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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 2

Everboarding: Engineering your Ecosystem

Show Synopsis

When considering onboarding, it can be compared to the training wheels on a bike. But that of course begs the question of when to take the training wheels off. On this week’s episode of the Partner Channel Podcast, sit down with Dan O’Leary of Box as he explains everboarding and why partner support shouldn’t stop at 30-60-90.

Highlights:

  • Why partner enablement should go beyond the onboarding phase
  • How to determine ongoing partner needs
  • Which qualitative and quantitative goals to track for PX

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The Script

Ali Spiric:  Hey, everybody, welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, hosted by Allbound, the voice of the Channel. I’m Ali. I’m a marketing manager here, and we are joined by who I would call the Thomas Edison of Channel Sales, a real inventor. But a lot of you might know him as Dan O’Leary, director of partnerships at Box Dan.

Dan O’Leary: Hey, Ali, great to join you today. Hello, all of you. All founders out there and other partner leaders. Yes, I am director of partnerships at FOX. I’m an avid Taco Bell connoisseur, aspiring marathon runner, and extremely passionate about helping to create and build incredible partner ecosystems. I’m so glad to be joining you today.

Ali Spiric:  we’re going to be talking about a new concept that a lot of people may not have heard of, that you’ve coined as ‘ever-boarding’. But in order to actually get to ever boarding, we have to take a couple of steps back and talk about onboarding itself. We all know what it is, but what are the pieces that make an effective onboarding process?

Dan O’Leary: Yeah, we’ll talk about ever boarding. Right. This concept that onboarding never stops. But you first before you never stop, you first have to start. So whenever I think about a partner journey, it always starts with that initial experience that a partner has with you, your organization, your partner channel, the materials you have. And I’ve been really explicit that I think you need to have things like a 30, 60, 90 day plan. You need to have a checklist that your partners can follow. You need to have an understanding of what it is you want them to do and how they need to become confident in your products and services. And you need to make sure that that’s very consistent across different partner types, different business units, even different geographies. So that if you have a person joining a partnership in London and you have the same partner in your program in the United States, it should feel the same, right? So I’m going to assume that most partner leaders out there at least have an idea of what partner onboarding should look like, and it’s a somewhat templatized or repeatable process. And even for me, it’s never done, there’s always being improved, but I at least have it written down.

Ali Spiric: And that’s a great starting point. And then in terms of onboarding, is there a magic bullet that companies are missing? I think there’s a massive topic going around now about partner activation and getting partners to do we really want them to. And I think that really starts with the onboarding process. So what are some people missing?

Dan O’Leary:  I don’t know if there’s necessarily magic bullets, but I will say that there are things that can have magical outcomes and you don’t need to pull a rabbit out of your hat to do it. I think a lot of it comes from meeting partners where they’re at and being repetitive in how you communicate and get their attention. As a partner. Former Head of partner enablement, I think I mistakenly believe that if you built a great partner portal that they would come automagically and just show up and hang out. And that’s actually not the case. You need to give them a reason to come hang out with you and to do it consistently. On a weekly or monthly or maybe even daily basis. So you actually have to think about how you create a lot of value and show up consistently and drive the activation and that experience as a goal. Like if you don’t have someone in your team who is accountable for making sure that the engagement in your portal and of new partners is going up and it’s something you track, you’re probably not going to get those results. So you’ve got to you actually have to assign someone to it. So maybe there is a magic bullet, assign someone to own partner engagement metrics. Heard it here first.

Ali Spiric: There you go. Another new idea.

Dan O’Leary: That’s exactly why this is on my OKRs, guys. I can show it to you. This is real. I’m accountable to this.

Ali Spiric: That’s incredible. So what is an example of something that would get partners to come to your portal? Naturally, we would say deal registration. If that’s the only place they could do it, then that’s really their only option. But what are the other pieces that might get a partner signing in?

Dan O’Leary: Yeah, and obviously if there’s things that are required for a transaction, then they have to do it right. So like let’s assume that that’s always an option, but while they’re there, what else do you want them to get or what materials are you going to exclusively post in the portal or perhaps guide? They’re intentionally that where people are going to find it and that’s going to be things like your price book in my world as a as a B2B enterprise SAS company, it’s PowerPoint decks based on the different industries we service or details about key integrations like Salesforce or Net Suite. One thing we’ve been really successful with is putting our quarterly roadmap updates into the Allbound portal for partners all all of our partner types to access. We used to do it as a live Zoom presentation with different product leaders. It’s just incredibly hard to schedule across like seven or eight time zones. And now we offer a live class for those partners who want to participate, but for those who can’t, you know, often we want them out selling and delivering. They can go to the portal and get that and they know that that’s always going to be there along with updated materials. So we communicate to them that they can find it there and we consistently put it there and then refine it over time. So it’s never, never done. And a lot of what we’re going to talk about today, you never are finished, but you can be done for that day and that’s okay.

Ali Spiric: Yeah, that’s great. So then your portal definitely plays a piece in giving each partner an equal and optimized opportunity regardless of where they are, which is really exciting. And then we’ve defined onboarding as something that happens at the start of the partnership. So what happens when the 30th person in that partner company joins totally?

Dan O’Leary: And for you or for me, they may be the 30th partner, but for them, they’re the first.  It’s their first. Maybe it’s their first experience with me as a partner. Maybe it’s their first time in their role. A new person at a existing partner is like a new partner in many ways because you’re restarting the relationship with new people and I think it’s great. I love seeing people in my partner ecosystem change careers and grow, but that means that we’re always going to be needing to onboard new people, bring folks up to speed and kind of meet them where they’re at. And often their competence, their motivation, their expertize in our products or industry are going to be all over the place. So we really like it’s one of the reasons I think Allbound has been such a value driver for us and it probably should be for other partner leaders, is that we can customize that experience based on who that person is, what role they’re in, what persona they’re in. A first time sales person has a very different need than a senior solutions architect or developer, and we can create journeys that meet the needs of both, really just using the same set of content that we then stack and allocate in a certain way. And like, that’s kind of magical. I guess. So maybe it is magical. Yeah. There you go.

Ali Spiric: That’s a really interesting I hadn’t thought about that in terms of your first 29 individuals are going to be at such a different seniority level and familiarity with your product that you really are starting over from scratch. So although this partner may be a platinum partner, this person is very much. Not platinum.

Dan O’Leary: Yeah, they aspire to be. Yeah, they’re copper, but they’ll get there, right? And that’s okay. That’s totally fine.

Ali Spiric: So then that’s where the idea of ever boarding comes in. And would you mind defining that for the audience?

Dan O’Leary: Yeah. So I don’t know if this is like an EverQuest reference or like Evergreen like that is like Sam Smith’s song or something, but it’s this concept that you’re never done because you want to have a partner for life. And I think in the customer success side, we will flippantly say like, Oh, we’re going to get a customer for life. Well, if you and your organization are committed to customers for life, then you better be committed to having partners for life. And if you’re going to have a partnership that spans the duration of your business and your tenure, people are going to change. Products are going to change, priorities are going to change for you and your partner and your customers, by the way. So your onboarding programs can’t end at 90 days. In fact, that’s kind of where they start. I was thinking about like as a just a nerdy gamer, right? Like you get to the last level and then what do you do? Will you restart the game with all of your current items but you kind of know where things are. And like in partnerships, it’s kind of the same way. A partner that’s achieved the highest levels of success in one year now in the next year is going to have a different set of needs to achieve an even greater level of success for their organization and for your customers. So you have to think about how you’re going to continue to create the right content, the right engagement, and align the right incentives to keep them coming back so that you can continue to create value for your partner and your customers. And that’s what we call ever boring. It’s that it never ends. It never ends because of the value you’re creating never ends. And if it does, that’s okay. But then like you probably got to be thinking about onboarding new partners or doing something else, right? So does that does ever boarding make sense? Maybe we can pick a better word, but that’s what I call it.

Ali Spiric: I think ever boarding is the term. And I think one thing that you mentioned that’s really interesting is that after that first year, there are now new needs. And I think one thing that anyone can fall into, not just channel individuals, but the refreshing of content and discovering those new paths is really important. Do you at Vox have a specific methodology behind Oh, it’s been a year. Let’s take a look at these roadmaps and see how we can alter them or how do we expand knowledge? What does that look like?

Dan O’Leary:  I mean, I wish I could say this was perfect, but a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately is not how do I get my organization to come and work with partners, but rather how do I bring partners to support some of the core go-to-market customer success engagement activities that we have so that we can bring the right partner and the right plays and align it. And what this does is it creates this kind of dual enablement need for me to enable the partner on all of the things that we’re doing our priorities, our strategy, our roadmap, what we’re building. And then take that same take that same knowledge, get it incubated with the partners, and then bring that back in so that we can enable our internal teams say, Hey, here is how I have a great partnr, MX hero that does email security with Box. Send nn email, gets filed in Box, kind of awesome. But how we talk about that in a sales campaign means we’ve got to go talk about security and governance and all these Box product things that now the partner lights up. So one, the education of the partner creates a different educational needs internally and they build on the other. And then that obviously translates into good customer outcomes and good partner outcomes. So yeah, it really is like a never ending motion, but it’s very specific. In this case in my world now it’s getting partners to support a lot of the things that we’re already doing.

Ali Spiric: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting and probably the best way to do it is to ask partners what the next step is and get them involved in that which sometimes can be forgotten. The simplest answer sometimes is the right answer totally. And then so in simple terms, ever boarding is taking an individual through the onboarding process. But how does that differ? And what makes ever boarding different than onboarding, or is it just an upgraded version?

Dan O’Leary: Yeah, well, and I started thinking about this. It really like a lot of these concepts came out of customer success as well as organizational learning and development. So like shout out to my friend Samir Chaudhry, who was a great people leader at Facebook and then part of my team when we worked on workplace. And he brought a lot of these digital HR concepts really into into our product. And we started to think about, well, if you know from an employee development or learning development standpoint, you never end. It’s not like, hey, you know, your onboarding, we never see you again like a box. We have something called LearnVest three times a year. You get paid to get educated. It’s super awesome. So we see that we’re like, Well, what’s the equivalent for partners? You know, like we’re doing, we’re teaching our internal teams, all this stuff. Like how may we offer some of these same things to partners? And that’s like it’s obviously a simple concept, but what we found is that a lot of the ongoing enablement needs and training and learning, even just like people needs that we have to level and grow in our careers, are shared by the same people, in the same personas in our partner ecosystem. Like learning how to give an effective virtual presentation is going to be useful to an inside sales rep, just as it is to a channel AE, right? So a lot of what we’re thinking about is how can we bring in things from our LMS, for example, into Allbound? How can we bring in our sales enablement weekly materials into Allbound so that we don’t have to recreate all this content. We’re just remixing it for the audience and the personas that exist in our ecosystem. But it’s also allowing me to get a lot of horsepower out of our internal teams to create things for partners. They just don’t know it. We’re just doing the DJ Khalid remix on it, and then we get a lot more content without having to create it all ourselves.

Ali Spiric: I think that makes perfect sense. I think so that learning, I don’t want to call it a boot camp, but your three times a year learning experience. Is that something that you have successfully taken over to your partners or is that something that is still in the works?

Dan O’Leary: Still in the works. We’re laying the foundation. So getting Allbound integrated into work ramp, for example, is a key initiative there so that we can just port some of the classes and learning paths over. That way we’re not having to think about creating and maintaining an entirely separate curriculum. It’s really to say, like, I always think about personas; Like a developer at my company or a marketer or a sales person is going to have a lot of the same needs as they do in our ecosystem. Like if you’re writing code or you’re writing a blog post and you need the brand guidelines, those needs are the same. So if our materials and our approach to educating those people is the same, terrific. Now we just need to programatize that. And like a lot of the rule-based onboarding and thinking about the journey mapping in Allbound is really key to a lot of the things we’re thinking of. But it’s because we’re already doing that in the core business in a lot of ways. But now we’re just taking those same concepts and bringing them into the ecosystem to help hopefully scale and create some of the same great results. I know it sounds like it doesn’t sound like that revolutionary because it’s not. It’s good business sense. It’s really just going, “This works over here. This works. Over here. Let’s see what happens when we plug it all in.”

Ali Spiric: Yeah. I mean, I think sometimes we’re so focused on pedal to the metal in driving results that sometimes it’s hard to take that step back and go, this is driving close one deals for my internal sales team. Why can’t it do that for the partners and how do I remix that, to your point is so much easier than going, okay, let’s start from the ground up, which totally is great.

Dan O’Leary: Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t. Sometimes. Maybe it’s a new product, maybe it’s a new initiative, but like start with what you have. You’d be surprised how useful that probably is. Don’t make another new PowerPoint, please. World doesn’t need it.

Ali Spiric: Great reminder. And then, so how does ever boring ultimately play into the greater partner experience?

Dan O’Leary: Yeah. So I always think about helping a partner in key moments. Deal is obviously probably the easiest one, but not all partners participate in deal reg, right? And not all personas within your partner participate in deal reg. So you have to think about like what’s going to be the high intent reason that get someone to come back to the portal or to engage with your team, you know, either a one on one, maybe they send you an email or a slack and you respond with a resource that’s in your portal. To me, it’s all about understanding what those key moments are. A key sales presentation that has to get done. You’re looking for the price book. You’re looking for the the map of all the sales reps like a lot of those are like super high intent, like sales portal-y type use cases. When someone’s looking for those things, I want to be able to create a great experience for them in that moment. You know, you came to do some deal. Reg Hey, here’s something else extra. Here’s some new information we have. Here’s announcements on new product, new conference, new event. You know, like once you’re here, let me show you all the things that we have.

Dan O’Leary: So I want to take advantage of all of those opportunities that we have because the attention of our partners is so precious and it’s so finite, and we’re just competing with so many other folks who want their same time and attention. We owe it to them to give them the most value we can, that’s the most tailored for their needs and their content. And it’s not like, duh, but you really got to think about that. You know, a marketer, a salesperson, a developer and an executive have similar but slightly different needs. You just got to have a different color paint on the wall, a different, different content journey, a different understanding of what their needs are. And once you do, you can automate that and then do that repeatedly. So what that should allow you to do is not just on board 30 partners, maybe that’s 300 or 3000 or 30,000 with the same size team. So your efficiency goes way up, your results go way up. But your work probably does not, not not as much.

Ali Spiric: That’s really interesting that you point out that when a partner signs into your portal, it’s likely not just to walk around like when we  were teenagers at a mall, they’re there to do something. So how do you take what they’re doing and take it a step further? One, making that experience great, but then also showcasing the other adjacent to things that you can do in there to really make an impact.

Dan O’Leary: Totally. Totally. And that’s also where I think I often think about how many partner portals that I have access to in different programs I’m a member of. And I remember my partners have the same right. So they’re not only b\Box partners, they’re Octa partners, they’re Salesforce partners. They’re looking at 20 different versions of a portal in some way, shape or form, or maybe not. So that’s what I’m competing against. I’m competing against all those other people vying for their attention. And the only way I’m going to get it is if I create the maximum value for them, and obviously for the customers and clients they support.

Ali Spiric: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. So in terms of, now that we’re talking about portals and experiences, how does the portal play into the ever-boarding piece of it? I played you a scenario the other day of if you were to go into the insights piece of your portal and all of a sudden notice that there are five new names that a partner company and you didn’t know how they got there, how would the portal kind of help drive, that initial success when you were not there at the starting line. It started and now you’re like, “Here we are and there you are and what has happened up until this point?”

Dan O’Leary: Yeah. So part of it is understanding, well, who these folks are, what role they fall into. And then what, if any, additional resources, touch points or support would we want to offer them? Because to me, a portal is very much a one-to-many experience. Even if we tailor it, you know, the content is going to be roughly the same. So when a new person gets registered, maybe it’s not just what they experience in the portal, it’s getting added to the monthly partner invite call, it’s getting added to the Slack Connect channel, it’s being added as a deal team member in the CRM, you know, there’s getting sent the official partner hoodie. There’s all these extra things that we can do once we know those individuals are hanging out with us. and part of the program. You can also watch, the inverse is also true if you notice, hey, we haven’t seen these people show up in a while. What’s going on? You know, the great resignation isn’t real for these people? Maybe, maybe not. So it’s also a good opportunity once a month, once a quarter, go in and call, take a look at who’s not been logging in and what does that tell you? You know, there’s a lot you can learn using the analytics and the dashboards that are built into the products as an admin. As a partner leader, if you don’t have access to that and relying on your pops or chops or rev ops or insert ops on top of it team, I highly encourage you to get your hands on those dashboards and take personal accountability over your engagement in the portal. If you’re not seeing that going up consistently over time, you probably need to take action on on resolving that. Yeah.

Ali Spiric: That’s perfect. I think one thing that we did uncover is the real reason why anyone would want to partner with Box, which is the hoodies.

Dan O’Leary: It’s true. Yeah that’s a big part. And the free Box developer account. Yeah, it’s a good one.

Ali Spiric: There you go. So you heard it here first.

Dan O’Leary: And we use Allbound. Of course. That helps.

Ali Spiric: The double whammy. Oh, my goodness. Yes. If you haven’t signed up to be a box partner, now is the time. You can pause and we’ll wait for you to come back. And then is ever boarding the secret to ongoing channel engagement?

Dan O’Leary: I mean. Maybe it is. It’s funny. Initially I was like, No, I don’t have any secrets. And then as we talk about to Ali, it may be because, I think oftentimes we treat partnerships as transactional. Historically, we’ve treated them as transactional relationships and they’re not. I mean, great partnerships are endurance. It’s you know, it’s Hall and Oates, it’s peanut butter and jelly, right? Like that’s what a great partnership means. And they’re not breaking up. Peanut butter and jelly, not going anywhere, guys, right? So if we if we want to create great, long term, enduring, valuable partnerships that create great customer outcomes over time, they build credible value for your partners, you have to understand that that experience doesn’t end 90 days after they sign the contract, or after their first deal, right? You you want to have the maximum success possible, so you’re going to need to continue to invest in enablement, in learning and development, in onboarding, in ever-boarding, whatever  term you want to call it. If you stop investing in it, then you stop investing in the partnership. If you stop onboarding or creating content opportunities or learning opportunities for people who’ve already been in your program, why did you invest all that time to get him there? So you want that journey to continue because that success should continue and maybe that is a secret. You got to have the right approach. Obviously, mine is, I think, not that crazy, but you also have to have the right technology partners, the right internal partners. This is where I mentioned my my ops team, how we work with our CSM from Allbound, how I work with Salesforce, how I work my CSM from Slack. All of these are critical tools in my toolbox. I need all of them, but all of them are involved in this ever boarding journey because it never stops, because I don’t want the success to ever stop. You know, the more my partners succeed, the more I succeed. That’s what we got to go do.

Ali Spiric: That’s the bottom line.

Dan O’Leary: Yes, it is.

Ali Spiric: Has ever-boarding driven any results for Box that you can speak on?

Dan O’Leary: Oh, absolutely. And it’s I see this, honestly, when I see partners getting promoted. It’s one of my favorite things. You go on LinkedIn and you see a title change from someone who works in the ecosystem and they’re growing in their careers, they’re getting promoted, they’re taking on additional responsibilities because of the success that they’ve had. An I can’t just be like, “Oh, I can tie that back to the asset you picked up here.” But it’s, you know, you can look back and say, how did these people interact with our team? How do they interact with our content? How did they participate as an extended member of our account team, or deal team, or working with a customer? And you really can see a pretty close correlation between partner engagement, partner success and partner outcomes. And it’s it’s gratifying to see. So yeah, I mean, yeah, my business is growing quantitatively, but it’s really those qualitative stories. When I see someone like Adam from MSI, shout out to my homie Adam, who’s now the Chief Solutions Officer at his company, and he’s grown into that role over time. And it’s not a surprise. It’s because he takes his commitment to being an expert at Box so seriously. It’s created great results for him and his company.

Ali Spiric: That’s amazing. So that was really the whole idea of ever-boarding. If you guys have any questions, you can find them at Dan O’Leary on LinkedIn. But before we really wrap it up, I do have a wild card question that I would like to ask you that I think says a lot about a person. What’s your favorite type of cereal?

Dan O’Leary: Ooh, favorite type. I would eat Golden Grahams in 2 seconds. Oh, they’re so good for you. Or maybe Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But like Ali, I’m not eating sugar cereal. I’m marathon training right now, so I’m eating something with, like, pecans in it. I could I could probably feed it to a neighborhood goat. That’s where it’s at right now. But it’s good. It’s healthy. It’s healthy for me. So one day I’ll go back to eating sugar cereal, right now I’m eating goat feed.

Ali Spiric: Well, you heard it here first. Dan is eating pecans instead of cereal, so that’s good.

Dan O’Leary: Yeah, it’s not good. Don’t recommend it, y’all.

Ali Spiric: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for sitting down with us. Is there anything that you would like to plug or tell the audience about before we go?

Dan O’Leary: Yeah, shout out to the incredible team from Allbound, who’s been with us every step of the way as we’ve relaunched our portal and really supported our team. Been a great partner. We appreciate that as a partner leader, it’s really important. Even CSM’s been fantastic. So thank you so much. And yeah, if you’ve if you’ve not had a chance to use Box, box.com, go get signed up for free account. 110,000 organizations, 67% of the Fortune 500 choose Box for their content cloud. I’ve been a partner for almost ten years, former customer myself. It’s a really great app. And yeah, this sounds good. We’re building a future work here. Guys, we’ll talk to you. Come, come visit. Come here. Come say hi.

Ali Spiric: Thank you so much. And thank you, everybody, for listening. We hope you have a good one.