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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #31

How to Master the 3 Pillars of Partnerships 

Show Synopsis

In this Partner Channel Podcast episode, Meshach Amuah-Fuster sits down with Matt Bray from SAP to discuss how channel account managers can leverage the 3 pillars of partnerships to scale their partner program. 


  • The science behind partnerships

  • Tips on engaging your partners

  • Why visibility is crucial for a successful partner ecosystem

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The Script

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I am Meshach Amuah-Fuster General Manager, EMEA at Allbound. Excited to be here with me, Matt Bray, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at SAP. Hi, Matt, how are you doing?

Matt Bray: Hey, Meshach. Delighted to be here, thanks.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Absolutely, and glad to have you on the podcast. Thank you for being on our show. Could you start us off by walking through your background in the channel and how you ended up at SAP?

Matt Bray: Yeah, absolutely. A rollercoaster of a journey my entire career has been, first of all, in high tech and financial services. That’s kind of the base layer of where my mindset comes from in the world of partnerships. My journey into SAP, that’s probably a good place to start. This is my second time around in SAP. The first time was through the Concur acquisition by SAP in 2015 for $8.3 billion. I moved into SAP then had a little bit of hiatus and then in March of this year, I was working with Signavio and SAP acquired Signavio for $1.1 billion. So this is my second time in. I believe in my heart and soul that the driver for the acquisition was fundamentally down to that collaboration mindset, that collaboration at scale, that those organizations I worked with had. Partnerships which I was responsible for in both of those organizations, I was responsible for 60% of the global revenue coming through the channel. As a mindset, the businesses had customers always at the center and had their entire ecosystem collaboration focused on the three-way value to the customer. That is the value to the organization you work for, the value to the partnerships that you work within the ecosystem and what it means to them, and also the value to the customer center.

Matt Bray: A little bit about my career in the channel. I’m the sales guy at heart, so I believe partnerships are about revenue. However, there is always the three prongs triangle that is partnerships, which is the product, marketing, and sales, and working across those fundamental business units to make partnerships work. My career has got a pre-SAP, the six years hiatus between SAP and now at SAP. So before I was with the SAP, I spent a career in the corporate travel industry and employee spend management. As an industry that’s responsible for about 4.5 trillion dollars a contribution to the global economy, it is one of the largest employers there is around the globe. As an industry that dates back to the Wright brothers flying planes across the Atlantic in the 1920s, it’s always been an industry that is collaborative. Even from the dawn of what’s called the global distribution system and the allies in their content on that reservation system as a first hyper-connected system. That’s a search engine that was created for partners who were on that genius, had to work together. As an agency, you had to bring them together and collaborate in order to drive customer excellence in the end and I did so moving into Concur. I did some amazing work bringing in the likes of Amex GCP corporate credit cards, with which I had the only global relationship. We created the expense fee individual Concur cards for all our joint customers, who bring up fraud detection systems. It’s now available globally today to all card systems, but we created that through that partnership that was exclusive to Concur and Amex customers then I really honed my skills in partnerships, I think probably with Conquer then. Then after the acquisition, I lived in this world of corporate travel and expense, but also partnerships and technology. I wanted to go do something different. Having been very much a voice of an industry within the corporate travel business for so many years,I got invited to go work for a company called exactly, they do commission software. It was really outside my comfort zone in terms of product, but I kept with partnerships and technology, knowing all about SAS business. It was amazing I was able to take exactly to the top 10 ISPs globally on Salesforce, which I think is an excellent company it has an amazing ecosystem, as a Goliath technology company. So much so we did success there, took it through IPO and acquisition by Vista Private Equity, another one and then and then created and started a software company called Sell Strip. That was native on Salesforce and really leveraged the Salesforce ecosystem. There we drove 80 percent of the company revenue through the channel, which is really exciting. But unfortunately, COVID came along and killed it. People stopped traveling, and that’s what happens. They’ve bound and kept it. I decided to back away and took six months off. Then I was really interested in my involvement with the Revenue Collective (aka Pavillion) made up of about 4000 plus CROs globally.. I was really helping the CROs and got really interested in digital transformation. There’s an upcoming industry called Digital Twin. Which is basically the uncoupling of technology within organizations and streamlining it, and making it a more hyper automated and intelligent enterprise. My friends, the Grand Molano at Salesforce, which joined Slowness, which is a data mining company. But I had some friends in a company called Signavio who said, “Please come over, we’re building EMEA and our partnerships we know you”. I had friends there, so I joined Signavio, and hey, presto. Eight months into the job, SAP acquired it for $1.1 billion, and here I am back at SAP. The journey now with SAP is just amazing. They’ve created this business unit, an organization internally called Business Process Intelligence, and they bring in RPA, which is robotic engineering AI. All these fundamental ingredients help four hundred thousand customers move to the cloud. What we’re doing is really taking all that on-premise and hybrid applications, reprocessing them, and then putting them into a hyper automated state. So they just become intelligent automate in terms of enterprise and be more competitive in today’s society. Partners are absolutely the heart of that, so I love it.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: That’s absolutely fascinating Matt. You know, there’s a lot to kind of break down and digest there. Which were definitely going to come over to, one of those things was a three pillars 80 percent revenue, which is absolutely fantastic and obviously ending up back in SAP. That’s an amazing story. I want to touch on, you mentioned customer focus, collaboration, and processes. I think that really ties well into, I guess, my next question. Which we kind of see that there’s this underlying tension when it comes to partnerships because you’re inherently reliant on another person. In your opinion, how do your vendors engage with partners and how can each partner visibility into one another?

Matt Bray: Yeah, great question. I think it’s one of the big pills you have to swallow if you ever go into the choose a career of partnerships. That you have to relinquish control of the sale, the control of fulfilling the product and making sure the products and the kind of joint value there. What you’ve become in a world of partnerships is kind of an architect of the vision that you’re trying to create and achieve by leveraging the teams and the people that are around you. So they’re very much the puppeteer with the strings, and it’s a skill to do that. I kind of lean a little bit towards the work that Mike Nevin does as part of the Alliance Best Practice, which is a fantastic community of alliance leaders around the globe. He talks about this in three chunks, right? How can I collaborate? How can I get better control? How can I share the risk and reward of what I do with the people that are around me? They fundamentally fall into three components. First and foremost, you’ve got to have trust. Trust is at the absolute core of what you do.

Matt Bray: That boils down to everybody who’s in the coalface of what you’re doing. That could be, for example, working with a partner on a particular opportunity or deal. It could be a reseller partner and your AE or your salesperson is trying to go win this deal, but doesn’t necessarily want to do or recognize the collaboration with the partner that’s there and therefore will undercut the partner outside of the deal. Squeezing them out and then in often some cases, being able to make a larger revenue reward through the acquisition, a process with the customer, and then obviously pushing that partner out. Now that isn’t for a partner person, I’ve been in that scenario lots of times. That is a disintegration of trust across any partnership, you might have. That is through the actions and behavior of individuals who do not have, culturally, have a partnership mindset. That’s so important as a business to make partnerships work. And if you do that with a large partner, then that’s the end of that partner. Nine times out of 10, they’ll move to the competitor, and nine times out of 10, the backlog of pipeline or the backlog of opportunities that you’ve had for working with a partner will just disappear.

Matt Bray: So the actions of one can impact the many. Ok, that’s number one. Number two is vision. I think you have to share the same vision not only of your organization but the partners that you work directly with. In line with what the customer is trying to achieve. You’ve got to see the bigger picture. You’re just one component of that but together in an ecosystem, you’re aligned across the customer’s business outcome. So it’s the entire vision that you have to see in your company has to see to work together. That means you don’t make it in sales and don’t make your sale now, and it’s pushed out by a quarter or two quarters, whatever that is. So be it. At the end of the day, the customer is at the heart and the and the end piece is the skills

Matt Bray: You’ve got to have that enablement of partners to be able to talk your language in your affairs. The only other piece Mike doesn’t talk about is systems, and I think data is king. The core of what you do in partnerships has to come from data. That’s understanding where partners are in particular deals and being able to report that a really decent CRM or a PRM, to understand ahead of what is going on, what partners are in, what particular deals. You’re aligned so you’re supporting either the customer achieve what they’re doing with the partners that are working with you and making sure that you’re part of the roadmap that the customer is trying to achieve by getting that before it’s too late. And I think data provides that those are the four core elements with the trust, vision, skills, and systems that increase visibility and collaboration.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: That’s really interesting, you know, again, a lot to dissect there, right? Without being to be in too much of a hippie. But I remember when I was very young, my mother said to me, “True power comes from relinquishing control.” It seemed the more control you want to be, the less power and opportunity you can create. I think that’s obviously the reason why organizations that franchise or use resellers are able to scale the most because they’re relinquishing control to some degree. Whereas if you’re kind of micromanaging everyone, whether it’s a small business or a large operation, people can’t show their true potential. That absolutely resonated with me and those four points you mentioned trust, vision, skills, and systems. By backing up that point that wasn’t mentioned, as you say, which is data-driven decisions, I think is absolutely key. I think a lot of organizations sometimes don’t adopt data-driven insights, and I know it’s kind of a buzzword, but it’s key. It enables you to figure out before the bad thing or the good thing happens how to impact change at the right time. I absolutely agree. Your book The Partnership Principle talks about the science behind partnerships. What are some takeaways from your findings?

Matt Bray: The partnership principle was a work of passion, that spiraled out into 249 pages and 49,000 words. Incorporating some of the greatest minds there are in partnerships around the globe to take on some of the challenges that the CROs had within the revenue collective. The birth of the partnership principles, working with Sam Jacobs, who’s the CEO and founder of the Revenue Collective, to say, “Look I’m spending my life on Slack here, answering all these questions about partnerships and CROs”. There are common themes and strings across all these different elements and I can’t find anywhere, which is kind of a practical guidebook on how to deal with them at a basic level. What do I do with, what do I do then?” I said, “Look, I’ll put a guidebook together for you.” Just instead of piecemeal answering your questions, I will just collect them all and then go to some of the world’s experts and take my 20 plus years in partnerships and try to create something. It just has spiraled out of control, across all these different themes of life partner acquisition, partner qualification, scaling partners in order to drive value pipeline, whatever it is.

Matt Bray: You kind of boxed them up into three different areas. Going to your point, “What’s the science of it?”. First of all, your approach to partnerships is really based on where your company is inside the technology curve. Are you an innovator or are you a laggard? Where are you sitting inside as your organization figures? Either you’re going to be focused more on driving net new revenue and sales or you’re going to be de-risking customers through competitive threat and trying to enable the partner ecosystem in order to provide that greater joint value Where are you in the technology curve and then how to motivate your partner people or your business to go and achieve what you want to achieve as part of your organization goals your big organizational goals as per what you’re doing. The other component is really driving the mechanics of the partner organization. So know you have to have it’s can be a lonely job. Being a partner person, you’re on your own because you’re kind of answerable typically to the CRO and about 60 percent or 70 percent of organizations.

Matt Bray: So you have to have the executive sponsorship, you know, within the organization, C-level, whatever that is, who multiple people are answerable to particularly product, marketing, and sales. Who can drive their behavior, you have to have that. And then at the bottom, obviously, you have to have your sales or field level people collaborate with you on what you’re trying to achieve and orchestrate. Around that you have to have your team and the mechanics of the team is an I lean heavily towards, you know, there’s lots of different studies, but GC Index is one that I really like. It talks about the personalities you need within that team. That’s a team you have around you who ultimately should report to you and say, “are they ideas person or they task person?”

Matt Bray: And then finally, you need somebody who is extremely refined, the kind of sales engineer who dots the i’s cross, the t’s who really is getting everything right. You need those people around you in order to make your team inside the mechanics of what you’re trying to do. Then if you cut and draw the line there, then you have to do that with the partner that you’re working with. So you need those characteristics in there. The teams, you have to have your teams working together. The science of it, in a nutshell, is your approach. Which is where you are on your technology curve based on your motivators of what you’re trying to do to build your business. And the science of the team that surrounds you. I look at the GC index as that science and behavior that you need around you in order to achieve what you’re trying to achieve in your budget.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: In some of the things you said, really is interesting because a lot of it kind of validates my thinking. Which I think is great, but also I try to not stay in an echo chamber and try to think of other ideas where I can learn. Some of those things do include the fact that you mentioned it’s a lonely job, right? That’s something which I thought could be the case, but not as much as you mentioned, right? And obviously a lonely job some people prefer. But a lot of people don’t. A lot of people need that cohesive network and the vibrance of a team and so forth. So that’s really interesting.

Matt Bray: Precisely that just to back you up there that I teach this as part of the Sales Impact Academy, which is a go-to-market e-learning platform. It’s got the likes of Sir Clive Woodward’s teaching about leadership. It’s got some of the world’s best leaders in sales at retail sales. Michael Burgess, Pete Crosbie, Marylou Tyler, who wrote The Predictable Revenue. I teach partnerships as part of the academy, and it’s really interesting the Chief Revenue Officers that come on to learn these skills, and particularly the ones that sit on my partnership books, is because this light bulb goes off this kind of aha moment I’m not the only one that feels this way. I feel alone. I feel it’s hard to control because partnerships is a lonely job. You have to have the backing of your organization and your executive sponsor to drive through what you’re trying to achieve in your subconscious. Otherwise, it will just never work. You’re pushing water uphill. It will just be a nightmare. It’s really interesting seeing that feedback from the students that are on the partnership course who echo this.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Another thing you mentioned was idea people versus task people. I think that’s so fascinating. I listen to this podcast maybe 18 months ago, which spoke about the different types of individuals in an organization and even at a basic level like even if you have a start-up with two people. You’re better off having one person who has ideas. It’s not a rule, but in general, one person has ideas, but another person regulates those ideas. So that you can actually execute effectively. Otherwise, there will be ideas forever. But it may not productionalize in a way that you want the business to grow. So absolutely love that. You’ve also done work around the three pillars of partnerships, you’ve had a few comments around acquisition, qualification, and scale. You’re talking about product, marketing, and sales, trust skills and systems, and vision. What are those pillars?

Matt Bray: It’s a little voice that’s in my head round and round and round. Which is kind of the core of what you need. You need to be a partnerships person. Whenever you have the kind of vision skills trust, which is the kind of alliance with practice kind of mindset. You have to have a structure that’s going to be in place. When you partner with somebody, it’s a 50/50, right partnership. They need to put on the table as much as what you’re going to put on the table. I’m a firm believer in the memorandum of understanding. That’s kind of activity document that supports a referral or resale agreement to say, “great, we have that contract, but this is what we’re going to do and I’m going to hold you to that over a kind of quarterly annual or biannual sort of process. I’ll put my stake in the ground and you put your stake in the ground and together we’re going to go do this.” Therefore, they need an executive sponsor. They need a partner business manager on their side. They need their organization to be aligned with yours and cross-functionally mapped, right? Once you get that, then that kind of rhetoric of the three pillars keeps going on.

Matt Bray: We are human. We have to put food on the table for our families and all this kind of stuff, and I like nice holidays. How am I going to motivate my partner in order to achieve? And how do I motivate my internal business to go and achieve inside this partnership? That really, a lot of it boils down to comp plans. Getting the comp plans right internally and also putting kind of SPIFF or incentives together for the partner to be motivated to position your solution. Now, obviously, that will vary based on technology partnerships and service partnerships, how much they’re hoping to do that. Obviously, we don’t want to get in front of the partner selling what they’re trying to sell in their organization by their salespeople, putting you before that. It has to be quid pro quo. It’s being able to build the sets of incentives to motivate the powers that be inside your partner organization to go and position you. Educate, enable, motivate are the key kind of principles of what the partnership is and the pillars of what you should be thinking about in your approach as well.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: And you know, I think that’s OK without sounding cheesy. I think I’m open up a charcuterie at this point, but, without sounding too cheesy. But I think that’s just a lesson for life, isn’t it, wherever your endeavors are. Being able to become proficient in what you do involves being educated, having an open mind to be educated by those who have been there and done it. But those are having the, you know, being able to enable others to be successful as well. Then obviously motivating them to be successful, motivating yourself and enabling yourself. Which is called practice and training, so these things don’t happen overnight. And I think people like yourself have managed to work in a lot of great organizations where you’ve been able to be educated, educate others, enable others, be enabled, motivate yourself because you like nice holidays, and motivate others as well. I

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Right. So going to slightly transition here and ask some final, quickfire questions. Well, not quickfire, but just some final questions outside of the channel realm just to kind of lighten things up a bit. If you had one superpower, what would it be and why?

Matt Bray: I am so desperate to go traveling. I’m a travel guy in my DNA. I was in the corporate travel industry for so many years. I love seeing cultures, the world. I’ve lived abroad. I just want to get back to that through COVID, through lockdown and just get traveling again and see the world and meet people face to face. I’m so desperate to do that In the business environment, I would put if I had a lightning strike or a massive defibrillator, I would like to put it on the corporate travel industry. I think it has an iron grip by the few in the way that the industry is run. I think it is transactional that the industry and the whole industry have to change. But because of the few, it won’t. I feel incredibly sorry for the industry right now because I think the few are destroying it

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Well, you know what? You know harder things have been achieved. Maybe not the flight, but definitely the latter. That’s a great answer. One mistake and one success you’ve had in the channel.

Matt Bray: Wow. Probably, sales trip, I just got to zero in on that one. We obviously built from idea to product ISV on the Salesforce platform in travel and expense. It was a native. It was just a brilliant idea, but unfortunately, it came crashing down because of COVID. And I think as well, understanding where that business was as an idea in the technology curve, the travel expense industry is a very mature market. But we were a new piece of technology that was doing some very fundamentally different things that we’re focusing on the cost of customer acquisition in travel and expense. We leverage the power of the CRM to go do that, and I think it was just a little bit beyond what a lot of the partner ecosystems in the financial services space want to quite get to grips with. It was a bit new and having come from that industry, it was a bit of a no-brainer. So I took it for granted that they would know it. And I think, as a result, it just didn’t give it enough time to mature.

Matt Bray: I had to really dumb it down and go a lot more back to basics around what we were trying to do with that particular product. I think I failed there. Successes, though, know Salesforce totally got it. They totally went, “Wow, this really is a land of expanding for us.” But if I get people using my application to book travel and do expenses, that far reaches our customer profile who we try to go after. As a result of that, we won like the demo jams that were world tours, and we won the Global Innovation Awards in Dreamforce in San Francisco in 2019. I stood up on stage and accepted the award in front of one hundred and seventy thousand people who said, This is just amazing, you know? And I was like, “Oh my god, yeah, it is amazing.” Just got to get everyone to get it, what we’re doing, and I would have loved to continue but COVID crushed it.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: That’s an amazing feat. That’s no mean feat. So congratulations on that award at Dreamforce. What is one business book? And I know you’ve mentioned a couple, but what is one business book you’d recommend to someone that aspires to channel leadership?

Matt Bray: Yeah, and I’m not going to plug mine.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Like your own, it’s fine. You know,

Matt Bray: It’s partnerships are divided into two alliances and channels. Alliance is your strategic, your ideas, your channel, your task, you do. In your strategic mindset for the partnership person, I would defer to the Strategic Alliances Handbook by Mike Nevin. Excellent piece of work really around qualifying that kind of vision skills trust, the VST module that he focuses is on is really good. On the channel side, a channel is really a kind of mindset. It’s about kind of psychological principles of human engagement at the end of the day. I think I probably defer to outside of partnership books, The Challenge of Sale or sign up for the psychological kind of approach to people because you’re just engaging a lot more people, you’re getting in front of a lot more people. It’s that kind of mindset, structure, and psychology that’s good. Outside of that for a guidebook on all the kinds of the science of objectivity.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: Absolutely. Got the plugin at the end. I love the fact that you kind of broke down the difference between alliances and channel because a lot of people don’t really think about that. I love the fact that you defined alliances more from a strategic standpoint, ideas, and so forth. Which kind of plays into again, idea people versus task orientated. Then in terms of channel, actually, going off a bit, going a bit rogue and not actually mentioning a channel book, but talking about Challenger and what was the other one? Sorry. So on top of that? Yeah, absolutely. And just how to actually. Absolutely. So I absolutely love that. Ok. So final question before we wrap up five years from now, what would be the major changes in the channel that people should think about now?

Matt Bray: I think it’s happening now. It’s in my world of digital transformation and process to help companies or reevaluating processes become hyper-automated and as well as digital transformation that companies should consider. That is leading us to a hyper-connected ecosystem and a world that we live in and companies have to. How does Amazon Prime get my product to the door within 24 hours? We have to live in that world now. Real-time now. My son goes to me and asks why do I need to go to a shop anymore? Now the kids that are coming through have this mindset of coming into business saying, “Why do I need to go to the high street anymore?” Just click a button and it comes to me within twenty-four hours. We live in this world. So in the next five years, we’re going to see the way that people buy change. I think we’re going to see less human engagement, although human engagement is absolutely fundamental because we are human beings. But a lot more of the pre-work will be done in the sales cycle. I would say probably in the kind of ecosystem community referrals review framework, which will then lead probably to sales becoming more order taking. Rather than that kind of whole staged qualification through to the sales cycle, because in this kind of hyperconnected ecosystem that we’re living in, we’re seeing now, what 80% of the sale being done before the buyer picks up the phone and talks to you.

Matt Bray: There are so many stakeholders around the decision making and you have to gauge, you have to have an HR ally or an accountant ally in order to get your argument across. So more and more people are in the sale, and obviously, a lot of it is being community-led like the revenue collected. Now if people go, “I’m looking for PRM technology, anybody got any referrals or any kind of references?” “Great, Allbound I will buy that one.” Brilliant. Because so and so tells me that’s what has helped them inside their organization and that’ll work for me. That’s how they’re buying. In the next five years, you’re going to see a lot of that. I think that will massively open up the world of partnerships, will massively open up the culture the organizations have in the ecosystem mindset, and will massively open up in the way we collaborate with the next generation coming through in the way that we do business for tomorrow. And I really look forward to seeing that and getting partnerships off the scrap heap and at the center of what businesses do today.

Meshach Amuah-Fuster: You know, that’s it’s really interesting. A lot of points you’ve made there. I don’t think I will ever get over Amazon’s next-day delivery, to be honest with you. I don’t think I’ll just ever understand it, but obviously, I understand it, but I always find it fascinating. Most of the decision being made by a buyer before they make themselves known is 70, 80, 90 percent sometimes. Which is absolutely, really interesting. I think it’s a lesson for a lot of organizations, which I think to this day, a lot of them don’t really focus in on. I think organizations should definitely do that more. Global hyperconnectivity, something you mentioned, which I kind of bang on about quite a lot, especially with what happened last year and arguably this year. New hybrid situation partners can’t meet, distributors, manufacturers, whatever it might be. They have to sit more in a kind of portal where accountability increases and it’s more about how much or impacting and how much we’re affecting change in the portal versus what restaurant you were taken to and kind of things like that. So that’s I find that fascinating and I agree wholeheartedly. One thing I disagree with is your son. I don’t know about you, but I have to try them on first. You know, I think something about returning clothes I detest. If I ever buy clothes online, I’ll probably give them to my nephew or someone who’s bigger than me if it’s too big. So. So that’s the one thing I disagree with. So apologies. Apologies to Matt’s son for that. Thank you to our guests. Matt Bray, vice president of strategic partnerships at SAP and thank you to the listeners for joining us here at the channel at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard. Subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.