The typical trajectory for getting buy-in for ecosystem-led growth looks like this:
- Company hires sales team
- Company hires partnerships leader
- Partnerships leader struggles to help their sales team unlearn their typical sales motions of selling alone and tries to teach them how to co-sell with partners
This seems backwards! We already know co-selling with partners outperforms outbound sales. Partnerships have increased the average contract values (ACVs) for Census, have influenced 60% of Yotpo’s referrals per month, and have contributed 58% of the revenue of the top sales reps at Highspot.
Founding teams can accelerate their company’s growth by leaning on partners for their go-to-market strategy even before hiring their first sales rep — making their product “stickier” for their customers early on, tallying up word-of-mouth referrals, and even setting their future sales team up for success. So, stop saying “partnerships is the future.” Start using ecosystem-led growth right now to actually get ahead.
Justin Fyles, Managing Director at Skylark, needed to pitch a growth strategy to the video-first content management system (CMS) company’s board of directors. Initially, Fyles considered leaning on a traditional growth strategy — direct sales. However, his gut told him he’d be setting the services-turned-SaaS company up for exponential growth by co-selling with partners.
“I’m more comfortable with direct sales because that’s what I’ve done in the past,” says Justin Fyles, Managing Director at Skylark. “That’s what you do in SaaS a lot of the time.”
The relaunch of Skylark includes five must-have products for curating and tagging video while leaning on Skylark’s tech partners for complementary best-in-breed functionality and its agency partners for implementation. Since Fyles made the shift towards co-selling with partners, prospects who may have ghosted Fyles previously or who would have had lengthy sales cycles have turned into active leads within just days.
“We’ve been getting great feedback [from the board], because it’s actually turning around leads,” says Fyles.
As a result of prioritizing ecosystem-led growth, Skylark has seen the following benefits:
#1: They Never Walk Into a Sales Conversation Cold
Skylark’s partners have helped to eliminate the guesswork around a potential customer’s buying timeline and has helped Skylark generate ecosystem qualified leads (EQLs).
When Fyles joined Skylark in early 2022, Skylark still existed as a project within the product design agency that built it. Fyles and his team then spun the video-first CMS project into an independent SaaS product.
The spinout led Skylark to focus on growing and selling Skylark’s product first and foremost, while removing all of its services offerings. To make this shift, Fyles faced a decision: prioritize direct sales or lean on the ecosystem for growth.
Prior to adopting an ecosystem-led growth strategy, Fyles would browse Skylark’s existing contacts in HubSpot and hand-pick prospects to reach out to in hopes of getting a call on the books. In one instance, he noticed a prospect’s name without any notes regarding its sales history. Fyles reached out to the prospect a few times, got no response, and considered the prospect “closed-lost”. (Remember this prospect — We’ll come back to them shortly!)
Around this same time, John Reigart, Strategic Partner Manager at Mux, suggested that Fyles join Crossbeam, a partner ecosystem platform, to map accounts in real time and explore a potential tech partnership. Via Skylark and Mux’s integration, their mutual customers would be able to use Mux as their video provider to easily upload and distribute video content in Skylark.
Through Crossbeam, Fyles learned that Skylark and Mux had a high number of overlapping customers and prospects. Seeing which accounts the two companies had in common also enabled them to understand the types of prospects that would be a good fit for each company.
Remember that prospect Fyles marked as “closed-lost”? Shortly after Skylark and Mux initiated their tech partnership, Mux’s account executive Greg Reynolds suggested that Fyles chat with that same prospect about adopting Skylark as part of their over-the-top (OTT) tech stack (Think: technology for streaming video across multiple platforms and devices). Reynolds introduced Fyles to the prospect, and now they’re an active lead for Skylark. That’s the power of a warm intro!
“[That] was the first time where [Mux] was like, ‘This is a Skylark customer. This is who you want.’ It showed a mutual understanding of each other’s businesses and markets,” says Fyles. Since then, Mux has continued to send leads to Skylark and vice versa.
“The call I was just on came from Mux. To see that in such a short time period, it’s great,” says Fyles.
Fyles has also offered to make warm intros for the Mux team. By using Crossbeam, Fyles and his partners can be more strategic about swapping leads and eliminate any guesswork.
“Because I know what types of customers Mux was going after, I knew it was an appropriate customer for them,” says Fyles.
He adds, “Previously, it was me sitting on a call with other people and brainstorming the types of customers [in common] and trying to guess some. It was kind of silly.”
Investing in ecosystem-led growth is also helping Skylark increase its annual recurring revenue (ARR) at scale.
“[Partnerships] represent multiple sales channels. Through one sales channel you might make two sales a year, but they represent more ARR,” says Fyles. “If you can multiply those sales channels, even if it’s harder, you might get five or six sales a year through agency partners. And that’s huge growth.”
#2: They Don’t Need to Learn About Each Potential New Market Before Selling Into Them
Prior to leaning on the ecosystem, Fyles’s team relied on the in-house services agency that built the first iteration of Skylark for access to new customers. This entailed quick lead generation in their shared kitchen, but the source of those leads was limited to that agency alone and their specific clientele. Now, Skylark partners with multiple agencies and can access each of their unique customer bases.
“[We work with] a variety of companies with similar services but for different parts of the market,” says Fyles. “They have different specialties and different past clients and a different vibe and brand. That’s big.”
Each agency has its own super power and thus attracts a unique set of customers. For example: Global system integrators (GSIs) like Accenture and its creative agencies specialize in projects in artificial intelligence (AI) and technology innovation and thus have access to Fortune Global 100 and 500 clients looking to scale and modernize their companies. In Accenture’s case, they can recommend OTT solutions as part of a broader modernization strategy.
Meanwhile, agencies like FX Digital UK have a strong foothold in the UK market and a global reach. Their clients include GCN+, Eurosport Player, and Contiki, all of which approached FX Digital UK with the specific need for voice and video solutions.
Partnering with only one of the above companies would mean limiting the reach of your company to their market alone. Partnering with both types of agencies helps Skylark access new markets and expand their ideal customer profile.
Additionally, Skylark’s solution enables their agency partners to spend less time and money building a video-first CMS and its respective products for their clients. This enables their agency partners to onboard new clients they may have been priced out of previously.
In addition to their agency partners generating EQLs for Skylark, Fyles uses Crossbeam to ensure he’s sending the right leads to the right agencies.
“Giving the lead to the right partner increases our chance of winning those [deals],” says Fyles.
Each agency serves as an expert in their respective market. Not only do they have influence in closing the deal, but they also have worked with many similar clients with various challenges, solutions, and tech stacks. They have years of experience that enables them to educate Skylark’s team, if necessary, and that helps them make the best recommendations for adopting and implementing Skylark for their clients.
Skylark’s agency partners can advocate for them, educate the customer, and ensure a successful product implementation that drives value for the customer. They serve as a guiding light from pre-sales to post.
“We don’t do marketing, other than partnerships,” says Fyles.
#3: They Don’t Need to Wait on Their Potential Customers to Adopt the Right Tech Stack Before They Can Make the Sale
Skylark’s partners have also made it easier for their potential customers to say, “Yes”.
Prior to leveraging ecosystem-led growth, Skylark experienced roadblocks in the sales cycle with customers who had not yet adopted a video provider solution. Either those customers would need to find a video provider solution prior to adopting Skylark, or they would defer to an all-in-one CMS.
Now that Skylark has partnered with Mux, they can automatically include Mux as part of their contracts for new customers. This eliminates the need for their customers to spend time looking for a video provider for their tech stacks and helps shorten the sales cycle for Skylark.
“By making the [customer’s] job easier, we got a customer and Mux got a customer,” says Fyles on including Mux as part of their customer contracts.
Skylark’s agency partners can also include Skylark as part of their solution for clients without needing to spend weeks designing a video-first CMS on a customer-to-customer basis. After the sale, Skylark’s Head of Customer Success, Tom Drake, works with their agency and tech partners to drive value throughout the customer lifecycle.
#4: They No Longer Box Themselves Out of Deals by Only Providing Services In-House
If a company wants to implement video streaming, they’ll either do so with an all-in-one CMS, or they’ll choose a best-in-breed tech stack including a video-first CMS like Skylark, a video provider like Mux, and a payment services provider (PSP) like Stripe. Additionally, they may need an agency partner to help them implement video on their website, via over-the-top (OTT) media services like Netflix and Hulu, and on Connected TV (CTV) devices like Apple TV and Xbox.
“In every deal, there’s going to be two or three other partners that are going to be part of that deal. If one of them falls apart, everything could fall apart,” says Fyles. “Why not be an active part of that conversation?”
Fyles says that by not partnering with agencies and tech partners, they would be losing out on deals. For example: agencies that don’t work with Skylark may defer to recommending the status quo, which may not be the best fit for the client. Or a client might choose an all-in-one CMS because they don’t understand the scope of Skylark’s video-first platform. Skylark can prevent both of these scenarios by partnering with and educating their agency partners.
“Those very same partners we could be partnering with on sales could also be the death of us on these sales,” says Fyles. “If a partner is out there recommending [a competitor], that’s bad for us, even if they’re not recommending us.”
As a relatively new SaaS product in the market, Skylark’s tech and agency partners will play an important role in educating their potential customers and recommending Skylark as a best-in-breed alternative to the status quo. Skylark’s product team is prioritizing building the five need-to-have features into their platform and then leaning on partners for the rest.
“We’re going to a place where we do five things and everything else is done by partners,” says Fyles. “Our developers and product team understand who those partners are in the ecosystem, what they bring to the table, how we’re going to integrate with them. That is the product for us.”
He also works closely with his agency partners to strategize around pricing and packaging. The agency advises Fyles around the potential customer’s budget, and Fyles can help advise the agency and potential customer around the benefits of Skylark, how it differs from a traditional CMS, and the reasoning behind the product packaging so that they can avoid offering a discount or losing the deal.
“It’s the reason that ecosystem sales is so important to us, because the alternative [to us] is a one-stop shop,” says Fyles. “We have to replicate that in order to be an attractive alternative.”
Skylark’s board of directors has expressed positive feedback around Skylark’s ecosystem-led growth; however, they’re cautious of Fyles taking on too many partners too fast.
Featured above: Andreessen Horowitz’s Sarah Wang on how the best performing companies are prioritizing ecosystem-led growth
“I’ve used Crossbeam as a litmus test,” says Fyles. The willingness of partners to map accounts on Crossbeam has helped Fyles gauge which partners are serious about partnering and which aren’t. Those who connect with Skylark on Crossbeam are likely interested in a long-term go-to-market (GTM) strategy, whereas those who don’t likely won’t produce the same volume of leads and won’t be willing to GTM.
He adds, “The qualification of partners and quick dismissal of partners who aren’t going to work as hard as we are on the partnership has been key.”
Fyles envisions growing their tech ecosystem to enable a panel of integrations within Skylark. He also would like to hire a partnerships and commercial sales team.
“We want to hand the [existing process] to sales and say, ‘Make it better.’” When Skylark does hire a sales team, co-selling with partners will be the foundational sales motion that their sales reps will adopt right away.
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