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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 17

Why Incorta Doubled Down on Partners and How They Quickly saw Success

Show Synopsis

For our final episode of the week, Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound talks with Steve Walden, Executive Vice President Business Development and Strategy at Incorta. Together they discuss engaging partners with bootcamps and the catalyst to the creation of Incorta’s partner program.

Highlights:

  • Why partners are the key to the health of your business
  • What is a partner bootcamp and why you should consider one
  • Why it’s risky for small companies to rely on hiring ever growing sales/services

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The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with Steve Walden, Executive Vice President, Business Development and Strategy at Incorta. Welcome, Steve. We’re really excited to have you.

 Steve Walden: Really excited to be here, Tori.

Tori Barlow: And a few shout outs to Incorta; just this year for the very first time, you guys made the Gartner Magic Quadrant for B.I. and Analytics, which I know is always challenging to get on the quadrant. So congrats there. You’re also recognized as Ink Magazine’s best places to work. Last year you came off of the series D where you raised 120 million and you are also recognized as a DBTA 100 companies that matter most in data for 2022. I’ll just take a breath there because that’s a lot. Congratulations. 

Steve Walden: Thanks so much.

Tori Barlow: And, you know, before we get into our topic, which is how Incorta transitioned its entire business model, started doubling down on partner strategy partners in general, and also a segway into how to really lean on partners during an unstable economy before we get into that. For folks that have never heard of Incorta, what is it all about?

Steve Walden: Yeah. Thanks, Tori. I appreciate that. Yes. So Incorta is the modern platform for ERP analytics. And so we’ve got companies in the Fortune five all the way to mid-market companies that are using our technology, often in concert with ERP systems like those coming from Oracle and SAP and others. And we’ve been in business for the last eight years and the business is growing really rapidly.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s a really interesting model and congrats on your success thus far. You know, we’ve been talking a lot in the podcast series about partner programs and all different walks of life with partner programs where you are in maturity and so on and so forth. You guys have a really interesting story where you kind of flip the coin and started really focusing on that partner centric model. So what’s your role specifically at in Corda within the partner team? And why are partners key to health? Key to the health of your business?

Steve Walden:  I joined the company in October of last year, and that was when we really started to accelerate this transition into our partner channel. 

Steve Walden:  My role is getting Incorta, as I lead both our corporate strategy as well as our partnerships, both channel partnerships, as well as technology partners. And partners today represent nearly half of all of our new business.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s really impressive. I think when a lot of folks starting out in the partner program space kind of think, where do I even get started? Or How can my company even build a partner program? So if folks are listening now, whether they’re just getting started or trying to make that tipping point to create a program at their company, can you talk a little bit about the catalyst to why and to created a partner program or why it’s been such a pivotal focus lately?

 Steve Walden: Yeah, great question. So when I joined, we we certainly had partners that were out there talking about our technology. But what we had done is we had memorialized what the parameters of the program were in contracts. And I don’t know what your experience has been, but my experience is that the last time I look at a contract is when I sign it or when I’m looking to break the contract. Those really seem to be the only two points. And that’s not the heart of of a living program. So what we wanted to do was create a program with defined requirements and benefits to partners to make sure that it was really obvious to them what it was that we were expecting from them, and what it was that we were willing to provide in return. And as a result, we’ve signed up tons of new partners, which requires us to obviously figure out better ways to scale, and we’ll get into that in a little bit. But the real catalyst for creating a program was to create some structure so that everybody was really clear about what it was that we were doing and why.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. I think that aligns a lot with what I’ve been hearing of just what is the overall business objective and where do partners kind of fit into that. And you can’t really just create something off of an island for a partner program. It really has to align with the business, otherwise it might not be successful. And I’m curious, what types of partners did you start off with? Is it just one partner type? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Steve Walden: Yeah. We like most small companies. We we started out with both resellers as well as referral partners. That was really where, where the process started. We really had a bias towards reseller partners, which are great, but what we were seeing with those reseller partners was often they weren’t getting certified in the technology. And so to me what was really critical was that we ended up with partners that 1) started by falling in love with the opportunity that was sitting in front of them. We think that there’s a massive market for us to go out and address together. The second was, we need them to fall in love with the technology because if you’ve got partners that really don’t understand the the unique value that whatever your company is, what you do, it’s really difficult for that passion to come through in their conversations with the prospects. And then also, we we definitely don’t want to become a services business. One day if we are able to have a successful IPO, the thing that’s going to be valuable in both cases is the growth of the software portion of the business; selling licenses as opposed to selling services. Now for service businesses, it’s flipped. Those businesses are are are generally valued based on services revenue and software revenue is is not necessarily always seen as a positive in terms of those valuations. But one of the things that was critically missing in our partner program was really any emphasis on technology partners and in great technology partnerships. It starts with having, first off, a little bit of a strategy.

Steve Walden: What gap are we trying to solve by creating the partnership? If it’s merely a go to market partnership, those tend to be less successful. In my opinion. What tends to be really successful is where it’s really obvious to both organizations customers the value of why the partnership exists, so great integration, and then it’s filling a really important need. And then the go to market activities start to really progress in a much more natural fashion. So we’re definitely out talking to a number of technology partners. We’ve signed up a couple of really key technology partners for us. I mentioned ERP analytics, so in the back end systems like SAP and Oracle and others, but in this ecosystem, there’s there’s technology vendors for us that are really critical. Companies like Black Line, which has got a financial consolidation and closed solution that’s used in the Office of Finance. Which is quite adjacent to our typical users of our technology. And so making sure that our technologies work well together is one of those things that’s that’s going to be really critical, I think, in the market. We’ve also recently signed a technology partnership with Workday. And Workday, everybody knows Workday for the HR information system side of things, but they’ve also got a bit of their business. They bought a company called Adaptive, which does financial planning and analysis. And again, adjacencies in the market in terms of the users of both technologies and just making sure that those integrations are great.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, it sounds like you’re kind of applying the same strategy you just talked about before at a really high level, but for each partner type. So making sure that the go to market plan is succinct and really buttoned up for a reseller referral or a tech partner, it’s not all the same strategy. Does that sound right?

Steve Walden: Yeah, it’s definitely not the same strategy. And most referral partners, I mean, great, great questions, Tori, most referral partners what they’re really looking for is not to get a little bit of a cut of a deal on the license fees, although that’s a nice sweetener for them. But what they’re often looking for is they’re looking to drive their services business. And so when we are able to successfully close a deal with one of those customers on the back end, services are are created as opportunities and those partners can pick those up. In the resale model,  sometimes people are a bit misaligned on this. For us, we’re really looking for organizations that want to own the customer relationship. From both the resale transaction through the services, and through the support of those customers. Obviously very different strategy there. And we just talked about the technology partner strategy being being quite different. 

Tori Barlow: Yeah. And Steve, when we spoke last time, you talked about a partner bootcamp. And when I think of boot camp, I think of a really tiring one hour hiit class, but I’m sure it’s not that. So what is the partner bootcamp for Incorta Partners?

Steve Walden: Yeah, and I think a lot of us that have been doing this for a while have done these kinds of things. They’re very high cost and in very high sort of engagement activities. So we invited in partners into our office here in Newport Beach. We had about 20 individuals show up over two days. So we ran two one-day boot camps with about ten folks in each one. And what we were really trying to do is two things. So, one, make sure that these individuals really understand in a real sales process what is it that customers and prospects think as different messages are delivered to them? What is it about our technology that’s able to solve unique problems for these customers because they’re going to be doing it on their own? And so making sure that they that they get that side of it. And then the other side, my opinion is partnerships live or die based on relationships that get established between those partners and our field sales team. And so one of the other key activities that we did, we we called it speed dating, but we, we set up sort of these mini ten minute meetings with sales leaders, with each one of the partner individuals to make sure that they could start talking about their business, about accounts that maybe we should be approaching together.

Steve Walden: And it was a huge success. So we’ll definitely continue to run these. But it is a very high cost model for both sides. We had folks flying in from all over the US to come into this bootcamp and invest an entire day of their time with us. And so one of the things that we we did in concert with Allbound, we launched Allbound as our partner portal in the last 30 days, and we used Allbound as the foundation for the boot camp that we ran. So we had content that we were we were pulling up in Allbound. We were sharing that content. We were walking through the content. And what was left behind for the partners was, hey, you can go back and get access to all of this again for yourselves, but maybe even more importantly, for them to be able to provide a little bit of a guided tour for their teams to be able to go through that content at their own pace. And we’ve certainly seen a great uptick in usage from the partners that showed up at the boot camp within their organizations.

Tori Barlow: Oh, that’s really interesting. That was my next question is measurement. But if I were one of your partners, I could see the effort that it would put in to being an actual true partner versus a transactional partner, which I think is the baseline to a good relationship. And, and yeah, seeing that you guys invested in this management tool or helping partners get access to whatever they need, I think is another key step of, wow, they really do want to make this work. And as a bonus question for you, you guys just released a press release not too long ago. You guys are seeing great growth not only from the partner team but throughout the entire business model. You know, we’re in an interesting economy right now, kind of unstable, kind of uncertain these last few months. I’m curious your perspective on why partnerships are important or maybe why it’s risky for smaller companies to rely on just hiring sales or services? Like what’s your point of view right now in the economy and partners?

Steve Walden: Yeah, the economy is definitely different than many folks have seen it. Maybe not in their whole careers, but certainly for a long time. And we’re seeing press all the time from sort of the bigger tech companies about hiring freezes and layoffs. So the world is definitely shifting a bit. Let me break break this into two pieces so services as one of them. If you think about a software company and the services that it delivers most of the modern technology companies are trying to keep services as a very small percent of their overall revenue. So I’ll start with that. But even at that, you have to hire ahead of demand because you’ve got to get services people up to speed so that they’re capable of delivering those services. And what that leads to is there’s always people. You quote unquote, on the bench waiting for the work to arrive. And in this economy, that’s probably not the best thing for most organizations to do. So the alternative is you invest in making sure that your partners, which are in a lot of cases, reliance on services, make sure that they’re capable of delivering services around your company.

Steve Walden: And so that’s what we’ve done for for our partners, is we place a lot of emphasis on certification with those technical personas as well as one of the things and then sales people. That’s another thing. You know, for those of you that have run sales organizations or have been part of this this this concept of ramped quotas is is something that I think everybody is familiar with. So in the first quarter or two, you’ve got sales people that you’re not banking on any revenue to come from them And depending on how long the sales cycle is, that may go on for even longer. And so with partners, they’re investing as well in making sure that their sellers are capable of talking the story. And as a result, we’re happy to give up nice margins back to those partners in order to bring us deals. So I think it’s it’s a way to be able to keep your own organizations as lean as possible and still continue to drive both the behaviors of increased sales and great customer satisfaction because there’s a great services organization to go deliver those.

Tori Barlow: I think that’s really wise knowledge. Thank you to our guest, Steve, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at Incorta. And thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.