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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #26

How to Get Your Partner Program Noticed in Your Organization

Show Synopsis

This episode of the Partner Channel Podcast hosts, Adam Michalski, from Partnered. His conversion with Tori Barlow, Senior Director of Marketing touches on how you can get your partner program noticed in your organization:

Highlights:

  • Where to invest in your channel tech stack
  • Level-up your focus on processes
  • Bring attribution to the forefront of your channel strategy

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The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, Senior Director of Marketing here at Allbound. Excited to be here with Adam Michalski, co-founder and CEO of Partnered. Welcome. Adam, thank you so much for being on our show. Could you start us off by walking through your background in the channel and how you ended up co-founding Partnered?

Adam Michalski: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me today, Tori. I’ve been in sales and partnerships pretty much my entire career. Since I graduated from college, which is way too long ago. Past five years, I was working for a company called Branch Metrics. I joined as an early employee to help build out the New York office, which was a go-to-market office for the organization and for us. I mean, that was dealing with a lot of enterprise sales, but also the partner ecosystem and being able to actually leverage the partner ecosystem to drive as much revenue for the organization as possible. That’s really where I got very, very familiar with a lot of the issues in which the co-selling dynamic was run in terms of just everything being incredibly manual, you know. So we had countless shared spreadsheets, you know, more than I care to admit, back and forth with a lot of our partners, and really had to connect both of our sales teams manually. We would even do like these cool things, which we’re like happy hours between both of our teams where we would go back and forth and, you know, like introduce the folks who had similar accounts.

At the end of the day, you know, between the account mapping, between the connecting of the teams and the collaboration and just tracking the actual influence of the partner ecosystem was having on our sales pipeline. It just became extremely clear to me that everything was way to the manual, you know, especially given how valuable it could be. So that was kind of the initial genesis for Partnered. And why we really got started is that you know, you had, on one hand, you had this ecosystem which could drive, you know, so much revenue for you. But on the other hand, everything was just being done so manually that it was kind of hampering the ability to kind of fully extract all that value. So that’s when we went ahead and we started Partnered. And it’s been a fun ride ever since we were a part of the Y Combinator class earlier this year, graduated, and have since kind of just hit the ground running. So very excited for what’s to come.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, we’ve heard that once or twice, once being manual and wanting to move away from spreadsheets. And it can be daunting at first, but definitely, a game changer once you do. And for those who don’t know, what exactly does Partnered do?

Adam Michalski : Good question. Yeah. So you can kind of think about us as like a B2B network for co-selling. So you could join our product for free at just partnered.com. Anybody can join and connect with other companies the same way that you would use like LinkedIn, for example. And once you’re connected, what we can do is we can instantly show you the best areas for you to go-to-market together as like two sales organizations and facilitate all of the sales workflows from there. So have your sales teams connect, you know, have all the relevant information in one place, and then we can also track the outcomes of that. So was it an introduction? Did they provide information or do they give you a recommendation? Obviously, all of the sourcing and the influencing, but all of that data we can capture as well so you can kind of think about us is like a purpose-built tech stack just for co-selling.

Tori Barlow: Ok, that’s really interesting and definitely useful for I know some of our customers who need something like this. Into the nitty-gritty, we know that there’s this new ecosystem of technology like Partnered. I know Jay McBain puts out the tech stack for channel and Partnered definitely falls into this new realm, you know, built to enhance automation and segmentation. So can you kind of talk about the origins of this movement, kind of the pre and then the current right now?

Adam Michalski: Yeah, I think it’s it’s been really interesting. And the one thing I’ll mention to obviously, you know, with Allbound, I think you guys are one of the leaders and like the traditional space here known as like PRM. And I think that Jay and others have quickly realized that, like, our technologies are, you know, in a lot of ways complementary. So it’s something that whenever we’re working with clients, oftentimes we’re working with somebody who has Allbound already implemented. And I’m extremely excited that, you know, Jay and others are kind of breaking this out into its own category because it’s really solving fundamentally different needs than what a PRM would solve. So Jay’s coined the term, as, you know, partner ecosystem management or partner ecosystem platforms, and we’re seeing more and more of these pop-up. As you mentioned, and I really think at the end of the day, there’s been obviously a proliferation of SaaS and more and more SaaS companies are getting created more than you can even count. And the easiest way to kind of, you know, look at that is just look at the Martek tech stack sheets or any of these other SaaS sheets that are going on where there are thousands of different companies that are popping up. And that combined with the fact that every tool now is expected to play together. So you have, you know, and like integrations are they’re essentially a requirement. You can’t you can’t go to market without having integrations. It’s one of the first questions that anybody will ask is, are you going to work with the rest of my tech stack? And because of that, you’re seeing more and more of these ecosystem plays where, you know, it’s not just, your product and what you’re selling out there, but you have to have a large ecosystem for a variety of reasons.

One is obviously from a product perspective, you know, to potentially fill gaps or voids in which you don’t want to focus on. And other people do particularly well. That’s one area. There’s the co-marketing aspect, you know, where you can go to market together from a marketing perspective. But the part the portion that we really focus, you know, on 100% is really that’s selling motion where you have that direct integration with, you know, one or usually, you know, tens, if not hundreds of different, you know, other SaaS vendors or ISV out there. And then the next the question then becomes, OK, what’s next? You know, like now we have an inherent interest now to go to market together because we have this integration between both of our companies. And usually the next question is, you know, OK, let’s do some type of co-selling or some type of co-marketing initiative to really amplify the impact of this like a strategic partnership. So I think the genesis of it is really kind of the proliferation, bringing this full circle of SaaS, you know, and the API integrations that we’ve seen. And I think it’s only going to continue to grow. You know, you’re well attuned to the fact that ecosystems are beneficial in a variety of different ways, which I’m happy to open, like, you know, continue to like, you know, expand on. But I think that yeah, I mean, from our perspective, we’re just getting started and we’re really in the early innings of seeing, like, the impact that ecosystems are going to have on companies both now and into the future.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I agree. I think it’s an ever-evolving sphere within the whole channel tech stack. And I think you guys are spearheading a lot of this, which is really exciting. I know, for your customers and everyone out there who is struggling with something like this. So I think in terms of transitioning into, you know, talking with other channel leaders, you actually host your own podcast, the Partnered podcast. And, you know, as we continue to talk about this changing tech stack or what technology is there for folks who are still doing things manually or still hesitant to kind of make that plunge, what are some of the challenges that they’re facing? And how can we as channel thought leaders kind of help them overcome that?

Adam Michalski: Yeah, it’s a really good question. The channel itself or just the overall channel tech stack, I think has been, under-invested in for quite some time. You know, when you look at the sales and marketing technology landscape, like there is no shortage of vendors out there doing everything that you can imagine. Ultimately, like when you go and you look back, I think Jay also talks about this and explains it very eloquently, for marketing in particular, you kind of had like a renaissance where marketing used to be an area that would essentially be like, ‘OK, we’re going to go out there, we’re going to spend X amount of money. 50% of it’s going to be wasted and then the other 50% may or may not be something’. And that was OK. But then as you get more and more technology, as you get more and more processes, as you get more and more kind of standardization in the way in which the role is actually run, I think it just elevates the role of partner, like, you know, like that particular department more and more. So what we’re seeing now, I think, is really that same thing that happened in marketing, the same thing that happened in sales, the same thing that recently happened in customer success, happening for partnerships. And we’re still early. But what’s great is that, you know, the more and more technology, the more and more emphasis, the more standardization that can come to partnerships, I think the better off that the entire industry will be. Particularly because it’s not uncommon even today to still have folks within a company from the sales team or the marketing team saying ‘I don’t know what the partnership folks are doing’ and that’s not OK. That shouldn’t be the case because partnerships are driving so much value for the organization that having that stigma attached to partnerships is completely incorrect. And I think that the more best practices get shared among, you know, plenty of communities that are popping up, some of which I’m a part of, like Partnership leaders and Cloud Software Association, but also great places to talk about these best practices, like these podcasts, then the rising tide really kind of lifts all of the ships around it. And the more that that information gets shared, I think that the more that partnerships will continue to rise within the organization. And not really be these folks that are off on their own island, but really become an integral part for how companies go to market, for how they think about their spot within the overall ecosystem and really facilitating all of those strategic partnerships among that ecosystem. All of that comes with this groundswell of technology and best practices and communities, all of these kinds of components really create the foundation for where I think partnerships can really jump to becoming one of the integral parts of the organization.

Tori Barlow: I think you’re exactly right. And I think what we’ve seen, too, is, you know, partner departments roll up under either sales or marketing. That’s typically one of the two. They don’t really have their own department. Some sophisticated organizations definitely do. And they probably have a really great strategy and processes in place. But I think you’re right, the more we talk about this, the more communities there are, the more automation there is. But also the fact of tracking and attribution. I think if you’re able to take a lead and physically take that to your boss and say, hey, this is where I came from, this is the partner strategy we implemented for it, and this is the revenue we’re bringing to the table, that’s exactly what will drive this industry forward. And we’re starting to see that more and more.

Adam Michalski: 100%, yeah, and that’s I mean, because the North Star for any B2B organization is always going to be revenue, you know, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s the lifeblood of any B2B organization. And the more I mean, my personal philosophy is like the more you can align yourself to that revenue via attribution of a lot of these activities, the better off you’re going to be, because if you can at the end of the quarter or the end of the year, point towards a number and, you know, definitively say that you sourced or you influence that particular pipeline. Now, it’s no longer, you know, what are those partnership folks doing over on that island? It’s oh, wow. You know, 30% of our portfolio, like our pipeline came from partnerships or 40% of our pipeline or 80% of our pipeline was influenced by partnerships that that real data has to be there in order for the rest of the organization to really, you know, take the partnership role and give them credibility. Because every other part of the organization has that, you know, which sells. It’s black and white. You either hit your number, you did it with marketing. It has become black and white as well. Now, I think that you’re starting to see a lot of that attribution infrastructure, you know, pop up that allows partnerships to really properly attribute all those activities so that, you know, you can really make sure that you can have that same conversation that the sales or marketing professional would.

Tori Barlow: That’s right. And I think with this new technology, the old adage of, you know, we need more partners to do X, Y and Z, we need this one CAM to manage 50 partners in this other CAM to manage hundred. I think that is fading out really quickly within the industry as well. Now that we do have attribution and can replicate this one really good partner generating X amount of revenue compared to this other partner who hasn’t even completed onboarding or hasn’t even read about the partner’s company, I think it’s it’s bringing more data to the forefront and making these channel leaders stronger than ever. All right, and so as CEO, you obviously sit at the forefront of your company’s go-to-market strategy, and in your opinion, why do you think there’s an acceleration in companies adopting channel as their go-to-market strategy?

Adam Michalski: Yeah, this is a great question. And I think the simple answer here is. It’s the best way to go to market, and I’ll say that just very point-blank, I do not believe that there is any better way to go to market and I’ll explain exactly why. We will post and continue to post on partnered.com/blog, plenty of resources that go into why that’s the case. And the numbers definitely support this. But when you think about it, like if you’re an account executive or you’re an SDR or even a CSM, we’ll focus on the sales portion, SDRs and AEs, when you’re trying to break into a new account like, let’s say, Nike, for example, you’re tasked with breaking into that account and selling them your product or service. You have a couple of options in your toolkit. You can cold prospect, cold outreach. You can do account-based marketing, and you can try and focus on the marketing perspective. Or you can reach out to your partner ecosystem and find somebody who’s already closed that like that business with Nike. Now, why I think the last one is so impactful and we’ve seen it be so impactful time and time again, is that when you can tap somebody who’s already basically done what you wanted to do, you can find out all of the best practices on how to navigate that deal.

And a lot of folks will ultimately point towards, OK, it’s just an introduction that I need to break into that account. But it’s so much more than that because your partners can provide they can provide information on how did the sales cycle operate, who was the champion, how many people, or how many parties needed convincing, how to procurement go, how did legal go? All of the information oftentimes is just as impactful, if not more impactful than an introduction, because you’re basically getting the cheat sheet on how to sell into the company. But also, you know, they can provide recommendations. They can really, you know, give you or they could you, like we mentioned, give you an introduction into that account. All of that is really kind of allows you to break into new business that you may not have otherwise been able to doing via called outreach or via marketing. But also what’s really great about it is I kind of think about it as like it’s almost the same way. If you were having a conversation with one of your friends and they were like, hey, you should buy an iPhone and then you go and you talk to your other friend and they’re like, hey, you should buy an iPhone, you know? And then another friend tells you you should buy an iPhone. Eventually, with every each additional person, your propensity to purchase that iPhone is going to increase because you’re going to be like, OK, that’s social proof.

It’s people that I trust. The exact same thing happens in B2B. If you’re talking to somebody on the B2B side and they hear from their agency that you’re the right solution and then they hear from another ISV that they’re already working with, that you’re the right solution, and then they hear from another one, that you’re the right solution. Every single time that propensity for that buyer to select your product or service is going to increase. I’m happy to get into any of the numbers or stuff that we can reference, you know, that’s readily accessible on our website. Like for us, like I just fundamentally believe it is the best way to go to market. And that’s stuff that we even practice, you know, as like what we preach over at Partnered as well and really go to market, like, heavily with our partners ourselves.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think that’s so important and also echoes the community-driven aspect within this industry that it’s not transactional right now or anymore. It is that community feel and that that partner feel altogether. Do you recommend to your customers and even internally to have a sophisticated go-to-market partner strategy that, you know, you need to have regular check-ins with your partners or map out what’s important to gain X prospects? Like how much of the strategy is on the vendor versus how much is it an effort together with the vendor and the partner?

Adam Michalski : Yeah, that’s a great question. I think you’ve really highlighted the most important part there is that the vast majority of those relationships are nontransactional. You know, this isn’t like the legacy reseller type relationships that are you do X for me and I’ll pay you Y. Jay also talks about this frequently. Nobody owns the customer nowadays, you know. So what these relationships mean is that you know, you’re going to have some other inherent interests with your partner ecosystem, whether that be an integration, an agency relationship. And because of that, these relationships are really more quid pro quo. It’s like the expectation is, you know, I’ll help you. You help me, not necessarily dollars based. So what that ultimately means is that when you’re facilitating these relationships back and forth with your partners, it’s interesting because we run into this a lot, where a subset of the SDRs and AEs will understand the value that these partnerships can bring. But, you know, the rest of the organization may not. And the at no fault of their own. Companies have been selling direct for longer than I can even remember. And this motion of selling alongside your partners or with your partners is not as well taught. There are not as many best practices around how you can do this again. Again, the best AEs will usually figure it out, but it hasn’t necessarily been codified. And that’s actually something that at Patnered, we’re actually putting together like playbooks on how you can do this for each specific persona. So for an SDR, what does that look like versus an AE versus a CSM versus a sales director? And there is I mean, focus specifically on the AE persona.

I think what’s interesting is, you know, you have to be very mindful versus just extracting value from this relationship, which will never work because nobody wants to just be taken advantage of. You also need to be very proactive in the way in which you provide value to that partner. So very often in my previous life, when I was facilitating some of these relationships, we would actually give a lot of value before we would ever ask for anything, it would be, hey, we heard that this company is evaluating X, Y, Z type of like solution and you should reach out to this person. Or we heard that this particular client may not be, you know, doing as well with your solution as they had hoped. And like all of those like investments into that partnership are going to reap dividends on the back end, where once you establish that rapport with a particular partner, then, for example, if you’re looking to break into an account and you see that that partner is already working with them, maybe they have them on their website or you found them in a tool such as Partnered, where you’ve done your account mapping. You now have the rapport so that making that ask and really getting deeper into the actual co-selling motion is a no-brainer because you’ve already kind of, you know, invested into that relationship. Where we don’t see those being very successful is when you try to make it very transactional and not from a revenue perspective, but more from just asking and me me me type of relationship rather than investing and then putting viewing it as more of like an actual quid pro quo.

Tori Barlow: I agree wholeheartedly. And I think instead of having a prospective partner come on board, have an opening discovery call with them, and then throwing a referral agreement at them, that’s pretty transactional. What you’re saying is, you know, create a relationship, give them a few things, and then hopefully you’ll start to see the fruit of that relationship. And then, yeah, over time, if things develop, then through a referral agreement out or it becomes more process-oriented in that sense. But everyone wants to work with the human at the end of the day and not necessarily a contract. So I think that makes a lot of sense. All right, Adam, we’re going to move into our famous Final Four questions. Are you ready?

Adam Michalski : Let’s do this

Tori Barlow: Great, if you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Adam Michalski : Oh, that’s a good one. I would say probably flying I’ve been spending way too much time in traffic recently, so if I could fly from my destination, assuming my wife and my two corgis can come with me, I would take the I would take flying over any other superpower

Tori Barlow: And just imagine Corgies flying. And it’s a really cute thought. So that’s great. What’s one mistake and one success you’ve had in channel?

Adam Michalski : One mistake and one success, I will say the mistake, so at my prior company, we had thousands of ISV relationships and we spent way too much time, you know, trying to do all of these, trying to facilitate all of the back and forth and the co-selling and co-marketing, you know, manually. If I had known what I know now and obviously, I mean, there’s been a resurgence of all these partner ecosystem platforms, I would save myself all the time and the headache and just automate as much of that process as possible so that I could focus on doing the stuff that a human should be doing and not necessarily, you know, getting into the weeds and just doing manual busy work for half of my job on the success side when I look back at the same you know, back when I was working at Branch, I mean, we had driven I think it was upwards of like 40-50% of our overall revenue for our, you know, pod directly from our partnership ecosystem. So it was one of the things that I really enjoyed. And, you know, those relationships are also just great relationships for you to have, irrespective of even just driving revenue. Obviously, if you’re a salesperson and you want to hit your number, that’s one aspect of selfishly wanting to have those relationships. But it’s also just fun to understand where your solution plays in the broader ecosystem and get to know all the other folks at these other companies, like some of the best relationships that I have and some of the best successes that I have like stem from that time in my career as well.

Tori Barlow: That’s great. It’s really insightful. What is one book you recommend to someone that aspires to be in some sort of national leadership role?

Adam Michalski : That’s a great question. I was just having this conversation with one of our advisors recently, and I think that partnerships has a lot of overlap with an enterprise sale. I think it’s a lot of the skill set is directly complementary. So the book that I would recommend is Proactive Selling by a guy named Skip Miller. So he’s a great sales trainer who’s trained many companies at Google and, you know, X, Y, and Z, large institutions. And the book really kind of goes into the what, why, and how of actually being successful at enterprise selling. And I think that once you’ve mastered that skill set, you can be very successful applying that same framework or frameworks directly to partnerships as well.

Tori Barlow: That’s great. And then the last one, five years from now, what will be the major changes in the channel and how should people think about that?

Adam Michalski : I like this one. So I think five years from now, I think that partnerships will really be at the forefront of the organization. It’s no longer going to be ‘what are those partnership folks doing’. It’s going to be really one of the core ways in which organizations will think about their go-to-market, think about their product strategy, think about their marketing strategy. Realizing that you are part of a broader ecosystem will be one of the things that the C-level is talking about. I also do really think that there will be, you know, the term CPO is taken by chief product officer. But I think that there will definitely be a chief ecosystem officer or something of the sort, because over the next, you know, a couple of years, like folks will start to realize how important that this is. And to not have somebody on the C-suite that’s actively advocating for this or, you know, necessarily having all of these these these partnership folks reporting to another part of the organization. Partnerships are so unique that it really requires its own leader. And because they can provide strategic partnerships it provides so many benefits to product, to marketing, to sales, to really every single part of the organization. I really do think that you’ll start to see more and more of those folks that are going to be chief ecosystem officers who will start to kind of, you know, really advocate for the partnership ecosystem on behalf of the actual, you know, C level of all these companies.

Tori Barlow: We agree wholeheartedly with that. And instead of who owns the channel or where discount report into channel would just be its own entity. So we support that vision entirely, too. All right. Thank you to our guest, Adam Mihalski, co-founder, and CEO of Partner Channel. And 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 the podcasts.