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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 19

You’re Tiering Up my Heart

Show Synopsis

Host Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound is joined by Aleksi Mattlar, Manager of Partner Success at Vena Solutions. They come together to discuss his contributions to Vena Solutions and his personal opinion on partner tiering.

Highlights:

  • Why a partner manager should think about tiering partners
  • How to prioritize different partners when addressing a tiering structure
  • What to think about when they have 5-10 partners and over 100?

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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 Aleksi Mattlar, manager of partner success at Venice Solutions. Welcome, Alexi. We’re very excited to have you.

Aleksi Mattlar: Thank you, Tori. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Tori Barlow : You have a lot in your bag. You are a foundational part of the Venice partner team and helped contribute to the overall company’s revenue, which grew from 5% to 20% with you on board. Not to mention, your team grew from three contributors to eight. And your partner program launched not too long ago, about a year ago, and you were part of the President’s Club. So, you have a lot to be proud of for sure.

Aleksi Mattlar: Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a great journey. I’ve worked with lots of really great people along the way and also helps to be working with a company with a truly unique product and is, say, a niche player and fills a certain gap in an overall growing market too. So I appreciate I definitely give some of the success to others, but yeah, very proud of the work that our team has done as well. 

Tori Barlow : Yeah, speaking of your team, I think it’s really impressive to grow a partner team that much within a year. I think when a lot of folks start a partner program from scratch or overhaul a partner program, it’s hard to get buy-in to grow the partner team and not all the time, but sometimes get that buy-in. So it sounds like your success has been definitely looked at at the company. And can you actually talk a little bit about growing your team from 3 to 8 and kind of what that looks like?

Aleksi Mattlar: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s been really interesting for us. I think the the partner team at Veena, we originally started as kind of like a new, more experimental vision, actually started even before we had our full new program launch. And it was more of a test kit of, okay, can we potentially start sourcing indirect revenue and what would that exactly look like? We weren’t exactly sure how to go. And so it actually started with one guy. It started back around, I believe, 2017, 2018, but overall that end up working and then it’s just been continually more investment in every single year our partner team has overachieved on their quotas. So really the proof is in the pudding for the rest of the business to look at where’s driving results, where’s making tangible differences. And every time there’s an investment into partners, there would be a lot more growth. So it’s been really interesting. When I started on the team, there were three total of us in North America, and then that growth to eight. I think what we originally did when I joined the team is we thought we have our program right now, but we ultimately need to build it to scale, build it so that ultimately help us be able to reach next new levels. And then it takes away from the area where I hear a lot of partner managers talk about where their one person, one man or woman doing everything under the sun and partnerships, they’re trying to be everything to everyone.

Aleksi Mattlar: And how can we get a lot more delineated in our roles? How can we get focusing on areas of growth and really specific areas, whether that’s managing partner relationships or enablement or operations? How can we take things ultimately to the next level and getting a lot more specific and hyper focused on our roles? So that’s ultimately what’s been the growth from 3 to 8 people. So when I started there as myself and my colleagues who were managing most partner relationships, development, sales, everything to do under the sun there, and then we had a role in partner marketing, but now we have several more people who are under sales who are a lot more focused on their own specific roles, whether it’s partner acquisition or helping grow those relationships, as well as people in operations, marketing and enablement. So it’s been really exciting to see and anticipate that our crew is going to continue to grow as our partner program grows and has more impact to the rest of the organization.

Tori Barlow : Yeah. As you grow into more of that rev share for the company, that’s really impressive. And I like the detail of who you hired next and what your strategy was. I’m sure that can be a whole ‘nother podcast, but today we’re talking all about tiering. And that is an important method in strategy for any partner leader out there who maybe even has five partners all the way up to 1000 partners. How do you tier according to your business goals? And Alexi is a whizz at that. But before we jump into that, you have an interesting background of finding your way into partnerships. You actually came from the sales side of things. How did you end up over on this side of the world?

Aleksi Mattlar: Yeah, a great question. It’s really interesting and it’s actually organic. And basically what happened is I’ve been working in direct sales for about three years, maybe just over at the point when I started to dip my toes into partnerships. And it’s actually a mistake that I got into partnerships at the time I was working as an inbound SDR and we’re basically contacting any lead under the Sun which came through a website or media to trade show requested demo, anything like that. And at the time I noticed that there were a lot of what I thought might be potential partners that are people who seem to based off their company’s website, seem to have expertise and then in our field generally. So I thought it was interesting that they were, you know, hitting our website or meaning at conference or anything like that. And I was paid ultimately on people showing up to meetings. So what I thought is I thought, well, maybe I should call these people because no one is reaching out to them. Maybe there’s some good there. So I started calling them. And what I found is that as an SDR, people don’t particularly want to talk to you. And a lot of the time you’re trying to get people on the phone when they don’t really want to take a meeting with you and you’re trying to find some pain while they’re half trying to get off. They’re not always very pleasant conversations, but all the conversations I had with potential partners were all fantastic. They wanted to hear me out. They were really interested. They actually showed up to meetings. I just frankly enjoyed the conversations I was having more so naturally what I did and still of course was hitting my KPIs doing so. So I just started focusing on partner leads. Then from there, ultimately I started building a bit more of an expertise, understanding exactly how what made a good partner, what didn’t make a good partner and really learning the ropes of the profession. So now again now been in my third third different partner role since and has no plans of moving anywhere else.

Tori Barlow : That’s a really inspiring story. I think a good amount of folks can relate to that and I’ve heard a lot of folks transition from mostly the sales side, like an C role and some similar to you the SDR role. But welcome to the fun side. And going back to the hiring conversation, why should a partner manager think about tiering at all?

Aleksi Mattlar: Great question. It’s really interesting with partners as a partner manager, you wear a lot of hats. Ultimately, if you’re a channel manager, your goal is ultimately to drive revenue through your partners, whether that’s sourced or influenced, and not all partners are necessarily equal. One rule that I like to allude to is, there’s a bit of a hockey stick distribution. So what tends to happen is your top few partners, and this is consistent with us as well as almost every other company and every other partner manager I’ve spoke to, they tend to have a few partners who do a lot of the work and bring in a lot of revenue, or probably let’s call it the top 10 to 20% of their partners. And then you start to see a bit more of a flattening out. And then there’s some not all partners are always going to be active. What’s interesting is that there’s a lot of different people who have different requests for your time and effort and such. And one way of looking at your partners is say, Well, you can’t invest if you have a full roster of partners you can’t invest in. Absolutely. In the same way in every single partner that you would, especially if you have a growing ecosystem, you have a growing number of partners that are managing, etc. there. So you need to see who is bringing in the results and also who is the potential to bring in more results and where is there a good fit? So yeah, in terms of should I jump into how to how it exactly to your partners.

Tori Barlow : Yeah, let’s go for it.

Aleksi Mattlar: Okay. Yeah. How what what exactly do is look at again who who’s bringing in the results? The proof is ultimately in the pudding. A lot of people can say a lot of very, very nice things. But ultimately the numbers do speak. So you have to see where exactly are getting revenue. And then is there a possibility to get more revenue? Is this is this a one and done deal? Is this just a small bit or is there a potential way that this can be a continuation or continual stream of revenue? That’s one option. You also have to look at where is there the most potential. So if you have if you partner with a firm where they have, let’s just say, limited capacity, limited resources, and they don’t necessarily have a desire to really build a deep partnership with your practice, they’re kind of more just doing one off when it’s convenient for them. That’s fine, but ultimately you’re going to have limited potential with that account. But if you have a partner, let’s just say that they might not have brought in revenue yet or you might have not done a ton of work together, but they have huge potential with it. You can see that align through do your ISPs align, do they actually have people in place? And I think ultimately the thing you have to look at too, and this gets overlooked is do they really have the desire? Do they really have a reason other than they want to make money and you want to make money? And that’s going to be the driving reason that could be. But I find that’s not always the way to distinguish if they’re going to do it is are they a person who wants to grow a business because then they ultimately want to sell it? Are they someone who, you know, they’ve had their company, they’ve you know, they’re closed for time, but they might not have the same desire that someone else who has that real burning desire to grow their business does. You have to kind of look at some of those intangible factors and see all these all these factors line up.

Aleksi Mattlar: Is this someone who’s really willing to go deep with me and who’s going to be able to ultimately match my effort, too? So that’s how I would think a little bit about tiering partners. And frankly, is there just even a good fit in terms of your your ICP versus their ICP? I think organizations where you have a really strong alignment with your ICP, I think those are really strong potential partnerships off the bat. And then you have to suss out too. So even if you do share some ICP, is that a small overlap? Is that a big overlap? How big really is that? What’s really potential there? Some have more of a gut feeling for it, but there are a couple of different ways that you can prioritize which partners to spend your time with because ultimately do it by night time.

Tori Barlow : Yeah, I think that’s very key is who do you spend your time with? So I think it might be pretty straightforward. Let’s say if someone’s starting a program from scratch, the company is maybe five years old, they have 2 to 5 million a year and they want to introduce a partner program. So someone is hired on as a partner manager to start that program. They recruit partners. You can kind of start to tier as partners, come in and have that assessment as they come in. If you decide to do that, it might be a little challenging. If you come in as a partner manager with an established partner program and you’re assigned to maybe assess the partner program or overhaul the program, whatever it is, and you have over 100 partners, how do you figure out who to spend your time on? Is it looking at your CRM and figuring out which ones are contributing most pipeline or revenue starting there and then chunking away at them a month at a time and categorizing them like, how do you prioritize this if you’re new? Taking over a program?

Aleksi Mattlar: Yeah. That’s a really, really great question. The fact of the matter is, so in my roles, the most partners I’ve managed up to is about 25. So it’s harder for me to put myself in the shoes if I had 100 partners. But I think a couple of things to think about is obviously where is the revenue coming from? If one of those 100 partners will let to say that the ten of those hundred partners are bringing the lion’s share of deals, you’re going to want to spend your time there, but obviously you need to spend your time and give some TLC to the none of the other ones. So how do you exactly do that? What I would start looking at is what ultimately can you automate what kinds of similar questions, similar requests for enablement, operations, procedures. So like is your invoicing all set up so you can easily pay partners? Can partners find assets that they need of yours easily? So theoretically you could be more self served to the partners. And then ultimately when partners are interested and you, you help build certain relationships and grow ones which are bringing a lot of the revenue. I’d almost see those more strategic partners at that point.

Aleksi Mattlar: But the other ones, are you leaving basically the the foot tracks that a partner if they were to go in and be able to help self-serve themselves, would they be able to? So ultimately it’s just adding the idea of scale to basically partner management. And it’s really interesting space actually, because there’s many exciting new software companies out there that are tackling this challenge. And historically, partners teams have been underfunded by companies and they haven’t gotten all the TLC that’s department like direct sales, for example, would have. So there’s a lot of interesting area to kind of innovate, I think within partners to within partner programs at companies, just because ultimately partner programs tend to be different between companies depending on what product you’re selling, who your exact audiences for that product, what your price point is, are you plug and play? Are you more of an enterprise software solution? There’s a couple of those factors which all play into it. So that would be my answer to you is add scale and then still spend the time with ones who are putting an effort to you and try to build deeper relationships with one who are already spending a lot of time with you and producing a lot of results.

Tori Barlow : Yeah, and I think you make a really good point. This is an exercise of where to spend your time and you obviously need to have data around that to understand who your partner, your best performing partners are. But then to your point, it’s kind of a poker game or do they have this desire? You know, we’re talking about it in a sense of it being internal as a North Star for who to put more time into. is this strategy external partner facing to where they see the tiers that you have? And is there some sort of incentive or gamification to grow into each tier? What does that mean? Have you practice that?

Aleksi Mattlar: Yeah. In terms of in terms of gamification, I think it definitely works. I think ultimately people need goals and things to work towards if they don’t have a target that they’re aiming to. The old adage is, if you’re aiming at nothing, you’re going to hit it. So I think it’s critically important that partner managers lay out things like goals, targets, KPIs, things for their partners to hit and ultimately tears for them to move. It’s really interesting with partners, though, because ultimately what partners is, is you have to most the partners you work with, you don’t actually have any leverage or influence over them. It’s not like they’re employees for you and then you can let go of an employee. So you need to think about how can you ultimately motivate them and how can you how can you understand their world and ultimately help them to achieve their goals and solve their problems, whichever angle you want to take there with partnering with you and how can you make that? How can you make that easier? And I think, you know, natural things which work like competition, for example, I think those work very well. I think people are intrinsically motivated when they see like a scoreboard or something like that. I think they’re naturally motivated. Do they want to be at top of the scoreboard, just like in sports at the same thing carries over for partnering with companies or being part of a part of a program.

Tori Barlow : Yeah, I was going to say, who knew we could talk about tiering so much and so in-depth. This is really great. This is a very tactical and applicable to, I think, any partner program ranging from five partners to 100 like we’ve been talking about. Thank you to our guest, Aleksi, the manager partner success at Vienna Solutions. 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.