Being tasked with building a partner program can be a daunting task; you need to determine your partner strategy, and figure out how to get scrappy with the limited resources that you have, all while building internal bridges with your new colleagues. Coupled with economically tumultuous times where proving value as quickly as possible is a necessity for fledgling partnerships programs, knowing which steps to take first is crucial.
Will Taylor, now the Head of Partnerships at the partnerships media company PartnerHacker, knows what it’s like to be responsible for building a partnerships program or motion from scratch. In June 2020, he was hired by video hosting and analytics software Vidyard as their first-ever partner enablement manager. After just six months in his role, Taylor increased Vidyard’s agency partner retention by 70%, increased the number of agency partners by 75%, and doubled the agency program revenue. His four-step partner enablement process resulted in the partner program bringing in the same amount of revenue as the Vidyard sales team with only one-third of the headcount.
After his time at Vidyard, Taylor was the first and only partnerships hire at sales automation and engagement software company Mailshake. At the same time, Taylor was hired to start the partnerships program, Mailshake hired an outbound sales team. In eight months, Taylor had brought in more revenue than the outbound team, despite him being a team of one versus their team of five. Both were net new functions and the partnerships team achieved 135% of partner sourced revenue quota for Q1 2022 while the outbound team produced $0 in closed-won revenue. This proved to the company that partnerships was more effective than outbound sales.
So how did Taylor manage to make such a big impact, two times over, as a one-man team? He says there are three steps folks looking to build a partner program and drive results quickly should prioritize:
Step #1: Build internal champions
As anyone who’s been the new kid in school can tell you, cementing positive relationships early on can help ensure you’re not the only person without a lab partner (or in this case, help get the support you need to execute partnerships motions). Building internal bridges and turning your colleagues into partnerships champions expands the people power behind your partnerships motions, without needing to hire any extra headcount.
“Any team that I approached when I needed [help with a partnerships motion] prioritized it. That’s extremely powerful, especially as a one-person team. If I go to sales and they have ten people, I now have the power of 10 people on my side,” he shared. “As a partner person, that is a very common pain. So finding an internal champion is step number one because regardless of anything else that you do, you are going to need resources from them down the line.”
First, make sure the rest of the company knows who you are. As Taylor notes, the human-to-human connection is important; partnerships are about relationships and that starts internally.
Taylor recommends recording a video and sharing it with the rest of the company to personalize yourself to them. Be sure to include:
- A little bit of background on you and your interests. Make it fun! Include your favorite partnership (peanut butter and jelly, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George R. R. Martin and not finishing a book series), and ask your new colleagues to drop theirs in the comments.
- A quick primer on partnerships. If you are building from the ground up, there is a chance folks don’t know what partnerships are. (Our Partner Playbook is a good source for this)
Then, book intro meetings with your company’s heads of departments and at least one person from each GTM department (typically sales, marketing, and customer success).
“What you need to do to build internal champions is you need to understand what that person cares about, what the number they need to hit is, and what they are responsible for? You should really actually get to know the people,” Taylor says. “You don’t need to learn about all the details about their life, but you should be personal and develop a genuine relationship with them.”
Your meeting agenda should include:
- Figuring out what their existing understanding of partnerships is. “Ask them about how they have engaged with partnerships in the past,” Taylor recommends. “And from there, you can understand the gaps within the organization’s knowledge and what you can educate them on.
- Learning they care about personally and how it impacts their day-to-day. The more you can connect partnerships to something they truly care about, the better. “You should really actually get to know the people,” Taylor says. “If you know that a salesperson is trying to buy a house then you could say, ‘Well, salesperson, I would love to help you hit your numbers so you can buy that house.’ And if you can align the programs that you run to really making that person successful, then they will be your champion forever.”
- Defining professional responsibilities (such as KPIs). “Learn what they are held accountable for. You need to be able to say, ‘Hey, I need something, and here is the path from you dedicating your time to the resulting effect it will have on your KPIs.’ If that path is not clear, then they won’t take action.”
- Sharing stats that prove the impact partnerships have on business. End your meeting by (hopefully) blowing their mind with the impact that partnerships can have. We’ve done the heavy lifting for you with this list of every stat we have that proves the value of partnerships.
Build and maintain these relationships early on, Taylor says, and you will have a much easier time down the road.
Step #2: Work from the customer backward to create ideal partner profiles
Taylor recommends creating ideal partner profiles for each of your target partner groups based on the value they bring to customers, not your company. “I’m specifically calling out the customer value first in this exercise, and then determine the partner’s value by their engagement with your company and that partner,” Taylor shared. “So how do they actually derive value? From there, you can articulate how your company gains value.”
Taylor says to do this by bucketing the different types of partners that you will be targeting (tech, channel, and strategic partners). Then, write down all of the different ways your customer would gain unique, partnerships-specific value in an interaction with you and that specific type of partner. For example, what kinds of integrations via tech partners would solve a prominent pain point for your customers?
Then, find partners that can help your customers reach that value with the least amount of friction.
Partner profiles are important because they
- Facilitate an important perspective shift from KPIs to the unique value partnerships bring to a customer. KPIs can be changed around and adjusted; the needs of your customers are much more permanent. “If your thinking starts with your company, you’re probably always going to approach building your program in terms of establishing pipeline or revenue KPIs. If you work from the customer to your company, your focus becomes the different way that partnerships can provide value to the customer,” Taylor shared. Base your KPIs off of customer value, not the other way around.
- Give you a standardized method for prioritizing new partners (something that is crucial when you’re trying to make the most of your time.) There are 87,000+ individual companies registered on Crossbeam’s database of partner programs, Partnerbase. That number is much too high to sift through in its entirety, especially for a partner professional looking to score quick wins while building a program from the ground up. Partner profiles narrow down your search criteria.
- Create a reference to articulate exactly how a partnership can bring new value to your customers and a jumping point for building a strategy based on this value. Once you are in a partnership with a company, your ideal partner profile can serve as an anchor for the customer value points you want to be highlighting. “[Partner profiles] not only guide which partners you should tap into first but also which strategy may be the lowest friction as well. So that ideal partner profile will help with everything else that you do thereafter. Do the categorization and then work through the value chain from the client to you. And then you can start brainstorming what kinds of programs would highlight these value adds and resonate with these kinds of customers.”
Step #3: Play to the strengths of your company
Getting quick wins can be a great way to show value and give you the grounds to ask for additional resources or headcount that can then be used to hit more long-term, resource-intensive goals.
To do this, Taylor suggests playing to your company’s strengths. Is your marketing team renowned for its webinars? Tap into those existing templated slide decks and virtual event platform resources. Bribe a member of the marketing team with a fancy coffee to help you with the prepwork. Use your marketing team’s contact list to advertise your event. By tapping into a workflow that already works, you increase the likelihood that your webinar is a success.
This might seem counterintuitive; shouldn’t you want partnerships to provide value where it’s needed most (i.e., the weaker parts of your company strategy)?
Long-term, yes. But in order to get the resources you need to fill those gaps, you need to prove that partnerships do, in fact, drive value and are worth investing in.
Partnerships are also a two-way street. Bringing new value that your company is lacking via partners requires those partners to want to work with you. Showing partners (and potential partners) that they should invest their time and resources into your partnership is crucial when building a partner program.
“[By playing to our strengths],I was able to grab quick wins because I knew what are we already doing, what were we strong at, and what I could offer to partners. And I got partners in the door very easily through understanding what our power and give was,” Taylor shared. “Because we knew these strengths and because I could action these strengths, I could gather internal resources to help push these actions forward and I had that initial traction with the partners. This resulted in a quicker time to understanding the levers to pull and quicker time to new pipeline, and quicker deals to close.”
Taylor recommends asking:
- What kinds of resources and existing motions are at your disposal to offer new partners? This is what Taylor calls “your give”. Does your company have marketing resources that could support co-marketing initiatives? Do you have access to a software engineering team that could shoulder the lift of building an integration?
- What are the current programs that are going on at your company? Bringing partners on to piggyback off of company initiatives can be a great way to offer value to potential partners while also tapping into existing momentum.
- Is your company a sales, product, or marketing lead organization? “When I was going through this process, the company that I was at was marketing lead,” Taylor says. “So that informed the strategy of which partners should I reach out to and what kind of programs should we run. I looked for partners that were best at running events, doing blog posts, and so on.”
Each step that Taylor lays out plays an important role in generating quick partnerships wins and each plays off of the other two. Without strong internal connections, tapping into your company’s existing strengths will be a challenge. Why would your engineers prioritize working on an integration if they don’t already have an understanding of the value it will bring? Creating an ideal partner profile is great, but if you don’t have something of value to offer those partners in return, they will most likely not want to move forward with you.
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