When building your partner program, there can be an endless amount of tasks you could be doing, initiatives you want to undertake, and hires you want to make. Before you can tackle this to-do list, you’ll need the buy-in for resources and headcount. So how do you grow your ecosystem and prove its impact in as short of an amount of time as possible to get the buy-in you need?
Those looking for lessons on how to quickly build and scale a partner program could look to the partner program at Oyster, a global HR software company. Oyster Partner Lead Bruno Guerra Cunha has built a partner program with more than 100 partners and nine team members. Additionally, partner-influenced revenue makes up six percent of total company revenue. The kicker? He did this all in a little over a year.
Before Guerra Cunha, there was no Oyster partner program. In fact, it was Guerra Cunha’s belief in the growth of remote work and its pending importance to the HR tech space that led him to pitch the program to Oyster leadership. “It was very exciting for me to understand that there was like a new market coming up for Oyster,” he shared.
Guerra Cunha’s belief in the future of remote work was the underpinning of his pitch to build a partnership program at Oyster. He had been working remotely since 2018 and was confident remote work was going to become a norm, a hypothesis that was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because of his experience working remotely, Guerra Cunha knew what kinds of support digital nomads would need: easy online payroll management, good video conferencing software, relocation assistance, etc. As a partnerships professional, this gave Guerra Cunha the foresight to see the value in partnerships for companies focused on providing a solution for any one of the needs of remote workers. By partnering up with complementary products and services, companies such as Oyster could offer more complete solutions for digital nomads through co-selling, referrals, and integrations.
“And so I just reached out with a plan and said, “Hey, you should build a partnerships function.’”
Guerra Cunha gave us an inside look at his pitch for partnerships as a function that got him hired and kicked off the partnership program at Oyster.
Then, he proceeded in phases, focusing on a new goal during each. As he told us, this method of proving the worth of partnerships step-by-step helped Guerra Cunha get continued buy-in as he met each goal and was able to use that documented growth to advocate for more resources and headcount. Those phases were:
Pitching partnerships as a function
Because there was no program in existence at that point, Guerra Cunha’s pitch laid out:
- The “why”: articulating why Oyster should consider building a partner program.
- Proposed partners and partner profiles that would serve as a starting point for the program.
- Examples of some potential co-marketing motions, revenue sharing, costs, and timelines for his suggested partnerships.
When he pitched the idea of building a partner program to Oyster, Guerra Cunha started with the “why”:
Initial target partnerships & example partner motions
After establishing the “why” behind building a partner program, Guerra Cunha gave the “how” of his plan. He outlined criteria for targeting potential strategic and tech partners: “Strategic partnerships [would] focus on companies that are betting on the future of work. And then [tech partnerships would] focus on companies that are complementary services to Oyster in that process.”
He proposed starting with strategic partners. As he told us, he believed getting some “big hitters” into the Oyster partnership ecosystem would help legitimize the partner program, making it easier to bring in more partners down the road.
To articulate this vision to Oyster team leaders, Guerra Cunha found two established companies that he believed to be respected in the remote-work space. Then, he shared what partnering with them would look like, going into detail on:
- Co-marketing efforts
- Revenue sharing
- Partner performance management, estimated costs, and timeline
- Success, and measurement
By including example pitches of partnerships, Guerra Cunha painted a strong picture of how partnerships between companies focused on remote work enablement would look like in practice.
For example, Guerra Cunha’s included a pitch for partnering with Whereby, a video conferencing platform. As you can see in the pitch, Guerra Cunha clearly lays out the workflows, revenue sharing models, performance management, costs, and timeline he would execute, should he get the approval to do so.
This example is taken directly from Guerra Cunha’s pitch document:
This is an opportunity to start a series of three Webinars hosted in Whereby with senior leaders from both companies and with guests (potential customers of both Oyster and Whereby) about the “Future of Remote Work”.
- Topic One: Diversifying your remote team (Both Oyster and Whereby are great enablers of diversity)
- Topic Two: How to build culture on a remote team
- Topic Three: Remote work Q&A ([ Oyster and Whereby] ask followers for questions and open the floor [for questions] during the webinar)
30% discount on both platforms with a promo code that is given during the webinar (This way [Oyster and Whereby could] tease on our social media that we have a surprise for the attendees).
Partner performance management, estimated costs, and timeline
Again, not a lot of costs are needed to run this campaign.
- One webinar per week (Three weeks total)
- Social media outreach from both companies via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
- One email for each webinar per company (With the surprise tease – discount)
- Upload webinars to youtube and repurpose them for future Marketing campaigns (Each company should share at least three cool snippets from the webinars)
- Success and measurement
- Collect the reach of each social media post and email (Push for a number – 25% increase on social media channels traffic, for example)
- Share the webinar attendee list with the sales team
- Track how many companies used the discount
- Get Oyster’s sales team to use one month of Whereby to during prospect calls
- Whereby to try one month of Oyster with employees and contractors
In addition to the two “big hitter” examples, Guerra Cunha included a list of 53 potential partners that he would target in his first three months building the partnership program. Like Oyster, these partners all offered products that supported a remote future of work.
When building this list, Guerra Cunha focused on identifying top tech companies and startups in each category of remote-work tech (some examples: payroll services, insurance for digital nomads, recruitment apps). His goal? “I wanted to have a top player in each of our target categories partner with Oyster.”
While simple, this strategy helped Guerra Cunha get hyper-specific with his proposed partner acquisition. The clarity showed that
- He was aligned with the Oyster vision to invest in the post-COVID future of work and would find partners who shared that vision.
- He was not going to waste his time or Oyster’s resources chasing down partners that weren’t aligned with this strategy.
- He had already given them something of value: an ideal partner profile and a list of partners to start with.
The pitch resonated. Within a matter of days, Guerra Cunha was brought on as the Partnerships Lead at Oyster.
Zero to three months
Goal: Grow the Oyster partnership ecosystem by partnering with at least 50% of partners on the acquisition list.
Partner team headcount: one
Once in his new role, Guerra Cunha had three months to start proving that his proposed partnership approach could work. This meant partnering with at least 50% of his proposed partner acquisition list. Because his list was full of top players in the remote-work space, Guerra Cunha knew that partnering with them would help position Oyster as a big player and bring in more partners down the line (spoiler: it worked).
He also sat down with Oyster leadership to determine gaps in the Oyster product offerings that could be closed through the ecosystem:
While it might be appealing to busy partnership professionals to draft a template intro email and send it to their entire list of prospective partners, Guerra Cunha instead reached out to prospective partners to account map with them to vet the partnership. “Our competitors were doing a kind of one-size-fits-all approach,” he told us. As he explained, this can be especially tempting in a tech space that’s relatively new but quickly becoming more crowded. There’s a natural impulse to act quickly, even if that means taking less time upfront on the screening process.
By using Crossbeam to account map with prospective partners, Guerra Cunha identified a smaller number from his list that had high customer overlap. This freed up his schedule to spend a little more time getting to know the partner prospects, specifically to see whether or not they were already working with Oyster’s competitors. “We’re looking at a relationship that’s going to last five to ten years,” he shared. “We want to make sure we have a relationship with a partner that is not just sending leads to us, sending leads to our competitors, or doing a webinar with us in one month.”
According to Guerra Cunha, a partner’s dedication to forming a strong, long-term strategic partnership with Oyster was the most important criteria he was looking for. In some cases, this meant choosing to partner with lesser-known companies over bigger names.
“We always leave the door open and are very transparent about our partnering process,” he shared.
Guerra Cunha also used his connections with venture capital (VC) organizations and their interest in investing in Oyster to bring them on as partners. “[I thought] can we actually partner with these VCs and bring our solution to their portfolio? And so this is something that I started after three months there and was hugely successful,” he told us. “[If a company connected to a VC] found an amazing VP candidate, but she doesn’t want to move to the country, they start to ask, ‘How can we do this?’ And then the VC could say ‘actually you can use Oyster.’ And this all started bringing a lot of new revenue for us.”
As a result of his efforts, Guerra Cunha met his goal of signing partnership agreements with at least 50% of partners on his acquisition list.
Three to six months
Goal: start building a pipeline of partner-influenced revenue
Partner team headcount: two
Proving how quickly he could grow Oyster’s partner ecosystem meant that Guerra Cunha was given more resources to put towards the program. “At the end of three months, I had the buy-in from the company to go all-in on partnerships,” he shared. This included hiring a second partnership team member to start building integrations with new tech partners.
New resources also came with a new KPI: partner-influenced revenue. In addition to adding new partners to the ecosystem, Guerra Cunha needed to start bringing in customer referrals and building integrations with partners.
“One of the things that I did at the time was to ask our sales team, ‘Hey, what other products services do our prospects ask during the sales process?’ and I went after them,” Guerra Cunha shared with us. He approached those companies and started by offering to refer them to Oyster customers. “[I would say] hey, we have customers who are also wanting your service. Is there someone I can give this referral to?” According to Guerra Cunha, offering up referrals with no articulated expectation of anything in return signaled to partners that Oyster would be a good partner. Most referrals, he told us, were quickly reciprocated.
“We quickly started bringing in a lot of sizable opportunities,” he told us. According to Guerra Cunha, the close rate of partner-influenced leads was higher than the other channels and partnership-influenced revenue reached six percent of total revenue within four months. “It’s because we took the time to build a relationship. We took the time to build materials [for the partner’s sales team].”
Here are the materials Guerra Cunha provided to partners:
An elevator pitch
Giving a partner a short but compelling pitch on what your company can bring to customers makes sure that your product is being correctly represented during an initial pitch.
Oyster’s elevator pitch that is given to all partners:
Oyster is a distributed talent management platform that is rapidly revolutionizing the way companies access the global talent market. With Oyster companies can hire employees compliantly around the world both as full-time employees and contractors.
Including your company’s backstory can help arm your partners with important contextual information relating to your product. It also helps build the story of your company, a crucial part of any future “better together” messaging that might happen.
Oyster’s backstory that is given to all partners:
Since the pandemic, the world witnessed a historic shift in how we work. In reality, however, this shift has been happening long before Covid-19. Thanks to the significant leaps made in the digitization of the workspace in recent years, working from anywhere quickly became a reality for many people. In anticipation of this inevitable shift, Tony Jamous and (CEO) and Jack Mardack (Co-Founder) sought to provide an opportunity for companies to hire otherwise untapped talent from around the globe in a seamless manner.
What we did not predict, however, was how rapid this shift would come along as a result of the pandemic. Since then, we realized just how important our mission was, and how much there is to do!
Consider this: an estimated 1.5 billion knowledge workers are coming into the workforce in the next 10 years, mostly from emerging economies, while in developed economies there are some 90 million jobs unfilled. This is where Oyster comes into play.
A longer value proposition and mission statement
While an elevator pitch is great for initial pitches and a quick conversation to gauge interest, longer value propositions, and mission statements help to close the deal. Mission statements also communicate the kind of company you are and what drives your decisions.
Oyster’s value prop pitch that is given to all partners:
Oyster enables companies to hire employees compliantly around the world both as full-time employees and as contractors.
This allows you to grow your organization using the Oyster Infrastructure, look after your remote employees leveraging the platform’s benefits offering, and make your remote workforce your most productive asset.
Oyster’s mission statement that is given to all partners:
The mission is simple: Close the geographic gap between great job opportunities and talented individuals. We as a society simply cannot afford to return to old employment dynamics, where businesses must either source talent from a local and more expensive talent pool or pay high costs to hire internationally.
With Oyster, jobs can continue to be evenly distributed across the globe resulting in a reduced burden on over-crowded cities, an increase in sustainability and quality of life, and a positive environmental impact.
Start hiring today!
A target customer persona
Make it as easy as possible for partners to know when to connect you with a customer by giving them a target customer persona.
Example: Ideally, between 50 – 1000 employees, with big hiring plans (fresh funding is a good indicator, for example) and already with distributed talent (does not need to be fully remote).
- People Ops
- HR Managers
- Finance Managers
- CEOs / exec teams
These assets live on a templated page in Notion, the knowledge management tool. When a new partner is onboarded, that page is copied and shared with that partner. Oyster logos for co-marketing purposes are also included on the Notion page:
Six months to a year
Goal: Build partner marketing motions.
Partner team headcount: six
With the pipeline of partner-influenced revenue steadily growing, Guerra Cunha turned his attention to strengthening partner marketing flows.
As he explained to us, the next step after expanding the Oyster partner ecosystem was ensuring the co-marketing motions were solid for his signed partners. Guerra Cunha knew that the more partner marketing support his team could offer, the more partner-influenced revenue they would bring in. He also knew that strong partner marketing would attract new partners who wanted to boost their own customer reach through the Oyster channels.
Guerra Cunha took the approach of trying out the many co-marketing motions he had initially proposed in his pitch to see what stuck. “We started to do partner marketing-related activities such as webinars, case studies, blog posts, newsletter announcements, and partner spotlights to see how much they influenced brand awareness, referrals, and all of that,” he told us.
He hired a partner marketer to take the lead and quickly saw results. “[The marketing person] was able to pick up [our partner relationships], actually be on regular calls with them, figure out [co-marketing] goals for the partnership, and just advocate internally to do marketing activities.”
As a result, the Oyster partnership team began to promote partners out publicly, increasing the visibility of their growing ecosystem and promoting “better together” messaging simultaneously.
Take, for example, this blog post that highlights six new Oyster partners:
“At Oyster, we believe that everyone should have the best job in the world, no matter where they’re located. To help us on our mission, we partner with companies that help teams optimize for distributed work.
This month, we’ve added some exciting new companies to our partner ecosystem including Lingo Live, Ben, Hibob, Juno, Lundi, and relocate. Along with the Oyster platform, these partners help empower Oyster users by managing local legal compliance, payroll, benefits, and other HR needs across the more than 90 countries we serve. (And did we mention all of these companies offer discounts to Oyster customers?)
Learn more about each of our new partners below.”
The blog then goes on to briefly highlight each of the partners and make a recommendation for the kinds of companies that the product would work for. For example, here is an excerpt covering Oyster partner and benefits platform Ben:
This easy co-marketing motion
- Highlights the new and expanded offerings of the Oyster ecosystem.
- Gets Ben in front of the Oyster audience and vice versa should the Ben partnerships team share the post to their socials.
According to Guerra Cunha, there was an increase in interested potential partners once the Oyster team strengthened its partner marketing workflows. So much so that he hired three more partnership professionals onto the team to keep up with expanded demand.
A year onward
Partner team headcount: nine
The Oyster partnership program is continuing to expand both in partners and partner team members. Their partner ecosystem has hit 100+ partners. The partner team headcount is at nine and will have grown slightly by the end of 2023. The current team is made up of:
- Interim Head of Partnerships
- Partnerships Lead
- 2 Partnerships Managers, AMER
- 2 Partner Marketing Managers
- Product Partnerships Manager
- Partnerships Program Manager
- Head of Sales and Partnerships
- The Oyster partnership team is also hiring:
- Partnerships Manager, EMEA
- Partnerships Manager, Business Services
- Team Lead, Partnerships AMER
- Partnerships Manager, Startup Program
Now, Guerra Cunha is looking to strengthen his team’s workflows while also tackling some new projects. Some future goals include:
- Creating an Oyster co-marketing playbook for each onboarded partner.
- Launching an Oyster in-app partnerships page
- Strengthening the referral cadence with Oyster partners.
Take a page out of the Oyster book and begin building your own co-marketing playbook. Get inspiration from your peers and industry leaders at Supernode, a partnership conference this May 17 and 18. Get tickets today: