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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 22

Building a Partner Program – The First 180 Days

Show Synopsis

This week on the Partner Channel Podcast, Krish Ramachandran of CleverTap took a seat and had a chat with Tori Barlow, the VP of Marketing at Allbound. Together they talk about the framework that makes up the beginnings of a brand new partner program and the to-do’s for the first 180 days.

Highlights:

  • How to recognize what problem your product solves

  • What questions you should ask your customers

  • Evaluating how partners can impact your pipeline

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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 Krish, Global VP and Head of Channel Sales at Clever Tap. Krish has over ten years of experience in building and scaling partner channels across industries. He’s also an early stage investor and loves to work with startups on go to market strategies to scale SAS businesses internationally. Wow, what a background. Welcome, Chris. We’re excited to have you.

Krish Ramachandran: Thank you, Tori. I’m excited and look forward to a great chat.

Tori Barlow: We’re talking about something very tangible in this episode. You have thought through a very creative framework in someone’s first 180 days when building a partner program. And it’s essentially pretty easy to remember because they all start with P’s but it’s the four P framework: product, pipeline process, profit. Before we dive into this framework, I’d love for you to share a little bit about your background and what led you to clever tap with our audience.

Krish Ramachandran: Absolutely. My career in SaaS started with FreshBooks, where I joined the early team and had a chance to build our solution partner program from scratch. That spanned about nine years. And I saw the journey from being a small startup in India to becoming a global company, getting listed on Nasdaq last year and right now I am leading partnerships at CleverTap. What led me to cover Tab is basically it’s another world class product with roots in India made for the world. And I believe that the combination of a great product and a great distribution is what creates magic. And honestly, I feel very honored and excited to be playing this role, to lead the partnership team all over again and be part of this next wave of growth at Clever Tap.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, you’re doing so much at Clever Tap and it sounds like you had a great background at Fresh Works too. So diving in, getting straight down to the nitty gritty, can you explain the four pillars of the framework and why you personally believe in it?

Krish Ramachandran:  Honestly, what I’m going to talk about today is is entirely based of first principles. You know, when I started back in 2012, SaaS was just beginning to explode. And honestly, there weren’t many partner programs in terms of references or benchmarks. So a lot of things we did were based entirely on logic and first principles. And and it’s a good old method of running experiments with limited data, failing, fast learning from your mistakes until you succeed. And, you know, the four piece I just drew inspiration from the four piece of marketing, and it’s loosely based on that. And essentially it’s a condensed version of all the learnings that I’ve had in my journey so far. So yeah. I mean, it’s profit process. Pipeline and.

Tori Barlow: Product.

Krish Ramachandran: Product. Yeah.

Tori Barlow: Look, I’ve already memorized them. This is going well. So let’s start with product. What should our listeners keep in mind here and why is product why should product be at the forefront of this framework?

Krish Ramachandran: I mean, when you’re building a partner program, it helps immensely to have a great product, right? And it makes your job easy. There is inbound interest already for a partner program before you even start thinking about a partner program. But all it ensures is a seat at the table. I think that there’s plenty of work to be done before you can start counting dollars from your partnerships. And on the other hand, you may not be the best. You may be in the top five products, but you can still crush it if you get the other piece right. So that’s the beauty of this framework. And then basically you overindex on one of the other aspects you’re able to still make up for not being very, very good at something.

Tori Barlow: I think product is really important. Like you’re mentioning what happens in a situation where a channel leader is brought on into a company as the first channel person ever without really understanding the product, it takes time to onboard understand the ins and outs of it. Should the channel leader dedicate time and if so, how much to really understanding the product and what questions should they really think about here?

Krish Ramachandran: Yeah. I spend a lot of time talking to customers in the first 30 days, and I think that’s the best way to understand the positioning, understand what problem you are solving. And ultimately, you know, you need to be able to educate your partners on that. So you need to be on top of your game. You need to understand what your product does and what unique problems you’re solving so that you’re able to articulate that. And essentially you are taking your internal repeatable sales model and trying to replicate that with your partners. If you don’t know what it is yourself, how will you go tell somebody what to do?

Tori Barlow: It’s really important. I think a big metric that channel leaders obviously will be responsible for reporting on is pipeline. So partner generated pipeline is definitely a lagging indicator. We hear a lot of what tools are important to enable partners to generate pipeline and why should channel leaders prioritize pipeline?

Krish Ramachandran: Yeah. I think, you know, before we talk about tools, I think they are an important piece in the puzzle. But ultimately, you know, after you sign an agreement, if you’re expecting some business to come through, you need to, first of all, have an understanding of how the partner is going to generate pipeline. Are there existing customers to whom you can trust sell? Is there, you know, some adjacency in your product versus the product that their customers are using that allows for a natural cross-sell? Fundamentally, that creates the need to initial traction. If not, then what’s that internal? As I said, what’s your repeatable sales model that partners can implement within their segments within the territories that they operate? So until you have that clear in your head and until you nail the model, I wouldn’t recommend going after new partners and adding more and more partners to your network.

Tori Barlow: And the third piece processes, this is a really important piece that, you know, can’t be put off at all. Might be one of the first things that you work on. There’s internal processes. There’s processes with partners. What does this mean to you in the four pillars?

Krish Ramachandran:  For most of us, processes, it seems like the most boring piece or most boring part of the job. But but it’s very important to get it right. And and it’s not just about, you know, having the right tools and the programs and rules of engagement and documentation. I think ultimately my guiding value is is empathy, right? So put yourself in the partner’s shoes and think about the ease of doing business with your organization. And you will get all your processes right. And that’s as simple as it is.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, yeah. Processes are very important and I think it also requires buy in. If you’re talking internal processes, I would imagine channel leaders, if you’re on an island on your own, you need help from your direct sales team, you need help from your marketing team. So what are those processes? How do you create buy in is, I think, a key element here. One piece in the last piece is profit. This, I would imagine, weighs heavy on a lot of channel leaders. You know, when you get started, there’s obviously that looming expectation to generate partner influenced revenue. So how should folks think about this when building a program?

Krish Ramachandran: Yeah. You know, vendors, we all spend a lot of time thinking about the profitability of running a partner program, or we evaluate profitability of various sales models and go to market strategies. But sometimes we forget that in a partnership there needs to be a win win. And and, you know, profit is at the core of a successful partnership, in my opinion. Essentially partners have a business to run, they have wages to pay, and often they are not funded by venture capital, VC money, and essentially they are working on a limited working capital. So you could have the best product, you could create seamless processes, you could have the best enablement program training and whatnot. But if you can if a partner is not making money within the first 3 to 6 months, they’re going to lose interest and move on. So there’s an opportunity cost involved and it’s either you are somebody else. So it’s very important to understand the unit economics from a partner perspective. I would just go on to create a forecast for the PNL for the partner and show them how that changes with time. When do they break even? And so on. And that’s the opportunity for you to understand if the terms you’re offering are lucrative enough, you know, what’s the right percentage of commission you need to offer? What is the services revenue they can make out of your program? And that sums up essentially the profit piece here. And it’s important you do that very early on and make necessary changes and tweaks to ensure that there are no disappointments later.

Tori Barlow: I think everyone wants to know what to do in their first 30, 60, 90. This is a great one. 80 day plan focusing on four P’s product, pipeline processes, profit. Thank you to our guest Krish Global VP and head channel sales at Clever Tap. 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.