The Art of
In this motivating episode, Ali Spiric, Marketing Manager at Allbound, sits down with Shane Forster, Country Manager DACH at Reviews.io, to discuss the art of retaining successful partnerships.
They delve into common challenges and innovative solutions, focusing on the importance of trust, training, and mutual understanding. Shane shares remarkable insights on the role of positivity, humility, and motivation in fostering productive collaborations.
Listen in as they explore how making partners feel valued and helping them impress their clients can transform business relationships.
- Overcome partnership challenges with additional training and face-to-face meetings to build trust and rapport.
- Understand the root causes of issues to make mutually beneficial decisions.
- Harness the power of positivity and humility in acknowledging one’s limitations.
- Revitalize motivation efforts by making the experience engaging and exciting for partners.
- Make partners feel appreciated and assist them in impressing their clients for a successful collaboration.
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 to the Partner Channel Podcast. My name is Ali. I’m your host and resident Allbound Marketer. I am joined by Shane Forster today. He is the Country Manager of DACH at REVIEWS.Io. Which won every award in their category on G2 for over three years and also won 2021 Ecommerce tool of the year in Austria. Shane, thanks so much for joining me today.
Shane Forster: Thanks for having me, Ali.
Ali Spiric: Today we’re talking about how to motivate partners to hit goals. And when you and I connected before this recording session, one thing that we talked about was how it’s really easy to keep your internal sales team accountable because there’s goals and this is their job, but it’s really different with partners where there is a goal, but if they don’t hit it.
Nothing really happens. They’re fine. So, there’s always this rock and a hard place between how do we get partners to do what we want them to do, but also how do we get partners to actually care about what they’re doing . So, let’s start with the basics. Why is it crucial to keep channel partners motivated and engaged?
Shane Forster: I think it’s super important for both sides of the table there, internally, obviously you have goals to hit, you need to deliver those.
But I think for the channel partners, there’s also a case of they have clients, they want to work with clients and provide the best solutions for them, the most forward thinking ones. And if they can present their clients with the tools that will help them achieve their goals, fantastic.
If that is a partner, even better. I think that helps basically the whole flywheel ecosystem work better because that allows them as an agency to look great . So making them engaged and motivated to be talking about your app or solution is really, really, really important. If they’re not excited about it, then why would they introduce it?
You know, I think at the end of the day the commercial kickback commission is nice, but it’s not the motivating factor. The motivating factor for the majority of the channel partners tends to be, “Hey, we can serve our clients better. We can have more billable hours, have a higher retainer, because we’re not only doing service A, but we’re now doing service B, because we introduced the solution for service B.” That helps them to extend their service portfolio, and, by having the best market tools available to them, that’s what’s motivating them.
Ali Spiric: Yeah, that makes sense. I think that’s sort of where we’re getting back to where it’s like, how do you make partners excited? I don’t know if that’s a trackable KPI yet, but it would be great if it was.
Shane Forster: I’ll be all for it. I’ll be all for that. Happy to have been trying to brainstorm ways to do that, but I haven’t found a company that can do that yet.
Ali Spiric: That’d be groundbreaking if we could. Talking about metrics, what are the metrics that you track at REVIEWS.Io and why are those the metrics that you track?
Shane Forster: For us it essentially comes down to number leads or generated conversations and ultimately the revenue that comes out of it.
MRR is the primary goal. But you need to look at it from both starting conversations and then closing. Right.
You’ll tend to have that spectrum of your lower quantity but higher quality or lower quality and higher quantity. There’s nothing wrong with either of them, right? Sometimes you need the volume game, sometimes you need the quality game.
And it’s very hard to talk to a channel partner who is naturally geared towards quantity to really talk to them about quality, as that’s not really their business model. That’s not really what they do.
That’s not their business. So for us, it is can they introduce the lead quantity?
But both are important. Or, pay the bills and then you have your sort of soft secondary KPIs behind it.
Ali Spiric: That’s interesting. So you mentioned partners that are quantity partners and then partners that are quality partners. Let’s take like 100 steps back. What does your partner program look like?
What kind of partners do you work with?
Shane Forster: Yeah, sure. Reviews.io, we work with reviews primarily in the e commerce sector. So we’re working with about 9, 000 retailers on a global basis. For us our bread and butter kind of partners are web development agencies, PPC agencies, more and more we’re kind of seeing, you know, CRO agencies coming into the mix too.
And in terms of commercial models, we do basically a straight 20 percent lifetime commission for any sort of referred agencies or say referred clients. We tend to keep that pretty straightforward and then build out the program based upon tiers.
So, the more successful referrals you have, the higher tier, the more involvement we will bring to in terms of co marketing opportunities, invitation to events.
We really try to deliver back to, right? So I think that’s where a lot of partner programs really fall down is in the sense of, it’s a take, take, take, right?
Hey, give us leads, give us leads, give us leads, and we’ll give you some money for it. It’s, it’s nice, sure. But it’s not really going to move the needle in terms of a relationship.
So, because we work with 9, 000 clients, right? They always come to us and say, Hey, how do I do this? You, we’re looking at an emailing tool. What would you suggest here? Or, Hey, we’re having troubles with our Klaviyo integration. Do you have a partner?”
So we’ve got a wide range of partners that we can introduce the clients to. And obviously the higher they kind of go through our partner program the more top of mind they will be for our customer success team to then introduce them over to our agency partners.
And that’s something that we really try to encourage to also give back. And whilst we don’t take any sort of commission for those introductions, it just helps foster the two way exchange and build a better, better overall program there.
Ali Spiric: Perfect. That helps fill in a lot of gaps for me.
You mentioned different partner tiers and then reviews. io having different. Involvement in those partnerships. Is that something that you use to motivate partners to hit these goals where you’re like, Oh, you’re just this close away from the next year. Here’s how it could be so much better.
Shane Forster: In terms of, hey bringing them up to the next tier that that’s definitely something that we talk to them about and try to encourage them. A lot of times it is more from that sense of achievement point of view too. you know, as a, Hey, we are no longer a certified partner, we’re now a official partner.
It’s something that we do talk to them about. It’s not really a big kind of focus for us. We’re more like, Hey talking to them around the, “Hey, what’s with new clients?
I, are you working with, how can we help them improve that?” And obviously then the numbers just come with it. It’s more like a secondary focus for us.
Ali Spiric: It seems like you work with a variety of different individuals with a variety of volume they bring in.
I can imagine that you set different goals for different partner types . How do you set goals for partners? Is it based on region or partner type or the size of partner?
Shane Forster: Yeah, normally like a agency basis, we kind of speak to them in terms of, Hey, what’s realistic, there’s no point putting a massive goal in front of them and no one’s going to achieve it.
And because you can’t really hold them accountable per se, in the sense of. You know, like a internal employee, put them onto a PIP program. You can’t really do that for an agency from a stage program. So for us, it’s what’s a, a realistic goal that they’re also keen to work towards?
You know you know, we have one of our agencies here that, you know, had, had like the goal of having a three figure amount of referrals to us in a calendar year, which is a huge amount . We wouldn’t do that but that’s what they wanted, wanted to work towards.
But for other partners, Hey. One a quarter. Fantastic. We’re happy to work towards that. That makes complete sense , but we know that that one referral is going to be good quality. There’s going to be a client that’s is a household name that’ll move the needle.
And that’ll probably help them bring two next year, get three the following year.
That’ll kind of help that kind of rhythm going. But it really depends on the individual partner and what’s realistic for them and what are they comfortable with because at the end of the day, they don’t have to, it’s all relatively voluntary. So there’s no real sense holding a gun to the head and say, Hey, you know, we expect 20 here, but they’re never going to achieve more than five.
Ali Spiric: And that’s a fair mindset to put to your partners because we’re trying to build partnerships for life and not partnerships for right now. And if it’s something where it doesn’t feel like I’m winning cause I’m not achieving your goals and you’re not winning cause I’m not bringing what you want me to, then nobody wins and no one leaves feeling good.
Let’s play out a scenario. A partner comes in at 50 percent of their quarterly goal. What happens next? Cause we know what that looks like internally. What does that look like for partners?
Shane Forster: I think it really comes down to you as having that conversation. If you’ve got buy in from them at the start of the quarter, so, we’re going to hit five leads, right.
And they only bring in two. What happened, you know, it was five too ambitious? Or, Hey, was this, was this referral process too difficult? That is probably the same for many partner programs too. You know, no one likes to fill in forms. Is that the bottleneck?
Ultimately again, because you can’t make them do it, it’s about finding out how can we help them want to do it. So it’s probably a different change of tact to be like, Hey maybe a lead quantity target isn’t the right thing to be talking to them about.
Is it probably more of a case of, hey, we need to do more education here first. They don’t really see the benefit from it. So, when they are talking to clients, they’re looking at reviews IO or one of the others, say multiple review options. Why would they be talking about us compared to the others?
Is this a education topic? And, try to get them and the team to a point of, “Hey, this is actually really good. This moves the needle for our clients. I have my other 12 clients. I’d really like to be able to use this with them too.” Right.
So you need to work through people, showing them why this is great, why they will look like rock stars to their clients.
Ali Spiric: I really like that solutions based approach where it’s not, you didn’t hit 50 percent of your goal. It’s how do we get you to that other additional 50%? And I, I started smiling too. And you were like, well, what if it’s my process? What if it’s not even you? What if it’s something.
On my end, which is really nice to be able to look at yourself too and be like, okay, maybe it’s not then maybe there’s something that we could do to make our partner’s lives easier, which then not only helps with this one partner, but across the board.
Nothing is black and white. Right. Everything has color, everything is more than what you think it actually is. You want to be decisive, you want to move quickly, you want have conviction about your decisions and motivations, but there’s always more color than what you know about.
Shane Forster: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s what a lot of partner programs, you know, having worked different partner programs, different sort of companies both as a kind of de facto partner manager, but also being the other side of things too some partner programs suck to be able to refer leads or, you know, there’s always that typical discussion in the sense of like, but I referred them, why didn’t they get assigned to me or whatever, you know, that sort of typical attribution discussion. Yeah, you want to make it as easy as possible for us.
And whilst you do want to have that say ideal referral process, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Sometimes it is clunky. You know, no one wants to fill out a type form with 17 questions. It really, really, really sucks for that partner wanting to yeah.
Ali Spiric: Yeah, it’s a great point. I think we’ve all started to take a survey and then realize that it’s five pages deep and I’m like, this isn’t worth the 20 gift card or whatever it is. I can only imagine that partners sort of feel the same way when they go to register a deal and then there’s 17 questions about everything from the amount of people that work at this lead and with industry that there are things that we can find out ourselves through deductive reasoning.
There are At least a good handful of companies that do exactly what we do. So it’d be nice for a partner to want to work with us and to have it be easy. And then that top of mind comes so much easier than you would imagine.
To the partner ops people listening. We do care about the different fields we do. It’s a path of getting there
Shane Forster: though. Exactly. Exactly. If, if you see a 20% drop in leads because you’re making the life difficult, maybe you should make it easier for them. You know, sometimes partnership team have to do the heavy lifting for the client because they bring in the, you know, 30 leads a week. Please refer any of those partners if you have any. But those ones who do bring, who do bring the volume yeah, sometimes the partnership team have to do the heavy lifting because the partner’s worth it.
Ali Spiric: I agree with that completely. The next question that I have sort of piggybacks, which is, what are some of the strategies that you’ve used to motivate your channel partners that you’ve found to be effective?
Shane Forster: Good question. We’ve done various tactics. You know, some haven’t worked. Like we’ve, kind of tried to do seasonal tactics where the partner who refers the most gets a 2000 euro bonus. Haven’t historically seen a lot of benefit from
Ali Spiric: that. You know, I was just thinking to 2000.
Shane Forster: Yeah. But it’s like, we tend to not see a lot of uplift from it. Historically, it just goes to the partners that are already the volume drivers. Anyway, there’s a sending an extra kickback to your top partner, really. Which, you know, sometimes has its place, but not really for that sort of purpose.
What we’ve kind of started to see is using product releases as a reason to get in touch, to build excitement, bring hype, bring that kind of FOMO effect, you know, if everyone else is referring or talking about this tool, why aren’t I?
That has worked very well for us to be able to build a bit of a community, a bit of a excitement around us and our partners are a big part of that. We’ve also done in the past, say in-person events. You know, last year here in here, here in Berlin, we did a partner day, first one, which we as a company have ever done.
And that helps a lot, you know, being able to show them all the great features that we’ve rolled out things that they didn’t know about or just hadn’t seen. There’s, Oh, cool. You can do this now. This is great. Or be able to sort of talk to us, ask us, Hey, I’ve got this client who really wants to do this.
Why can’t you do it? It’s like. Actually, we can. We’ve been able to do this for a while, but just didn’t know about it. That’s what we’ve kind of seen as being the more effective way to motivate partners is not to dangle a big carrot in terms of money, but, you know, excite them.
You know, excite them about all the great things that they can do with, with their clients, help them achieve their goals, make them look good, really.
Ali Spiric: So when we’re talking about partner success, one thing that a lot of individuals use to track that success is QBRs. Is that something that reviews. io currently utilizes?
Shane Forster: For our biggest partners, yeah, we’ll definitely do a QBR, maybe a half year thing is because of the regularity, which we speak, but we do try to have a bit of a look back where things are at. We tend to keep a very high level in terms of numbers. We don’t want to go into the details too much.
Simply because how much can we really move the needle here? If that hasn’t really been discovered or discussed or at least mentioned during that quarter anyway on the day to day business, is it really that say critical to bring it up in a QBR in more of a formal setting, right?
We are much more of that, you know, keep it light, keep it ad hoc, keep it on an informal basis. So when we do see, hey you guys are sitting behind what we kind of agreed to, is this a seasonal thing or is this, hey, you guys don’t care as much as what you did last quarter? We kind of want to address it much earlier.
If it generally comes to a QBR time frame that is the boat sailed in many cases we tend to be a lot more real time with our partners than what’s a QBR allows for.
Ali Spiric: For those ad hoc partners, how do you keep a pulse check on them? Do you have a dashboard that look at that has the numbers? Is it just something where you just know them intimately?
Shane Forster: Yeah we have a, I’ll say without saying giving any specific numbers away, like here in Europe, we have like a high two figure number of partners here.
Active partners. You know, there are some where we probably haven’t spoken to for six months plus, sure. But all the ones that you know, our closest partners, we know what’s going on. If we haven’t heard from them for a couple of days or a few weeks, like, Hmm, that’s weird. Maybe we should get in touch. Like we tend to know very, very closely.
Sure. We are doing reporting figures in terms of like the market overall, and some way the numbers always add up to be on targets, right? But it may be, our biggest partner goes from a 50 percent contribution down to a 15%, but other partners will kind of make up the mix there.
But we tend to know pretty quickly if they’re quiet or something’s up, or if someone’s smashing it, then we’ll definitely notice.
But if they’ve gone quiet, we tend to notice that quickly.
Ali Spiric: And that’s nice too, when you have a manageable amount of partners, who are you just know and are so in tune and I’m sure that’s fun to be able to manage things that way.
Shane Forster: That’s exactly how we, at least in Europe, have built out our partner program.
We want to be able to, when we do go to Munich or to Frankfurt or to Hamburg or wherever, right. That we can call up our partners and say, Hey, we’re in town. Do you want to go have lunch or beer or hey, can we work from your office that we do very often to where we don’t need to have that formality behind it.
We’re In that scope of relationship with them. And that’s how we at least like to do business here.
Ali Spiric: I like that.
That sounds fun. I find that once you do get to meet in person, you just care so much more because you’ve gotten to meet that person and see their mannerisms and you’re a little bit more invested than you were when you were behind a screen, because we’re always within our, 30 minute timeframe that we have set. And we have three minutes of chatting at the beginning of it before we switch into work mode.
How do you help your partners look good to their clients? If we’re brutally honest, the amount of say, kickback commission, whatever that comes from the tech partnership is secondary. It’s a little bit of cream on top… So how do you make them look good so they can get more of that business and find more billable hours? That will help them be more motivated about their business and their partnership.
Shane Forster: Absolutely. It makes doing business much more enjoyable. You know, I think at the end of the day, you always do business with people. You know I’ve always worked on the mantra, you know, people want to do business with friends, not with in quotation marks, business partners.
They want to do business with people. So act like a person, and that helps a ton.
Ali Spiric: That’s true.
So we’ve talked about the partners that hit 50 percent of their goal, but what happens when there is a partner that’s really, really trying and you can tell the effort is there and they’re putting their heart and soul into it.
But they’re just not hitting their goals. How do you account for things like this? And then how do you help a partner where motivation isn’t the problem?
Shane Forster: Yeah, there’s different aspects to a partner program. Obviously you have the official way, in a sense of, they refer you leads, you close leads, they get paid for it.
But then you also have people who are partners in just that case where, for various reasons, they can’t hit targets, they can’t refer leads, it’s the conversation that they have with their clients doesn’t match to introducing a reviews solution, right? But there’s different ways which you can work with them it could be more of a Case where maybe they have a big following or lots of LinkedIn contacts, whereas, are they able to post about us where we can then show them love back.
So, we can’t track leads here, but here’s a bottle of gin. Right.
There’s different perspectives.
Looking at from a purely a partner program tracked revenue basis, you know, that’s obviously the will count at the end of the day and whether you as a partner manager doing a good job.
But then buying good will around as a, Hey, this partner posted about us on LinkedIn, they’re spreading the gospel, right? That brings goodwill to, CROs, c CSOs, whoever the overall stakeholder is for the partner program, that brings goodwill. And as was they may not be bringing revenue they can bring value in other ways.
Longer perspective, I guess that may be the case now, who knows in six months time, there may be completely different. They’ll be absolutely killing it. They have new clients coming in left, right, and center, therefore leads. But if you ignored them when the times were tough, they’re going to ignore you when times are good.
You need to make a judgment call. Is this worth this on a longer basis, but being a good person isn’t a costly thing. You know, being able to work with partners. Can we help you through this? Are they not talking about it the right way? Whereas literally they’ve got their one client that makes up all their business.
That one client is interested in it. Maybe it’s the case where it’s like, Hey, we’re not right partners here. You know, let’s revisit next year. I’ll put a reminder in in the calendar. Maybe times have changed, but not burning burning bridges. You know, always lean on. How can we help?
Ali Spiric: Yeah, I think that’s a great reminder.
Yeah. So we’ve talked a lot about. The partners and how to motivate the partners and what if the partners aren’t doing something, but what role does your internal team play on motivating these partners? Is it that sometimes partners aren’t working to their maximum capacity? Or is it that sometimes that account manager isn’t the most effective?
How do we look at that? And what are your thoughts around that scenario?
Shane Forster: Yeah, I think there are different quality partner managers. Let’s put it frankly, as much as everyone will kind of want to be the best, think that they are, you know, say, a player, as much as I hate, hate that term. There are definitely different quality or partner managers and people go through phases too.
You know, there are quarters where people absolutely kill it. Next quarter, they got personal issues, other things on their mind where performance may drop, and that’s okay. It’s no one’s perfect all all the time, but then you’re kind of looking at it from a perspective. Is this a individual topic or is this a the agency partner set that they have?
Maybe they’ve been dealt a bad card in the agencies or partners that they’ve been assigned. Or is this that they just are not a great partner manager. Right. You’re looking at that from that perspective, I think a lot of people, a lot of managers will tend to look at it from a perspective. Hey, this person isn’t performing.
Therefore, they are bad. Right. Before you make that call, there’s at least having a thought about, Hey, are we doing them wrong in some way? Are we giving them bad agency partners? Are we? Giving them the ones that are all really small and they’re never going to achieve target regardless if each of those small partner agencies absolutely kill it.
They’re still way behind targets. The numbers don’t work. So at least have that conversation and that thought before, you know, sort of evaluating if they are say underperforming and then assuming that everything’s fine. Hey, you know, these, this individual needs a bit more attention. Is this, they haven’t got that rhythm.
They don’t know the product well enough. So therefore they can’t instill the trust? Working through that. This person has the right skills. They have the right agencies. They just haven’t, for some reason, been able to get things ticking. No. Is this a fairly easily solved solution? Whereas a, Hey, they need a bit more training.
They need to find that rhythm, how they talk to people. Do they need to maybe hit the road a bit, go to different cities, visit the agency partners in person, do a lunch and learn with them, you know, just to kind of work through what these symptoms are, you know, is this a topic that can be overcome in different sort of tactics or is it just, hey, there’s not a great fit?
You know, they were a great partner manager at a different company. They just can’t find the rhythm here. That’s sometimes a difficult conversation or decision that you have to make. But I think it’s a kind of case of, you know, really sort of understanding what the, what the reasons are and just, you know, working through it.
And if it’s a case where you back them, fantastic. If it’s a case where you need to sort of, hey, this isn’t working helping them segway out of the company using your other partner manager, network, hey, this person’s great, it’s not great for us. There’s, again, being a good person, helping them sort of, you know, transition out with and not having that impact on the team.
There it’s obviously a team losing a team member. It’s never easy, but how I can make the easiest for everyone. And sometimes that’s just a decision you have to make.
Shane, you sound
Ali Spiric: like a delightful person to work with, both as a partner and internally. You’re like, the solution is to help them everywhere.
I like how you go through ten different paths of solutions before anything negative. And… That’s the best compliment you can give. I hope you keep that forever.
Shane Forster: Thank you. No, I’ve worked for good bosses, I’ve worked for bad bosses, and I think the ones that, you know, at least improved my career are the ones that look at it from a perspective.
of nothing is black and white. Right. Everything has color, everything is more than what you think it actually is. You want to be decisive, you want to move quickly, you want have conviction about your decisions and motivations, there’s always more color than what you know about.
Finding solutions always, always the best way. Always lean on positivity.
Don’t ever think that you’re the smartest person around because there’s always things that you, that you don’t know and you’ll um, no. As they say to assume makes an ass out of you and me and that’s bringing it back to the
Ali Spiric: classic
Shane Forster: classics are classics for a reason.
Ali Spiric: Exactly. I think that’s probably the best piece of advice we’ve given this entire podcast. If there’s anything to take away, it’s that. And unfortunately, we’ve come towards the end, so I have one final question for you. What advice do you have for companies that are looking to revamp their motivation efforts?
What should they keep in mind? Where should they start?
Shane Forster: Motivation is exactly that. It’s excitement. It is wanting to engage. It’s wanting to, you know, how do they become an advocate for you? People want to work with people, as I said before, people want to do business with friends, not with business partners.
How do you get them excited? How the, you know, they want to feel love want to show love. You know that really helps a lot. Sure. There are say short term tactics, which you can take on to help fuel that fire. Things like, Hey, double commissions for a period. Or if you hit certain referral targets.
Then you get some sort of bonus for it. Those help, but if the core basis isn’t there in terms of people are excited, people realize the value behind it. This makes them look good to their clients. Everything else is secondary, right? I think that’s probably the biggest thing at the end of days. How do you help your partners look good to their clients?
If we’re brutally honest, the amount of say, kickback commission, whatever that comes from the, I’ll say the tech partnership is secondary. It’s a little bit of cream on top. Hey, this will pay for a few drinks on a Friday afternoon, but it’s not going to hugely move the needle for them.
They’re going to get paid more from their retainers, from their project work. So how do you make them look good so they can get more of that business and find more billable hours? That will help them be more motivated about their business and their partnership. Cause they look like a rock star to the people that matter the most.
I love that.
Ali Spiric: I think that’s a perfect way to end it. Thank you so much for spending your time with me, Shane. I think this was fantastic and thank you to you, the listener for tuning in.