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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 3

Lessons Learned from HubSpot when

Growing a Partner Program

Show Synopsis

Continuing on our journey of “How to build a partner program from scratch”, we dissect lessons learned from HubSpot. You don’t want to miss this one spotlighting Katie Lambert, Senior Team Manager, Partner Go to Market at HubSpot.

Highlights:

  • Why you should view partners as superusers
  • Why cross-department alignment is crucial
  • How HubSpot thinks of a partnership

Subscribe to the Partner Channel Podcast

The Script

Tori Barlow: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. I’m really excited to be here today with Katie Lambert, Senior Team Manager, Partner Go-to-Market at HubSpot. Welcome, Katie. We’re really excited to have you today.

Katie Lambert: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I am excited to be here.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, well, when we chatted, we thought of a few ways that maybe HubSpot could help our audience. You guys, you know, have a sophisticated partner program. You’re the creator of inbound marketing. All of these go to thoughts when you think of HubSpot. So today we’ll talk about lessons learned from you specifically when starting a partner program. Just kind of like I mentioned, when people think about HubSpot, I personally am a marketer. I think of inbound marketing. You’re the industry leader, you’re content king and you’re also partner centric. So if we start from the top, what does partner centric mean to you at HubSpot?

Katie Lambert: Sure. At HubSpot, we really talk about our partner ecosystem. So we have a lot of different types of partners. I work primarily with our solutions partners. There’s also a lot of overlap with our app partners, and both of those are key to increasing the extensibility of our platform to serving our customer’s needs, to helping them unlock potential. So in the simplest terms, we partner on solving for our mutual customers. And I also always say that it’s really important to think of this as a two way partnership. You don’t want it to be this very transactional feeling relationship, you know, you help us, we help you, we both feel good about it. And the customer is happy. And something we talked about a little bit earlier is it’s a little bit unusual at HubSpot that partner and customer enablement are on the same team. So we all live under the community led growth team. And when we talk about that, like when I’m interviewing folks, we say that’s really important to the company is to not lose sight of the fact that partners are customers too. So we’re really thinking through what customer looks like as a whole. So partners, customers, employees and creators and what that full ecosystem looks like instead of being separate groups. Like there’s a lot of the overlapping Venn diagram of who those folks are. Partners are in black and inbound and our HubSpot user groups and our advocacy channels. So partners are part of everything we do.

Tori Barlow: That’s really interesting you say that. I think that that might be pretty unique to HubSpot. I know there is a lot of overlap with customer retention, but also partner retention, customer engagement, partner engagement. Do you within that team kind of tend to look at the same metrics and have the same practices? How does that really work out in a day to day?

Katie Lambert: Yeah, it’s a good question. I some of those things are the same in terms of engagement as something that we look at a lot. If you’re really engaged in our community initiatives, if partners are very engaged in what we’re doing in terms of events, for example, or content that we’re creating, that tells us some things the same way that it tells us about customers. And there are certain revenue numbers that, of course, both teams look at. But as far as the partner enablement side, you’re looking at revenue in a different way usually then you’re then you’re looking at for customers because partners are super users. They represent potential customers that you’d like to bring in to the ecosystem. They represent folks who are already there. They know the product better than anybody. And so we keep a closer eye, I would say, on those things.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And when you think of HubSpot, like I mentioned earlier, you think of this really sophisticated, well- oiled partner program with tons of moving parts, tons of types of partners. You know, we don’t necessarily think about starting a partner program from scratch. And so in your instance, this is more of a partner program rebirth with transitioning from agency partners to solution partners. So I’m sure we can take bits and pieces from a rebirth just the same as an overall conception. So what what does this mean in terms of the transition? And what steps are you guys putting in place to do this?

Katie Lambert: That is a great question. And I should say the shift in name from agency partner program to solutions partner program that isn’t new, that’s been around for a. But what we’re starting to see is that more reflected within our partners. And so it really feels to me like a transformational moment in the Solutions Partner program and a big driver behind that. If you’ve followed HubSpot for a long time, which I did, because I was working at a competitor. Hubspot itself has evolved, and that’s that’s not a messaging exercise that is effect. So if you talk to a developer about CMS hub or about Ops hub, you can do some really sophisticated things with HubSpot, whether you’re doing some kind of custom API integration or you’re integrating with something with our with our app marketplace. And so the program has to evolve to meet what those customers need. So we need more partners who can do the types of services that a customer really needs to be successful, especially if you’re working with a bigger business, a bigger customer. They’re coming from potentially if they’re changing another platform and they’re migrating over to HubSpot, they have a lot of things that need to be done and it’s very different from working with a small business.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So not necessarily a new concept for HubSpot, just more emphasis and effort with what is going on under the hood.

Katie Lambert: And I would say too again; This is a very well established program, it’s something that I used to follow when I worked at other places. But what I’m seeing that’s a little bit different now than I’ve been seeing for the past few years is we’re paying more attention to things like accreditations. So again, businesses can trust that a partner can do those sort of complex things and you’re going to see a lot of partners highlighted for different skills in that kind of way. So I feel like everyone I talk to who works in partnerships is always talking about their directory. For example, what is the partner of the future? And in our case, we are looking at those more technical partners as a really key part of how we expand as a company.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that makes sense. And I’m sure everyone listening would love to know how to use specifically measure success with your partner program and how do you report on those metrics? Can you kind of dial into that a bit?

Katie Lambert: Yeah, I would say for KPIs and reporting for my team specifically. So this is just my own experience. I’m going to be transparent that a lot of that isn’t really nailed on the enablement side. So vanity metrics we don’t really care about, we’ve got X number of page views and now what what does that really mean? So we have bits and pieces I’m really pushing there to be able to be to confidently show our impact as a team and to do it in a very thoughtful way. So one of the ways the entire program is doing that is by investing in infrastructure and that goes beyond hiring. So it’s a great time to reexamine our partner tech stack, maybe adjust our framework for tiers, to recast some roles, even internal roles to support partners along their journey with HubSpot. So I would say the program side of what we’re doing has a much closer eye on the kind of business analysis on the enablement side. We’re trying to go past those metrics of just email opens and page views and kind of think about how that might influence behavior, particularly those really desired behavior changes that you want from partners that kind of indicate to us how engaged they might be in the program and how we can activate them.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, it’s always challenging and just hard to measure anything, even though as marketers, as partner managers, you know, there is so much data out there, how to piece it together to find those leading and lagging indicators is especially challenging. And I can only imagine at HubSpot, when you have so many moving parts, you know, it kind of leads me to my next question. One of the items we’ve noticed within our first party data is our North Star metric for our customers is exactly your team partner enablement, partner engagement. And if you have certain leading indicators like sharing content or, you know, post partner posting on social media more engaging in certain ways that leads to more partner generated revenue. So thinking through your team structure, specifically on the enablement team, which is a pivotal role in partner success, can you walk through just for your team how that is structured?

Katie Lambert: Yeah, sure. So my specific team. Marketing partner enablement. We live within this community led growth team, which falls under the marketing umbrella. So we’re focused on the full partner flywheel. That’s how we are organized. We work really closely. Our cross-functional partners are specifically in advocacy in the DMB community section. We work with a lot of folks in comms and automation and of course our close cross-functional partners on the strategy and ops team. But I’m really glad that you asked that question because I feel like partnerships in general, there is always such a debate about where it should live and it still is kind of a new field where there isn’t maybe exactly a best practice. Partners influence so many parts of the of the business. So when I’m talking to folks at other organizations like here, it lives in sales here it lives in marketing, here it lives in customer. And the strategy team here falls under rev ops. And I could talk probably about the importance of Rev Ops for another podcast episode because I can talk about it for a very long time. But again, I don’t think there’s a best practice of where that lives. But I really do like the HubSpot difference here of housing partners and customers together. I worked in organizations that are structured differently, and I think that can make people think of this partners as a separate thing. Here’s the marketing that we do and here’s what we do for partners, where you’re having to fight for marketing support, for example, or support on other things, and partners just are an afterthought in that case. And I think integrating it into how we think about customers is really key to having partners be a priority.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, no, it is structure I think, and reporting under sales marketing. It is interesting, HubSpot is rev ups, but that is a constant conversation. I feel we recently did an analysis and I think 60% roll up under sales and the other 40 are marketing. So it’s it’s kind of I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do it. There’s benefits for both or all sides of the table. But that is definitely good to know. And, you know, dialing it back, going a couple of years back in your career, you had an interesting experience that I’m sure you brought some items to your now role at HubSpot, but you used to work at MailChimp and developed the partner program there. So curious, what was your what were a few big lessons you learned and what did you take from that to HubSpot specifically?

Katie Lambert: Yeah, so I should say I was one of the people who helped do those things. It’s certainly not myself who built that program and the folks who are there are doing an amazing job running it and scaling it and thinking about what the next step of growth looks like when I think about lessons learned have so many, but I would say when folks ask me about their own partner programs, one of the things I always talk about is the importance of having a C level champion who is totally bought in to what you’re doing. Period like no buts on that one and buy in is more important than just being excited about the idea. It is sustained support, it’s resourcing, it is internal advocacy. And another thing I think is important because at the time we were working on a new brand, so Milton Bitco, we were working on the program that now that is structured and we were also working on a product piece like the first partner portal, I guess that that MailChimp had had and. I would say, you know, alignment. We talk about that a lot and it is really important on the partners side because it can really appear to slow things down to keep having these conversations with folks across teams. But if you’re if your product team doesn’t believe in what they’re building, that is going to slow you down in the long run.

Katie Lambert: Or if you’re your leadership isn’t on the same page about goals and resourcing, or if your cross-functional teams feel super separate, like “we’re design and we’re marketing.” You’re not going to be successful. And it’s really important to learn how to speak each other’s language. I had to learn as a marketer how to approach a product designer and a product team. And instead of, “Here’s what the business needs” or “Here’s what marketing needs” to be able to put that in terms of user problems. That sounds like such a simple thing. It took a little longer to learn than you would have thought. And I would also say if folks aren’t acting like they’re part of the same team, you need to reset. And I think we did a great job of that. I’m sitting in not my own apartment. I am cat sitting for someone on my product team who I knew at MailChimp. Just to give you an idea of how seriously we took that and how when things weren’t going well, it was really time for that radical candor and to be able to sit down and say, There’s friction here, let’s fix it.

Tori Barlow: I think that is really good advice not only to a partner team, but for all teams in an organization. If you’re not hitting metrics or if you’re not getting past these hurdles that you’ve not originally envisioned, how do you come together and have those really hard conversations? That may not go well the first time, but I think they’re necessary to kind of dig in. And everyone, we’re on a team for a reason, so how do we move forward? It’s interesting you say that.

Katie Lambert: I mean, I would say in my case, this particular person, she and I still laugh about it because we sat down over a drink and just said, let’s hash it out, which we did. But in general, understanding what folks metrics are and how they are being measured and what success looks like for them, there is often you’re usually not at cross-purposes, like you’re usually working toward some sort of similar goal, even if your Northstar KPIs are a little bit different. But if you’re looking to get promoted and I know these are the metrics you’re being measured on, how can I help you get there and how can we help each other?

Tori Barlow: Yeah, and you mentioned Buy In, which is a really interesting one. When you came on to MailChimp to help build out the program. Did you already have a green light from the C-suite or was that something you guys all came together and created by? And what was that like?

Katie Lambert: Yeah, people were really excited about it. So my my former CEO, Ben Chestnut, he has always been really interested in the partner program and had some very close ties with actual partners, folks who had been to the office and people whose names he knows and companies he knows about, folks who have been around and been those sort of brand evangelists forever since the very beginning. And so I think that really led from the community piece of that. And then Corinne Rohman came in, who is still over at Intuit MailChimp, and she is the chief customer officer. And that was also a really great piece of alignment. On the engineering side, we also had that buy in. So I think more of it was really you have to make the case to your finance team and to the money folks that this is a really a good idea and it’s a good way to go. And then I think getting the functional and really execution operation focused things in order as well.

Tori Barlow: Okay. Yeah, that’s it’s nice you guys had the buy-in. And I can imagine it even just takes longer to get a partner program started if you had to create buy-in or go get buy-in from execs. But even having one exec on your on your side can be helpful, you know?

Katie Lambert: So much and I will say to HubSpot, that was one of the really reassuring things when I was kind of evaluating my next step. Yamani, who is now our CEO, was the Chief Customer Officer before that, and she was the executive sponsor of the partner program. So when I was again just evaluating, you say that you make partners a priority at this particular company. What does. Headcount looks like which is resourcing look like what kind of buy in what level of buy and do you have across the organization? I really saw that in HubSpot and I continue to see that just even from the growth in on the teams with individual employees and hires. I’m super excited about the folks on my team and the growth that I’ve seen across functions to.

Tori Barlow: Well, that explains a lot of success you guys are seeing. It kind of comes out in the numbers. Not that we know any, but you can just tell the growth to your point is very exciting.

Katie Lambert: Draw some conclusions between between the line of lines.

Tori Barlow: So, you know, and to to kind of end on a sweet note, you know, managing a partner program and partner enablement at HubSpot is, I’m sure, quite different than your days at MailChimp when you were getting the ground lifted. So for those listeners that are thinking about taking on a new opportunity with a a company that does not have a partner program or stepping in for someone who has already created one and they might have to rebuild it, what sort of advice would you give that person and what are the top characteristics you think make for a really successful channel manager doing something like this?

Katie Lambert: So from a tactical perspective, I think knowing who you are building your program for and being very, very clear about the partners that you already have in your ecosystem and the ones you want to attract is one of those pieces I feel like folks miss sometimes because you’re thinking about those partners you want to attract and you’re like, Great. And so we’ll need to do this and this and this. And who your partners actually are is one of those things that need to inform your incentives, even if you are working on this sort of long term transition of being able to be just very clear eyed about, here’s where we are, here’s where we want to be, here’s what we can build for right now, and here’s how we’re going to make that transition over a three year strategy, for example, that should inform your incentives. Partner programs are not one size fits all, so you can’t necessarily look at HubSpot and go, “Oh, this is going to work for me!” Build for you, build to the company as build for who your partners actually are. And from a values perspective, I would say never lose sight of the customer. And that’s something we actually did really well at MailChimp. And if I could go back in time, I would tell earlier me that she’s right to keep customers at the center of everything. So it helps your product team get excited about building. It, helps your brand really ring true and let people see themselves in who you are. And it also helps your real community of partners feel like you’re invested in them, like you’re listening to them. You know who they are, you’re building for them. And that kind of connection is not something you can otherwise find.

Tori Barlow: Somehow that made me emotional. And that should be a TED Talk. That answer. That was a really good one, Katie. Thank you to our guest, Katie Lambert, Senior Team Manager, Partner Go-to-Market at HubSpot. 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.