As a partnership professional, you are un artiste. You’re constantly perfecting your craft, exploring how your partner program can best support your business model, enabling your team through custom-tailored mechanics and pleasantries, and — Voila! Your ecosystem is a masterpiece.
But as the artist behind the ecosystem, it’s in your nature to look for gaps. And the way your customer success (CS) team works with partners could use some improvement. Your CSMs encourage integration adoption among their customers here and there, but it can be difficult to know which integrations are the best fit for each customer at the right time. And your channel partners have years’ worth of knowledge about your CSMs’ customers; yet, your CSMs and channel partners don’t communicate regularly.
This lack of a process is more common than you might think. 60% of partnership professionals believe their tech ecosystem has the greatest impact on sales compared to any other internal department — while only 15% feel their tech ecosystem impacts customer success the most.
Strengthen the bond between your CSMs and partners, and you could:
Below, we’ll share advice and tactics from partnership and CS professionals for improving how your CSMs works with partners.
#1: Ask Your CSMs Where They’re Struggling, and Present Them With Timely Solutions
If you’re struggling with getting buy-in from your CSMs, show them exactly which partners can help and how — rather than leaning on them to figure it out. To communicate effectively with your CSMs, start by understanding their responsibilities and pain points. Ask your CSMs specific questions about how they’re struggling, including:
- Is there any part of the customer journey you’re seeing customers hit roadblocks?
- Which specific customers or types of customers are slower to adopt specific features they should be using?
- Which customers are at risk of churning?
For example: If your CSMs are having trouble helping your new customers achieve their first milestones in your platform, your CSM can recommend specific integrations to help each customer achieve value faster. Map accounts between the list of accounts your CSMs need help with and your partners’ customers. The resulting overlaps are customers of your tech partners or clients of your channel partners.
The overlaps with your tech partners send a signal that your customer may benefit from adopting your integration. The overlaps with your channel partner send a signal that your partner may be able to help guide the customer in their product usage or encourage integration adoption. Bonus points if you reach out to your tech partner to understand the customer’s health score before suggesting that your CSM recommend the integration.
Keep in mind: Not all partners will have the same level of influence on the account. Below are two sales frameworks you can adapt for working with customer success in order to determine which partners will have the biggest impact:
Adam Jarczyn, General Manager, Instant Pay at KOHO, Onboarding Advisor, and previous Global Head of Technology Programs at Shopify, says partners can play critical roles in optimizing the customer journey.
“Customers faced challenges in onboarding, one being with data migration — moving data from some other system to ours,” says Jarczyn. “[We] would look to partners to help solve for it.’”
He adds, “As an onboarding specialist, being able to triage the issue and understand who’s the best person to solve that problem, that is a skill that’s critical to any human-led onboarding. Being able to direct [customers] to a partner ecosystem is hugely valuable.”
For example, your channel partners can:
- Provide services to the customer to help them get their first small win in the platform (like hitting a revenue goal through your platform)
- Consult with the customer about best practices for your platform
- Encourage customers to use your platform more frequently and take advantage of various features by citing success stories and case studies from similar customers
And your tech partners can:
- Encourage integration adoption to ensure your customers are able to use your platform seamlessly with the most critical components of their tech stacks
- Include your platform in their customers’ onboarding presentation or integration adoption roadmap to accelerate activation in your platform
- Educate the customer about different ways to use your platform and new strategies that can help them achieve their goals
Jai Shroff, Senior Customer Success Manager, Enterprise, at Freshworks says the partnerships team should support the CSM team by recommending integrations that resonate with their customers’ business objectives and pain points.
“Narrow this down and say, ‘Of 100 or so customers, these are the customers who may have this [language] requirement, and these are the integrations we’re building. Can we look at introducing these integrations to these customers?’” says Shroff. “If you say, ‘We are building this [integration]. Can you tell me who the customers are?’ there’s a lot of heavy lifting [for the CSM].”
Working with partners has helped Shroff and his team retain customers who were likely to churn, upsell the accounts for more revenue, and even sign them for multi-year deals.
“If your company is scaling, let’s say north of $100M in ARR, partnerships is the only way to reach that billion dollar dream. Inside sales is not going to get you there,” says Shroff.
#2 Connect Your CSMs With Your Partners Directly, and Encourage Transparency Between Them
Don’t serve as a middleman between your CSMs and your partners. Empower your CSMs by enabling them to reach out to your tech or channel partners for support. Additionally, your channel partners should keep your CSM top of mind throughout the customer journey. If your channel partner is experimenting with a new feature on behalf of the customer, your CSM should be aware.
“You’re either going to have us involved early and it’s going to be less painful or you’re going to have us involved later when your team screws up,” says a services account manager at an ISV (in Confessions of an ISV). “When that happens, our response is different. We tried to help you.”
During the partner onboarding process, communicate with your channel partners that they need to inform your CSMs about new feature adoption, potential risks, and changes in strategy they’re implementing for your shared customers. Use a term sheet to define these expectations at the onset of the partnership. This high level of transparency between your CSMs and channel partners can help your CSM:
- Anticipate potential roadblocks or issues for the customer
- Prevent high-risk activities that would lead to the customer failing
- Stay aware of desirable features or integrations and communicate the customer’s requests to your team and the product team, or invite the customer to beta test new features or integrations
- Learn about how customers are using the product and apply their learnings to similar customers
The earlier your CSM can get ahead of an issue with the customer, the better. Your channel partners should engage your CSM with the account as soon as the contract is signed.
“If the implementation was a failure, there’s very little the CSM will be able to do to correct it. They’ve got to be in the front end of the process,” says Nicholas DeBenedetto, CEO at boutique system integrator (SI) LeapPoint.
He adds, “The difficult conversations to have in digital transformation are the most valuable to have early on. As it goes on later, it only becomes exponentially worse.”
The onboarding customer success team at RollWorks began real-time account mapping using Crossbeam in 2021 to increase integration adoption among their customers. As a result, their onboarding CSMs hit their goals faster, and they achieved:
- A 16% faster TTFV in a two-quarter period
- A 17% increase in customers integrated with at least one additional tech partner
- A 7% increase in integration usage after just one quarter
Empower your CSMs with partner data at the forefront of the customer journey to help their customers achieve value faster, maintain and improve customer health scores, and make your product “stickier”.
“To unlock more value for our customers in the early days makes so much sense,” says Erez Suissa, previous Senior Manager, Adoption and Onboarding at RollWorks. “I’m a firm believer that customers have a life cycle, and the onboarding role is not to do everything under the sun, but it’s for us to basically help the customer realize the immediate value. We need to unlock that as quickly as possible for them.”
#3: Lean Into Your CSMs’ Strengths, and Look for Partnerships-Related Skills in New Hires
CSMs often assume the roles of relationship-builders, salespeople, project managers, and tech stack experts.
“Within CSM [teams], you’ll have different personas. Some CSMs are sales-minded, somebody who wants to get more revenue, upsell, cross-sell,” says Jai Shroff at Freshworks. “Some are more technical or product-minded.”
If you’re struggling to get your CSMs bought into working with partners, try working with a small number of CSMs and giving them responsibilities that align with their strengths. For example: if you have a CSM that’s more services-oriented and previously worked at an agency, enable them to work with channel partners. Then, get their feedback on what’s working and what’s not working, and iterate on your process.
Ask your CSM to share details about the wins they’ve achieved in your team collaboration tool (like Slack) and to educate junior team members about working with partners. Opening the door for your CSM to try out partnership-related responsibilities can help them grow their skillset and advance their career. They may even get a promotion or decide to fully transition their role to working in partnerships.
John Smit, Senior Channel Sales Manager at Introhive, says his team experimented by asking a couple of their sales development representatives (SDRs) to prioritize following up with ecosystem qualified leads (EQLs) from co-hosted events with partners. The SDRs performed these responsibilities so well that Introhive transitioned the SDRs to working with partners full-time. Apply this same tactic with an interested CSM, and you might end up with a brand new member of the partnerships team.
Some companies are recruiting for CSM roles that sit inside the partnerships org and work cross-functionally with members of the sales team. In November of 2021, experience management platform Reputation hired a CSM dedicated to working with agency partners and their mutual customers.
Patrick Scott, Customer Success Manager, Agency Partnerships worked for a services “reseller” company in digital marketing before joining Reputation. His experience in client management enables him to work closely with agency partners to ensure they’re able to meet their shared customers’ needs. Whereas CSMs sitting outside of the partnerships org might work with 10 or so customers each, Scott works with 7 partners and more than 100 of their shared customers.
If you’d like to embed customer success roles in the partnerships org, try seeking out candidates with a services background for channel-related roles or a product/technical background for tech partnerships-related roles. Meanwhile, a background in sales can support your CSM’s work driving upsells and account expansions with tech and channel partners.
#4: Make it Easy for Your CSMs to Educate Customers and Partners About Your Integrations
Make it easy for your CSMs to educate customers and partners about your integrations. Start by putting partner data in the tools your CSMs use most. Through the Crossbeam Salesforce App, your CSMs can identify which customers overlap with your tech partners and may be interested in adopting your integration.
Crossbeam customers on the “Connector Plan” can utilize the Salesforce App, adopt an additional Partner Cloud integration, and more.
By getting visibility into their customers’ tech stacks in their customer relationship management (CRM) system, they can reach out to customers who are in relevant stages in the customer journey and may be ready to adopt a particular integration. They can also sync with the corresponding account manager to drive upsells and to cross-sell into other departments or branches within the account.
Your CSMs can also reach out to relevant channel partners to educate them about new integrations or features and support them in driving adoption. If your CSM has trouble getting a new channel partner on board for a meeting or enablement session, work with your CSM to identify shared customers who would benefit most from adopting particular integrations and help your CSM develop messaging that resonates with the channel partner. You could also create email snippets for the channel partner to send to the shared customer on the CSM’s behalf.
Patrick Scott at Reputation presents product and feature updates to his most active agency partners on a monthly basis. For example: Scott presented their competitive insights feature to an ads agency partner whose client would benefit from adopting the feature. The partner then used the feature to show their client how they could improve their online reputation and rankings in comparison to their competitors. The end goal is to encourage the client to sign onto a pilot program using the feature in Reputation’s platform and for the partner to understand how the feature can benefit similar clients.
If your CSM has trouble getting a meeting on the books with your channel partner, Scott says your CSM should:
- Give a copy of the presentation to the partner a week prior so the partner can identify areas of importance and come ready with questions relevant to their clients’ needs. You should ask your CSM to copy you on the initial email so you can share your excitement about the new integration and encourage the partner to participate.
- Cut down the presentation to only the most important pieces relevant to the partner and their clients. Work with your CSM to create a strategic list of clients who would benefit from adopting the integration.
The CSMs at Konnect Insights, a SaaS product company, host monthly enablement sessions for their customers to present new product features and integration releases. They also have weekly meetings with the product team to discuss integration requests from customers and their technical requirements.
“We don’t wait for an opportunity to talk about [integrations],” says Meldon Morais, Vice President of Marketing and Global Partnerships at Konnect Insights. “Anytime we introduce a new integration, we run a webinar around it. We call in all our customers and educate them. Then customers can come forward and say, ‘Yes, I’m interested in this.’”
You can work with your leadership team to decide if your CSMs should host one-to-many or one-to-one enablement sessions. Make sure your CSMs have the resources they need to become experts in your tech ecosystem — like a partner directory, case studies, and documentation.
#5: Give Your CSMs Partnership-Related OKRs
Use objectives and key results (OKRs) and partnerships-related key performance indicators (KPIs) to encourage your CSMs to drive integration adoption.
Partnership-related KPIs for the CS team include:
- Number of integrations adopted by existing customers
- Percentage of customers who have adopted a particular integration proven to reduce churn
- Number of customers actively using particular integrations after adoption
- Percentage of customers who were likely to churn but didn’t due to an integration or joint solution and the rate of corresponding upsells
At Reputation, Patrick Scott’s OKRs include:
- Less than 10% churn and more than 10% growth each quarter (Reputation’s “10/10” rule)
- Increasing partner revenue by 50%, including net new business and upsells, by the end of 2022
If you hire a CSM to work within the partnerships org, you can set expectations about partnerships-related goals during the hiring process. If you’re implementing partnerships-related OKRs for existing CSMs for the first time, consider offering management by objectives (MBO) bonuses or another incentive to influence a behavioral change.
#6 Create a Shared Language for Your CSMs and Partners (or Adopt an Existing One)
If there’s misalignment between your channel partners and your CSMs, it might be a communication issue. Your partners and CSMs may do things differently on their own, but the value they create for your shared clients benefits the client, your partner, and your CSM. Perhaps it all comes down to categorization.
Take LeapPoint’s 8-Point Stop Light Review chart. The boutique system integrator (SI) has identified nine categories of digital transformation in which they’ve seen clients experience pain points and failing in achieving their goals. LeapPoint shares this chart with their tech partners’ CSMs and guides them in helping their clients avoid potential issues. The tech partners’ CSMs can also use the chart and LeapPoint’s guidance in helping additional customers who aren’t clients of their channel partner.
During the partner onboarding process, spend time understanding how your channel partners approach the customer relationship — how they identify red flags, how they mitigate risk, and how they drive success. Educate your partner about how your CSMs approach the customer relationship, and observe commonalities between the two approaches. Discuss an appropriate path forward in how your CSM and partner should view the customer relationship together, and avoid friction that could result from each party doing things their way without the other’s knowledge. You and your CSM may even find that your partner’s way of thinking and their process is beneficial and worth adopting for the long haul.
LeapPoint’s 8-Point Stop Light Review Chart provides LeapPoint’s delivery team and their tech partners’ CSMs with a point of reference. Additionally, it enables the CSM at the tech company to understand their customer’s needs through the lens of their entire tech stack — helping them to become better consultants to their clients and preventing issues that could impact churn.
“The timely and accuracy of pinpointing those key areas is what we try to help the CSMs do,” says Nicholas DeBenedetto at LeapPoint. “We work with them to also have that conversation [with customers], which puts them in a different light as opposed to a reactive, ‘Hey, I’m your CSM. just checking in. What’s going on with you?’”
For example: LeapPoint’s team noticed that a customer was in the red zone for the “change management” category. Although the customer was not using LeapPoint’s change management services, LeapPoint’s team advised their tech partner’s CSM about how they could educate the customer to improve their change management systems.
The CSM’s guidance in helping the customer achieve success in this particular area would ultimately affect the customer’s success in other areas as well, potentially hindering the customer’s digital transformation goals with the channel partner and the results they’re able to achieve using your product. The conversation the CSM led with the customer as a result of their discussion with LeapPoint enabled the customer to transition to the green zone for the change management category. The CSM then applied what they had learned about change management to additional customers who would benefit.
“You can’t get those insights unless you’re there [with the client] day to day. If the [CSM] is being enabled by a [channel] partner, it’s huge,” says DeBenedetto. “It’s ‘Oh, they had that problem, I had two other clients that had that problem. Let me call them up. Maybe they want to talk to that client.’ It’s that roundtrip relationship that enables us to be really good with [our tech partners’] CSMs.”
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