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S3E26: Breaking the 80/20 Rule with Teamleader

Show Synopsis

This week, host Ali Spiric welcomes Jisse Plaggenborg, the Channel Sales Leader at Teamleader. In this episode we get an inside look Teamleaders internal growth, partnership prioritization, and unique way of managing partners.

You won’t want to miss this episode.


  • How the Teamleader partnerships department doubled the internal headcount in four years
  • What the 80/20 rule is (and how to break it)
  • Why you should break up partners into high touch and low touch groups

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The Script

Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the podcast for partnerships. In our episodes, we discuss ways to power your programs and gain actionable insights for all company sizes and partner types. We sit down with industry thought leaders to get the best tips and tricks for you, the listeners, to achieve your channel goals.

Ali Spiric: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast. I’m your host and Allbound marketer, Ali Spiric. And our guest today is joining us all the way from the Netherlands, Jisse Plaggenborg, who is the channel sales leader at Teamleader. Jisse, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and the partner program that you have over at Teamleader?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yes, of course. Thank you for getting me on the show, Ali. I’m happy to be here and share the learnings that we did at Teamleader. Yeah, I started in partnerships nine years ago. I started working for a fairly large MSP here in the Netherlands, which is around 400 employees. And then afterwards, I moved to Utrecht and I got to work for one of their suppliers. I think they are quite well known in the world, which is Ingram Micro, so one of the largest distributors. And I got to learn a lot more about the fascinating world of licensing. And I think after two years working at Ingram, I moved back to my hometown in Hengelo and I started to work for another MSP in the world of business intelligence.

Jisse Plaggenborg: And then what happened is that one of my previous managers said at Ingram he moved to Teamleader. And after a while, he called me and said, “Hey, Jisse, do you want to start working for Teamleader?” And I said, “Okay, who is Teamleader?” And I just moved back to my hometown. Why should I start working in Amsterdam? And then I was like, because he was one of my previous managers and I knew him quite well. So I started listening to him, and then he introduced me to this startup back then, which was called Teamleader. I think they started in 2012, and it’s a work management software, as we call ourselves at the moment. And we’re doing basically CRM, project management, and invoicing for SMEs in the market. So really focusing on service companies, for example, agencies, consultancy companies, IT service providers, but also in the business-to-consumer side, where you see, for example, installation companies, solar panel installers, and those kinds of companies. I started working as the first partner manager for the Netherlands. I think we were back with three people, starting in the partner team, and currently, we’re working with eight in the partner team. But in total, Teamleader has over 200 employees. I think we’re 220 at the moment, doing 25 million in ARR, and we’re currently active in the Netherlands, in Belgium, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany.

Ali Spiric: Whoa. Okay, so you said you went from 3 to 8. Over the course of how many years?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Uh, it was only four years. So I started four years ago, and now we’re in the partner-facing team, and we’re doing approximately 30% of the new revenue that’s coming in.

Ali Spiric: That’s really impressive. I feel like that’s a lot of growth, especially in headcount. Typically, when people talk about growth and partnerships, it’s the number of partners, and very rarely do you see that actually reflected in headcount until it’s massive. So I think that’s really interesting.

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yeah, I’m specifically happy about it because if you talk to other people, like partnership leaders in the space, it’s always really hard to get additional headcount for your team. So maybe that’s one of the topics that we can discuss today.

Ali Spiric: Honestly, you mentioned that when you started at number three in terms of headcount, you were focused on the Netherlands. Were you really location-focused really early in terms of dividing your team up?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yeah, originally Teamleader is a Belgian company. But when the first investors came on board in Belgium, they spoke Dutch and French. So the first thought of going international was like, “Hey, what is the closest country that we can find that’s similar to our country?” And that’s the Netherlands. And if you look at the Netherlands, it’s a really innovative country. I would say we’re always the first people to try out new software and make sure that it works. And if it’s not working, we already skipped past.

Ali Spiric: That’s funny. So what we’re really here to talk about today is how to maximize your partnerships and how to break the 80/20 rule. And for those who don’t know what this rule is, congratulations, you’re probably doing really well. But for a lot of people, 80% of their revenue comes from 20% of their partners. So in your experience, what is the 80/20 rule, and does that happen?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yeah, if you look at the 80/20, I think it’s the burrito principle that they officially call it. But yeah, it can definitely be applied to partnerships. In the past 12 months, I spoke to a lot of different partnership leaders, and in general, what you see is a little bit of a twist of the 80/20 rule.

Around 20% of your partners are really active and ensure that most of the revenue comes in. Then you have this big long tail of partners, which is about 60%, that are kind of reactive, and there’s already 20% that is inactive. And I think in SaaS, we mostly use the term “churned customers” and think that should be introduced for partners as well because if they’re really inactive or they already let go of your solution, we should call them churned partners. But that’s also part of that rule. Is that a bad thing? I wouldn’t say it is because it actually shows that there is potential in your tool and in your partner program.

Ali Spiric: Yeah, it’s definitely not a bad thing. It’s really hard to get a different company to care about yours and sell yours as much as you do when it’s your internal sales team. You can set a quota, but really, when it’s a partner, you can set a goal, but nothing really happens if they don’t hit it. So we’re just trying our best out here.

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yeah, and one of the partnerships is also really hard, right? Like you put in a lot of effort, and it takes a long time before you get the results. And especially in the SaaS business, most leaders are really impatient. Like if you start something in two months, you need to show the revenue potential of partnerships. Yeah, that’s not the case, obviously.

Ali Spiric: Definitely not based on the calls that I’ve had and the conversations that I’ve had on this podcast. People are generally saying it took them about three quarters to actually see revenue, whereas beforehand they had to be like, “Look at all of these partners that have signed on and have completed training,” and it can be hard to get your boss to understand that it’s not going to turn into dollar signs immediately. It’s a gift though to be able to practice our patience a little bit. We get all of our season’s episodes on Netflix immediately, so this is one instance where we can learn how to be patient again. Yeah. 

Jisse Plaggenborg: I think we need that patience, but we also need to do some internal politics to manage all the expectations.

Ali Spiric: Definitely feel like that could be a completely different conversation on its own in terms of internal politics. But when we’re talking about having really active partners and then partners who are kind of there, is there a warning sign that people should be looking out for that tells them that their partner program might be inefficient or they may not be maximizing output?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yeah. So that’s something that we’re constantly doing now, right? We’re in the midst of that growth, and that means that you’re constantly evaluating like, “Hey, how can we optimize our processes, how can we do stuff better?” So our partner program started in 2017 officially, while the company started in 2012. So we’re six years in now. I think after three years, we started evaluating the partner base. So we did a thorough analysis and actually, we noticed that we had a long tail of partners who were only selling our product maybe once or twice per year. And if you’re looking at a partnership, then they’re like, “Okay, but that means that they obviously offer a product probably in a reactive way.” But you want them to go on to take your product to the market and really sell and make a profitable business out of it. So what we started to do is really map out like, “Okay, which partners have potential? What are certain characteristics that we can give these partners to make sure that we see the potential in them and to make sure that we spend time on the right partner?” So we came up with this high-touch, low-touch approach, as we call it. So we’re really looking at the partners who have the potential to grow and who are worth our time and effort to make the most success out of it.

Ali Spiric: Do you have a scorecard that categorizes people as high touch or low touch based on the number of deals they bring in annually, or is there another criteria you use?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yes, we categorize partners based on multiple aspects. The most important one is having an ideal customer profile and being in the same partner group. When recruiting partners, we use the “winning by design” principle, which involves qualifying prospects and planning meetings with sales executives for those who are a good fit. For partner management and recruitment, we have our own script to qualify partners.

We consider factors like whether they use our tool themselves, their location, and their revenue. We use an equation called “reach times velocity times yield” to assess the balance. If a partner has high reach but low velocity, it requires a positive view for each deal to be successful. Similarly, if a partner lacks an existing customer base or audience, high velocity is necessary for success. This assessment is crucial in determining the potential and time investment for each partner.

Jisse Plaggenborg: During the analysis of a partner, we consider if there is potential for both us and the partner in reselling our product. Qualification and spending the right amount of time with partners is vital. With high touch partners, we schedule recurring meetings to maintain top-of-mind awareness. A simple welcome message and good luck are not sufficient for a successful partnership. We observed that some partners, including ISVs, recruit new partners through LinkedIn and form better partnerships by actively working together. Managing high touch partners effectively is important.

Ali Spiric: That’s interesting. What about low touch partners? How do you handle their engagement? Do you provide an automated partner portal for them?

Jisse Plaggenborg: We have a specific approach for low touch partners, which is tailored for the long tail of partners. While they sell only 1 or 2 licenses per year, we still want to stay top-of-mind for them. We use a community platform called Circle Dot, which works similarly to Slack and Discord. It allows us to create channels and combine events. We conduct monthly webinars to update them on our product and marketing updates. We follow a one-to-many approach, where the team leader of each partner receives these webinars and notifications via a mobile app. It’s a low-maintenance solution for us as we can easily share internal updates with the community platform. This way, low touch partners receive timely notifications and stay engaged with Teamleader.

Jisse Plaggenborg: We aim to create multiple touchpoints and keep Teamleader at the forefront of their minds. We send newsletters, invite them to events, and encourage their active participation. However, we don’t engage with low touch partners on a one-on-one basis since their reach, velocity, and yield may not support a fruitful partnership. When building a new partner base, it’s crucial to focus on qualification and alignment. Onboarding is also vital at the beginning of a partner program. You need individuals who act as entrepreneurs and can recruit new partners creatively. They should be capable of supporting and guiding partners during the initial implementation phase. These first partner managers need to possess diverse skills and ensure the partners get off to a strong start. Onboarding took some time for us to establish, but now we have someone dedicated to the role.

Ali Spiric: That’s interesting to hear about using a community platform for partner programs. Does the onboarding process also take place through that platform?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yes, currently we use the community platform for onboarding as well. Initially, we used our PRM (Partner Relationship Management) tool, which had a built-in learning management system. However, we found that creating channels and leveraging features.

Jisse Plaggenborg: It’s not partner-facing tools. Actually, I think it’s built for influencers and having their followers’ base. But we made it work for our partnerships. But I think we’re quite unique in there because we have a lot of different types of partners. So we have our integration partners on our marketplace. There are over 250 integrations now published on our marketplace. We have over 700 resellers at the moment. But these are all different kinds of companies as well. For example, we have service providers in there who also resell Microsoft 365 VoIP Solutions and other stuff related to IT. Then we have agencies who do a lot of SEO, but also CRM marketing. So you have marketing automation in there. For example, active campaign, Spotter HubSpot probably as well. And then we have these bookkeeping and administration offices in there who are making sure that their bookkeeping is in place. And because we have this invoicing within our tool, you actually connect to your bookkeeping tool in there and they’re actually managing that process for the customers. But that also means that they have a lot of different expertise in helping those customers. So if one of our partners is now running into a situation where they really want to help their customer, but they don’t have the expertise because they have a different need in there.

Jisse Plaggenborg: They can actually go into our community platform, post a request like, “Hey, you have this case going on with a certain customer. I would love to help them out, but we’re lacking the expertise,” and then they can actually ask another partner like, “Hey, can you come in?” They already know our tool and the way of working. So that’s, I think, super important to assist, and then they can actually go sell on that same customer. And then it’s a partner-to-partner sales that’s going on. That’s yeah. And for us, the main benefit is there because Teamleader is not an expensive tool. We are in the SME business. It’s like I think 2 to 50 employees is like the sweet spot customers that we’re having. It also means that partners can’t make that much money out of a single deal, so they need to combine it with services. But if they can actually create an interesting business model of combining different tools, adding services on top, and if they also like any question that’s being asked and they can have another partner and get in there and help their customers out, yeah, that’s something that we envision and that we see that that’s super helpful for everyone.

Ali Spiric: That’s really cool because I know how helpful it is. Just internally, we use Slack, shout out to Slack, but when you have an issue and you’re like, “Hey team, can anyone help?” And then you get an answer like that. So I can see how that would be really helpful in terms of partnerships. If there’s a need to be fulfilled, why it would be great to have an arena where partners can stand up and work together and build those communications themselves. And then you threw out the number of 700, 800 resellers. So in the high hundreds, you said that recently you scaled your partner program. Would you mind telling us about your experience with that and what scaled means to you?

Jisse Plaggenborg: Yeah. So, when I started, we had around 50 partners who were very active. And then, of course, within Europe, you have different countries, languages, and working styles. Even legal matters are different for each product. But what you need initially is a product that already has a customer base. As I mentioned before, having referral customers and positive reviews are like champion customers or ambassadors for your tool. Finding common ground and creating a win-win scenario in partnerships is a great starting point.

As we began to scale, starting with just three people, we had to handle a lot of tasks. Tooling is crucial in scaling a business because if you’re a one-person show, you have to do everything from recruiting to onboarding and supporting partners. Tooling can be a significant help in this regard. For instance, I mentioned the importance of a learning management system.

Jisse Plaggenborg: By providing good training materials, you can avoid physically training each partner. They can follow the training set up by your customer success team or yourself. It’s similar to how new employees in your company need training. Making it scalable saves a lot of time for a partner manager. Once you have this foundation, you can start focusing on individuals. You can launch outbound recruitment campaigns and work on sales with the partners you initially onboarded, eventually building specialized roles within your team. However, it takes time to acquire the right resources. One key lesson we learned is that you have to create your own budget. For example, at the end of 2019, Teamleader realized that they should improve customer onboarding. Many new customers were joining, but after a few years, they started leaving. It became clear that they hadn’t provided sufficient onboarding assistance, assuming customers would find their own way.

Jisse Plaggenborg: Since Teamleader operates primarily online, they introduced implementation services with three options for customers to choose from. The first option is “do it yourself,” where customers who are tech-savvy can onboard themselves using training videos and a knowledge base. The second option is “do it with help,” where an onboarding colleague guides the customer online, ensuring they are using the tool effectively. The customer still handles the implementation but receives guidance from a project manager. This option is entirely online. The third option is called “done for you,” where one of Teamleader’s service partners visits the customer’s location and handles all the implementation tasks. This package is the most comprehensive and comes at a cost.

Jisse Plaggenborg: These are our direct customers who pay for services that our partners provide on-site, which is an advantage compared to customers who purchase our services. Our direct sales colleagues actively sell these services, generating turnover and allowing us to create our own budget. After analyzing the data for about a year, we noticed that the number of active users in our tool is highest when a partner handles the implementation. This led to the realization that partner managers were responsible for guiding and managing the implementation process themselves. They had to coordinate with the partners, provide briefings from our direct sales team, and ensure follow-up actions were taken. Partner managers’ targets were primarily focused on bringing in new partners, leading to a misalignment in their responsibilities. However, as a partner manager, your role involves creating business opportunities for your partners, enabling them to build a business using our solution.

At some point, the onboarding team recognized the significant impact this had on helping our customers. They decided to assign someone to oversee the process, ensuring partner knowledge, satisfaction, and overall effectiveness. The onboarding team provided additional resources for this purpose, although they were not officially part of the partner team and still reported to the onboarding manager within the customer success department. This arrangement placed them on the same level as the onboarding team, which was crucial for smooth operations.

Ali Spiric: That’s how you achieve internal buy-in from the entire team, and having partners who are valuable is what everyone aims for. One thing I’m curious about is when you mentioned partners going in person to set everything up, are you limited by location, or does your partner coverage extend widely enough to cover most of Europe?

Jisse Plaggenborg: In the beginning, we had specific partners with a high level of expertise. The partner onboarding manager used a Typeform to gather information from partners regarding their expertise and the locations they were willing to travel to for customer visits. This data was then mapped using the Google Maps overlay in Excel, which proved to be a useful visualization tool. It helped us identify gaps in partner coverage. For example, we realized that we didn’t have any service partners covering the northern part of the Netherlands. As partner managers, we implemented an outbound strategy for partner recruitment, specifically targeting areas where we lacked coverage for the services we offered to customers.

Ali Spiric: And then, what I was going to say is, is that where you get in your car and go, like, “I have to do this myself now”?

Jisse Plaggenborg: But that’s really interesting because partners are all ears, right? “Hey, do you have any business for me?” Obviously, that’s not always the case. But when we mentioned becoming a service partner, they also need to reach a certain threshold of new business. It’s engaging with partners because you’re giving them business opportunities, and they have their own value proposition where they can earn their own money.

Ali Spiric: That’s fascinating. I’d love to see that map. It’s really interesting. You painted a clear picture of how partners contribute to coverage and customer satisfaction. You touched on partner lifecycle management throughout our conversation, which covers onboarding, high-touch and low-touch approaches, and more. I think we’ve reached the challenging part of the episode as we’re nearing the end. So, thank you, Jisse, for joining me on the podcast. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think I should have, or any additional insights you’d like to share with our listeners?

Jisse Plaggenborg: No, not really. I think you covered most of it. If listeners have any questions, I’m always available on LinkedIn. Feel free to connect with me and ask your questions. I’m happy to provide insights.

Ali Spiric: Awesome. Thank you so much for being a part of this episode, and thank you to our listeners for tuning in.

That’s all for this episode. We’d like to thank you for taking the time to listen in. If you like what you heard, we’d love the chance to take the talk to LinkedIn and continue the conversation. If you want to stay up to date with all of our new episodes, subscribe to our series wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

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