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Growing Your Partnerships Team? Here are 3 Skills You Should Look for in Your New Hires

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Getting the go-ahead to make your first hire is like getting an inheritance. Spend your new money without considering your future (I see you eyeing those Lambos), and you’ll wish you made a wiser investment. As a one person partnerships team, you might wish for a new hire that can take some of the existing responsibilities off your plate, but a more thoughtful approach to growing your team can help your partner ecosystem mature and scale.

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“Try and make sure you hire somebody who is filling a strong gap, not necessarily someone who is like you,” says Chris Messina, Vice President of Alliances and Partners at LeanData.
“Because then you’re going to get the same overlapping skill set, and you’re going to be trying to solve the same things from the same angles.”

Since Chris joined LeanData in January of 2020, he’s hired a four-person partnerships team that has extended the reach of the revenue operations platform’s now 28-partner ecosystem. Chris’s team also collaborates with a partner marketer who reports to the CMO.

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The LeanData partnerships team

Despite having a smaller partnerships team than 41% of partner programs (according to the 2022 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report), LeanData has:

As the above results show, tech ecosystem maturity doesn’t always have direct ties to team size. Play your cards right, and your small but mighty team can seem much bigger than it is in the eyes of your partners. (Take the tech ecosystem maturity diagnostic to understand your partner program’s strengths and where your partner program could improve.)

We’ve compiled three tips for growing your partnerships team with the bigger picture in mind: 

Tip #1: Hire Someone With Ecosystem Ops Skills 

A sign of a mature ecosystem? You have a repeatable, sustainable set of practices for working with internal and external stakeholders and for scaling your partnership program. If you don’t prioritize Ecosystem Ops, it’s a red flag for your potential partners. A lack of a process that prioritizes communication, collaboration, and tracking partner-influenced revenue can result in a lack of trust from your partners (and a lack of buy-in from your internal team).

The key to good Ecosystem Ops? Automation. 

In growing his partnerships team, Chris looked for someone with previous experience in Ecosystem Ops so his team could more easily co-sell with partners, track deals attributed to partners, and measure the business impact of their partner program. 

“Without [ops] it makes it really tough to track everything effectively,” says Chris. “It’s always hard to get the ops [team’s] attention when they’re so focused on sales, the CSM team, and [other] ops.”

For example: Chris looked for candidates who had experience managing Salesforce for the partner org and building Salesforce dashboards.

When hiring someone who specializes in a particular ecosystem, you can look for relevant keywords on your candidate’s LinkedIn profile or resume. Keywords may include:

  • Ecosystem Ops or Partner Ops
  • Salesforce, Salesforce reports, HubSpot
  • Partner Ecosystem Platform (PEP), Crossbeam, partner relationship management (PRM) (if relevant) 
  • And more — Look for the specific skills the role requires! 

Some questions you can ask to identify Ecosystem Ops skills during the hiring process: 

  • How have you used Salesforce or other CRMs to track partner-influenced and partner-sourced revenue? 
  • What kinds of dashboards have you built in Salesforce? How did you build them?
  • How did you support the sales and marketing teams using these dashboards?
  • What tools have you used to support the partnerships function?
  • Did you onboard any new software or processes in your previous role? What were some of the results you facilitated through the new workflow?
  • How have you contributed to monthly and quarterly business reviews? 
  • What enablement processes have you implemented for partners? And for the sales team?
  • Have you leveraged integrations and automation for any specific components of your workflow in the past? What would you like to automate in the future? 
  • Could you give an example of a strategy or process that you implemented that had a positive impact on the business? What did the before and after look like?
  • Have you contributed to the development and/or management of an integration marketplace? 
  • How have you attributed tech partners to revenue? How did the processes you implemented improve business metrics?
  • How did you contribute to customer satisfaction and retention?
  • How did you contribute to partner onboarding, partner satisfaction, and improving the partner journey?
  • What are some of the ways you uncovered insights and packaged them in a way that helped to inform other parts of the business? What tools did you use to uncover and filter down these insights? 

Another reason you should hire someone with Ecosystem Ops skills: the ability to direct your new partners to the exact stakeholders they’ll need to work with for specific activities. Provide your partner with each of your stakeholders’ names and their respective responsibilities, and you’ll not only make the partner journey more efficient but you’ll also show your team’s reliability as their partner throughout the partnership lifecycle.

Your partner: So, who on your team manages the ops side of things? 

Bad answer: We don’t have a process set in stone, but you can come to any of us, anytime. 

Good answer: Let me introduce you to Corey. She’s all about automation. 

#2: Hire Someone Who Knows the Ecosystem You’re Targeting

Your most strategic partners require more resources and a greater time investment from your team, especially if you’re learning about a massive ecosystem (think: Supernode) from scratch. 

For example: A core component of LeanData’s partner program involves building Salesforce-native products, so Chris sought a new hire with extensive experience working in the Salesforce ecosystem.

“[The Director of Partnerships (Salesforce)] navigated us to the ‘Summit’ tier, which is the top 1% of all Salesforce partners. And we’re by far the smallest organization in that tier,” says Chris.

During the hiring process, look for keywords on your candidates’ LinkedIn profiles or resumes that include your target ecosystem’s name and relevant activities. Ask your friends in the partnerships space who they’ve worked with in the past who knows the ecosystem you’re targeting. 

If you can’t recruit a new hire just yet, Chris suggests looking to consultants, like Mike Davis of GTM Guides, who may be experts in the ecosystems you’re targeting. 

“Find [a consultant] who knows [the ecosystem] really well and who can help you create a roadmap for how to advance. Trying to do that by yourself, that’s going to be your full-time job,” says Chris. 

Chris also suggests reaching out to the team at your target ecosystem to see if they know anyone who could be a good fit. This is the approach Chris took to hire his Director of Partnerships (Salesforce). 

Some questions you can ask to surface ecosystem knowledge during the hiring process: 

  • Could you tell me about your experience working with stakeholders in this ecosystem? 
  • Could you share an example of a particular integration that you led the scoping, validation, building, and GTM efforts for in this ecosystem?
  • Which stakeholders in this ecosystem have you worked with in the past?
  • What are some of the unique nuances to navigating this ecosystem?
  • How have you used this ecosystem to drive business in the past? What were the results?
  • Please share some of the pitfalls of leading activities with and for this ecosystem.
  • How would you go about navigating our company’s roadmap through this partner ecosystem, and what are the resources you would require to achieve your goals?
  • What has your process looked like for working cross-functionally with your internal product and development team to build integrations for this ecosystem? How did you prioritize particular integrations in the product roadmap? 

Tip: Approach hiring for this role by focusing on the candidate’s knowledge of the particular ecosystem and their relationship-building skills — not on the technical side. If you’re hiring your first tech partner manager, check out these 20+ interview questions.

#3: Hire Someone Who Knows Your PEP (or Wants To) 

The tools you use can expedite the growth of your partner ecosystem. When growing his team at LeanData, Chris looked for a candidate who had experience using a partner ecosystem platform (PEP) like Crossbeam.

“It’s something I asked about but didn’t make a requirement,” says Chris. “[Crossbeam’s] relatively simple, so it doesn’t require a ton of ramp time. The tool’s simplicity and ease of use is a positive because it means I can look for an effective skill set instead of worrying about whether or not someone’s used a particular piece of technology.”

Consider including your specific PEP, PRM, and customer relationship management (CRM) system in the responsibilities section of your job listing for the particular role.

For example: a job listing for a partner operations role at Lattice reads, “Become an expert on partnership-specific tools (Eg. PartnerStack & Crossbeam), helping to expose insights for the team”. 

If the candidate doesn’t have these skills, ask questions that will help you determine if they can adapt their skillset to learn the tools quickly and understand their value.

For example: your candidate should: 

  • Understand the value of account mapping for the partnerships function (e.g. how account mapping can help you identify the most promising partnerships and prove the potential value of the partnership to internal and external stakeholders). 
  • Have had experience with relationship-building and outreach to new partners for potential account mapping exercises. 
  • Have experience working cross-functionally with teams so that they can help your sales, customer success, and other teams facilitate next steps when a new overlap is found

Chris says using a PEP has helped his team work more effectively but that it’s just as important to track the success of the software. Again, this is where the Ecosystem Ops skills of his Director of Partnership (ISV & SI) come into play. Gathering metrics of success is only possible with the tools and processes that can help you scale.

“Make sure you understand what the software is doing for you so you can effectively continue to justify its existence,” says Chris. “So, when [your CFO asks], ‘Why do we need this?’ [you can say] ‘Here’s why. Here are the things it does for us. Here’s how it’s helped us. Here are the deals its brought in for us.’”

To show the value of using Crossbeam, the LeanData partnerships team shares the following with their internal stakeholders: 

  • Reports using the Crossbeam Overlaps Custom Object in Salesforce to show which partners could help with particular accounts and which partners have influenced ongoing and closed deals
  • Which deals are influenced (“partner-influenced” custom object) and sourced (“partner-sourced” custom object) by partners 
  • How the partnerships and marketing team used partner data to generate ecosystem qualified leads (EQLs) (e.g. leads they invited to webinars and events with partners) 
  • How particular deals with partners attached had a shorter sales cycle than deals without 
  • Metrics comparing the average dollar amount of deals influenced by partners versus deals without partners (Commercial, or non-enterprise deals, with partners have a 40% higher AOV than deals without partners). Chris’s partnerships team gathers this data from Salesforce. The data can show the value of partnerships and the need to invest in tools like Crossbeam, which can help sales teams co-sell with partners at scale. 

“Deals with partner’s attached to them have a 40% higher value than deals [without],” says Chris. “The reason we’re able to get the level of partner influence that we have is because we have a tool like Crossbeam that allows us to effectively identify where our overlaps are so we can pull a partner in, and we can ask the right questions. Without [Crossbeam], it’s exceedingly difficult to do that.”

Some questions you can ask to learn about your candidate’s experience using PEPs or ability to adapt their workflow using a PEP: 

  • Could you tell me about your account mapping experience and process with partners? 
  • Have you used a PEP in the past to accelerate mapping accounts with partners? Which PEPs?
  • How did you support the sales team through the partnerships function?
  • Did you use any integrations or automation to work with partners and your internal and external sales teams? 
  • How did you identify the most promising partners to work with? 
  • Did you implement any reporting to build the case for working with partners to your internal leadership and GTM teams? 
  • Could you tell me about your co-selling and co-marketing process with partners? How did you identify the best partners for specific opportunities?
  • What does a successful working relationship look like with sales, marketing, product, and other internal teams? Could you talk about a specific opportunity you worked on with a partner and multiple internal teams? What did you do successfully, and what could you have done better? 
  • How have you shown the value of partnerships and specific partners to your leadership team in the past?
  • How do you decide whether to invest resources in building an integration or to put a low-priority integration on hold? 
  • Could you talk about a specific co-selling win? Why was it successful?

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