Kevin O’Brien, Vice President of Strategic Alliances at JazzHR, joins me, Jen Spencer to discuss challenges when starting a channel program, scaling and tiering, creating a culture of partnership and more on this episode of The Allbound Podcast.
Let’s get to the nitty-gritty with JazzHR’s partner program. You have three tiers of partners and it seems like those are based on the number of bookings. Can you tell us about the tier structure that you’ve built out at JazzHR?
When you think about hiring and recruiting, some companies are month to month, but at Jazz we look at it as an annual contract because we have a hiring strategy for the year and so you need the software for the whole year.
We put these goals in tiers out on our website so you can see them at jazzhr.com and partners are able to come in and understand how much business that they would need to be bringing to JazzHR in order to be at a certain tier. That translates into how many new customers do you think you will be able to introduce to JazzHR? So, whether it’s two or five throughout the year we have a tier for that, or if it’s a 100 plus we have a tier for that. The goal is to really set the expectations. “This is what we think you need to be signing up for when you come to JazzHR, and here’s the reward you are going to get for doing it.”
So being really transparent is important when you scale any channel program or partner program and it’s something that we found to be helpful in getting the Jazz HR channel program off the ground as well.
When you think about an organization that’s just really embarking on building out a partner program, what are some of the most critical elements that a channel leader should consider, particularly when they’re starting from scratch?
When starting from scratch, there are internal things and then there are external things that you need to be looking at. Externally you need to identify if the product that you want to develop an indirect strategy for is something that the people of a small business can easily articulate to their client because that’s really what’s going to determine whether they’re going to align with your product or not. And what I found is most small B2B applications fall into that category. Then it’s trying to identify who are the pockets of these different partners that you can easily go after so that they can adopt your solution for their customers.
The bigger challenges tend to be internally focused when you’re getting a program off the ground. I think a lot of times people run into headwinds in a new program if they don’t have the buy-in and the visibility of the program that you really need. A lot of people would want to take a program, put it in a corner, and give it some time to mature a little bit and keep it out of the way. But with a channel or an indirect strategy that’s going to be a big part of the business, it really needs to be top of mind across the exec team and top of mind across the product team, the marketing team and the sales organization.
So, having top-level goals that are measured weekly and that are constantly in front of the functional leaders of each of the departments in the company is critical to keeping it at the forefront of everybody’s mind. Now recognize it’s going to take 12 to 18 months for a program to really start to achieve scale. But if it doesn’t have the visibility throughout that period it’s going to get left behind by product, it’s going to get left behind by marketing and it’s never going to be able to get that sort of the foundation under it that it needs to achieve the scale. So that’s number one.
Number two would be investing in infrastructure early and I think a lot of it is easier now than it was say 12 or 13 years ago when we were doing it at Constant Contact. Now there are a lot of tools out there built specifically for indirect programs so that you can easily set up a partner portal or you can integrate it in an API. But investing in that infrastructure to be able to measure and help the partners manage their business with you is critical because if you don’t it’s going to be a lot of email and wait and email and wait, and they’ll just get frustrated and move on.
So those are some of the key things that we try to do when we’re setting up programs with high-level goals that are visible across the whole organization. We also measure them weekly so everybody can see how it’s doing and invest in the infrastructure before the program actually launches. You’re setting it up for success because you’re trying to pull that 12 to 18 months data as quickly as you can, and that’s the point at which it will start to drive and really accelerate sales for the business going forward.
For the folks who have challenges, I think they tend to try to keep it outside of the limelight at the beginning, but it just gets a lot harder to integrate it later on as the program starts to mature. So, doing it right out of the gate is critical.
When I look at partner programs that never really produced any real results, they were siloed. The organization has to have a culture of partnership, it has to embrace that, and that comes from the top. Right? That comes from the CEO, CFO and trickles down into every single person within an organization.
Yeah, and being hand in hand with the sales team is critical as well and making sure that they understand it’s a friend, not a foe is going to ensure that it gets the support it needs as well.
Can you talk about some of the challenges that you see vendor organizations face when they’re trying to collaborate with their partners? And then this is kind of a bonus question, but I’m just curious if your partners have an opportunity to collaborate with each other? We’re starting to see these partner programs really become ecosystems where different partners might be able to collaborate to solve a business challenge. So, I’d love to hear any feedback you might have on that as well.
Collaborating with the partners is critical. And it’s such a great way to get access to new content, new ideas, new case studies and really get behind them and showcase them. In most cases with an indirect partner strategy, you’re going to have access to probably more marketing resources than your partners are. So leveraging the partners expertise is a great option that we have.
We have a webinar that we’re going to be running on 4/20, and 4/20 is a moniker for pro-marijuana and the partnership is actually with a partner who focuses on the rules around marijuana in the workplace for states where marijuana is legal. It’s good to be leveraging partners to bring their expertise so that you can educate the rest of your customers. More partners are going to be a lot more interested in working with you if they can see that you’re open to helping them demonstrate their expertise in growing their pie as well as growing your pie. That’s critical.
And to the second point of your question, when your partner programs get big enough you can facilitate this sharing of ideas amongst your partners so that now you can get two, three, four partners involved in helping to solve a single customer’s problem. At Constant Contact we saw this where we would have partners who would partner up together. If one was a web developer and another was a content writer they would work together to solve, and we would actually be building up the local networks of those partners through local directors we had. Those directors would work with all these partners and understand skill sets and who to refer customers to for what, but also build a working group so that they could team up and attack customer problems together.
We saw the same thing at HootSuite with technology partners. There are partners who are really good at deep listening and analytics and others who are good at content management and how that all works with the HootSuite platform and then bring them in to solve customer problems. We are not big enough at JazzHR where it’s happened yet, but it’s certainly where we’re going and that’s the point when the word gets out to partners that they can not only be rewarded for bringing in business, but also get new business from participating in your program, that’s when it really starts to take off. So, that’s another reason why it takes 12 to 18 months to get these things moving, but once they get moving it’s like rolling a ball downhill, it’ll pick up speed and start to manage itself on its own.
To learn more about challenges when starting a channel program, scaling and tiering, creating a culture of partnership and more, tune in to episode 27 of The Allbound Podcast.