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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #17

How to Become a Channel

Chief with Cody Jones

from Zapier

Show Synopsis

In this episode of the Partner Channel Podcast, we have re-released a highly downloaded webinar episode from our Becoming a Channel Chief Series. This episode features Cody Jones, Head of Partnerships and Alliances, at Zapier. Daniel and Cody talk about the journey to becoming a channel chief and key lessons learned on the path to Zapier. Cody explains he WIIFM Factor and why this crucial piece of learning has helped him grow global channel teams.

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The Script

Daniel Graff-Radford: Welcome to the Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the partner channel community. I am Daniel Graff-Radford CEO of Allbound, for today’s episode we are re-releasing a highly attended webinar episode from our Becoming a Channel Chief Series. This episode features Cody Jones, Head of Partnerships and Alliances, at Zapier. First things first, would you start us off with talking a little about your background and how you ended up at Zapier?

Cody Jones: Yeah, happy to. So I’m Cody Jones based in Phoenix, Arizona. And it’s currently it’s going to be 102 degrees today. So all of you with your pumpkin spice lattes, I envy you. I am the head of our global partnerships and alliances at Zapier. Zapier, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s the easiest way to automate your work. We help you connect your apps and make sure that you can automate the stuff that you want to happen between them. We believe our computers should be doing more and more work. And yeah, it’s a little bit about me.

Daniel Graff-Radford: A lot of different companies have different aspects of the channel role, you know, included within Zapier your what sort of included in your role and responsibilities.

Cody Jones: Good question. So Zapier, we’re a little bit different, Zapier doesn’t have a sales team, there’s no revenue function that Zapier we’ve got seven million something accounts out there. We are very much kind of a product and engineering first company. So when you think about our product, our product, it truly is our partners, or I would say to a degree almost unique in that in that manner, we basically are the middleman between connecting Slack to Google sheets and whatever else you want to. And so to a degree, the way that we look at the partnership function and channel at Zapier is mainly in three different areas. Number one, we want to strengthen our products. So we want to make sure we get as many SaaS partners building to our product because that is our product. So we want to make sure that we’ve got a really good moat. Want to make sure that when you look for the tool that you want to connect to another one that it’s there. So you’ve got a team and function around getting the right partners or SaaS companies to build to our product. It’s free. If you’re currently not on it, get on it. It’s great one integration with Zapater gives you nearly three thousand. So it’s pretty fun. The second thing is growth through our partners I mentioned earlier, we don’t have a sales team.

Cody Jones: Our main channels are basically SEO and our partners. We have in fact, we haven’t done hadn’t done any paid advertising until we started experimenting this year. So this is our cac is fantastic, let’s put it that way. But yeah, from our perspective as one get the partners on the platform, two get our partners to promote Zapier to their user base. And when you consider a channel strategy that basically is getting three thousand plus partners to promote your product, we think everything that we do, we think about it as far as scale is concerned. And then the final thing, and this is a budding area for us and which is more traditionally channel, is we have officially launched our Zapier Agency program, which is we’re calling on them, Zapier Experts, but basically enabling users to go get help from. So we’ve got our support team and they’re fantastic and world-class. They’re really great. But if you want hands-on help, we’ve got now a channel that enables you to get hands on help with Zapier, and they’re kind of servicing existing customers and bringing new ones on board. So those are the main three areas that I kind of consist of channel at Zapier today.

Daniel Graff-Radford: So I love this because, you know, as we start to think about the future for your company, you guys are so critical to the success of Zapier year because you don’t have a revenue team besides the partners that you have. And as you are probably like many companies thinking about what are sort of goals that you guys are setting for yourselves as a channel organization going forward.

Cody Jones: Yeah. Going oh, that’s a good question. I can’t give too much away about 2021 because there’s some exciting fun stuff that we’re working on. But I’ll say about the gold standard, the things that we look at. You know, you’ve got leading indicators and you’ve got lagging indicators, lagging indicators that we traditionally base our success on are, you know, the number of users of an active integration, the revenue that comes from that, monthly active users, the kind of the standard things that you would look at. But the thing that is really tricky is how do you influence that and what are the things that what are the activities that drive that long term? And so there are mainly three different areas that we kind of focus on with our teams today. And number one, that would be the number of new partners that are added to our platform. We’ve got this really cool thing called the Zapier partner index basically have indexed something like sixty-two thousand different SaaS companies and their propensity to perform on Zapier and through a myriad of different angles. And so basically Allbound has a number Slack has a number, everybody has a number, and we use that to prioritize the partners that we bring on our product.

Cody Jones: And so specifically, that would be one thing that we look at. How fast is our moat growing? How many apps are adding? You know, typically that’s about one hundred and fifty per month right now that are being added to our platform, which is just great. The second thing in this kind of goes into what I was talking about earlier about growth. How many of our partners are embedding Zapier directly within their product? So, you know, it’s we’ve got our partners. They do launch promotions with us. They talk about Zapier there. We’re in our health documentation. We’re in their onboarding emails. But the thing that we have found that has been just explosive for our growth is making sure that when a user says, hey, you know, I want to connect Allbound to, I don’t know, whatever it could be, right. That they find a solution. And so we’ve got lots of tools that enable our partners to embed Zapier right within their products and bring that experience really close to the user. So that’s one thing that we look at. So the number of key partners that are embedding Zapier there.

Daniel Graff-Radford: So this is great. this is a pretty sophisticated channel program that’s driving, you know, a lot of revenue for a very well known company. And if we were just to pivot back, you know, because of the point of this webinar and you kind of think about the early part of your career before you were running such a sophisticated, you know, channel program, can you tell us a little bit about your early career, how you got into your position and things like that?

Cody Jones: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I, I was very fortunate to. I hate to say it, but I think my dad kind of set this all in motion. I don’t know how to say other than that. Thanks, Dad. No, I was I was serving a mission for the LDS church in South America for two years from the ages to 19 to 21. And my dad had been sharing I could write him a letter and my dad had been sharing that with some people in the neighborhood and things like that. And one of our neighbors is the CEO of Infusionsoft. Or today, I think it’s called Keep. And I literally got home. I went to church to give kind of an update of what I’ve been doing for the last two years. And I got done. And the CEO of Infusionsoft came out and said, Hey, I’m Clate Mask. Dad’s been reading your letters to me. I would love for you to come work with us. And I said, So what do you do? Oh, we do. This is 2004, marketing automation didn’t exist. It was really weird obscure thing ended up joining them and taking over sales from the CEO I was the seventh employee.

Cody Jones: Clate was doing sales. They had me come learn how to do that so that he could do other things, other lots of other things. And so I, like a lot of people, got my start in sales. And early on, I learned a lot about selling. I just remember trying to sell over the Internet in 2004 Web-based CRM software. It was like I remember like WebEx came out and I was like, Hey, Clate, I think we can show people what we’re selling them. He’s like, no, that’s not a good idea. This is ugly stuff. I was like, no, no, no, we should try this. And, you know, it became a core principle that we use going forward. But yeah, I moved into sales management, managed a bunch of teams. We had explosive growth with Infusionsoft, raised a bunch of money, burned a bunch of money, as one does. And, you know, I got to a point in sales where I got sick of just the month, the month-end the quarter-end kind of things.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Before we make this transition. I think this is an interesting point. When we sort of think about working in technology, you know, technology is one of these industries, depending now has so many sub-industries that have such high growth. So you can be a young person and try stuff out like new ways of selling, report to a CEO and try things and coming in at a young company that has explosive growth and participate in that. That’s that’s a really important chance. So not only did your dad have an introduction, not only did a CEO take a chance on you, but when you’re young and hungry and willing to try new things, being put in a position to try those things, I think that’s a really interesting sort of point that’s in your story. So now is so, so back to where you are. You’re tired of selling stuff. What did you do next?

Cody Jones: Yeah, not well. Got tired of selling stuff, but tired of what seems to be the sales rat race. And that’s real. Like I’ve talked with a number of colleagues, hey, I’m in sales. What do I do next? How do I get out of it? And to be clear, I’ve never wanted to get out of sales. I just want to be more efficient with what I do. I learned early like I started realizing, like, hey, if there’s there’s a different way that you could do this instead of hand-to-hand combat, how do you start, you know, doing one to many. And I accidentally, by chance in the sales world, started Infusionsoft channel program. We found this guy that was this influencer. His name’s Sean Greeley. He’s great. Runs Net Profit Explosion. They coach fitness businesses on how to run a better fitness business. But I, I found this channel where he kept advising businesses, hey, you need to buy Infusionsoft. And as a sales guy, I was like, this is great. Like, I’m just crushing my quotas because of this guy and started to realize. Now hang on a second. We can be selling hundreds or even thousands of units through this channel.

Cody Jones: Like let’s explore that. Fortunately, one of my colleagues, Jeff Maste did I started kind of watching what he is doing. And so I started to see this there. It was another way to sell, if you will, in mass, basically. And so I made the conscious decision to step away from sales management and explore that. And to your point, I was in my twenties, you know, the twenties, your twenties are not for traveling the world. Your twenties are for figuring out what you’re good at and trying a whole bunch of different things and doubling down on them. And thankfully, because of the opportunities that I had a chance to explore, I was able to make pivots. But I will say this and we’ll probably get to this a little bit later. But there are sacrifices in making those choices and maybe certain advice along the way. But that started my exploration of channels and verticals and. Sales through channel partners and then strategic alliances and integrations and platform, and I would say that was kind of the pivoting point for me to explore. How do I. How do I fish with nets instead of hand-to-hand combat?

Daniel Graff-Radford: Tony, this is something that we have a podcast series, the Partner Channel podcast that several other channel leaders have said where they wanted to have this one-to-many approach. And, you know, to your point, sometimes when you’re young, you’re willing to try stuff and learn, you know, learn from what’s working and not working in ways that other people don’t have the patience for later. But I think that that’s great. And, you know, so, you know, I would love to hear sort of how you experimented with different channel approaches and then eventually what it was like to move to channel leadership.

Cody Jones: Yeah, yeah. I think for me, the. I can’t help myself but get in and do the work I have to. I’m a builder, I think is what I have determined after all this time. And typically what that means is I’m willing to explore opportunities that are maybe not super apparent. They might be ambiguous. I’m willing to step into ambiguity and figure things out. And in this specific case, you know, at Infusionsoft we started to see that like, hey, this channel strategy is really working. And like, what if we were to approach things by vertical? So here’s a fitness edition of our product and here is a real estate edition of our product. And what would that look like? Let’s just go test and build something and put it in the market and see how that happens. And what we quickly found is that that wasn’t an effective strategy, mainly because our product was difficult to explain and we needed people’s help to bridge that gap. At the time this is early, early or well, I guess late 2000s, early 2010s, things like that. At the time, marketing automation was just becoming mainstream, and people needed help figuring out how to do that.

Cody Jones: So that was a strategy we pursued. And inevitably what happens is and this is just general career advice, go solve a problem, go find a problem that needs to be solved or it’s an opportunity. Throw yourself at it, figure it out. And what will inevitably happen is that you’ll be building teams around it, especially in a fast-growing company. An idea can turn into an entire department. And that’s been my entire career so far where you find a little tiny flame, you throw more fuel on it. And next thing you know, you’ve got teams running entire divisions and things along those lines. And in a fast-growing company, that’s always going to be the case. And so for me, moving from doing the work to stepping into leadership is something I’ve done on and off in my career. Sometimes I like doing more of the work. Sometimes I like being on the leadership side of things. But I will say that if you follow that pattern, you know, throw a little bit of kindling on a small flame and really do, you know, give it your best in a growing company or you’re going to have a chance to grow something pretty great.

Daniel Graff-Radford: And I think that makes a lot of sense and, you know, as you were kind of moving up by doing it yourself and then being able to take leadership because you’ve done it before, you know, one of the things that I was curious about is did you have any sort of mentors along the way to kind of help you sort of think through things to try?

Cody Jones: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Mentors are critical. And I will say this. There are some formative mentors that were available early in my career that were just fantastic. And I’ll share those in a minute. And and then also, I will say that in the work of channel and partnerships, if you’re not getting outside of your bubble, if you’re not talking to other companies, if you are not exploring what really smart people around you are doing, you’re missing a lot of opportunity. I think that’s one of the things I love the most about Zapier, is that we’ve got’re connected to every SaaS App. Well, a lot of the different assets in the market and we get to learn from each other and hey, what are you doing and how is this working for you? And what how did you solve this problem? So it’s kind of like a brain trust. And if you don’t have one, you need to get one. Do not be the smartest person in the room for me. A few of those mentors were early on. Jeff Mask, I mentioned earlier, but he was the individual that when I discovered channel, I handed the opportunities of for him to go explore and kind of build-out at Infusionsoft. And it was just wonderful for me mentor. He was about 10 years older than I was. He was at a different point in his career and I could literally see what he was doing and like the choices that he made to get there. And for me, it almost became a bit of a roadmap. And he was great and willing to share with me like, hey, I wish I would have done this. And you might consider this really patient and kind of took me under his wing when he didn’t need to.

Cody Jones: Another leader that stands out to me is Hal Holiday and he was the CEO of a company that the CEO of Infusionsoft worked for. And he ended up coming to work with us over time, as well, as our CFO for a bit. And then anyway. But he was great and he kind of he talked about I mean, basically people first, you know, how to treat partners and everybody around you, you know how to how to work with them. I still remember one of the key things that kind of came from I think this is from Jeff, actually was we call it the wiifm factor. But with them wiifm what’s in it for me, every one of these partners that we’re going to be talking to, you have to understand in conversation, one, what is in it for them and other in order to get their interest and be able to serve them over time. And so just a lots of little lessons like that where, you know, understanding how our partners are thinking, aligning on cultural culture. First, if we can align on culture, we’re not going to learn anything else. And then maybe one other thing, and this is just an old Zig Ziggler quote, but I think it’s something like you can have everything in your life you want. If you’re just if you’ll just help enough people get what they want. Right. And something along those lines. And we very much ran our teams that way back in the day. And I learned a lot from having a chance to be part of that.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I think that’s very good advice that does come up a lot when people are exploring channel is, you know, successful channels have something in it for those channel partners that’s really meaningful. And the ones that aren’t, they struggle. And, you know, so are their people today in the channel that you look up to that.

Cody Jones: Absolutely. Yeah, I mentioned the brain trust. Right. Like, who is that brain trust for me? You know, it depends on the different problems that I’m trying to solve. But I’ll say this. There are some individuals that stand out and have been great thought partners for me. One Kevin Reija he’s over, he runs things over at Timeform previous he was at HubSpot and previous to that he was at LeadPages and he and I, our entire careers have followed each other and, and been able to bounce ideas off of. And he was an individual that’s helped me you know. Hey, what about this. We thought about trying this or what about that approach or hey, here’s how we solve this problem or hey, we’re running into this type form, how are you guys handling it? And so there is there’s one individual that stands out to me, Jassam Latif, over at Slack. He and I spend a lot of time in the integration space, and there’s not too many companies that have sizable enough teams to talk about management and how do you structure goals and what are and how are you evaluating a successful partner on Slack and how do we do it at Zapier? And what does that look like for you? Are you growing your teams? What does that look like? So that’s that’s another one. But I feel like this could go on and on. I will give a plug to the CSA. If you’re not a member of the Cloud Software Association, you should be. It is a fantastic group and community that has over this over the course of my career, Sunir Shah’s, the president of it has just been phenomenal and helping me kind of grow and think and learn from others. There’s Partnerships Leaders, which is another one that’s out there as well. But grow your brain trust. I think that’s a critical thing for people.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I think those are really good points and really good resources also. So thank you for sharing that. So let’s say you’re advising a CEO that’s looking to hire a new director of channel or some chief of channel for their company. What would you tell this person to kind of think about from skills that that person needs to have or that they need to have to be a leader of a channel at a company?

Cody Jones: Oh, that’s a good question, I will say this, my views might slightly skew towards platform and product partnerships maybe than just regular old, you know, revenue and things along those lines. So with that caveat. So. One proven experience, have they done this before? This should not be somebody’s first rodeo. Two, what does their market what is a previous experience? Does there does it match your, I guess, your CAM that you’re kind of headed towards? We’ve seen many cultural mismatches in the past where you get somebody from big business that comes into SMB and it just doesn’t the tactics don’t work. It just doesn’t fit. Are you a single marketplace or a multisided marketplace? Find some experience that matches that. So I think there’s that there’s a few things that stand out immediately on the platform side. You got to get some of that’s technical. They’ve got to you know, they’ve got to be able to dig in. They need to understand API docs. They need to be familiar working with product and engineering teams. You need to find somebody that knows how to find people that are technical and they’re comfortable with that. You’ve got to optimize in this case for more of the integration platform side.

Cody Jones: The people that you hire they don’t need to be talking to partner people. They need to be talking to product and engineering teams, and they need to be able to speak like those individuals do. And so we’re not looking for that super slick sales guy. We’re looking for somebody that can intelligently hold and keep and run conversations with product and engineering, which is a different skill set in my experience, that have found. Patience this is a long play. This is not a short-term win type of thing. This is an investment and it’s going to take time. And the CEO and whoever they hire need to be aligned on that. First, in my opinion, revenue is a different game. I will say that that’s that is a quarter by quarter earn your position kind of a role. What other advice? History, history matters like people are going to have they’re going to have great experience, but validate it, talk with people that they worked with, you know, confirm that that’s the case. Partnerships is a very easy place to do that. You can see people’s wins and you can see where they lost. And you should check up on those things.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Well, for those listeners that that are aspiring to move into channel leadership, are there things that you think that they could read any sort of personal KPIs to track or company KPIs and if they start tracking, would help them? I know you mentioned joining the CSA and looking at partnership leaders. Those are good advice points for anyone, whether they’re in leadership yet or not. But for for the person that’s aspiring in, is there anything that you’ve read or that you decided to start tracking that helped you?

Cody Jones: Yeah, tracking. That’s an interesting thing. I’ll say this for aspiring individuals. I think, one, where are you getting your information? Where how are you keeping current with things for me? I subscribe to a myriad of different newsletters. There is certain tools like for my line of work, I care about all the new software that’s coming out. I want to know all about it. betalist.io Is a fantastic source for me to keep a pulse on that. In fact, I’m running Zaps that take entries from that, put it into a spreadsheet, and keep me up to date so I can watch things over time. There are, again, fantastic newsletters. Hidden Shah’s product more product-focused stuff has been something that I tuned heavily into, but I would say education’s a big one. Find like read and consume and become a subject matter expert in whatever it is you want to do. You may not be doing that thing today, but I’ll tell you this. The only difference between you doing that tomorrow and the next person is your simple desire and your ability to learn about it. In this world that’s all it is, I found that the people that want things the most, the information’s there, people that want things the most can become and will become exactly what they say they want to become just by simply consistently executing every day on whatever that might be. So educate yourself, read up, become a subject matter expert. And then you mentioned things that you’re tracking and wondering if you had another example or you could clarify that for me because I’m not sure I understand that.

Daniel Graff-Radford: And so I think that, you know, when people are maybe as a, you know, a channel account manager and they want to think a little bit more globally about the company, maybe there’s broader KPIs than their own accounts or their own channel partners that maybe if they start to keep keep in mind, one person had a really good point about looking at the Web traffic of their partnership program as a whole, know how that would help them understand whether they had declining or growing partners. I thought that was an interesting thing that you could do, even if you are in the leadership position yet to help inform, you know, yourself about your own company and your channel. But maybe there’s things that. You’ve learned to kind of look at to manage your channel that someone that is not yet there could start to think about for her own company, his own company.

Cody Jones: Yeah, great point. That’s awesome. Thanks for clarifying. You know, I will say this. The things that I notice and the things that the people around you will notice are one, great ideas and two, how you’re making their life a whole lot easier. Something that stands out to me. There’s an individual on my team, Danielle, or one of the teams at Zapier Danielle is newer to Zapier, she came from Shopify. She’s been here about a year. But what’s interesting is that every time she learns something new, she documents it. It goes into we have a problem with Zapier. We’ve got too many doc tools. But either Quip or Chota or Google Docs, it goes somewhere. But we have kind of these different playbooks around our partnerships and approaches and tactics and things that have worked and things that haven’t worked. And she’ll document it. And what’s great is that I have noticed as we’ve onboarded and added more and more people, they’ll find these little nuggets and the ability for us to point back and say, hey, you’ve got this question. Actually, it’s been answered. Here it is. And Danielle did this. It’s one of those things where if you’re willing to pave the road behind you, that is an automatic pathway into leadership, that these are the traits, that this is what leadership is. You’re clearing the way for everybody else. And so that’s one small example that stands out to me. There is there’s a number of other ones.

Daniel Graff-Radford: That’s a good one. I think if you’ll remember that one, I think it could be pretty transformative if they. It’s a nice way to sort of pay it forward also for others. Absolutely. That’s a great one. So, you know, your job, as you described, has a definite technical bent in that you have to understand these API documents and so forth. What do you think it is that your parents think you do for a living?

Cody Jones: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t I don’t think they honestly know, but if I had to guess. My mom has no clue, period. My dad, would probably and he knows about Zapier, he’s trying to use that. I think I think he knows that I just handle partnerships at a company called Zapier. That’s probably about it. I don’t think there’s a lot of shaking hands and kissing babies. I think that they think I do, which I don’t. But that’s probably a lot of what. What does your mom think you do? I mean, you know.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Yeah, well, that’s actually, you know, the genesis of this was she thinks that I’m in IT support. I heard her explaining to her friends and is because I was on her phone and her computer. That must be what I do.

Cody Jones: Oh, that’s that’s rough. I will say that the better question is whether my family and even my neighbors think I’m employed because Zapier is 100% remote. I mean, I look business up top, but I’m all-party downstairs, you know, basketball shorts or whatever, you know, grab and grab in the mail. And I just remember when I switched from commuting to an office every day, you know, my neighbors, a bunch of dentists and lawyers. Hey, Cody, like, are you all right? Everything. Yeah, fine. What’s up? Well, you’re just you’re wearing a lot an awful lot of basketball shorts and like. Are you still working? Yeah, totally. How so? I am employed. That’s the good news. Much too. Thank goodness.

Daniel Graff-Radford: That’s funny. That’s great. Thank you to you the listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel Podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.