You’re leading partnerships at a new company and you’re eager to start proving your value by signing up new partners and executing your co-marketing and co-selling playbook — but hold your horses, not so fast!
“You’re always either earning or burning that ‘relationship capital’ through your words, your work, and your follow through,” says Ashley Scorpio, Vice President of Partnerships at Hawke Media, a full service digital marketing agency.
When Scorpio first joined Hawke Media as the VP of Partnerships in January 2020, she spent her first quarter developing internal relationships and seeking input from the sales, marketing, client success, and services teams, before jumping right into external partnership motions.
Since then, Hawke Media…
- Increased partner-sourced revenue YoY by 12% in 2020
- Attributes approximately 40% of its revenue to partnerships
- Grew its partnership headcount from two roles in 2020 to eight in 2021
- Invested in Ecosystem Ops, adopting tools like Crossbeam, Dedicated.ai, PartnerHub, and PartnerPage to scale its partnership programs through repeatable processes and automation
- Added four new partner categories (agency, government, non-profit, venture/startup ecosystem) in addition to its existing platform, technology, and referral partner categories
We sat down with Scorpio to learn her tactics for gaining buy in and fostering alignment with her sales, marketing, client success, and services teams.
Tactic #1 – Set Up 1:1s With As Many Internal Stakeholders As Possible (Including Every Member of the Sales Team)
When Scorpio first joined Hawke Media, she scheduled monthly one-on-one meetings with each department head. She asked each leader about their:
- Focus areas and goals
- Perception of partnerships (based on previous experiences)
- Expectations for the partnerships team (What can the partnerships team do more or less of to make their life easier?)
- Thoughts about how partnerships can help their department grow
- Preferred technology and platform partners
- Interest in partnerships with other companies
Scorpio says these convos are not about having a, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back,” mentality. She says, “It’s more like ‘What can I do for you? I’m here to help. How can I support you? How can partnerships add to this initiative or help improve upon it?’ It’s also about getting buy in up front, saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re thinking about doing. What do you think about that? Do you have any objections, feedback, comments, or concerns?’”
Scorpio also focused extra attention on the sales team. She set up one-on-one meetings with every senior and junior seller on the team, asking questions like:
- What’s your professional background?
- What are your specializations?
- Which verticals are you selling into and which verticals are you most interested in?
- What types of clients are you most excited about?
- Who are the top technology and platform partners you currently work with?
- Which partners would you like us to work with?
- When is the best time to loop you in with a partner?
- What type of legwork or pre-qualification do you want the partnerships team to do before handing a lead to you?
Scorpio also used these one-on-one meetings to build rapport with each salesperson and understand how they work best. “We worked together to make sure it was clear to them how and when they’d hear from my team and I. An open dialogue was created so that they could see and be aware of what we could deliver for them and in what way,” she says.
Tactic #2 – Build Facetime with Your Sales Team by Attending and Participating in All Their Team Meetings
Scorpio attended all sales meetings, including the sales team’s daily standups. Initially, she was just a fly on the wall, observing discussions and listening to pipeline updates. But about three weeks in, Scorpio began actively contributing to those meetings. She offered advice and insights even if the particular circumstance wasn’t related to partnerships. For example, when she heard a rep was running into some objections from a prospect, she offered specific recommendations to help the rep respond to those objections and better uncover the prospect’s pain points.
“I shared a lot of different feedback, varying ideas, and things I’ve previously learned in sales trainings. I talked to them a lot about structuring their sales calls and having an upfront contract or agenda when they’re going into discovery calls with prospects,” says Scorpio.
Early on, Scorpio also offered to help the sales team build out their pipelines by tapping into Hawke Media’s partner ecosystem. She implemented a “buddy system” where she paired each sales rep with a partner’s rep (based on shared territories) so they can compare notes or make warm introductions into key accounts on each other’s behalf. Initially, Scorpio relied on manual account mapping to bridge those connections. Later on, her team ditched the spreadsheets and adopted Crossbeam’s partner ecosystem platform to map accounts with partners in real time.
“It’s really important the sales team views you as a valuable resource and lead generation channel. They should be excited to hear from partnerships and be able to identify the crucial part it plays in ensuring the future success for the business,” says Scorpio.
Scorpio would also ask the sales team which prospects they were targeting, and then comb through her LinkedIn network to see if she could broker warm introductions to stakeholders at those accounts. Initially this was done manually, eventually she adopted lead generation software Dedicated.ai, which was also rolled out to top referral partners.
Tactic #3 – Keep Your Sales Team Aware of Industry Trends and News
Whenever Scorpio found new brands that fit Hawke Media’s ideal customer profile, caught wind of new industry trends, or heard funding or product announcements related to a specific account, she’d pass the information to the relevant salesperson. She says, “Even if there wasn’t a partnership angle, I would message the appropriate person interested in that area and say, ‘Hey, you should reach out to this company.’ It’s important to collaborate and complement each other as ultimately our goals are the same: build a thriving business.’”
To keep up with the latest in digital marketing and retail, Scorpio…
- Set up Google Alerts
- Followed marketing and retail industry blogs
- Monitored Twitter for news and company announcements
- Joined 30+ Slack communities
- Subscribed to a boatload of industry-specific newsletters as well as all her partners’ newsletters, including:
- Lean Luxe
- Light Roast
- Morning Brew
- Retail Brew
- Marketing Brew
- The Female Quotient
- The Future Party
- The Indicator
- The Information
- The Lead
- Ecommerce Fuel
- Smart Marketer
- Marketplace Pulse
- Medium Daily Digest
- Retail Dive
- Forbes Retail
- Modern Retail
- The Goods by Vox
- The Moz Top 10
- The Hustle
- Retail Gets Real
- Future Commerce
- Convince & Convert
- Digital Commerce 360
- 6 Pages
- Partnerprograms.io Agency Partners Collective
Tactic #4 – Understand How Your Co-Marketing Ideas Jive With Your Marketing Team’s Priorities and Goals
Rather than planning co-marketing initiatives in a vacuum, Scorpio meets with the marketing team to discuss campaigns and determine what level of support the marketing team can provide. “I’d rather be aligned with the marketing team than at odds with them, because partnerships and marketing are both lead generation channels,” says Scorpio.
To build that alignment, Scorpio asks the marketing team questions like:
- What campaigns or initiatives are you planning, and how can I add partners into the mix?
- What are some opportunities for partners to support your planned campaigns?
- How can partners cross-promote those campaigns?
- If I have a partner that’s interested in a co-marketing campaign, what’s your bandwidth or capacity to support that? If you can’t support it, are you comfortable with the partnerships team going out and executing that co-marketing campaign on our own?
- What kind of timeline/lead time do you expect for a co-marketing campaign?
The partnerships team uses ClickUp forms to submit requests for marketing assets and collateral. “They get back to us based on their bandwidth and let us know how long each deliverable will take. There is a dedicated marketer for each type of marketing (content, lifecycle, social, paid media, events, etc.), so each respective person owns their domain on each campaign,” says Scorpio.
Now, the marketing team and the partnerships team have found the perfect balance for how they work together. The partnership team generates 20-30 monthly co-marketing initiatives, with the marketing team supporting about 60% of those initiatives.
Here are some examples of how the partnerships and marketing teams support each other:
- During the 2020 holidays, the marketing team helped the partnerships team create and launch a “Brand Care Package”, a virtual booklet with offers from Hawke Media’s partners to merchants.
(Hawke Media’s Brand Care Package from partners to merchants. Image courtesy of Hawke Media.)
- The partnerships team helped the marketing raise more than $120K in sponsorships from partners for eCommerce Week LA, Hawke Media’s annual eCommerce and marketing conference.
Scorpio and her team will regularly host virtual events, webinars, and podcasts with partners using minimal support from the marketing team, as well. Below are some examples of co-marketing collateral from those initiatives.
(Co-marketing collateral from Hawke Media’s partnerships team. Image courtesy of Hawke Media.)
(Co-marketing collateral from Hawke Media’s partnerships team. Image courtesy of Hawke Media.)
Tactic #5 – Drill Into the Data (Early and Often) and Consistently Share It With Your Executive Team
Scorpio reviewed historical partnership reports, along with the information she gathered from each team, and started sussing out patterns in the data. “That’s when we started tagging and grouping partners into different categories. That then led to us thinking about other partner categories or partner types we should be working with and reaching out to,” she says.
Once Scorpio formulated her strategy for the program, she shared it with her internal teams for feedback and input. Scorpio says, “The more I could break [the data] down and get granular, the more I could show, ‘These are the areas we’re growing and this is where we’re going and why. This is the justification of why we want to try this vertical or this partner type or why we want to do more marketing to support those partners.’”
From there, she got to work growing Hawke Media’s existing partnerships and launching new partnerships in the government, agency, non-profit, and venture/startup categories. Scorpio was diligent about tracking and reporting each partnership activity on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.
- Leads from partners and by partner category (e.g. agency, technology, government, platform, non-profit, venture/startup, referral)
- The number of leads given to each business development executive at Hawke Media
- How many introductions Hawke Media received from partners
- How many opportunities those warm introductions resulted in
- How many opportunities resulted in won deals
- How much revenue partners were sourcing/influencing in total
- Revenue by partner (and by partner category)
- How many new partners joined Hawke Media’s partner program each month
- How many introductions Hawke Media is making for partners each month
Here are some examples of reports from Periscope:
(Report showing Leads per Month by Partner Group. Image courtesy of Hawke Media.)
(Report showing Monthly Revenue by Partner Group. Image courtesy of Hawke Media.)
Scorpio shares the link to each dashboard with the executive team on a monthly basis and includes a written analysis and overview. At the end of each quarter, Scorpio walks through a presentation deck outlining the partnership team’s progress and quarterly performance. At year end, Scorpio also aggregates all of her team’s activities and accomplishments and shares them with the executive team.
“Partnerships is a party. We want everyone to be having a good time. We want to be a value add for everyone and if it isn’t, then maybe we need to reassess either who our partners are or what we’re doing with them,” says Scorpio.