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Ecosystem Ops 101: 6 Ways to Drive Efficiency and Maximize the ROI of Your Partner Program

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You’re turning EQLs into MQLs into SQLs — and, no doubt about it, they’re generating partner-sourced revenue.

Your sales team is working in tandem with your partner’s sales team and bragging about it. They’re even asking you for more partners. Can it be? Do they love partnerships more than you? 

Your partners know how to sell your product and they’re exceeding your expectations. The opportunities are moving steadily through the pipeline. 

Ah, what (a partner manager’s) dreams are made of. Wait a second. This isn’t a dream at all. This is reality. This is Ecosystem Ops

Ecosystem Ops is a repeatable, sustainable set of practices for working with your partners and internal stakeholders and scaling your partnership program. 

You can optimize your organization’s Ecosystem Ops by investing in: 

  • Repeatable Workflows between your internal teams and external partners 
  • Tools for sourcing, vetting, planning, and tracking your partnerships 
  • Internal alignment and communication between teams (think: buy-in)
  • Internal training practices 
  • Partner enablement processes
  • Specialized internal partnership roles 

How Does Ecosystem Ops Factor Into Your Partnership Program Maturity? 

A mature partnerships program is one that has proven the value of partnerships with an ROI that outweighs the cost. It is the “flywheel” that demonstrably takes investment and turns it into a source of revenue. 

In many cases, a more mature partnership program leads to a bigger investment in your Ecosystem Ops. Alternatively, an investment in Ecosystem Ops can lead to a more mature partnership program. 

Here’s how you invest in Ecosystem Ops (and improve your partner program maturity).

1. Streamline Your Workflows 


Establish timelines and processes. 

Want to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) integration with your partner? A high-level, step-by-step workflow could look like: 

  1. Map accounts with your partner to discover how many joint customers you have and if any of their customers overlap with your prospects.
  2. Discuss what an ideal integration would look like with your partner.
  3. Consult your leadership and developer teams to understand the resources, time, and people required to develop the integration. 
  4. Determine which of your overlapping customers your team has the best relationship with, and gather feedback from those partners about the integration.
  5. Discuss a co-marketing timeline with your partner, including the deliverables and who’s responsible for what each month.
  6. Determine a schedule for evaluating the co-marketing campaign one month, two months, and three months after launch.
  7. Determine a date eight months into the partnership to plan the next year’s co-marketing strategy. 

Repeat, and iterate. The more you and your team go through this process, you’ll notice what you can automate and what you can templatize. This will enable you to complete this process faster and with more partners. This is Ecosystem Ops. 

2. Adopt Tools for Scaling

Maybe you started out with project management tool Trello, but as your projects became more complex you switched over to Wrike

The more your partnerships program grows, the more involved your marketing, sales, and, in some cases, your leadership team will need to be. Each team will have its own workflows, tools, and KPIs to prioritize. Things can get disjointed fast. 

You’ll need to consider tools like:

  • A partner ecosystem platform (PEP) like Crossbeam to map accounts with your partners securely, fast, and in real time. 
  • A partner relationship manager (PRM) like PartnerStack to help your channel and referral partners get the documentation they need when they need it. Online conferencing software like GoToMeeting for webinars
  • Events management platforms like Eventbrite
  • Project management tools for delineating responsibilities and tracking deliverables across departments 
  • Database platforms like Airtable to organize sales and partner enablement resources for your team 

Note: Many tools that partnership managers use are the same tools sales reps and marketers use, too. Makes a lot of sense considering 12% of partnership folks report into marketing and 48% report into sales, according to our 2021 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report

Consider these tools within your greater tech stack, like how PRM PartnerStack integrates with billing software Chargebee, PEP Crossbeam (hi!) integrates with customer relationship manager (CRM) Salesforce, or online conference software GoToWebinar integrates with email service provider (ESP) HubSpot

Integrations make the SaaS ecosystem go ‘round. 

3. Align Your Internal Teams (and Get Buy-In) 

Sales, marketing, product, developers, client services. They need to understand how partnerships affect their team’s KPIs and how you expect them to contribute to a given partnership. 

Start by communicating with your teams to explain the long-term results they’ll see. For example, your sales team will have more ecosystem qualified leads in their pipeline with a better rate of closing.

Be clear about what you expect of your sales team, too. Do you want your outbound sales team reaching out to your partner’s team directly? How often should they ask your partner for intros? What resources should they use?

For example, Amir Karmali, Director of Partner Relations at Marketcircle, uses a process called co-design to get buy-in from his team while educating them about the value of their ecosystem. 

4. Train Your Sales Team 

As advocates for your partners’ products, your sales team needs to learn a lot about your partner ecosystem

To keep your reps up to speed, you can invest in:

  • Partnerships training during onboarding 
  • Cheat sheets tying specific products with the challenges they solve 
  • A digital hub with solution-sell messaging, product descriptions, information on competing products 
  • A sales kickoff (SKO) presentation educating your team about your ecosystem 

Jake Wallace, Head of Strategic Partnerships at SignEasy, says they include integration-specific demos as part of their sales team’s two-week onboarding training. 

signeasy_google_workspace-crossbeam-1

Image courtesy of SignEasy

George Haenisch, VP of Alliances at Hero Digital, is developing a resource hub that includes deal forecasting. 


vet-your-partners-crossbeam-hero-digital-hub

Image courtesy of Hero Digital

Additionally, align relevant members of your internal team with your partner’s team (like through role-based partner pairing). Keep both parties accountable. 

5. Enable Your Partners 

Enable your partners to sell faster, to promote your products using the right resources, and to understand every use case of your shared integration. 

If your product has a high barrier for entry, invest in a learning management system (LMS). Setting up your certification program requires a heavy lift in the beginning but will result in much smaller lifts thereafter. 

Consult with your professional services team to develop courses that help your partners implement and provide analysis using your product. You’ll need to update your certification program as new products launch or with other product updates.

In some cases, your partner will receive a “badge” for each level they complete in the LMS. They can share that badge publicly on LinkedIn or their website to validate their expertise to potential customers. You’ll feel more confident entrusting your certified partners with your customers.

Create standard, easily customizable enablement materials to hand off to your partners. Include information about your product’s functionality, joint messaging, competitive advantages, and so on. Additionally, provide your partners with public-facing materials that they can easily hand off to potential customers. 

Consider hosting one-on-one partner training sessions and one-to-many webinars (like WP Engine and Alaniz Marketing’sHow to Build a Six-Figure Website Maintenance Program”).

6. Build Out Your Partnerships Team

Building out a specialized partnerships team makes it easier to invest in all of the above. Conversely, proving the value of the above can help you get buy-in to start hiring. So, start small. 

  • Vidyard grew its enablement team to scale and drive retention for its agency partners.
  • Adobe has a partner acceleration team to promote Adobe certification and drive ecosystem qualified leads. 
  • Greenlight Guru has partner account managers to provide one-to-one support to their partners. 
  • Twilio has a go-to-market operations role for streamlining their co-marketing strategy and deliverables.
  • Shopify has a VC partnerships role for one-to-one management of their venture capital partners. 

According to our 2021 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report, partner programs drive the most partner-sourced revenue per quarter starting at the 250+ employee mark, and EQLs balloon at the 100+ employee mark. Clearly these are inflection points in building a partner program, and a good time to adjust your thinking on Ecosystem Ops and team size.

crossbeam-state-of-partner-ecosystem-revenue-ecosystem-ops

How partner-sourced revenue starts trending upwards at the 100-employee mark. 
From Crossbeam’s 2021 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report

 

crossbeam-state-of-partner-ecosystem-leads-ecosystem-ops

How ecosystem qualified leads increase dramatically at the 100-employee mark.
From Crossbeam’s 2021 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report

Additionally, “The Rule of 99” states that the number of partners and partner-related employees a company has rises fast at the 100-employee mark (Note the growth spurt in the graph below). 

That’s a good thing, right? Only if you’ve invested in Ecosystem Ops. Otherwise, things tend to break. As your team and partner ecosystem grows, there’s more room for misalignment and inefficiencies. 

rule-of-99-crossbeam-ecosystem-opsHow partnership teams grow as total headcount grows.
From Crossbeam’s 2020 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report

Lay the foundation for Ecosystem Ops early. Then, as your company nears the 100-employee mark, test, adapt, and establish practices that match up with the changing needs of your team and partner program. These practices will be the glue that holds everything together.

Getting Started with Ecosystem Ops 

Invest in Ecosystem Ops early. You can start small with things like creating templates for partner marketing materials or outlining your go-to-market campaigns from the pre-launch phase (developing your press release and marketplace copy) to the reevaluation phase (planning the next year together). 

Show the results early and forecast growth. One of the best ways to maximize the results of your partnership is to invest in a PEP and PRM. 

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It can be easy to think that you don’t quite have a process nailed down, and thus cannot scale. There are too many variables in a partner program to ensure 100% predictability. Aim for 70% efficiency, put a process behind it, and move on.

Through Crossbeam, you can vet your partners and decide the best plan of action going forward (co-marketing, co-selling, and/or developing an integration). By mapping accounts in real time, you and your partner can determine how many overlaps you have between your prospects, opportunities, and customers throughout the duration of the partnership. 

You can also determine the partnership’s total addressable market (TAM).

vet-your-partners-crossbeam-TAMTAM with hypothetical partner Hextall & Co. from our Partner Playbook


Invest in the tools and processes that can lay the groundwork for your Ecosystem Ops and then scale

 

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