Hiring your first tech partner manager isn’t easy. There’s no special certification program one can take to prove their partnerships potential, and your tech ecosystem is pretty darn unique. Finding the right person for the role is kind of like finding a two-bedroom apartment in New York City with a balcony, a dishwasher, and laundry in-unit — 100% possible if you have the right approach and you’re very, very patient.
You’re in luck. At Crossbeam, we’ve been building out our own partnerships team and thought it only appropriate to share our hiring questions with you. We’ve included more than 20 questions below to help you find talent with the right partnerships mindset, skills, and technical knowledge.
For your reference, the questions below follow this general order:
- General questions to gauge the candidate’s experience working in partnerships and with relevant stakeholders
- Questions specific to the ins and outs of the “tech partnerships” role
- Questions relevant to working with teams like “Product” and “Sales”
#1 How have you been measured in previous roles?
Get the candidate talking about whether they were managed by objectives (MBOs), what their key performance indicators (KPIs) were (e.g. partner-influenced revenue, net new partnerships created), and how they achieved their goals. If the candidate worked in sales previously but was held accountable for or even led a team of sales reps in meeting their partnership-related objectives and key results (OKRs), that’s a win.
(Tip: how the partnerships team is managed is a contributor to the maturity of its tech ecosystem. The hiring manager can initiate a dialogue about the growth of the candidate’s partner program, if applicable, through this question.)
#2 Which internal teams have you worked with?
The partnerships function should have a direct impact on every other business function — from marketing to sales. Additionally, those business functions play a direct role in a partner program’s success. This is an opportunity to get real stories about wins the candidate has influenced by collaborating with marketing, sales, customer success, product, and so on.
On top of that, partnerships is all about community! If they haven’t worked in a true partnerships role previously, they should have transferable people skills and sales, product, and/or marketing knowledge to do the job well if given the chance.
#3 Why would an account executive (AE) on the sales team want to co-sell with a partner? How does a successful co-selling motion help the sales cycle?
It will be impossible to get buy-in from your sales team (an ongoing challenge for partnership professionals according to our State of the Partner Ecosystem Report) if your candidate can’t communicate the value your tech partnerships will have for your sales reps. Your candidate must be able to show that they understand the benefit of co-selling — the fastest go-to-market tactic for partnership professionals.
They should be able to speak effectively on the potential outcomes of co-selling, such as accelerating a deal and shortening the sales cycle, improving the individual rep’s close rate, reviving an opportunity gone dark, increasing an opportunity’s deal size, and other sales wins.
Bonus: This question can also give you insight into the candidate’s knowledge about the sales org and its typical structure and challenges.
(Sign up for the 2022 State of the Partner Ecosystem Report here, and get the report as soon as it’s published.)
#4 What would you do if an AE doesn’t want to collaborate with a partner, even if the particular integration would create strong value for the prospect in your eyes? What would your approach be to remedy this?
It’s buy-in 101. Your candidate should have an idea of how to get buy-in from the sales team — whether they’ve done it successfully in the past or they’re able to think of creative ways to show the value of co-selling with partners in innovative ways.
Some examples of potential answers:
- Speak to the sales reps individually and/or as a team to show them how the integration can help them meet their individual and team goals. Speak about the value in a way that resonates with the sales team.
- Celebrate co-selling wins initiated by individual sales reps at the top of meetings and/or in your team collaboration tool like Slack.
- Make it easy for the sales reps to co-sell with partners by providing pre-written email templates for partner outreach and prospect outreach, integration one-sheets, slide decks with metrics proving the integration’s impact on the sales cycle for the sales reps, slide decks with metrics proving the integration’s impact on the prospect’s use cases, etc.
#5 Imagine you’re now in the tech partner manager role and have a dozen existing tech partners you can co-sell with. How do you go about determining the prioritization of which ones to lean into the most?
Not all overlaps are created equal! You could be wasting your partners’ time and your sales reps’ time by enlisting them for co-selling motions without thoughtful consideration. For example: Your hypothetical partner Hextall & Co. could carry a lot more weight with a particular prospect than your hypothetical partner KSaaS. Hextall & Co. has an existing relationship built on trust with the top stakeholder from the prospect account, while KSaaS simply has their eye on the prospect.
Your candidate should understand the value of not only enlisting the right partners for the right opportunities but also of maintaining their relationship with partners by respecting their time and resources.
- Use a partner ecosystem platform like Crossbeam to map accounts and discover overlapping prospects between you and your partners. Then, filter the overlaps according to a set of criteria, like customer size, gross merchandise value (GMV), those who use a particular tool in their tech stack, and by region (like Gorgias does). You can pull some of this data from your customer relationship management (CRM) system and/or map accounts with your partners to identify your customers’ tech stacks and create custom Populations for those accounts.
- Sync up with your sales reps to determine exactly how they need help with the account. Then discuss a handful of their accounts with the partner to determine their relationship with the account, if they know relevant stakeholders, what stage of the sales cycle the account is in (or if the account is a customer). If they have the right kind of in with the account, initiate the co-selling motion.
#6 What do you believe are the most important things to validate from a go-to-market (GTM) perspective before kicking off a co-selling partnership with a new tech partner that has a functioning integration with your company?
Typically, tech partnerships aren’t a build it and forget it kind of relationship. Leading up to your integration launch, your team and your partner’s team will need to collaborate on a number of moving parts. In addition to building the integration (and ensuring your APIs function as you anticipated), your product, engineering, solutions engineering, and product marketing teams (think: your “Ecosystems Team“) will need to align on their efforts months leading up to your launch to prepare for rolling out the integration and spreading the word effectively post-launch. This requires a high level of buy-in from your internal team and from your partner’s team.
Your candidate should have an understanding of how many players contribute to a successful integration launch and how the GTM strategy would unfold in a hypothetical or lived experience (e.g. creating the foundational co-marketing materials like integration listing pages and also creative content that engages your target market and existing customers to drive integration adoption).
(Mike Stocker’s partnership maturity curve for integration adoption is just one example of how to approach a strategic partnership’s GTM strategy.)
#7 What does an ideal working relationship look like with marketing, product, and sales? What are a few attributes of what successful collaboration looks like for each team?
Building from question #6, this is an opportunity to dig into the relationship-building skills of your candidate as well as their knowledge of project management with multiple stakeholders.
A couple of ideas for what your candidate could mention:
- Syncing up with each team for regular meetings leading up to an integration’s launch to ensure that each team’s projects are on track. Your product marketing team is aligning with partners to create co-marketing collateral, your product and engineering teams may be managing the product roadmap and the integration roadmap while smoothing out potential hiccups with API functionalities — there’s a lot that could change from week to week, and it’s important to communicate effectively.
- Defining responsibilities for each team up front so everyone knows what they’re accountable for at the team and individual level. It’s possible marketing is splitting its time between developing co-marketing for the integration and more traditional marketing projects. Being considerate of each team’s quarterly goals is critical to successful cross-functional collaboration.
#8 Who or what sources have you learned from to gain experience about partnerships as a career?
This question can provide insight into the candidate’s knowledge of the industry. Additionally, your network plays an important role in your ability to build a partnerships program. Your candidate should have an understanding of who some of the players are who have influence in the markets you’re targeting and of some of the challenges and solutions prevalent in the industry. They can speak about what they’ve learned from others while also showing that they’re confident speaking with external stakeholders.
#9 Which areas of partnerships do you wish you were stronger at and why?
The best partnership managers are innovative. The partnerships function differs from one company to the next, and that means the partnerships manager needs to continuously experiment, iterate, and establish the Ecosystem Ops (think: a set of repeatable processes for partnerships) that work.
Just think about how Forest Yule developed the Partner Impact Score Methodology to identify the most strategic overlaps with his partners. Give your potential tech partner manager the chance to show their creative side.
#10 Which two or three of our existing integrations have you the most excited and why?
By asking about the integrations in your tech ecosystem, the candidate will be able to share their knowledge about your integration use cases, your “better together” stories, and general core product value.
For us, we ask candidates about their favorite Partner Cloud integrations.
#11 How do you approach working with a partner you find tough to work with?
Partnering with another company is like adopting a whole new set of teammates – not just your partner but also their marketing, sales, and customer success teams. In some cases, your partner’s company will be at a different stage than yours (think: mid-size vs. enterprise), their partner program may be at a different level of maturity, and, well, their personalities might not jive with yours.
Your candidate should not only talk about their ability to work with a mix of characters but also how to get things done. How would your candidate ensure your partner does the work?
- Vet the partner beforehand to make sure they have the resources, headcount, and buy-in to deliver on the project.
- Create a term sheet to define expectations from both partners, schedule recurring check-ins, and set a date for a partnership reevaluation to decide whether or not to continue the partnership.
- Know that in some cases the most strategic partnerships will involve your team building the integration, creating the co-marketing collateral, and completing other projects with little help from your partner. In this case, you’ll need to set expectations for individual and team responsibilities internally.
#12 Define [our company] and the problems we’re trying to solve.
Identifying the best integrations to build will be pretty difficult if the candidate doesn’t understand the value of your product and how your data could improve your customers’ business goals by connecting with the tools they’re using. What are some ways that your data could power your customers’ businesses?
For example: if you’re a CRM tool, you could integrate with an account-based marketing (ABM) tool to create highly targeted campaigns for strategic accounts.
Bonus questions to throw in the mix:
- Can you share an example of your best wins as a partnership professional?
- What are some tech partnerships you see [our company’s] data enabling?
- How do you prioritize which integrations to build?
- Can you describe how a technical integration works between two products?
- Have you worked with a product team in the past to launch integrations?
- Talk through a successful partnership you’ve cultivated.
- Can you describe what an API is and how they work to the best of your ability?
- How do you approach calls and sales cycles with AEs?
- If a prospective partner were to come to you wanting to build an integration, what would be some concerns that you’d be on the lookout for to make sure it’s a good fit?
- Who was your favorite and least favorite AE to work with, and why?
- What’s your approach to preparation prior to a prospect call?
Ready to hire your first tech partner manager? Get our “Tech Partner Manager Interview Kit” by filling out the form below.
Create a take home test. For our take home test, we asked candidates to create a presentation explaining how they would build a partnership with a high-priority tech partner. This gave us the opportunity to hear how the candidate would approach the partnership from the beginning stages of setting expectations, establishing relationships across teams, and defining the joint value proposition to the latter stages of launching a GTM strategy with the partner.
Your take home test could give you a window into how the candidate will get buy-in from relevant stakeholders, their relationship building skills, their technical knowledge, and more.
What we looked for in the candidate’s answers to the take home assignment:
- The candidate spoke about the correct use case.
- The candidate was able to explain why the partner and the integration was a good fit.
- The candidate expressed relevant knowledge of our partnership strategy.
- The candidate sounded knowledgeable and natural.
- The candidate had internalized their answers, rather than reading from the page.
Arrange interviews with relevant stakeholders. We asked candidates to speak with stakeholders from our partnerships, sales, and product teams. Think about the teams your tech partner manager will work most closely with, and set up interviews accordingly.
Weight your questions according to importance. Some questions should be worth more than others. Perhaps you’ll weight the more general questions in the beginning stages of the interview process less than some of the questions your partnerships leader or product teams ask. Establish a weighting system to score the questions that matter most more heavily than the questions that simply give you a baseline understanding of the candidate’s background in the early stages of the interview process.
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