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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #21

How to Build a Partner Program for Scale

Show Synopsis

In this episode of the Partner Channel Podcast, Daniel Graff-Radford sits down with Gauri Chawla from inRiver to discuss her past experience scaling and building an ecosystem from scratch. She explains the core questions you should ask before starting a partnership and how to build a strategic value story. 

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The Script

Daniel Graff-Radford: We lost you. OK, let me just read you that. Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Partner Channel community. I’m Daniel Graff-Radford CEO here with Allbound very excited to be talking with Gauri Chawla, who’s the vice president of Global Partners and Alliances at inRiver. Thank you so much for coming. Do you mind telling our listeners a little bit about your background and how you got to end river?

Gauri Chawla: Hi, Daniel. Thank you guys for having me on your podcast. It’s something that I’ve been looking forward to. So, you know, I started out and consulting with the big guys, so I started working with clients on how did they drive their business processes in the best way possible using technology. And that’s where I started working with a lot of the bigger technology players, like I’m dating myself here, but PeopleSoft and Oracle and Siebel and working for a big consulting company like a PWC. Accenture is actually where I started you have the exposure to what businesses need. And you can understand by almost stepping into their shoes of the challenges they have to run enterprise businesses and the type of software that they need to be efficient and to innovate. And so by working with some of these bigger players, I learned a lot. And from there, it just kind of, you know, you never have plans to become a partner and alliance VP. I didn’t even know that rule ever existed. But with everything in life, one thing leads to another. And I started to get closer and closer to our clients, helping them understand how to work with software. On the flip side, I’d have to work with the software vendors to really understand their challenges and how they would fit into the client’s vision. And I started to work with a lot of the sellers on the software side. And really, how do you bring the two minds together, and then what does it mean from a consulting perspective? So not only how do you deliver value to a customer or a client, but what does that mean from a sales and marketing perspective? And so I did that for a while, kind of navigating through the likes of Accenture, PW, P.W.C., IBM, Global Services.

Gauri Chawla: And I kind of made my way to the point where at IBM I was running the IBM Oracle Global Alliance and the I mean, the two behemoths. Right. And there’s a lot of co-opetition happening, but it’s working with different industry leaders. It’s working with software salespeople, bringing the two together. And we worked on solutions we worked on. What does this mean from a pricing perspective? How do we make the relationship grow? How do we make sure that we’re both getting benefit out of it? But ultimately, the customers happy and we grew that business to you know, you can imagine that it’s really it was really big to begin with but even bigger. And it turned out that we did such a good job that even though Oracle and IBM competed with each other, we became Oracle’s number one partner, consulting partner in retail and financial services. And then I went over to the product side. So from consulting, I went over to Oracle and started to really start to figure out, like, how do you drive the product sale through? Relationships with like an Accenture, smaller consulting firms, more of a global role, and as part of my as part of my career, I’ve gone from regional to very global roles.

Gauri Chawla: And I actually ran a consulting sales team at IBM as well. So, you know, I know this is kind of a long-winded way to get you there, but it was really understanding the client then understanding the seller side, understanding the global piece of it. How do you sell? How do you deliver? And at Oracle, I ran the Retail Global Business Unit Alliance and Channels team, which was also really a great experience. From there I went smaller, which I thought was smaller because Oracle is so big. But I went to Marketo, which was about a thousand people, which, you know, when you’re going from a thirty thousand person company to a thousand-person company, you’re like, oh my gosh, what am I doing? But it was really interesting to see at that level of company size, what do you need to do to get to the next level? And how do you get there through partnerships and alliances or channels and how do you scale? And so we did that for a while. They got bought out. I took some time off and then I went even smaller. I got the chance to go to Show Pad, which is a Belgian-based sales enablement software company, and I got to build basically the channel from scratch. So I built an ecosystem around services and agencies and an ecosystem around technology. And then we did an acquisition and it was an ecosystem around coaching and learning. And that was really, really interesting for me because when you’re at a very large company, there’s a lot of things in place.

Gauri Chawla: When you go to a really small company, you really have to figure out how do you make this business work, what’s in it for the partner, what’s in it for the customer? And then how do you scale this? And that was a great experience. And then from there inRiver reached out to me and I got the chance again to build almost from scratch. inRivers business is very much partner-led from an SI perspective. And I came in and started to build out the technology ecosystem. So relationships with Salesforce, SAP, etc., which has been fabulous and we’ve made a lot of great headway. But again, it is the learning curve and understanding. What do you do as a small company to go in and get the mindshare of a large company and ecosystem so that you can grow your own business? And now I own the entire ecosystem here in River. And it’s been really exciting because it’s almost like putting parts of a puzzle together. But there’s got to be a benefit for all parties involved and you’ve got to be looking at the actual market and seeing what’s relevant and what’s not relevant and how do you continue to innovate? So I have a global team, about eight people right now, and it’s growing and we’re doing really well. And we have a fantastic partner ecosystem. But that’s in a very kind of roundabout way. How I got to inRiver.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Well, it’s a really impressive background here, you know, not a lot of people get to think about huge global strategies and then make the shift to amazing brands like Marketo on smaller teams and then build things from scratch at ShowPad had and now at inRiver. For those of our listeners that don’t know, can you tell them what inRiver is?

Gauri Chawla: Yeah. So in River is a product information management software. So if you think about a retailer or an industrial manufacturer or a brand manufacturer, so let me make it simpler. So if you think about a Nike, right, that has a product, Nike gets their product to market via their stores, via their website. They distribute to other channels, and so if you think about how do they get their product information out there, it’s through a PIM, which is what it does. It basically takes in all the information and data from the source, whether it’s a PLM or an ERP. And then we curate that in the best possible way. We apply analytics to it. We enrich the data. Part of my technology ecosystem is translation software. If you want to get it out to different regions, what is that? How do you actually translate it? And then we get it out to different channels. Right. Again, e-commerce, we syndicate it to like the Amazon is the Wal-Mart and other marketplaces. We make sure that your website has the right information and even in-store being able to really track your product and understand it in and out. That’s what we do. So where the center of the universe for any kind of product-driven industry.

Daniel Graff-Radford: That makes a lot of sense why people would need to subscribe for that and have really really relevant product data. So this is really perfect for our listeners that are, you know, thinking about, wow, here’s someone who deeply knows the SIs because she’s been one of them. This is someone who knows alliances because she’s led some of the largest ever have been. And then building this from scratch. How does a company like inRiver or any company that doesn’t have a relationship yet with a large company like Accenture or Pricewaterhouse, how does that relationship begin, and how does one get started?

Gauri Chawla: Well, I think you’ve got to take a step back and look at yourself, because everybody has software, right? And everyone thinks their software is the greatest thing. But I think when you look at the market and you look at channels to market. Right. Partnerships and alliances are that channel. But what’s the value, first of all, to the end customer? What’s your story? What’s your value proposition? And then, you know, when you take a look at SI partners or agencies, whether they’re very large or really small, understand who your audience is and understand their routes to market, what makes them tick, what’s valuable to them? How do they provide value to their customers? And really look at also than how they’re organized because a lot of this larger size is organized by industry and then horizontal solutions. Where do you fit in? And if you fit in, how do you fit into their story? So let’s take manufacturing, right. Almost every one of these large size has a man and just manufacturing industries and but they have different horizontals and pieces of that manufacturing industry. Where do you fit in there? And then if you fit in there, what value or gap do you fill for them that they don’t have? And then how do you tell them the story so that they understand it and then they can tell the story? And then you get into, well, how do you not only bring value from a customer perspective and a gap perspective, but how do you drive dollars for them as well? And so a lot of people kind of jump in and they think they can talk about this.

Gauri Chawla: But quite frankly, for a large player like that, unless it’s strategic, they want to understand how it drives their billable hours. And when you’re in a SaaS model or world, the billable hours are not as big as they used to be as they were with on Prem. And so it’s more of that strategic value story that you have to bring in. And that’s what we’ve done with the likes of some of these large SIs is we fit into a bigger story that they tell, and without us, it’s harder for them to sell and expand. And we give them the opportunity then to upsell and cross-sell and actually expand their footprint at existing customers. But also we’re bringing them some innovation that they’re not thinking about that helps drive new customers to them as well. And then we slowly grow a practice.

Daniel Graff-Radford: You gave just a whole bunch of hooks for catching and and letting them fish. So one that you said was that focus on billable hours. I can see why that matters a lot for them. And then two is what is the hole that you fil that they don’t have today? And then three, what are kind of new opportunities or expansion opportunities after they bring you in that they can then grow other parts of their business? So that’s a very complex conversation to have. Where do you start in the SI organization if you’re meeting a new one? Do you start with a top-level partner or where is like an interesting entry point sometimes?

Gauri Chawla: So the way that I think about it, your whole ecosystem is important in one way or the other in at different levels. You know, I think that if you are a startup, you start with some of the smaller regional transactional partners and you build up the references and you build up the story. When you go to a larger partner, your wedge in is going to be transactional. At first. You can’t start at the top, right. You got to like with anything in life, you’ve got to earn it and you’ve got to prove yourself. And starting smaller and starting more at the transactional level gives you a chance to learn as well. So that when it comes to some of the bigger fish and when I talk about bigger fish, I’m not only talking about the big SIs, but I’m talking about the big customers that you’re going to go after. You’re ready for it. And so it’s always, I think, better to start more at the transactional level and prove your way into it versus trying to do too much at once.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Ok, that makes a lot of sense. And, you know, sort of bringing up this concept of ecosystem as kind of a buzzword that people are using and they use it in very different ways. How do you think about ecosystems in what you do? And like how do you define it? And then how do they evolve for a company over time?

Gauri Chawla: Yeah, so the way that I think about ecosystems I wanna take it kind of personal, right? It’s like even as a person, you have a support system around you, your family, your friends. Like, if I take a look, I look at myself, it’s like what makes my life work, right? It’s it’s not only the family and the friends, but it’s my job. It’s my cleaning lady. It’s my dry cleaning lady. It’s the people who can deliver certain things to me. You know, there is this ecosystem that supports my life, that makes it work and makes me work better. And so if I take that into a software perspective, and especially when it comes to SaaS. Right. Even when I was On-Prem, there was eco-systems, but when it comes to SaaS and this is what we used to say at Showpad, no SaaS is an island. You need to be connected. And I don’t only mean on the SI side, especially for software companies, integrations and having a connected way to make your software much more valuable for a customer who already has a tech landscape. And for you to be able to fit into it is going to be key and build it out. So for me, ecosystems, is these connections right that you need in order to succeed. And nowadays so I’ll say SaaS, but even after the year we’ve had with covid, it’s very clear that with everything getting even more so online and I think true digital transformation happening because we’ve been hearing about it for 20 years, you have to have an ecosystem. So in my definition of ecosystems, it’s those connections that you need to have to be able to grow and innovate. And in order to build those ecosystems, you’ve got to figure out who you are.

Gauri Chawla: What value are you delivering to the market? What is your vision as a as a software company or even an S.I? And then what do you need to connect to make that vision come true for a customer? So when I joined Showpad or inRiver, the first thing I did on the technology side is I sat down with the chief product officers and we got into a room, we got onto a whiteboard and I drew a big circle in the middle. And I said inRiver, I said, and I gave the marker then over to the chief product officer. And I said, Tell me what you need. What needs to be if we’re the center of the universe, what do we need to connect to, to make this even stronger for our customers and more valuable to our customers? And so then we started to build it out. We need digital asset management. We need analytics, we need ERP, we need commerce. And so we started to build that out. Then we started to list who are the biggest or the best players, not the biggest, but the best players under those categories. And then from there, how do we then build out these integrations? What kind of relationships do we need? What’s the go-to market that we create? And then from there, who are the service partners that we should have who can talk about the story and maybe even have some of those relationships to make it much easier. And so that’s how I built out my team on a regional level, too, because you have different players who are dominant in different markets.

Daniel Graff-Radford: Yeah, no, that’s a really great answer from not just the strategy, but tactically how to get started and how it should evolve over time. And also, I agree with you that on a regional basis that there could be some really important differences. And that’s not one partner fits all. So that’s smart.

Daniel Graff-Radford: So switching gears to the final four questions, here they go, if you had a superpower, what would it be and why would you have that one?

Gauri Chawla: A superpower would be the ability in this type of role to think big and then bring it down to actual execution, but more than that, it’s a combination of relationships and strategy and really understanding the go-to-market and business aspect of things so that you can actually bring people together and collaborate and I think that’s probably one of my superpowers is the ability to really rally and get people excited and companies excited. And partner is excited to put in the investment put to put in the effort and to put in the time. And then you got to execute against it.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I love that. And, you know, we all like to learn from each other. So what is one mistake and one success that you could share about from the channel?

Gauri Chawla: I think one mistake is trying to do too much at once and not having really the focus. I’ve learned from that obviously now, but especially when you’re young, you want to do and you want to you just there are so many opportunities and there’s so much to be done. And so you kind of try to be a lot to everybody and that usually doesn’t work out. So I would say focus and I do that with my own teams. Is it I think it’s called the Paretta rule. Right. It’s like you should be focused on 20 percent of your partners to drive 80 percent of your revenue. That’s what I think almost anything in life. So I’ve learned how to focus much, much better to get results and outcomes. And I think from a success perspective is I’ve been really lucky with the people on my team, whether it’s I was working for somebody or somebody was working for me. And I’m grateful for those folks. But I also know that because of what we’ve done together, they’ve gone on and have all been very successful, which makes me really, really proud.

Daniel Graff-Radford: That’s great. And is there a business book you recommend to someone who’s thinking about eventually working in leadership in the channel?

Gauri Chawla: That’s a good question and I was actually going through all my books yesterday as I’ve been declaring my place, and I’m trying to think of a really, really good business book. And I’ll be honest with you, there are way too many, but I did and I can’t remember who the author was, but I can come back to you on that. A book that I read that actually helped me immensely didn’t really have to do with actual business. It had to do with how do you know it was called Energy Leadership. So how do you lead with the right energy and what that means from your own perspective of who you are, who you want to be, what are your values, and what motivates people? Because we all come to you know, we all have lives and we’ve all had different experiences and different things motivate us, but we’ve also had, you know, things that have shaped us as people and we have a lens and a perspective on things that then really taps into the energy we put forth in our day to day. And so how do you actually what kind of energy do you want to become? What kind of energy do you want to give off as a leader to motivate the people that you work with?

Daniel Graff-Radford: That’s a really interesting concept. I think I found out on Amazon. Bruce Schneider, Energy Leadership, transforming your workplace and your life from the core. Yeah, that sounds great. And final question, since you’ve had such great success, I’m sure people are interested in that sort of thing five years in the future. What are some of the changes that are happening today that will have such a really big impact five years from now?

Gauri Chawla: I think, you know, kind of when we as we started this conversation, I did not ever think that there was a rule like I have today, wasn’t even in my realm of possibility. I think five years from now, this ecosystems, channels,partnerships, whatever you want to call it, it’s already happening. But it’s going to be a huge part of any business, whether you’re a software company or whether your it’s already whether you’re like a Coke or Pepsi or a Rockwell automation. And that role will have a seat at the table and at the C-level suite. I also think that partnerships is going to become and it’s already becoming its own category and it’s going to drive, if not 50, I would say even up to 70 percent of some industry’s revenues. I think it’s growing.

Daniel Graff-Radford: I think that’s a really exciting perspective. And I think Forrester says that 75 percent of the world’s goods and services are sold with partnerships in some way. And so, you know, recognizing that and optimizing for it at the top level makes a ton of sense. Well, I want to thank our guests, so we really appreciate Gauri, you got you joining us here today. And I want to thank our listeners for taking time to listen to our podcast. If you like what you’ve heard, you can subscribe to our episodes anywhere you listen to podcasts.