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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #18

Channel Managers Are Missing Out on Impactful Training

Show Synopsis

In this episode of the Partner Channel Podcast, Dave Thomson, sits down with Mark Brigman of PARTNERNOMICS to discuss the impact of training channel managers on the art of partnering. With over 16 years of experience in the channel, Mark Brigman set out to learn how to develop a program that would teach the fundamentals and psychology of partnerships. 

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The Script

 Dave Thomson: Welcome to the Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the partner channel community on Dave Thomson, Chief Revenue Officer at Allbound. And I’m thrilled to be here with Mark Brigman, CEO of Partnernomics. Welcome, Mark, thanks for being on the show.

Mark Brigman: Thanks, Dave. I appreciate it. Good to be here.

Dave Thomson: Well, wanted to kick things off by having you walk through your background in the channel and tell us how you ended up at Partnernomics?

Mark Brigman: Yes, I guess if I go way back, my career started with the Marines and so I was in the Marines for six years and my specialty was telecommunications. One of my business mentors gave me the sage advice, I believe, to go work for the biggest company you can and move around kind of every 18 months or so and just learn how business works, kind of learn on their dime, so to speak. And so when I looked at Kansas City, the biggest company there, and telecom was Sprint at 85,000 employees. So it’s like, well, let’s start here. And so I started there in the late 90s and just got really lucky in retrospect in that telecommunications was about ready to just be revolutionized by cell phones. Right. Or wireless phones and wireless phones had been out for several years. But I think they’re really at a point late 90s, early 2000s to just start this evolution for the smartphone. And so I found this world of partnering and didn’t really know exactly what the hell that meant and just absolutely fell in love. And was at Sprint for 13 years, leading a lot of different, really cool partnerships. And then I finally kicked myself out of Sprint, really wanting to get into small business and have small business experience. And so I helped run a small national software company for three years. And then that’s when we launched Partnernomics.

Dave Thomson: Ok, OK, so you didn’t really follow your mentor’s advice on job-hopping every 18 months, 13 years.

Mark Brigman: So I, I did, but it was all inside of Sprint. Well, it was all within partnering but, you know, different roles and different functions, I guess, you know, so one. Well, actually, I started partnering with Wi-Fi. People didn’t know how to pronounce it. Is that WiFi is that WeFe the Wi-Fi. I mean, how do we do this? Right. And so, man, what a cool experience, because we were in the process of building out and all these different airports. But then I was also doing deals with Boeing, you know, putting Wi-Fi in flight, putting it in, you know, in planes. And that was really cool, gave me an opportunity to travel all over the world, went to Europe, and did a bunch of deals over there. And then, you know, the business side of applications, which really started off as the GPS side of doing tracking for trucking companies, logistics, all of these sorts of things. And then I ran the biz dev team for Sprint TV, which at the time was the largest mobile television product and had 71 partners there on the content side and then also had platform partners themselves. More on the technical kind of hardware-software side and then went into more of the consumer side with music and other things. So as always, in partnering but different flavors as I kind of went through those 13 years.

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that’s great. I remember SprintTV and how excited I was when it came out. I’m dating myself, I think pretty well with that comment. But I just remember that

Mark Brigman: It was so funny to, like, think back now because I think that was maybe it the two and a half G days when screens were super small and really choppy. And I just kept telling myself, you know, technology is going to continue to evolve. You know this is going to turn into a thing. You know, people will actually watch video on their phone. And, you know, lo and behold, we were right, kind of like this texting thing. It kind of seemed to catch on, you know, in the mid-2000s as well. I remember it’s kind of funny, but one of the first I call them big kid meetings, one of the first big kid meetings I was in at Sprint. ‘Mark, grab that chair in the corner. Shut up. Don’t say anything. Don’t make us look stupid’. But this product manager was making a case for texting and the senior VP was like, man, we just spent all this money on this on this platform for voice mail. Why in the hell would somebody do this triple tap texting thing? What else they have to do is leave a voicemail where it’s all about making it easy. Yeah. And so, yeah, I was actually shot down for about two. I think texting kind of turned into something,

Dave Thomson: Yeah, yeah, maybe, a little something, but I would love to get back on partner partner nomics because, you know, what you created is really interesting. And I would love to learn a little bit more about what that is and what you guys in the programs, programs that you have, what you specialize in.

Mark Brigman: Yeah. So I think the best way to to frame it up is to kind of ask the why, you know, and probably with with Allbound, as you know, as an organization. But, you know, so I was at Sprint, early 20s, mid-2000s, and now I’m starting to kind of lead these bigger initiatives. And, you know, my friends who are in sales, for example. Right. They’ve gone to these sales boot camps. They have these different sales training systems and sales methodologies they follow. And so I am looking for and wanting to adopt some different partnership methodologies. I mean, how do you do this stuff? How do you go out and find and recruit and vet potential partners? How do you negotiate contracts, put them in place, do all this sort of stuff? And all of my bosses were like, Mark, I understand it, I get it, but don’t worry about it. You’re going to learn the same way everybody else learned it’s called trial and error. About 10 years down the road, you know, you’ll kind of be a ninja, but until then, you’re going to earn some battle scars. Now, just like, man, there’s got to be a better way. And so I love to learn, lifelong learner. So I said if there’s nothing out there in my spare time.

Mark Brigman: I’m going to go try to build something. And so I jumped into a college research program and started to kind of research what are the imperatives for partnership success. If you were to build out all these little mini processes and procedures that lead to partnership success, what do they look like? And if you put them in a big flowchart, how do they connect? And the part that I got really lucky on is being at Sprint. Right. So I had by this time had developed hundreds and hundreds of relationships with very senior partnership executives and partnership leaders across the world, really by this time at Sprint. And so I use them kind of as my research department. And I would have different surveys. I would just call them up and and just ask different questions as I was test driving some of these methodologies. And so over the course of seven years, I ended up building out, you know, kind of version one of a pretty holistic methodology. And that I got to the end of that college program about six years ago. And then that’s when we decided to launch Partnernomics, to share the methodology that we came up with.

Dave Thomson: Yeah. Now, that’s fascinating. So I know you have kind of two main approaches to learning more kind of a team-based approach and that cohort-based approach. So can you tell me a little bit more about those and kind of the advantages of both?

Mark Brigman: Sure, yeah. So essentially what we have done is taken about twenty-one hours worth of video-based content that steps people through the methodology and we’ve divided it into three different courses, so roughly seven hours per course. And so people can either come onto the platform, grab a course or all of them and kind of take the I call the Home Depot or Lowe’s approach. And I kind of do it yourself approach and then cruise through that way. But what we really recommend and what people get a lot more out of is is taking a coached or a guided approach. And so we do offer that and two different flavors if you will. One is a team-based approach. So if an organization wants to take their team through it and we try to cap it at seven people just to keep it pretty intimate. Yeah, but the value in going through it and a team approach is it gives the company the opportunity to really air their dirty laundry. You know, that we can kind of really focus on their company, not worry about other people outside of us, kind of hearing what some of their challenges are, really what some of their opportunities may be.

Mark Brigman: So it gives us an opportunity to really be focused on their company and putting some strategies in place that’s best for their organization. We work with Fortune 50 all the way down to start-ups. Then on the cohort approach, that’s what we work with, up to seven individuals, typically from seven different companies literally from anywhere in the world, any industry, any company size. But then we go through it’s a 14 week program. We go through all three courses over 14 weeks. But it’s been said, you know what? What you don’t know, you don’t know. And what our approach is, is to at least set. All of those questions on the table, so we at least know what we don’t know and we can ask those questions and we can get different perspectives and start to really put a solid framework, processes, methodologies, tools in place for each company that goes through one of those programs, right?

Dave Thomson: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’m going to tee this one up for you. But I think it’s an important question to ask. And that is, why do you think it’s necessary for these partnering teams within a company to go through a program like this?

Mark Brigman: Yeah, and I just reflect back on my own career. I mean, at one time I was on a business dev team with thirty five people and we had thirty five people doing deals. Thirty five different ways. Yeah. And just as I’m an economist by education, so my brain kind of just thinks in terms of efficiencies. And as I think back to some of these thirty, thirty-five people, person team, you know, you have five, six rock stars that always seem to be leading the pack on their deals. And you have five or six people that, you know, they just they’re the laggards. They always are just struggling to try to kind of figure it out. And even back then, I was thinking, man, why why can’t we kind of learn some of these success practices from the top seven and train and teach and make them more standardized so that everybody on the team is using those, that it would have to be helpful. And there are so many studies out there that show that the success rate of B2B partnerships at the two-year mark is approximately 30 percent. Success rate of B2B partnerships at the two-year mark is approximately 30 percent. That sucks for me as a business owner and for me as a trainer and a consultant. In this world of partnerships, that’s not good enough. We need to flip it. Yeah, and and so that’s why.

Dave Thomson: And that makes a lot of sense. You know, I found it and this is true in sales or partnership or wherever that, you know, even those top producers or, you know, the top people that are really knocking it out of the park is in terms of partnerships. Sometimes they don’t even know what they’re doing or they can’t articulate or teach what they’re doing. So having, you know, a program like this makes a ton of sense for sure. So tell me a little bit more about what are some of the advantages out there of participating in the co-op or program that you were describing that consisted of maybe people outside of your specific or their specific organization?

Mark Brigman: Yeah, so I think it’s what we call cross-pollination. And whenever it is so fun and we were leading these cohorts all the time, launching at least one a month. And we’ve had folks that have literally been in the channel for close to 40 years. I mean, they’re literally within a couple of years of retiring and we have them go through the cohort program with us and every single one of them just rave about the kind of two main takeaways one is managed. It just really reemphasizes the basics and the importance of the basics. You know, kind of the fundamentals don’t overlook the fundamentals you have. You just master the fundamentals. You know, you’re so much better than kind of the average that’s out there. But then also, number two, you know, just some new tools, some new methodologies, some new ways to think about partnership success, kind of some new ways to test and vet potential partners or even post contracts, how to work with partners in innovation, conflict, conflict resolution. You know, we used one in twenty one and twenty one hours of content. We can put it in quite a few gold nuggets. So everyone seems to walk away with those. But, you know, there’s there’s so much to building and managing and leading a channel program. It’s it’s everything. I mean, we touch marketing, we touch product, we touch engineering, we touch pricing, we touch legal. We touch I mean, all of these different areas. No one’s teaching all this in college. You know, no one’s coming out with a degree and channel workshop in college.

Dave Thomson: Yeah. We got to learn it somewhere. Yeah. It’s funny, I was just about to say that, that, you know, there’s not a college out there that has a major in partnerships and, you know, probably a handful that you can you can actually get a major or have a focus in sales as a whole. But you know, what’s interesting is I know you have a relationship with the University of Central Missouri. Tell me a little bit more about that, how you guys work together.

Mark Brigman: Yeah, so we started having some good conversations about four years ago or so with University of Central Missouri, and it’s with their professional development team. And so we started off doing like in-person all-day workshops to kind of do these partnering boot camps. And then we put our heads together and said and we need to really put this into a certification. So it’s not just that people go through the courses and and start to understand the methodology, but we need to have some way to offer up a credential so that not only employers that are looking to hire these professionals, but then also to know that your counterpart in other organizations, you know, they have a decent level of knowledge of how to do this partnering thing. And so we launched the Strategic Partner Leadership Professional SPLP certification, kind of started that initiative with him about four years ago and went through the full vetting and credentialing process and then, you know, getting the exam created and tested and built and all those sorts of things. And so we launched that last year. And so if people complete all three of our core courses in Partnernomics, then they’re eligible to take the exam and then they just do that through the University of Central Missouri. You see Procter’s that exam and then they can earn the SPLP credential.

Dave Thomson: That’s great. OK, so what are the intent or learning outcomes from that certification?

Mark Brigman: So there’s one piece that is really centered around we call it the SPLM and our strategic partner leadership model. And so it’s a six-element model that’s really focused on the partnering team’s function. And so as a partnering team and how should we be organized? How do we set goals? How do we build dashboards and scoreboards? What are the core processes we need to have? Where does the engagement with different partners look like after we you know, so many times whenever we do this partnering thing, we we view signing the deal as the finish line. You know, thank God we got to the mountain. Well, we all know that that’s where the real work begins. Right. And so we have a very intentional framework of how to continuously, perpetually manage and we say lead that partnership to success. And then the other major framework is that more iterative framework, and that is building the strategy for partnering, executing the strategy, how to engage potential partners, vet them out, rate them, rank them, score them, figure out who’s a good fit for you, negotiate the deal and then have your go no go decision and then put the contract in place where that where it makes sense to do that. And so just having a solid understanding of those processes. But then also the main tools that underline each of those processes. That’s that’s the takeaway.

Dave Thomson: Yeah. No that’s really interesting. Well, I’m sure we can talk about this for another 30, 40 minutes. But let’s dove into the last four questions. We call them the famous Final Four. So, number one, if you had a superpower Mark, what would it be and why?

Mark Brigman: So I’m going to say. My real answer is I want to build a predict the future, but that’s kind of boring and predict fortune-telling. Yeah, like a fortune teller. But I want to be able to, like, pick out tomorrow’s lottery winning lottery tickets for all of us. We could just go ahead and retire. But so that was kind of boring, though, I’d say, like, I want to be able to fly. I just like a bird. I just want to be like hop up and just cruise 40 or 50 miles away, you know, and just ten or 15 minutes if I wanted to. I don’t know if any birds that fast, but I think it’d be pretty cool to fly.

Dave Thomson: I think there’s a birds. So it’s fly, not fortune teller. Right. If you got to choose one,

Mark Brigman: I can get you one. I guess I fly. I’m all about the journey, so let’s fly.

Dave Thomson: All right. Number two, one mistake and one success that you’ve had within the channel.

Mark Brigman: Yeah, I mean, I would say, like earlier in my career, I made the same mistake that I frankly see most people make in the hundreds of people that we work with each year. And that is. Partnering with anybody that will sign your partnering agreement, throwing that big net out there, and just kind of, we’ll just hope you know, some of these end up working out for us. And I can say, like, the success is the inverse of that. You know what? We’ve really what I’ve learned through very deep research and then, frankly, coaching and working with organizations over the last six years, is that the whole Preto principle? Right, 80-20? We really believe in, you have 20 percent of your partners bring in 80 percent of the value. The real question is how can you make it so that all players are an all star? How can you make it so that all partners are that 20 percent for you and the the secret sauce is really and getting very clear on who is the right partner for you and taking the time and utilizing the discipline to only partner with people that fit that right.

Dave Thomson: Right. That makes a lot of sense, and I’ve I’ve heard that I feel like I hear that at least three times a month from individuals I talk to and customers of ours at Allbound.

Mark Brigman: But it’s so tough to do, you know, it’s so tough to do.

Dave Thomson: Absolutely. All right. Number three, what is the, one business book you recommend to someone that aspires to be a leader in channel?

Mark Brigman: Great question. I’m always challenged by only going with one, so I would say, well, if I can only choose one, I would say the four disciplines of execution. It’s Chris McChesney book and man, there’s just some real gold in there about being very focused and being very intentional about executing anything. It’s not just about doing partnerships, but it’s really about focus, which I think is absolutely solid. But if I can cheat, I would

Dave Thomson: Yeah you’ve already cheated with the first one.

Mark Brigman: I don’t think people can learn enough about emotional intelligence or like trust or just learning more about the relationship side of partnerships. Robin Dreke is another author of The Code of Trust is really about rapport building, trust-building, trust management relationships. Man At the end of the day, it all comes down to people. And if we understand how to build really solid relationships, that’s going to help our partnerships immensely.

Dave Thomson: Yeah. OK, great. And the final question is, five years from now, what will be the major changes in the channel that people should think about right now?

Mark Brigman: Yeah, man, awesome question. I think what we’re going to see is. Just with the proliferation of even more technologies, globalization of the economy, I think we’re going to continue to see the channel going wider and not being so traditional and so linear and so transactional. I think we’re going to see a lot more innovation opportunities, co-marketing opportunities, research partnerships. I think just the types of partnerships are going to get really creative and much wider than what the channel has traditionally been. It’s almost, you know, the ecosystem where it’s like, OK, so exactly what the hell is the ecosystem? How is it similar or different from the channel? I think we’re going to kind of see like this blending to me. Ecosystem means any partnership, any type, anywhere, and channel kind of has a definition that it’s historically fit into. I think we’re going to see a blurring between those.

Dave Thomson: Yeah. So it sounds like it’s getting more complex.

Mark Brigman: Absolutely. Yeah. I would say like for a traditional channel chief or channel manager broaden the perspective, broaden the horizon and start to understand how to bring innovation into your channel, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s product, whether it’s research, whether it’s you fill in the blank, but look at ways to pull in new opportunities. Into your channel to give you those little competitive edges.

Dave Thomson: Absolutely, and all the more need for a company like Partnernomics.

Mark Brigman: We think so.

Dave Thomson: Well, I really appreciate your time, Mark. This has been just just just great. I learned a lot, frankly. And I want to thank the listeners as well for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. And if you like what you heard, please subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you listen to a podcast. Thanks again, Mark. Have a good one.