THE PARTNER CHANNEL PODCAST
The Partnership Equation: PX + PRM = Evolution
Explore the evolving world of partnerships with Allbound CMO, Pete Rawlinson, and Ben Wright, Founder of PartnerFuel, in this insightful Partner Channel Podcast episode.
They delve into the changing dynamics of partner-led growth, emphasizing the importance of optimizing the partner experience and treating partners like valued customers.
As PRM technology continues to evolve, they discuss the role it plays in fostering transparency, enabling better relationships, and driving ecosystem growth.
Whether you’re new to partner management or an experienced partner manager, their wisdom offers valuable insights to enhance your partner program and navigate the ever-evolving partnership landscape.
In this episode, we discuss:
The shift from direct selling to partner-led growth
The role of ecosystems in partnerships
Importance of partner experience
Evolution of Partner Relationship Management (PRM) tools
Strategic considerations for partner programs
Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the podcast for partnerships. In our episodes, we discuss ways to power your programs and gain actionable insights for all company sizes and partner types. We sit down with industry thought leaders to get the best tips and tricks for you, the listeners, to achieve your channel goals.
Ali Spiric: Welcome back to the Partner Channel Podcast. My name is Ali, and I’m going to be your host today. I’m joined by probably two of my favorite guests, but I may be a little biased. The first is Allbound CMO Pete Rawlinson. And then the second is just all-around partner celebrity and founder of PartnerFuel, Ben Wright.
Thanks for joining me today, guys.
Ben Wright: I don’t know who wants to go first there, Pete, but those were nice introductions. I’m hoping I live up to the hype.
Pete Rawlinson: I feel honored, Ben, to be with an industry celebrity.
Ben Wright: Yeah. I’ll have to tell my wife she’ll get the red carpet out tonight for when I get in.
Ali Spiric:Today, we’re talking about the ecosystem and the role of PRM within it. To start, what prompted the shift from direct selling to partner-led growth?
Ben Wright: I can dive in and give my take on that one. And as somebody who’s been in partnerships for, I don’t know, going on eight, nine years now, we definitely start to see the tides change, not just in perception of partnerships as a go-to-market motion, but actually how efficient and effective they can be as a go-to-market strategy.
And I think there’s a couple of things that are happening. In the world, in the world of SaaS. The first being over-saturation, I think if you look back, you know, eight, nine years ago, everybody was trying these new, innovative ways to generate demand, right? You could just put a certain amount of money into Google ad spend, and you know, you’d get X amount of leads back.
Similarly, you’d send X amount of cold emails and get a number of responses, but. If you think about the Martech stack, for example, there are literally thousands and thousands of SaaS tools now in that space. And so what that means is your end buyer, your ICP, is now getting a thousand emails into their inbox, right?
Or pitching a similar type of service. And so what’s happened is buyers have just got bored, to be totally honest with you, with traditional lead gen tactics. And so This move to partner-led growth, I think, is really a direct correlation to that, right? I think people are bored. I think, you know, tactics aren’t working.
And so partner-led growth, where you have this trusted resource that you can count on to kind of plead your case and get in front of your buyer in my opinion is the way forward. And I think that’s why we’ve seen that shift. And I’m sure Pete, from the revenue side, you’ve probably got some comments on that as well.
Pete Rawlinson: I certainly have. Yeah. From being a CMO for a significant number of years now. I won’t tell you how many, but for the majority of that, I’ve been in organizations that had a combination of direct and partnership-led acquisition. What I’m seeing on the direct acquisition side is everything, Ben, that you’ve said there.
Totally agree with you. I would also say if you think about the usual channels to market and direct, so email, nurture campaigns, paid acquisition, organic. Those channels haven’t changed for ten years. They’re pretty, as you say, they’re saturated. And then one additional complication here now is the advent of AI into this technology has fostered this this ethos of you don’t know who you’re talking to, you don’t know who you’re engaging with is human.
So, the reliance on a validation through relationships is actually the only way you can be sure that you’re talking to someone who actually is real. So all of the commercial KPI differences aside, it’s just common sense to go back to human psychology and, you know, people buy things from people that recommend things to them. Let’s go back to that, back to that safety net security. And it seems to be that that’s happening in a big way right now.
Ali Spiric: Saturation in traditional types of selling has led to the emergence of the partner ecosystem. One question that a good amount of people may have is what separates the ecosystem from traditional partnerships.
Pete Rawlinson: That’s a great question. Yeah, we can get that a lot. Throughout my career, I’ve acquired business as a marketing pro through direct and partner-led acquisition. The traditional means from my experience of acquiring business through partner-led has been what you call sell-through, right? You identify a partner, you engage with that partner, and form a relationship with that partner with the goal of enabling that business to advocate for you to their customers.
The line of sight between you as a vendor and a customer typically isn’t direct and often doesn’t exist at all. So you’re really relying on empowering an organization to represent you to acquire business. Typically, you may need to implement technology and ensure retention, which is because you don’t have that line of sight that the optics for that, especially from a direct sales force, has been, hang on, that’s my business, that’s my customer. Why am I giving that to a third party? And I think that’s one of the reasons why the indirect acquisition typically, certainly in B2B, my experience has kind of been marginalized over the years.
It’s kind of the ugly stepchild on the corner kind of thing because direct sales are like, Oh, hang on, I’m not giving away margin. I’m not losing contact with my customer. So that has typically been the traditional way, and that by the way is hugely successful and will continue to be hugely successful. But what started to happen now, based on all the things we just discussed with the challenges with direct, is this motion now to sell as a team to collaborate on.
The acquisition and retention of customers so that rather than just swapping, you actually identify an opportunity that’s mutual to both organizations, and you’re both the partner. I don’t even want to say the word partner. These are just two businesses collaborating together to create mutual value for themselves and, ultimately, for the customer.
That starts to happen more and more now where that line of sight between vendor and customer is actually in place, but there is a third party advocate for the vendor as part of that selling motion. That starts to happen more and more often now because it’s just an easier way to sell. All of the commercial KPIs to date indicate that that’s a better way to hire HCVs, shorter sales cycles, faster time to value, et cetera.
That seems to be now, with technology such as account mapping, et cetera, coming onto the scene, it could be enabled a lot more easily than it used to be. And I think that’s a great move. I’m excited by that, and I think that’s where this concept of the ecosystem has been born and is gaining momentum pretty rapidly.
One of the fundamental things that you should be doing as a partner manager throughout that relationship is continually thinking about, “are they happy? Am I giving them enough for them to go out and produce revenue?”
But I’m not willing to put effort into a partner until they produce that revenue, right? So there’s this thing, which is like an actual fact, by giving them a better experience by providing them with better resources, all this type of stuff, does that make them more likely to produce revenue?
Ben Wright: To be honest, the only point I’d add is, even if you think about the technical reason that ecosystems have started to exist is the advent of APIs and the ability to integrate into different technology platforms. So, if you view the ecosystem as a series of interconnected partners, as APIs have gotten better and more companies understand the power to your point of integrating into different solutions, getting access to their market, their customers.
I think that’s the other reason that we’re, You know, starting to see more ISV type companies really adopt this kind of ecosystem-led partner strategy.
To your point, Pete, there’s still billions of dollars in the traditional partnership motion, as we call it, the reseller and all that type of stuff.
But I do think one of the fundamental reasons that this ecosystem model is existing and getting more popular is the advent of, and the rise of APIs and the ease of kind of connecting companies together.
Ali Spiric: It sounds like in the traditional model, it’s more of a, here are these leads and do your thing.
Whereas the ecosystem model is here’s this group of people; let’s band together and go after them. What are the implications of focusing on those transactional Co-Sell relationships versus the strategic and nurtured relationships?
Ben Wright: Yeah. And again, I’ll make the point that those transactional Co-Sell, there’s still a lot of money in it, right?
You get a referral, you get a resell partner, and they go out and sell you a solution. So I think that’s great. However, what is almost universal in partnership programs, and I’m not speaking out of turn, you could probably ask any partnership leader, ask them to look at their PNL in terms of their partnership program; 20 percent of your partners are going to produce 80 percent of your revenue, almost universally in partnership programs.
Everybody always says it. Nobody’s figured out really why that happens or how to resolve it. So I think the implications are ” I just view every partner that comes in as a revenue opportunity. I don’t put enough rigor into actually giving them a good partner experience, ensuring that I’m setting them up for success.”
That is the major implication in my mind. Partner managers are just simply going out trying to acquire as many partners as possible with the understanding that actually I need that number of partner because there’s only going to be a small subsection of them that are going to produce revenue.
And so I go back to what I’ve said around partner experience in the past and actually. Maybe we go out, recruit for quality, first of all, right, and then build on that. And let’s flip that narrative. Like, imagine, It would be amazing if you had 80 percent of partners producing instead of that 20%.
That would be the one thing I would say that I don’t think we’ve got right in partnerships in general. Because there’s still that piece of every single partnership program has a dispersion of revenue across their partner base.
Pete Rawlinson: Totally agree, Ben. And At Allbound, we have partnerships with Co-Sell technology providers.
And I’d say we’re excited by this Co-Sell motion that’s emerging now in addition to the traditional reseller. But what we see is, to your point, that, if you look at co-sell as simply partnering up to be able to acquire points of sale business and, that’s it; that in itself just becomes transactional, not scalable, and it’s not really growing an ecosystem. The real value of growing the ecosystem is what happens. When you focus on the partnerships created as a result of Co-sell motions to identify optimal partners that you want to go-to-market with in Co-sell, then you nurture, you strengthen the relationship with those partners.
We call it Co-Keep, which is the next stage from Co-sell, right? Identify those strategic partners and Co-Keep them, nurture them, strengthen that relationship, and mine that relationship for the mutual value that lies therein, right? The more you focus on optimizing the relationship with the partner to maximize mutual value, You start to identify signals that constitute kind of a behavioral profile or a kind of a partnership profile, which is optimal for you and for your ICP.
That profile that you can do through Co-Keep actually feeds back into your co-sell strategy. So we kind of call that Co-Grow. I know there’s lots of co’s out there. But this Co-Sell to Co-Keep to co-grow, this creates a flywheel effect, right, where you’re identifying optimal partners on a Co-Sell motion, put them into a Co-Sell phase to nurture and protect and make that relationship resilient, learn from that, feed those signals back into Co-Sell to grow your ecosystem in a way that is scalable, maintainable, and get natural organic growth.
So we see this as key. And I don’t know, Ben, if you disagree with that, but we feel like that’s a major kind of dynamic that could be happening in this ecosystem.
Ben Wright: I love it. I think if we look at the comparison in, in B2B SaaS, which is you’ve got your customer success managers, which when you get a direct customer, their whole job is to provide value, make sure the customer is happy and basically get them to renew. I view this in a very similar way. And I love it with partners, which is, once you sign a partner, That is just the starting point.
One of the fundamental things that you should be doing as a partner manager throughout that relationship is continually thinking about, “Are they happy?” Am I giving them enough for them to go out and produce revenue. And so I think it’s a chicken and egg problem that we’ve had in partnerships for a while.
Which is, I signed a partner. My focus is actually to go out and deliver me revenue, which is the thing that I’m KPI’d on the majority of the time. But I’m not willing to put effort into a partner until they produce that revenue, right? So there’s this thing, which is like an actual fact by giving them a better experience by providing them with better resources, all this type of stuff, does that make them more likely to produce revenue? I think fundamentally, it’s part mindset shift and then part as we’re going to talk about, you know, PRM solutions and what they can do for that kind of dynamic. That’s why I kind of love the term Co-Keep. I think it really ties into that kind of chicken and egg thing.
Pete Rawlinson: Thanks for bringing in the partner experience cause that is so, so important. We actually tell a lot of our customers: don’t really focus on sales KPIs, the traditional direct sales KPIs as a measure of success. The partner experience is the measure of success because the commercials will come as a result of a stellar partner experience. And I think we may lose sight of that a little bit, and that’s just going to become so much more important. I mean, we think in such a detailed way about the customer experience, billions going into CRM systems, for example, to do that, but that really hasn’t happened on the partnership side.
I think it will, but it just hasn’t happened on the partnership side yet, despite the fact that you have a one-to-many reach with partners. It’s not a one-to-one relationship like vendor and customer. So, in a sense, you could say it’s even more important to ensure you have a stellar partner experience.
Ben Wright: The last point I’ll make here, and it’s a point you just mentioned, which prompted me to think about some things.
I think there’s the other piece, which is from the executive level at companies that want to have partnership programs; there needs to be a realization that for you to have a successful partnership program, You need the same tooling rigor that you apply to direct customers. And it’s kind of interesting to think about it like that, right?
Which is from the executive level, you’re told, as a partnership leader, go out, generate more revenue. At the same time, I’m not going to give you budget to put tooling in place and actually provide a good experience for partners. You’ve got a partner program. You need a PRM, for example, right?
You’ve got a direct program; you need a CRM. And so. I think that’s an interesting piece to consider. If you’re truly serious about a partnership program, don’t do it half-heartedly. Do it with the same amount of rigor you have for your direct sales motion. I think that’s an interesting piece to also consider: is there this perception shift that needs to happen?
Which is if we’re going to have a partner program, we need to have the right tooling and resources available for that partnership program to be successful.
We actually tell a lot of our customers, don’t really focus on sales KPIs, the traditional direct sales KPIs as a measure of success. The partner experience is the measure of success because the commercials will come as a result of stellar partner experience.
I think we may lose sight of that a little bit, and that’s just going to become so much more important.
Pete Rawlinson: And if we do genuinely see this ecosystem as an inevitability, this shift over from majority direct to majority partnership, then I think organizations need to be prepared for this, get ahead of it.
You know, and not necessarily just go out and buy PRM, just really consider what kind of tech stack you’re going to need going forward to be able to maximize the value in this ecosystem opportunity. I think now’s the time to do that.
Ali Spiric: It sounds like the secret to a Co-Keep strategy and being able to Co-Keep well is optimizing the partner experience, but how do we actually do that?
Pete Rawlinson: Transparency is really important. Making sure that both parties are aware of what’s happening on both sides. One of the key differences in the ecosystem is equality, right? There is no longer this perceived hierarchy between quote vendor and quote partner.
And I don’t know why there was ever simply perceived hierarchy there, but it’s like, Hey, partner, you’re going to sell for me.
And that’s never really been the case. So there’s a lot more equity now, and with that comes equity in terms of transparency. So one of the things, for example, is if you want to build a relationship around certain goals that you want to set for each side, then you need to make sure that, you as, if you are a vendor and there is a quote partner or business partner that both of you are skin in the game to deliver.
Not just partner, “How many needs are you going to deliver for me? How many deals are you going to register for me?” Enabling the partner to be as educated as possible in maximizing not only the ability to bring revenue to you but maybe, in other areas like implementation or support or things like that.
There are other aspects of the customer life cycle, which will be significantly impacted by the ecosystem. The insights that you would glean from this Co-Keep phase; that’s really valuable information to continually optimize the experience and to be able to select for more optimal partners going forward.
PRM technology has evolved to do this. I think we need to evolve further to accommodate the dynamics of the ecosystem, but I think it’s the best start that we have at the moment.
Ben Wright: Just to add, I go back to what makes a good customer experience makes a good partner experience; there’s alignment, and I come from a world of customer success prior to moving into partnerships. So I think there’s a lot of synergies and match-up between a customer journey and a partner journey, which is.
You sell to a direct customer, right? They come in. What’s the first step? You get them implemented, right? Which means you get them up to scratch with the tool that you’re providing, they know what they’re doing, all that type of stuff in a similar way. When a partner comes through, that’s where your upfront training and enablement happens, right?
Get them up to scratch on your solution, how to sell it, the customer you sell into, and then there are also these touch points from a customer success perspective across the journey; which is: okay, you do a QBR with them, right? Which is a strategic like “what we’re doing well, aren’t we doing well.” And so, when I think about what makes a good partner experience, treat them like a customer because I think we lose sight of. And I go back to what we talked about earlier around, we just recruit a ton of partners and then see which ones produce revenue.
What happens with that is you start to minimize the need for you to actually provide a good experience and treat them like a customer almost. And so if we can get back to a stage of what makes a good customer experience makes a good partner experience, I think we’ll be along the right track.
Pete Rawlinson: I think that as the ecosystem evolves, we will learn a lot more about what what makes a good. And again, I don’t even like to use the word partner experience. It’s just it’s businesses doing business with businesses. So, what is the business experience?
Ali Spiric: We touched a little bit on this, but I’d like to go a little bit deeper. How has PRM evolved with the ecosystem?
Pete Rawlinson: Transparency, right.
We talked about the ability to enable partners, or businesses, to know more about what it is that you’re offering to the market. So, you know, training solutions, stuff like that, incentives to get the partner to come back. We focused Allbound on the user experience on the partner side, probably more so than on the vendor side, to be honest with you.
We’re very well aware that a partner portal is not something that organizations are going to use every day. So, make that experience as optimal as possible. If you just need to go in, register a deal, and come out, then optimize the experience. So you just need to do that. And that’s all.
So again, it is all about that partner experience. Make sure that you have technology that can be highly customizable that can be flexible, and dynamic enough to cater to different types of partners. Segmentation is a really important aspect of our product because, partners like kind of fingerprints, right?
No two businesses are alike, like no two human beings are alike. So you do need to cater for that within reason. You can’t have a segment for every single partner, but MSPs are different to resellers, So you need to have that level of flexibility. And then you’ve got, you know, deal registration.
You’ve got, you know, MDF, processing, all the incentive management, gamification, all the usual things that you find in PRM. And if we have this podcast this time next year, Ali, we’ll be talking about three or four other features that we didn’t even know existed today. For example, ai, integration of ai, which is something we’re working avidly on.
It is to use a technology to further refine, or identify opportunities to further improve our experience. So I’m really excited to see where that’s going to take us.
Ben Wright: It’s kind of interesting to consider, and I’ve been there with PRM solutions in the past in my role as partner manager, mentioning no names, where you go out, you spend 80, 000, 100, 000 on a PRM solution. And then you have 15 percent of your partners going into the platform; fundamentally, think of that as a problem statement. If you go out and you buy a piece of Martech, and out of 10 marketing people, one person goes in, well, guess what’s going to happen?
You’re going to churn off that solution pretty soon, I would say.
So what you just mentioned there, Pete, is fundamental to the longevity of not just acquiring new accounts, but actually as PRM vendors maintaining accounts. Which is Don’t just let me give you: “Hey, I’ve got every single thing in this PRM”, but more so let me show you how this PRM is fundamentally going to monetize your partner ecosystem by giving them the best experience possible.
And so that focus on how do I get more partners in? How do I make this partner experience wonderful for partners?” I think is going to be really important.
Pete Rawlinson: Well, here, here to that.
Ali Spiric: We’ve touched on a lot of concepts over this episode.
What are some steps that partner managers can take to implement what we’ve discussed?
Ben Wright: Whether you’re a new partner manager, whether you’re experiencing partnerships, the partner experience piece is something that I’ll keep banging on about. I’ve been a partner manager with partners, but also a partner to other people.
And so the partners that I lean into, the ones that I make more effort on, are the ones that are giving me a wonderful partner experience; they’re showing reciprocal effort. They’re giving me great enablement resources. And so I think any takeaways from people that are listening to this are fundamentally ask yourself the question am I giving my partners the best experience possible?
And if the answer is no, I think that’s a starting point for you adding additional revenue to your partner program. I think a few tweaks, really dialing in that partner experience, is going to fundamentally shift how you run your partner program.
Pete Rawlinson: Answering that question from my perspective, I think it really depends on the stage that you’re currently at in terms of your partner program.
You have a relatively mature partner program, but you’ve been using quite a lot of manual processes, emails, Zoom training sessions, et cetera, to enable the partner and maintain that relationship. So moving over to automate that, there’s obviously advantages there in terms of not having to do those day-to-day tasks and focus on more strategic partners, and as Ben says, trying to focus on that 20 percent that’s more strategic.
And so I think that’s one advantage of that, but also even if you have a relatively nascent partner program, given the opportunity of the ecosystem, there are so many companies we talk to now, there are startup companies who are going partner only, not just partner-centric, but partner only go-to-market, where they would traditionally have just started with direct.
So that’s a great opportunity to put a technology in place to, from the outset, build strong relationships straight away and to be more strategic and really focus on growing your ecosystem because from the numbers that we see out there, the KPIs from the ecosystem, the scalability is significant compared to direct.
So regardless of whether you’re, you know, nascent program or mature program, there’s always, there’s always a consideration needs to be taken for how will you enter this co-keep phase because we think it’s strategically vital that you plan ahead for that?
Ali Spiric: So we’ve come to my least favorite part of the episode and that is the end.
Is there any final pieces of wisdom that you’d want to share with our audience before we go?
Ben Wright: No pieces of wisdom. Again, I would just say that I think this is a, an exciting time for Partnerships in general, we touched on why partnerships we touched on the growing need for partnerships as well as how companies are taking more notice of it.
But yeah, just fundamentally the last line to drill into people’s heads. Like I would always go quality over quantity with partners, and that’s directly tied to partner experience. So get that figured out, and a lot will follow.
Pete Rawlinson: I’ll just add having managed a channel team’s been a bit of channel account manager in the past and it has been tough over the years, but I really feel now for the channel account managers out there, this is exciting time. Your time is coming. Your 15 minutes of fame is about to arrive because things are going to heat up in your world. I remember when I was with a company where our channel team started to really deliver.
And I started to see more and more of the direct sales team coming over to that dark corner of the office where the channel team sat. And started snipping around, and they weren’t coming for t-shirts and pens this time. They were coming to really figure it out. What’s the secret there? Why are you closing deals more than I am?
That’s just going to continue. So it’s, yeah, really exciting time for partnerships, and looking forward to seeing what happens over the next couple of years.
Ali Spiric: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Ben and Pete, for spending part of your day with me. And thank you to you, the listener, for tuning in.