Asher Mathew, Director of Strategic Alliances, and Liz Anderson, Senior Director of Partner Marketing at Avalara, join me, Jen Spencer, on The Allbound Podcast to discuss partner support and recruitment strategies.
Can you share how you support partners? Are there any promotional campaigns, promotional programs, materials, marketing tools, things you regularly create that you feel help partners be more successful and be happy?
ASHER: We used to be a partner organization that believed in helping every partner all the time everywhere, and that model just didn’t scale. And so, over time, we’ve learned to better support our highest performing partners and then provide a self service experience for the rest. And when we did that, it was really important to come up with a solid framework that we’re going to operate against, and then Liz’s team comes in and provides some of the materials and the marketing tools but the framework that we use here at Avalara is very simple. We have an incubation stage, we have a monetization stage, and we have a scale stage. And the differences between the three stages are that when you sign up as a partner, we’ll go through preliminary marketing, preliminary sales enablement, preliminary value proposition matching and you’ll be launched. Once you’re launched you’re in a monetization stage, because we want to see how much business you will naturally do with us. And so if you are matching up with some of the higher tier partners that we have, you’ll automatically move into the “scale” segment and there you have a dedicated alliance manager (somebody on my team) that works diligently with you to be your single point of contact and we’ve seen some tremendous returns. We at Avalara worked off of the X to 3X to 10X model, and it’s something that I remember even in the earlier days (about 5 years ago) that this is what we thought of, and we’re like if we can just take a partner from X to 3X in revenue, and then if we could take them from 3X to 10X, how cool would that be? And it was an idea that we then took and we officially put a framework in place. Liz, do you want to share a little bit about the high quality partner promos you’ve put in place? I wanted to explain the framework so people understood what we’re working in, and then how you support them.
LIZ: When I think about the program’s and tools that we create, we kind of put them into four buckets. Sales enablement being the first bucket. We create a lot of tools as I mentioned briefly throughout the conversation today, one of those tools is a battle card, which is how a partner identifies a prospect. We’ve taken that battle card one step further and taken it away from just asking customers if they have a sales technique to how do they naturally bring up sales tasks in their conversations, so they can ultimately position themselves as a thought leader. People buy from people they trust, and sales tasks can be a really tough topic to have a conversation around, and so we want to help our partners naturally have that conversation. We have also created objection handling documents and I haven’t seen many of these created in the past in channels but they really do help our partners come up with how to respond to objections when they start having these conversations with their customers so that they know how to handle that prospect and get them on the right track again to having that conversation with us. We also create a lot of through-partner campaigns that are turnkey. You heard me mention early on that we have this demand gen tool through our partner portal, that our partners can essentially create campaigns in less than five clicks. And so, you know the second piece that I kind of bucket from the programs we create our turnkey partner marketing programs that partners can easily send out whether they're creating an email or sending out an email with a call to action that has a landing page where they can download an asset, or maybe they want to put some content on their website. We provide that all for them very easily through our turnkey marketing program. Thirdly, we also offer business development in marketing funds so that we can do custom campaigns with our partners, that are maybe more geared towards something they want to do that’s different than our turnkey programs. One of these programs we do is something called easy as pie, where we literally will send and an apple pie to our prospects through our partners to essentially let the customer know that hey managing sales tasks can be as easy as pie. Take a call from us and we’ll let you know more. So we used a lot of funds like that with our partners to help them get awareness out there and try and get that warm introduction with their customers. And last but not least, we do a lot of to-partner programs, and we’ve been talking a lot about segmenting our partner reps based on their interaction with us, who's been trained, who is referring leads, who has been closing deals. And we want to make sure that we nurture those partner reps based on their engagement with us, so that we’re ultimately giving them content that’s applicable to them and their sales cycle, or their sales engagement with us. And so we offer quarterly updates typically via webcast we offer online and in-person trainings, I also mentioned in the near future we’re hoping to offer trainings through our portal that are on-demand, and we also close out those to-partner programs with incentives and SPIFS so that whatever we’re teaching them, we’re then ultimately motivating them to respond and ask now so that they apply what we’re teaching them so that they can really get the most out of our partnership and provide the best value to their customers.
When it comes to building a solid partner program, we know recruiting the right partners is definitely going to be key, what have you both found to be an effective recruiting tool or strategy?
LIZ: If you read any book or talk to anybody who’s had a really successful channel having a great product always helps the recruit the right partners, through more traditional tactics such as attending trade shows and feet on the street and door-knocking based on who you’ve identified you want to partner with and cold-calling. However, Avalara has really taken a recruitment to the next level through identifying which partners and customers are advocates for our brand and leveraging those relationships to amplify our message and ultimately recruit partners for us. Some of the ways we started to incorporate this into our recruitment strategy is first and foremost though events. Avalara attends hundreds of events every year. And we are starting to be more proactive about working with our partners who are also at these events and identifying mutual customers that we can promote their success with, as an example or finding a partner that’s their that’s had great success with us. Asking them to maybe be in our booth or wear a t-shirt that talks about automating sales tasks. This summer we had t-shirts made for some of our tradeshows that say “keep calm and automate sales tasks - #AvalaraCalm” and helping those people that are not Avalara employees but are advocates for us, amplify that message for us and do recruitment for us that way. Similar approach to webinars, we’ll typically find customers that we can use to leverage on webinars to talk about our story to help them understand how easy we’ve made life for them since they’ve automated through our solution. We also are working on developing programs where we’re showing more appreciation for our partner reps for being advocates of our brand. One of the the things that we haven’t rolled out yet so I don’t want to talk about it too much, is the concept of an A-Team which are these partner reps who are really going above and beyond and referring a ton of leads our way and talking about us every chance they can get, and closing a lot of deals with us and we want to make sure figuring out ways to call out special attention to them not only in our partner community but also in their organizations, so we’ll continue to develop that program and roll that out. Those are some of the ways that we can use partners and customers to be advocates for us through our recruiting strategies. Strategically however we’ve also identified another recruiting approach that is near and dear to Asher’s heart.
ASHER: So this is basically going after the gold first, is what I call it and it’s a syndrome because when ISPs like ourselves, they get into an ecosystem or a channel or an industry or a category, they look for the largest player in that space and say “we’re going to go after that person with everything we’ve got, or that partner with everything we’ve got to recruit them and get them into our partner program.” While that works , it does show success, it takes a very long time. What we’ve done at Avalara is actually go after the emerging partners and keep an eye out for some characteristics like, for example, if you have an emerging partner whose employees are all ex-Oracle employees, then you know that that partner is ultimately going to do something well, and so, what we’ve done successfully at Avalara is look after emerging partners the same way we look after our larger partners, and then when we signed up those emerging partners and started to grow like 30-50% year over year, those larger partners that we hadn’t signed up, also signed up with us too. And then that’s a strategic mission that we had at Avalara that has worked really well.
To learn more about how Avalara ensures partner support and their successful recruitment strategies. tune in to episode 10 of The Allbound Podcast.