This post is part of the “Tech Ecosystem Maturity” series, exploring the 30+ criteria of Crossbeam’s Tech Ecosystem Maturity Diagnostic. The diagnostic helps you understand how your partner program stacks up against others in the B2B SaaS industry, what you’re doing well, and how you can advance to the next level of maturity. To learn more and take the tech ecosystem maturity diagnostic, click here. Read the rest of the Tech Ecosystem Maturity series here.
As a partnerships leader, the more influence you have on your company’s product and feature roadmap, the “stickier” your product will become. As your customers grow, they’ll need features that align with their existing tech stacks and integrations for simplifying and improving their workflows.
So, when it comes to influencing the product/feature roadmap, good looks like this: You and your product team regularly consult each other before releasing new features and integrations. (Considering a new feature? Discuss whether your team should release the feature with an open API to support potential integration development.) Integrations are a recurring priority for your development cycles, your product team knows which integrations improve key metrics like product and feature usage, and they prioritize the maintenance of and expanding of those integrations. Additionally, for the right tech partners, you prioritize being first-to-market with new integrations and features to attract your tech partner’s audience and beat the competition.
How you inform your product/feature roadmap can take a variety of shapes. For example:
- Intercom’s team invested in a simple, secondary product feature and an integration with overlapping functionality that enables more complex use cases, because they know that different customers prefer to use their product in different ways
- Bynder’s team developed its Digital Asset Transformation (DAT) feature with an open API for integrating with Salesforce, which helped the digital asset management (DAM) product expand into the content delivery space and access larger enterprise customers. Due to this success, the product and partnerships team continue to consult each other before launching new features/integrations.
- SignEasy has prioritized its tech and consulting partnership with Apple since the 2010s and has been first-to-market with features that integrate with Apple’s latest iOS releases — like widgets and iPad pencil. For example: in 2021, their e-signature tool reached more than one billion iPhone users before any of its competitors.
A lot needs to happen before partnerships and product can align. For example: Your product team needs to understand the value of partnerships and how they impact their goals, you need to get dedicated dev resources and budget for building and managing integrations at scale, and more.
We’ve interviewed hundreds of people in the industry and have compiled our learnings to help you grow your influence on the product/feature roadmap. According to our research and data from our tech ecosystem maturity diagnostic, influencing the product roadmap advances from the lowest level of maturity to the highest in the following ways:
- “Explorers” typically do not influence their product/feature roadmap.
- “Producers” typically only influence their product/feature roadmap on an ad hoc basis, and their suggestions are rarely adopted.
- “Connectors” typically leverage data from partnerships to inform core product/feature development. Partnership priorities are sometimes accounted for.
- “Supernodes” typically can prove customer demand for integrations and actively influence the product/feature roadmap. Partner data plays a critical role in product/feature development and usage.
In this article, we explore tech ecosystem maturity through the lens of how much or how little your integrations influence the product/feature roadmap.
Keep in mind: How your integrations influence the product/feature roadmap is just one of 30+ criteria contributing to tech ecosystem maturity. There are multiple factors at play. To identify areas of improvement for your partner program, take the tech ecosystem maturity diagnostic and learn how to level up each criteria through actionable next steps.
Tech Ecosystem Maturity Level #1: Explorer
“Explorers” are in the earliest stage of tech ecosystem maturity. They don’t yet have data on which integrations impact which product features and how. They are still in the process of determining which integrations are worth investing in and tracking the results.
To influence the product/feature roadmap, you’ve got to have buy-in from your product and dev teams. Some of the tips we’ll share below will help set the foundation for bidirectional trust and collaboration. Influencing your product/feature roadmap starts with making integrations a priority for your product/dev teams.
How to advance to the “Producer” Level
Gather data on the features your customers want. Determine which integrations can help fill the product gaps you have. If an integration can help alleviate a pain point for your customers and improve retention and product usage while eliminating the need for your product/dev team to build a new feature, that’s a win. In some cases, your team might build a feature for simple use cases while leaning on an integration to satisfy more complex use cases. In others, the integration will eliminate the need to invest in a new feature entirely.
To get this data, you can:
- Get direct feedback from your customer conversations
- Get feedback from your customer success (CS) team about common requests
- Work with your CS team to identify customer needs in a knowledge base portal or Google Sheet
- Use a customer support tool to track feature and integration keywords and conversation intelligence tools to track keywords during sales conversations
Start with one integration and strategic tech partner that will give you access to a large customer base. If you’re an early stage startup, target a partner ecosystem that will help you access a new customer base and prove the value of your tech ecosystem to your internal stakeholders.
You might not have the budget and dev resources to grow your tech ecosystem at scale just yet, but you can make the case for developing one integration internally. Choose your tech partner strategically. Offer to build the integration, and suggest a thoughtful co-marketing or co-selling approach for how you can access their customers and audience.
Make sure to set expectations with your potential tech partner early on to ensure their team and your team will be held accountable for their respective responsibilities. You’ll need to prove the value of integrations through the success of this partnership in order to establish trust and get buy-in from your go-to-market (GTM) teams for future partnership motions.
“If the two organizations don’t trust each other, it’s problematic,” says Tom Williams, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at SugarCRM. “Every interaction you have is going to be less productive.”
Look to your first tech partnership to understand what’s working and what’s not working in the partnership, iterate on your process, and use it as a model example for other partnerships going forward.
In 2022, SugarCRM launched a partnership with their channel partner, Technology Coast Partners (TCP) Miami. They targeted one strategic co-selling opportunity, observed a positive impact on the sales cycle and a positive working relationship with their partner, and applied the process and their learnings to their existing and future partnerships.
Gather big-picture data on the impact of your integrations. Start to lay the foundation for understanding how your tech ecosystem impacts the metrics your product team cares about most: retention, product usage, customer health, activation rates. You don’t need to know the impact on all of these metrics at first — Start with just one. For example: Getting a holistic idea of how your tech ecosystem impacts churn makes you 3.6x more likely to get dedicated development resources and budget for integrations.
Freshworks observed that their customers are 30% less likely to churn when they’ve adopted one integration (compared to 0) and 60-80% less likely to churn when they’ve adopted five integrations or more. Use the below template to determine the percentage of customers who have churned, according to the number of integrations they’ve adopted.
If out of the 300 customers who adopted 0 integrations, 165 churned (55%), and for those who adopted 2-4 integrations, only 45 churned (15%), then customers who adopted 2-4 integrations are 40% less likely to churn than those who adopted 0 integrations. Calculate the percentage of churn according to your tech ecosystem, and bring the data to your next leadership meeting.
Gather data on how your customers prefer to use your product, features, and integrations. Different customers prefer to use your product in different ways. It’s better to understand your customers’ needs and adapt your product/integration strategy than to risk having your customers “break” your product.
Just take a look at the YouTube video below to see how a customer’s stress can build if how they think they should use your product doesn’t match up with your intention. 😆
Intercom, a customer communications platform, observed that some customers preferred its native survey-building functionality while others preferred the functionality of its tech partner SurveyMonkey, a product by Momentive.
“There are going to be clients who are going to prefer to do the surveys within Intercom and not use an app partner,” says Claire Gunter, Director of Global Partner Marketing at Intercom. “For people who have put in the effort to build out surveys elsewhere, it’s important they can deploy them without our native feature. We enable both use cases.”
Knowing which customers prefer which features/integrations and why can help your product team focus their efforts. For example: rather than investing time and resources in expanding a simple, secondary feature, you can go to your product team with knowledge that some customers prefer your integration with your tech partner while others prefer the simplicity of your native feature.
Bynder, a digital asset management (DAM) company, observed that customers were either “breaking” their product or switching to an alternative prior to Bynder investing in its tech ecosystem.
In 2020, Bynder was working with tech partners on a customer-to-customer basis. Now, in 2022, Bynder has a full integrations team and product managers focused on integrations. They also work with external subject matter experts (SMEs) through their system integrator (SI) partners to develop integrations with larger systems, like Salesforce. As a result, Bynder accessed a new customer base and has improved visibility among its go-to-market (GTM) teams for the build and maintenance of its integrations.
Tech Ecosystem Maturity Level #2: Producer
As a “Producer,” you only influence your product/feature roadmap on an ad hoc basis. Perhaps you’ve made the case to develop a particular integration, but there are no expectations to invest in other integrations or the maintenance of those integrations in the quarters to come. Making the case for integration development is still a struggle, and oftentimes your suggestions aren’t implemented into the product/feature roadmap.
A core theme in advancing from the “Producer” level to the “Connector” level is helping the product team understand for themselves the effectiveness your tech ecosystem has on the metrics they care about. By doing so, you can make integrations more of a recurring priority and set the stage for the product team to keep your tech ecosystem in mind for everything they build.
How to advance to the “Connector” Level
Show the impact that individual integrations have on product-specific metrics.
Work with your growth or analytics team to bring partner data from a partner ecosystem platform (PEP) like Crossbeam into your data visualization dashboard. Your growth/analytics team already has data around metrics like product usage, retention, and customer health, so they can support you in cross-analyzing the data with partner data (that is, until you hire a Partner Ops role!).
Tip: To bring partner data into your data visualization tool, use an “extract, transform, load” ETL integration with your PEP. Check out our webinar, “Everything You Didn’t Know You Could Do With Partner Data” to learn how partner data can inform your product strategy.
Identify how an individual integration impacts metrics like:
- Product usage
- Feature adoption/usage
- Activation rates
- Customer lifetime value (LTV)
For example: Ben Wright, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development at Help Scout, says the help desk software company has observed a 7% boost in retention for customers who have at least one integration. As a result, Help Scout is hiring a team of developers focused on integrations in early 2023.
“As customers get bigger, they need more features and integrations. That’s where we need to invest our [budget],” says Wright. “From a product strategy perspective, integrations is going to be a core focus for us.”
If you run partnerships at an e-commerce company but don’t have integrations with cart abandonment software solutions for managing advanced use cases, your customers are likely to churn as they mature and require more advanced tech stack needs.
Wright adds that it’s important to make sure your product team and partnerships team align on more than just the development side of building integrations and features. Make sure to also discuss how each feature and integration will fit into the sales conversation before launching the development phase.
For example: If the minimum price for a tech partner’s software is $100K, but the minimum price for your product is $10K, it’s likely your customers won’t be able to afford to adopt your tech partner’s technology — and this misalignment will have a negative impact on your integration and/or feature’s success.
Observe and share how your tech ecosystem impacts product-led growth. The number of free users who convert to paid customers because of your tech ecosystem serves as a positive signal for the partnerships team and the product team. If you haven’t yet, start looking to your tech and channel partners for support during the onboarding journey for new customers (a.k.a. “Co-onboarding”).
Your channel partners can guide your new users in using your product effectively, and your tech partners can help educate your new users about how to use your joint solution/integration to achieve value faster. This all leads to product “stickiness”, boosting user activation, and improving activation velocity. The earlier new users can get value from your product, the more likely they are to stay — another win for your product team and you.
Molly Staats, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Lucky Orange, says she’s expanding her priorities beyond generating ecosystem qualified leads (EQLs) to also include improving the onboarding experience and boosting free-to-paid conversions.
“If [a new customer] doesn’t upgrade, it’s not enough to say, ‘I’ve done my job.’” says Staats. “We’re seeing where they’re dropping off, what tools they’re using, and bringing in our tech partners. I can go to my team and say, ‘We noticed that our partners see the most success with our users when…’”.
In addition to bringing in tech and channel partners to help support the onboarding and activation journey, you can also take action by using partner data to inform and customize messaging to your new users. Start by mapping accounts in Crossbeam to identify which of your new customers are also customers of your tech partners. This will give you insight into your new customers’ tech stacks.
From here, you can:
- Work with your CS team to help them develop messaging and/or set up meetings to walk your new users through setting up integrations that improve how they use your product with the rest of their tech stack.
- Work with your growth/analytics team to set up a “reverse ETL” workflow that enables automating in-app messaging to new users to include tech stack insights relevant to their tech stacks.
- Customize your new users’ welcome dashboards in app to encourage adoption of the integrations that have the biggest impact on reducing churn.
Change how you talk about partnerships internally. Just because you’ve been doing things one way up until now doesn’t mean it’s working. Sometimes, you need to implement a shift in mindset to influence internal buy-in and set the foundation for scaling your partner program. Taking a step back to evaluate what’s not working and how to move forward can be daunting, but we’ve heard from experts in the industry that the results are worth it!
In 2022, Molly Staats at website optimization software Lucky Orange simplified how she shared metrics of success with her product team to get buy-in for future integration development. She compiled data on how individual integrations impacted customer LTV, partner-influenced revenue, and more. Then, she gave the integration a score of “Good”, “Fair”, or “Poor” for each metric.
For an integration that has predominantly “Good” scores, Staats makes the case to invest in expanding the integration or developing similar integrations. If an integration has “Good” scores for most metrics but poor integration functionality, Staats can get buy-in for expanding the integration’s use cases or fixing its bugs.
As a result of this shift in communication, now Lucky Orange’s development team will focus on integrations in each of its six-week development cycles. For each cycle, they can prioritize:
- Developing a new integration
- Fixing bugs for existing integrations
- Expanding integration functionality and use cases
In 2020, Bynder’s team changed the way they communicated internally about their tech ecosystem. They split their integrations into three main types, “Upstream”, “Downstream”, and “Bidirectional” to help their sales team understand which types of integrations their prospects needed during the sales cycle. This categorization also helped to communicate the significance of their tech ecosystem to the product and development teams. Their talking points included:
- DAM plays a critical role in running business processes at larger organizations — not an adjacent piece of the martech stack.
- Therefore, once customers integrate, churning is unlikely.
- Tech partners and integrations can open the door for sales, and once they do, these customers are likely to become long-term users.
Bynder’s team created visual representations to complement their new messaging.
An upstream integration might entail creating digital assets, like product photos, for e-commerce sites using a content creation tool and bringing those assets into the DAM.
Then, a downstream integration might bring those photos into a product information management (PIM) system to manage and organize your product photos for publishing to an ecommerce site.
Bidirectionally, you can sync your product attributes, like product SKUs, between your PIM and your DAM and retrieve and analyze a record of all versions of the product photos in your DAM.
As a result of this simplification, Bynder’s sales team was able to direct prospects to the right place for their integration needs faster, and Bynder invested in its first product and integrations teams focused on integrations.
Work with subject matter experts (SMEs) to develop more complex integrations. SMEs can make it easier for you to build complex integrations for a strategic partner internally and/or externally. An SME can help you fast-forward to building or launching while alleviating work from your product team.
LeanData hired a Director of Partnerships (Salesforce) who had previous experience architecting partnerships in the Salesforce ecosystem. As a result, they achieved “Salesforce Summit” partner status (the top 1% of Salesforce partners). Results like this will not only help to show the value of your tech ecosystem but also encourage your product team to build integrations and features with your tech ecosystem in mind.
When Bynder began working with SMEs through their SI partners, they, too, were able to integrate with complex systems like Salesforce while satisfying a wide range of unique customer needs. The decision to work with external SMEs rather than in-house developers meant that they didn’t need to invest ongoing time and resources to become experts in their most strategic partners’ technologies.
“If we tried to build a team that knew every system out there, we’d have a team of at least 100 [engineers],” says Toni Aquino, Group Product Manager at Bynder.
Instead, they could invest time on other integrations or features — including new features that further support their tech ecosystem.
For example: Influenced by its Salesforce partnership, Bynder launched its Digital Asset Transformation (DAT) feature and expanded to a new category outside of digital asset management (DAM) — its core functionality. This enabled Bynder’s team to expand into the “content delivery” space and access a new customer base — large enterprise customers.
“It was a major innovation for us and put us in a new category,” says Aquino.
Following the success of Bynder’s DAT feature, the product team and partnerships team consult each other before developing new integrations/features on an ongoing basis. When the product team is considering building a new feature, they’ll check in with the partnerships team to see if there’s an integration use case for the feature. They’ll discuss which use cases the integrations would solve without an open API and which use cases the integration would solve with an open API. More often than not, the product team will develop the new feature with an open API to support potential integration development.
“[Now,] when we develop new features, there’s consideration for developing an open API,” says Aquino. “The partnerships team became a support system for the product, and it’s improved how [our teams] think about future development.”
Create integration “templates”. By leveraging an integration as a platform service (iPaaS), your developers can build a wide range of integrations at speed — freeing up time for your product and developers team and making it easier for your product team to say “Yes!” to prioritizing integrations.
Survey-building platform Typeform went from 30 integrations to more than 100 integrations in one year by adopting an iPaaS solution. iPaaS solution Tray.io enabled Typeform to create the first integration in a particular category and then create similar integrations by replicating some of the work. There’s a heavier lift in the beginning, and then the rest is templatized.
SugarCRM’s services team often manages requests from customers looking to integrate with complex systems. Rather than building each integration on an ad hoc basis, they, too, are creating a catalog of “templates” to make the development of each subsequent integration easier for external developers.
Tech Ecosystem Maturity Level #3: Connector
As a “Connector,” you use partner data to help inform the product strategy. You’ve worked with your growth/analytics team or your dedicated Partner Ops role to understand which integrations have the most impact on metrics like product usage, customer health, activation and more — and you help your product team act on the data.
Due to your observations, your product team readily invests in integration development, fixing and expanding on integrations that have the biggest impact on retention, and they’ve even built features with an open API with future integrations in mind.
The biggest difference between “Connector” and “Supernode” status? Making partner data an organic piece of your product team’s analytics dashboards, so they can actively come to you with ideas for expanding your tech ecosystem or building features with your integrations in mind.
How to advance to the “Supernode” Level
Use a reverse ETL integration to bring enriched partner data into the tools your product team uses most. Put your partner data into the tools your product team uses every day (like Amplitude), so they can be proactive about deciding which integrations to build, fix, and expand on.
For example: If your product can see that customers who have adopted a particular integration are using a particular feature more than others, they can invest in building out more features that integrate with the particular integration, improve existing bugs for the integration, and help to drive adoption through in-app messaging.
Some insights that you can work with your growth/analytics team to push to your product team’s dashboards include:
- The number of active users who have adopted one or more integrations, compared to active users who have not adopted any integrations
- Customer health for users who have adopted one or more integrations
- Product/feature usage for customers who have adopted a particular integration compared to those who have not adopted the particular integration
- An increase in new users or newly active users following the launch of a particular integration
Be first-to-market for launching integrations with your most strategic tech partners. Being first-to-market with a top tech partner means accessing a growing customer base with each of your tech partner’s releases. Investing in being first-to-market consistently with one partner will help you beat the competition and consistently grow your user base.
The return on investment (ROI) of being first-to-market could help you make the case for recurring dev resources while illuminating the need to grow your tech ecosystem significantly each quarter.
A quick timeline of how SignEasy has prioritized being first-to-market with Apple’s iOS releases:
With the rise of the Chief Ecosystem Officer and Supernodes like Microsoft attributing 95% of its revenue to partners, we’re seeing more SaaS companies prioritizing the ecosystem — whether it means getting all hands on deck to prioritize the investment in a strategic partner over time or laying the foundation to expand the scope of their tech ecosystem.
“If you want a partner program that shows a fast ROI, it will be around co-innovation,” says Jessie Shipman, CEO of partner enablement platform Partner Fluent.
Tech Ecosystem Maturity Level #4: Supernode
You’ve made it to “Supernode” status, or the highest level of tech ecosystem maturity. You and your tech ecosystem actively influences your product/feature roadmap. Your product team consistently prioritizes building with your tech ecosystem in mind — whether it’s dedicated integration work or features with an open API.
Check out some of the other articles in our tech ecosystem maturity series:
How you influence your product/feature roadmap is just one criteria of many when it comes to your tech ecosystem maturity. Take the Tech Ecosystem Maturity Diagnostic to learn how your tech ecosystem stacks up against your partnership peers, and get actionable next steps for leveling up.
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