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The Importance of Drinking Your Partner’s Champagne with Justin Gray
With all of your experience, I’m sure you’ve created a number of strategic alliances that have been fruitful. Maybe you’ve even seen some that have fallen flat. Is there any sort of recipe or repeating factor that you could recognize in a partner or in a partnership that would signal a mutually beneficial alliance?
That’s always a really difficult prediction to have right upfront. My crystal ball is broken, so what may seem like a great partnership where everyone is aligned and we’re going to go to market together and achieve this awesome amount of success is often not the case. You really need to be careful about whether this is going to be equal value on both sides. We’ve tried to formalize more throughout the years at LeadMD as we’ve taken a look at the types of partners that we would potentially want to work with, the types of partnerships that have worked well in the past, and really gauge new potentials on that scale. We’ve developed a partner evaluation framework that we leverage when we’re looking at a new partner.
Having worked with over 3,000 B2B technology organizations, we have a lot of folks that want access to our customer base, but that isn’t always as I mentioned a balanced equation. We’re often not getting the same amount as we’re putting in there, so we’ve kind of tried to really hone in on what makes a successful partnership. For us, it comes down to – Can we wrap services around that partner offering? Does it lead to more work, frankly, for our organization? We’re a time and materials billing organization, so we need to figure out a way to bill clients and provide value. And if the partner solution doesn’t enable us to do so, it’s a difficult partnership for us. We definitely need to be enabling our customers, and if we can’t do that in the form of providing that solution and wrapping our best practices around it, it’s not a good solution for us..
When you think about the most successful partnerships that you’ve had, where did they come from? For people that are just starting out and just starting to build their program, is there anything we can learn from some of your most successful endeavors?
Our most successful partnership to date is obviously Marketo, and like anything successful in business, I think it comes with a healthy dose of luck. So, there is some unrepeatability around that as well, but I would say that what is a constant between all of our good relationships is we’re using that solution in house. We have a relationship with them, they’re aligned with our culture and we know that we align from a methodology standpoint. I was Marketo’s 20th customer way back in 2006. I started using the platform before I was ever a partner at a payments organization, I sold my piece of that payments company, and kind of went out on my own and didn’t really know what I wanted to do.
Some folks hit me up and said, “Hey, would you help us build a sales and marketing engine?” and I said, “Yeah, that sounds great, but you’re going to have to implement some technologies that I know how to run. So, let’s go ahead and implement salesforce.com, let’s implement Marketo, and let’s really get all of the text back in place to support that repeatable engine.” Throughout the years, we kind of grew with Marketo and formed a really strong partnership with them to the point where they would outsource a lot of their work to us. We were participating in deal cycles with their sales reps. We were empowering them where they needed kind of that value engineering consultative approach. A lot of their sales reps just aren’t marketing experts, and our folks are. So, we were willing to slot in within that sales process, provide that marketing expertise, and, of course, as a result, we were able to win business.
So, again, it was a win-win throughout that entire life cycle, and that really is why that’s our flagship partnership. We’ve been able to repeat that with a lot of core digital marketing platforms and sales platforms that we brought on. Engagio is probably the newest member of that, and again, we use the software, we see the value in it. We have the expertise in house to really ensure success within the partner orgs that we board on that platform. So, I would say that you can’t discount the value of relationships. Relationships really drive everything that we do. I love the way that marketing is currently going, in this quality over quantity aspect, finally. And, at the center of most of those relationships and partnerships is a really tight understanding and alignment that you just don’t get when you start taking all-comers.
We previously talked about an article you wrote, and now I want to bring up a point you had – avoid partnerships where you stand nothing to gain. Do you have any advice for folks on how to handle that kind of situation? Do you break up? How do you not burn a bridge? Do you hang on hoping there might be something in the long-term that will keep this alive?
There are a couple of facets to that. So, as I mentioned, it sounds super obvious, right, but I would say that there is kind of this aspirational partnership that exists out there. I feel like this happens a lot with big logos. Like, we know they’ve got a ton of customers and their customers kind of look like our customers. Thinking “putting out a press release and putting this logo on our site is going to add so much credibility”, but we don’t take that extra step to really drill into “what are we going to do together? How are we going to realize this value?”
I find asking those uncomfortable questions yields the best result. So, yeah, we both operate in the same space, and we’ve got similar customers, but what are we going to do together, explicitly, tomorrow? Are we going to market together? Are we going to create content? Are we going to do some account planning and alignment exercises? What is success going to look like in 6 months, 12 months, 18 months? How many deals are we going to have boarded? When we board a deal, what is that process going to look like? Am I going to run the majority of the implementation? Do you want to own some as the technology provider?
Having those really difficult conversations upfront helps to avoid the very difficult conversation down the road where you’ve been a part of that partnership, you’ve had the logo on your site for two years, and there’s never been anything that’s precipitated from that agreement, and now you’ve got to go back and say, “Hey, this isn’t working out.” Breaking up is hard to do, so I would say the more that you can really drill in, get explicit, and set up a plan right from jump street, the less you will have to go back and revisit and have those uncomfortable conversations.
So, that’s first and foremost. Now, if you haven’t done that or things change, conditions change, the landscape looks different, and suddenly you find yourself in that bad position, I think it’s best just to use real world data there. Let’s look back at the pipeline we’ve generated together, it’s weak to nonexistent. The types of customers that we’ve boarded maybe are no longer customers, or maybe we weren’t able to make those customers happy because of the misalignment of expectations. One of our core tenets is we track everything. If I’m boarding a new partner, I’m tracking that all within CRM. What deals are we working on together? What deals did we swing and miss? What deals did we win? And, then I can pull those reports.
The Marketo partnership has not been all roses and champagne either. Marketo’s gone through some pretty big market shifts. During the course of our partnership, they’ve gone from 20 employees to 1,500 employees. They’ve gone public, and then they were taken back private. There are major continental shifts that we’ve seen within that organization, and the org today behaves fundamentally differently than it did when we first rolled out our partnership and I wrote a contract on the back of a napkin. So, as it’s progressed, the data has really enabled me to come to those partner conversations and say, “Look, this is data from 2013. Look at the data from ’15. You’re my largest competitor right now,” which at one point Marketo was my largest competitor.
You have to be able to back up those shifts with actual data, and what I find, certainly within larger organizations, is they’re often not well-positioned to gather that data themselves, or there’s been so much turnover or process shift internally that they’re actually using my dataset as law to describe the success of the partnership. So track everything, and that makes those conversations a little bit easier as you get into that data, and everyone can look at the same thing and agree that, yeah, this isn’t working and maybe there’s a solution to that, or maybe it’s time to go our separate ways. But regardless, we can’t blame it on emotion at that point, we want to blame it on something that’s tangible, that’s real.
To learn more about partner relationships and breakups, trusting data, success in the channel and more tune in to episode 31 of The Allbound Podcast.
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