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Director of Partnerships at Box
Allbound met with Dan to understand how to create a world-class partner experience. Continue reading to learn more about:
• How to create an unforgettable partner experience
• Everboarding – what it is and why it’s crucial to PX
• What you need before automation can help optimize your partner experience.
Allbound: Tell us about your background in partnerships.
Dan O’Leary: My experience working with partners has been very interesting. I’m now working at Box, leading a number of partner functions. I was previously a partner to Box on the ISV side working at Facebook, as well as a SI partner building and customizing and integrating for Box. So I was also a Box customer, very much like the Hair Club for Men 360, if you will.
When I approach partnerships as a partner leader, I am doing it from first-hand experience within my own company. What I recognize is that I look out for a few different partner types today working with our system integrators, service partners, our ISV, or other software companies or tech partners, folks who are integrating and building solutions in Box, as well as our developer partners.
There are a number of, not just partner types, but partner personas wrapped in there and it’s awesome. It gives me a chance to work with different partners. One of the things I’ve seen is that within each type of partner, there are many of the same defined roles, personas, and ultimately needs that they have.
“When you start to take a more holistic view of your partners,
you’re able to provide a much deeper experience for them throughout their partner journey.”
Allbound: Have you worked within a partner portal, or has your experience been focused on managing a portal yourself?
Dan O’Leary: Have we worked with partner portals? Absolutely. Going back many years, we used to use a shared Box folder with partners, if you can imagine that. So there wasn’t a formal partner portal. We would just send them a folder and put our information in there. And with every partner we onboarded, it was a different set of files and different sets of approvals. Over time, we’ve experimented with many different portal platforms, but we are currently using Allbound. It’s working really well globally for all of our different partner types.
We previously, and in limited fashions, used some portal functionality that’s built into our CRM. And in a past life, I ran a very large implementation project on it which was very challenging. Candidly, it took a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of external consultants.
One of the things that we’ve been really happy about with the Allbound platform, using it on the Box partner team, is how much we’ve been able to take it and run within our internal team and our own line of business without needing extensive support from system integrators or IT. This is a case where we wanted to create a really fast experience and focus on getting value to our partners, not spending a lot of time integrating systems. We were able to get that.
Allbound: What separates a good partner experience from a lackluster one?
Dan O’Leary: What separates a good partner experience from a lackluster experience? There are maybe one hundred examples, but one of the things I think of, having been a partner, is that your partners probably have 20 other vendors that they work with. It’s really important to meet the individuals, the human beings within your partners, where they’re at.
“How do you think about their needs, their goals, what they’re trying to accomplish that day?
Their goal is not to log into a proprietary partner portal and find information.
Their goal is to prepare confidently for an important prospect meeting or to get an interested
customer the right information at the right time in the customer journey.”
When you think about creating a great partner experience, I think it’s super important to keep that in mind that your partners have many other vendors, and really empathize with them. When you care about partner experience and you want to create something that’s delightful and engaging for them, you’re going to make them want to work with you more. That’s a great way to drive partner attention and interest.
Allbound: Have you received any direct feedback from partners? What do they want in their experience?
Dan O’Leary: We get a lot of feedback from partners. One of the programs that I started implementing as a partner leader at Box is focusing on a much more defined set of partners. We previously had a huge long tail of folks over the years that had signed up, and we’ve started to pay a lot more attention to the partners who are driving meaningful outcomes for our customers, building reliable and repeatable businesses for them, and then, of course, driving great results for us.
When you think about the partner experience, we’ve really narrowed down the scope to a group of what I call our focus partners. And when we asked what feedback do you have for us?
“The things that we hear are that they love having partner managers who know their business and care about them. Of course, in a world full of bots and support forms, having people who know you and know your business is absolutely critical. You can never discount that. We also hear that they love working with the Box technology, the developer experience we bring, and of course, the culture and the integrity and the type of work we do, not just what we do, but how we do it, something that we can clearly differentiate on.”
We know that our partners have a choice not just in who they work with, but how they work, so we want to create some great experiences for them. You know, on the not probably-as-great side, because no feedback is perfect, we recognize a lot of our systems and tools and processes have been built over the years by previous partner teams and different systems were integrated. It’s not like at a mature company, there is a greenfield experience. We have to spend a lot of time when we’re working with partners, thinking about communications, change management, education, and not just onboarding, but everboarding as part of their customer journey. And when we do that, we can create a really good experience listening to feedback, but you actually have to listen. And it’s something we’re always going to be striving to improve.
Allbound: Have you tried any tactics in the past that have led to a negative experience?
Dan O’Leary: Have I tried any tactics that have not worked? Oh absolutely, but I’ve learned along the way, and it’s a long list, but there are a couple that I would not recommend. I’ll share some of my critical mistakes made in a past life.
When I was running a partner program, we made it a mandatory requirement for partners to register all leads and opportunities that they were working on to protect and maintain their partner status. We even changed all of our internal team metrics to only focus on leads submitted by these partners. But we were using a legacy CRM at the time that had a very clunky partner experience so the process of registering a lead, or registering an opportunity, was quite challenging. People couldn’t remember their login. It was a tremendous amount of data to fill out and was very painful. Some partners literally could not use that system because of the nature of their work with clients. It made a really difficult relationship when we were trying to drive outcomes together.
“When you try a tactic like wanting to get more leads from partners, of course, every partner leader out there wants that, I want that, and I’m sure you want that too. You have to think about how you can make that work really well for the customer, make that work really well for the partner, and make that work really well for you. If you do that in that order, you can create a great experience. But if you just optimize for the fields, you need to populate your CRM, not thinking about how a partner may gather that information, that’s a very tactical example of a great way to create a poor partner experience.”
Allbound: Speaking about partner experience, what is a positive partner experience for you?
Dan O’Leary: The nice thing about being a partner leader, both with my own partners and then working externally with partners, is I get a chance to see a lot of different systems and tools and processes and partner programs, and to me, positive partner experiences and the specific examples I see tend to be both very personalized and very consistent.
And I think Okta, the leading identity and cloud security platform, they have an excellent partner portal. What they have done is everything is based on not just who you are, but what you do, the role you have, where you are on your journey as a partner, and ultimately the type of work you’re doing for customers. As a partner leader, that’s exactly what I’m thinking about when we’re building programs and when we’re working in our own PRM and the Allbound platform. How can we create something that is personalized based on the type of partner you are, the location you’re in, the type of work you do there? Are you a developer? Are you an IT admin? Are you a change manager?
“Let’s get you the right content at the right time and create a great partner experience for you. And most importantly, tie that into the customer experience we want to create so that our partners are set up and enabled and empowered to take all the great things that are personalized and consistent for them and then deliver that onward into our customer base. So you really have to make sure that the positive partner experience is connected to the goals of your customer experience. If you do that then true magic can happen.”
Allbound: What parts of the partner lifecycle do you believe can and cannot be automated?
Dan O’Leary: That’s a really good question. Something that’s consistent across every partner program, and every partner type, is going to be onboarding and everboarding. Onboarding is your initial new partner contact. Everboarding, the ongoing work, compliance training, and things that have to happen after the fact. I think there’s a huge opportunity in the partner lifecycle to think about an existing partner, but a new person joining the team. And this happens all the time. It could be a change in a stakeholder. It could be a critical technical resource who joins the company or joins the initiative.
It’s critical to think past the initial onboarding experience of the partner in the first three people that registered and got trained. But what about the fourth or fifth, 30th, 100th person? If you’re running partnerships at scale, being able to have a plan for that person who joins well after the start or the kick-off is really critical to make sure they can get caught up to speed. Then once everyone is on the same page, they have all the access they need, they’re getting the right training content, the right educational content at the right time becomes the most critical thing.
“As projects change, initiatives change, or charts change, make sure that you have a very consistent, continuing education plan.
If you do that, you can make that everboarding experience pretty great. I don’t know if there’s a better term for it.
That’s the one I use. But it’s a concept of continuing education as part of the life cycle, and that’s something
that can really be automated for partner success.”
Allbound: Would you say partner experience correlates with partner engagement?
Dan O’Leary: One hundred and thirteen percent, because your partner experience cannot be greater than your customer experience. I don’t think that a partner is going to be able to do things and delight a customer more than they themselves are going to feel inspired, or delighted, or motivated to deliver a great outcome. I think, as partner leaders, we should take some of the concepts that have traditionally been applied to customer success and start to frame them in terms of partner success.
“How would you measure customer engagement? How would you measure partner engagement? It’s not just clicks onto a PRM or leads submitted. It’s actually how they show up, how they feel about your company, how they are representing you, your products, or services, your cultural values, and your team. Those are the things that are critical to me.”
When I think about partner experience, I’m not just looking at the metrics coming out of Allbound, and the surveys, and net promoter scores we get back from our partners. I’m asking myself, would I feel good putting this executive from a partner in front of a customer, and does a customer feel the same way?
One of the things we’ve been doing is looking at after a partner has done the project or a launch or kick-off initiative, and then going back and asking the customer, well, how did it go, how did it feel, how engaged was the partner? And then using that feedback to iterate and refine our program. So we’re measuring not just the partner engagement, but also the customer engagement with the partner to really understand the impact they’re making.
Allbound: To wrap up, we know you have your own video series, “Work Unleashed Live.” What could channel-focused businesses learn from this video series?
Dan O’Leary: I am the host of a regular, somewhat regular video podcast called “Work Unleashed Life,” which is a great way to help us share some of the product stories that we’re building at Box for an audience that is both channel-focused as well as customer-focused. We take the same message out to the market, but we’re always thinking about how partners can support our customers.
One of the reasons we started to do something like live video, for example, is that it’s just a highly engaging way to meet people where they’re at. It’s really fun. I love being able to send the link out to partners via Slack or LinkedIn or email saying, hey, if you don’t know what you’re doing Friday morning at 10:00, then come hang out with me.
Last week, our CEO joined us for a live session talking about an exciting new launch that Box signed. It was a really great way to build some excitement with partners to do it in a live, low-pressure, come hang out-type of chat scenario. It’s just a super great way to share educational content that isn’t a boring email or mandatory training. You can make things really fun and engaging. And if you do that well, just think about how you can take some of the great content you have and turn it into a video, turn it into something that’s a little more interactive, a little more engaging, a little more fun and see how it goes. What do you have to lose other than putting a smile on people’s faces? It’s a great way to meet partners where they’re at.
Allbound: Dan, is there anything else you want to add?
Dan O’Leary: If I had one other thing to share with other partner leaders out there, it’s to think a lot about the technology that you bring to solve partner problems.
“Most of the problems you’re going to face are going to be people and process problems. Technology is an incredible tool, but you’ve got to have the right goals in place.
We’ve been really successful in using a platform like Allbound at Box because we were really clear about how we wanted partners to get educated, to experience content, and to understand how they work in our ecosystem. But all those things really have to happen first. Once you do those, adding a great platform on top, it’s just going to make those things better, easier, faster, cooler, all those things. Make sure you’ve got to have a plan to be successful in any technology rollout. If you do, you’ll be 10 times more successful than if you just try to throw tech at a problem.”