?
How do you create an education that process, but not only the partners that are in your program, but that is across the partner ecosystem, right, into podcasts, or articles, and trade shows, that you're educating. So when these partners do have a need for your product or a new technology, that you're already talking with them.
Nicki: Yeah. You can't see it, but I'm sitting here nodding along with you because it's, you know, I completely agree. You just being able to educate all of those potential, you know, potential partners. Educate all of your potential customers. That's really that inbound methodology of bringing everybody in, and allowing them to make the decision, and have you be the solution provider. So I really love your thoughts on that.
Diane: Yeah, and one of the things that kind of lead to that is a statement that I talk about a lot, which is the partners have the power in the channel, right? And this sends everybody in a tizzy every time I say it, right? The channel, the solution providers owns the customer relationship. They are putting together the solution, the hardware, software, and services to meet a customer's need. So they're that last mile, right? It doesn't matter if you've got the greatest widget or the best software product on the planet as a vendor, the solution provider owns the customer. So how do you help educate those solution providers on your product and your offering so that as they're trying to put together that solution for that end customer that they're coming to you? And that's why we really think of it as a constant inbound education awareness-driven event, not a, "Hey, go find me 400 partners in the next two weeks, because I need to get my numbers up."
Nicki: Yeah, yeah. With your career history, as we're continuing here, you have a really unique view of partner programs. You're helping young channel programs. You're helping broken channels, or maybe even channels that have growing pains as they rapidly expand, and organize, and optimize their programs. In short, you see the good, you see the bad, and you see the ugly. I'd love to hear some stories about, you know, these experiences that you've had. Can we start with a success story?
Diane: Sure. It's been 18 years, and we've worked with over 300 technology companies. From guys like Apple and Palm...do you remember Palm? Remember them way back then? Like Cisco, Verizon, PayPal. We also work with a lot of small companies. As you said, we've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Guys like FireEye, Sophos, Box [SP], Century [SP]. It's often, you know, good, bad, but there's, oh, so much ugly out there in the last 18 years. Now, I can give you some examples, but I can't share any names.
Nicki: That's fine.
Diane: Because, you know, I have to protect the not so innocent, right? No one wants their company name flashed across the podcast. So one of the things that we see...and we worked with a company that is a security company based in Boston. And we worked with them for over, about a year and a half, of various projects, right? The most of our stuff is kind of short-term, a couple of months long. But there's three things that we did. One is help create a benchmark to understand where they were against their competitors. Not only the technology competitors, but also those mindshare. So when you're trying to sell through solution providers or resellers, or VARs, or whatever you wanna call them, not only are you selling against your technology, but everything else that guy sells. So looking for that as a benchmark. Where are you as a vendor, good, bad, and ugly? Where are you hurting the partner's overall experience with you so that they're not engaged? So the first thing's usually kind of a benchmark. And we do a lot of reports that you could kind of like benchmark yourself.
And then the second thing we did is refresh their partner program. Really kind of bring it in to the next generation. Looking at, you know, instead of tiers and types, then there's three levels and six types of partners, how can we streamline this to make it easy for the partners? And then, kind of the third thing is always around the people. You'd be surprised...I know that sounds surprising. But really helping to educate or train, or help the people within the organization to understand the value of partners, and to understand what helps drive a partner's relationship, and what hinders that. So the guy we worked for there, over this year and a half, he was promoted twice in that year and a half that we worked for him, just because the programs were working so awesome. And now he's a big mucky-muck and a big shot at another security company.
Nicki: That's great. So there's, you know, there's so much that we can learn from that. Do you have a company that you've worked with that you could maybe call the most improved for their channel program? Maybe a program that was considered a problem child, or is riddled with problems and lack of processes? We'd love to hear, you know, what their pains were, how you went about sending them on the right path, and just kind of improving their overall channel program.
Diane: Yeah. There's…again, protecting the not so innocent. These people are still our customers, and many of them are my friends, so I don't want to out them as having ugly stepchildren. But we usually work in the background, really helping the channel professionals in these organizations to look good, right? That's our goal, right? How do we help you as a channel professional and a company to look good, right? We don't want to take credit. We're mercenaries. We just want to get the job done and then help them kind of raise these mistakes.
So some of these...one company that we worked with recently, in their base in San Francisco, and they are a SaaS company, which a lot of the SaaS companies we work with have the same challenge, right? They're fast-growing. They don't really...and they have a strong value proposition for why a channel partner should work with them, right? Because it's a fast product. They're getting a couple of dollars on licenses a year, right? The services may not be that robust. So one of the things that we did with them to help accelerate their partner ecosystem was starting to look at kind of the variety of types of partners. So we stopped talking about labels. Are you an ISB, or a reseller, a VAR, or a systems integrator? And we talk about...so we go from noun, from verb to noun. I mean, from noun to verb. So we're looking at what are they doing. What are the partners doing? Are they reselling? Are they referring? Are they bundling? Are they integrating? So we're able to structure kind of a new way of working with different types of partners based upon what those partners are doing.
So these guys in the city, we were in San Francisco. We were helping them understand the different types, and how each partner makes money. And to create a very specific value proposition, i.e. if you're a partner and you do these things in this time frame, you will get X returns. And really to create that ROI for the partners. And that has grown their partner ecosystem fourfold in six months, just because they've got that really strong story to tell.
Nicki: That's great. That's a really big change there, and I'm sure that that was something that they were...you know, they're continuing to work at, and...but wow, four times, that's really great. So...
Diane: Yeah, and it's easy to do with SaaS companies, right? Because there's not an extra product you have to go buy or build, right? So that's…definitely growth is accessible to you guys as you're…as SaaS companies, they're just starting to leverage channels.
Nicki: Yeah, that's so true. Like, I mean, there's no extra cost for all that hardware...yeah, yep. All that software, hardware. So yeah, that's great. And I know that, you know, in your job, it's kind of like every day is research for you, because you guys have so many different clients that you can provide services to. And so you're really learning every day from all of those experiences. But I know that you do a lot of primary research. And you have a study, and I was hoping that you could tell us about your recent study, "The Six Pillars of Partner Experience."
Diane: Yeah, thanks. We do three studies a year. We do...we produce three research reports a year. And they're free, they're on our website. They're, again, we're inbound, right? We're part of the education reform who, you know...we believe this is part of kind of the growth of the ecosystem. And the last one we did is, as you mentioned, "The Six Pillars of Partner Experience," which we look at from two aspects. We look at it from the partner's aspects. We had 200 solution providers respond to this. And the question was what affects their experience with a vendor most, right? What contributes to a good or a bad experience with a vendor? Because our perspective on this is that the better the experience that the solution provider has with the vendor, the more engaged they'll be. And the more engaged they are, the more they sell. And that's why we're all here, right? We're trying to grow those channel sales. But as we're experience economy these days, right? We all vote with our feet in terms of what experience we want, had an experience value trade-off. You know, we select our movie theaters that way. We select our cars that way, right? Or restaurants, right, in terms of the experience that they give you. So we're really looking at how does the experience...how is that affected by decisions that the vendors make around people, and programs, and their channel model, and how they measure partner performance, and the systems, right?
You'd be surprised. We were surprised that systems, like partner portals and the stuff that you guys do, was ranked number third in terms of...out of the six pillars that really affects experience. And just really seeing that 90% of solution providers said they prefer to work through the portals and the systems if they're good systems. If they can get what they need online, that's the preferred method of engagement. As they should be able to go on and search, as we did when we bought a new car, in terms of finding information and data, and the tools that they need to be able to go sell and deploy the product. So that was the one that we did at the end of the beginning of this year. So we called it the, it's the 2017 data partnering study. This is the 11th year we've done this data partnering study. Again, solution providers as well as vendors. So we have vendors also answer the questions to see what they're doing, and how it lines up to the solution providers' expectations.
Nicki: That's great. That's really great. And like you said, I mean, it's such valuable information. It's things that you don't even think about every day, you know, if you want to find something. If you wanna find a restaurant, you go onto Yelp and you type it in, and you search for it, and it's all...everything is so self-service these days, you know? You expect to have things at your fingertips when you want it. And you want to be able to access it easily. And so it just makes so much sense, what you're saying, that that is the preferred way to access that information. Because it doesn't require, you know, an email to be sent, and four hours later to receive an email back that says, "We're looking for this for you, but we don't have it yet." Or, you know, it just slows down that process so much.
Diane: Or God forbid a phone call, right? No one wants to talk on the phone these days, right?
Nicki: God forbid a phone call. Yes.
Diane: God forbid a phone call, right? Oh, don't make me call. Oh, we just had the treadmill replaced...fixed in the house, and I'm like, "I have to call the guy to get the treadmill guy out here?"
Nicki: Isn't that funny?
Diane: Can't I go online and...right? I'm like, I spend all day on the phone. And I'm like, "I'm not gonna call the treadmill guy."
Nicki: Things have just changed. The way that everybody accesses information, and it's, you know, like you said. It's all part of the experience. If you can experience something...yeah, you know? But if you can experience something without having to wait on hold for 15 minutes, you probably would, so it makes sense.
Diane: Right, right. So I know we wanted to talk about the three pillars, but there's also three other research reports that I mentioned just in case you pique any itch. As I mentioned earlier on, we do a lot of trends. So last year we did ten trends for 2020 Channel Vision, which is really great to help people and channel managers and channel marketing people keep ahead of the curve, right? How are the channels changing? And this is all data-driven, from solution providers and vendors. And then, the one before that was on driving cloud transitions. So if you're trying to move your channel from kind of the on-prem world onto a SaaS or on-demand world, we looked at the solution providers are doing, and how they're adopting cloud. And how do you drive that cloud transition for the partners.
And then fourth one out there that might be interesting is my favorite, which is called partner profitability. The what and how of partner profitability. Because it is all about the partner's profit. Not necessarily just revenue, but how are they being profitable with you? The more profitable they are with you, the more likely they are to pull your stuff. So those are the kind of four research reports that we did, and we're starting to talk about next year. So you'll see a bunch of posts from me coming up around topics for next year's research report. So give me some ideas, people.
Nicki: Great. Yeah, we'll have everybody, you know, in the reviews, go ahead and leave some notes. Or in the blog, go ahead and leave some comments about what you'd like Diane's reports to be on. Because I'm sure, you know, those...everything that you've mentioned that you guys have already produced, all of those studies, they all sound valuable. I mean, it just reaffirms everything that we state here on the podcast, and that our guests talk about. Everything, you know, from 1 plus 1 equals three when it comes to partners, and mutual beneficial relationships. I mean, it just sounds like all of that would be just reinforcing all of that information for all of us, so that's really great. And let's see here, we've got one last question before we go into our speed round, so...
Diane: Uh oh.
Nicki: So I would love to know if you have a sound bite or, you know, a concise piece of advice that you can offer to leaders in partner marketing, so that our listeners can really just get that one sound bite from you.
Diane: Yeah, this is the...this is what I call the...the guy sitting next to me on the airplane goes, "Oh, you do a channels? What should my channels do?" And I'm like, "All right, here's the answer. I know nothing about you, but here's the answer." There are three things that partners care about. One is that the product does what is advertised. So, as a partner marketing person, be honest with your partners, right? If it doesn't spin blue sideways, don't tell them it spins blue sideways, right? Let's be very specific about what the product does and what it doesn't do. Don't try to sugarcoat it too much because your solution providers are counting on that to make themselves look good in their customers. So they want a product that does what is advertised.
Diane: Number two, the partners need to have a way to make money with your stuff. Even if it's their own services, and I know with partner marketing that's always kind of a hard thing. It's like, well, we don't set the price with the partner can buy, or how they make money. But you can position it. You can create that value proposition and say, "Here's where else you make money." Even if they only make a couple of dollars on a license as a staff solution as a mock, right? That's not gonna be interesting to them. But you can also say, "Here's the services that wrap around our product, and here's the consulting you might need to do as a solution provider," or, "Here's the analytics that you can do in terms of driving and providing data back to your customers." So always looking for how does a customer...how does your partner make money on your products because even if it's the coolest thing since sliced bread, if they can't make money on it, they're not gonna sell it, right? They're not gonna waste their time, because you know, they need a return on that.
Diane: And the third thing that partners care about is…and what we call ease of doing business. Or getting the product, or getting contact, or saying, you know, "How do I get the product? How do I get services for it? How do I order it, provision it?" And that really comes down to that experience, right? How can you streamline the processes and the kerfuffle that a partner has to go through to be able to place an order, or get our customer up and running on your product. Because again, if it does what is advertised and they can make money on it, but they can't get it, then they're still not gonna go work on that, right? They're not gonna be able to come work with you guys and sell your product. So those are kind of the three things that when you're looking at how do you make your partner program better, or how you accelerate your partner sales, were usually tied into one of those, or all three of those, to say, "Is the message clear? Are they making money on it? And how do we remove kind of those costs of doing business with you?"
Nicki: That's great. I'm sure that that's a perfect little sound bite with the three points there, and like you said, it's just...there you go. Airplane information, right? Airplane advice.
Diane: Right. The guy sitting next to me on the airplane, "So you do channels?" Well, like, okay.
Diane: I sit on a lot of planes.
Nicki: Oh, I feel you. So that's great. This has all been some amazing information. I'd love to finish up with this speed round with you. It's a little bit less channel, and a little bit more fun and getting to know you personally. You up for it?
Diane: Sure, bring it on.
Nicki: Okay. Okay, so question one. What's your favorite city?
Diane: San Francisco.
Nicki: All right. How come?
Diane: The city by the bay. I grew up here, I grew up in the Bay Area. I just...I love the water, and I just...it's small enough that it's a walking city. You can walk through it, but it's big enough to have all the culture, and the theater, and great restaurants.
Diane: And I just love all the water, and just, you know, being able to kinda hang out by the…by and on the water.
Nicki: Love it, that's great. I like San Francisco too. It's a great city. All right, question two. Animal lover or do you love the animals, or could you deal without them?
Diane: I love all the animals.
Nicki: Do you have any pets of your own?
Diane: I have a cat. My cat after 16 years just passed away. Big, fat, fluffy. Her name was Zoe. So 16 years of having this big, fat, huge cat that, you know, was more like a dog. She would greet me at the door when I came home, and curled up...she curls up on my lap all the time. So yeah, she just passed away.
Nicki: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.
Diane: No, she lived a great life.
Nicki: I was gonna say, it sounds a long, like a long happy life, so, she's greeting...
Diane: Long, happy life.
Nicki: Yeah. Greeting you at the door, that had to have been a good life.
Nicki: All right. And the next question here, do you prefer Mac or PC?
Diane: Oh, God. I am a PC girl. I am trying to be Mac. Everybody else in my family, everybody else in the company is Mac, except for me. I am a PC girl, and that's because I am addicted to Outlook. I just need my Outlook. And the email systems on Mac just aren't the same. I am addicted to my calendar and my email structures and Outlook.
Diane: And I…the entire rest of the company, everyone is on a PC other than me.
Nicki: We seem to have a pretty much split 50-50 here on all of our guests. It's, you know, Mac or PC 50-50. So there's not really a trend in the channel that we're seeing so far. But all right, we got the last question here. If we could provide you with an all expenses trip paid trip, where would you go?
Nicki: Italy. What part of Italy? Or all of Italy?
Diane: Well, I'm like, if it's all expenses paid, I'm gonna go to the whole side of Italy. I'm a wino, so I would end up in probably one of two regions. You know, either the west side of Italy or kind of the northern lake area, just because I would...I tend to stay out of big cities, so I'm not gonna go be Rome. But I love the kind of the countryside, the Tuscany...super Tuscan wine. I might kind of jump down the coast of Portofino and spend a few days kind of looking out at the water, but Italy is kind of on my top of my bucket list right now.
Nicki: Yeah, that sounds great. And sounds like it would be a wonderful time.
Diane: Well, I'm spoiled. I do get to travel most of the time for free. So my husband's a pilot, so...
Nicki: Oh, there you go. Then you guys can go right over to Italy.
Diane: I went to Paris for four days earlier this month.
Nicki: Oh, perfect. That sounds wonderful. Well, you know, it's been really great talking to you, and I just wanna thank you for sharing your insights, Diane. It was a pleasure. And if any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to do that?
Diane: I'd say call me, but that would be a joke. Call me. No, it's either through our website, or just email me. It's email@example.com. So emails, I love email. I do them well into the night, as do all of y'all as they know it. Also, I do a lot on LinkedIn, so if you need to...if you wanna message me through LinkedIn that works as well.
Nicki: Great, great. Well everybody, there you go. That's your way to contact Diane if you wanna, you know, maybe order some services and work on some consulting, or just chat with channel about her.
Narrator: Thanks for tuning in to the Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone.
Narrator: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host Jen Spencer, as she explores how to super charges your sales, and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast, The fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi everybody. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer. And today, I am joined by Travis Smith who is Technology, Global Channels and Regional Vice President for HMI Performance Incentives. Welcome Travis.
Travis: Hi Jen. Thanks for having me. Good to be here.
Jen: It's great to have you. And for those of you listening who don't know Travis has a lot going on. So, in addition to his role at HMI Performance Incentives, he's also the CEO and Founder of Move the Channel, which we're gonna talk about, and CEO and Founder of TribeVest. So we're gonna get into a lot of good channel talk. But first, can you tell us a little bit about Move the Channel, because I know that's something you're really passionate about. I'd love to get a quick overview of what this is.
Travis: You bet. Absolutely. Again, thanks for having me Jen, and good to be here with all your listeners. Move the Channel, absolutely is something I'm passionate about, and it's hard to believe it started eight, almost nine years ago. And in the way that it came to be was…of course, you know, I come from the technology space. So worked with a number of manufacturers and developers, worked for some distributors, was even a VP of sales for a system integrator and re-seller. So, along the way I had met a ton of friends. You know, colleagues, partners, and people I liked and really respected in the channel marketing and channel sales space. And, as you know in technology, there's a lot of moving that goes around, so it's sometimes hard to keep track of everybody. And so, I was playing around in this new thing called LinkedIn. You gotta remember this is 2010.
Travis: So it was kind of a very new...it's hard to believe.
Travis: In particularly, groups were even more new or more foreign to some of us. What I saw was that it was an opportunity to create a group, a community of old friends that I had met and worked with over the years. And so, I came up with the name. I'm convinced it's dumb luck, but it's a little bit of the genius of what has become Move the Channel community, and that's the name, Move the Channel. And we...I invited probably 40, 50 of these people in my network. Again, as a way to kind of keep in touch, and really, not just keep in touch but it turned out to be this network of friends that supported each other, collaborated, opened doors for each other. We even went as far as calling ourselves the Move the Channel Mafia, which I'm glad we didn't do. Sounds exciting doesn't it?
Jen: I know.
Travis: But, you know, it didn't take long. Here was this tight-knit group of 50 of us. And before we knew it we had 50, and then we had 100, and 1,000, and then, you know, 4,000. And now we have over 6,000 channel marketing, channel sales professionals worldwide.
Jen: It's awesome.
Travis: And that's how we came to be.
Jen: I love it. And I just love, you know, your mission, the vision of it, you know, really trying to cultivate a community. And a lot of people try, and it doesn't always work. And so, I think you got in early like you said. You've kept it very helpful, it's organic. And I think that it's authentic. And I think that's part of why it's been so successful. Do you have like a success story about channel leaders who have been part of this community? Anything that you can share, like an anecdote of something really cool that's come out of it?
Travis: You bet. And you nailed it. If you were to go try to start a group today, there's just so much noise and so much out there, it's hard to stand out. So, you know, credit a lot to the name, which I think captured a lot of people's attention and creativity. And the timing of it, getting in first, was obviously a big deal. I think we were, if not the first, one of the first groups dedicated to channel marketing and channel sales. Over the years we've really just been blown away by the impact that Move the Channel, and the reach that Move the Channel has been able to have. And there's...you know, I think about the successes out there, and all the channel leaders in the community. I mean, every time you see these lists of the channel chiefs, the women in the channel, at anytime they're kind of recognizing leadership in channel marketing and channel sales. There's a really good chance that they're a part of this community, whether it's in a Move the Channel group, or our movethechannel.com. But, you know, what we're probably most proud of is just all of the connections that have led to business successes in this group. It's impossible to measure, but I can't tell you how many stories I hear about two people, two leaders getting together, you know, connecting, finding each other from the group or Move the Channel community, and connecting and helping each other. Look at their respective channels from a different angle, through a different lens. And so we don't take credit for these big events that happen, or huge successes, but we like to take a little bit of credit when they actually...those connections were made in the Move the Channel. And a lot of, you know, finding new hires, more teammates, and even vendors. Finding vendors that have helped them achieve their goals, getting referrals to vendors that have helped them achieve their goals. So, you know, there's a lot of specific people that come to mind, but I think highlighting the success of the community is what I'm most proud of.
Jen: Well, I think it's definitely something to be proud of. And maybe people listening here, well, if they haven't found Move the Channel yet, they'll go join that community and start reaping the benefits of it as well. Let's talk about HMI Performance Incentives as your, kind of that's your day job, right? That's your main gig. So tell us a little bit about that. And I really wanna learn how you've seen incentives really put to use in the channel. Because it's a big question, you know, people talk about incentivizing sales reps, gamifying experiences, incentivizing your channel. Channel sales reps are, you know, they're just their sales reps that are just not working all the time for you, right. So I'll stop talking. You tell me more about HMI.
Travis: You bet. Absolutely. Yeah, you're right. You know, and there's a lot of buzz words out there. It's tough to know what's the appropriate strategy when it comes to engaging, not with just your channel partner, right? And I think of the channel partner at the organizational level. And then there's the channel sales person, the person, the human that works for the partner organization, or the partner sales engineer, or customer support. And HMI, gosh, it's such an exciting company right now. Even though we've been around for 35 years, we really are at an exciting point. We continue to innovate and move the incentive world forward. You know, Jen, when most people think of incentives, they think of the reward. And don't get me wrong, the reward is so critical. If you don't have the right reward, and the reward isn't motivating, your strategy is dead on arrival.
Travis: And more than ever, the reward options are more compelling to your target audience. You know, we're seeing huge trends towards experiences, and sporting events. You know, pick out not just merchandise or things like that. You can actually pick out the event, the theater, the summer concert. And don't just stop there but pick the date, the venue, the seat. And what about booking a hotel, and a shuttle to the show, you know, all this online in the incentive program, real time. And it's really, really cool. But let's be honest, I mean, compelling rewards are the baseline, you know, that's just the beginning. And I think what's most exciting that we're seeing at HMI is how channel incentives are solving big problems, you know, big challenges in the channel. And again, most people don't think of incentives like solving challenges.
Jen: Right. Do you have an example, like an interesting use case you've seen for a particular partner program?
Travis: Yeah, there's a lot of them that come to mind. You know, when I think of these challenges that we're solving, I think of…you know, the three that come to mind that are most common out there is the manufacturer distributor, either, A, doesn't know who's selling their stuff. They might know the partner that they've signed up to distribute or sell their solutions, but they don't necessarily know the sales person on the front line. And so, you know, they don't even have a database to communicate to them. And that's one challenge. The second challenge is you know who these people are. At least you have their contact information, but you don't really have any insight into them. You don't know how they're selling it, or what else they might be selling, or how your solutions might be complimenting their total solution that they're bringing to their customers. And then, C, you know, the third would be insight. They know who the customers are, they have a pretty good insight into their business, but they don't have...are they really winning the engagement, you know, the mind share, and grabbing the mind share and wallet share of these partners? And, you know, HMI has a pretty, really cool story to tell around solving these problems through channels and incentives. So for example, if you were looking to bring in a new, you know, someone that you didn't know. You don't have their information, but they're supposed to be selling your stuff, but you wanna communicate to them. It's much easier to get them to come sign up and register for an incentive program than it is a partner portal or something like that.
Travis: Right. And I know you guys understand why the indirect sales force are just not going to those types of applications. And therefore, you can't really engage with them very well with the traditional partner portal. But anyway, you know, an incentive program, it's pretty easy to not only get them to come register, but to surrender all sorts of information. Even maybe competitive information on who else they're selling. But anyway, back to your main question, you know, I think if I was gonna kind of single out one impressive program out there that just comes to mind, it's with my buddy Todd Owens over at QLogic and Cavium. Who's probably one of the...Jen, I've got to introduce you to him if you don't know him. He's one of the brightest and most strategic thinkers in the channel as far as I can tell. But what he did was he took HMI and his program and turned a traditional incentive program on its head, where most incentive programs are at the core incentivizing for sales. He doesn't reward for any actual sales but rewards all for engagement and enablement. So things like watching a 90-second video and taking a quick quiz, setting an appointment with one of his sales engineers in the region. So there's all these kind of other things that he's measuring and tracking, and ultimately giving rewards out for, which has been really cool. Of course there's a direct correlation between the people that are engaged in doing these things, and the sales that come in the end.
Jen: I love that. Yeah, you have to introduce us, because I love the idea of incentivizing. Not the end result, but the behaviors that you know are gonna lead to the end result. So that's awesome. Love it. I want to ask you about your time at ProfitStars. So you were at ProfitStars before you joined HMI. When you were there, you were really in the thick of it, living, you know, day-to-day strategic alliances, identifying, recruiting, on-boarding, and then managing those partners. I'd love to hear some of the biggest struggles that you had in executing your job effectively, because a lot of our listeners are living that life right now.
Travis: You bet. Yes. You know, but before HMI and Move the Channel, that was my world. You know, that was the world I was living. And I mentioned working for a number of manufacturers and distributors. And so, a few years ago, I was actually recruited back to that world where they wanted me to run their strategic alliances and roll out partner programs. And was just an incredibly awesome and exciting initiative…for those of you who don't know ProfitStars, it's part of Jack Henry, the $1.8 billion software company that sells through banking channels, so banks and credit unions. And then ProfitStars is the division that sells through all the other partners. So everybody that's not a bank or credit union. And that was the division I was in. And it was pretty easy, because the name was so well-known and they're so respected. You know, getting a meeting with the owner or CEO to sign them up as a partner wasn't a difficult part. And, you know, the CEO and the partner got the value prop that ProfitStars and Jack Henry were bringing to the table. So closing the partner, and you know, recruiting partners was a little bit the easy part. I know that not everybody has that luxury, but that was the case. And it turned out that, you know, the biggest challenge wasn't finding and signing up the partner. It was, you know, how can we engage with that new partner's front line. The sales people, the account managers. Jen, as you know, they're the ones that have the influence over the sale.
Travis: So that was our challenge, you know, and that was the fun part. And had a lot of good success, and very proud of the work there. But, you know, it's not something you solve and say, "Oh, we're engaged with the front line and sales people check."
Travis: It's something that you're always working on.
Travis: You're always, you know, making sure that you continue to engage and have their mind share.
Jen: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think, you know, speaking of that kind of engagement and results that you get. You know something we talk about quite often here is that 80/20 rule in the channel where, you know, right, 80% of revenue comes from 20% of partners, or even more. You know, even 90/10 sometimes, or more often, lately it seems that we're hearing that. And a lot of that goes back to recruitment, and then how you're engaging, how you're maintaining mind share. You know, what are your thoughts on this principle? Is it something we just have to accept, that this is just the way it's gonna be? Is there a way to avoid it? Love to hear your thoughts on that topic, because I know there are people that definitely fall into both camps.
Travis: Sure, sure. Yep. There are people out there that just accept it, and the statistics would be tough to argue that. But, gosh, great question. We've seen though, HMI specifically. I think we're uniquely positioned to help with this dilemma. You know, here's the thing, it's way easier to move up, you know move up an existing customer, a partner, than it is to find and train a new one. And, you know, recruitment and out there finding new partners always needs to be part of your plan. But, if we could just take a look at that middle 60, you know that middle 60%, and focus on them. You know, there's a great opportunity to move them up to that next level. And the challenge has between with performance incentives and channel incentives is a lot of companies kind of roll out these blanket reward programs, right? And when you do that, you have the same 20% hitting those goals and enjoying the rewards, or the president's club trip to Hawaii. And, you know, taking a page out of Allbound's book here, you know, it's all about…today, it's all about personalizing it, and customizing it to each individual person. So, to be honest, the technology wasn't there five years ago. But today, literally, each person that logs in to, you know, an HMI system for example, has a completely unique experience. You know, they see their unique goal or threshold, or unique promotion that's available to them because they sell a certain product or in a certain region, or there's unique rewards available to them. You know, all depending on their demographics or how we've segmented the customer/partner database. So, and then those goals are based on how much they sold from the previous quarter, or how much they sold from the previous year. It's not this, you know, "You have to sell this for us to get our attention," it's, "If you show us progress, we're gonna invest back in you."
Travis: And we call this intimacy at scale. You like that?
Jen: I do like that. I do like that.
Travis: I'm trying to get it to stick.
Jen: No, I like that because I think it's something that; you've hit on something that really plagues, you know, a lot of sales and marketing professionals. And the tactics that really work well tend to be ones that are very hard to scale. Because as soon as you start scaling something, you start automating it, it makes it impersonal. And then, you lose that effect, right? Like, you think about the experience, the feeling you get if someone takes the time to write a handwritten note to you, right? And so, I like getting this note, right? Well, then it becomes, let's just e-mail everybody, right? And then it's just another piece of noise in your inbox. And so I like that, I like that idea of intimacy at scale. Yeah. I'm a fan.
Travis: Right on. No, that was an awesome perspective. You're right. You know those things that work we try to scale them, and then in the process, we lose the personal touch. And that's usually what it is. It's the personalization that we lose. But, you know, I think technology is finally there. We can still personalize and have the user feel special, because they are, if you're using the right systems out there.
Travis: And as a result, you know…so getting back to the 80/20 rule, you know, if we kind of segment our partner, customers in your A tier, and B tier, and C tier, you know, we're all about moving those C tier customers to B, and the B's up to the A tier. And then...now, the only problem is how do we create a new tier for those A's because we've run out of letters.
Jen: Right. Right. So I've one more, like channel question for you. And I'm gonna ask you to kind of look through your crystal ball here. Wondering about the future of partner programs, you know, you think about like the last 10 years or 20 years, and then where we are today, they've definitely evolved. If you were to look ahead, where do you see the future of partner programs going? And what are you most excited about for the next decade or two of this world of strategic alliances?
Travis: Gosh, that's a fun question. Good question. You know, partners...it used to be…I mean, I guess if we were going to look back before we look into the future, it used to be, you know, the strategy was build it and they will come. And that included all these resources. And they would build these things and kinda put these libraries in place. And back in the day when there was only a handful of vendors doing that, they actually had a little bit of success. They would actually get their partners to come and use these resources. But today, there is just so much noise. Everybody has these resources that they expect their channel partners to come to and access and use. And it's not happening, and it's not gonna happen in the future. It's not build it and they will come.
Travis: It's not the field of dreams. And so, you know, what we're seeing now is...and where I see the future is, it's not getting all these assets and resources. It's how can you integrate with your partner? How can you integrate? And you've always tried to integrate your product into theirs. You know, you've got to keep doing that. You've got to integrate your marketing into theirs. You've got to keep doing that. And you've got to keep doing it better. But the real advance is gonna be, how can you integrate with the buying experience? And can you help your partners be more effective out there selling, and help them through the journey? And, you know, we don't have all the answers there but it's starting to crystallize. Again, companies like Allbound are doing things in ways that people had never seen before or considered just a couple few years ago. And those are areas of advancement that are starting to show us the future of channel marketing programs. And on the HMI side, five years ago we weren't having intimacy at scale, and customizing each participant's experience in the channel incentive program. Today we are. There's a long way to go, but that's where it's heading. Those are gonna be the vendors that win. The ones that can integrate into the buying experience.
Jen: I agree, because it's all about the customer. That's exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing that all transpire along with you. So thanks for this. Thanks for sharing a lot of your time today with me about incentives and channel programs. This has been awesome, and I do hope that folks who haven't had a chance to participate in Move the Channel will get over to LinkedIn and join that group and start contributing to that group's success. Thank you for starting that. I think it's...I'm glad, I'm very glad you did.
Travis: Also, I think it's where we first crossed paths, virtually.
Jen: Yep. That's right. So, but Travis before I do let you go, like, really, I have some more personal questions that I always ask our guests. Just so we can get to know you a little bit better. So I'm gonna put you through that rigor now. So, my first question for you is, what is your favorite city?
Travis: Gosh, great question. Cleveland, Ohio.
Jen: Really. Tell me why you love Cleveland?
Travis: You don't get that answer very often, do you?
Jen: No, I don't. I don't. I've been there once, and I liked it when I was there. But why do you like Cleveland?
Travis: You know, I'm a little bit from Ohio, and a little bit from California. I always joke my parents when I was really young, so there was a lot of back and forth. I was born in California, more raised in Ohio. But growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, which is about an hour south of Cleveland. I became the biggest die hard Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavs, and everything Cleveland. And it was always such a big trip to go to the big city. And so, I have really fond memories of it. And to this day, it's still one of my favorite cities to go visit.
Jen: That's great. That's wonderful. Okay, next question for you. Do you consider yourself an animal lover? Do you have any pets?
Travis: I do. I'm not a cat person, although my wife is.
Travis: But fortunately, she's also a dog person. And we saved a mutt from the pound, about seven years ago, and it's part Boxer, part Lab, part Golden Retriever, and a few other things that we're not quite sure. But it is still a puppy today. Seven years later, it has not calmed down a bit. And her name is Honu, which is turtle in Hawaiian.
Travis: So, we call her a dog turtle.
Jen: What inspired that? I've never met a dog named turtle.
Travis: We went on our honeymoon in Hawaii, and went swimming with some honus, some sea turtles. And we found ourselves kind of calling them, and trying to get their attention like you would a dog.
Travis: And so, we said, "When we get a dog we're gonna call him or her Honu."
Jen: That's great. Oh I love it. Okay, next question, Mac or PC?
Travis: Oh gosh, I"m sitting here looking at both right now.
Jen Spencer: Oh, you're one of those.
Travis: I have both, and I love both of them. I have recently been turned onto Mac, and that's where I run a number of my businesses. But, you know what, I have the Microsoft Surface Pro.
Travis: And, pretty sweet, I have to say. They've come a long way.
Jen: Yeah, I've heard great things about that. Okay, last question for you. Let's say I was able to offer you an all expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
Travis: It would be to Sydney, Australia.
Jen: All right. Have you been there before?
Travis: I have. I spent a summer abroad over there. And I've been trying to get back ever since.
Jen: Well, I hope you have a chance to return.
Travis: Well, should I expect that package in an e-mail after this, or?
Jen: No, not any time soon.
Travis: No, I was just curious.
Jen: Never. It was just hypothetical. Let's say, I was able to offer this.
Travis: Yeah. I would say there or Patagonia, Chile, which is another place I've been before, but I'm dying to go back.
Jen: Well good.
Travis: How about you? I'm curious, what's your answer on that one?
Jen: I wanna go to Greece. I really wanna go to Greece, because I want...my background is in theater, and there's a lot of history there, and I want to be able to experience that. But then, I also just love to like just chill on a beach and do nothing. And as far as I can tell, I can do both of those things in Greece. And so that's what I would like to do.
Travis: You've almost made me change my mind.
Travis: Now, I want to go to Greece. That sounds awesome. I've never been, and that's definitely one high on my list too. That's cool.
Jen: Well, thanks for again spending some time with me today. It was awesome. So if anyone wants to reach out to you personally, obviously, they can go to LinkedIn and they can join the Move the Channel group. Is there another way for them to get a hold of you if they want to chat, maybe about HMI or anything that we've talked about here on the show?
Travis: You bet. You can go to movethechannel.com and reach me there by submitting just an e-mail, which is perfect. And also, at my HMI e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. And I look forward to it. I love this stuff. I'm kind of nerdy when it comes to channel marketing and sales programs, as you can tell.
Jen: Perfect. That's what I like to hear. Thanks again. Thanks Travis for joining me, and thank you everyone else. And we'll catch you next week with an all new episode.
Narrator: Thanks for tuning in to the Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at Allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone
Not one, but two channel thought leaders share the spotlight today: Larry Walsh, CEO and Chief Analyst at The 2112 Group and Scott Salkin, CEO and Founder of Allbound. Larry and Scott chat about driving more revenue with the right partners on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
What I was saying in that blog post is there are natural limits to productivity. And if you accept that the 80/20 rule is alive and well in the channel, then you've also accepted that there's a speed limit to the number of partners, or the potential growth that you can get out of any side. Let's start by looking at the tenants of what the channel is supposed to do. The channel's supposed to extend market coverage, and particularly get you into niche markets. The other purpose is to create points of presence to create points of sales for customers to come in. Now, that theory works well, but there's a certain point after you start to exceed capacity, which is the reason why we actually have such an exaggerated 20% rule in the channel.
So, the notion of squeezing more value out of the long tail, particularly, the extreme end of a long tail, becomes less advantageous. If you start pushing down the long tail, and you want to start growing your channels and thinking that you're going to double your channel revenue just by adding more partners, then you actually have to over-subscribe and get lesser value out of your partners over time, which is the reason why we come to a 115% increase just to double revenue rather than just a pure one over one increase.
Today's channel leaders have so much more access to data now that can tell them which partners are having the most success and also predict which partners are best postioned for success. We've got to get smarter with new more modern day KPI that doesn't just measure success based on how many partners you're bringing in, but exactly on what those partners are — things like velocity rate, and how they're actually growing the business with you.
Larry: Start at the end. When you make recruitment a metric, then it's all about bodies, or it's all about the number of companies. Stop making recruitments, or the number partners important. Make productivity of it important. When I say "start at the end," one of the other tenants of the channel is that it has to be a net contributor to the vendor or to the enterprise, and enterprise in this case, means business venture.
Scott: Channel has to be aligned with your entire business. if you don't have the education, enablement, empowerment and training nailed down for your channel partner program, it's going to be hard to drive more revenue, create more margin, and add more logos to the business. You've got to take care of the partners you have, and you've got to help them be more successful.
To learn more about driving more revenue with channel partners, tune in to episode 39 of The Allbound Podcast.
Sue Fernand, VP of Channel Sales at Cirrus Insight joins us to discuss how smaller businesses can scale quickly and effectively with both the right channel partners and the right tools on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Explore how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast, the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer and today I am joined by Sue Fernand, VP of Channel Sales at Cirrus Insight. Welcome, Sue.
Sue: Thank you, Jen. Happy to be here.
Jen: Well, I'm really glad to have you, and especially I wanted to share a little bit about your background because you've been working in a channel for about 18 years, and you've pretty much had almost every role within the channel. So, from like being strategic accounts director at Esna Technologies to different specialized director of channel roles, and I know you also serve as a strategic advisor, focused on like I.E partnerships and channel for the small business web, so you definitely know channel inside and out. We are just really, really, really glad to have you here on the show.
Sue: Well, thank you. I'm glad to be here.
Jen: So let's dive into some questions I have for you. You know, you've got a lot of experience, not just in channel, but in tech, and we think about like rapidly growing software companies and the software industry and SaaS. Would love to hear from you where you think the software industry has the greatest opportunity, specifically when it comes to channel, and knowing that channel has been more of a traditional hardware type of go-to market strategy for many, many years.
Sue: Yeah, that's definitely a good question, because you're right, and in my early years of being in sales and being in channel sales, it was. It was all hardware. You know, in the OEM space a little bit, as well as, you know, just being an additional product in like a telecom vendor's portfolio. And then SaaS is a little bit different.
I think the partnership story and channel story, you know, changes a little bit, but I think the greatest opportunity is really for growth, right? I mean a lot of the, like you mentioned, small startups, you know, they don't have the scale out the gate. So trying to get the word out on your own about what your product does or getting in front of, you know, customers that would be a good fit, it's oftentimes challenging, and you can spend a lot of money doing events and, you know, you might blow through any sort of VC, let's say, that you have. But you can get a really strong partner ecosystem that knows your product, sees the value in it, sees the value for their clients, I think that's a really great way to scale.
I mean, again, a lot of these companies that you would sign up to be a partner, they have clients already and it's, you know, super...I think it's a great place to start, and that's one of the things I always do when I bring on a new partner. It's like, "Let's get some webinars or events or things like that set up with your existing clients. Let's get in front of those clients." I think it's always easier for customers to sell to their existing customers, right? So it's a really great way to kick off the relationship and it's a great way to have some initial wins.
I think, you know, getting success out the gate is a good way to do it. You know, even if you have to maybe spoon-feed a couple of deals to your partners, I think that that kind of creates a good environment when the relationship kicks off, instead of spending a ton of time training and creating awareness and creating, you know, collateral, and then it's like there's no opportunities, so things just sit there. But I think, you know, being able to get in front of, you know, whatever channel you choose, get in front of their existing clients and make sure that you can kind of have some pipeline right away.
Jen: That's such a good point, and you know what it makes me thing of, it reminds me of when we recently promoted one of our BDRs to be an account exec, right? And when we did that, we didn't just kind of set him free, right? Actually our director of sales kind of worked with him and, you know, did those sort of ride-alongs and got a win under his belt, right, and really helped him see that and taste it, right, and be hungry for more.
And it's an approach I see a lot of sales leaders taking when it comes to their direct business, but when it comes to channel, I mean, they're still just...they're salespeople. So how do you teach them how to have a win and get that win for them, help get that win for them, and then let them go and do it on their own after that? So I think it's just something I hadn't really thought of before and then you mention this, and it's like that makes perfect sense to me.
Sue: Yeah, exactly. It kind of started out with a positive. That way, the story can kind of resonate throughout the company, and people will pay a bit more attention to, you know, your offering.
Jen: So, you know, I try to be a really good social listener and pay attention to some of the really great content that's being shared in the space. And you had shared an article that was written by one of your colleagues at Cirrus Insight. It was called "Why Small Businesses Are Struggling Without Sales Software," and I really liked that piece. We'll link to it in the show notes. So in it, the author says that only around 50% of all businesses survive 5 years or more and only about one third make it a full 10-plus years. And if you want to be a success now, it's such a key to work carefully, so it was pretty eye-opening.
And, you know, from our perspective, you know, here over at Allbound, we 100% agree sales software, partner sales software can make a world of difference in those companies being successful. I would love to hear from you what you think a business needs, you know, for their channel to create a path that's gonna lead a business to that 10-plus year mark, given the fact that so many small businesses are, you know, struggling to survive.
Sue: Yeah, definitely, and that article was super interesting because some of the statistics in there were just crazy. You know, it said, you know, of the people that were polled, 74% of those companies were managing things manually, and only 16% even leveraged CRM, which just seems surprising in this day and age. But, you know, that's true, obviously, and you do see it. I mean, I think being in the sales and tech world, sometimes we tend to live in a bubble and we assume everybody's using all these really cool things and managing their business in the most effective manner, when, in reality, that's not the case.
And I think small businesses, in general, sometimes try to do a lot of things manually to maybe cut some corners and save some money, or they'll like patch together a bunch of free apps, let's say, but I really think that's where you fail, right, because you're not getting any of the tracking data either, so how do you even figure out what's working or what's not working, and those types of investments, they definitely pay off. And I think when you're managing a channel, you have to have a really good system in place of how that's gonna work from beginning to end. Otherwise, it would be just a big mess because, again, it's probably gonna be, you know, one or two people managing an ecosystem of partners, so you need to have some automation. And you absolutely want to track the data, track performance, so that you really can figure out where your efforts are best served, right, which partners are bringing you the most leads. That's hugely important. Which partners are maybe bringing you the bigger size deals, so you're gonna want to put your efforts there, or which partners are just not getting it, they're just not engaging, and, you know, what can you do to get them engaged or maybe that's just not a good fit, and you move along. But I think it's really important to invest in sales or partner enablement software because there's a definite investment upfront, but it's going to pay off.
Jen: And, you know, I think you'll agree with me when I say that successful partners and salespeople, successful salespeople, tend to be really happy. They're gonna be your happy partners. They're going to continue to drive business for your organization. And if they're unhappy, that probably means they're not making money, right? So, you know, how do you do it? How are you enabling your partners to sell more efficiently? Are you running promotional programs? Are you producing any types of materials or marketing tools? You know, love to hear a little bit about what you do to ensure that those partners are well enabled to sell.
Sue: Absolutely, yes. I kind of have three different channels within the channels that I focus on. The majority of the channels that I'm focusing on now with my current role at Cirrus are Salesforce consulting partners. So they're actually referral partners. They're not actually selling our licensing, but, you know, they are involved with their Salesforce deployments, all of their clients, our Salesforce users, so it's really, really important for them to know about what our product does. So one of the things we do for them, and I think it's a really smart move, is give them the software to use in-house. So they're using it, and it's a great app. They love it and they know that it's going to help increase Salesforce adoption, so it makes natural sense to recommend it.
Then, obviously, we also pay referral fees and we launch, you know, different types of promotions from time to time, you know, that will offer the ability to maybe win a trip or get a gift card, or something like that. But constant engagement and having a really easy way for them to get to that content too. Like, we've got a landing page with resources, so we've kept up-to-date, but it's got all of our marketing materials, tape studies, tutorials, everything, you know, is right there so that they're not having to, you know, go all over the place to kind of figure out what they need.
As well as we've done what we call micro-sites, so when someone signs up to be a partner, we'll create a custom branded page with their logo and a little description. We'll also list them as a partner on our site, but they are referring people to us. It has that really nice look. You know, we've got their logo on there, and it just, you know, shows that there's a relationship there. So I think that that's, you know, important, to make sure that you not only have a program, but make sure that it's easy and continually, you know, query the partners too, like, "Is this working for you? Is this a mutually beneficial relationship?" And if you need to make changes or you need to maybe launch something as a promo, then you can, you know, go ahead and do that just to kind of keep that engagement going.
Jen: That's a good point. And I'm wondering, have you ever created something or worked for a company where you guys put something together, whether it was a promotion or it was some, you know, content or something that you did that just fell flat, that you thought like, "Oh, this is gonna be great," and the partners just not respond to it? Has that ever happened?
Sue: Oh yeah, definitely. You come up with this great promotion, let's say, and you're like, "People are gonna be signing up left and right, and we're gonna get so many leads or so many referrals out of this," and it just doesn't take off. I think you really need to figure out what's important to their business, because, you know, their business has needs, right? And I think for us, like with our consulting partners, their business is services, they're implementing, so that's what's hugely important to them.
Retail partners, they're selling something else, and we're a bolted-on attachment, so that's a little bit different because they're making potentially a little bit more money off of it. So I think you almost have to continually, before you launch a promotion, really understand what's gonna drive them. It's gotta help their business, not necessarily the actual prize at the end of the day, but it's got to be something that's gonna overall effect and allow them to have more business out of the promotion that you're offering.
Jen: I'd love to hear a really great partnership story. I'm wondering, from your experience, whether it's at Cirrus or maybe at Esna, you know, really anywhere you've worked over the course of your career, if you have just, like, one of your favorite partnership stories, whether that's like the most revenue, or a really big accomplishment, or some like amazing strategic alliance that you were able to build. Do you have any anecdotes for us?
Sue: Yeah, definitely. I think probably like the most challenging but exciting time in my career of managing in channels was when I made the switch, when I was, you know, with the previous employer, Esna. We'd kind of switched from working with like traditional telecom hardware vendors to trying, you know, working in the SaaS base. Even though we were technically still equipment, we were repositioning and attaching ourselves to SaaS products, like Google and, you know, Office 365, and other, you know, cloud based platforms. So we had to seek out a different kind of partner, and that was an exciting time, challenging time, because it was very different, and a much, much different approach, but it allowed me to really get involved in a lot of the early on enterprise companies, you know, moving to the cloud.
One of the deals I worked on with one of our partners was with LinkedIn, and that was a super exciting opportunity, super exciting deal. We were very critical in that decision of moving that entire company over to Google. I know they've now been acquired by Microsoft, but it was a very exciting deal, and it really solidified the relationship with that partner, because, you know, it's pretty obvious without our piece of it, maybe that deal would not have gone down, and we really worked very strategically together on it, so that when it came through, it was very, very exciting. So it was a real success and a win, and I think it left a better engagement for both parties, because that was so much investment on both ends and it was a very long process, but it was definitely a big accomplishment.
Jen: I think, you know, recruiting the right partners is so important, and it's something that we've talked about a great deal on this podcast or other content that we created at Allbound about, you know, who you decide to partner with and build those alliances with. And, you know, ideally, it's all of your partnerships all result in these amazingly successful relationships, you know, like the one you shared. You know, but realistically there are partnerships that fall flat, you know, that don't quite get to where we had hoped they want to. And then there are some that we consider like those diamonds in the rough, right, where you didn't know how amazing it was gonna be, and then it just blossomed into a really great partnership. Do you have an effective recruiting tool or a strategy that you've used to really help gain meaningful partnerships?
Sue: Yeah, definitely, and that's hugely important, because I think, you know, there is the challenge of knowing who the people are, the players, and their respective base that you want to get into. And I think sometimes we all want to go right to top, right? We want the biggest ones, like, you know, in the Salesforce ecosystem that would be like the Accentures. You know, we want to go right to the top. And I think that for my purposes, what I found is going right to the top isn't always the best way. Yes, they're very, very big companies, and they have lots of clients, but it's very, very hard to get mind share in those large organizations, because, you know, there may be potentially even a lot of red tape to even get that partnership going, and then once you're there, you know, it's really hard to get mind share.
So I think kind of going for, you know, more of a smaller business, but maybe if you're looking for particular verticals, a business that focuses entirely on that vertical, that makes sense, or more of a boutique type, you know, partner, and a lot of times can be that diamond in the rough, right? Like, maybe it's only a two- or three-person operation, but they've got this reputation, where they're just bringing you these really big deals.
I really like to, you know, take a look at people's websites quite honestly and see what kind of work they've done, what kind of content they're putting up. I like to see people that are kind of thought leaders, because then I know that they're gonna get the ROI and the story that we're gonna bring to the client. So I like to do a little bit of investigation, not just knowing, "Hey, this is a big partner, this is a successful partner," but let's see what kinds of clients they have, what's on their website, what's on their blog, what are they putting out there, what's important to them. So certainly bringing social into the mix is a lot about how I do the recruitment or seeking out additional partners.
Jen: Well, I think that's really smart because I've seen culture make or break a partnership, right? So you can have two organizations. You might be both targeting a similar, you know, that same ideal customer profile or you might be focusing on the same buyer percentage. But culturally, if you're extremely different in your approach, that could definitely impede the success of that partnership. So, I mean, I think that's really, really wise, but there's not always a clear-cut way of figuring that out, right? That takes time. Like you said, going onto someone's website, consuming some of the content that they're creating, looking at what they're posting on social media. I mean, do you have a team that helps you with that, or are you kind of doing that on your own? How do you scale that kind of...yeah.
Sue: At Cirrus, we're small, we're a startup, but yeah, it's kind of on me. But in the past, gosh, I mean I remember back in the early days of my career, you know, going and getting like the phone books and going through and finding like all the interconnect companies in a particular area, you didn't have, you know, as many online resources, so you had to go a little bit, you know, more old school on that. But I think that, in general, you're right, the culture thing is super important, and you also need to understand the rules of engagement, too. That's big as well.
You know, some partnerships will want you to be very hands off. You know, they'll want you to entirely enable their teams, but they don't want you talking to their customers. They want to own the deal and they're just gonna kind of come to you, you know, to order it, let's say, or if they have technical questions. Where other partners are gonna really want you kind of side by side in the deal, especially the larger strategic ones. So I guess knowing, you know, what the rules of engagement are and how much, you know, visibility you're gonna want into their pipeline, let's say, you know, these are all things that you kind of need to find out when you identify what types of partners you're looking for.
Jen: Oh yeah, I agree 100%, and it's like it's not a one size fits all, right? So you have to adjust that communication.
Sue: Yeah, definitely not, definitely not. And I've even worked in OEM relationships too, where you can't even...it's not even something that you're publically saying that it's your product, even though it is your product. So that's a whole other different partnership, where it is, really, truly hands off, and you're just kind of managing, you know, the actual relationship between the two companies, but there's not gonna be any sort of a forward facing discussion with the client.
In my experience, I prefer it when it's more of a, you know, collaborative approach. I think it's more successful, and maybe that's just the types of products that I've sold, but I think no one can tell the story better than you can. You can definitely enable your partners, and they can tell that story, but when it comes to a really large strategic deal, I think having, you know, both people there, them selling their company and their services, and you coming in as, you know, supporting them as the expert on your technologies. For me, that's been the recipe for success.
Jen: Before I let you go, I was just thinking, Cirrus Insight's a younger company, like you said. You've got this partner play. Maybe you can kind of take a step back and share a little bit about the company, you know, so all the listeners have an idea of like, okay, who is Cirrus Insight, right? And then also, you know, love to know when the organization decided to make that go-to market, to make that partner play and have a go-to market strategy around channel partners. Was it right out of the gate? Did it come later? Can you just shed a little bit of light on how you did that? Because I know we have a lot of listeners who are in similar situations or maybe even like a year or two behind where you are, I think it would be great to hear your story.
Sue: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I mean, I joined them almost...so it'll be two years next month. So when I came onboard, they already did have, you know, partners. I think out the gate, they focused on the partner model right away, because they knew that was gonna be the way to scale, and Salesforce partners were the way to go because they owned the relationship, and building a name and a brand in that ecosystem, that's where you had to go.
In terms of, you know, the company and the history, it's kind of a funny story actually. I was one of the first users of Cirrus Insight when I was at Esna, so I actually found the product. We were a Gmail shop. We used Salesforce and, you know, quite honestly we were struggling with our adoption, and I found it, and I used it, and I was a huge fan. I have posted one of the first reviews on the app exchange, so I knew about them for quite some time and was a big fan.
So when I was looking into new opportunities, it made sense for me to reach out to other products that I loved and used and I knew made my life easier because I think, you know, that adds a lot of credit and validity to your story when you can say, like, "Hey, I've been there, I've seen the transformation, and I use this," or it's not like you're just selling a product, so to speak, if you have a little bit of history on it.
But yeah, they've been partner focused before my time. I know that's how they grew the company. So when I came in, there were already some established partners, and now I've just taken that process and just grown it even further and brought in some additional relationships with OEM Salesforce partners and building up a little bit more on the resale side and getting a better handle on tracking, the referral partners that we have and just having a point person that's just engaging with them on a regular basis.
I think, in general, with any channel, it's just about enablement and engagement. And, again, the thing that we were talking about earlier, having a system in place that allows you to do that, not manually, but having something in place that allows you to use some software so that you can have the data that you need, and be able to track that, and track the metrics on it, and figure out what's working and what's not working. Otherwise, I don't think, you know, it's going to be a successful channel if you don't do it right.
Jen: Absolutely. It's like, you know, if you were a DemandGen marketer and you never paid attention to what marketing efforts produced the most number of leads, right? If you did that, you know, that would be very foolish, right? So putting the same approach, the same thing we're all doing with the direct sales and marketing efforts, putting those same processes and holding those same standards, you know, with indirect sales and indirect marketing as well. So it's a big passion point of mine for sure.
Sue: Yes, definitely. I agree.
Jen: So before I totally let you go, I do like to ask a couple of more personal questions so the listeners can get to know you a little bit better and maybe bond with you over some other commonalities besides just channels, because we are more than our jobs, right? So my first question for you is, what is your favorite city?
Sue: My favorite city, oh gosh, that's a good question. You know, I hate to say it, because it's so close to home, but New York City. I just always find something new and exciting to do there, and I'm pretty close to New York. I'm in Connecticut, so I get there quite often. So I've been in a lot of places in the world, but I do have to say New York City is definitely my favorite city.
Jen: Awesome. Okay, question number two, do you consider yourself an animal lover? Do you have any pets?
Sue: You know, it's funny. If you asked me this like five years ago, I would say no, but I have a dog now, and I'm like a complete convert. I was against it. My children really wanted a dog, and, of course, made all sorts of promises that they were gonna take care of the dog, and that's really not what happened. I take care of her, but I am like...I just like ride or die for that dog.
Jen: What kind of a dog is it?
Sue: She is a long-haired Chihuahua. So she's like a little, you know, a little lap dog, but she's adorable, and I just adore her, and I didn't anticipate myself feeling this way about a dog, but I do.
Jen: I'm a very similar story, and actually he's like five-eighths Chihuahua. There's a couple other things in there. We did the whole like doggie DNA thing. So, yeah, I have a Chihuahua, and I swear I think he would be most happy if he was in a Baby Bjorn attached to me at all times. Like, if he could get inside my skin, he would be happy, right? It's so funny. They're funny dogs. Okay, question number three, Mac or PC?
Sue: Mac all the way. In fact, you know, I think I used like a PC laptop like once in my life. I've been a Mac user since I was a child.
Jen: Awesome. Last question for you. Let's say I was able to offer you an all expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
Sue: Ooh, I would go to Italy.
Jen: Ooh. Anywhere particular in Italy or just like see it all?
Sue: I would just like to go. I would like to see it all and eat my way through Italy.
Jen: Yeah, sounds good.
Sue: And drink wine as well.
Jen: Sounds really good. I know I went to Italy a number of years ago, like a good, you know, like, I don't know, 14 or 15 years ago, and I think I remember it being actually cheaper to drink wine than anything else, and so that was what I did.
Jen: But I do hope you get to Italy, even if I'm not the one who has the opportunity to send you there.
Sue: There you go, exactly.
Jen: Well, thank you. Thanks for joining me and joining us in the Allbound Podcast. If anyone wants to reach out to you, maybe they're interested in becoming a Cirrus Insight partner, maybe they kind of want to pick your brain about some of the thoughts you've shared, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?
Sue: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, feel free to follow me, obviously on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. But if you want to, you know, directly communicate with me, you can just e-mail me at S, as in "SAM," fernand, F-E-R-N-A-N-D, @cirrusinsight.com, and I'm happy to talk channel. And then hey, if we happen to be in the same town, have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, whatever works, I'm happy to share thoughts.
Jen: Great. I'm sure folks will appreciate that, especially considering the experience you have and what you're building over there at Cirrus. So, again, thank you, Sue, for joining us, and thanks everyone else for joining us for the podcast, and we'll catch you all next week.
Sue: Excellent. Thank you so much, Jen.
Male: Thanks for tuning into the Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visits the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone.
Vince Menzione, Founder of Cloud Wave Partners, join me, Jen Spencer to discuss long-term relationships with partners, compensating partners, collaborating with the competition and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host Jen Spencer as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast, the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer, and today, I am joined by Vince Menzione, who is founder of Cloud Wave Partners. Welcome, Vince.
Vince: Jen, thank you. I'm just so excited to be here. I've listened to some of your episodes. You've had some amazing guests, and just delighted and honored to be here.
Jen: We're glad to have you, as well, especially because your business experience just screams channel, and I love getting a chance to chat with people who have seen all aspects of channel sales and marketing. I mean, you were VP of Sales at General Dynamics, you were a general manager of Partner Sales Strategy at Microsoft, you host your own podcast, "The Ultimate Guide to Partnering." You're truly ingrained in the partner ecosystem. Can you share a little bit about what drew you to and what has really kept you working in the channel?
Vince: That's a really great question. You know, I think it all started, Jen, because when I started off in selling right out of college, and I had a degree in marketing and wound up in sales because that's where the big money was. I saw that the people in my organization were making most of the money in the sales organization. And so I worked with companies, in four companies, that were, kind of, underdogs in their market, and candidly, I hated cold-calling. And so, you know, being a Marketing major and realizing that I needed to create credibility for my company in my offering, I started early hosting events and inviting complimentary companies to present their solutions along with my company's solution in order to build our credibility and our brand, and that led to a lot of, sort of, ad hoc collaboration with organizations that grew over time and then formalized into relationships, alliances, channel partners, and the like. And the one company that I was with at the time, we took that company from about 6 million in sales to about a 125 million. And then I did a turn-around where I was actually asked to start the government sales business and build a channel from scratch for that business, and that was a pretty interesting time. It was right after 9/11, we were selling to the government ruggedized computers, and we had a very unique offering, but we're underpenetrated our market. And so, I leveraged the relationships that I was building. I leveraged PR, events. I even spent time on Capitol Hill trying to get our message out through local congressmen and the staffers and the like. And so, this resulted in an amazing success that led to my joining Microsoft to lead the channel strategy all up for public sector. And so, I've always believed in the philosophy of one plus one equals three or more and mutual success and collaboration and at my core, I'm a connector. So I guess partner is just really ingrained in my system.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I love that philosophy, and you wrote this article. It was called "The Three P's and how every partner needs to think in the Third Wave," and those three P's were partnership, policy, and perseverance. And you talk about driving business outcomes, you talk about shareholder value and market share. I'd love if you could elaborate a little bit. It was such a great piece but elaborate, for this audience, about, you know, how does partnership really fit into what you're referencing as being the third wave, the Internet of Everything, and then we'll link to the article in the show notes also, but, you know, can you give us the Cliffs Notes version?
Vince: Sure, happy to. And that article was a direct result of seeing Steve Case speak, actually, at an event, a Microsoft event, hearing him being interviewed by my leader at the time and then also then reading his book "The Third Wave." And what really resonated for me there was just this evolution, you know, from the Internet to the app economy to the internet of things, and that there was this need that I still believe is under-appreciated around working across policymakers about just the amount of cooperation and collaboration that needs to take place between government agencies and private business. We're moving into a whole nother economy right now as you know. I mean, this disruption in the cloud is changing everything, and the Internet of Everything is all about, you know, things like smart cars, the ability to monitor for, you know, police officers to monitor things like gunshots and doing gunshot detection that ties into how a police officer responds to how municipalities deal with water and wastewater management to, you know, traffic lights, all kinds of things that were not part of the computer ecosystem in the past. And it requires this collaboration, again, between the agencies as well as just a common working knowledge on policy and things like that that those policies...some of those policies need to change or be updated to support this 21st-century environment that we live in.
I'll give you an example actually. I was thinking about this.
Jen: Yeah, that'll be great.
Vince: Yeah, so you know Uber? I mean, you know, an incredible disruptive technology, right? But Uber has, kind of, built itself on disrupting and not collaboration. And I think about this at times because, you know, you'll go into certain cities, you'll land at an airport, and you'll realize you can't get an Uber, right? Because the city has basically blocked them because they feel like it's predatory and competitive to what their cab services do and what they feed off of that, their tax revenue dollars to that. But what if Uber had gone to those agencies, to those municipalities in a spirit of cooperation rather than fighting them, and said, "Hey, you know what? We can collaborate more effectively together. Why not have it so that Uber can then communicate to the mass transit systems in those cities?" Think about things like this, I take the train to my exit or my stop, I should say, and my Uber is then waiting for me because Uber has created a bridge or a collaboration technology to that municipal transit system and knows when that train or bus or you know, other motor transportation will arrive at that stop and you know, calls an Uber and my Uber shows up for me automatically. I mean, these are the type of things that you could see happening with the closer collaboration in what a lot of people are calling smart cities or cities of the future and those kinds of technologies where municipalities and private industry come together for the greater good.
Jen: That's a great example, and it's that we really...I think that the crux of it is that we have to evolve in terms of that policy, our business practices. And far too often, I see organizations trying to kind of shove tomorrow's collaboration into today's or yesterday's practices, and it's hard. I mean, what you're suggesting is innovative and it's optimistic. It's challenging, right? This isn't something that's gonna come very easily.
Vince: It is challenging, and also, the companies don't always get it, you know? I talked about the need for not just the collaboration, the cooperation but the patience and persistence that are required, and I might have mentioned this in the article. I was reminded of this because it takes a long time...If you're going to work in a regulated industry like healthcare or government, the sale cycles might be longer, the hurdles that you have to face or overcome like, you know, regulations, like HIPAA compliance and health care, or maybe just the fact that you're selling to a government entity and you have to have the right contracting vehicles, and the sales cycle is longer, those things take longer. And I was reminded of an example from that company that I built the government practice for. We initially had a CEO running the business who didn't get that. He didn't understand the government sales cycle and how long it took to build the government practice. Often, government agencies look at you and they frowned upon companies just coming in and kinda poaching business in their market. They wanna know that you're gonna be in that business for the long haul, and they wanna see a track record of proof and success for a period of time before they'll award business to you. And so that particular CEO didn't get it. He didn't wind up staying in that role very long, but we persisted and the business took off from there. And so, again, you have to have the patience and persistence to drive forward if you wanna achieve an objective.
Jen: You had some really, you know, great experiences and successes in managing channel for Microsoft's public sector. I was really hoping you might be willing to, sort of, share, recount one of your best partnership stories with our listeners. Maybe a time you achieved a great revenue goal together, there was some big accomplishment or some strategic alliance that was able to be formed. Do you have anything for us?
Vince: You know, I have a lot of stories for you, and if we've got time, I can tell you, actually, more than one great example. I kind of paint a couple of stories for you here. But there was one particular instance where, you know, we were getting into the cloud space and competing directly against Google for email business, and this was at a time when Google was going into the cities, and they were the cool, new, you know, shiny, new object, I guess, if you will, and Microsoft was just moving...I don't even think we called it Office 365 yet. It might have just been called BPOS which was Business Productivity...That was the original name for Office 365. And we were looking for partners to help us be successful in that market and recruited a partner of Google's, one of their launch partners for the Gmail product to the Microsoft ecosystem, but I had trouble getting that partner engaged with the sellers in the public sector business because they were averse to working with anybody that worked with a competitor. And so, I really had to break down some barriers. My team had to break down some barriers to demonstrate that that partner would firewall their Google business from our Microsoft business and that they wouldn't share information between the entities so that if they were gonna work with us on an account, they would not work with a competitor and vice versa and that they would firewall any information they knew. And it took some time, but that partner wound up being very successful, being a Partner the Year, getting elevated in status. They're now what they call a National Solution Provider or NSP, and they won Partner of the Year Award in Education, and they were just spotlighted in the healthcare business for a great success that they've had in the healthcare business this past year. And so that was one example.
Jen: That's great.
Vince: I had another example too that I wanted to share, too.
Jen: Yeah, please.
Vince: I was thinking about this one, and this one was, again, in the government space, but it was a large systems integrator, whose name will, you know, go unmentioned here. But this systems integrator was an influencer in their market but very vendor-agnostic. They didn't partner with other organizations, but they became a big fan of Microsoft, and this led to...And again, this was persistent. This was like years and years of working with them, meeting with them, getting them in to engage with our teams that they really became the big fan of the technology when we released Surface, when we started moving to Azure and the cloud. And we developed this strategic alliance and started to co-develop some very cool technology around security, and it was through some of those agencies and government that we really can't talk further about, but you know who they are, and they went from being very vendor-agnostic to being raving fans and creating an alliance and strong partnership with Microsoft that took off. And I was actually reminded that when I was trying to kinda bring this partner along. I had a very senior Microsoft sales leader at the time say to me, don't waste my time with them. "They're not gonna partner with us. That's not their approach." And that person's no longer with Microsoft, but we persisted. Again, persistence, trying to drive the right outcome for the business, and you know, just having the end in mind in terms of what we need to do in order to be successful.
Jen: It's actually a really good segue. I love hearing success stories. The benefit of having channel sales and marketing professionals on this show is also to hear about some of the problems, some of the mistakes that have been made over the years, so that we can make sure, you know, we teach those and those mistakes aren't made again. Are you willing to share any mistakes or problems you've seen business leaders have to deal with when managing alliances for their business?
Vince: Yeah. That's quite a bit of what I do on "The Ultimate Guide to Partnering" is I try to uncover the pitfalls as well as the success stories. And on both sides of this equation, it comes down to not really understanding or having a common vision of what the outcome needs to be and not understanding each other's operating model. So in the case of partners that are looking to engage with companies like Microsoft, and this is true of other tech giants, is it's just not understanding, you know, the cadence of the business like when is a good time to engage, when it's not a good time because it's the end of a quarter or end of the fiscal year. It's thinking that just because you are a partner that "you're just going to get all these leads and access to customers where these big companies have lots and lots and lots of partners," and they can't just open up the doors. It would erode their customers' confidence in them if they did that, so it's understanding how to best engage with a field organization. And again, it comes back to this kind of being in it for the long haul, understanding the mutual outcomes that you're looking to drive, and being in it together. In the case of Microsoft...Again, it comes back to...I'd mentioned that one partner, particularly Google partner. Sometimes, the field sales organizations don't want to collaborate with a partner that they see as being somewhat competitive to them because they offer other offerings. And in today's world in this time of rapid transformation, you need everybody, actually, to help drive your business, and so you have to be a little bit more open to the conversation and maybe firewall the conversation so that we're specifically going after this particular outcome together, and maybe we're competitors someplace else.
Jen: I think, you know, a lot of what you touched on regarding, you know, those challenges or the way to really approach an alliance or a partnership, it's really cultural in nature. And you know, for me, I see that as this is...that's top-down, right? That's the leadership of the organization and from the CEOs level going down into the organization of making sure that there is a culture of partnership, that there's the understanding of "why," why are we doing this, learning from each other, looking at the KPI's that we're gonna be holding our team accountable to and ensuring that they are the right sort of KPI's, you know? But also, I talk to people all the time who go, "Wait a minute. I'm just a cog in this machine. I have a job to do." And so, do you have any advice you would give somebody for, you know, who really wants to build partnerships successfully, build partnerships with transparency, and the way that you're suggesting, when they've been inserted into and organization and maybe don't have the opportunity to craft that culture from the onset? 16:20
Vince: That's a really good question, and I think you're right. It comes from the top-down in the organization. And I see this way too often where sellers are very good at one specific function, and that's calling on the end customer. And in many cases, some of those best sellers, bestselling people, best sales people are the ones that are also, I'll call them control freaks for lack of a better term here, and they don't want anybody else involved with their account, and anything that's introduced into the account is an issue. I would say to those sellers or sellers that are in an organization that thinks that way is that you have to think differently, right? You have to really think about the adage of, you know...I can’t think of this term. I'm gonna come back to that one. But just the adage that I mentioned earlier about one plus one equals three or more because it really is a collaboration leads to a greater set of outcomes for you and for the customer. And it leads to raving fan customers as well as a partner that will collaborate with you and bring you into opportunities later on versus kind of having the blinders on and saying, "No, I want to control this account. I don't want the partner involved." Not being willing to kinda give up the reins or give up control of the outcome or the time frame for the outcome to happen is a reason why a lot of people are unsuccessful working in partnerships with other organizations.
Jen: Well, there’s certainly a lot of fear. I think that that control freak, sort of, nature, you know, that you're talking about comes from this fear of, "I'm not gonna be successful," or "Someone's gonna encroach on my work or what I'm doing." And I guess, it's up to those leaders to, you know, set the culture but also identify the processes, procedures, provide the tools and resources so that everyone's worst fears, whatever they are, get them all out on the table, "Okay, what are you most worried about happening? And let's make sure that those things don't happen," or "Let's just dispel this rumor, okay? This is not...That is never gonna happen. Don't worry about that." Because I think, it just comes down to trust, and people want to feel like, you know, they're being taken care of by their organization. And when you bring a partner into the mix...sometimes, if you haven't had experience working collaboratively with partners, you know, I think that could be a little bit daunting for some folks.
Vince: It is, and then it's also knowing just that this is a relationship. This is an ongoing long-term relationship. It's not transactional. Before Microsoft evolved the cloud business, there were some people at Microsoft that only engage with the partner that was transacting the Enterprise Agreement. And so, I would get the phone call around this time of year, which is the end of Microsoft's fiscal year, and that was the only time the sales person wanted to talk to the partner person. And of course, it was really...they were really ready to just jump on them because the order hadn't come through yet. Rather than building that relationship, having lunch once a month to discuss account strategy and account planning, all the things that should have happened, these people were just really in the moment for the transaction to happen. And it was just about that time of year or that time of the cycle versus having this ongoing relationship. You mentioned trust, building trust, having transparency, a mutual respect for each other's business, and business cadence and you know, set of outcomes. What's in it for me? Knowing each other's wins is so important, right, that that radio station, WIIFM, you know, What's In It For Me, that both organizations have, right? Each organization has its own business and set of outcomes that they're trying to drive against, and understanding that mutual respect is just so important to success.
Jen: There's something else I want to ask you about, and a lot of the people that we talk to, you know, here at Allbound are either, they're in one of two camps...they either are have been hired to enter an organization and literally breathe life back into the channel partner program. So in those cases, it's typically the company has some kind of a partner program that really wasn't very well architected. Maybe they kind of fell backwards into it, right? Someone comes to them, and says, "I wanna refer your business," or "Let's cut a little bit of a deal." And the beginnings of a partner program are put into place and other folks kinda jump on board, and then it becomes its own living beast, and now, someone's got to come in and wrangle it. So we talk to a lot of people that are in that kind of world, and then we talk to folks who mostly, you know, at rapidly growing SAAS companies that have gone...their go-to-market strategy has been direct, but now, they have these goals to start a channel program. They're starting from scratch, and it's just this open field, like of, you know, what do they want to build? And I'm wondering if you have any advice for either one of those people. I don't know if that advice would be different or if it would all be rooted in the same. If you can kind of like think back to sort of the beginnings of what it's like to start building something. What advice do you have to give these people who are setting out to build a successful channel partner program?
Vince: It's a really great question. I think about just how, culturally, the organization has to think differently, right? And in both of those examples, right? So we had a program, why wasn't it working, you know? Maybe it was that conversation we're just having earlier about mutual trust and respect. A lot of times, I see organizations, they wanna go fix something, and they think that one particular individual could come in as the new channel chief and just that person will create some type of magic or hocus-pocus on the situation. It's much more ingrained in the culture of the organization that tops down approach. It has to be buy-in from everyone in the company especially from the financial acumen, the chief financial officer CEO level, all the way down into the field organization. Compensation has to be structured so that sellers win when partners win. That's an important aspect. Compensation drives behavior, right? So if I were to look at a program, an existing program, I want to look at a few things. I would want to interview the partners. I'd wanna interview the sales people. I'd wanna understand where the cultural imbalance was and then design programs and readiness tools and compensation incentive models that drove the right behavior both for internal sellers as well as for partners. And so, that's how I would think about that. I think from this SaaS model, I think it's fairly similar, as well, again for companies that are moving from the Direct model, they're trying to grow through their channel. Again, they have to take a look at their current business model, their revenue streams. You know, what could be changed to drive this mutual behavior, this behavior that drives to a successful outcome ultimately for both the sellers, the partners, and for the customers?
Jen: Great, that's wonderful, wonderful advice. And I love that you mentioned compensation because it is what drives, you know, everyone. And if those compensation structures aren't aligned, that can really cause a lot of headaches with the partner program and making sure that program is successful. This has been so great chatting channel with you. Before I let you go, I do put all of our guests through a little bit of a speed round of more personal questions. Are you ready?
Vince: I'm ready for this. I've listened to a few of your episodes. I don't know what's coming my way but go for it.
Jen: All right. Okay. So first question is, what is your favorite city?
Vince: That's a good one. My favorite city is Philadelphia.
Jen: Okay, tell me why? What do you love about Philly?
Vince: Well, we lived outside of Philadelphia for about 26 years. My kids love Philly. My daughter went to Temple University. It's a city that's on the rebound which is what I love about it, and it's become my new favorite place. Although I love Washington DC and spend a lot of time there, Philly has got this new exuberance about it, and I love the phoenix rising from the ashes. And I see Philly in much the same way. They're building new skyscrapers, Millennials are moving back in the city at a pretty high clip. It's still an affordable city and a very livable city, and they have great, great restaurants. Lot of great BYOBs, and just they're underrated in many ways but just a great little city.
Jen: And pretty much...I went to Philly once and all I did was eat when I was there.
Vince: It's a common thing to do in Philly.
Jen: Right. Okay, question number two, would you consider yourself an animal lover?
Vince: I am. I am, actually. I didn't grow up an animal lover, so that's a great question. I didn't have a dog until about 15 years ago, and we had 2 dogs up until a couple weeks ago. We'd lost...one of them just, you know, passed, and so I've learned to love dogs. And I've learned a lot about life through dogs and just giving back to them and just getting all that love and loyalty that you get from a dog.
Jen: Yeah. Sorry to hear about that loss. What kind of dogs? What breed?
Vince: Shih Tzu and Shih Tzu-Bichon blend were the two dogs we had.
Jen: Oh, yeah. Fluffy, fuzzy.
Vince: Fluffy, fuzzy. And the other reason why I didn't have dogs when I was younger, I had really bad allergies as a kid, and so they're hypoallergenic and they're just, you know...they're terrific dogs.
Jen: Yeah. Okay, next question, Mac or PC?
Vince: Well, PC.
Jen: I should've known, right?
Vince: Yeah, you know, I do...I'm a huge fan of the Surface, and I knew Panos Panay at Microsoft when he released it and just, you know, still a super fan. Although, I will tell you that I have iOS. I have an iPhone, and I do love the apps and the finished quality of the apps.
Jen: Excellent, and last question, let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses-paid trip, where would it be to?
Vince: I'm a real beach person, so, you know, it's probably gonna be Saint Barths, but there's this other piece of me that wants to be on the coast of like Sicily right now...and eating great Italian food, so I'm gonna go with Sicily instead of Saint Barths, how's that?
Jen: Yes. Well, Sicily, right? So you can...there's water, right, and the food. You get the best of both worlds.
Vince: That's right. Beautiful blue water and great Italian cooking, so, you know...
Vince: Well, thanks so much for taking some time with me and with our listeners today. It was great. If anyone would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?
Jen: So I have become a fan of social, and in fact, just...really getting the hang of Twitter but my Twitter handle is @vincemenzione, that's V-I-N-C-E-M-E-N-Z-I-O-N-E. I can also be reached at LinkedIn and Facebook at the same handles and on Instagram, as well, and then my email address is vincemenzione, without any dots or dashes, @gmail.com.
Jen: Thank you, Jen. This has been a great pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Vince: Again, thank you for your time today, and thanks to everyone for listening, and we'll catch you next week with an all-new episode.
Man: Thanks for tuning into the Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com, and remember, #NeverSellAlone
Liz Stuart, Vice President of Operations - Partner Alliances and Customer Experience at Advanced Systems Group, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss the view of the channel from the reseller side, how to be successful reseller, what it means to have a good relationship with your vendor partner and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Announcer: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host, Jen Spencer, as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast: The fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi and welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer here at Allbound, and today I'm joined by Liz Stuart, who is Vice President of Operations of Partner Alliances and Customer Experience at Advanced Systems Group. And I'm really excited to have Liz on the podcast today because she is bringing us the perspective of the partner. And we've only had that one other time before with Justin Gray from LeadMD. Normally, where I'm talking to channel sales and marketing leaders, but I think this is such a great way for our audience to really step into their partner shoes. So, to start it off Liz, you've been there for about 17 years. You probably know every nook of the place. Can you tell us a little bit about Advanced Systems Group?
Liz: Sure. First, I'll say thank you for inviting me to be on your podcast. I'm a huge fan, so I'm really honored to be here today and talk about kind of what the partner experience looks like. ASG, we've been in business for 37 years. We started off as a Computer Land franchise and pretty quickly turned into a value-added reseller or solution provider. We have historically focused in the storage space, and today we're really looking at object storage, and software-defined networking, and kind of software-defined everything.
Jen: Wonderful. I wanna dig into some of your experience and some accolades actually. You were named one of CRN's 2016 Women of the Channel for your role in driving profitable growth and facilitating stronger channel alliances for ASG. Can you share a little bit about how you've grown these relationships with your vendors?
Liz: Sure. So, one of the things that we did as a company about 10 years ago, or maybe a little bit longer than that was we developed a role or a group of people that we align with our strategic partnerships. And basically, that's the vendor alliance manager, strategic alliance manager. These folks are aligned to our partners and their purpose is to have a deep understanding of who the partner is, their people, meaning their org charts, and that changes a lot, the processes, the programs, certifications that are required, and to bridge the gap between the vendor partner with our sales and engineering teams and then onto operations as well. This role is critical to our successful with our vendor ecosystem because that changes often and trust with our vendor ecosystem is so very important and that person helps keep that continuity and keep the repeatability of the consistency and the repeatability of the relationship and how we go to market.
Jen: Excellent. I want, you know, to get some partner perspective from you. You know, ASG is a reseller for a lot of companies like HP, and Oracle, VMware, Cisco, NetApp, and Hitachi. Can you share a little bit about your relationships with those vendor partners? I'd love to hear what those partners have done to help you be successful in selling their solutions and products.
Liz: Sure. So we have a mix of what I would call the industry giants. Some of the ones that you just mentioned and we also have our boutique-type partnerships or the smaller-type partnerships. And I think having a mix of those is the recipe for success. You know, from the industry giants, you're gonna have consistency in their programs and go-to-market. There won't be a lot of surprises there. They're gonna be very process-driven, and probably move a little bit slower than some of these…some of the boutique-type on partnerships. Now, on the smaller and boutique-type vendors, they're gonna bring agility and focus. They tend to move faster. They provide great service. And it's nice partnering with them because they're not gonna get processed...they're not gonna let process slow them down or getting the way of providing great service, and they tend to be a little bit more scrappy.
Jen: Great. I love that.
Jen: And, you know, are there any trends that you've seen? You know, thinking about those different vendors, whether they are those larger organizations or those smaller scrappy ones, any trends you're seeing some of your vendors moving towards as a whole? I mean, just in the time that you've been working in like a channel operations type of a role, what shifts have you seen these organizations making to help support you?
Liz: So, one of the things that I think we're all hearing about is, you know, the buyer journey is evolving. And I think it makes sense that the partnership journey should also evolve too. And vendor partners that we're having a lot of success with, get that. So they're looking at unconventional ways of partnering and meeting the customer, a lot of times that's us, right? Where we are, meaning they're continuously educating on solutions, and processes, and programs. It's not a one and done, right? They're not gonna show up and do a lunch and learn and not see them again till the next QBR. The ones that we're seeing a lot of success with are the ones that come to you, they set an agenda, they...we agree to mutual of our goals, we have a mutual understanding of what their KPIs are, what we need from them and what their expectations of us are. And then we can deliver to that and then they can do the same. And I think it's that transparent and open reciprocal conversation that's just going on all the time with the partners that are...that we're really successful with.
Jen: Do you have a...I'm just, you know...I'm curious about this. Do you ever have experiences with one particular vendor that you're like, "This work so well," and then do you share that with another vendor or do you try to really compartmentalize your interactions?
Liz: I think it's important to share. And yes, we do wherever we can share it and try to repeat that if we're having great success. And we ask for the same of our partners. So one of our questions I have, when I'm on boarding a new vendor, is, "What have you seen work?" Or if we're struggling with a vendor, if a vendor feels like they're struggling with us, I'll go to them and say, "What does your best partnership look like? And what does that...who is that partner or what does that partner look like? Do they have the same DNA as us," right? And one of the things that I find is, you know, vendors because you're a large solution provider, will want you to sign up with them. They expect that all of your sales and engineering teams are gonna sign up to sell their solutions, and they're disappointed when they don't. And I think a lot of times it's because the homework hasn't been done to make sure that there's a good match between us as a solution provider and what their...the vendor solution is. And a lot of times that is...that's where the relationships tend to go sideways or not necessarily bloom the way the vendor expected them to bloom.
Jen: Oh, that makes perfect sense. There's an article that you wrote that was called "Tips for Building a Mentor-Mentee Relationship." And it digs into some best practices for really getting the most out of those relationships, and it spoke to me because you wrote it with the intended audience of women in technology, and which is something that's a passion of mine. I'm, you know, on the board of Girls in Tech Phoenix group here in Phoenix, Arizona, but when I was reading it, I really believed that your tips can be applied to partnerships as well. And, you know, from the view of the partner, how can your tips for working with a mentor, how do you think those can translate to working with the vendor?
Liz: So, when you're working with a mentor or a mentee basically you're building a relationship that's based on trust and mutual respect. And I think that's very, very important when you're building relationship with a vendor partner, building that trust, building that mutual respect. And that usually comes when you spend time getting to know each other, right? So the tips, I think, are being respectful of each other's time. So when you do meet with each other, you have an agenda for your meeting, you set goals, and you assign ownership to each other, right? So the vendor will have some goals that they want us to meet. They'll assign it to specific people. Vice versa, we'll have some goals that we want the vendor to meet, and we'll make sure that there's follow-through there.
And the biggest thing is the follow-through. I mean, one of the things that I tend to see is, you know, a vendor comes in, say, "Here's what we need to do for the next quarter," and then you just don't hear that much from the vendor until the next quarter. So, I really strongly believe in having a cadence and the vendors meeting us where we are, meaning, you know, being in our offices, officing in our offices. That's they're gonna get the most thing for their buck when they're highly visible to our executive leadership as well as sales and operations, and engineering. So in doing, that those are the key components of building that trust and the mutual respect. And I really just really, really believe that a great partnership is when the relationship is reciprocal.
Jen: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's so critical. And, you know, if you think when organizations build these partnerships, I don't think...you know no one sets out to do it poorly, right? Like, no one sets out going.
Jen: "I'm gonna set these goals and then I'm not gonna follow through on that." So everyone, you know, will have these, like, aspirations of what we want this to be. And you mentioned kind of having these sort of cadences. So is it best for the vendor to have sort of a prescribed sort of system that they will go...they go through? I mean, how do you hold each other accountable for that follow-through?
Liz: I think that's the best ways when there is a set prescribed system, you know. And we...every vendor is a little bit different. Whenever my vendor alliances folks are meeting with their vendors, we basically tell them, "This is what we see working. This is what works. And if that works for you, we'd love to build a cadence with you, whether that's once a week, once a month, whatever that might look like." And depending on their role at the vendor, it may or may not work, right? So it just depends on who we're working with. But, yes, I do believe having something that's repeatable and consistent is a key.
Jen: And, you know, because it's so...it's just so great having kind of your perspective on here, I'm wondering, you know, if you could give sort of a piece of advice to someone who's trying to manage all of the information that comes in and the processes that are part of being a value-added reseller. I mean, what advice would you give that person?
Liz: I would give, the advice that I would give is to do a deep dive. There are so many ways that we can be profitable working with our vendor partners. So deep-dive into all of their programs, their financial programs, their deal reg programs, every single program that they have and understand who they are and understand your partner managers, what their KPIs are, and make sure they understand what yours are and what your goals are for the future. And make sure you can tell your company's story, because you're selling your company as much they're selling their company, and you want them to work with you as much as you wanna work with them. So, as much as they want to work with you, so, I think that it's critical to have open dialogue and be transparent in that way and make sure that your goals align with each other, and always be working on building that relationship and making it more successful. And if there are areas that fail, you know, learn from those mistakes, move on and try new things.
I mean, I think one of the things that I...one of the other things that I'm seeing a lot is trying to think outside of the box about how you partner and how you go to market with vendors or partners. You know, trying to think unconventionally and thinking about what the customers' needs are. And our customers, they're going a million miles an hour just like we are, so thinking about what are their needs, right? Do they really wanna attend another basketball game or is there something that I can provide to them where I can get in front of them, that maybe they can have their family with them because they wanna be spending time with their family? So just thinking outside of the box. If they're passionate about doing community work or volunteerism then maybe you partner with them in that way. And, man, that's...you know, what a way to build the strong partnership is by volunteering together. So, I think there are so many unique ways that you can partner with vendors and your customers for that matter, that we just have to kind of think outside of the traditional box.
Jen: You know I love that. And because what you're saying is, you really have to understand and get to know this person. I mean, it's a relationship. It's just like when you…
Jen: …meet a new friend or when you start dating somebody. You're going to engage in activities and do things that are going to be, you know, shared and enjoyed, you know, among that group. And so, that makes perfect sense. And so, we do kind of have to throw away some of our old playbooks of, you know, delivering over, you know, logoed, logo with polo shirts or…
Jen: You know, yeah, or the boxes at a basketball game like, you know, you were referencing. Is that something that the customer or that the vendor or, you know, your team actually cares about? And I think in order to do that, in order to actually execute on this advice, gosh, there's gotta be like cultural alignment, right? Like, you've gotta have...at your level, you know, you've gotta be part of an organization that's culturally open to that transparency and that collaboration. And then the vendor has to have that same kind of culture as well. And its how do you make sure that before you start engaging with a partner on that level, that you've got that culture alignment? I mean, do you have any advice for that?
Liz: That's the million-dollar question, right? And that is...that's part of what my vendor alliances team work so diligently on, right? And they spend so much time getting to know the vendor, understanding our internal data. You know, where the vendor might be a fit. It might not be a fit in one region, but it might be a great fit in another region because of their product mix or their cultural mix. And we're pretty consistent across the board, but there is some tendencies in different...there's different tendencies in different regions. So, that's part of what the vendor alliances team does is they...you know, they operate on data and they look at who the vendor is, what changes have been happening at the vendor, what changes have been happening internally, and really work hard to bridge that gap. And hopefully, the trust that our internal team has with our field sales team will help build the trust with the vendor partner so that that cultural connection happen easier, faster, better.
Jen: Excellent. Awesome. Okay, Liz, before I actually let you go, you know, you listen to the podcast, so you know what I'm gonna do right now. I'm gonna ask you some...
Liz: Yes I do.
Jen: ...random personal questions. Okay. So my first question for you is what is your favorite city?
Liz: San Francisco.
Jen: Okay. So because that's my favorite city also I'm gonna ask you why. Why do you love San Francisco?
Liz: So, I grew up in the East Bay, and I love all things Northern California, but specifically around San Francisco, there is just an energy in that city. Every time I go there it just...it feels like home, it looks like home. It's just a great city. And the food is excellent too. So, I mean, it's just...it's beautiful. It's just everything about it.
Jen: Awesome. Well, from one East Bay girl to another I agree. Agree 100%.
Liz: I love it.
Jen: Okay, second question, are you an animal lover?
Liz: Of course. I love all animals, but for pets, I love dogs that don't shed, so I have a Shih-Tzu Poodle mix and he is the best little companion for our family. He is great. And he's been with us for eight or nine years and loves kids and he's just as easy...so yeah, that definitely, I'm a dog lover.
Jen: Wonderful. Oh, what's his name?
Jen: Charger, cute.
Jean: Okay, question number three, Mac or PC?
Jen: All right. And question number four. If I was able to offer you an all-expenses-paid trip, where would it be to?
Liz: So, I am feeling a little nostalgic, so I'm gonna say I would go to the Azores islands. They're a group of nine volcanic islands west of the continental Portugal. And I've been to one of the islands, Terceira Island, twice. My parents are both from that island. And one of the things that I've always kinda dreamed of doing is going to all nine of those islands and immersing myself in that, in my culture, as it is my culture. So, that's one of the places I'd love to spend some time and take an extended vacation.
Jen: That sounds wonderful. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me about channel and share a little bit from a reseller's perspective. It was great. If any of any listeners wanna reach out to you personally, maybe they have more questions, you know, what's the best way for them to get hold of you?
Liz: They can email me at email@example.com or I'm on LinkedIn at Liz Stuart, and it's S-T-U-A-R-T.
Jen: Wonderful. Well, thanks again for your time, and thanks everyone for tuning in. And we'll catch you next time with an all-new episode of The Allbound Podcast. Have a great day.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, #NeverSellAlone.
Zach Selch, VP of Global Sales at PharmaJet joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss partner channel goals, growing a channel, educating your partner sales reps and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Announcer: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host Jen Spencer as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to the "Allbound Podcast," the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi everyone, welcome to the "Allbound Podcast." I am Jen Spencer and today I am joined by Zach Selch who is the VP of Global Sales at PharmaJet. And if you don't know Zach, he's been working in sales for the last 30 or so years, and with a lot of that time spent in the channel we're gonna have a ton to talk about with him. Zach, you've just recently transitioned into your role as VP of global sales at PharmaJet, and I know you're working on building up new channels, expanding, and empowering existing channels. Before we get into all the meat we're gonna talk about today, can you share a little bit about PharmaJet and about your role in the company?
Zach: Sure. So PharmaJet is a company that was put together to develop and sell needle-free injection technology for the vaccine market. And the basic idea is that you have literally billions of people getting vaccines, and there are a lot of dangers involved with the needles. They make it a little bit less safe. There are issues with disposing of needles. There are issues of accidental sticks, those types of things. And there's also advantages with vaccine to where in the flesh, where in the layers of the skin or the muscle you deliver your vaccine.
So if you can make it easy to deliver the vaccine in the right part of the body, you can make it more effective with less training. So that's essentially what we do. And right now our focus really is in growing the international vaccine market as well as the domestic flu market.
Jen: That is very, very interesting. And I love this innovative approach to medicine. So channel comes up in this? I think there's so many different interesting applications of growing a channel. You know, what's kind of the overview of your role there? What are you setting out to achieve for PharmaJet?
Zach: This is an interesting product for a couple of reasons. When we're dealing with the international market, we're looking really at ministries of health; government. And, you know, when you're selling to a government, they're...it can be a long sales process. You don't really have a relationship, you're looking at a very, say, long investment in the issue of developing trust. And when you're dealing with a channel, you're essentially onboarding the trust and the relationship that that channel's already developed with your customers.
So if you know who your customer's going to be...and in this case I do, it's a very specific part of the Ministry of Health of countries and you can find the right channel. So you find somebody who's actually selling to them another product today has been delivering the trust, they know that they're delivering good product and, you know, they're honest and so on and so forth. If I could get those type of channels, that accelerates my sales process, it cuts down my cost of sale because I don't have to be there 20 times. You know, I can manage the ongoing sales process through my channel. So that's the focus of what I'm doing.
Now, domestically, I have a similar thing...or actually, you could say it's similar but almost opposite. In the United States the people who are making decisions about vaccines are much, much more localized and much smaller, and it then goes back to the cost of sale. "Can I actually get out to every clinic or every place where they're going to make...where they're going to be delivering vaccines and make a presentation, develop the relationship, build rapport and trust. Well, if I'm dealing with distributors, our channel partners that have those relationships, they're getting out there, then that is gonna make my sales process a lot easier.
Jen: The beauty of a channel. That's great.
Zach: Exactly, right.
Jen: So, actually, let's dig into that a little bit more, and I'm gonna start by going backwards. So your most recent company, AMETEK, you worked within the Rauland-Borg Division. And when you were there, you grew annual sales from less than $1 million to more than $12 million in 7 years, and you did it without adding any headcount, products, or resources, which that's pretty substantial, right? That's a big accomplishment. So you gotta tell us how were you able to grow your sales that much without adding that headcount and those resources.
Zach: Well, so when I came on board to Rauland, which was the division of AMETEK that I was part of, they'd been trying for 40 or 50 years to sell internationally without any real luck, mostly because, you know, they were doing what a lot of companies do. They were taking a regional manager from the US market who thought it might be fun to sell internationally and putting them in the role, right, but without any real experience.
And we were locked into probably the wrong model of partners, the wrong profile. And what I like to do in a new role is I always start by asking a few questions: who are we selling to, why are they buying it. And that might sound really elementary, but a lot of people don't do that, and that really is going to define your channel. And as an example with some companies...and this was the case with Rauland. We had a very difficult - not difficult - a complicated product to install and to maintain, and keeping happy customers is very important.
So the philosophy from the beginning, had been "Let's find partners who we can trust to handle this very complicated technical installation and provide good technical support. And can they sell what's sort of an afterthought?" So the first thing I did was I looked at this, I said, "Okay, we need people who can do this type of level of technical support." That's great, but you can always buy an engineer. If a distributor doesn't know how to sell, you can't teach them how to sell. But if you tell them you need this type of technical person, "If you wanna be our distributor, you have to have such and such technical person and they have to do this training," then you'd wanna hire him, and in some countries they can hire him for $15,000 or $20,000. In some countries, it might be 50, 60 or $80,000 a year, but those numbers are nowhere near the cost of getting really good sales people.
So the first thing I did was totally revamp what the profile of distributor I wanted was. Now, one thing that I did that was interesting - and it wasn't my choice, but I'm not unhappy I did it - was we decided as a company that in order to maintain our reputation and our credibility, I wasn't going to fire any of the distributors even if I thought they weren't the right distributors.
So I inherited something like eight distributors, probably none of whom I would have chosen, and I let one of them go simply because they had nowhere near the bandwidth to cover the territory that was assigned to them, and that was the one distributor I had reason to let go. But everybody else, I really focused on turning them around and we were able to get them, on average, to increase their sales by about 400% and some of them even more than that through, you know, the next step.
So after we brought on board new distributors and identified a new paradigm or new model of distribution, I really started off with everybody saying, "Okay, now you're part of our sales organization." This isn't the situation where you are a customer where we're selling you something, you buy it and you do what you want with it. I look at channel as part of my sales organization, which means I wanna know what they're doing, I want information about the funnel, I wanna know who their sales people are, I want either myself or my regional managers to actually know and evaluate the sales people, know how much they're actually working for us.
And I started off with, like, KPIs from the beginning of saying, "We have X man hours of selling time around the world. I wanna increase that by about a hundred-fold within three years." And the idea there was that if our distributors were just not really getting out and focusing on us, the existing ones had to increase their sales hours with the product, and the new ones had to commit. And either myself or my regional managers were keeping track of this very diligently, which sometimes isn't that common.
Some people look at the channel and they say, "Well, I'm gonna find a channel in a country and I'm gonna ask them to buy 100 pieces a year and they're gonna buy 100 pieces a year," and they'll sell them and that's all I really need to know. But what I wanted to do and the way I liked to work was really know how they're selling, how the different people are, and it goes really in-depth. I mean, we would do evaluations all of their salespeople on a regular basis for training needs. We would do a lot of sales training and we would push people to take different courses. I would send out summaries of business books that I've read and I'd say, "Okay, I believe this is a little piece that could help you out."
On a regular basis, I would talk to distributor owners and I would say, "Look, John just isn't really the right guy. You don't have to fire him, but you have to take him off my product and replace him with somebody else." And I would do that, and about two years into the job I had a little rebellion by the existing distributors.
Jen: Oh, really?
Zach: And I said, you know... Oh, yeah. They said... And what's funny is at this point after 10 years, they loved me and they were making a lot of money. But for the two-year mark, they all actually got together, the old distributors, the ones I inherited, they actually got together and they decided that they were gonna go to my boss and say that they didn't wanna work with me anymore. And, you know, my boss supported me on that, and then I went to them and I said, "Look, I'm gonna fire one of you. I don't know which one yet, but you don't either. And if you guys don't wanna work according to the way I say, there's a good chance you're gonna lose our line. So you'll have to decide if it's worth it, you know, because you wanna exert your independence if you wanna lose the line."
And it was a big, you know, standoff, got a little tense, but then they all decided that they would change the way they worked, that they would cooperate. And, you know, some of them ended up making a great deal of money afterwards because they were selling more. And all I really wanted from them was to do things to help them sell more, but at the time they thought, you know, I was really intruding into their independence, right. They didn't like that I was asking them for too much information, I was pushing them too much.
So that's really, that's the short of it, was finding the right new distributors. You know, and being my distributor, the ones I recruited, I would probably interview anywhere from 6 to 10 distributors for every territory before choosing one. We would really give them instructions in terms of how much training they had to do, how many sales hours, what type of reporting they had to do and that kind of thing.
And, you know, they always thought this was a little much, but on the other hand by asking for them for a lot, they understood how serious we were. And then we would do things with them like get them together for periodic trainings. We would do...we divided up the world into four territories, so we would get the groups of people together on a regular basis. On odd years, we would get the local groups together. So we would have a South American Sales Conference one year and then we would have a global sales conference on the second year, and that gave a lot of opportunities for the distributors to talk to each other and exchange information.
And because I was pretty aware between myself and my RM's, of the different people's strengths and weaknesses, we could do things like say, "Okay, Turkey has the same problem that Australia's having now and they overcame it. I'm gonna have them sit together at dinner and I'm gonna, you know, throw out a little introduction and mention that problem and see if I can get them to have a conversation about it," and those type of things. And we really got different channels to support each other and share information and become very, very friendly, and also really have a feeling of belonging to a family.
And that, I think, was very powerful, because there were expenses involved. You know, we were flying people to global sales conference every two years and we were flying to a regional sales conference every two years and we would ask them to send their people to sales training and stuff like that, but you know, by asking them for that investment we made them really buy into our system and they sold a lot. That really drove sales.
Jen: Well, I mean, like you said, you looked at your channel partners and these distributors as an extension of your sales team, which is great, and that's exactly what everyone should do. And what I really like about, you know, your story is that you went in, you did research, you gathered data from these new partners to see what was working and then used that to coach the existing partners, because I think the situation that you were in where you had these partners that you inherited, right, that use it and go and sort of prospect and select, it's very, very similar to somebody walking in and now managing a sales team and inheriting reps. You know, this story, we could take out the word 'channel', take out the word 'distributor', we're just talking about managing expectations with the sales team.
But I think there's a lot of people that have been in your shoes or are in them now, and for some reason when we talk about people selling for us, with us, partners, most folks tend to be a little bit hesitant to be that aggressive, because it's almost like firing a volunteer, right? So people get a little anxious about it, but you have limited time and resources.
Zach: Right, and what's really interesting, I always say, is almost every case...and you could even say every case. I mean, almost every case, your distributor, if he's any good, if he or she are any good, they're richer than you are, they make a lot more money than you are, they might have more experience in exactly what they do, right. So, you know, when I try and explain this to people I say, "Yeah, I'm having a conversation with this guy and I say, you know, I really want you to do this, because you're gonna be more successful," and he says, "Zach, how did this year go? My boat's 100 feet long, how long is your boat? Don't tell me..." right? And that's the type of thing it's a very sensitive point.
You know, I had a distributor who I love now and I was able to get their sales up by almost 400%, and he was 75 when I took over at Rauland, and he was the only sales asset for his company covering a large country, and he was great. I said to him, I said, "Look, if you die, your company is worthless to me, and your family is gonna be in trouble. So I need you to start hiring sales people and training them, because you wanna be able to sell your company to leave something for your family." And he was furious with me, right? But I was able to drive him to hire professional sales people and other people and build his company, and we ended up building up by 300-400% of sales, which was good for me, and then when he wanted to retire he had something to sell. But you get that, and he was looking at me like I'm his kid. Why should I be telling him what to do?
Jen: Right, it's great. And you know, between building these teams and...you know, you were talking before about putting partners together at the same table, getting them to learn from each other. It reminds me of...there was a blog post you wrote that was on LinkedIn, it was called "Hobbies and Selling." So for everybody, after you're done with the podcast, go to LinkedIn, connect with Zach, you can see this article. But you talk about the benefits of seeking help from sources other than your own. And in this particular piece you talk about weight lifting, how you were able to really break a plateau, a sales rep who was able to outsell his peers two to one, all by innovating, right, and listening to other people, to someone else's innovation, then using their expertise to kinda change a tactic to fill a need. I'd love to know, you know, how do you see this translate in the channel, because today, channels are not as much two-way streets anymore, they're becoming these very complex ego systems. Love to hear your thoughts on this.
Zach: So just to repeat the story, sort of, I learned when I was probably 25 or so. I had a channel and there was this guy, a salesman, who was taking notes in a very unusual way. And none of this...and his boss had sent everybody to this class to learn how to take notes, and he was the only one who adopted it. And then later on in the year I found out that he was by far the best performer in his team, right. Like, he outperformed everybody else in his team by at least two to one.
And I really learned from that the idea of you should always be learning, you should always be honing your skills, taking yourself up, even something as small as note-taking, right. I mean, how many...we all take notes, we all say, "Well, you should ask people questions, you should gather information," right? But if you're not documenting that well, you're not doing your best job, but how many of us go out and really work at note-taking? So I took that as a really important lesson, and that was almost 25 years ago, more or less.
So what I try to do every year is, first of all, I try and read probably between 6 and 10 very specific business books every year, and they're usually on a subject, open-ended questions for instance, or you know, a certain type of way to prepare a slide deck, different things like that. And I'll read the book and, you know, I'll go to a couple of seminars or workshops every year. And what I try and do is then take that stuff and prepare it into training for my channel sales organization, and sort of I see that as part of my job. So what I'll do is I'll say, "Okay, you know, I'm gonna take this 300-page book. I'm gonna take two ideas from it, and then I'm going to set up a webinar, and I'm gonna first train my regional managers, and then I'm gonna train all of the salespeople." And now this also brings another value to the owner or manager, because if I teach them a good trick that isn't related to my product, they're gonna be able to use that selling other products too, right.
So I'm giving them an advantage. I'm increasing my importance and my mind share with the partners, but I'm also giving them a tool that might help them sell a little bit more. And, you know, what I've heard from that is also sometimes it even drives people... You'll have sales people who say, "You know what? I sort of felt that I had everything I really needed, and then you taught me this and I thought, 'Maybe I should be reading my own 10 books a year.'" And it sort of helps convince people to get back onto the self-educating type of path, because that can be...you know, sales people really should be constantly learning, in my opinion, to develop their skills.
Jen: Excellent. I agree. I don't think there's...I mean, think most people do agree with that completely. I wanna pull us...let's pull in, going back to the present. So we've been talking a lot about a lot of your past experience. You're at PharmaJet now, we got to understand a little bit more about what that company's doing. You're partnering with some interesting organizations like the Serum Institute, and its really innovative healthcare. Can you get into a little bit more detail about how your partner program is set up? Because I imagine there's this one layer of education marketing that's going on, there's the distributors, there's like the in-office sales that are happening. I just would love to know, you know, how are you organizing this to really maximize collaborative partnership?
Zach: Well, so it's very interesting. We are essentially selling tools to help deliver vaccines, and vaccines are purchased in a very unusual way. And again going back to what I said before, I really like to try and think from the beginning that your sales organization should be a mirror of how people are buying your particular type of product. So internationally, the people who are buying vaccines and things that have to do with vaccines are a very limited number of people.
You have a country that might have 200 million people and the decisions for all their vaccines are being made by 1 or 2 people who are part of their central government. And so what's really important to me is to be able to find those people, give them the information they need, help them understand that they can trust us and then help move forward the sale, right? That's key to me. But I also need... You know, what's gonna happen as I go...you know, let's say I go to Bolivia and I meet with the right person and he loves the product, and then I come back or I go to another city, and then he remembers he has another question, right? He wants to know more information. Well, I don't wanna have to go there 20 times over the course of the sales process.
Now, if I have the right channel who has a good relationship with that guy already and I can make sure that my channel handles all that ongoing questions and the issues and the back and forth along the sales process, that really takes a lot off of me that simply would make the whole sales process not cost-effective. So that's really what I'm looking for.
So, internationally, I'm looking for a very specific, focused type of partner. And of all the products I've ever sold, this is probably the most focused type of partner that I'm looking for in that sense. Now, domestically, there's tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of potential customers for my product in the United States and I need to be able to reach them. I can't afford to do it directly. So again, I need the right channels for that and it will probably involve multiple channels because if you think about who vaccinates in the United States, well, your pharmacy chains vaccinate, your doctors' offices vaccinate, your employers vaccinate, right? And those are probably going to be separate channels, so I need to find the right channels to reach those types of people.
What's very interesting about this is people make decisions about vaccination in a very focused way, time-frame wise. It's almost like selling Christmas trees. You know, if you offer a Christmas tree for $3 in May, nobody's gonna buy it, right? No matter how fantastic the tree is and how great the deal is. People have a very specific timeline where they say, "Well, I have to figure out what I'm doing about flu shots, you know, and I'm gonna make that decision...for the 2018 flu season, I'm gonna make that decision in April of 2017." So what I really need is my channel to be talking to the customer during, you know, a 60-day period about my product, which is on one hand good, because if you say to your channel, "Look, what we really want from you is, every time you go into the customer to remind them about our product, that's asking a lot of the channel. But if you basically say to your channel partner, "Look, once a year during this six-week period, we want you to present our product," that's a very different ask from your channel.
The other thing is the starting price of this, you know, a doctor or a pharmacist can really start using this for very little money. So the cost of buy-in for the customer, for the end-user customer, is very low and the return on investment is very clear. So from a channel perspective, I think what I believe has happened with us is, in the past we've made the wrong asks from the channel partners in the United States, which has sort of slowed down our sales. But I think what we really need to be asking from them is a very, very doable, reasonable, focused sales process, you know, very, very reasonable, and the return is, in my mind, very obvious.
So, well, that's sort of where I am. I've been getting a lot of very positive feedback from both international and domestic channels that see this as a great addition to their portfolio.
Jen: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you've made a ton of headway in a short period of time, and I'll be anxious and eager to catch up with you a little bit later down the road and see how things are going. Maybe we can have you back for a recap of what's transpired.
Zach: Oh, that would be great.
Jen: Wonderful. Well, before we wrap this up, Zach, at the end of my podcast, I like to ask folks some more personal questions about themselves just so we can get to know you a little bit better. So if you're up for it, I've got four simple questions for you.
Jen: All right. So first question is what is your favorite city?
Zach: Oh, wow. You know what? I live in Evanston, Illinois, and having traveled around a lot...like, I've done business in more than 100 countries, I've lived in 4 or 5 countries. This is a very, very comfortable place to live. So if you're asking me what's the best place to live, I'm very happy at Evanston, Illinois.
Jen: Okay. That works. Second question, do you consider yourself an animal lover?
Zach: I have a corgi, and yes. So I did not think that I would love a little furry dog, but I am very, very fond of my corgi, yes.
Jen: What is your corgi's name?
Jen: Oh, nice, very nice.
Zach: Yeah, Wingate was a British World War II general, so I gave my kids a list of potential generals they could choose from and they chose Wingate.
Jen: That's hysterical. The way that I name pets in my house is authors' names. I was an English major, and so...
Zach: There you go.
Jen: Always funny hearing how people come up with their pets' names. Okay, next question, Mac or PC?
Zach: PC. I have never been a Mac fan.
Jen: All right, and last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expense paid trip. Where would it be to?
Zach: Oh, wow. Probably Cambodia. I have never been, and it's someplace my wife really wants to go, is probably Cambodia.
Jen: I like that the decision is based on where your wife would like to go. I think that's a great answer, Zach.
Zach: You gotta keep your wife happy. There you go.
Jen: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sharing your experiences, your insights, it was a pleasure. If any listeners want to reach out to you personally just to kinda follow up, connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?
Zach: So I would just suggest reaching out to me on my LinkedIn profile, there's contact information there. You can send me an email or a personal message through LinkedIn. Just to make sure it's clear, because I don't know how this appears on your site, my last name is Selch. That's Sierra, Echo, Lima, Charlie, Hotel, and my first name is Zach. So if you look me up on LinkedIn, you'll find me and you can reach out to me.
Jen: Perfect, yeah. Be sure when you reach out to Zach, let him know you heard him on the podcast so he has frame of reference. That will help, and you'll wanna do that so you can also check out that article, and he's got others up there too that are great as well.
Zach: Yeah, thank you.
Jen: So thanks, Zach, go ahead.
Zach: Oh, I was just gonna say I put up a series of articles about hiring a regional manager that I'm very proud of. So that's something...you know, I'd suggest people...if they wanna read it, they're more than welcome to.
Jen: Wonderful. I recommend that as well. So thank you again for joining us, and thanks everyone else for listening in, and we'll catch you next time with an all-new episode of the "Allbound Podcast." Have a great day.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to the "Allbound Podcast." For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com, and remember, #NeverSellAlone.
Brian Signorelli, Director of the Global Sales Partner Program at HubSpot, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss adding value to your partners, channel best practices, identifying good partners from the start and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
You spent the last 5 years at HubSpot in various partner roles, really climbed up into the role that you’re currently in now, I think it would be great if you could share a little bit about HubSpot for people who are not very familiar with the company, and what your role is there today.
So, real simply, we’re a software company. We sell software to mostly small and midsize businesses generally up to about 100 employees; they could also be divisions of larger enterprises as well and the software that we sell helps teams generate more traffic to their website, convert that traffic into leads and ultimately convert those leads to customers and that is through our sales and marketing software platform itself. That’s Hubspot in a very very small nutshell.
I’m focused on building HubSpot’s kid of second partner program. Listeners might already know about our agency partner program, that was founded in 2008-2009 by Pete Caputa who is now the CEO of a company called Data Box, ironically their office is in the same office as HubSpot, and so I had the opportunity to learn what it takes to build a successful partner program directly under him. That was the first partner program that HubSpot built. We’ve grown that up to over $100 million in revenue, 2k partners globally and it accounts for a significant chunk of HubSpot’s overall business, I started this late in 2016, early 2017 a project to build out HubSpot’s second partner program which is tied directly to our sales products, whereas the agency partner program was originally designed around our marketing platform which is our flagship piece of software from 2006-2014 until we brought out the CRM and sale products in late 2014. So that’s what I’m focused on now
I think it’s really important that you’ve identified that the partners we’ve been working with for our marketing solution, may not be the same partners who we’re going to work with to bring our sales solutions to market. One of the frequent conversations we have on the podcast is about building our your partner personas, and really understanding the most appropriate partners to be working with to help you achieve common goals together, So this is beautiful. Since you began working on the partner programs over at HubSpot, I’m curious about some of the biggest changes you’ve seen occur.
Our value prop for partners has changed over time. Kind of ironically, sometimes the success of a business can mean the failure of a partner’s business, or at least the health of the overall ecosystem. Back in 2012 it was different as a marketing agency to be an inbound marketing agency. It was a novel concept. Today it’s not a novel concept. And so we have to kind of rethink exactly what was our value prop, or how were we helping partners. And so we have a significantly different value prop today than we did 5 years ago. Part of that too is a reflection of the fact that HubSpot is a multi-product world, and for the most part CEO’s and just willing to accept website traffic and leads being generated by a marketing agency hired, they’re expecting that agency to own the entire customer lifecycle, and we’ve had to adapt our own value prop to match that reality of what the market is demanding.
There was a blog post you wrote that was really great, titled “7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Sales Manager”, where you share your hindsight. What are some of the key things you have learned about scaling partner programs that you wish you knew when you first started being involved with partner programs?
So I joined at an interesting time. I kind of jumped in midstream. The agency partner program at HubSpot had already been around for 3 or 4 years. By the time that I joined so I didn't see it from the very beginning but for any business thinking about building a partner program there are some things that you should give some really serious thought to Voice break in some way shape or form you'd want to run up against different types of things will touch on some of them we've overcome some of them we haven't. If you have not have a channel sales program today give really deep consideration as to why you're building a channel in the first place. Sometimes businesses do this to enter new markets, Sometimes they do it to run the entire still sometimes to replace an entire Services Division and sometimes it's just about grabbing as much market share as you possibly can. Those are all very different things, and the primary motivator as to why you're building a channel in the first place is going to impact every single decision about building that program You're going to be moving towards so give it some serious consideration and realize that this is not something that happens overnight. This is a very long term very long time to payback type of play, this is not something that you will Start in January and finish in June. This is something you will start in January and will see results in 12 to 24 months that you're seeing significant Revenue contribution. This stuff takes a lot of time.
There are plenty of businesses out there too that have 100% of sales through the channel and if so just stick to that because if you start double dipping, you can start to erode your program. You can alienate your entire partner base.
Another article I saw you wrote just last month was titled “How We’ve Started Building HubSpot’s Second Channel Sales Program”. In the article you said something that really stuck with me, you said “add value to Partners first and worry about extracting value later.” I would love for you to share a bit about the Sales Partner Program you’re working on building now and what you do to add value to Partners.
How can partners apply Inbound Sales and Inbound Marketing to grow in the channel? Can you share some of the best practices you have implemented at HubSpot?
This is going to sound silly, but the absolute best partners, are the best students first. If they’re going to partner with us, they need to understand what inbound marketing and selling is. They’re awesome students, they get certified, they take our sales training. It shows the partners’ commitment to how serious they are to working with us, and it enables to all speak the same language.
The best partners do three or four things on a really consistent basis. They create content on a regular basis. Literally the easiest way to create content is to answer the questions your prospects are asking. Every single time you write a blog post to answer those questions, it gives you another opportunity to get found.
The second is that, when these partners are starting to generate more website traffic, and generate leads. The best partners actually contact those people. We’re getting all of this data, and message etc, but we’re not calling them. Why aren’t you calling them? The good partners proactively engage.
The best partners, they understand what a marketing funnel looks like.
I’ve got one more “official” question for you. Where do you see the future of partner programs going? What are you most excited about for the upcoming decades of sales and marketing in the partner world?
The businesses that provide a disproportionate amount of value to their partners first, and really treat them as an extension of their own team, will win and have richer, more thriving networks.
The future of partner programs is going to look much more like a B2C relationship than a B2B relationship. Partners are people, and I think that what we’re seeing, is that we are all living today in this on-demand economy. In our personal lives, the on-demand economy is right in our face. When it’s so easy to get whatever you want in your personal life, and then it’s so difficult to get what you want in your business life… there’s a disconnect.
Aaron Schmookler, Co-Founder and Trainer at The Yes Works, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss collaboration, culture, the importance of building relationships and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer, and today I’m joined by Aaron Schmookler, Co-Founder and Trainer at The Yes Works. Welcome, Aaron.
Aaron: Well, thank you, Jen. It's an honor to be here.
Jen: Well, I'm glad to have you. I've gotten to learn a little bit more about The Yes Works and I think that's a really good place to start. Would you mind just telling our listeners a little bit about The Yes Works?
Aaron: Sure, if I can take a page from Simon Sinek’s book, I'll tell you why we exist. A little more than three years ago, my wife called me on the phone and she said, "I'm pregnant," and my relationship changed. And certainly, my relationship with her changed. But what I'm referring to is my relationship with the rest of the world changed and that actually changed a lot more profoundly. I started looking at everything in terms of, "How will this be for my daughter and how is that going to be for my daughter?" And one of the things that struck me the hardest is the work culture that we live in.
The TGIF bumper stickers and the "I Hate Monday" mugs and the fact that when you ask somebody how they're doing, a very common answer is, "I'll be better in an hour and a half when I get off work." It became immediately intolerable to me that we live in this culture where my daughter is more likely to find affinity with people when she enters the workforce by hating work, rather than in taking pride in the work that she does and the honor that it is to make a contribution.
So I set about to try to figure out, "What can I do to make a change in the entirety of work culture in our country, if not the world?" I took that tiny little ambition and started this company with a friend. Our mission is to make work good for people and to make people good for work. And more specifically, we do that by training teams to work effectively together, to communicate and collaborate like nobody's business.
Jen: Great, well, hold on. So you're saying that the rest of the world isn't as obsessed with work as I am? I mean, I absolutely love my job. I can't even imagine going into work every day and not being 100% in love with what I'm doing. So I'm glad that you're helping people get to that place because it's a great place to be.
Aaron: Yeah, it is. One of the things that I love about it is, clearly people like you and me gravitate together. So we can actually start to form the idea or the impression that everybody is like us. But in fact, the statistics say that the majority of people do not like work, hate their jobs, hate their bosses, want to quit. There are very scary statistics out there.
Jen: I'm sure. When I look at kind of how you represent yourself and your role at The Yes Works, you're a Co-Founder and Trainer. But you also refer to yourself as a Company Culture Engineer, a Team Building Improv Trainer, a Keynote Interactive Speaker. I got to ask, what exactly does a Team Building Improv Trainer do?
Aaron: Well, thanks for asking. We work with leaders to help them lighten up the interpersonal machinery in their companies. So we have a training model that's based on tools and techniques of theater improvisation. We use those tools and techniques to drill the teams that we're working with to help them build powerful communication and collaboration habits. It's not about information. I'm sure you have experiences like I do. I'm not too ashamed to admit that my wife and I occasionally raise our voices with one another. We don't do that because we know that it's a good idea, in fact, we do that despite the fact that we know that it's not a good idea.
But when we're under duress some of our worst habits come out. So we help teams to develop good habits so that even under duress, you're ready and able to do what's effective. Then we help sales teams to transform sales habitually from something you do to people to something you do in collaboration with buyers. And that also is a matter of having good interpersonal habits.
Jen: Absolutely. You mentioned something that definitely piqued my interest. You said the word “theater”, I don't know if you know this about me, but my career got started actually as a high school English and theater arts teacher. I was a theater kid growing up and played a lot of improv games over the years. So what I’d like to know is where do you see the role of an improviser’s mindset when it comes to partnership and sales and co-selling together? I’d love to know more about that.
Aaron: Sure. Well I think Asher and Liz from the Avalara said it really well in an episode that they did with you on this podcast. I don't remember exactly what they said, but they said that they really pursue and work to generate deeper relationships with their partners. They do things socially with them. They work on the relationship, it's not just about the transactions. One of the core principles of improv is the idea that it's never about the thing, it's always about the relationship. So you and I for example, right now we're making a podcast. We're talking about partnership and we're talking about business.
At the same time, and more importantly, we're building a relationship. The things that I say on your podcast in the long run, for your business, and for mine, and for our relationship, are going to be more important in terms of how they help to construct or destroy the relationship that we have together. So if I start tearing apart things that are important to you, that's going to be destructive to our relationship, and if I affirm things that are important to you that's going to build our relationship.
Jen: Right. And I guess, from the improv perspective, there's only so much preparation that you can do, right? So let’s talk more about theater. This is great. So if you're in a stage play there's a script and you follow that script. And you think about in sales there's a mentality of following a sales script, following something that's been pre-written for you to lead to success. In improv it’s much more give and take, you have to be a good listener.
You have to really collaborate with that partner that you are on stage with, or in this case, that you're working with. So I love that. I'm actually kind of upset with myself that I didn't make that connection before now, but I appreciate you shedding a light on this.
Aaron: Well, let's take it even further. Certainly, I think there are a lot of people out there who know, "Okay, it's good to know what it is that I'm going to be talking about, it's good to have a script to fall back on." I think most sales people these days know that you can't just straight up follow your script.
Aaron: But they still may have an outline laid out for them, which I think is also a really great idea. But what do you do when the prospect in front of you doesn't want to follow those steps? Are you simply going to push? Are you going to ignore the fact that they keep trying to steer the conversation in a different direction? Are you going to hear them ask for something that is against policy and just simply say, "No" and the conversation is over at that point? Or do you have the flexibility of mind to do something different, to go in the directions that they want to go? A sales guy at BP asked me once, “What do you do when a prospect hijacks the conversation in a sales call?"
For me, the question itself is an oxymoron. I can’t have the sales conversation hijacked. I'm there to serve the needs of my buyer or my prospect if I can in any way. Even if they start talking about the weather halfway through the conversation, they can't hijack the conversation. I instead would probably ask questions after that like, “We were talking about these problems that you're having with your business, tell me how the weather connects to that?" Rather than saying, “It's so cloudy, I really would like to see the sun too, but let's get back to the topic at hand, I only have 30 minutes."
If we go back to that principle that I was talking about earlier, remember it's never about the thing, it's always about the relationship. I've now done something to deteriorate the relationship. I have essentially rejected what in improvisation we call their offer. The offer that they made was, “I want to talk about the weather." Now, that doesn't mean that I'm going to talk about the weather. I'm not here to talk about the weather. I am going to validate that there is a relevant reason that the weather came up. The customer isn't always right, but the customer is always valid.
Jen: That's a good point. What you're talking about here I feel is very collaborative, and communication is collaborative. Actually, I have a quote from you about collaboration, it's just kind of something that stuck with me. You said, “When collaboration is defined by those who don't understand it everyone loses. Collaboration is an ad hoc or hodgepodge. True collaboration is systematic and effective, it creates that which no individual would have created on their own because there's more information among us than there is collected between us. And some problems are solved, some ideas are generated only when your peanut butter is mixed with my chocolate."
Maybe I really liked it because I was hungry, I don't know. But I love this picture that you've painted about what collaboration truly is. I would love to hear from you how have you seen this really put into practice when you talk about selling and working with channel partners? When there are people who are really selling on your behalf and they’re not on your payroll, they're not within your four walls, they might be across the world from you, how do you effectively collaborate with them?
Aaron: Well, I think it starts with having an open mind. The greatest insights and the greatest innovations are not always revolutionary, there are more often smaller evolutions. For example, Airbnb, which created a revolution was itself a small evolution on things that were already out there. So it starts with having an open mind, our brains are an incredible association making machine. It really is associations that create innovation, and there's a reason that the words “partnership” and “association” are almost synonyms. The idea of making connections between different ideas, and the word for making connections between different people, both is association.
So when your mind is relaxed we make associations. Archimedes solved this incredible problem of determining the gold content of the crown in the famous story where he said, “Eureka.", not while he was agonizing over the problem, though he spent time doing that. But when he finally took a break from the problem and immersed himself in the tub and the water level rose he shouted, “Eureka," and the solution to the problem of measuring the gold and the crown was in displacement. So he made this association between the water level rising in his bathtub, and the water level rising if you were to immerse a crown in a measured beaker.
So what does this have to do with partners and channels? Well, it has to do in part with how to identify partners, how to identify potential channels, and what is going to be the nature of the partnership. So I think we have ideas about who would make a good partner for our company, we make ideas about how our product relates to other products, but those ideas are most often what our executive mind was able to come up with.
The executive part of the brain, the one that agonizes over problems, is not nearly as effective at making creative associations as a much looser network called the “default mode network”, which comes alive when we play and that executive mind is distracted, the editor is distracted. For example, if you're networking among people who serve the same people that you do and you've got only your executive mind on, you're going to miss incredible associations if your mind is narrowly focused.
Jen: Let's talk about that for a second because there was a piece that you wrote where you talked about how the best networking night of your life was when you were in a large room full of business people for two hours and you left without a single substantial lead and you said it was one of the best nights, right? A lot of sales people might say, “Well, that sounds horrible." So why was that experience one of the best networking nights of your life when you left without any leads? I mean, don't we go to networking events to get leads?
Aaron: Great, okay. If you go to networking events to get leads you're doing it wrong. It's not a lead getting event, there's a reason it's called the networking event, it is an event for building your network. If you think about any network, it's not that the hub, you or me, is connected to everyone in the network. It's that there is this living, breathing, series of connections. Like this is connected to that, connected to that, connected to that, connected to that, connected to that, or I am connected to you or connected to that other person, connected to that other person. LinkedIn is, in fact, a really good example of this, it shows you whether you're a 1st connection, 2nd connection, 3rd connection or further.
It was a great night of networking for me because I tightened the weave. I went out and made a lot of connections, I connected myself to other people...none of whom were leads but that doesn't mean that the connection is any less present. I also connected people that I was meeting with to people who were already in my network, so I expanded my network and also tightened the weave. The night in question that I wrote a blog article about hasn't yet led to any business that I can trace. There was a similar networking event that I went to about a month later that I could have just as easily written about. At this similar event, I made a ton of connections for someone in my network named Rhonda, who happened to also be at that event and we were walking our separate ways.
I kept meeting people whom I knew she should meet, and so I would grab them by the elbow, gently, and say, “You've got to meet my friend Rhonda, she's doing stuff that you're going to want to know about." And I would walk them across the room and find Rhonda, and I connected her probably to 10 different people that I met that evening. So none of that is likely to come back to me, none of those people are likely leads for me, but she wrote a Facebook post that mentioned me and talked about how many people I had connected her to and somebody else responded to that and said, “That's the kind of guy I want to meet” and so I met somebody else named Trisha.
Now, Trisha is like I am, an associative thinker and a connector. We met simply through me connecting Rhonda to a lot of people and Rhonda finding it remarkable. Rhonda remarked and Trisha then wanted to meet me. Trisha has now connected me to people who are definitely going to do business with me, in fact, I've already served some of the people in Trisha's network. That is the kind of thing that happens when you're out there. So I went to a couple of networking events, and I went and gave because that's what there was for me to do that day. I'm not saying that I never get leads when I'm actively networking, I also certainly have my eyes open for that but it's not my sole purpose.
Jen: One of the things you're talking about makes me think about the way that I treat my partners. We have a partner program here at Allbound and my goal is that I want to know as much as I can about my partners. I want to know where they shine, who they can help, what's going to make things better for them, so that I can help make those connections for them, and I have to say I am somewhat selfish because I know that that's going to ultimately come back to me in some way, shape or form, right? But the idea of being this networker I think is very much aligned with building a partner ecosystem where you have a number of individuals and entities that are working together and collaborating to help solve a customer's problem ultimately, and that's why we have the hashtag #NeverSellAlone. So I definitely see that connection.
The other thing that you're talking about is very cultural. You've talked a lot about this, “Got Your Back” culture, about the six different levels of commitment with this idea of “I've got your back”. I think it's really interesting, and I think it could be applied to determining the kind of relationships that partners have and the levels of practice that even align with partner tiers. I’d love if you could explain a little bit about what those levels of supportive behavior look like in this idea of the “Got Your Back” culture.
Aaron: I've talked about six levels of the got your back mentality, and that's really not even all there are, there are more, and I won't go through all six. I will point out something that you were just talking about, trying to support and understand how to help your partners thrive is a way of having their back. To tie it into networking...there are two ways of doing it wrong. One is to go out and be a go-giver, and just give and give and give. You also have your mind narrowed to, “How can I make everybody else's lives better?" And if you don't also have your mind open to, “And what's in this for me?" you're going to miss all those opportunities and you're going to fail that way as well.
So what I hear you saying that I really applaud is that you've got your mind open for how to generate value between you. Sometimes that value is generated in the form of creating for them and sometimes it's in the realm of creating for you, and sometimes it's in the realm of creating for both of you. So that's a pretty advanced, “got your back" level of play. In the article that I think you're talking about I started with level one of “got your back” which is, “I'm not going to throw you under the bus." I think that when we get in bed with the wrong partners and the people who are really in it for themselves, when there's a problem, when there's a customer complaint, if you're in bed with the wrong partner who only operates at this level of “I won't throw you under the bus," when there's duress, maybe they will throw you under the bus and say, “That's not our fault that's Jen's fault. Jen over there at Allbound created this problem that you're having."
Level one would be really even under duress, you're not going to throw them under the bus. Level two, gets up to, “If you're in distress I'm going to help you out." Now let’s skip some levels. The really high level of play in, “got your back" that you were talking about is really knowing what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses as my partner, and as a part of my team. This isn't about transaction, this is about really aligning to support our customers.
I'm going to develop my skills, I'm going to develop the features of my product to complement yours, I'm going to find resources to eradicate the weaknesses between us and really serve our customers to the best of our ability. I’ll look for ways to fill in the gaps, I may even look for ways to bring in third partners that are going to fill in the gaps that really are outside our areas of expertise. And I've always got my mind on that question of, “How do we build value between us?" Not just for me, not just for you, but how do we build value between us in ways that really support our mission?
Jen: I think it's a really powerful message. I think many of us have experienced managers, internally, that always have your back, that will always go to bat for you, and managers that will be the first to throw you under the bus, right? And that can be extremely crippling to an organization. If you think about that mentality extended exponentially to an entire partner organization that maybe has 10, 100, 1000, sales reps and all the damage that can be done by literally throwing that partner under the bus.
I know I’ve seen it, I’ve seen it in organizations I worked in. People pass the buck and want to blame the partner, whether it's the reseller blaming the vendor, or the vendor blaming the implementor, there's a lot of accountability that's being passed around. So I think that that's an extremely powerful behavior, and if you can harness it and you can focus it in the in the right place, you can get to that higher level like you were talking about. I think it's really exceptional to think about.
Aaron: When anybody throws somebody under the bus, everybody loses. If I throw you under the bus Jen, I get a momentary sense of winning because I've dodged a bullet, but what happens if you and I are partners is the first person who loses is actually the customer. Nobody is actually addressing the customer’s problem, nobody is solving whatever it is that I threw you under the bus for. So the customer loses and you obviously lose because the customer now thinks ill of you. And in the end, I also lose because now you don't trust me, and if the customer has a brain in their head they also don't trust me because they just watched me throw you under the bus. Even if they didn't watch me throw you under the bus, they did notice that I didn't solve their problem.
I was listening to another podcast recently by a friend of mine, Jody Mayberry, who was talking about his experience at Disney. He went there with his kids and forgot to connect his day pass to his ticket or something like that. He had failed to follow directions, and that led to him having a problem getting into a certain attraction. And instead of pointing a finger at him and saying, “Okay, you did this, you're going to have to go fix it." or instead of sending him to customer service, the Disney employee that he first encountered took that problem on themselves and said, “Your problem is now my problem" and stuck with him for 10 minutes until the problem was resolved.
Compare that to the kind of customer service experience that we usually have. For example, if I were to call my CRM right now, it would drive me nuts if they did not have the proper customer service and passed me from one company to the next because some kind of software integration wasn't working properly.
We've all had experiences like that, even if it's just between departments within a single company. If the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing it's a customer service nightmare. On a rare occasion you might get somebody who says, “I'm going to stay on the phone with you, I'm going to be the shepherd of your problem. Even if I can't solve it I am going to stick with you until we find a solution." That's somebody having your back as a consumer, it's having the back of your own company by making sure consumers have a seamless experience, and it's having the back of the partners of that company so that everybody comes out smelling like roses.
Problems are inevitable. No client that any of us wants is going to expect a problem-free solution, all we want is somebody to say, “Your problem is my problem, we're going to get this solved."
Jen: Absolutely, I think you're 100% right there. Now, I have one more official question for you. A lot of people who listen to the show are building partner programs, maybe they've got small programs and they're really looking to expand and it's a strategic initiative for them within the next year. What advice would you give to leaders that are looking to grow their partner programs? I mean, we've kind of served them quite a bit of food for thought today, if they can walk away with one thing, what would you like the one thing to be?
Aaron: Well, I'll tell you a quick story, I know I can get a little long winded. I met a woman recently with a company called Big Smarty, and what they do is they take executive teams through an intensive process in a boardroom to revamp their mission, vision and values so that everything is aligned and passions are re-engaged and the company has fresh life breathed into it. I thought she'd be a fun person to meet, but while having a conversation with her we found together that there's this kind of incredible chemistry between her product and ours. If we were to go in before she begins with her work around the table, and do the kind of mind loosening stuff that we do, her work is going to be much more efficient and potentially even more powerful than it already is. Now, I didn't go into that conversation looking for a partner, I just went into that conversation looking for sparks because the person who introduced us said, “Hey, there are going to be sparks. I don't know what the connection is I just know I met you and I met her, there are going to be sparks here."
So to answer your question more explicitly, go expand and tighten the weave of your network, keep your mind open. There is a time for narrow focused deliberate purpose and there is a time for broad thinking and just allowing the loose connections in the default mode network of your mind to play and make connections that your intellectual mind, your editor, never would be able to make. It's actually hard work for me to shut off my critic, to shut off that editor, to shut off the executive mind, but there are always rewards when I do. So don't stop charging but do take breaks.
Jen: Great advice and I'll have to take that to heart. I think I'm very guilty of that editor mind so I'm going to be more conscious of that. Thank you, this has been so great. You listen to the podcast, so you know I'm going to ask you a bunch of personal questions. So I’m not going to ask you permission to do it, we're just going to get right into it, okay?
Jen: So, first question I have for you is what is your favorite city?
Aaron: No question is easy for me until I actually have to go there, but I'm going to say Jerusalem.
Jen: Oh, I haven't heard that yet. Okay, so I have to ask, why?
Aaron: It is unlike any other city I have ever been in, it's got all of the modern constructions that that we're used to and it's also got this incredible antiquity. But the antiquity isn't a museum, the antiquity is still a living thriving part of the city. So, for example, there's a market in the Old City of Jerusalem that's hardly wide enough to walk down with people hawking their wares just as it would have been ages and ages ago.
Jen: Very cool. I haven't been there yet, but I hope it's someplace that I'll be able to travel to at least once in my life, that's a very interesting favorite city. My next question is are you an animal lover?
Jen: Do you have pets?
Aaron: Actually, I have a service dog. I'm grateful for the ways in which my life has been made easier and less painful through the service of an animal, and I've had pets my whole life so I love them all.
Jen: Wonderful. Okay, question number three, Mac or PC.
Aaron: For me, PC. I like to learn new things but my brain was trained on a PC and all my attention goes to learning new things in other areas. I'm not opposed to Macs, I've just chosen not to spend my time learning that language.
Jen: Makes perfect sense. All right, last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
Aaron: My wife has been talking since I met her about how we should go to Italy together and we haven't made that happen yet, so that would probably be it.
Jen: All right. Well, I have been Italy, I haven't been to Jerusalem but I've been to Italy and it is beautiful. I don't know if I'm ever going to have all of the funds to send all my podcast guests on all of their all expenses paid trips, so in the event that I can’t do that for you, I do encourage you to take that trip. But thank you so much for sharing some of your insights with us Aaron, it was so great. A little bit of a departure from what we normally get into but I loved kind of being up in this very cerebral space with you, it was awesome.
If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way that they can get hold of you?
Aaron: There are a few ways, probably the most effective ways are LinkedIn or email. On LinkedIn I'm Aaron Schmookler, and that's S-C-H-M O-O-K-L-E-R, and I promise I'm the only one there. Or you can email me, my email is Aaron, A-A-R-O-N, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jen: Wonderful. Well, thank you, everybody for tuning in. There were a lot of different blogs and articles I've referenced, so we'll be including those in the show notes so you'll have a quick link to access them. Thank you, again, Aaron, and to everyone else, we'll catch you next week on an all new episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Man: Thanks for tuning into The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, #NeverSellAlone.
Allison Pickens, Chief Customer Officer at Gainsight, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss customer success, aligning vendor and partner relationships and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi, everybody. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I’m Jen Spencer, and today I’m joined by Allison Pickens, who is the Chief Customer Officer at Gainsight. For everybody who doesn't know Allison, she's been recognized as a top 50 sales leader. She's an Ivy League graduate. She's worked for and advised multiple SaaS companies and has been featured on a variety of podcasts, and even hosts her own. So I’m very happy to have her here with me today. Welcome, Allison.
Allison: Thanks so much for having me, Jen.
Jen: Oh, I'm so glad to have you here, and I think it would be great if we could just get started with you sharing a little bit about Gainsight and what you guys do.
Allison: Absolutely. Gainsight is a customer success platform, which means that we help you orient all the different departments at your company around the successes of your customer in order to generate higher retention rates, higher expansion rates, and stronger new business through really strong advocacy from your customers.
Jen: Awesome, such a critical element in any SaaS organization. One of the reasons I'm most excited to have you here today is because there has been so much talk in the SaaS industry about customer success and about the intersection of customer success and channel partners. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about where you think customer success can really meet the channel in today's modern SaaS market?
Allison: The topic of aligning with your partners around the success of your customer is one of the hottest topics in the customer success industry right now, everybody is talking about it. I don't think anyone has figured it out quite yet. It's probably one of these trends that will fully emerge, I think, a few years from now. That's probably when we'll see it really widespread. But there are a number of companies that are at the forefront, pushing on their vendor relationship, and the way that they describe their vision for partnering with their channel involves a few elements. So one of them is developing, first of all, a shared sense of accountability for the outcomes of your client, which is a new thing. Expecting partners to be accountable for customer success is a new thing, so that's the first pillar. The second one is they're realizing that in order to work more effectively with their channel partners they have to have a shared 360-degree view of data on their customers. And then, from there, the third element is they want to make sure that they have a shared definition of target for those metrics. What are the KPIs that matter, and what thresholds do we expect our channel partners to achieve with their clients? Finally, the fourth one is about having shared, prescribed playbooks for each stage in the customer journey. As a vendor, what do you expect your channel partners to do at each step?
Some of the leading companies out there that are thinking about this are actually training their partners on these playbooks and ensuring that there’s strong buy in. So that's what the vision tends to look like. Again, some of the leading companies in this area are pushing on a few initiatives to try to get to that end stage. One of them involved is first defining the return on investment that your channel partners should expect from investing in customer success. For example, in the SaaS industry and increasingly in other industries, folks take it for granted that you should make your customers happy. If you're a channel partner with a razor-thin reseller margin, it may not be obvious that this is an investment that you should make.
So customer success organizations are helping them put together that ROI model to justify that investment. Secondly, vendors are thinking about, "How do we make sure that we're prioritizing which channel partners we work with to start?" Some channel partners are boutique firms that don't have a ton of resources. Others are large with a robust executive team, and sometimes they have a customer success executive on staff. As you think about profiling your partners, it's worth identifying what are those major attributes that would define a partner that would be most inclined to be successful working with you on this and piloting this customer success initiative so that eventually you can roll it out to a much larger percentage of your channel partners.
Vendors are also thinking about, "How can we develop that shared view of data on our customers? For example, how can we share the upcoming renewals that a channel partner should be focused on? How can we make sure that they're aware of the Net Promoter Score ratings that the end customers have submitted?" So actually, at Gainsight, one of our big focus areas this year when we think about our product roadmap is allowing that type of information sharing to take place.
Finally, on the KPI side, a lot of vendors are thinking about, "How can we actually encourage our partners to think about a customer health score as being a primary measure of customer outcomes that they should aim for?" And even some companies are pushing the envelope and starting to think about, "Should we have dynamic margins for paying partners that are contingent on different levels of health score?" So this is a provocative idea. I haven't seen anyone roll it out yet. I think we're going to see some major changes in these dimensions over the next couple of years.
Jen: It's very exciting. I love how Gainsight is really at the forefront of driving this message and working with these best of breed organizations who are focused on aligning those partners with customer success. You actually recently wrote a blog called "Aligning with Partners on Customer Success." and we're going to make sure we include that in the show notes here. And in it, you talk about the shared responsibility for positive customer outcomes between a partner and the vendor. For a CEO who might be listening to this podcast, or maybe a board member, or somebody who is really thinking about the overall success and health of an organization, can you share your thoughts about the value in aligning those vendor and partner relationships?
Allison: It's hugely important. For so many organizations, they can only afford to hire customer success managers for a portion of their customers, that's the reality. We'd all like to say we've got infinite budget to invest in customer success, but there are real pressures that we have from our executive team and our board. So, especially for large enterprises, we typically see them start to assign customer success managers to their largest customers or maybe the strategic ones mid-market. But often the SMB customers are covered by resellers. So if I'm thinking as a board member of one of these large companies, one of my questions might be, "How do we make sure that we drive up our retention rate in spite of not having people assigned to some segment of our customer base?” And for that reason, actually working with your channel to drive higher retention rates, higher expansion rates is a very powerful initiative. I expect that a lot of executives are going to be focused on this going forward.
One of our clients actually is a really fast-growing SaaS company, and they've grown largely through working with channel partners. They have a pretty small sales team, so their partner organization internally is very critical. They have invested heavily in partner success managers, as well as the partner account manager team, which is focused on helping these partners drive more sales and deals. So, apart from that, they're thinking,"How can we make sure that these end customers are achieving certain milestones along the customer journey?" And the partner success managers are working really closely with the channel partners on that.
Jen: Do you have any specific recommendations for the customer success professionals in these SaaS companies who are beginning to work with partners to help drive customer success, any tips, tricks, feedback you can provide for them?
Allison: Jen, that's a great question. I would say check out the blog post that I wrote together with Chris Doell from Cisco OpenDNS, we've laid out a recommended playbook for steps that you can take right now to start aligning more effectively with your channel. The key is you don't have to boil the ocean from the start. You can pick just a handful of partners that you want to pilot this new initiative with, and they can help you actually prove out your model, iterate, and ultimately roll it out to more partners. I’m a big fan generally of the agile approach to operations, and I think, especially in customer success where we're often figuring things out for the first time, it's especially important to run thoughtful experiments so you can learn very quickly and ultimately, decide on the best practice for your company.
Jen: I think that's really great advice. Being able to really test and prove something out is extremely valuable, especially when we all seem to be going a million miles a minute in all parts of our business. Looking at channel as a whole, I'm wondering if you could comment on some of the biggest challenges or maybe even mistakes that you've seen leaders make when they're growing their channel and maybe the impact that's had on customer success perhaps? Just based on your wealth of experience, what can we learn from?
Allison: I would say don't underestimate how valuable customer success can be for the channel. I mentioned earlier a lot of resellers are struggling with razor-thin margins, but the reality is that many of them are also trying to build services businesses, which tend to have much higher margins, maybe in the 30% or 40% range. So what that means is, if they can develop a customer success program where they become more embedded with their account, the likelihood that they will be able to sell more services actually increases, because given that they're really close to these accounts at this point, they'll be able to identify new opportunities where they can add value and charge for it. Additionally, of course, there's the other value prop which most vendor-based customer success teams tend to see, and you can drive up net retention by a meaningful amount. We see as vendor organizations rise in maturity from stage to stage as we track it at Gainsight, they will experience an 18% point increase in net retention. That's super powerful, and I would imagine that, especially as we start to collect data on this, we will see a similar trend in partner organizations that start to adopt customer success best practices. So I think the key is for us to educate our channel partners on the real nature of this ROI and then start to collect the data afterward.
Jen: Gosh, I can't wait to see that data. That's going to be amazing. One more question for you, and it's pretty simple. What's the most exciting thing about working in a customer success environment?
Allison: For me, the most exciting thing is seeing how many people are succeeding in their careers and achieving new levels of success because the customer success industry has taken off. There are so many people that I've met who were previously in other functions, who perhaps were customer success managers in the really early days, 5 or 10 years ago, who are all now actually in leadership roles, thriving, building large teams and building careers for other people. I think that the career momentum in this space is really powerful, and ultimately I think that's been embodied, especially lately, in the instance of customer success leaders becoming CEOs. We're actually seeing Chief Customer Officers become CEOs. I think ultimately that's such a strong mark of the importance of this function, and also a sign of the really dramatic career growth that a lot of people are experiencing. I find it really inspiring.
Jen: I agree with you as well. It's an exciting time. It's a really innovative space, and I can't wait to see what comes next. This has been so great. Before I let you go, at the end of all our podcasts I ask a couple of more personal questions just so we can get to know you a little bit better. So, I've got four more questions for you if you're ready, really quick.
Allison: Let’s do it.
Jen: All right, so first question is, what is your favorite city?
Allison: Honestly, I would say my favorite city is San Francisco. I live in San Francisco, and I really do love it. I think the open-mindedness of folks out here and the innovative spirit are unmatched, and I feel grateful to live here.
Jen: Absolutely, I agree. Question number two, are you an animal lover?
Allison: I am, I love animals.
Jen: Do you have any pets at home?
Allison: I don't, no. I travel a lot to see clients, so it's a little bit tricky to take care of a pet. But I often think about getting a dog actually. If I did get a dog, I would say it'd be a labradoodle. I just think they're adorable. They're fluffy, they're energetic, they're happy, and at some point, I would love to have one.
Jen: Oh, they are adorable. Okay, question number three, Mac or PC?
Allison: Definitely Mac. I used to work in finance actually, and for that PCs at the time were actually far superior to Macs. But nowadays, now that I'm no longer in spreadsheets all day, I'm very happy to be using my MacBook Air.
Jen: Awesome. Okay, last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses-paid trip. Where would it be to?
Allison: I would really love to go to the Galapagos. I've been reading a lot about animals lately. I'm actually reading this book that's about how it's very difficult for us as humans to assess accurately the intelligence level of animals. And when you look at the research, it shows that animals are actually a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for. So, over the years, as you mentioned, actually I've become a big animal lover, and I would love to go to the Galapagos, where you can see all sorts of species that you can't find anywhere else and just really appreciate them.
Jen: Oh, that sounds wonderful. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for sharing a little bit about yourself, your insights about customer success and channel partners. It was so great having you. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally after the podcast and maybe connect with you, learn more about customer success and channel, what's the best way for them to reach you?
Allison: You can reach me at my profile on LinkedIn. Feel free to add me to your network. I accept pretty much all customer success-related invitations that I receive, so feel free to connect there.
Jen: All right, wonderful. Make sure you add that personalized invitation. Let them know that you heard Allison on the podcast, so she has a frame of reference. I think that's always helpful. But, again, thank you, Allison. Thanks, everyone else, for tuning in, and we'll catch you next week with an all-new episode.
Allison: Thanks so much, Jen.
Man: Thanks for tuning in to The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And, remember, #NeverSellAlone
Justin Gray, CEO and founder at LeadMD, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss partner relationships and breakups, trusting data, success in the channel and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Man: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host, Jen Spencer, as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast, the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi, everybody. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Allbound, and today I am joined by Justin Gray, who is CEO and founder of LeadMD. Welcome, Justin.
Justin: Thanks for having me.
Jen: Well, it's so good to have you, and for those of you who are listening who don't know, Justin brings a lot of expertise, I'm really excited to have him on the podcast. In addition to being the CEO and founder of LeadMD, he's also a weekly columnist at Inc., the CEO and cofounder at Six Bricks, managing partner at Gray Matter Ventures, partner at Grayson Organics, and CMO and cofounder at PaidSuite. That's a lot. You're a busy, busy man.
Justin: It's a mouthful.
Jen: Yeah. I'm sure our listeners are going to be able to gain a wealth of knowledge from you. So, Justin, tell us a little bit about these companies that you work with.
Justin: Sure, I've kind of picked different organizations up along the way almost by accident, but, really, the centerpiece organization that I'm a part of is LeadMD, a digital marketing consultancy. Out of that kind of sprung the need to educate and match great marketers with employers, and that's what Six Bricks does. I've since formed a little venture, a very little venture organization called Gray Matter Ventures that I'm using to feed organizations, including Six Bricks. Then I've got some other ventures in the payments world, and then a very unprofitable labor of love known as Grayson Organics, which is actually my family's farm that we converted into organic in 2008 and have been running small field crops ever since.
Jen: That's awesome. So, what we talk about here on the show is partner programs and partner channels. And, so being a founder, a cofounder, on the executive team of these organizations, you have a lot of experience running companies and contributing to these organizations. In your experience, when do you think the best time is to start a partner channel program?
Justin: Yeah, it's kind of like that old question of when's the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago, the second best today. Obviously it does depend on the business model. The payments business that I'm a part of operates exclusively through the channel, so we started that organization with the notion that we would be managing and maintaining a completely outsourced sales channel to sell and implement our products. So, look at the model through which you want to sell, if that's going to be totally outsourced to the channel, or if that's going to be a blend.
Have a consorted channel strategy right from the beginning and tackle really difficult questions like who's going to market on behalf of the organization, are you going to do it from a corporate level, are you going to shove that down to and empower the franchisees or channel partners to do that on their own behalf? Those are decisions that are always best made right upfront, and so I think just as with anything, developing a really strong strategy from the beginning and executing towards that consistently is what we see as a recipe for growth.
Jen: Would you mind sharing why you decided to sell exclusively through channel for that organization?
Justin: Yeah, so sales is all about trust, and that particular organization, which is PaidSuite, sells integrated payment products. So we looked at the marketplace and we could've formed our own inside sales channel and tried to penetrate the market from scratch, but, instead, we chose to actually partner with software organizations and ISOs that already had existing relationships and add our suite of products to their repertoire. So, it just really allowed us to break down those trust barriers, accelerated our speed to market, and led to a good deal of success within that business. I think, had we chosen to try to kind of brute force it and spin up our own inside sales channel, it would've been a much longer time to market. It would've been a lot more investment on education and training, and just empowering that force. So, again, it was the right decision for us based on what we wanted to accomplish in the business within our first 24 months.
Jen: Oh, it makes perfect sense, absolutely. I think what's really cool about you and your perspective is that you have that business where you are going to market through these partners, but then with LeadMD, you are a partner of many technology organizations that I know a lot of our listeners would know about. And, so you get to see both sides of it, and that, I think, brings this other layer of expertise to you that a lot of people don't have. Most people pretty much live on one side of the fence or the other.
Justin: Right. Yeah, actually, one of our strongest verticals is channel sales. We've got organizations like Blue Cross Blue Shield, we've got a lot of med device organizations, Mobi, just organizations that are dependent upon that extra layer of support, and again that provides a lot of interesting challenges from a marketing standpoint. It presents a lot of opportunities to empower those sales channels, educate them, and, obviously, we got to keep them up-to-date on the quickly evolving world that we all live in. So, definitely a huge amount of opportunity, and then we really do see the folks that are empowering their channel partners through marketing and through education. That's a strategic advantage for our organization, absolutely.
Jen: Let's talk more about that. With all of your experience, I'm sure you've created a number of strategic alliances that have been fruitful. Maybe you've even seen some that have fell flat, whether they're partnerships that you've been a part of or that you've been supporting from an agency perspective. I'm wondering if there was any sort of recipe or repeating factor that you could recognize in a partner or in a partnership that would signal this makes sense, this is a mutually beneficial alliance.
Justin: Yeah, and that's always a really difficult prediction to have right upfront. My crystal ball is broken, so what may seem like a great partnership where everyone's aligned and we're going to go to market together and achieve this awesome amount of success is often not the case. You really need to be careful about whether this is going to be truly a value equation, as we term it, presenting equal value on both sides. And, so we've tried to get more formalized throughout the years at LeadMD as we've taken a look at the types of partners that we would potentially want to work with, the types of partnerships that have worked well in the past, and really gauge new potentials on that scale. So, we've actually kind of developed a partner evaluation framework that we leverage when we're looking at a new partner.
Having worked with over 3,000 B2B technology organizations, we have a lot of folks that want access to our customer base, but that isn't always a as I mentioned a balanced equation. We're often not getting the same amount as we're putting in there, so we've kind of tried to really hone in on what makes a successful partnership. For us, it really does come down to the fact of can we wrap services around that partner offering? Does it lead to more work, frankly, for our organization? We're a time and materials billing organization, so we need to figure out a way to build clients and provide value. And if the partner solution doesn't enable us to do so, it's a difficult partnership for us. We definitely need to be enabling our customers, and if we can't do that in the form of providing that solution and wrapping our best practices around it, it's not a good solution for us.
Jen: Right, and that's great food for thought for a lot of businesses that are creating these agency partner programs, I’m glad to have that kind of feedback to share with folks. Can you also kind of tell us when you think about the most successful partnerships that you've had, where did they come from? For people that are just starting out and just starting to build their program, is there anything we can learn from some of your most successful endeavors?
Justin: Yeah, our most successful partnership to date is obviously Marketo, and like anything successful in business, I think it comes with a healthy dose of luck. So, there is some unrepeatability around that as well, but I would say that what is a constant between all of our good relationships is we're using that solution in house. We have a relationship with them, they're aligned with our culture and we know that we align from a methodology standpoint. So, I was Marketo's 20th customer way back in 2006. I started using the platform before I was ever a partner at a payments organization, I sold my piece of that payments company, and kind of went out on my own and didn't really know what I wanted to do.
Some folks hit me up and said, "Hey, would you help us build a sales and marketing engine?" and I said, "Yeah, that sounds great, but you're going to have to implement some technologies that I know how to run. So, let's go ahead and implement salesforce.com, let's implement Marketo, and let's really get all of the text back in place to support that repeatable engine." Throughout the years, we kind of grew with Marketo and formed a really strong partnership with them to the point where they would outsource a lot of their work to us. We were participating in deal cycles with their sales reps. We were empowering them where they needed kind of that value engineering consultative approach. A lot of their sales reps just aren't marketing experts, and our folks are. So, we were willing to slot in within that sales process, provide that marketing expertise, and, of course, as a result, we were able to win business.
So, again, it was a win-win throughout that entire life cycle, and that really is why that's our flagship partnership. We've been able to repeat that with a lot of core digital marketing platforms and sales platforms that we brought on. Engagio is probably the newest member of that stable, and, again, we use the software, we see the value in it. We have the expertise in house to really ensure success within the partner orgs that we board on that platform. So, I would say that you can't discount the value of relationships. Relationships really drive everything that we do. I love the way that marketing is currently going, in kind of this quality over quantity aspect, finally. And, at the center of most of those relationships and partnerships is a really tight understanding and alignment that you just don't get when you start taking all-comers.
Jen: Well, I'm glad you mentioned this because you wrote an article fairly recently, and it was called "How to Avoid Getting Eaten Alive by Your Partner Ecosystem." I loved it. If anyone hasn't read it, I recommend when you're done listening, go check it out. It's at leadmd.com/marketplace, we'll also link to it in the show notes. In the article you say, if you want to get to the heart of how well your potential partner performs, become a client first. And, it is really great advice, and I understand from your Marketo story, even from the Engagio perspective, I understand it. Is it a hard and fast rule that you have to use that technology in order to find value? Could you see partnering with an organization if you weren't actually using that product first? Or, is that part of that evaluation criteria that you have?
Justin: I mean, it's one that we feel really strongly about. There's exceptions to every rule, obviously. I would say that there's no better way to really get an understanding of how well that partner treats its customer base, and, therefore, my customer base, than to experience that firsthand. So, we view that as something that's really important to our business. Now, we're also a sales and marketing consultancy who can use all of these products, if a product doesn't have the fit within your stack or within your go-to-market strategy, then I certainly understand that.
It is absolutely my pet peeve when we're up against a competitive deal, and we're up against an agency that doesn't use Marketo themselves. I mean, it's as simple as navigating over to their site and looking at the scripts that are contained on the site. It’s like hey, great, you're up against us and a HubSpot partner. Why is the solution that they're proposing to you not good enough for them to use? That's fundamentally part of our sales strategy. We've been using this, we know the ins and outs of it, we don't support any other marketing automation platform, so we feel strongly enough about it to make it an exclusive partner of ours as well. So, we kind of put our money where our mouth is, and, eat our own dog food, drink our own champagne, make up our own bad analogies. It's core to our business. It works for us.
Jen: Yeah, it definitely makes sense. So, back to that article. You mentioned to avoid partnerships where you stand nothing to gain.
Justin: Sounds obvious, right?.
Jen: Yeah, it's obvious. Obvious, right, but, I mean, no one goes into a partnership going, "Well, I'm not going to get anything out of this. Let's jump right in," right? So, it's possible at the start of the relationship everyone's like, "This is going to be amazing," but then as the companies maybe grow, you evolve maybe a partnership becomes one-sided. Maybe you end up doing the heavy lifting without anything in return. Do you have any advice for folks on how to handle that kind of situation? Do you break up? How do you not burn a bridge? Do you hang on hoping there might be something in the long-term that will keep this alive? What advice do you have?
Justin: Yeah, I think there's obviously a couple of facets to that. So, as I mentioned, it sounds super obvious, right, but I would say that there is kind of this aspirational partnership that exists out there. I feel like this happens a lot with big logos. Like, we know they've got a ton of customers and their customers kind of look like our customers. Thinking putting out a press release and putting this logo on our site is going to add so much credibility, but we don't take that extra step to really drill into what are we going to do together? How are we going to realize this value?
I find asking those uncomfortable questions yields the best result. So, yeah, we both operate in the same space, and we've got similar customers, but what are we going to do together, explicitly, tomorrow? Are we going to market together? Are we going to create content? Are we going to do some account planning and alignment exercises? What is success going to look like in 6 months, 12 months, 18 months? How many deals are we going to have boarded? When we board a deal, what is that process going to look like? Am I going to run the majority of the implementation? Do you want to own some as the technology provider?
So, having those really difficult conversations upfront I feel helps to avoid the very difficult conversation down the road where you've been a part of that partnership, you've had the logo on your site for two years, and there's never been anything that's precipitated from that agreement, and now you've got to go back and say, "Hey, this isn't working out." I mean, breaking up is hard to do, so I would say the more that you can really drill in, get explicit, and set up a plan right from jump street, the less you will have to go back and revisit and have those uncomfortable conversations.
So, that's first and foremost. Now, if you haven't done that or things change, conditions change, the landscape looks different, and suddenly you find yourself in that bad position, I think it's best just to use real world data there. Let's look back at the pipeline we've generated together, it's weak to nonexistent. The types of customers that we've boarded maybe are no longer customers, or maybe we weren't able to make those customers happy because of the misalignment of expectations. One of our core tenets is we track everything. If I'm boarding a new partner, I'm tracking that all within CRM. What deals are we working on together? What deals did we swing and miss? What deals did we win? And, then I can pull those reports.
The Marketo partnership has not been all roses and champagne either. Marketo's gone through some pretty big market shifts. During the course of our partnership, they've gone from 20 employees to 1,500 employees. They've gone public, and then they were taken back private. There are major continental shifts that we've seen within that organization, and the org today behaves fundamentally differently than it did when we first rolled out our partnership and I wrote a contract on the back of a napkin. So, as it's progressed, the data has really enabled me to come to those partner conversations and say, "Look, this is data from 2013. Look at the data from '15. You're my largest competitor right now," which at one point Marketo was my largest competitor.
So, you have to be able to back up those shifts with actual data, and what I actually find, certainly within larger organizations, is they're often not well-positioned to gather that data themselves, or there's been so much turnover or process shift internally that they're actually using my dataset as law to describe the success of the partnership. So track everything, and that makes those conversations a little bit easier as you get into that data, and everyone can look at the same thing and agree that, yeah, this isn't working and maybe there's a solution to that, or maybe it's time to go our separate ways. But regardless, we can't blame it on emotion at that point, we want to blame it on something that's tangible, that's real.
Jen: That makes a lot of sense. I'm sure there are a lot of organizations that you've partnered with that have benefited from the fact that you are gathering that kind of data. Unfortunately, for a lot of companies that are growing a million miles a minute it does seem sometimes like an afterthought, just this extra thing to do. But, it is extremely important, especially when you're balancing those resources and trying to figure out where to spend your time. So, do you also use that data that you might have with one partnership to help determine what success looks like in another partnership? Do you keep that internally and leverage that as a baseline?
Justin: Yeah, so we'll introduce that baseline in partnership conversations. We're potentially looking at a new partnership right now, and normally the first question out of my mouth is what does your most successful partnership look like? You can get a big feel for how that process is going to go by the data that they're able to present. If they're more on the fluffy side of, "Well, we do some activities together. They sponsor our trade show every year or our conference. We do some marketing together," I'll know that this is not as data-driven as we want it to be because I want to see sales pipeline.
I want to see the amount of revenue that you've closed together in the last 18 months. What does the joint sales cycle look like? So, absolutely, we've taken that data collection and turned it into a benchmark to which we hold other potential partnerships. The question always exists out there of there’s this new company and they don't have a long track record, but we think there's a lot of potential. And, those are going to exist.
When we partnered with Engagio, they were less than 12 months old at that point, but, fortunately, they were made up by the who's who of previous Marketo employees. So, there was some faith that was included within that partnership as well, knowing that Jon Miller's not going to start an organization that's going to tank. Again, that's where you have to kind of leverage those relationships, whether it's data-driven or it's relationship-driven, insight is the key out of either one of those points.
Jen: All right. You could say that that relationship originally came out of good data as well, so that was definitely a very, very, very safe bet. Okay. So, I have one last official channel question for you, and that is, what’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who's really trying to breathe life back into their channel partner program? We see this a lot, we see a lot of organizations who start a program. And they probably under-resourced it, or they expected to do one thing, it does something else, and now they're kind of back at it ready to reinvest. If you could give that person, that organization, or that leader advice, what would it be?
Justin: Yeah, I really do love data, but, moreover, I love getting to the why. I don't just want to hop on a phone call or go to a meeting and ask that question. I want to see it firsthand. So, my number one piece of advice to our internal folks or anyone that's in charge of managing partner relationships is get out there and get embedded within that partner. We love to go out into bullpens and just work for a day and see what those conversations look like at that partner organization. Are they mentioning us? Are they having conversations that we could be assisting but we're not being tapped to come in and be that resource?
I love getting embedded within those environments and just seeing how their process works. Is another partner there when you show up? We've had that happen before. I had one of my competitors literally officing out of Marketo for a while, and we were like, "Wow, we really need to up our game," because they've got a level of access that we're just not taking advantage of right now. So we immediately said, "We'd love to get a cube here and park ourselves two days out of every week." And we flew someone over, and I actually eventually lit up a sales team in San Francisco to be closer to them. That insight would've never come about if I hadn't made a trip over there and just said, "I'm going to sit in your bullpen and see what these conversations sound like." Ultimately, you want to understand what does that sales pitch sound like? Where do they struggle? Where do they need help? Where can I provide some value? Simply saying, "You need to help me sell into your customer base," or, "You need to sell my services," is not going be effective.
Communicating “We have to have a solution-based message. So, when you're running up against this objection, we can help, and I heard your sales reps combat that objection a dozen times when I was out onsite.” So, I really do think that kind of that employee exchange approach is a highly valuable exercise, and, regardless of whether that has to do with partner or any other aspects of the business, I really do encourage our employees to get out there, get embedded with the partner, and understand why aren't we more successful in this partnership? I guarantee you will learn something that you would not have had you not been in that close proximity.
Jen: Absolutely. Gosh, that collaboration is unbelievable. Such good advice, and such an awesome story, too. Now, before we totally wrap this up, at the end of the podcast I always ask people some more kind of personal questions to get to know them a little bit. I make it a speed round, but I don't know how fast we end up really going, but just four questions. Are you up for it?
Justin: Yeah, absolutely. Let's do it.
Jen: Okay, okay. So, first question is what is your favorite city?
Justin: My favorite city is San Francisco, California.
Jen: Me too. I'm going to ask you why. See, I do this, I make it not be speedy because I want to ask more questions.
Justin: I lived in San Francisco for two years, really for the purposes of assisting in LeadMD’s growth, and, I was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, so probably not the most culturally diverse epicenter in the world. It just blew my mind to be able to walk down the street and get the best food in the world, walk into a networking group and everyone's leaning forward and engaged, and participating in these conversations. It just seemed like everyone wanted to be there, and that's kind of how I describe San Francisco.
You could throw an event in Arizona, and struggle to get five people to show up. I was part of a Bulldog meet up when I was over there, and like 30, 40 people would show up with their Bulldogs every week. And, I was like, "Jesus, I can't get this level of engagement when I'm giving away free training, much less trying to get Bulldogs to show up to a meet up." So, it just seemed very intentional, and I love intentional things.
Jen: So, side note...I'm gonna help you. We're going to lobby together for, like, a high speed train between Phoenix and San Francisco.
Justin: Yeah, absolutely.
Jen: So, that'll be a pet project in our free time, Justin.
Jen: Yeah. The next question for you was going to be are you an animal lover? You mentioned the Bulldogs, so is that a yes?
Justin: I am. Yeah, I love bull breeds, and I love English Bulldogs. I have a 10-year-old English Bulldog named Chubs. It's a girl. I wanted to give her a complex early in life. When that dog's no longer around, I will absolutely be heartbroken. So, yeah, I love animals, love dogs.
Jen: All right. Question number three. Mac or PC?
Justin: Mac, a thousand times.
Jen: Yeah. And, question number four. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses paid trip. Where would it be to?
Justin: Oh, that's a really good one. I've got this weird philosophy on life that I love really new experiences in really comfortable places. So, I would actually probably go to St. Thomas. It's my favorite spot on earth, but I'd love to try to figure out some new stuff when I was down there. The last time I was down there we found this little secluded pool that is in this outcropping of rocks on one of the many islands that surround St. Thomas. So, I think it's just one of those places where you can go and find something new every single time, and definitely one of my favorite places on earth.
Jen: Sounds wonderful. Well, thank you so much for spending some time with me today. It was so awesome getting a chance to talk to you about channel, about partnerships on both sides of that fence. If anyone who's listening would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?
Justin: I'm looking forward to being the only guest on this show ever that actually loves using Twitter, so you can hit me up at @jgraymatter on Twitter, or you can check us out. Our site leadmd.com. I'd like to say we give away more best practices than most agencies have. So, all of our content's there available for free, and, of course, my contact information is there as well.
Jen: Wonderful. Well, again, thank you, and thank you all for joining us for The Allbound Podcast. We'll catch you next week with an all-new episode.
Justin: Thanks, Jen.
Man: Thanks for tuning into The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And, remember, #NeverSellAlone.
David Belove, CEO at Prodly, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss investing in the channel, compensating your channel sales reps, and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi everybody, welcome to the Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer here at Allbound, and today I am joined by David Belove, who is CEO at Prodly. Most recently he served as Vice President of Sales Operations and Productivity at Nitro. Welcome David. So good to have you on the show today. Can you share a little bit about yourself and about kind of some of the roles you played in sales operations?
David: Well, first of all, I've had three distinct careers. I started out as a marketing professional and then I had a sales career, and now I’m refocused on sales operations. So that spanned almost three decades. So I’ve been making that transition from marketing to sales to sales operations over the last 10 years, I would say.
Jen: That's great.
David: I'm just going to stay in that process so I moved from selling hardware to software and now I'm to the SaaS software.
Jen: I love that, you know, you've had experience in the marketing side, sales, sales operations. I think it’s great today to have that breadth of knowledge. You know when it comes to SaaS… you mentioned that you are at Nitro, you had roles at Apttus and eFolder and Cloud9 Analytics. You're pretty well-versed in SaaS sales at this point and I'm curious, you know, over the course of your career, what are some consistencies that you've seen that have really created successful SaaS partner channels? Because selling SaaS through partners and with partners can be different from selling traditional software or hardware even?
David: So, several things come to my mind. One of them would be that, vendors in particular but also that channel partners have to have a super clear picture of their go-to-market strategy. So if you think about go-to-market strategy as where you define your market segmentation. And then the way you pursue these segments, you've got to have a really clear picture in mind so that everybody knows what their role is. And the goal is to avoid sending conflicting messages to your partners and to your direct sales team. You want them to play nicely together. So for example, at Nitro, partners play a pretty clear role. Nitro has Geographic and that’s a small company, has geographic and language coverage limitations. And so partners are absolutely crucial in many parts of the world. But also, you know, having a clear picture of which verticals you can cover yourself and which vertical partners have to have expertise to cover for you, or situations like integration. If your product involves integration with other products, partners are going to be really important. It's really hard for a vendor to cover every different instance from an integration perspective. So, in all three of these cases you would have a really clear ROI, and that would make it much easier to explain what your partner’s role is in. But that's one point, it’s understanding the roles.
And then, the second point would be making sure that you have dedicated marketing and sales resources assigned to the channel. And it's kind of hard because, most especially when you first get going, and in particularly in a SaaS environment where direct sales tend to be the first approach to the market and dedicating these resources is kind of hard to justify. It's an investment because the bookings are probably going to be coming from the direct sales initially and so you’re kind of betting on the [come?] that the channels gonna contribute. But if you don't have dedicated channel marketing and channel sales resources you'll never gonna make any progress.
So, one quick story - at Apttus, we were very interested in signing up SI’s to help us with not only opportunity generation but implementation. And so we kicked off the program but we didn't have the implementation training programs put in place, and so nothing really happened. We were disappointed with the results. Once those training programs were put in place everything at the top of the funnel started to fall in place.
Jen: That makes a lot of sense. I was really kind of like really curious about… you made a kind of statement about how channel can allow a SaaS organization to not pivot but to kind of expand into another part of business that maybe they couldn't previously move into. Like, whether that's moving from targeting small and medium size businesses to enterprise or going the opposite direction enterprise down to a more of an SMB market. I know that there's... It's one thing to say, “Okay, let's bring on this partners and they're gonna have this expertise so they're gonna get us into these deals or they're gonna get us into these opportunities.” I wonder if you can share a little bit about what makes that kind of a shift or taking event into that kind of opportunity successful. What does an organization need to do in order to really embrace that kind of opportunity to expand beyond a target market that they've already sort of claimed?
David: Yeah. Well, it's tough but it would be similar to expanding into a new geography or if you are expanding your product line, those are both examples of investments that you have to make. Well, expanding your go-to-market strategy to include channels is similar. You've got to be willing to invest, putting in place that dedicated channel resources and training programs and being willing to essentially share the market with your partners is critical.
Jen: What else do you think is really critical for a channel leader who's working on maybe building out or exchanging a channel partner program? Maybe there's… there’s a lot of folks we talk to who, you know, they've got these channel partner programs. They sort of were created almost organically, maybe not a lot, maybe not very intentional, and now they've got these program and things are maybe a little bit out of whack or a little bit out of sync. What do you think are some of the most critical elements that a leader should consider when going into... I mean, I hate to use the word "repair," but really optimize their channel program?
David: You know, I think there are various reasons why things break down or need to be optimized, to put it in a positive way. One would be having vague agreements with your partners. If partners are not fully committed to your program, if you don’t understand their motivations, there's going to be a problem. The second thing is making sure that you’re properly motivating them. Do you have a compensation program for them that makes sense? I mean, moving into SaaS is hard for everybody. Especially if you are transitioning from software, to perpetual software, to SaaS, all of the sudden your revenues are stretched out over a longer period of time. Well, the same thing happens to the channel. They're going through this transition where instead of booking everything upfront, now their revenues are booked over a long period of time, or recognized over a long period of time. So understanding that there’s going to be some shared pain there, and making sure that your partners are willing to accept that pain that transition is critical. And not everyone is willing to do that and so you’ve got to pick your partners carefully. I think one critical role or one idea is to focus on partners who get it. Focus on partners who have accepted the SaaS model and are compensating their sales people that way and are making the transition themselves.
Jen: Yeah. I think that's really a good advice because you really got to work, you know, with you and your partner, vendor and partner have to work as a team together. You really wanna make sure those partners are really on the same page that you are for certain… that makes a lot of sense. And I'd love to hear a little bit more about... you know, it’s so interesting to me, I sort of started sorting this sentence okay, and how do I frame this? So when I think about sales operations, this is a very growing field right now. I feel like I'm seeing more and more organizations invest in sales operations.
Jen: And I’m really focusing on being productive, being efficient, maximizing resources. You know, probably a lot of this has to do with things like growing technology stacks, things like geographically dispersed workforces. So I looked at sales operations professionals as being the fixers in an organization, right? So, it’s like, here’s what we wanna do…
Jen: … and like, all right? Like, we got to go to this, it's like you're an engineer, like help kind of construct this and make sure we think kind of stays inline. So I'm sure you've seen a lot of challenges. I'd love to know about some of the big challenges that you've seen when it comes to management and collaboration of direct and indirect sale programs. People talk about channel conflict a lot. We talk about, you know, how do you continue to have harmony between your direct and your indirect efforts. But you probably see the pain more than anybody else in operations?
David: Yes. Like you’ve said, we’re often tasked with straightening it out, because in some sense we're the Switzerland in that situation where…
David: … we, you know, supporting both the channel group and the direct group. But it comes down to a couple of things. One is we have to be able to integrate a channel into the CRM system, so to speak, with the sale stack. And so, it's an extra complexity when you've got to be able to measure channel leads and channel bookings, and be able to integrate that with the direct channel, and know how things are attributed. So do these come from a channel partner or does it come from a direct source? Which one was inbound, which one was contributing? So there's lots of attribution issues. There are CRM tracking issues. And then there are sales process things like, how do you roll out a new price book? You can't forget the channel.
David: You’re gonna have probably two price books instead of just one. And these are things that a lot of times that SaaS providers are not accustomed to. So, during the integration, and thinking about the channel, whenever you make changes and whenever you plan a new enhancement is really important. The second aspect is in terms of compensation. How do you compensate your channel managers? And a lot of times you have to think about these in terms of their contributions. Is the channel the source of the opportunity or is the channel manager essentially reacting to an opportunity that a direct sales person has located or essentially playing matchmaker. In those two cases, you might want to pay them a different amount of money or a different percentage of the deal. So compensation is an issue, integrating the pipeline, the funnels of the two channels, direct and partners. So there are lots of implications.
Jen: Do you have any war stories you can share with us? Anything maybe that you've experienced that was a major lesson learned or at times maybe you painted yourself into a corner?
David: Well, I think the one that comes to mind would have to do with compensation where their quotas have to be aligned with the quotas of the direct team. And there you have to decide whether they’re gonna share that quota or not.
And so, I've seen on a couple of occasions where the quotas for the channel team were aligned more towards run rate business. Say a large number of small deals, and then a large deal comes in. And maybe that large deal is a million dollars or more, and so the channel person blows out their quota but the direct team doesn't. So whoever is in the compensation plan need to be carefully architected to ensure that you don't have a channel manager totally blowing up their number but the direct team doesn't.
Jen: Right, right. That makes a lot of sense. Have you ever experienced any challenges where like internal struggles with revenue share with partners? So you talked about compensation for the channel, the channel manager who works for the vendor.
Jen: What about for partners? Is that something that you’ve experienced, you know, challenges in that area as well? I find that a lot of people… they’re not sure like how much should we be spending, like how much should we be giving and there seems to be like some philosophical battles that I've seen people sort of face when it comes to that.
David: Yeah. There’s a couple of different challenges. One challenge would be that the vendor doesn't wanna part with a piece of their SaaS revenue stream.
David: And so they’ll try to get the partner to accept some sort of a finder's fee or a fixed upfront fee and then forgo the annuity. And of course, if a partner accepts that then they're really not participating in the best part of the SaaS business. And so they’re not going to be as committed to you as they would be if they had annuity for an ongoing revenue stream.
Jen: Right, right. So if you want your partners to bring you SaaS business you should be expected to pay them as such, and pay them the commission, is that what you're sharing?
David: That’s right.
David: Yeah, and it should be not some sort of a fixed finder's fee, so to speak upfront. But we want them to share in the ongoing revenue. And of course a lot of SaaS companies are very direct sales oriented and they see that as a major sacrifice for them. So that's something that everybody has to work through. It's the idea that partners should be sharing in the revenue stream. And so that's one scenario. And then, another scenario would be where partners are having to shift their role in the sale from a software model where they're making their money by doing provisioning and the licensing and installation and upgrade, and things like that, to providing more of a strategic consulting role, where they’re helping their client with business transformation and with integration and security. And that may be… I mean, I don’t think that's new to many established partners today, but five years ago that was a major transformation.
David: So essentially they have to upgrade their value to their clients to take into account the difference in the way a SaaS product is delivered, versus a software product.
Jen: I'm just curious also, over the course of your career, and you have mentioned kind of like three decades of working in marketing and sales, and sales operations, let’s just go back five years ago, you know. I mean technology has advanced in the last five years but not so significant. So what's a piece of advice that you would have told yourself five years ago based on what you know now about sales, about the channel, about business, just wondering what you’d like to tell yourself in the past?
David: Well, just to kind of keeping at the theme of this conversation, I would say that five years ago I still probably had some doubts about how the channel would participate in SaaS.
David: I think I was still unclear about that. But so I would reassure myself, my younger self that SaaS is something that the channel can participate in, must participate in, and that there’s a major role there. Like I've said, it's gonna be different in many cases. They’re gonna have to develop a more essentially business expertise, meaning expertise in their vertical expertise, in system integration, in security; things that are more difficult than just focusing on the delivery of hardware and software.
Jen: Right. And perhaps there's a role that the vendors can play in helping to coach their partners and bring them along for the ride, and treat them like that natural extension of their sales and marketing teams that they have and truly partner together…
Jen: … so those partners aren’t kind of felt like left off in an island by themselves.
David: Yeah. So I think this has been going on but essentially the partners contribute their vertical expertise and their integration expertise. Well, the SaaS vendors can share their expertise in how you manage a SaaS business. How do you pay SaaS sales people? How do you make this transition from selling software to software as a service? That's something that vendors have been forced to go through and to figure out and they can share that with their channel partners. That's essentially comes right like a franchise where the franchisor is teaching the franchisees how this sort of business works, how the model works.
Jen: Right, right. Here you go, right. Here's the kit, here it is in the box, right. Here's everything you need to know in order to be successful. I think that's a great example of franchisers have been doing this for decades, really setting their franchisees up for success. I think there’s definitely a lot we can learn from that model for sure.
David: Yeah. There are many of examples of channel partners now that do understand SaaS and are making that transition but there are ongoing lessons to be learned that vendors can share.
Jen: Always, always. Well, David, before I let you go, it's been great talking to you about sales operations and the role of operations in and the channels in SaaS, I do have… at the very end of all my podcast I ask some more personal questions just so we can get to know you a little bit better. Our listeners feel like they get a little bit more of a glimpse into your life. So I got four really simple questions as long as you're willing?
David: Sure. Fire it up, Jen.
Jen: All right, all right. So first question is what is your favorite city?
David: My favorite city, other than my hometown of Los Altos where I’ve lived for most of my life, I would say it’s Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Jen: Oh, nice. I haven't been there yet. But it's one of the places I really like to go. What do you like about Santa Fe?
David: Well, the atmosphere is amazing. For example, if you go in the summer time, the monsoon clouds build up over the Rio Grande Valley and they charge across the valley and move to Santa Fe, you’ll get a 3 P.M. rain shower. And then the whole thing kind of dissolves into bright blue skies again.
Jen: Yeah. Sounds a little bit like the way some of the storm that get into Tucson, Arizona. I went to college there and have amazing, amazing lighting storms. Where amazing monsoons where it just keeps pouring rain and the streets would be flooded and we'd be trudging that from class, with like water up to your knees. And all of the sudden, it just stop and the sun was out and skies are blue, and it look like it had never rained.
David: Yeah. Like nothing happened.
Jen: Yeah, unbelievable. It's really cool, nature is amazing. Second question for you, would you consider yourself an animal lover?
David: Oh yeah, for sure. My dog is sleeping on the couch next to me here.
Jen: What kind of dog do you have?
David: A Goldendoodle.
Jen: Oh, very cute.
David: Yeah. She’s looking at us now, “Are they talking about me.”
Jen: Yeah, that’s right. Okay, next question, Mac or PC?
David: Well, I started out as a big Mac fan and I still first use iPhones and iTunes and all that. But I'm pretty accustomed to using a PC at this point. One short story is that my parents were one of the first distributors for Apple computer.
David: This was in the 70s. They were the distributors from Mexico.
Jen: Wow, that's crazy. So you had a Mac early on, you had an Apple computer early on?
Jen: That's interesting. A lot of people I talked to when I ask that question they said, “Well, it was always PC. And then they started working for this company, and they gave me a Mac, and now I'm using Mac.” So I haven't heard a lot of people share the opposite way around. It’s interesting. My last question for you is, if I were able to offer you an all expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
David: Oh gosh. This is really hard. I would say Venice.
Jen: Nice. Have you been there before?
David: I have been to Venice once before, and I remember to this day getting off of the train and looking out across the Grand Canal and seeing the gondolas, that was just magical. I think I would want to go back.
Jen: Excellent, excellent. Well, I would love to join you. I've been to a few different places in Italy but I never made it to Venice, so my only knowledge of Venice is basically like the Venetian in Las Vegas, which is really embarrassing to admit I don’t know why I just said that. But that's all I can picture in my head besides pictures in books. So, one day I'll get there as well. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. It was a pleasure just chatting channel with you. If any listener would like to reach out to you personally, maybe to dig in, ask you a few follow up questions about your experiences, what's the best way for them to get ahold of you?
David: I would say, just ping me on LinkedIn @davidbelove, BELOVE. And yeah, I'll respond that way.
Jen: All right, perfect, easy enough. Well again, thank you David. I really appreciate your time and thanks to everyone else for tuning in and we'll catch you next week for all new episode.
Narrator: Thanks for tuning in to the Allbound podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the email@example.com. And remember, #NeverSellAlone.
Jessica Fewless, Vice President, ABM Strategy and Field Marketing at Demandbase, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss partner matchmaking, the role of partner marketing, enabling partners by focusing on their customers, and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi and welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer and today I am joined by Jessica Fewless, Senior Director of Field and Partner Marketing at Demandbase. Welcome, Jessica.
Jessica: Thanks for having me, Jen.
Jen: Well, it's so good to have you and, you know, before we really dig into your job I'd love to hear a little bit about Demandbase and our listeners I'm sure would love to know a little more about what you guys do over there.
Jessica: Sure. Demandbase is a sales marketing and advertising technology platform designed specifically for B2B marketers. It helps to identify accounts that are most likely to buy from you and the most likely members of the buying committee. And then it helps you attract them to your website and engage them with relevant messaging, once they get there, you know. Last but not least, it allows you to deliver really helpful insights to your sales team in order to help them turn those prospects and customers into revenue for your company.
Jen: I love it. And I also love that, you know, you are in the sales and martech space, and we're seeing so many sales and marketing technology organizations who have traditionally, you know, been selling direct. We're seeing them start to adopt indirect strategies and, you know, when I was preparing to speak with you and I'm looking at Demandbase's website, it seems like you have a really solid strategy in place for your partners in terms of segmentation, you know, you've got your agency partners, technology partners, then you have consulting partners. Can you talk a little bit about how your marketing differs with each one of those groups?
Jessica: Yeah, absolutely. You know in the evolution of Demandbase... So I've been here for four years now, almost half the life of the company, and when I started, I was originally brought on to do partner marketing. But immediately at that point, you know, I would say that our company wasn't quite ready yet for a mature partner marketing function. You know, we did simple things like worked with partners and sponsored their events. You know, and co-sponsored events in the fields and stuff like that, but that was really kind of pretty surface level type of partner marketing. But more recently, you know, as the ABM category has grown, as Demandbase has grown, our maturity as a company and the maturity of our channel sales team has really blossomed. We went from having one and a half people in that role to about four people now, building out on as you alluded to Jen kind of those separate segments: the agency, technology and consulting partners. And, you know, the reason we split them out like that is, you know, it definitely helps scale our efforts as a company.
You know, eventually, you get to a point where your own sales team can only do so much and you really need the help of partners to help scale your efforts from a sales perspective. And so, you know, the reason we split out into three different categories was because our value proposition to them and their value proposition to our customers is very different with each one. You know, with technology partners, those are the partners that we have developed technology integrations with, and so really aiding those B2B marketers to kind of tie multiples of their martech stack together to either deliver additional insights, or deliver additional capabilities that they can have when they use either one of the technologies in a silo. And then when it comes to agency partners, you know, typically this is on the digital agency side or the media agency side. So once again, it's a give and take relationship, we help educate them about account based marketing because that's what their B2B customers they’re talking about. And then on the flip side, they help us because a lot of our customers and prospects are asking, "Okay, you know, typically we've been using, say, B2C advertising techniques, we know there's got to be a better way or a custom built way for B2B." And so we're able to bring those agency partners into our customers and prospects to help them solve that problem.
And then third, is our consulting partners which is kind of a combo of the two, consulting partners and system integration partners, where they can provide some strategy for the client, but they can also help with the selection of and the implementation of technology. So, you know, I think you can see that it really makes sense that we segment them out that way because each one of them is a very different audience for us.
Jen: Right. And, you know, they're gonna need different things from you. But you've really built an ecosystem, a true partner ecosystem there, and which is excellent because I'm sure you've got some of those agency partners that are interacting not just with you, but they are also interacting with certain technology partners that you might have to offer a solution, a custom solution for, you know, that end customer.
Jessica: Yeah. Definitely, I mean, it was really interesting we had our marketing innovation summit, which is our annual conference back in April actually. And, you know, it was really interesting because we had a partner mixer and it was typically those things that are a lot of glasses of wine and bottles of beer to drink and, you know?
Jen: Yeah. Yeah.
Jessica: And as it goes on it gets a little bit chummier, and more fun, and whatnot. But what's really interesting is that this year, myself and the four channel sales folks on our team spent most of the night playing almost, you know, partner matchmaker. You know...
Jen: It's interesting, yeah.
Jessica: We had a lot of consulting and agency partners there and they were like, "Well, hey, introduce me to some of your other technology partners so I can start to connect the dots," right? Or it was a technology partner who was like, "Hey, introduce me to some of these consulting partners because I think we are in the same account together and it would be good to like, compare notes." So, yeah, so that was a really interesting kinda evolution in the maturity of our partner ecosystem.
Jen: I love it. I love it. And, you know, you mentioned you've been at Demandbase for four years, but I mean, you've been in marketing for 18 plus years, right? So you've worked in non-profit, which I have too, so, we have those battle wounds together. And companies like you were at Autodesk, you were at Adobe, I'm curious about...what are some of the bigger shifts that you've seen in partner marketing over the years? And this answer might extend beyond partner marketing because I'd love to know what, you know, you're doing today that's different from what you did like even as early as four, five years ago.
Jessica: Yeah. So, I think to kind of draw back a little bit on some of my time at Autodesk and Adobe and more recently now at Demandbase, I think, you know, the role of the partner marketer has really changed. You know, it's one of those things, or it should change, maybe is a little bit more accurate. So, you know, one point, partner marketing was kind of a program or a project management role. It was one where, you know, they kind of stood in between the marketing team and the channels sales team or the partner team, and their sole focus was really on joint marketing with key partners, right?
And so then they would talk to the partner, understand what the partner was trying to achieve and brainstorm, potentially some ideas, and then we’d go back to the marketing team and say, "Hey, marketing team, what can we do here? This partner XYZ is interested in doing “A”, can we fit it in?" And, you know, I don't know about you or any of your listeners, but I found that process to be completely frustrating and unfulfilling, right? Because you'd have all these great ideas and then you take them back to marketing, marketing is like, "No, sorry we don't have the bandwidth or we don't wanna interrupt any of our other programs to fit this in or, you know, or, or, or..." Right? And, you know, now, today I feel like partner marketing managers need to be full blown demand gen marketers. Ones that cannot only brainstorm possible programs, but also be able to execute on them, and be much more proactive and who they're gonna reach out to and partner with. You know, it's definitely one of those things that has been changing although there's still that classic like project manager partner marketing person out there, and when you encounter them, I find them to be ultimately frustrating. Because you're like, "That's great, I wanna work with you but aaah."
Jen: Right. Right. Well, and I think, you know, if you look at, okay, well how did we get there? And, you know, one of the things that we see is that a lot of organizations that say, "Yeah, I wanna build this channel of partners." But they ultimately under resource that channel, and so they look for this one person who can be the 'be all end all’ and like do everything, right? Who can be the operations person, that project management person and oh yeah, they can just do marketing, they can still be responsible for the revenue too. And we just know you would not do that in any other setting. You know, you wouldn't have that one person be responsible for all things related to the direct part of your business. And so, a lot of it just stems I think just from organizations kind of skimping on the resources that need to be put into the human capital to grow a partner program.
Jessica: Yeah. Well, I agree and I think the other thing too is, and I’ve started to describe it as such, is that I kind of looked at the role of partner marketing as a bit of a Venn diagram, which hopefully everybody is not gonna glaze over when I say that but.... And I think that the two circles are the work that you do in service as the channel sales team, the work you do in service as the marketing team, and then that center section is the joint marketing you do with the partners, right? Because it isn't just about joint marketing, or in, at least in most organizations, it isn't or it shouldn't be, right? So on the pure channel side of things there's new partner recruitment, there's on-boarding, there's nurturing of those partners and those sorts of things to help the channel sales team to be successful, and actually helping those partners influence sales for your company, right?
So that's solely dedicated as a channel team and then on the marketing side, you know, there's gonna be some of the somewhat mundane but necessary part of partner marketing role, which is connecting partners with the events team for sponsorships and, you know, working together with partners, or co-sponsoring a field marketing event or those sorts of things. But also, connecting with the right partners for potential thought leadership opportunities and those sorts of things that elevate both your organizations in the eyes of your potential customers. And then in that center section is the true joint partner marketing, right? I think what most people think of when they think of partner marketing and why it's really important if you don't have the other two parts of the role, I feel like that’s part in the middle is what, like you said, gets under resourced and kind of missed.
Jen: Mm-hmm. I love that Venn diagram kind of, like look, as you were talking through it, I was picturing it and we might need to collaborate on some content for the future because I think there's something really there. You kind of touched on this a little bit, but I wanna dig in when you think about like some of the strategies that you've implemented to really help ensure your team is creating the content that's gonna keep those partners engaged, and foster long-term relationships with them. I mean, do you have any guidance or any tips for our listeners on what they can do because a lot of organizations onboard... or I guess the recruitment of partners and their onboarding of partners isn't where they have a challenge, it's then actually engaging them, and truly activating them once they've joined that inner circle.
Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. I think that the biggest thing now is, you know, I think everybody thinks of, "Okay I'm gonna build a partner portal and then I'm gonna put all these things out there about our product so that our partner knows about our products, so that they can go sell our products. And in today's world, I would just call that table stakes like, yes you have to do that stuff but that's the bare minimum. You know, what you really wanna be enabling your partners with is content that's gonna help them be more successful with their clients. And hopefully, that's the benefit of your organization as well, but things that are gonna help them raise the bar. So, in our world, you know, yes we have webinars, and we have data sheets and all that fun stuff about what's going on with our product, but on the flip side of that, we definitely want to help educate them at account based marketing because that's gonna help them rise above their competitors in many cases, because a lot of the agencies and consulting partners aren't talking about account based marketing yet and so if an agency can come in and say, "Oh, account based marketing? Yeah, we're all over that." That's gonna make them look good and that's gonna help them in business which is gonna then, in turn, ingratiate them to us.
Jen: So, in addition to the supporting partners and positioning them so they can be positioned as you know, experts in account based marketing, and giving them content that's gonna help them earn business and is going to set them up for success, have there been any promotional programs or anything unique that you've created to help them be successful and keep those partners happy?
Jessica: Oh, that's a great question. Promotional programs? I wouldn't say so at this point, I think that's partially because, you know, we're just getting to that maturity of our channel sales and partner program, but we had a point this year, like I said at the marketing innovation summit, where we had a mixer and we, I mean, we have no problem getting a hundred people in the room. I think the next evolution for us is in 2018 to have a partner summit, right? An advance of that partner mixer, one where it's definitely an out bound where we can update them on the latest and greatest from us or the ABM industry or those sorts of things, but also for them to be able to provide some success stories, like, "Here's how we found success in working with Demandbase to help with kinda educate the rest of the people in the room." And, you know, then once again to network and make those connections amongst each other.
But I think that's kind of the next evolution for us is getting to that summit phase and I think to your point there around promotions, hey, maybe what we'll start to do is with some of our onboarding and our nurturing, you know, we point people to our partner portal, maybe if they check all the boxes on their onboarding report card, they get free tickets to our conference or that kind of thing. So, I'm sure we can build that kind of stuff and/or, you know, do some gamification around it, but we’ve really haven't gotten to that phase yet.
Jen: Well, it sounds exciting and there's so much time and so many great ideas, so I'm sure there'll be amazing things for your partner program here in the next couple of years. Looking back the last few years, you personally really dedicated yourself to building and executing an ABM strategy and I thought, you know, without... I mean I know we can have a whole separate conversation just about that, but I'm wondering if you can tell a little bit of what you've done and specifically why it's been important for like channel partner success.
Jessica: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, you know, kind of talking about ABM at a really high level it's, you know, understanding the accounts that you want to sell to and then going out and finding them and selling to them, right? That's kind of the pipe dream or the promise, so to speak, of account based marketing, and it's not a dream, it's, in fact, a whole methodology around that, but, you know, when we talk about it, we actually talk about it having three key audiences. One, prospects, so selling to new potential customers. Two, your existing customers, right? They're your existing customers, you know even more about them than you do about your prospects, so you should be able to sell it to them even better, right at that whole 80-20 rule like, 80% of the work goes into getting a customer, 20% is in keeping and up selling them. And then the third audience is your partners, because if you're talking to your partners in the exact same way that you're talking to your customers and your prospects they're gonna tune you out, right? They don't really care what the shiny new widget is, right? What they care about is what you're doing from a strategy perspective, or how that shiny, new widget is gonna help them be more successful, right? So, if you just sent them to a web page that said, "Hey, look, we have this new thing." They'll go, "Interesting." If you send them an email, and you personalize your website to say, "We have a shiny new thing and it's gonna help you and here's why." Now that helps, one, attract new partners, but to also engage the ones that you already have.
Jen: That's perfect. Great. Great. Really great advice. And, you know, I'm thinking about things from their perspective, like I always do, of kind of being the little guy, and you guys have some real members on your list of technology partners. I mean, everything from like IBM, and Salesforce and Oracle to Drupal and WordPress, and Optimizely, and HubSpot, I mean, some big heavy hitters in the martech space, and for a lot of organizations, they might see those types of companies and partnerships and think, "Gosh like there's no way. Like why would these companies partner with me? I'm just kind of starting to build my program." Do you have any wisdom for gaining traction and partnerships with these kinds of tech greats?
Jessica: Yeah. That's an interesting one I think, you know, part of us just building our company is what drew these partnerships together for us. As our company grew, as the ABM category grew, right? We became more and more important to these companies. Now, to your point, when you're just starting out, not everybody has that kind of at their advantage. I think for us what we really went after was, when talking to all these partners was, how can we make your solution relevant for account based marketing, right? So I think for anybody, it's figuring out how is your solution partnered with their solution? How is that gonna make their solution more successful, right? And so, we provided that relevance and a burgeoning category that everybody wanted a part of. So, it was kind of our value proposition to working with those folks, and, you know, paid off in the end.
Jen: Absolutely. Absolutely. Are you guys still, at this point, are you still sort of like, whale hunting for organizations like that or has your focus when it comes to partner recruitment or I guess actually let me say this, are you still actively recruiting new partners? Or is your energy really focused on maintaining and engaging the ones you have?
Jessica: Yup. I would say it's probably 50-50, at this point, kind of where we spend our energy. So yes, absolutely to kind of list that you listed out earlier, those are a lot of the technology partners that we have, you know, there's kind of discrete list of technology partners that we wanna engage, bring on board and work with, and I think at this point we’ve probably got 75% to 80% of them kind of in our wheelhouse. However, on the agency and consulting side, ABM is a new growing business for them, so just like we practice account based marketing and build a target account list for the new business side of our company, where we decide who are the targets we wanna go after? And we build the marketing and sales programs to go after them. We've actually done the same thing on the partner side. So I've sat down with our channel sales team and said, "Okay, who are the next 50 partners you wanna have in both the agency and consulting categories, right? And let's develop, you know, a whole integrated marketing campaign around going out and getting them." So, exactly the same type of strategy and which might seem kind of silly to some. I mean, I don't know if it works for everybody's business model, but for us it's really, really important because just like I said, you know, even if an agency partner influences a million or two million dollars of business in a given year, that's really helping to kind of amplify our efforts, so it's worth it to us to have a broader set of those partners on board.
Jen: It makes perfect sense to me and we have a saying here at Allbound, it's "Partners are people too." And as cheesy as it sounds, sometimes we unnecessarily over-complicate channel partner, you know, that channel partner realm. And just like, you know, you're communicating with people, you're collaborating with them, you're prospecting them, you're engaging with them, same thing goes for those partners that you would like to bring into your world, so makes sense. My last question for you as it relates to channel marketing is, you know, I'm wondering if you have some kind of sound bite, some kind of concise piece of advice that you'd like to offer to other leaders in partner marketing.
Jessica: Wow. I kind of liked your last statement there I feel like that's almost... I don't think of it as a sound bite, but I think that the biggest thing is to think of your partner marketing function as a demand gen function focused on partners. You know, so that you're getting the right set of skills, people who have a marketing background, people who are used to being focused on things like pipeline and revenue because that is gonna incent the right types of behaviors and they're gonna go out and find the right types of partnerships that are really gonna make the company successful.
Jen: Awesome. Awesome. Well, before I really let you go, Jessica, I have a speed round of a couple of more personal questions that I ask all of our guests. And so I'd love for you to play along as well.
Jen: As long as you're okay with that. So, first question for you is what is your favorite city?
Jen: Woo! you answered that really quickly. Have you been...
Jessica: Off the top of my head.
Jen: Have you been there multiple times or just once or...?
Jessica: I have. I have and everybody talks about, you know, Paris, and these other places and I don't know, like Barcelona to me is just such a vibrant city, and it's kind of the best land of both the east coast and the west coast of the US and then plopped into Europe with all of that richness of culture, I just absolutely love it.
Jen: Wonderful. Okay. Second question, are you an animal lover?
Jessica: Oh, absolutely. Cats and dogs.
Jen: Do you have pets?
Jessica: Two cats and, you know, someday when I stop traveling so much, definitely I will have some dogs.
Jen: Yeah, it's tough to have a dog when you are not home for sure. I love all creatures. It's absolutely ridiculous, but that's great. Question number three, Mac or PC?
Jessica: Definitely a Mac. I am a convert. I was always PC until I came to Demandbase and I showed up on my first day with a Mac, I figured it out and now I look at a PC and I'm like, "Ah, how do I use this thing?"
Jen: Isn't it funny, Apple like they’ve rewired our brains, you know.
Jessica: They did.
Jen: It's unbelievable, between my MacBook and my iPhone, it's like I don't know how to do anything else.
Jessica: Yes, exactly.
Jen: All right and last question for you is, let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses-paid trip, where would it be to?
Jessica: Wow, that's an amazing question. I think I would love the opportunity to travel and probably South America. Just really dive in and, you know, get to see different wine regions and coastal villages and the mountains, being able to deep into Patagonia and those sorts of places. I think you know, being able to spend a couple of months there would be pretty amazing.
Jen: Sounds great. Sounds like a good vacation. Thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your insights with us. It was such a pleasure just getting to know you and hear about what you got cooking over at Demandbase. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally, maybe ask about using ABM and their channel, or to kind of swap stories with you, what's the best way for them to reach out to you?
Jessica: Yeah, you can definitely look me up on LinkedIn, I'm always happy to make new and more connections there. And then also, I'm on twitter @jfewlessB2B, so I'm constantly posting new stuff there, so feel free to connect with me there, and, you know, direct message me if you have questions on anything that I've posted out there.
Jen: Perfect. Sounds good. Well, I appreciate it and I'm sure our listeners do as well so thank you for your time and thanks, everyone, for tuning in and we'll catch you next week with an all-new episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jim: Thanks for tuning into The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com and remember, #NeverSellAlone.
John Sekevitch, President of CyberSolutions.io, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss, conflict between direct and indirect sales, making your partners money, customer experience ownership and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi, everybody, welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer. And today I'm joined by John Sekevitch, who is President of CyberSolutions.io. Welcome, John.
John: Thanks, Jen. It's good to be here. Hi, everybody.
Jen: It's great to have you here. And before we dig into sales leadership and channel, tell me a little bit about Cyber Solutions and what that organization is.
John: Well, Cyber Solutions is a channel. Right now there's roughly a thousand companies representing about 5,000 different offerings in the cyber security space. And each one of them wants to have access to cheap information, like the security officers of major banks and financial services, organizations, large retailers, and other high tech companies with intellectual property to protect. And as a result of the challenges that these companies are having in going to market and getting access to their targeted executives, they work with channel partners such as I in terms of bringing their products to market.
So right now, I'm representing a couple of application security companies, a threat and vulnerability management company, risk management company, one involved with threat intelligence sharing, and finally, another associated with risk scoring and security scoring for cyber insurance purposes. I think what's going on is it's very difficult for new companies to get access to the market. So more and more companies are going right to channel partners rather than trying to field a direct organization first, and then expand into the channels. And I'm sure we'll probably get into some of that later.
For the most part right now what I'm doing is helping these companies and representing their offerings to roughly 100 of those types of companies. So I have established strong relationships over the past 20 years, and I can get them into places they wouldn't be able to get into themselves. And I think that's typically why companies are looking for their channel partners.
Jen: Well, this is a real treat for us. Typically on the podcast, I'm interviewing channel executives who represent a vendor and they're talking about their best practices, and their triumphs and challenges in engaging a channel of partners to help them achieve their revenue goals. And so, what's so great is you bring the perspective of the channel partner, which is a really powerful voice that many of our listeners need to hear. So I'm excited. This is going to be great.
John: Yeah, I've also been on both sides. So I've definitely been that head of sales and marketing who was looking to expand my direct team into places where they weren't able to get into, or to just scale to the market opportunity. So I have recruited and worked with channel partners, and not only in this situation of my own company, but prior to that being a channel partner of IBM and being a channel partner of Oracle, which are two of the biggest that work with channel partners and have a lot of the best practices in the space. So I'm happy to share my perspectives from both sides of the table.
Jen: That's exactly what I wanted to dig into next. Looking at your background, you've had these executive leadership positions that you've held over the last 20 years, companies like IBM, like Net SPI. You've worked directly in sales and marketing like you mentioned. So you have a vast amount of business experience, and so I imagine you understand what works and what doesn't when it comes to channel, but also really business in general. Channel is just one aspect of an entire business. I'd love to hear, what are some of the biggest changes that you've seen in channel sales and marketing?
John: Well, I think the biggest change I've seen is more and more companies starting with the channel, rather than starting with their own direct sales organization. I think that's just symptomatic of what's happening out in the marketplace, which is, it's very difficult to do direct sales these days without spending a lot of money on marketing. For the most part, in my experience everybody's kind of focused on a handful of executives, and those executives don't answer their phone and they don't respond to emails. They get their insights from their relationships, their trusted relationships.
And so more and more, hiring a sales guy just because they have the ability to sell isn't enough anymore. What you're looking for is potentially getting a channel partner who already has those trusted relationships. In the cyber security space for instance, there's a company called Opto, and Opto has relationships with most of the top banks and financial services, organizations and large retailers. So as a result, everybody wants to get their attention so that their products are being represented. What's interesting is that now the channel partner is in power, because of the fact that they have these relationships, and they can try to exact a pound of flesh out of the product or offering provider.
So what's interesting is you'll see things like big commission payouts for the direct side being in the 5% to 10% range, and on the channel side being in the 20% to 25% range, regardless of whether or not they're selling at this price or not. So I’m seeing starting with the channel rather than the direct, and also the power of the channel to be able to dictate economic terms, which hasn't been the situation in the past.
Jen: Well, working for Allbound, where we believe in the power of selling with partners, I'm definitely biased, but we started our own channel partner program very, very early on. It was one of the first things we did as an organization, and I love my partner leads. I talk frequently about how they're my favorite leads, because like you said, they're coming from a trusted adviser. So when I get a lead from one of my agency partners, that is not just a lead, that is somebody who is coming to us because someone that they trust and work with on a regular basis recommended me to them. So it's the warmest hand-off that you can possibly get in sales. I think that's part of why we're seeing these organizations starting those channel partner programs earlier and earlier on in their business.
John: Right. But there's also a lot of challenges in an effective channel program. For instance, you were just mentioning getting those channel leads. Well, one of the things that has to be managed is the channel conflict between the direct organization and the channel. Who has what responsibilities? What account responsibilities? What happens if the channel's not getting the traction that you were hoping to get out of a particular territory? How do you get a channel partner to support all of the sales reps rather than just one or two sales reps? And so these are all things that obviously you need to have executive leadership over. You always need to have somebody who wakes up in the morning caring about whether those deals are being done by the channel or being direct.
I've always had situations where I ran sales and marketing and had responsibility for the whole number. However, I always had somebody who was responsible for that channel. To think that that person who has responsibility for the total can also be the person who has responsibility for the channel number, is just not going to work because they can always get their number with the big number, rather than working through the channel. So you need to have deal headquarters, if you will, to make sure that everybody knows what's going on. And you've got to have trust in the partners to be able to share access to your salesforce.com or whatever CRM system that you're using, and also to have content that's relevant to the channel and not just for yourself.
So one of the things that companies are struggling with is the fact that they barely have enough content to support their own people, much less what's needed by the channel. At the end of the day, the channel still needs to have content. They might have relationships and that might get them access, but they need to have content to be able to share with their relationships to advance the value propositions that they're trying to represent out there.
Jen: Absolutely. They're your volunteer salespeople. They're out there selling on your behalf. They need to be empowered and enabled. So my next question I was going to ask you was, really, how do you determine if and when a company is ready to build a channel partner program? You mentioned a couple of things, you mentioned having a leader who is responsible for that revenue. You mentioned making sure they figured out some of those internal processes to avoid conflict. You mentioned content. So are those really hard and fast signs and if you don't have those three or four things, then you really can't launch a partner program? Is there anything else? What do you think is really the bare minimum for an organization to really start selling through and with channel partners?
John: Well, I mean, if you start with a channel partner program, then you don't have to worry about channel conflict. You're just going through the partner.
Jen: This is true, yeah.
John: So when you hire a person who has that experience, it'd be a different person than you would if you're going to hire the head of an internal sales organization, if you will. The other thing is what are you going to do about leads? Are you going to develop leads for your channel? A lot of companies are looking for both sides. So I remember working as a channel partner for Oracle, and we were a systems integrator for their e-commerce solution, and for a while, that company lived on business given to them by Oracle. But then came to the point where Oracle was expecting them to be bringing business to them. So there's got to be that give and take, if you will. So I would say that, if you're going to start with just a channel, be prepared to use your marketing and inbound resources, and perhaps even some of the inside sales resources to feed the channel, not just looking for the channel to feed you.
Jen: That's really great advice. I think about that, and I think about some of the mistakes that I've seen organizations make mostly around being under-resourced. So an organization, maybe that's been selling direct and then decides to build out a channel partner program, that group decides, "All right, we're going to hire this one person to really spearhead this and own it", except that person might be an operations type of individual, or a sales type of person...
John: Yeah, typically.
Jen: Right. Or maybe marketing but...
John: They're moving the paperwork, they're not moving the market. And that's a mistake. I'm glad you mentioned it.
John: I mean, naturally it is important to have somebody who moves the paper because of the fact that these people need to be paid. And if they're not being paid and if it’s not worth their while, they won't put the work into it, and that's bad because sometimes you've given them exclusive territories, and they're not making any money on it, and they decide to walk away from the commitment so then nobody's pursuing these opportunities. So you got to be concerned about whether or not the channel’s making money, because if they're not making money you're eventually going to lose them.
Jen: Are there any glaring mistakes that you've seen executives make in the channel? You don't you have to tell us who they are, or what companies they were. Just wondering if in your experience you've seen any like big failures that maybe, our listeners who are either building channel programs or nurturing them can learn from?
John: Well, there might be some people on the line that are familiar with this company, IBM for instance. So IBM pays 20% to 25% commission to their channel partners. The caveat is the fact that they pay 20% to 25% based on a deal that sold at list price. So the thing is that when it isn't sold at list price, and those of you on the podcast probably understand that there's never an IBM product that gets sold at list price. So consequently, these channel partners are making 5% to 10% instead of 20% to 25% because of the market realities that these IBM products need to be sold at a discount in order to be competitively priced.
So consequently, they lose a lot of the channel traction that they could be getting because even though the 20% to 25% seems like it's a reasonable commission to be paid, it's not actually being paid, and the result is the channel's not making any money, and they eventually lose some of that traction. So that's probably the most glaring example, other than just flat out, taking all the cherry accounts as in-house, and leaving the dogs and cats to the channel. That's again, not paying attention to whether or not the channel's making money. So you may be able to get somebody interested in it to begin with, but when the results don't stand up to their expectations, you eventually lose a channel, and I've seen that happen on a number of occasions.
Then the other thing is that you have to be continually diligent about whose account it is. On the one hand, it's the channel's account, but they're buying your product. And so consequently, you have to have a way of being able to stay involved so that they end up being a happy client. Because when they throw you out, you're going to get the black eye, not necessarily the channel partners. So something that needs to be coordinated is how do you maintain some degree of account ownership and ownership of the customer experience when there's a channel partner involved.
Jen: That's a really great point. That's something that we're seeing grow in importance, particularly in this as a service subscription economy that we're in, and where buyers have more choice than ever before to move from one product to one solution to another. Gosh, I mean, making sure that if you're a vendor you have the ability to easily collaborate with your channel partners or vice versa, so that you could ultimately take care of the customer, because that's what's most critical to your business. I think that's really, really great advice.
John: This is becoming a complication nowadays, because as customers move towards annual subscriptions versus perpetual licenses for many of these solutions, we're talking about paying commissions off of smaller numbers, or you're paying commissions off of just the first year rather than years two and three, type of thing. Again, this is all related to asking “Is my channel making money?” You can imagine if you got a $100,000 deal for a one year deal, and you're getting 25% of it, what do you get? You get a $25,000 doesn't go very far, but if you can pay them up front 25% of a $300,000 deal for instance, now you've got a bigger hit.
However, you don't get your money until years two and three. So you just have to figure out how to do that. So maybe instead of offering 25%, you offer 20%, but you pay the full three years upfront, that type of thing. These are all things that, again, focus on is my channel making money? If your channel’s making money, you're going to be successful. If your channel's not making money, you won't be successful.
Jen: I couldn't agree more. It's perfect, perfect mic drop. Before I let you go, a lot of listeners of The Allbound Podcast are in their partner program infancy, and they're not the IBMs and the Oracles of the world. They are maybe some smaller mid-market SaaS companies that are really setting out to to build a partner program for the first time. Do you have some tips that you could share with folks like them, maybe the CEOs of those types of organizations? What do you recommend they do to really get started? Maybe it's even things they need to think about.
John: Well, I think what you're kind of describing is somebody who's already got a direct sales organization and now they're looking to expand into a channel, because otherwise, if you started with the channel you'd already have it there, so it's a little bit different. So let's assume that there is a direct sales organization, and now you're going to supplement that with the channel. So the first thing I would do is get somebody and invest in that person who is going to worry about the channel. Who's going to work with your inside teams to feed the channel? Who's going to set up the deal center to be able to manage channel conflict? Which accounts are the channel's? Which accounts are the inside team? Who's going to manage that? Who's going to put together the compensation plan that's going to be attractive to the channel, and still help the product company make money?
And then the other thing from a customer experience, is how are you going to share ownership of your mutual client? What are the expectations that you're going to have for your clients, for your channel's clients, and what are the expectations? How are you going to be participating in it? So I think if you take care of who's feeding the channel, who's compensating the channel, and how, and then also, how are you going to manage your mutual client? I think those are the three things that are most important to have a successful channel on your hands.
Jen: Excellent. Excellent advice. Well, this has been so great getting a chance to talk with you. Gosh, I could probably stay on the line even longer, and just pick your brain, but I won't. But before I really truly let you go, John, at the end of all of our podcasts, I have a little bit of a speed round of more personal questions, just four simple questions that I'd like to ask you. Are you open and ready for it?
John: Sure, sure.
Jen: All right. All right.
John: They're all related to channel, right?
Jen: No. They're actually not all related to channel. They're all related to you. So the first question is what is your favorite city?
John: My favorite city is Los Angeles. I like the ocean, and I like warm weather, and it's got a buzz to it. So I'm a Los Angeles type of guy, as compared to all my compatriots who seem to be Silicon Valley guys. So I'm a Los Angeles guy.
Jen: Southern California, awesome. Second question for you, are you an animal lover?
John: I am an animal lover. We have had cocker spaniels for years, and they live a long time, very painful to see them leave. We just had one that passed in the last few months. And so my wife is now in the process of getting a Saint Charles, I think is the type of cocker that she's expecting to get next, so we'll have one soon.
Jen: Aw! Those are so adorable. Will this be a puppy?
John: Oh, it will be a puppy, yeah. We always start from scratch and go through all that pain. But cockers are a lot of work, I'm telling you. So if you're looking for a puppy or a dog that is not a lot of work, I would not recommend cocker spaniels.
Jen: I don't think I've met a puppy that's not a lot of work. So if anyone out there on the internet knows of puppies that are easy, let me know. Okay, question number three, Mac or PC?
John: Mac for sure.
Jen: And last question...
Jen: What's that?
John: The only way I made much affordable, however, is every time I bought one, I bought a share of Apple stock. And so it's been able to keep up.
Jen: There you go. All right, my last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
John: All-expenses paid trip would have to be someplace in the US. I'm a US guy. Where have I not been? I've not been to Charleston, South Carolina. And I think I need to go there. My wife and I have thought about doing that and it's like, it never gets to be the right time to go to Charleston, South Carolina. But if you were going to pay for it, I'd go.
Jen: That's the first time that someone has picked Charleston, South Carolina as their destination of choice. So I need to ask you a fifth question which is, what is so amazing about Charleston, South Carolina that I am missing?
John: I think it's just the architecture. They've kind of kept their hands on the old, while still having all of the modern conveniences.
Jen: All right.
John: And it's warm.
Jen: And it's warm, and it's warm. Well, lovely. Thank you. Thanks so much for sharing your time with me today John, talking about channel, talking about South Carolina. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally and just connect with you, what's the best way for them to do so?
John: Just my corporate email's fine. Its jsekevitch, S-E-K-E, V like Victor I-T-C-H@cybersolutions.io.
Jen: Wonderful. Again, thank you so much for your time. And thank you everybody else for tuning in. And I hope you'll join us next week for an all new episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone.
Intro: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host Jen Spencer as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast, the fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Kevin O’Brien, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at JazzHR, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss challenges when starting a channel program, scaling and tiering, creating a culture of partnership and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer and today I am joined by Kevin O’Brien who is Vice President of Strategic Alliances at JazzHR. Welcome, Kevin.
Kevin: Welcome, Jen. It's great to be here.
Jen: Well, I'm so glad to have you on the podcast today. I think it’d be great if you could just tell us a little bit about JazzHR just so we have a frame of reference of what you do every day.
Kevin: That's great, yes. So JazzHR is a recruiting solution for small businesses. Small businesses all over North America are having the same challenges that a lot of larger businesses have in terms of how do they find talent, how do they get applicants to new roles that they're trying to fill, how do they screen them and interview them and ultimately bring them through to an offer. And Jazz has built an end to end solution that helps them get exposure onto a lot of the well-known job boards that are out there like LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor and more.
So, it allows them to power their own careers page so that they can actually get visibility into their open roles and then provide a series of tools and solutions so that they can easily screen and identify who to call, who the candidates are going to be and then bring them through in an interview process in a very collaborative manner. So, we've helped tens of thousands of small businesses hire about 300,000 employees over the course of our existence. And we're seeing great success in the market today.
Jen: That's wonderful. It's really wonderful to hear. Hiring, recruiting and onboarding are such big business challenges for organizations, so it's great that you're helping them alleviate a lot of those pains. I want to dig into JazzHR’s partner program and also kind of frame the conversation. You and I met at that small business Web Summit and I was sitting in your session.
You were speaking about how to really grow a partner program and how to enable and support partners. So, I immediately went to your partner page on the JazzHR website. And first of all, it's great, it's so thorough, it spells out everything perfectly for any prospective partner hoping to work with you. I mean, it seems like that partner program is very well established. So, can you share a little bit about how long it took to ramp up to where you are now and what had to be in place to get to where you are?
Kevin: Yeah, happy to, happy to. Yeah, the program at JazzHR has been around for just about a year, coming up on a year in May or June. To us a small business is a company that has up to 500 employees. So generally, small businesses have anywhere between 20 and 500 employees to be able to have the need to use JazzHR for their system.
And what we found was a lot of these companies are already working with trusted advisors for their HR needs, so maybe they're working with HR outsourcers, maybe they're working with compensation consultants, maybe they're working with other technology providers like HRIS systems and so forth. And those companies and organizations tended to be in a great position to not only introduce their clients to sort of the next wave of technology that they needed to bring onboard, but also they needed to be able to answer the next question that their clients had which is, ''Hey, can you help me with my hiring needs and help me get my hiring needs from offline to online.''
And so, when we saw this at JazzHR, we knew that we had to have an indirect strategy. And so, we built out a program that was tailored to local consultants who had one-to-one relationships and face-to-face relationships with local businesses. We put a program in place so that it was easy for them to get educated on what are the challenges that their customers have with hiring and have Jazz help to solve them.
And then we also have an indirect strategy around integrations where we built out an API so that we could tie in some of the technology systems that we’re bringing these solutions down to small businesses as well. And so, we had to have all of that in place and then we had to build in sort of a partner portal with a marketing portal so that they could get access to this information and track their customers and then get rewarded for bringing new customers into Jazz.
So, it took a good three, four, five months to get the infrastructure set up and then it's been in place since around May or June of last year. And so, we're 9 or 10 months into it and the program is really growing very quickly and we're having a lot of success in helping these partners bring hiring and recruiting solutions down to their customers.
Jen: Well, you guys have been really busy. You have accomplished quite a lot in a very short period of time.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah. I mean, luckily the solution set for Jazz has been built out over a lot longer period of time than that. So, Jazz is what was founded as a company called the Resumator in 2009. And so, it's a fully functioning end to end suite for recruiting solutions. The whole company really rallied around it and we had support from our executive leadership all the way down to our product, marketing and sales teams. There's definitely a need in the market for these local consultants and technology providers to help their clients move their hiring from offline to online. So, the opportunity was there, the solution was there and we were able to build up the infrastructure to connect the two and really start to ramp the program.
Jen: That's great. Not to go down like a memory lane with you, but you look at your career and you definitely have had a general focus. You were the VP of Partners at HootSuite, you were Senior Director of the app partner program at Constant Contact. I'm just curious, what do you feel you've really been able to bring with you from company to company as you work to scale a channel partner program? Because I see a lot of individuals, a lot of channel professionals and they go and they build something we create something in and they move on maybe to the next company, and I'm just curious from your perspective what you feel you really brought with you?
Kevin: Yeah, that's a good question, Jen. Thank you. All three of these companies have all been focused on delivering solutions into small and mid-size markets. And one of the things that I really developed an appreciation for at Constant Contact from being there as it was able to grow from 100 customers up to 600,000 customers was an appreciation for how small businesses really leverage their own networks and their own trusted advisors in terms of what they need to be focusing on next.
And so, building out channel in partner programs that are able to empower those trusted advisors to be comfortable with your solution to understand how it's going to solve their client's needs and to be able to easily fit it into their existing workflows is something that I think we were we were able to solve really well at a Constant Contact, and I also took that into HootSuite and now into JazzHR and that's the key. It doesn't just have to be a solution that they believe that their customers are going to be successful with, but it also has to have the features and functionality that make it easy for them on a day in and day out basis to see how their customers are operating with it and to understand the challenges they have, so that if they can help overcome certain areas of the product they're able to add value themselves.
And then to also achieve some status with the brand that they're working with so that they can get early access to the content or features or insights and so forth that they can bring it to their clients, and it helps them to strengthen their relationship there as well. So, I think bringing in an appreciation for how small businesses need to be hearing about these solutions from their trusted advisors, as well as some of the more traditional direct marketing that happens in terms of software today is something that I've leveraged and tried to bring with me so that we can scale these programs with different companies.
Jen: That makes perfect sense. I mean you really understand the day to day of that small business, the end user, end customer and you also can put yourself in those partnerships. So, it makes perfect sense to me. I want to dig in and get more nitty-gritty with JazzHR’s partner program because whenever there's a successful program we want to look and see, “Okay, what can we learn from this and how can we apply it to other people’s organizations?” You guys have three tiers of partners and it seems like those are based on the number of bookings. So, can you tell us a little bit more about the tier structure that you've built out at JazzHR?
Kevin: Yeah. Yeah happy to. So, a booking for Jazz is the total cost of a contract that a small business is signing up for. When you think about hiring and recruiting, and this is different than some of the other companies I’ve been at, some of the other companies have been more month to month, but at Jazz we look at it as a more annual contract because hiring is something that you have a hiring strategy for the year and so you need the software for the whole year and the value of that year is the booking. And what we want to establish we put these goals in tiers out on our website so you can see them at jazzhr.com.
And partners are able to come in and understand how much business that they would traditionally need to be bringing to JazzHR in order to be at a certain tier. That typically translates into how many new customers do you think you will be able to introduce JazzHR to? So, whether it's two, three, four or five throughout the year we have a tier for that, whether it’s 20 to 50 throughout the year we have tiers to that, or if it’s a 100 plus we have tiers for that. The goal is to really set the expectations for ''Hey this is what we think you need to be signing up for when you come to JazzHR, and here's the reward you are going to get for doing it.''
So being really transparent is important when you scale any channel program or partner program and it's something that we found to be helpful in getting the Jazz HR channel program off the ground as well.
Jen: Is it safe to assume that those same KPIs that you're using to measure partners are similar to what you're using internally for direct sales or is there a good alignment there as well?
Kevin: Yeah, there is and that's a great point because with any partner program it's always being measured against the direct sales initiative because you really need to be outperforming what a traditional single sales rep can do for the partner program to be successful. So, you really need an apples to apples comparison. So, you're right. The sales teams are measured by bookings, and the partners are measured by bookings, so that the company and the teams at the company are really able to see how one is performing against the other and what efficiencies are we getting through the channel strategy that we don't see necessarily in a direct strategy for this particular product set. And so, that does give us an easy way to measure how each of the programs are working.
There is a lot of cross promotion within the programs, like the sales team is very comfortable if they think that they're talking to a prospective partner of introducing them into the partner program so that they can be serviced a little bit differently and rewarded a little bit differently. But at the end of the day, we are looking at both programs to be able to accelerate the growth of Jazz, so we do try to keep the way that they're measured consistent across the two programs.
Jen: Excellent. Excellent. These are the types of questions that when someone is just setting out to build a channel partner program, these are the things that they've got floating around in their head. And so, I love being able to talk to people who are in the trenches like yourself and share that knowledge forward. Speaking of that, when you think about an organization that's just really embarking on building out a partner program, what do you think are some of the most critical elements that a channel leader should consider, particularly when they're really starting from scratch?
Kevin: Yeah. When starting from scratch, there's internal things and then there's external things that you really need to be looking at. So, externally you really need to identify if the product that you want to develop an indirect strategy for is something that the people of the ears of a small business can easily articulate to their client because that's really what's going to determine whether they're going to align with your product or not. And what I found is most small businesses business applications fall into that category. And so then it's really trying to identify who are the pockets of these different partners that you can easily go after so that they can adopt your solution for their customers.
The bigger challenges tend to be internally focused when you're getting a program off the ground. I think a lot of times people run into headwinds in a new program if they don't have the buy in and the visibility of the program that you really need. And what that means is a lot of people would want to take a program put it in a corner and give it some time to mature a little bit and keep it out of the way. But with a channel or an indirect strategy that's going to be a big part of the business, it really needs to be top of mind across the exec team and top of mind across the product team, the marketing team and the sales organization.
So, having top-level goals that are measured weekly and that are constantly in front of the functional leaders of each of the departments in the company is critical to keeping it at the forefront of everybody's mind. Now recognize it's going to take 12 to 18 months for a program to really start to achieve scale. But if it doesn't have the visibility throughout that period it’s going to get left behind by product, it’s going to get left behind by marketing and it's never going to be able to get that sort of the foundation under it that it needs to achieve the scale. So that's number one.
Number two would be investing in infrastructure early and I think a lot of it is easier now than it was say 12 or 13 years ago when we were doing it at Constant Contact. Now there are a lot of tools out there built specifically for indirect programs so that you can easily set up a partner portal or you can integrate it in an API set into the back end for companies to take advantage of it if you're looking to integrate your system. But investing in that infrastructure to be able to measure and help the partners manage their business with you is critical because if you don't it's going to be a lot of email and wait and email and wait, and they'll just get frustrated and move on.
So those are some of the key things that we try to do when we’re setting up programs with high-level goals that are visible across the whole organization. We also measure them weekly so everybody can see how it's doing and invest in the infrastructure before the program actually launches. So you're really setting it up for success because you're trying to pull that 12 to 18 months data as quickly as you can, and that's the point at which it will start to drive and really accelerate sales for the business going forward.
So those are the things that I've tried to work on in the different programs that I've built. For the folks who have challenges, I think they tend to try to keep it outside of the limelight at the beginning, but it just gets a lot harder to integrate it later on as the program starts to mature. So, doing it right out of the gate is critical.
Jen: I think that's such great advice. When I look at partner programs that never really produced any real results, they were siloed. The organization has to have a culture of partnership, it has to embrace that, and that comes from the top. Right? That comes from the CEO, CFO and trickles down into every single person within an organization.
Kevin: Yeah, and being hand in hand with the sales team is critical as well and making sure that they understand it's a friend, not a foe is going to ensure that it gets the support it needs as well.
Jen: Yeah, and I know that could be challenging, but sales people we like to fight for our turf. So, it's a cultural wave to bring everyone together and work together collaboratively, which actually leads me to my last question for you about collaboration. I'm just wondering if you can talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you see vendor organizations face when they're trying to collaborate with their partners? And then this is kind of a bonus question, but I'm just curious if your partners have an opportunity to collaborate with each other? We're starting to see these partner programs really become ecosystems where different partners might be able to collaborate to solve a business challenge. So, I’d love to hear any feedback you might have on that as well.
Kevin: Yeah, let’s take the first part of the question first, collaborating with the partners is critical. And it's such a great way to get access to new content, new ideas, new case studies and really get behind them and showcase them. In most cases with an indirect partner strategy, you're going to have access to probably more marketing resources than your partners are. So really pointing them out there and leveraging the partners expertise is a great option that we have.
We have a webinar that we're going to be running this Thursday. I don't know when this podcast is going to be accessible, but Thursday is 4/20 and 4/20 is a moniker for pro-marijuana and the partnership is actually with a partner who focuses on what are the rules around marijuana in the workplace for states where marijuana is legal. So, there’s the fun play on sort of timing and content but it's really leveraging partners to bring their expertise so that you can educate the rest of your customers. And if you're open like that, more partners are going to be a lot a lot more interested in working with you if they can see that you're open to helping them demonstrate their expertise in growing their pie as well as growing your pie. That's critical.
And to the second point of your question, you're absolutely right, when your partner programs get big enough you can facilitate this sharing of ideas amongst your partners so that now you can get two, three, four partners involved in helping to solve a single customer's problem. At Constant Contact we saw this where we would have partners who would partner up together. If one was a web developer and another was a content writer they would work together to solve, and we would actually be building up the local networks of those partners through local directors we had. Those directors would work with all these partners and understand skill sets and who to refer customers to for what, but also build a working group so that they could team up and attack customer problems together.
We saw the same thing at HootSuite with technology partners. There are partners who are really good at deep listening and analytics and others who are good at content management and how that all works with the HootSuite platform and then bring them in to solve customer problems. We are not big enough at JazzHR where it's happened yet, but it's certainly where we're going and that’s the point when the word gets out to partners that they can not only be rewarded for bringing in business, but also get new business from participating in your program, that's when it really starts to take off. So, that's another reason why it takes 12 to 18 months to get these things moving, but once they get moving it's like rolling a ball downhill, it'll pick up speed and start to manage itself on its own.
Jen: Oh, that's great. And that's very, very true. I think it's the changing buyer that's also dictating a lot of these collaborative partnerships that are happening because the customer has a challenge and partners can learn from each other and collaborate together. And with the Internet, you can't hide a partnership very easily right? So, the days of this is this exclusive partnership and we don't work with anybody else, today buyers have so many more choices, so, I think that the sun has set on that type of partner program.
Kevin: Yeah. In the small business world we like to say they are time starved and task focused these small businesses, because they also don't have a lot of time. So, if they are very comfortable working with someone and that person can bring another person in it just makes it easier for both for both companies. So, developing that trust is critical early on for sure.
Jen: Well, this has been so great. I've loved digging into this with you and hearing about what you’re working on over at JazzHR. But before I let you go, I like to end the podcast with asking a couple of more personal questions so our listeners can get to know you a little bit better. Nothing too challenging as long as you're open to it. Does that sound okay?
Kevin: Sure, sounds great.
Jen: Okay. All right. So, first question is what is your favorite city?
Kevin: What's my favorite city? Well, outside of the city I live in, I live in Boston, but the one city that I've traveled to multiple times and I would love to relocate to at some point is San Diego. I love the culture and I love the location, so that would be the city I would prefer over Boston.
Jen: That's a great city. Every time I go there, and every time I land and I walk outside and I'm at the airport, I go, “Oh, this place is so beautiful.”
Kevin: Exactly, right.
Jen: Question number two, are you an animal lover?
Kevin: I'm an...
Jen: Is that a no?
Kevin: I have zero pets. How's that?
Jen: You have zero pets, all right.
Kevin: I’ve taken my kids to the zoo before.
Jen: That's awesome. Question number three, Mac or PC?
Kevin: Mac. I was a PC guy till 4 years ago, but now I'm Mac all the way.
Jen: They have a way of rewiring your brain, huh! It's unbelievable.
Kevin: It’s more just how many times I've had to repair the PC and how many times I haven't had to repair the Mac, that was enough for me.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely I agree. Okay, last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
Kevin: That's a good question. An all-expenses paid trip probably Australia, I've never been to Australia, I've always wanted to go. And assuming that you can also carve the time off for me to get there for a month that's where it would be.
Jen: Yeah, but this is like a magical pretend land, so yes, I can do that for you. If I had unlimited money to send any podcast episode guest on any trip. So yes, in that world you can take as much time off as you'd like.
Jen: Well, thank you. Thank you again, it's been so great spending some time with you today. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to do so?
Kevin: Yeah, that's great. So, they should reach out to me through my work email. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org and I'm happy to collaborate on partnerships, make personal connections and help anyone out if I'm in a position to do so. I really appreciate the time you gave me, Jen, this has been great.
Jen: Wonderful. Well, thank you and thanks, everyone else for joining us for an episode of The Allbound Podcast, and we'll catch you next week.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning into The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember #NeverSellAlone.
Tony Fox, Vice President of Sales and Development of Channel Partners at bswift, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss protecting your brand by choosing the right partners, solutions partners vs channel partners, business acumen and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Announcer: Effective selling takes an ecosystem. Join host, Jen Spencer, as she explores how to supercharge your sales and master the art of never selling alone. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast: The fundamentals of accelerating growth with partners.
Jen: Hi everybody, welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Allbound. And today, I'm joined by Tony Fox who is Vice President of Sales and Development of Channel Partners at bswift. Welcome, Tony.
Tony: Hi, Jen. How are you doing?
Jen: I am doing great. I'm so glad to have you on the show, and I thought we could maybe kick things off with having you share a little bit about bswift for listeners who maybe haven't heard of the company before.
Tony: Yeah, well, thanks, Jen. And first, I do want to thank you for inviting me on your podcast, so thanks for that. A little bit about bswift, so bswift is primarily known in various industries as what we would call a "benefit administration platform." I think we go a little bit beyond that, and we offer potential partners a great deal in terms of connectivity, so the ability to link out to different vesting class partners and giving the channel partner the ability to take back to their end user. And we really have a top-in-class decision support tool as well. So, again, benefit administration on the whole with a healthy dose of connectivity thrown in for good measure.
Jen: Great. And, so, when we look at your partner program, I know that bswift has two main categories of partners. So you guys have solutions partners, then you have channel partners. So, can you just explain the key differences between those two groups and the role that they play in your sales ecosystem?
Tony: Yeah, sure. So, really, we have, like you said, two different types, and the one I'd probably describe first are our channel partners. And it's really a fairly simple relationship where we reach out to an entity or they reach out to us and we end up licensing our software. It ends up acting for bswift as a distribution channel, we license our software, and then our channel partners take on the effort of selling, implementing, and monitoring the software in an ongoing basis as they deliver it to their end users. End users in this scenario are usually employer groups but can be individuals, but again, mostly employer groups. So that's a channel partnership.
Aside from the distribution pathway, it also acts like, kind of a, I don't want to say free, but it really is a business laboratory. So as we further develop our software, and ours is an evergreen technology that has three full releases per year, we like to take input from our channel partners as they interface with the market, and then they bring back recommendations and suggestions for really how we should innovate going forward. So that's really a channel partnership right there.
Our solutions partnership is slightly different, and really it comes down to aligning ourselves with what we call “best-in-class vendor partners.” So what we would do is identify maybe a best-in-class medical partner, for example, Aetna insurance. We could align ourselves with MetLife, Unum, or, perhaps, Guardian on the ancillary and work-type products. And when we have a solution partner, it has the effect of stocking the shelves, so to speak, for an end user employer group. So as they enter on to bswift, our channel partners have the ability to select from our portfolio and solutions partners and bring their product to their employer groups. It makes implementation much easier, it makes price negotiation much simpler, and it really just enables everything to work properly and as a whole. Does that make sense, Jen?
Jen: No, it makes perfect sense, and it's definitely a true ecosystem that you've got there. And I absolutely love that concept of your channel partners being part of like a laboratory. I think that is so cool because the sales experience, is an experiment. You're constantly experimenting and trying new things, and that's such an awesome way of thinking about how your partners can help contribute to the growth of your organization. Not to put you on the spot, but are there any anecdotes? Is there any story of something that's emerged out of a channel partner engagement from your experience?
Tony: Yeah, absolutely, Jen. Yeah, absolutely. And I'm sorry to talk over you there for a second.
Tony: But I think, maybe the biggest example is more and more of this grouping of channel partners has informed bswift’s evolution in really our recent interfacing. And I'll talk about this probably a little bit later, but you have to know who your best customers are going to be. We identified very early on that payroll vendors were going to be a pretty good partner for us. Largely speaking, with the advent of the ACA reporting necessity, payroll plus Ben Admin equals compliance. So, as we began to partner with these different payroll companies, we found that, as opposed to our traditional carriers and brokers, payroll companies were much more advanced along the technological spectrum specific to connectivity.
So again, we fancy ourselves very much a connectivity vendor in addition to Ben Admin. And so what we were pushed to do is really accelerate what we call our API interface. And I'm not going to remember what API stands for, but really what API consists of is a real-time data exchange which makes everything look and feel more cohesive with where your partner is in the market, if its a payroll company, or the brokerage, or even with an enrollment firm. So that's an example of how payroll companies on the whole push us to accelerate our API timeframes, and we're going to be releasing a full API published spec in our August release of this year. So that's a perfect example of how channel partners have pushed us to do something, maybe outside of our normal pathway.
Jen: Awesome. And bonus definition for everybody, API stands for "Application Program Interface." So, "Oooh, ahhh."
Tony: I feel like you got points on me for that one. That's fine.
Jen: The information that's in my head...the technical information about web services and APIs that I have in my head from over the course of my career is baffling to me, as somebody who got a degree in English.
Tony: Whenever Jeopardy releases a technology-type of episode, I'll make sure we getcha on it.
Jen: All right, all right. Well that's really cool, thank you for sharing that example. Let's talk about a couple other things. You've been working to grow bswift’s channel program for the last two and a half years or so, but when you look at the course of your career, you've been collaborating with partners even in a more traditional direct sales role. So I'm curious, what do you feel you've brought with you as an individual contributor that you've applied to helping scale a channel partner program?
Tony: Sure. Now, Jen, that's a great question. Without too much back-patting on my part, I think what I bring to the bswift spectrum is really an understanding of, maybe the broadest possible concept at the benefits industry. As I mentioned before, it's not just brokers and it's not just carriers that comprise the, call it the benefit administration spectrum or the universe. Really, you have to understand that payroll companies are in there. Brokers naturally have a very strong presence within that, but you also have things like PEOs and large-scale enrollment firms, and other types of entities that are firmly connected to the employee benefit sphere.
My understanding of that enabled me to come into bswift and really understand what our channel partners need. Now, we have been a very successful company prior to me coming onboard, but what I think I brought was in addition to understanding what we offered, I know why we offer that. And I know why it applies very well to a distributed system. So again, for example, when you have a channel partner, it's one person selling on your behalf. I understand how that works, I understand why that works, and I understand the profit motivation of the different folks within the employee benefits universe. I think that's really what has led this to be a pretty good fit both for me and bswift.
Jen: You've kind of hit on this business acumen that you have. So, you understand the impact that the solution has on the end user, the customer, what it can have on the partner’s business. We're seeing this more and more where channel professionals have to understand the entire business, all the challenges, all of the different levers to pull to increase efficiencies in revenue. And, yeah, I think you've really articulated very nicely how you've been able to kind of translate that over into this channel program at bswift. That's great.
Tony: Yeah, Jen. There's another thing, too, and it kind of goes back to the earlier question you talked about. And if you understand the business as a whole, you're able to utilize the feedback you get from that business, as that kind of laboratory scenario, like we talked about earlier. If you don't understand the industry on a whole, you're not going to understand the small little bits and pieces that come back to you and really how they fit into the bigger whole. If you are a software company dealing with the employee benefits industry and you don't use your channel partnership distribution as a lab, I think you're fooling yourself. I think you're really passing up on a massive amount of potential information that can inform your development process.
Jen: I'd love to see more and more organizations treating their channels that way, and maybe we'll get some feedback from listeners. If anyone is doing that, we'll want you to reach out to us. We'll share some information at the end of the podcast because I'd love to hear more stories just like that. Speaking of kind of thought leadership and new ideas, you'd written a blog fairly recently called "The Unexpected Benefits of a Channel Partnership," and one of the benefits in that blog that you state is "simplify the pivot," and I really love this philosophy. So, if I'm looking to engage in a partnership with another organization, how might the partnership help me simplify the pivot?
Tony: So first, I feel I should probably apologize in advance if I've coined a new corporatism, "simplify the pivot." I figured that's worth at least thirty points in a great corporate-phrase buzzword game. So, my apologies in advance. But by definition, a pivot is changing the way you do business. It doesn't mean you have to move away from what got you to the level of success where you are.
So let's use an example, maybe, a broker, or an enrollment firm, or a payroll company, when you become a partner with a successful channel partnership organization, in a broad sense, or bswift in specific, what you should be entering into is a certain level of market expertise, a certain level of operational expertise, and, without using the word "expertise" again, really knowing how the process works. What it can do if you're a channel partner, and let's say you're a broker, it can ramp up your learning curves, it can help your investment, because we all know that distributed software systems are not free, it can help your investment pay off a lot more quickly.
Now, you have to partner with somebody who has a good product and a good process to go along with it, but your partner also needs to be able and willing to deliver on your organizational expertise. They can know how they're doing it and how to do it successfully. If bswift doesn't pass that on to each and every one of its channel partners, again, there's an opportunity for success there that we've missed.
Jen: So, if I'm an organization... I think these are really good pearls of wisdom, but if I'm an organization that's just embarking on building out my channel partner program... I'm just trying to kind of wrap this all up together, thinking about this idea of experimentation, the idea of the benefits that partnership can bring. I guess, can you maybe summarize for us what you think some of the most critical elements are that a channel leader should consider? You know, really put yourself in the shoes of someone who is really just getting going, starting from scratch.
Tony: Yeah, it's funny. I think probably the two biggest pieces are, you have to understand your audience...and again, these are going to sound strident, they've been repeated a couple of hundred times, but the fact that they're basically synonymous with channel partnership and there's something to that. You have to understand who your audience is and who you sell to, and you have to understand why they should want your product. So, along the lines of who you sell to, benefit administration is a perfect example of as you grow a company and as you grow your channel partnership line of distribution, early on in the process, you want to get ink on paper. You want to get contracts signed. You want to focus on your immediate top-line revenue.
Over time, and as you move away from that immediate urgency to get revenue in the door, you're going to find that there are partners that are better suited to tell your story, than some of those early ones, the ones that you just kind of signed in a mad rush. And maybe they're better at operations and deliverables, and they're going to lessen your chance of brand damage. Because if you damage a brand in the market place to your third-party, you don't have a lot of recourse, and it's very difficult. Probably another facet to that, I call it “over-targeting”, or being so specific in your perceived market that you kind of ignore the rest of the ecosystem to use your word.
And, for benefit administration, the perfect example is focusing so heavily on the brokerage market that you ignore those, I would call them tangential partners, like enrollment companies, and payroll companies, and PEOs, and carriers that need to set up exchanges. The universe is a big thing, and you don't need to focus, or really, over-focus on just that brokerage group. So if you understand what you have and why a certain group wants it, it can come in upon you when you're developing a channel partnership system to mentally try to broaden that out as much as possible. The more targets you have, statistically speaking, the more you're going to land.
Jen: No, that makes perfect sense.
Tony: Does that make sense, Jen?
Jen: Absolutely. Even in your final point there about keeping those options open for the type of partner, it's still grounded with, "Okay, but who is your buyer?" Right? Who is the person who's going to benefit most from using this product? And as long as that's consistent...I mean, there's new technologies, there's new categories, there's new types of companies that are being created every day. And so, to your point, if you kind of keep your head down focused on this one type of entity, like a broker, you might miss out on other complimentary solutions that could be just as beneficial, if not more, to helping you achieve your goals, so yeah, I agree. I think it's a great strategy to keep in mind.
Tony: Yeah, and it's funny, Jen. One thing you hit on there, kind of reminded me of this. You see what your competitors are doing in the marketplace, and obviously, you need to know what your competitors are doing. I don't think you should feel obligated to follow what they're doing. For example, a lot of benefit administration companies start by heavily trying to penetrate that up-market, in that 10,000, 20,000, those big brand name clients. Having said that, there are also newer arrivals on the Ben Admin stage that have done very well in that small group exchange stage.
You have to understand that when you have a potential market or a potential industry that's so deep and broad, there's going to be room for a lot of other people at the table. And your goal is just to make sure you definitely have a seat at the table and then maybe knock over a couple people that are sitting to your left and right.
Jen: Right, sounds good.
Tony: Unless its too aggressive.
Jen: Well, we'll let all of our listeners decide what's too aggressive or not. I think everyone's going to have a different threshold for that. I'd love to know from you, what do you think is the most exciting thing about working in indirect sales? And the reason why I'm asking that question is because, well, I think we could really go backward and say, okay, no kid grows up going, "I want to be in sales." You know? And certainly no kid grows up saying, "I want to be in channel sales." It's not something we go, "I can't wait until..." There's not necessarily a degree that you can get in it in college, but yet, here we are. Right? My day 100% revolves around indirect sales. What do you think is the most exciting thing about doing what you do?
Tony: Well, I think aside from seeing one of your channel partners land a big one or really kind of hook into a fourth gear or something like that, I mean, that's going to excite most people because that's more revenue in the door. Everybody gets excited by revenue. I think, maybe on a smaller scale, when we talk to a channel partner, and maybe even in the discovery phase or when we're contracting or something like that, and you just hear the penny drop, and you just hear it click with that channel partner and...I'm trying to remember what my intro to psychology class back in college called it, I think it was a cognitive flash. That “aha!” moment.
I love when I'm talking to somebody on the phone and they say, "Whoa, that makes a lot of sense, Tony. So you mean not just A, B, and C but maybe D through R." And they start to see that scope expand, and they start to see maybe it's not just software. Maybe it's a way of realigning how their entire business model reports on the business model itself, for example, on a brokerage. Or maybe they perceive a way, if they're a broker, to drive new broker of record letters. Or if they're an enrollment firm, maybe they see a way to lessen their operational investment on a medium size client by using our divisions support tool.
It's really just when what you offer just absolutely clicks with somebody, that's what kind of gets me excited about stuff because I know that we're not a mature industry quite yet, although we are getting there. Eventually, it's going to be a mature industry. And the more that we can kind of form that discussion as we go, both through our product and our discussions with people, the better off bswift and Aetna, our owner, are going to be. So that's what really gets me going, is when they kind of get it.
Jen: I love it, I love it. Because I know the feeling. I can certainly empathize, and I'm sure a lot of our audience can as well. This has been so much fun, and before I let you go, whenever we do the podcast, I have people answer some more personal questions so we can get to know them a little bit more. So, are you ready to answer just four simple questions? Sound good?
Tony: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.
Jen: Okay. So, first question for you is, what is your favorite city?
Tony: Well, I'm born and raised in Chicago, so it's difficult for me to say anywhere but Chicago. I will say that recently I've become acquainted with the charms of Manhattan. I'm a big city guy. I like the excitement. I like the energy. I like the buzz that a big city brings. So, if I had to live somewhere other than Chicago, it might be Manhattan or oh gosh, pick some island off the coast somewhere because if I'm not in a big city, I probably want to get away from it entirely.
Jen: Great, sounds good. Okay, next question. Are you an animal lover, yes or no?
Tony: I'm absolutely an animal lover. I have two dogs, I have a Border Collie and a suspiciously tall Dachshund, and they take up a lot of my day. So, they're awesome.
Jen: A suspiciously tall Dachshund. Really?
Tony: Yeah, yeah...
Jen: Just a tall guy?
Tony: Yeah, my wife and I only buy from shelters, but they said that she was a Dachshund mix, and she ends up looking a lot like a small German Shepherd, so I'm thinking whatever they use for their DNA might be slightly lost.
Jen: That's great. Next question for you, Mac or PC?
Tony: I'm a PC guy. Without divulging too much of my age, I will say that decades ago at the University of Illinois, Macs really weren't a thing. I guess that the Apple IIe and the Apple IIc were starting to come on.
Tony: I was born and raised on a PC, and I started learning computers before Microsoft even existed. So, I've been a PC guy, I'm going to be a PC guy. It's just the way it works.
Jen: All right. Sounds good. And my last question for you is, let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
Tony: As long as it's not within the United States on business, you could tempt me pretty much anywhere. It's funny, there's this TV show, and I forget what channel it is, but it's called "Alone." And the concept is that they take a bunch of survival experts and they kind of dump them on different parts of the globe, and they're expected to kind of make their way to their life for approximately two months and all that good stuff.
The last series of episodes were in Patagonia, South America, down in...I want to say it's in Argentina, it might be Chile. And it was starkly beautiful, and I would just love an opportunity to travel down there with my wife. Maybe do some hiking. Maybe do some fishing unless there's some weird disease I don't know about, and just generally do the "get back to nature" thing. I do love that.
Jen: Very cool. That's awesome. Well, some other time I'll have to have to tell you about my trip to Pucon, Chile, which is at the very, very, very bottom of the country. Let's just say, I was the only individual who exited the bus with a rolly suitcase. Everyone else had a camping backpack and I had a suitcase on wheels, but it was good fun.
Tony: That's hilarious!
Jen: Give you a sense of who I am. But thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your insights with us today, Tony. It was so great. If anyone listening would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to do so?
Tony: I think probably the best way to reach out to me would be through LinkedIn, initially. I'm Anthony Fox on LinkedIn, and I'm currently at bswift so I should be easy to find. And I would welcome any questions for, "Hey, how about an opportunity?" That would be great too. So, feel free to reach out to me whenever.
Jen: Perfect. Well again, thank you, and thanks everyone for tuning in. We'll catch you next week with an all new episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Tony: Thanks, everybody.
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Anjali Menon, Head of Growth Operations at Magic, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss integrations with complementary technologies, listening to data, being honest with your community of partners and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi everybody. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Allbound. And today, I am joined by Anjali Menon, Head of Growth Operations for Magic. Welcome.
Anjali: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.
Jen: I'm really happy to have you. And I'm excited to talk about your career but, before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit about Magic. Because for all the times I've ever thought, "Man, I wish I just had this like personal assistant." You guys are kind of helping solve that problem for me, right? What's the scoop? Tell me a little bit more about the company.
Anjali: Absolutely. So thank you for having me, first and foremost. And I’m really excited to be here. Magic is a text-based platform that allows you to, just as you said, get personal assistants on demand. So the scope of what you can ask is really sort of infinite. You could ask for things as simple as somebody getting you lunch, to perhaps helping with your office needs and things that are much more grandiose in scale, planning a significant other's birthday party or something like that. But the idea is that you get manpower on-demand to increase your productivity. We launched in 2015, February of 2015. Actually, when it launched, it just went viral. I mean, we had a massive waiting list and it was really validation that people want personal assistants. They want more time in their day.
Jen: Yeah, I'm telling you, it's like as soon as I learned about it, I'm like, "Okay, what should I ask?" Like, "What should I ask for help with?" right? So, it's just such a cool concept. And you're Head of Growth Operations there. What does that entail? I'm starting to see Directors of Growth. I think this I the first time I've seen Growth Operations. What does that mean? What's your role like?
Anjali: Yeah, definitely. It's a really interesting one because we are a growth team, first and foremost. But because we interface with operations so closely, just by nature of the work that we do, we're constantly having to fulfill the requests that our clients put in. That's ultimately how we end up with Growth Operations.
So under this umbrella branch of what we call Growth Operations, there's a few sort of subcategories. We've got a sales team, which has historically been focused on sort of inbound leads as a main source of acquisition. Then we've got an activation team that interfaces with our operations team quite frequently to ensure that sort of consistent quality of service. And this team is critical because Magic's end product is ultimately defined by the user. You tell us what you want and we deliver it. So the activation has to be really customized. And that's in part where a lot of the operations work comes in with growth. And then the third piece which is pretty nascent in its start, but we now have a B2B and partnerships team as well, so those are kind of the three.
Jen: So let's let's dig into that a little bit, you're just getting started with it, but when you think about the plans, this go-to-market strategy for Magic, how important do you believe those strategic partnerships are going to be in your success? What kind of plans do you have in the works?
Anjali: This is such an interesting question because partners can add so much value to our type of business. But it's really a matter of finding the right fit because Magic has so many complexities. You can ask for anything as simple as lunch to something as complex as carrying out a whole sale cycle for a business using Magic. So because it runs the gamut of things that you can do, we really have to evaluate what partners make sense for us. But for Magic, like many other businesses, I think success for our customers comes in the form of efficiency gains, obviously, cost savings, and value-add. And partners can add all of these things.
Some examples of partners that we're exploring right now are things like verticalized partnerships. So, if we can sit on top of other services that already have domain expertise, it's a win-win for us, i.e., if I already can use a cleaning service that I know is good and I can just recommend that to my clients, then I'm saving them and us time by doing so.
Other sorts of partners that are interesting for us are ones that sort of epitomize our values. We have two really interesting values at Magic. Yet, their concepts that are sort of known in the startup community but I'm not sure how widely they're known beyond that. And the two concepts are called yagni and plow.
Yagni is a term that means “you ain't gonna need it.” It's one of those things that in the startup community, people will say it all the time. But it's a term that really signifies when we work with you, we want a partnership that understands that we're working under constraints, and you understand that, and I understand that. And we don't go build things that we don't really need at the moment. We'll build them when it's absolutely necessary. So that's something that we might look for as a value in terms of partnerships. And then this other concept is plow, which you'll hear almost every day in our office. And that's a concept, particularly for a personal assistant kind of concierge company, it's the concept that you don't give up. You keep plowing to make sure that whatever the client wants, you try to get. And so we would hope that our partners sort of share those values as well, maybe on these sales or affiliate side for example.
So really, I think partnerships are key for us, but they need to align strategically both in what we're doing as well as what our clients needs, as well as, finally, what the partners themselves need. And the reason I emphasize this is because when we went viral two years ago, we had major, major brands coming to us, asking us to do partnerships with them. And we turned most of them down. And the reason is, we had to sort of be true to what our capabilities were, and you've got to be honest with what you can deliver and what the partner expects. And so at that point, we hadn't even really figured out who was our right customer profile and did this major brand make sense for what we were doing. Just because they're a major brand doesn't mean they're a good partner for you. So, I know that's a long-winded answer, but I think, in short, partners are very, very useful particularly for our business. But I think that the key is really making sure that there's alignment on both sides for what that partner can do.
Jen: It's very, very sage advice. And it can be very tempting for organizations to just bring on those partners that have me with those big brands. But, if there's not that alignment...and especially for a very quickly growing young company, you got to have that focus, right? So, I think what you're saying you guys are doing is you're definitely going down the right path. I absolutely love hearing it. And those strategic partnerships just make perfect sense.
How about integrations? Are you looking at other complementary technologies as a way that they might play a role in your growth goals? One of the things I'm thinking about, just kind of off the top of my head is like different apps I might be in on a regular basis like Postmates for delivering food or supplies or what have you. I mean, are you thinking about technology, and in that respect, for partnership?
Anjali: Totally. So, this is such a great question for two reasons. One is because we actually just launched a Magic version for Slack. So this Magic-Slack integration allows teams and businesses to more easily and more transparently use Magic as kind of like an office manager. So Slack has been really useful for us as the first step to growing our business in sort of a different category. And so, I think when we think about these partnerships, for example, I sort of alluded to value being very similar. Slack is one whose whole value prop is to increase productivity with teams, and we have a very similar value prop, it's a Productivity Tool. So there's synergy here. And if we can reach more of our target audience through a medium that allows teams to interact more collaboratively like Slack, that's exactly the kind of thing that's good for our business but even better for our clients. So Slack is the major one that we've been focused on.
You kind of alluded to Postmates. And that's a whole other category of sort of partnerships that we'd also be thinking about. Basically these other sorts of niche services that we can kind of sit on top of or that they can kind of sit on top of us, either way. And we can just kind of use them as our clients come in and say, "Hey, I need a burrito." well, the fastest way to do that is through DoorDash or Postmates or something like that. So those are the other kinds of partnerships that we would look at as well. And so, absolutely. That's definitely something that increases productivity and efficiency for us.
Jen: I know I can speak on behalf of the Allbound #AllStars, we try to make Slack do everything. So we try to run our whole business through Slack. Things that are important and all of the shenanigans as well.
Anjali: That's awesome. Well, what's interesting is with the Slack integration, we're finding different use cases for Magic just by virtue of being on a different platform other than text. Because when you're suddenly on a platform that allows for different teams to interact with one Magic as if they were an office manager suddenly Magic becomes the office manager, and it's booking appointments for people, it's bringing vaccines on campus, it's booking team outings, and suddenly the use cases are becoming very different in the way that they interact with Magic is different too, just by virtue of the platform. So it's actually a key growth initiative for us to be thinking about these other kinds of platforms, because they increase the ways in which folks use Magic, increasing their own productivity. But it's also, of course, then expanding the reach of who can use us as well, which is really good for both sides.
Jen: I want to ask you a little bit about some of your past experience. Before you were at Magic, I know you were at Twitter. Before that, you led marketplace operations at TaskRabbit. And marketplaces and partnerships and communities of engagement, there's a lot of similarities there. And you helped launch the TaskRabbit Elite Program. So, let me know how did that concept for that program come about originally? And I’d love any feedback on how it helped really grow the company since its inception.
Anjali: Definitely. So, I am proud to say that the TaskRabbit Elite Program still exist today. So when you go to TaskRabbit, despite the business model having changed from one that was traditionally like a bidding system to one that's now more automated with algorithms, the TaskRabbit Elite Program's still maintained. And the reason is because it actually does really impact the business goals and growth.
The reason it came about was mostly for two sides. And it's two sides in parts because TaskRabbit is a two-sided marketplace. So, on the client side, when we were back in the bidding system, clients would put in a request for something like, "Hey, I need a cleaner." And it was possible that hundreds of taskers could bid on those requests. And clients would sort of face this paradox of choice kind of paralysis because they wouldn't know who to choose.
And so, the concept of the TaskRabbit Elite for clients specifically was, can we give them a sort of value set that allows clients to choose who is the right TaskRabbit for me for this particular job set? And then, on the Tasker side, on the community side, which was the side that I was most closely involved with, we had never created a systematic, defined program that really supported workers in the sharing economy. It was not something we had done formally. And so this was our first attempt to say, "Hey, there are a lot of people hustling on this platform to make it a great one. We should reward them in some way." And so for folks who delivered, who had great ratings, who consistently performed, we thought this is a great way to reward them and get their earnings up by showcasing their work more to the right kinds of people.
Similarly, it also helped new Taskers sort of ingratiate themselves on the platform because now new Taskers had a sort of defined path towards something that they could work to. And so, it was possible that within a month of becoming a new Tasker, you could actually become an Elite TaskRabbit when I launched this thing. And so, it motivated a lot of newer TaskRabbits to do a lot of work and get promoted and get more work. So ultimately, it was kind of a win-win for both sides. On the tasking community, it supported them by giving them more visibility and giving them more work. And on the client side, it helped them narrow their choice to the right Tasker for their job.
And ultimately, we switched the whole model to actually emphasize that specific point, finding the right Tasker for your job. So now, if you go to TaskRabbit, nobody's bidding anymore. You're just sort of shown the right TaskRabbits for you and you just pick the one that's good for you. It's a much easier process now but that concept really sort of originated with that Tasker Elite program. And the reason it exists today, again, is because both of those sides of the community are still served in the same purpose.
So it's been something that was strategic for the company. It ended up ultimately making Taskers more money, which is why we kept going with the program because it was giving them more money and was giving them more incentives to get more work on the platform. And so, yeah, it's something that I'm really proud of because it allowed us to build a community in a way that was very positive for both sides.
Jen: To take sort of a page out of Tiffany Bova's book, she talks about making your customer the true north, like the center of your universe, right? And in every decision that you make in your business, like thinking about it from the perspective of that customer. What's going to be best for that customer? Because people ask, "Should I sell directly? Should I sell online? Should I sell through channel partners? Should I do X, Y or Z?" And the answer should be, well how does your customer want to...right? How do they want to buy? How do they want to be served? What's going to be best for them? And ultimately, if you do what's going to be best for them, that will end up being best for the business and for all the business partners that are part of that ecosystem.
Jen: So, it’s great to hear.
Anjali: A quick side note on that. We actually spotted the problem of clients not getting what they wanted and not identifying the North Star through data. Because I think folks don't know this, but the reason TaskRabbit changed their model is because a lot of tasks were being put into the system, that is to say, clients were asking for things to be done, but then they weren't always choosing TaskRabbit to get them done. And the reason was in part because of bids. It was because a lot of TaskRabbits could put in bids and then people would get so overwhelmed that we would see this long-tailed distribution of tasks that got bids, but then the client didn't do anything with them. So this effort was to give them exactly what you said, that North Star.
Jen: We talked to a lot of people, and they're building partner programs, whether they're reseller programs, referral partners, affiliates. But they're not just trying to build a program just to get leads or just for top of funnel. They're really looking, "How can I build a true community for my partner ecosystem?" Maybe it's to get partners collaborating with each other, or to get partners and customers collaborating to get shared visibility and really a shared experience. And I'm just wondering, over the course of your career, whether you want to speak to something from being at Twitter or TaskRabbit or even at Magic now, do you have any advice for people who are setting out to attempt to create a community?
Anjali: Yeah, definitely. That's such a cool question because I look at building communities or partner communities or whatever form of community you're building, like a two-sided marketplace because that's the background I come from. So the relationship needs to benefit not only your clients but the partners themselves. So for a business like Magic, that's so dynamic where the scope of what we offer is pretty much sky's the limit, we in particular need partners who understand this and can be flexible enough to work within the constraints of that model. So I would really say for folks who are interested in building this kind of community, define and qualify the ideal folks in the community and how do they fit into what you're building?
Because if you can't define that, then you're not in a good position to set up the community and your partners for success. And I think, and again this is what I alluded to earlier, but when we had major brands coming to us, we didn't even know who was a good partner for us and who were our right customers. But now we're in so much of a better position to do that, so we can start thinking about that. So definitely being able to understand who those right partners are for your community is key. The other thing I would say is honesty is everything, be honest with your community of partners. Because then, the expectations are set correctly. Don't over play your capabilities because you think that's what your partners want to hear. You are the partner in the partnership, and for it to work, I think really, really being able to transparently lay out the scope of what you can do, why you're doing it, and why it's important as it relates to your values are all very key. So that would be sort of my best advice.
Jen: I think that’s some really great advice and such a great way to wrap this up. But before I let you go, I always ask some more personal questions just so folks can get to know you a little bit better. You shared so much awesome stuff with us today, but I'm going to dig in a little bit more if you're up for it.
Anjali: I am, of course.
Jen: Okay. So easy questions. First one is what is your favorite city?
Anjali: Oh, okay, Cape Town, South Africa.
Jen: Oh, I have not heard that one yet. So why is that your favorite city? Tell me.
Anjali: So, I'm somebody who loves to travel. And I think that when you travel, you can often find places that you can call home, that are often not your true home. And you just know it when you're there. And so when I went to South Africa, I immediately felt this sense of home. Because South Africa is a lot like San Francisco, where I’m from, in the sense of scenery is very beautiful, there's a lot of nature, Table Mountain, a lot of ocean. People love surfing over there, but then the culture was also just very, very friendly and people were very welcoming. And I also love animals and wildlife. So being surrounded by all of that with a very sort of gracious culture, it felt like home. So that's my favorite city.
Jen: Well, you kind of hinted at my next question. Are you an animal lover?
Anjali: Yeah, I am.
Jen: Do you have any pets?
Anjali: I grew up with two dogs, Larry and Lucky. One was a German Shepherd and one was a tiny little Pomeranian. And they were best friends. But no, I do love animals. So South Africa made sense.
Jen: Great. Next question, Mac or PC?
Jen: And my last question, if I was able to offer you an all-expenses-paid trip, where would it be to?
Anjali: Well, the next place that I want to go to is Iceland. Because I'm a nature lover. I love exploring. And tickets are cheap right now so it wouldn't cost you too much probably.
Jen: Remember, this is a magic land where I have all the money in the world and I can send you anywhere you want to go. But I appreciate you thinking about me.
Anjali: Well, in that case, I probably just need the money, still in Iceland, but I'd probably go on some kind of luxury retreat, looking at the Northern Lights or something like that. But yeah, I think if we had all the money in the world, the place would be Iceland.
Jen: All right. Awesome. I love the practical fantasy, it's fantastic. Well, I just want to thank you again. Thank you for sharing some of your time with me and our listeners today. If anyone would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to connect with you?
Anjali: Sure. So they can connect with me via email and it's just 0-7, my first name and my last name. So that's Anjali Menon @gmail.com. I can spell that out as well, would that be helpful?
Jen: Sure, sure.
Anjali: Okay. So it's 0-7-A-N as in "Nancy" J-A-L-I as an "igloo" M-E-N as in "Nancy" O-N as in "Nancy" at gmail.com. So that's email@example.com.
Jen: Perfect. Well, it's been great getting a chance to learn a little bit more about you and talking about partnerships and communities. So, thank you so much.
Anjali: Thank you for having me.
Jen: Yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. And thanks, everyone else for tuning in and we'll be back next week with an all-new episode.
Male Announcer: Thanks for tuning into The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone.
Joe Schramm, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at BeyondTrust, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss refining your focus on specific partners, channel growing pains, understanding the win for your partner and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi, everybody, welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I’m Jen Spencer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Allbound. And today, I’m joined by Joe Schramm who is Vice President of Strategic Alliances at BeyondTrust. Welcome, Joe.
Joe: Thanks, Jen. Good to be here.
Jen: I'm glad to have you. I think the best way for us to get started first of all is maybe if you can tell us a little bit about BeyondTrust and your organization.
Joe: Sure, sure. So BeyondTrust is in a segment of cyber security focused on privilege access management. We're also in another segment called vulnerability management. Both segments are pretty well defined in the cyber security landscape, but I would say that privilege access management is probably growing at a higher rate, and that's where we're seeing, a lot of our new product growth, net new logo acquisitions, and so forth. So we're very much focused in the cyber security domain, and it's a very hot market. It's something that we're doing really well in and are very happy to be participating in.
Jen: You have a history of working in business development, strategic alliance roles at very high-tech companies in security. And, I don't know if you have a byte of information or a hard and fast rule, something that you've really taken with you as you've gone from one organization to another to really help grow your channel program at BeyondTrust. How do you help it really run smoothly?
Joe: Yeah, that's a great question. So I think probably my favorite hard rule that I like to live by I learned some time ago now...this goes back several years and a few different organizations ago. But really, my favorite thing to think about and to focus on is what I call “partner profiling”. So a lot of organizations, when they start to build their partner program, they tend to gravitate towards easy wins, meaning if a partner came to you and said, "Hey, I'm interested in working with you," you'd rush to sign them up without really stepping back and understanding, "Are they the right partner for us, right, based on the type of company we are and the products we sell and how we sell them?"
So partner profiling, for me, is one of those almost religious experiences where I sit down and set out to really define the top three or so attributes and partners that we want to proactively engage and recruit and bring into our partner program. And it's easy to get this wrong, right? A lot of organizations, like I said, will gravitate towards easy picking, sign up lots of partners without stepping back and understanding, "Are those partners really aligned to your market? Are they in business for a sustained period of time?" To me, that's an important attribute is length in the market.
If an organization has been around 10, 20, 30 years, it's a very good leading indicator that they've got a big customer base and that they've had to reinvent themselves along the way a couple of times, and pivot as technology changes and continue to sustain and grow their business. That's an important attribute. And then certainly, things like a good go-to market capability, so having sales people, having pre-sales people, having perhaps delivery capability or at least very good technical competence within your domain.
So profiling and identifying what those key criteria are is really, really important. And then making sure that as you engage and as you seek out partners that the ones you're engaging with proactively, even the ones that you're reacting to based on inbound interest, you're qualifying them against those criteria pretty firmly to ensure that your chances of success, once they're up and running, is going to be a lot higher.
Jen: I think that's such great advice, and it should really resonate with a lot of folks who are focused on this account-based movement right now that's happening on the direct part of business because that's what we do, right? That's what we do with an account-based strategy is we identify who's a good target for us looking at those profiles. And, I know it can be challenging when you're building a partner program and you've got that inbound interest in joining your program. It almost like reminds me of if you've got someone volunteering their services, right, they are volunteering to sell for you or sell on your behalf, and you've got to say no to them sometimes. So it could be really hard to do, for sure.
Joe: Yeah. It takes some practice, for sure.
Jen: Yeah. Now, you have launched several key initiatives really to grow the channel at BeyondTrust. Can you share a little bit about the areas that you focused on so far in the organization?
Joe: Sure. I'll touch on maybe a top three that I would want to share here in the context of this discussion. So the first one is that we decided to embark on a global distribution strategy for our company. If you look at the way we were organized from a distribution perspective, it was very localized, so specific countries. For example, in the U.S., we had a distributor. In Canada, we had a different distributor. Throughout Europe, we had many different distributors, throughout Asia Pacific, many different distributors. And what we found was that there was a lot of inefficiencies, a lot of inconsistencies with that model.
Furthermore, we found that not all those distributors were doing much more for us than facilitating transactions, which is important, right? You need to have an ability to transact business. You need access to different kinds of resellers that distributors oftentimes have access to. And you obviously need access to certain kinds of procurement vehicles, which again, distributors often have access to either directly or through their network of resellers, so state and local contracts, for example, GSAs, too, and the federal site to name a couple.
So it's really important that you have some measure of a strategy there. But what we did was we set about to consolidate our distribution strategy and align ourselves to a distributor that we felt was very focused on the security domain, which is what we participate in, and also one that we felt could help us scale the business and generate net new opportunities through their network of resellers.
And so we decided to join a program that Westcon-Comstor offers called Accelerate. And it's a very selective program. We're one of like, I think, five or six different vendors that belong in that program, and that's really the extent of it. This gives us a lot of focus with Wescon, gives us an ability to wide up each region in a sequence. So we're very active with them in AsiaPac. We are now writing up North America and Latin America. In Europe, we'll be coming online later this year, in fact in Q2.
So it's provided us with a nice way to rationalize, streamline, drive more efficiency, drive more consistency with our distribution business, have one, well, not one entirely because we do have a couple of distributors that we're maintaining, but it helped us rationalize and reduce the number of distributors that we've had on a global basis. That's one initiative that we embarked on.
Another one that we embarked on last year was our Technology Alliance Program. So we wanted to have an opportunity to provide our technologies, provide our open APIs to potential technology partners as well as potential consulting partners who would want to or need to develop custom integration in their product or on behalf of our customers. We launched the Technology Alliance Program last year, and that's been great. We signed a couple of very strategic technology relationships through that technology program, SalePoint, McAfee being a couple in particular.
But we also have some others now coming to us and saying, "Hey, we want to build an integration to this product, to that product." We can do that very easily now. We can provision not-for-resale software. We can provide them with the APIs. We can provide them with some simple instructions on how to leverage them. And we're finding that some of these partners that are coming to us are now able to build these integrations very quickly.
And the third area that I would highlight is that one of the things that I thought was missing for the company when I joined really late 2015 or early 2016 timeframe, was that we didn't have a partner strategy centered around consulting partners and system integrators. We had been talking to a few and have been having some conversations with some. But I saw that as really a missed opportunity to align ourselves to some very well positioned, very focused consulting organizations that are really centered on the identity access and privilege access domains in particular, and for us to align ourselves with them to create new opportunities for us and for our salespeople, as well as scale our delivery service capability.
So as we're growing, one of our constraints or one of our challenges has been keeping up with demand for consulting services to implement our technologies. And so we aggressively recruited and onboarded about a half dozen or so boutique consultancies last year, and that's paying off for us really well. They're getting certified and getting consultants out there in the market who can implement our products and create bench strength and scale for us on the delivery side. And just as importantly, they are also identifying net new opportunities for our technologies with their clients that we didn't know about previously. So that's creating some net new business for us through that effort as well. Those are the three things that I'd call out.
Jen: You've been busy. That's quite an undertaking in a fairly short period of time, which is really commendable. I want to dig into some of the results that you've been able to see. You shared with me previously kind of what happened in one year. Your channel business is up 100% year over year. Business through the channel has grown from 15% of the business to between 25% and 30%. I mean, is this the result of those initiatives? And also, is there anything else, any other great results that you've seen because of work that you've done in 2016?
Joe: Yeah, I think there's a couple of forces in play here, right? One is that we're in a high growth market, right? Our market segment's growing at over 30% per year. And so there’s always going to be organic growth with what you've been doing. So that's definitely attributable to some of the growth. But I think moreover and more importantly is that we've really aligned ourselves to not only the right partners that can help us, but we've also really narrowed our focus down.
So when I joined the company, we literally had hundreds of resellers in our system, and I couldn't get my head wrapped around how we had so many. And then of course, you look back at the history of our company, and for a long time, we were a growth-by-acquisition company and we came together as BeyondTrust four or five years ago through the acquisition of four or five different companies. And with each acquisition, it brings a different partner base with it, right? And we never really rationalized that partner base.
So this year, actually, last year, we started this process and we're going to continue to do it this year, but we've really started to refine our focus on the partners that we really want to proactively manage. That's not to say that we won't work on an opportunistic basis with any partner, but what we're doing with those other partners, what I call the tier-two partners, is we're rolling them underneath Westcon to help us manage and grow those partners so that we can take my direct team, right, the alliances people that we have on the team and have them spending the bulk of their time really building business with the core set of partners that we want to focus on.
So I think those are a couple of contributing factors that have really played a role in our success and the growth that we've achieved. We expect this year to again significantly grow the channel business. So we're excited about the prospects, excited about the opportunities. I think we've got many of the key things in place to enable that growth, and it's really just going to be a question of our ability to execute.
Jen: That's awesome. Anytime an organization grows, and especially when you're in channel and you grow so exponentially, it's exciting and it's amazing, it's great from a revenue perspective. It can also be a little bit painful. Just there's challenges anytime that you do grow. I'm wondering, could you share maybe some of the challenges that you faced or maybe some challenges that you're anticipating and how you're going to mitigate those?
Joe: Yeah. So there's always challenges as you highlighted when you are growing, and these challenges that are good problems to have. And I like what our CEO says. He says, "We don't run away from problems or challenges, we run towards them," right? And so that's the attitude of our company, which I love and I embrace that philosophy. Every time he says that, I kind of smile because that's kind of how I operate. I want to attack things and get after it, right?
But that being said, yeah, there's certainly growth pains. Now, there's a couple things that we did early last year in anticipation of the growth that we were expecting and wanting to drive, right? One was we needed to launch a partner portal. We had a large number of partners, some of whom were very active with us, some of whom were occasionally active with us. But we did not have a good vehicle for disseminating content, and for addressing the educational needs and the content needs of both our sales folks that work for the partners, as well as the technical folks that work for the partners.
And so we stood up our partner portal last year, which has been very widely adopted, and I would say it allowed us to centralize a number of the processes, chief among them, our deal registration process. So that's been fantastic. And that's a key metric that we want to measure as you get your registration volume year over year, and even at a granular level by partner or region or what have you. We can measure how that's building. It's an important leading indicator as to what's going to come out the back end of the funnel, one, or two, or three, four quarters later, right? So that's been great.
And I think that the usability of the portal and the intuitive nature of the portal has been great. We see very sticky behavior, very good evidence that a lot of our partners referenced the portal. They referenced it frequently and not just to do deal registration. We obviously can report and track on what artifacts they're accessing, how frequently those pieces of content are being accessed. We can look at that and kind of analyze, what's valuable, what's sticky, what's being consumed the most. And so all that's really, really important for us. And so that's been great.
Another challenge that we've had to deal with has been training this new class of partners that I spoke of, right, the consultants and the systems integrators. Having training in education capabilities, certification capabilities was a really important driver to help us scale. And we launched our BeyondTrust University early last year as well. And that, too, has been extremely well received. We probably have over 500 partner individuals across the globe that are engaged in BeyondTrust University either from a sales enablement, pre-sales enablement, or technical consulting enablement perspective. And we're now starting to turn out certified consultants who can actually help scale on the delivery side.
So those are a couple of highlights and things that we've had to overcome. And we're not done yet. We're never, I think, fully satisfied. We can always do more. But, those were a couple of really important foundational components that we needed to get in place to help scale.
Jen: Well, with all of those individual partner users, you were talking about those partner entities, you weren't talking about the companies, right? You're talking about actual individual people who are engaging with that content or who are phase two, your end customer. You've got all those folks. You've got over 4,000 organizations as customers. You’ve got half of the Fortune 100. I mean, I'm just baffled. Like how are you able to dedicate time to your individual partner entities? I know tiering's got to be a big part of that, not just the segmentation of types of partners but also tiering within. Is that something that you guys are doing as well?
Joe: Yeah, yeah. We did that last year for North America. We just completed our first pass of it for Europe, and we're in the process of doing it now for Latin America. And I think AsiaPac is a little different for us. We've kind of been working through a two-tier distribution model in AsiaPac from earlier points in our history and so there is less rationalization needed there, I believe.
But certainly, if I take North America for an example, we looked at the entire pool of literally over 300 reseller accounts that we had in our CRM system and we started winnowing that down and looking at it different ways. We said, "Okay, over the last two years, how much new business has been booked by each of those partners," right? And obviously, you typically see a 80/20 kind of formation there, where 80% of the revenue comes from the top 20% of the resellers. And we quickly realized that we've got literally hundreds in our system who haven't done any business with us over the last two or three years.
We also looked at how much renewal business is being handled by that pool of resellers, and we found that there is some that do a large number of renewals for us but there's an awful lot of onesie-twosies out there, right? Literally, we have a reseller that handles a couple of renewals for us a year, and that's the extent of it. So we value that. We don't want to just throw that out the window, but we look at the volume of it and we look at the alignment to the partner profile that I spoke of at the top and say, "All right, who are the top 12 that we want to focus on, or the top 15," and really zero in on those resellers and say, "Okay, how do we sit down and build a business plan that's meaningful for both companies?"
And for us, we're kind of looking for anywhere from half a million in net new product license bookings or more from those kinds of partners, and whether they've done that historically or not may not necessarily be the critical decision factor. Maybe a partner has only done 250,000 with us but they've only been working with us for six months and we believe that they've got the right DNA, the right profile to really take that up to the right level.
So that's kind of how we've done some tiering here in North America. And I'd say that we're really focused on probably the top 10 or so resellers, and then there's a cadre of consulting partners maybe 15 or 20 in total that we’re either on board with or working with in some capacity to try to figure out whether they belong in that bucket or not. But taking it from literally 300 down to 15, 20 is a much more manageable number, and we believe that by providing that focus that we're going to see more benefits coming out of those relationships.
Jen: Thanks for sharing that. I think it's really, really helpful to a lot of people who are in a similar situation that you're in. And on that note, the last question I really want to ask you is if you have any sort of concise piece of advice that you can give fellow business development professionals who might be in a situation similar to the one that you embarked upon when you joined BeyondTrust, any words of wisdom that you can share?
Joe: Yeah, I'd piggyback on the first point about the partner profiling, and say that it's really important that you understand what your targets looks like. And then the second thing, which is really important, once you start getting into discussions and conversations with potential partners, you really need to understand what the win is for the partner. And it kind of amazes me that a lot of times, people don't step back and ask that question or even understand that and they may assume that, "Oh, these guys are VAR, therefore, they're only interested in margin on the sale of products."
Well, the landscape is changing out there, right? I don't really believe that organizations that may have historically survived and thrived on just being product-resale companies are going to survive, right? We're seeing a lot of evidence that traditional resellers are morphing into what I call a solution provider, and they're trying to solve problems for clients that includes products, that includes services, and it may include managed services.
So the landscape is shifting a little bit, but the point being is that it's really important for you to understand what the win is based on the partner you're talking to. And, one partner may say, "Hey, I'm only interested in selling product." Fine. Another partner may say, "Well, we do some product resale but we're really in the consulting business." Or it might be obvious from the onset that they're in the consulting business but, they like referral margins on the back end of deals, too, right? So trying to be flexible, trying to frame and understand the win for the partner is equally as important as understanding what the win is for you. So that's my piece of advice.
Jen: I think that's great advice. We can always be better listeners. Really listen to what our partners need and what's going to make them successful. That's fantastic. You know, Joe, before I let you go, before we totally sign off here, I always put people through a little bit of like a fun personal speed round, so ask some questions that kind of dig in a little bit, get to know you as a person a little bit more. Are you up for it?
Joe: Yeah, sure, why not. Sounds like fun.
Jen: All right, all right. So easy questions. First one is what is your favorite city?
Joe: My favorite city, oh, that's a good one because I've been to so many great cities. Honestly, my heart belongs to New York.
Jen: Good. What do you love most about New York?
Joe: I grew up in the New York area and I've always loved it. It's a city that, honestly, you can pretty much do anything within the bounds of law, of course.
Jen: Right, right.
Joe: Do anything, see anything, experience, any kind of entertainment, any kind of cuisine. It's just an amazing city to me. I've always loved it. But I’ve got to tell you, I do love London and I love Tokyo. I got to Tokyo last year and I am absolutely amazed by Tokyo and I'm dying to go back. I was only there for two days, and if I can figure out how to go back for 10 days, I think that'd be like my first choice. And I may come back with a different opinion about what my absolute favorite city is after some real time in Tokyo I think.
Jen: That's a really long way to travel for two days. Wow, wow. You need to go back.
Joe: It was a total of a 10-day trip in Asia but we only had 2 days in Tokyo.
Jen: Yeah, okay. That makes more sense. Okay, second question, are you an animal lover?
Joe: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Jen: Yeah. Do you have any pets?
Joe: We've had some pets from time to time, cats, hamsters, fish those sorts of things. I'm an absolute dog lover. But here's the thing, I travel so much and my kids are getting older and heading off to college. And, it's always been one of those things that we’d love to do, but at the same time, we've always felt that owning a dog would be unfair to the dog because you need to be around to spend the right time with them and treat them like any other family member quite frankly.
Jen: Yeah, I hear you. I hear you. Okay, next question, Mac or PC?
Joe: Oh, gosh. If I ever had the choice of having a Mac for a work tool, I would say Mac. But I never seem to get that choice so I have to go with PC. I'm using a Microsoft Surface and I actually love it. It's great, very lightweight, very reliable. And you can use it as a tablet as well, so it's got some nice flexibility.
Jen: Yeah, everyone who I meet who has one absolutely loves it, so that's great. My last question for you is let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses-paid trip, where would it be to?
Joe: It would probably be Italy, and I'd have to say Tuscany in particular. For me, Tuscany is kind of the perfect balance between my need to see things and do things, but you can kind of find the peace and tranquility to relax when it's time to do that, too. It also has that phenomenal food and wine aspect to it that I love. So Tuscany, I'd take it any day.
Jen: Wonderful. Sounds lovely. I was picturing myself being there as you were talking about it with a glass of wine, of course. So thank you. Thanks so much for sharing your time with me, with us today, Joe. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to connect with you?
Joe: Find me on LinkedIn. It's Joseph Schramm, S-C-H-R-A-M-M. Easiest way to find me. There's not too many of me out there that I'm aware of at BeyondTrust. So yeah, I would welcome the opportunity to chat with anybody or kick any of this stuff around. It's good fun. I'm passionate about it. I enjoy it and would welcome the opportunity to talk to people.
Jen: Wonderful. Well, again, thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. And thanks everyone else for tuning in, and join us next week for an all-new episode.
Announcer: Thanks for tuning in to The Allbound Podcast. For past episodes and additional resources, visit the resource center at allbound.com. And remember, never sell alone.
Jeff Ernst, co-founder and CEO at SlapFive, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss to discuss customer success and the channel, opposing the customer testimonial, and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
There are a lot of folks in the SaaS industry specifically talking about customer success and see that as a result of higher customer engagement. Can you share with us where you think customer success can really meet that channel and generate a sort of kind of partner proof?
Most of my clients are SaaS spenders and as you know in the world of SaaS, it's all about renewals and what your renewal rate is because if you're churning customers faster than you can win new ones, you're just treading water or losing money. One of my SaaS customers does more than 70% of their business through the channel. Another one about 50%. And some of the issues that these companies face is one, the vendor gets so removed from the end customer because the channel partner, the reseller has the relationship with the customer. So, the vendor is getting less feedback from the customer, they're having less impact themselves on the customer success, and they just don't have as much opportunity for engaging the end customer directly.
And then on the flip side, you get the resellers that are competing on their value-added service, sometimes competing with other resellers for the same vendor, but they're always competing with other software vendors and their resellers. So, they've got a double challenge of proving why the vendor solution is better than others as well as why their own value-added service is better. And, let's face it, sometimes there's not much difference between the two.
I think that's where customer engagement and customer voice comes in. I'd like to say that it's probably the only thing that your last bastion of competitive differentiation is your customer engagement and customer voice because competitors can copy your messaging. They can copy your product, they can even try to steal your channel partners. But what they can't do is steal your customer success and the voice of what your customers have to say.
I'd love to hear some more of your perspective on what is really going to help a company thrive when it comes to customer engagement when you're thinking about that entire sales ecosystem. One of our customers has an actual person in the organization whose job is to be the voice of the customer. He is in every meeting that has to do with a product or any services, so they constantly remember the customer's in the room. What other advice do you have?
I commend that company that has the voice of the customer role because that's just so important and not enough companies actually do that. And if it doesn't come out of the customer's mouth, it's just an educated guess, right? In too many companies they're just making educated guesses as to what's really on the customer's mind. The more you can have your customers sharing their experiences and speaking up for you, the better you're going to be able to persuade people to buy. But one of the biggest questions I get is well, my customers don't want to participate, or they're not allowed to. It takes way too long for them to get PR approval. And so, that's a real challenge.
When it comes to capturing stories, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I have is to don't ask for your clients for endorsements recommendations or testimonials. And this might sound counterintuitive because this is what we as marketers have always done. We get all giddy when we get a quote from a customer that says, "A.B.C. Company rocks. I recommend them to everybody looking for a UFO widget,” right? I've gotten all giddy when I've gotten quotes like that and I've said "Let's put this on our website, let's up this in our sales presentations." And CEOs love it too. But those types of quotes don't really help buyers. I say don't ask for endorsements, recommendations or testimonials because for many reasons. One is generally there's not much in it for customers to give you an endorsement and oftentimes their hands are tied, they're not allowed to give endorsements. And if they do, sometimes they have to go through rounds of PR approval before you can use them. Whereas instead, I say ask your customers to share their experiences, advice, and knowledge.
This is very different. This is what I did at Forrester in my customer voice program. I would ask customers to share “What advice do you have for other marketers?” because they were selling to CMOs who are looking to get the most value out of working with a research firm. Or “Tell me about some of the major initiatives that you've done better with the help of the Forrester analysts.” Questions like that, people love. Your customers love to talk. They want to be heard, they love to give advice, they want to look smart, and they want to show how much knowledge they have.
You want their experiences and advice because in the end, that's what's really going to help a buyer. If a buyer is worried about whether they're going to get executive-level support for their initiative, they're going to care more about the advice that other customers of yours have about how they got executive-level support.
Just some advice for people working with the channel. You know, there's a lot of benefit in companies that have a channel to think about how you can generate customer proof that your channel can use as well as how you can enable your channel partners to develop their proof as well. And do it in a way that they can bring together both short customer stories that pertain to the vendor and their product and reliability and service and things like that. As well as some stories and customer feedback and advice that pertains to the reseller's value add, and then the service that they provide and the ongoing training or the implementation support because you've got to remember that to the buyer, they're buying a single solution.
The fact that the service and implementation and training might be coming from afar and the technology and maintenance might be coming from the vendor, they don't really care. To them it's all one solution. They want that one experience to be unified, and so they want to hear proof that relates to the whole solution.
Jay McBain, Global Advisor at Channel Mechanics, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss shadow channels and the shift from IT buying power, verticalization (or hyperfocused vectorization), the future of the channel and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Welcome to The Allbound Podcast, I am Jen Spencer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Allbound. And today, I'm joined by Jay McBain who co-founded the company ChannelEyes, currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of the CompTIA Vendor Advisory Council and Managed Services Community. He is a Board member of the Channel Vanguard Council, the Ziff Davis Leadership Council, and CRN Channel Intelligence Council. In short, this man knows channel. Welcome, Jay.
Jay: Thanks, Jen, really appreciate it. Glad to be here.
Jen: Absolutely. Well, it's good to have you. And especially, really wanting to get caught up with you and what's going on in your world and I'm sure our listeners are also really interested about five months ago, you took on a free agent status. You said, "Okay, I'm leaving ChannelEyes," which was the channel tech startup that you helped co-found. So catch us up, what's had your attention the last year or so?
Jay: Yeah, absolutely. I had spent the last while at ChannelEyes as CEO and they're working on some really interesting stuff around predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. And I think in the next three to five years, most of us in the channel will be using computers to help us do our daily tasks...help us with our daily tasks and get us to the finish line faster. And I think now that the company transitions to a CEO that can better position the company with some of the leading CRM players in the market like Salesforce and Microsoft. And who knows, further down the road, to really make something happen.
Jen: Great, great. So what are you focused on right now as a channel professional in your world?
Jay: That's a great question and I was at CompTIA last week and probably answered the question at least 100 times so...
Jen: I'm sure. I'm sure.
Jay: One of the answers is I spent almost 20 years working at IBM and Lenovo in different channel roles including channel chief roles. And they were always Americas based, either North America or full Americas, and I never really got a lot of exposure to Europe and Australia and Asia-Pacific. And what I've decided to do in the last five months is work closely. I've been to Australia and going back again working with a very large telco there, I’m working with this great company in Ireland which is where I'm sitting right now in Ireland. The company is called Channel Mechanics and they've really looked at the channel management space and they've done some really innovative things. So looking internationally but also looking obviously to work with some very interesting challenges, which I'm sure we'll touch on on this podcast.
Jen: Great. So let's, dig in to some of that. I’ve followed a lot of what you've been writing about specifically around channel, something that you previously called out, is that a large number of channel programs that tend to get stuck in the exact same place. And you wield it down to two key conclusions. So one, that some vendors will simply win because their product wins. And then two, that other vendors will win because they know how to influence the channel. So I'd like to know, what do you mean by that?
Jay: Yeah, this is one of my kind of personal passions and I think it started when I read the book "Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. He's got this great chapter early on in the book. I think it's chapter 2, about Paul Revere. What a great connector Paul Revere was in 1776 and why that won the day more so than riding a horse through all these towns, and why the other person who left on horseback that night wasn't successful. And this idea of influencers or connectors and super connectors, when I moved to the United States from Canada in 2009, I looked at the market and looked at the millions of people that participate in the channel and I didn't have 15 years to catch up to the relationships that I had in Canada at the time. So I kind of boiled it down and said, "What is this influence and how would you measure it?" And in 2009, I generated a list of the top 100 most influential people in the global channel and I did it again, actually, about 4 months ago on my blog. And seven or eight years had passed and it's interesting to see people have changed positions and everything else. But it's a very analytical numeric way of assigning scores for people's influence.
And just to give a quick synopsis is back in 2009, I figured out that there are 16 magazines that channel people read. There's 150 trade shows globally that channel people go to. There's thousands of vendors. There's dozens of distributors. There's bloggers, thought-leaders, associations, analysts. When you look around this web of influencing sites, what people read, where they go, and who they follow, it's across different mediums but they're all available. So I took and read every magazine. I wrote down every name of everyone in the magazines. I went to most of the trade shows in my first year and took note of who the keynote speakers, and the advisory council, and the board members, and all the key people at these events. I did the same for peer groups. I did the same for the associations and analysts. And as I came around, I came to about 1,000 names. But what was more important to me is how visible they were across multiple different communities.
In our channel, it's so wide and diverse. But more importantly, it's decentralized. Channel partners don't have the time to go and read 12 magazines. So they tend to focus on one community and at most, maybe two to get their information to reinforce their expertise and to really peer network. And we look at these organizations, there's about 30 of them in North America that they're a part of. And I was really looking at how many people influenced in more of these 30 communities. And really, for me, reach was more important than maybe... that's all I could find out on Google. I couldn't find out how important they were in each community but I could definitely measure their reach.
And so, I just added this really simple spreadsheet, and I just started adding check marks beside each name every time I saw them more than once. And after 1,000 names and thousands and thousands of check marks, I just sorted by whoever had the most check marks. And interestingly enough, in 2009, Larry Walsh, who was long time CRN editor, kind of patriarch of the channel, but he ranked number one and I didn't know who Larry Walsh was but I knew I had to go meet him.
And then, all the way down the list I wanted to meet. And as I met probably 20 to 30 of the top 100 people, the other 70 came rushing to me. Not because I was important but because they sensed that I was doing this and talking to these important people and maybe I was important. But to a connector, they don't want to be left in the dark. So it's really important to them to know what's going on and to be able to kind of stay on the inside of things. So it was kind of really fascinating and over the last seven or eight years, I've written a lot and I've studied the level of influence that people have in the channel and there's a direct correlation between people having a high influence and carrying their company to great new heights.
Jen: I think that holds true, regardless of what sort of industry or what segment of the market you're in, especially from that leadership perspective. I think it's also interesting, we talk to a lot of folks who are not your traditional type of channel organization, not your traditional enterprise IT company. Maybe they're a small or more mid-market size organization, software company, ready to kind of build a channel. A lot of folks are looking at an agency-based program. Upcoming on a future podcast episode, I'm going to be interviewing Pete Caputa from HubSpot who's now at Databox and has assured us that he's building the agency partner program to end all partner programs.
And so when I think about influence, I think about an individual like that. So would you say that this concept of influencing the channel is just as strong in the evolution of where channel is going? Is it even more important than ever? I mean, what is your take on it because looking at 2017 compared to 2008, not that much time has gone by but there's been a lot of change in that time period?
Jay: Well, there absolutely has, and some of the things I wrote about later last year, I call them shadow channels. But I've got this personal belief that your average vendor, their channel program is going to grow by at least 5X in the next three or four years. And the reason really goes back to the customer buy-in journey. And people at HubSpot know this very, very well but over the last 10 years, 90% of all IT decisions 10 years ago were made in the IT department. Makes sense, CIO. And today, it's flipped completely where 72% of all decisions are made outside of the IT department. It's now the VP of sales and marketing, operations, and finance, and HR, and all the way down the line that are making big technology decisions that are business decisions. And what's happening to traditional vendors is sometimes they're not in the room. Well, most cases, they're not in the room. When a VP of marketing like yourself is making a technology decision, a lot of times you don't have the person who's fixing your printer in the room.
Jen: Wait, wait, hold on. Jay, I'm the person who fixes the printer here, so should it be someone else fixing...
Jay: That's right. Startup life, you know.
Jen: Startup life. Yeah, I know, I’m sorry, I had to insert that. I had to insert that. But no, no, I agree with you 100% what you're saying, right? So I buy technology all the time and we do have someone here who's responsible for overseeing all technology and he has a zero influence on what I choose to buy to run our sales and marketing team.
Jay: Right. And so, in the sense of if you put yourself under traditional vendor's space and you're trying to install traditional hardware, like you're selling software or other services, and now you need to get in front of Jen Spencer and, you know, who are you using to influence you. You might have somebody from HubSpot or Marketo in the room. You probably have somebody from your industry in the room that's a tech expert on your industry. In some cases, this could be accountants. They could be legal firms. They could be digital agencies. In your case, it might be a digital agency in the room. You could also have other ISVs in the room that play in ecosystems like a Marketo or HubSpot or Pardot or whichever one you play in. They're going to be in there because they know how to drive more leads for a company specifically like yours. You may have a startup in the room that's built with piece of technology and you're going to be one of their early customers so they want to make sure it succeeds.
But you look at the five people in the room and it's not the printer person. It's not the person that installed your phones. So in other words, it's not the IT department. And so, if you're a traditional vendor spending all your time trying to recruit MSPs and solution providers and VARs from days gone by, guess what? You just missed out of a technology decision because your influence isn't in the room when it was made.
Jay: Now put yourself in the shoes of...let's talk VP of marketing and let's talk ambulatory care...healthcare clinic, midsized, 50 doctors, in the Northeast U.S. And in the room with that VP of marketing, again, it's probably that person from Marketo, HubSpot, Pardot, whatever it is, Eloqua, probably somebody that is an expert in healthcare driving leads for midsized clinics who's had success in the past, with five other clinics of the same size and scope. But these five people are different five people than what the IT department would have in the room. And so, you're not talking about routers and PCs, and you're not talking about, traditional licensing and everything else. You're talking about driving more leads or you're talking about a marketing problem.
And to be relevant, vendors either a) need to train their current channels to be valuable to the VP of marketing in the clinic, which is less likely to happen. It's more likely that they then have to go and recruit and nurture these five other types of partners, and you call them alliances. You can call them whatever you want but the incentive is different, the way you manage them and measure them is different. The entire relationship is different. But the point is, there's so many more rooms that you have to be influencing now that your channel program is just invariably going to grow.
Jen: So, you call these “shadow channels”, and when I think about like shadow marketing, shadow IT, usually, it's a very negative connotation to it. There's work going on that's outside of your viewpoint, that is in most cases negatively-impacting whatever the core function is. But what you just described doesn't sound negative, right? So are these shadow channels, is this the future? Is this a good thing for these organizations?
Jay: Yeah, well, there’s good and bad. And depending on the audience that I talk to, is which one I'll start with. The good news is businesspeople are now making business decisions around technology. All companies are becoming technology companies and all other professional organizations and industry, association, everything else, are becoming technology-based just because that's the way world works. All 27 industries now are pretty much 27 tech industries depending on agriculture, fisheries, or whatever they do. You know, that's become such a big role. So, the world has changed.
And the reason it was called shadow IT or rogue IT is back in the day, where 10%, and then it became 20%, and then 30% of decisions are made by these people who have no idea what's going on with technology and they don't understand security and they don't understand backups and disaster recovery and they're not of the adult in the room which, you know, the CIO or IT department would claim to be. And so they were rogue, they need to be stumped.
Well, the fact of the matter...and these are Gardener numbers, by the way, 72% of all the decisions today are now made outside of IT, so it's no longer rogue or shadow. It is literally the new normal. And the prediction by 2020 is that 90% of all decisions will be made outside of IT. So in 10 years, there's been pretty much a 180-degree turn in terms of where the decisions are made. And this isn't changing. And businesspeople are making business technology decisions and that's the way the world should work. It's been a big boom for SaaS companies. And it's been pretty hard for technology companies and hardware companies, specifically, because they're trying to still find their place in these conversations when these decisions are being made outside of their normal feasibility.
Jen: It makes perfect sense and it's a good opportunity for consultants, for people like yourself to let you go in and really help some of those organizations along this evolution of the way that channel and selling today, tech buyers today has definitely changed.
I want to ask you now about another topic that you've written about, that you spoke about. You talked about channel vectors or vectorization. And you said that verticalization is being replaced by hyperfocused vectorization. So I'm hoping perhaps you can clarify what you mean by that. And then, I want to explore, what today's executive needs to consider as he or she is scooping out plans to grow through channel over the next 5 years, because there are a lot of these organizations that maybe they've hit $10 million in annual recurring revenue and they're looking at, "How do we get to $100?" And they're looking at channel as a way to do that. So what do they need to know from this new vectorization perspective?
Jay: Yeah, it's another example of me making up a word and then all of a sudden...
Jen: I love it.
Jay: It's really good for Google SEO if you actually make up your own word. It's actually pretty cheap, first of all. But all kidding aside, let's go back to the healthcare VP marketing in a midsized clinic. And you're looking at the 5 people in the room and 10 years ago, for an IT provider, it was okay to say, "Hey, I got to move from being a generalist to a specialist." "Well, what are you going to do?" "Hey, well, I'm going to specialize in healthcare." "Well, that's fantastic." So what they do is they go out and read HIPAA and HITECH, and, they get a couple people certified, and they can talk their way out of a paper bag when it comes to patient records and compliancy and even some legal. But again, the world in this journey has changed things for them.
So if you're that VP of marketing at a midsized clinic and you have somebody in your office that says, "Hey, I know a lot about healthcare." You're like, "Well, that's great. That's one of the vectors. What would be even better is if you knew not only healthcare but midsized clinics, so the sub-industry. The fact that you put in a solution for a 500-doctor firm probably doesn't have a ton of relevance to me because I don't have those resources.
So that's another thing. The fact that you installed in Colorado may not be as relevant as it is in New York because of the different statewide bureaucracy and everything else. I mean, there's just that 50 different systems in 50 different states.
So if you start asking these questions, there's actually five vectors. And as a VP of marketing in a midsized clinic, you're not going to ever get that perfect person who has all five. "Listen, I've just done the last five clinics exactly your size, just down the street. I've just done your competitors. They're the guinea pigs. I know exactly what to do. Here's my price. I can get started right away." That would be perfect. That doesn't work.
So all you only end up doing is, "If somebody knows healthcare that's better than not knowing healthcare." I put that in quotes, air quotes. But that's one vector. So, flipping it aside, "I want somebody who knows my business. I want somebody who's been successful in my sub-industry. I want to know somebody who's been successful in marketing. I don't care if you put in an accounting app, or I don't care if you put in an IT solution. I need the drive leads. I need you to be focused on my line of business. I need you to be focused on my sub-industry. I need you to focus on my region." So these are the types of things that you push back on. And if you can get two or three out of five, it's much better than just getting that generalist in the room who might have one out of five, or none out of five.
Jen: I think that's such a good kind of point to make and maybe even to end on here, because we've talked about how the channel is no longer just a channel. It's no longer just kind of a one-way street or even a two-way street. I mean it is a complete ecosystem. The story you just spun about healthcare IT, about being able to plug in to Salesforce to really put that on steroids to make it work for somebody to do their business, I mean that is absolutely our present and our future of the way that sales ecosystems are growing. And organizations that embrace it, organizations like Salesforce, organizations like Microsoft, that embrace that type of channel environment are reaping the rewards of it, the benefits of that in addition to their partners as well. So I love it. I'm glad you invented the word vectorization. I'll have to start using it.
Jay: Great to participate. I've actually wanted to do this since you started. But one of the key things is you asked me to look forward five years.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely.
Jay: Vendors need to look at the toolset that they're using. And many of the tools that they're currently managing the current triangle of gold and silver and bronze partners they have the same program they built 20 years ago, they need to refresh their tools. If they're going to grow their channel by 5X, they need to seriously look at a tool like GoalBot, take collaboration to a completely different level. They need to look at a tool like Channel Mechanics. They need to look at new, fresh thinking around how to do this because if you try to force-fit your old ecosystem, your old infrastructure into this new world, it's going to be very, very difficult. And many vendors are now realizing that and looking for those right SaaS companies and others to plug together, to kind of manage these new channels, measure these new channels and set these new channels. And in the end grow with these new channels.
Jen: Absolutely. I mean, it's that old saying that, "What got you to where you are today may not be what's going to get you to where you want to go tomorrow." And so, I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment. Thank you so much. I'm not going to let you go just yet, though, Jay. So since you said you listened to the podcast, you've been excited about being on it, then I'm going to ask you some other questions. So you already know this is coming.
Jay: I know it.
Jen: Okay. All right. So, yeah. Well, I'd like to ask some more personal questions just so we can kind of shake things up and get to know a little bit more about you as a person. So first question I want to start with is what's your favorite city?
Jay: Oh, that's a good one. I have traveled to 27 countries now. All of that spent on vacation, one of the blogs I write is "Rollerblades and Red Bull," the idea is to get to every country in the world. Right now, it would be tough to say the absolute but I would say Prague.
Jen: Prague, awesome. I haven't been there but I've heard amazing things about it. So I heard it's a really beautiful city.
Jay: Very, very difficult to rollerblade in, by the way.
Jen: Okay, I won't try that, at least not the first time I go. Okay. Question number two, are you an animal lover? Yes or no?
Jay: Yes, we have...we just actually...we had two dogs and one cat. And they were all 13 or 14 years old and we lost them all within 6 months. But, we're kind of in that mode now. We've got two young daughters as well I've got two daughters in college. But we're thinking about the family pets now and looking at different breeds so very excited to rescue some new pets.
Jen: Oh, good. Well, you have to keep us posted. We love pets at Allbound. Our pets have an Instagram account called "Allbound Critters." So when you do have a new pet join your family, you have to let me know so I can give you guys a shout-out there.
Jay: Will do.
Jen: Okay, next question for you, Mac or PC?
Jay: Well, being a 20-year IBM and Lenovo guy, the answer's going to shock you, I'm 95% Apple. So from iPhones to Watch to the laptop I'm on right now, everything, except for real work, is on an Apple. When I talked about analyzing the thousands of people that run this industry and running all these AI and macros and heavy, heavy lifting, I have one super-powered, liquid-cooled, top-end gaming machine at home that I do serious work on. But everything else is Apple.
Jen: Everything else is Apple. All right. All right. There you go. And last question. Let's say I was able to offer you an all-expenses paid trip, where would it be to?
Jay: That's a good question. So back to visiting every country in the world, the next, probably Middle Africa.
Jen: Oh, what interests you about Middle Africa?
Jay: A) that I haven't been there.
Jen: Okay, yeah.
Jay: I've been to most regions... You know, when I see the weather report that has 50 or 60 cities, most of them...well, almost of them I've been to. So now, I'm in the mode of, "I've got to go to dangerous places now." You can't go to the Middle East. A lot of Africa is off-limits. But it gets much harder to travel once you've knocked off the easy ones. Now you've got to start knocking off ones that have government warnings, or can add a little bit of risk. So that's what entices me about going to Middle Africa and maybe at Uganda, or Kenya, and help build schools or do something good for the world.
Jen: Sounds wonderful. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for joining me, for sharing some of your time with us, especially calling in from Ireland where I know it's late at night. If any of our listeners would like to reach out to you personally, what's the best way for them to connect with you? If folks want to talk about going to Kenya with you, or they want to talk about fixing their channel, how should they reach you?
Jay: Absolutely. My website, my blog that most of what we've talked about today, is jaymcbain.com. It's jaymcbain.com. There is at least 50 ways on there that you can contact me through every social and my cellphone and everything else. If you just want to hit me with a quick tweet. It's the letter "J" mcbain, M-C-B-A-I-N, so jmcbain. Hit me there and we can go from there.
Jen: Perfect. Well, thanks again, Jay. Thanks, everyone else, for tuning in, and catch us next week for an all-new episode of The Allbound Podcast.
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Kyle Burnett, Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of Allbound, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss the birth and growth of the partner portal, navigating channel tech, integrations, SaaS partner programs and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Hi everybody. Welcome to The Allbound Podcast. I'm Jen Spencer, Vice President of Sales and Marketing here at Allbound. And if you're a regular listener of the podcast, you know I don't typically sound quite this froggy. I'm getting over a cold, I actually sound way worse than I feel. And I'm actually in a pretty great mood, and one of the reasons why is today's guest is none other than Allbound's own Chief Technology Officer and co-founder, Kyle Burnett. Welcome, Kyle.
Kyle: Hi Jen. I think your voice sounds awesome and after this, we're going to karaoke because I think you've probably got a pretty good voice for it right now.
Jen: Oh my gosh, I think if I do that I'll have no voice at all in the coming weeks. After this podcast, I think I'm going to go on a vocal rest. Is that what artists call it? Vocal rest? So this is going to be super fun. Typically on the podcast, we have folks in sales or marketing and always with a channeled focus, of course. But I want to add your voice to the mix because there's a pretty big role that technology plays in the channel. And, also I think you're pretty awesome.
Kyle: Well, thank you. Yeah, I think it's gonna be a fun topic, too, because technology in every sector of business is kind of at the forefront. It's hard to turn on news and not see stories about technology, technology companies, what they're doing, what's trending. And what I do love about your podcast is you're a great resource and support for sales and marketing people because it's not the headlines that you see every day. Technology winds up being the focus. So it'd be kind of fun to swing this back around a little bit and see if we can really focus on the cross section of those two.
Jen: Absolutely. So let's just dive right in. I want to start with a Channel Partner word that I honestly kind of have a love/hate relationship with. It's the word "portal" or "partner portal," and I can explain a little bit later on why I have this love/hate relationship with it. But Kyle, can you put on your professor hat for us here and kinda walk us through the birth and the growth of the partner portal? Because every person who I have on the podcast, almost all of them...they either have or want to have or talk begrudgingly about their partner portal.
Kyle: I'm sure. Yeah, I'm kind of like the wiki on that, and I think that sometimes the word's so loaded and we can take pieces of it and maybe think about it positively or negatively. But I think if you just back up the story and where the portal came from, it's really no different than every other portal that exists on the internet.
You know, pre-internet, how did you communicate with partners, with business partners? You printed and mailed things to them, newsletters, for example. And you had to print and mail other collateral and information that you needed them to have - data sheets, board papers, case studies - whatever you needed your partners to have, and that was print and mail.
Pretty soon that turned into digital files that are online, so instead of sending a newsletter you can email a newsletter. Instead of sending files, you can email files or links to files. And pretty soon you start aggregating that into one location online into, well, a portal.
And now you can actually switch and have that be more of an on-demand scenario where partners can come and get it when they need it. And it pretty much just follows the history of the internet in general, having information that you wanted to share and how do you just get it all congregated, aggregated to one location so that it's there on-demand, and that's kind of where the portal came from and actually where it just ends to where it exists today.
And I think to hone in on the love/hate piece of this, what we don't like about where portals exist today is that still implies that it was the portal that came in 1997 when the internet started to really take off. It feels like it got left in time, vs. software, which is ever evolving, changing, and growing. And I think that's kind of where Allbound sits is right there, and where a lot of companies, you know, what they're looking to in the channels to try to figure out how to actually use technology and how to actually use software and they still call it a portal. And so we look at that and we want to address that and say, "Wait, are you thinking the portal? Or are you actually just thinking software?" But that's where it came from and it's, to some degree, better or worse, where it still largely sits today.
Jen: So, when I think about why I have this weird feeling about partner portals is, I love the idea that organizations are investing in making a resource, allocating a resource for their partners, and providing their partners with the location to go to to be able to access information, I love that. What I hate is that I feel like portals are this place where marketing collateral kind of goes to die.
And the other thing is I don't think I've ever talked to anybody who says, "Oh my gosh. We have the best partner portal ever. It's amazing. I love it." It's like, not to follow this house or room theme too much, but it's like this room. And there's all this furniture in this room and artwork, and none of it really goes together, but it's all there. Is it better to just to have the room? Would it be better not to have it at all? And so, that's where my conflict, I think, comes into play.
Kyle: Well, maybe there's a bunch of gothy millennials who have moved into the channel now and they really like this idea, and they like the idea that there's this really dark portal that's like a cemetery of marketing content and so they just want to hang out there and smoke some cloves. Maybe we're onto something. Maybe we should keep going with the portal because it'll become trendy and cool again.
But you're right, it is that feeling that it is a wasteland. And to some degree, it's kind of true. It's like you put content up there, you make it accessible to somebody. And that's great. The first time they go get it, they pull it up, they're like, "Awesome, great. This served this need that I have right now." But it does become very transactional. And it kind of lives and dies by the need of the transaction. And it doesn't really take on any other life form of its own. It just sits there, it just waits. And that serves its purpose, but that is, in scale and in scope, a very limited purpose and that's painful for the business-minded marketers, such as yourself, that actually want to invest your precious resources in something that's got a bigger, longer, more valuable life span than just transactions.
Jen: And there's this other piece about it that kind of leads me into the next question I want to ask you about, and it has to do with technology. And I want to ask you about integration. But before I do that... So, the other way that portals are used, besides just to hold content, right, it's almost like a place to go to then access other systems.
So maybe I go into the portal and then I can access a lead or deal registration system, or then I can access a marketing campaign type of system. And I start thinking about from the user experience perspective, like how do you make sure that you're able to maintain a consistent user experience? Or are you leading someone through this portal and they're, like, literally going through this magical kind of realm and then they end up in this other system? And how can they cleanly get back to where they started? And I think that's one of the other challenges that I've seen come into play besides just the content piece.
Kyle: Yeah, it's like they need a treasure chest map, a crayon to help work their way through it. But when we invest in technology, especially in the channel largely for two reasons. I think the other challenge is that the channel leaders are looking to bring systems together and perhaps portal is kind of this place where they start to think, "Well, I've got a portal. Can I also add this there? Can I also add that there?"
But if you simplify it, back up to, like, two commonalities there, one is, they are looking to simplify process. And they're also looking to speed up and simplify their own lives and that of the lives of their partners. And so, once they move beyond, "I've got content," and things to share with them, they do start to say, "Well, I also have this process. I've got this."
So it starts to balloon out from there and it's tricky. I mean, as a person who likes to build systems and tie systems together, I know that it's very easy to engage in that scope creep and engage in that idea creep to go, "Well, just one more thing, just one more thing, just one more thing," but that is how most people's portals and systems were built, was just one more thing over a couple of years, over a couple of different regimes, over a couple of different technologies. And pretty soon you do have, as you've alluded to, that house of horrors and rooms and things tied together and no one even remembers why they got added on and why that was put there. It just becomes very weird when the guest shows up and is not quite sure how to navigate it. So it can definitely become legacy very quickly. And those challenges exist, but that was born out of great intentions, and that was born out of great promise and it was born out of great opportunity, but it does need to be revisited. It can have a very limited lifespan if you're not careful.
Jen: So, when you're working with a customer and you'll come into the conversation because there are systems that need to communicate with each other, at their core, what are some of those challenges? You mentioned aligning different processes. Let's lay it out there. Like, what are those processes that the majority of channel teams are looking to overcome by integrating their systems?
Kyle: That's a good question. So, what I think is consultants...what you always like to do is focus on the business objectives. You really try to back the story up and say, "All right. So how is your business? What's the state of your business? What's the size of your business? What are your objectives to help grow that business? What are your metrics where you gauge?" You are trying to back that up to the investment they're looking to make and the resources that they need to accomplish their job and then what would they use to measure success, what constitutes success.
Well, the ROI of business technology using channel is pretty much about simplification of process and maximizing of their limited resources. So that's definitely a commonality. And the problems that kind of prevent you really trying to help focus on simplifying that is that they have lots of systems, they're disconnected, there's too many features. In the channel it's really easy to say, "I also need this, I also need this, I also need this." So if your feature list gets really long, that's a challenge that channel chiefs face.
Then, because there's the waft of technology kind of takes together those repetitive feature sets or competitive feature sets, then you get different technical stakeholders of each of those systems, and you've got all of this that you're trying to maximize and make the most out of with budget constraints. And that's quite a challenge. And it's a lot of a challenge for somebody to face who, inside of their own channel, has kind of their own core values in what they do and what they bring to the channel. And it's probably not navigating all of those problems to achieve this technical outcome when really they're like, "I'm here to lead people and lead teams towards business objectives, not figure how to get this system to talk to that system and get past the people who own those things."
So that's quite a challenge. And that's actually a fun one. What I really enjoy and what my team really enjoys as technical consultants is working with smart marketers and smart business people to analyze what they've got, and just sit down and draw it out, and draw up the process, and draw up the flow, and keep focusing on kind of their core business objectives and their metrics for success, and really focusing in on the ROI that they need off of their investment. And that ROI more often than not, is simplified down in terms of that it takes less resources to accomplish the processes that they need to show that what they're spending then works.
Jen: I know when you're integrating systems, you're typically integrating with an organization's CRM. What is the typical use case that you're looking at? What type of data are organizations needing to move from one place to the other? So, what's kind of standard? And then maybe can you share something really cool that either you've seen someone do or that you're anxious to see someone do? That would be kind of neat to hear.
Kyle: Sure. I think that really what the channel's trying to accomplish is the same thing that direct sales is trying to accomplish. And sometimes we lose track of that. We lose focus of that because of the disconnect, because instead of my sales people being right across the aisle, and instead of us all being in the same break room, we're in different locations. Well, big organizations have lots of sales teams working across cities, across countries even. So it's actually not all that widely different, except that technology hasn't really kept up with that style of relationship. So CRMs haven't kept up with that.
The cost of growing through your channel, doesn't align with the way that you can scale a CRM with your business. They figured out the CRM price point based off businesses scaling, and the market teams to be okay with that. That doesn't carry over to the channel. And so I think what winds up happening is the channel is kind of stuck there needing, essentially, a lot of the same CRMish functionality, specifically since they're sharing leads and registering deals back and forth and co-selling with partners. Whether that happens on one side or the other, leads being referred in for the supplier to be working through to a successful sale, and then just kind of reporting back to the partner where it is, or asking them out, letting the partner work and report it back in. Either way, they just need this collaborative effort going and sharing of information along the way of "Where is this? How is it going? How can I help?" CRMs haven't really helped with that when you're having people outside of your organization performing those activities with you.
So largely, what channel teams that we work with need is, they need the ability to collaborate with their partners on prospects from gathering them, to educating them, getting them up to speed, moving them along through the process, converting them to customers and then supporting them after they become customers, and keeping that relationship alive with all three of those parties involved. And that's what they're trying to solve for with a handful of different systems, and not necessarily the resources in house, not necessarily the descriptions that they needed the technology to help with that, and possibly not with the technical resources they need.
So that's what we see. And when we get to come in and help with that, it is to help them understand what it is that they've got now with tools they could be using now and how they could augment that tool set and fill in some of those gaps and really leverage a handful of different technologies to accomplish what they've got, some of those technologies they already have, and maybe some of them they have and don't even need. It's a fun discovery process. But you process-flow that out with them and it really helps them wrap their head around this data that's moving between systems and between organizations that is largely invisible otherwise.
Jen: And I threw two questions at once, which is annoying, so kind of the second part of that was just if you have any kind of anecdote, like anything really nifty, like a really cool example of something that you're seeing folks do with integration or what you'd like to see someone do?
Kyle: Oh yeah. So I guess there's kind of a positive and negative I'd throw at that, which is that technology, where it sits today and where integration sits today, gives all of us this idea that it can all be done. I think we were visiting a client here recently and they were talking about their technology being "not Hollywood-ready." So they have opted to focus on selling into businesses because businesses understand what the reality is of technology right now, vs. the rest of us who go watch a film and just think that Iron Man could build his suit very quickly over the weekend to be ready for the aliens coming in.
So we have this expectation that everything is horribly complex and really terrible and really important and all of these, like, superlatives, all of these really strong words, but then can also be really accomplished very simply and just, "I'll get this system and talk to that system and do that," so there's a lot of magic inside of there that should just happen. So I think the work implies that the best thing is when they have this realistic understanding that anything is possible, but also understanding what you really need to be doing and focusing on that.
The things that I really love is when we see simplicity, something as simple as tying together your marketing automation system - and I won't use the word portal - and tying in your channel software that you may not even need to necessarily have APIs talking to APIs and moving a ton of data back and forth, because there just may be simple stuff that you can do with existing tracking technology that your marketing automation system already does. Like, if you can track all of your leads and see that they're visiting a page of your website, why can't you track your partners and your partner's leads using the same existing technology? This is already there. It's been proven out. It works really well when you have really smart, skilled marketers using that technology. That can permeate through your partner software and through your partner relationships and actually give you all of those great data points that you use in direct sales, you can use it in your partnerships and your indirect sales as well.
And so I get super geeked by working with teams to tie some of this stuff together and find these really elegant, simple solutions that accomplish what you need with what you already have. It doesn't mean you have to reinvent the wheel. It doesn't mean you have to invest in new R and D. It doesn't mean to buy more software. Sometimes there's just really, really simple answers, and you feel really good about it when you stumble upon those working with your customers.
Jen: It's such a good message about simplicity, and technology's so funny because most of us have these pretty powerful tools at our disposal, and yet, because they are powerful and they're complex in their nature, we can very easily overcomplicate them.
And, I'm just kind of laughing in my head because one of my team members was working on a project, and it was taking her like a lot longer than I anticipated it was going to take her. But then when I checked in with her on it, I looked at what she had been doing and she had overcomplicated it for herself like times five, there was a much simpler path from A to B than she had taken, because the technology was so great, because the technology was awesome. But she missed it, and I saw how very, very easy it is for even sophisticated sales and marketing and channel professionals to follow down that path and start overcomplicating a system that's already kind of there and alive and working for them.
Kyle: Yeah, we talked a lot about giving people too much rope. I think that's probably an analogy you use when raising kids. You're like, "Give them too much freedom and what's gonna happen?" So it's kind of the same thing, that just because you can add more features and just because you can do more stuff doesn't necessarily mean that you should.
I think the flip side is a really interesting scenario is watching what Apple's doing. And I'm not a fanboy, so when I say this, this is with a ton of objective respect. I love that they're hitting delete on things. I love that they're removing items, that they're removing stuff. That simplicity is hard. I mean, can you imagine that have to happen within that organization to convince everybody that it's a good idea to keep deleting ports on the machine and keep throwing stuff away? And yet, they keep selling, they're selling strong, new things keep going, innovation keeps happening and people keep going with it, and come to find out, you didn't necessarily need it after all. You could get away with less. That's hard. I mean, they're in a fortunate place to be a market leader and be able to drive that, and that's hard for a lot of people kind of in their daily lives to be able to sell that, I think because aren't we kinda bred to be with the idea that more is better?
Kyle: Everything about us is about "consumption of more," you know? And I'm not trying to get down that little societal rabbit hole, but we think that way. We think, "Oh, well, like, let me go look at a chart and line up this software and look at features. Well, they have more check boxes on the left, so it must be better." But really? I mean, can you make use of all of that?
I think that's one of the challenges that the channel faces is the idea that they've been told for so long that they need more. You can't even make use of more. You can't make use of most of those things that are fullest. It’s the same reason why Apple can delete all these extra ports, because most people weren't using them or didn't need them anyways. And it kinda goes the same with feature sets on software, feature sets on need. I've got this little joke around here that my ideal keyboard would have half of your keyboard with a big delete button and then there's just a couple of letters on the other side. I don't even need uppercase letters. I don't even want the shift key. It's known around here. It's like, if someone says, "I deleted something." I just like cheer and hand them some stock. "Here you go."
Jen: Oh, I think we'll have a Kyle keyboard in your future. I can see it.
Kyle: Yeah, and I'm not some minimalist. Don't get me wrong. I'm not some minimalist, right? You know me, Jen. I've got too many cars and projects and objectives and things I'm trying to do in life. I keep on top of working. I have no business doing all of that. So I'm definitely guilty as the rest of them of acquisition of things and the features and ideas. I throw out ideas, I use our prospect pages in Allbound and I'm like, "Dang it, I really need this other feature," and I go into our Slack group to talk about it and the thing jumps on me right away, it's a bit quiet.
So, I'm as guilty as the rest of them. It's most definitely a decided practice that you engage in over time to question what do you really need to really focus and really accomplish what you want? And the focus to grow applies from top-down, and it applies to every aspect of business, and less is a really, really beautiful thing.
And so it totally geeks me when I get to work with clients and we get to focus in on some of that, of removing extra needs and removing things that may have seemed like a good idea but actually, in the end, wind up just being something else to own, extra baggage, extra weight, extra responsibility that doesn't really generate value.
Jen: I was about to say, "I have one more question for you," and I'm looking at my question that I wrote down for myself and there's multiple question marks in that question, so I guess it's more than one question. But one more area I want to cover, it's specifically about SaaS companies, because there are a lot of SaaS comp
Annette Iafrate, VP of Alliances and Partners for Vidyard, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss channel alignment, building trust, defining rules of engagement and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Jen: Oh, it's so great to have you on. And for those of you listening who haven't experienced Vidyard yet, Vidyard is a video platform and they provide video hosting, enablement and some pretty awesome analytics. I know you joined the Vidyard team only about six months ago, but you've been negotiating partnerships at Constant Contact, you were helping drive partner revenue at SharpSpring. I mean, you've been connected to this concept of the partner channel for the last six years. And I really wanted to dive into a lot of that channel experience but before we do that, tell us a little bit about Vidyard, about Vidyard's value proposition so we get a sense of why you joined this team.
Annette: Sure, great. Appreciate it. I think the short answer is Vidyard helps companies drive more revenue through the strategic use of video. So, what does that mean? At the moment, the video economy is driving new expectations. Expectations around immediacy, transparency, authenticity, both in the workplace and the marketplace. So, video is now expected content and the statistics are actually staggering. Facebook gets 8 billion views per day for video, 8 billion. Isn't that amazing? But I think what's even more impressive is in B2B technology, 72% of B2B purchasers today are viewing video somewhere in their customer journey, and 50% of them are looking at at least 30 minutes of video. So, for those companies and leaders that want to keep up with the market, if they're not already doing video, they really need to embrace this new communication paradigm, and quickly. And for specific reasons, because it works. What we're seeing is, by having a video appear in your search results, you get 41% higher click-through rates. I think even more impressive is, if you have a video on your landing page or your website and your driving people there, you get an 80% increase in conversion and all of this with a 20% lower cost for leads. So, it's an opportunity that people should be leveraging right now, whether it's from the C-suite, through management, down to the front lines. Video is a very powerful tool, whether it's for communicating with customers, building brand awareness, encouraging employee advocacy or just in general, engaging with the market. And what Vidyard does is we help companies harness this power of video and use it to drive business growth, which is why I'm so excited about joining the team.
Jen: Wonderful. It sounds like you're pretty passionate about the use of video and I love it. I mean, when you're passionate about what you do and about what your organization does, it doesn't feel like work and it's exciting.
Annette: Absolutely, and it's just so powerful. You can see the impact on everyone's business, your own business, the channel business, as well as the end user business, so it's fun having that impact.
Jen: So, when you're looking at, really, the big picture of goals that Vidyard has, just looking at the next year, maybe even the next five years, what role will Vidyard's Alliances and Partner program actually play in helping achieve those goals? Because, Vidyard's a really rapidly growing organization. You guys are taking the the martech world by storm here. Where's channel going to come in this picture?
Annette: Right. Significant. Because the market's growing so quickly and because the company is growing quickly, you really need to prepare to start to leverage channels in order to scale the business. The market is growing, the market's massive. And at some point, you can only scale the direct model so quickly. The other reason is, in some cases, channels are really the best way to get to specific markets. So, there's a significant opportunity and I give the company a lot of credit in investing in channels early. Some companies I think wait a bit too long, because it does take some investment and some time to really ramp up a channel, as you've seen. You know, the recruitment, the alignment, the ramping. And so, in addition to that, the channels themselves just help accelerate the growth of the company. They extend the reach, give us access to more customers and prospects, whether it's through strategic alliances and their base, or market coverage, whether it's coverage of additional use cases, market segments and even geos. So there's a significant opportunity in the explosion of the market itself, and we've started primarily in the marketing and sales segments in use cases, but video goes across. It goes across industries, across market segments, their use cases including things like internal communications and support. So, trying to build a business that can attack all of those at once without leveraging channels is difficult. And as I mentioned, in some markets, particularly geo markets, the preferred mechanism for purchasing is actually through partners. If you're looking at iXAPACK or even LATAM and, to some extent, EMEA, customers prefer working with a trusted advisor that tends to be a partner. So, there's a significant role for the channels to play and, again, there's a variety of roles to be leveraged.