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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 30

Pivot….Pivot…..From a Sales Role into Partnerships!

Show Synopsis

This week, we’re back again to talk about shifting from sales to partnerships. Join host Tori Barlow and guest Jason Ashman, Sr. Director of Strategic Alliances at SaasLabs as they talk about taking the plunge into partnerships and how to take along your sales skills that suit the job.


    • How the break into the partnerships space
    • What characteristics or skills are needed to make the switch to partnerships
    • What makes a partner program or a partner role in an organization so impactful

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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 Jason Ashman, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances at SAS Labs. Welcome, Jason. We’re excited to have you.

Jason Ashman: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Tori Barlow:  You’re the perfect person for this conversation today. You’ve built up the Business Case and Partnerships program and created $100 million in year with the customer acquisition arm in mind in previous roles, and you’ve worked on and close deals with global partnerships with massive brands and deals like companies like Tik Tok, LinkedIn, Meta. Those are big names and you have managed global partner teams. So like I mentioned, I think a lot of folks have a lot to learn from you. And what we’re talking about today is pivoting from the sales role into partnerships. So to kick us off, we’d love to hear a little bit about how you got started into partnerships because you haven’t been here for your whole career, right? 

Jason Ashman:  I feel many people these days. And partnerships, maybe. Not anymore. Your path wasn’t started in partnerships. You kind of started from somewhere else, whether a product, marketing, sales, whatever it was. And so right out of college, actually my first job out of college was a sales job. And I might be dating myself a bit here, but it was I was selling print advertising, right? And it was like the scene out of a movie, like a boiler room or a wolf of Wall Street, Right? Really just it really was not my cup of tea, but I was there and you kind of got to stick it out, Right? It looked really cool in the interview, like a lot of hustle and bustle going out there. But once you get down into it, I’m like, this isn’t scratching my professional and personal itch of really what I wanted to do and what I want to accomplish with my career. That is.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, yeah. I think we have stars here and obviously eighties and I’ve always said the sales role is one of the hardest, if not the hardest at any company for an amalgam of reasons. One being you’re told know a lot and you also have to to your point hustle and it’s not always bright and cheery so you specifically experience that. The last time we talked, you know, in your early stages of of your career. How did you turn that into a positive perspective?

Jason Ashman: Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. So as you said, you get a lot of no’s and and I would say I got more no’s than I’ve ever experienced my entire life and my year and a half doing that at sales job. But it really taught me a few things. One is that you got to be persistent but polite, obviously, of course, right? So you got to you got to dig through a lot of trash to get those golden nuggets. Sometimes it’s worth it. And you can translate that to partnerships to. Right. You have a lot of cool companies you’re speaking with and they’ll be really friendly and nice, but it comes to the end of the decision, like, are we going to do a deal here or not? Just not going to work out right now and you got to be okay with that and we’ll go on to the next one. So kind of tell me like, hey, you can get down on yourself. This happens to everyone right now. You got to move on. So that was like a really good lesson I learned early on in my career, which I was very lucky to have that.

Jason Ashman: The second piece which I learned in some funny stories about this is, is punctuality. And and this means, you know, from actually coming in to the office on time to responding to an email on time, showing up to a meeting on time, all that stuff. I saw people when I was there, they were sent home, you know, sent home for the day when they kind of arrived a few minutes late to the office. So it was kind of a shock to my system, like, oh, wow, this is serious. It’s the real world now. I’m not I can’t show up late to my college course and tell my professor I was at the doctor. Right? It’s real life. So that got ingrained in me at an early stage. So that was also very helpful. And it’s it’s been, I would say, kind of instrumental in my success going forward, having prompt follow ups, having good conversations, and promptly giving a follow up on that email. Let’s say showing up early for a meeting ideally be great as well, things like that. So some some positives to pull off from that. That fun sales experience. I guess I would say.

Tori Barlow: This would apply to a lot of roles, I think, and not just the sales role. Those are very important. I’m curious what is a good response time window that you give yourself for responding to an email? I think everyone struggles with that.

Jason Ashman: Right. And so I try and try and stick to like the 24 hour rule, right? Because sometimes sometimes it’s and it’s not to play a game. Sometimes you got to let the ideas and conversation kind of simmer. Like if I send an email out right away after the email, that’s great, but I might forget something, I might miss something. And like this is for anything. I would think any kind of, let’s say, like more major or big decision now. It’s a quick conversation. Thanks for the chat. Here’s a deck. Great. Send it off. When it comes to larger level strategic conversations like a go to market plan with a partner, let’s say. Right. Let’s see how that all prepared beforehand which. You might, But things change typically on a call like all your timeline is going to change or we want to do this product integration instead or plan that’s in Q three instead of Q two. And so making sure you have one, everything kind of articulated and outlined be very helpful. So kind of give yourself a few minutes for that to simmer. And then too, oftentimes what I work on, right, will actually include other parties in my company as well, right? So go and connect with my product person or my engineering person or my support person, whatever it is, marketing person, right. In terms of these changes and things like that, that’s going to take time to. But I really want to make sure it’s 24 hours because that’s still fresh and still hot. We want to keep the momentum going. Now, again, it’s going to happen. I might respond in two days after, after a meeting, and that’s perfectly okay, Right, As long as there is relevant information to share. So yeah.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I found that too, especially when working with partners. You have probably so many different arrows running in different directions that even if you can’t give an answer to a partner email immediately, it’s always nice to say I see your email confirming receipt. I’ll get back to you in a day or two or whatever it is.

Jason Ashman: Yeah, exactly. And this is what I kind of learned in partnerships too. And I didn’t learn this in the sales aspect of my role is it’s okay to say, I don’t know. Right. And it’s I think it’s very much appreciated. Be like, I’m not sure. Right. And I’ll get back to you because the way partnerships really operate and work, it’s it’s mutual trust. It’s two sided over here, right? You’ve got to give as much as you ideally, you got to give more than you take. Right. Both sides got to have that mentality a little bit. Right. And so being honest in front, you’re like, hey, can you do this product integration or could you can we do this webinar or present on a panel together? I don’t know if you have budget, I’ll get back to you. That is a perfectly okay answer. Right? And like you said, just acknowledging that that email you’re in a relationship with this person, this company, right? So having that mutual respect, it’s like, Hey, I heard what you said. I’m working on that. That’s important to see. Yeah.

Tori Barlow: Okay. Speaking of not knowing, So you had your heyday in sales right out of out of the gate of college, and you had probably no inkling of partnerships or what that is. So how did you learn about that and what was the catalyst to jumping from sales into partnerships?

Jason Ashman: Yeah, Yeah. So I think when I came out of sales, like, I don’t know if partnerships is a real even, I’m sure it was, but I don’t know if it was a really big like kind of department or category for careers. I had no idea about it. Right. But what I, what I knew when I was I was selling this stuff, I kept thinking I kept asking my manager, my boss is whatever it was like, why are we doing this? Like, what’s going to be the impact for this long term, Right? Like, like what’s what’s the reason for this? Right? And it’s like, oh, it’s going make us money. I’m like, Yeah, but like, is it going to make the business better, provide value to our customers? Like, like, what’s the real reason over here? So it’s kind of just like thinking off the bat, like, how do I provide more value after today, right? Sales is very, very transactional, right? And it’s important and it provides a great, great purpose for that. But to me, I was like, Well, I want to, one really believe in product or company that I can get behind That’s very helpful for any person in any company, any role. Right. Believing the product, the company you’re working for is going to make you a lot more successful, make your job a lot easier and more enjoyable.

Jason Ashman: So that’s just kind of like one little tidbit. You’re going to go somewhere, make sure you believe in the team and the company in the product. That second piece, right is is for me is like, I got to I got to get behind something, but I want to make sure it’s going to be impactful, long run and provide value to both sides of this equation over here. Now, just kind of taking dollars out of someone’s pocket almost, if you will. And so that kind of kind of got me looking out there a little bit like thinking like, well, there’s got to be companies are growing like massive growth over here. Like there’s got to be companies out there doing this stuff a little bit right, thinking long term, what does that look like? And so I started looking at people’s careers that I wanted to kind of, Emily emulate, you know, who kind of model my career path off of how do I how do I take that trajectory and of having honestly, just like a lot of networking conversations, which is exhausting for anyone that’s out there either looking for a job or just trying to grow your network, having simple conversations with no motive other to just have a good conversation, learn about what they’re doing.

Jason Ashman: That has gone a long way. I’ve gotten to, I would say. I was my first job. I think I’ve gone to every single job through a referral or a conversation, a couple of jobs or even a job. No, it wasn’t a job description written. It was just an organic networking conversation. We chatted about business and growth and strategy. Like, Hey, what do you make of this and what do you make of that? And that three four week conversation turned into a job offer, which is really cool. So having conversations and people will be surprised. Also, if you’re going to someone on LinkedIn say, Hey, I want to chat, want to have a conversation, and the response is probably be like, Why? What do you want to chat with me about? And you tell them, I just want to learn. Like I want to get a better understanding of how you got to run your career or what this industry is like. Most people are going to be open to that and most people say, Yeah, sure, let’s have coffee or let’s hop on a zoom now, right? And so you’d be surprised when it comes to sales in terms of rejection, there’s not a lot of rejection. It comes to networking, which is a very positive thing, I think.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. So if you’re just a recap a bit in sales, looking to kind of make a transition or at least explore what’s out there in the partnerships world. First, start with asking questions, look at network of people. And I guarantee you, if you’re not following or friends with a lot of partnerships, people on LinkedIn, I’m sure a lot of your connections do follow people who are in partnerships or have a partnerships swing in their organization and just be curious, ask questions and see if it could be a fit. I mean, I think it’s interesting you say before you go to a company and and dive into this partnerships role, say, for example, you have no idea what to expect as a partner, manager or partner specialist. And I think feeling passionate about the product and where the trajectory is from the company is very important to understand. I think some other questions that could be interesting to ask before you accept a partnerships role in order in an organization is a is is a new partner program like will this person be responsible for building it? B Is this a widely accepted program within the organization? Like if it’s just the sales CRO wanting a partner program and no one else has buy in like that could be a pink flag. Like, what’s your experience with that?

Jason Ashman:  it’s a really tricky, tricky point right there. You kind of point out, right, Because a lot of companies now nowadays, right, are all eager on this, this partner program partner growth, right? Because they’re looking at this as like a this is a very scalable way to do it. But not everyone understands not some people do not understand that. You look at partnerships, you’re looking at, you know, multiyear strategy, ideally, right at the very minimum, like 6 to 12 months. Right. Is when you start seeing maybe some type of like needle movement. Right. And so you’ve got to be careful when you go into a company, especially if you’re more junior and they don’t have a partner program. Are you going to be set up for success? And that’s kind of in two ways. One is that does a company fundamentally understand what partnerships are and what they do and how they kind of grow things? And then two. Right. Do you have the necessary support around you to help grow that? Right? I mean, typically what I’ve seen, partnership teams in general are very slim, right, guys as well, processes in place.

Jason Ashman: It’s about locking down a massive partner that’s going to move the needle for you exponentially. Right. And so you’ve got to have the product support, the marketing support, the customer success support sometimes depending kind of the the roles you are working on and the partnerships you’re doing, you got to make sure that’s that’s in line as well. Right? So it’s it’s a tricky thing to to kind of gauge that upfront, but asking good questions like is this a new role? Right? Is this a backfill right? Or if it’s a backfill, why? What happened? And then they’ll elaborate like, well, they didn’t meet their their their goals or their objectives. Right. They weren’t able to deliver like well, why why were they able to deliver like, oh well they didn’t have any revenue in six months. That’s a red flag. Like you can’t expect revenue from a nothing program in six months. It’s not sales, right? It could be closely aligned to sales, but it’s not sales. Right. So things like that, you’ve got to be on the lookout for, I guess I would say that’s helpful a little bit.

Tori Barlow: That’s really helpful. I think it’s always daunting going into an interview, let alone a completely new wing of a company that you’ve no idea. And for folks transitioning or looking to transition from sales and partnerships, what are some characteristics that hold true from the sales role into partnerships?

Jason Ashman: Yeah. So I guess I would say in general, like we’ll start with sales if you’re coming from a sales role, right. Shifting that mentality from intermediate to long term could be kind of hard, right? Because if you’re a good salesperson and you’re thinking about your commission checking that dollar today. Right. And that’s a challenge to be like, I’m going to ignore that dollar today and think about the $5 tomorrow or next year or whatever that is, right? So you’re kind of got to switch that mentality in your brain, not just from sales specifically, but in general. For anyone that’s coming into a partnerships role, I would say it’s an important characteristic to have is an influence. To be successful in partnerships is to have this kind of blending, if you will, of being creative and being analytical and meaning, right? Like great partnerships come from really cool and unique and fun ideas that can push the boundaries sometimes, which is great, but that’s where it ends. It’s just an idea, right? And so you got to take that idea and support that with data, that analytical side, right? And kind of blend that together.

Jason Ashman: Right? Like that hybrid approach. Right. You know, a partnership. It’s brewed and creativity and brought to life the support of that data. And then I remember when I was younger, growing up, I was always told or I was always asked like, are you more left brain or right brain, right. So if you’re more analytical, I think the theory says you’re more left brained, more creative, you’re more right brain. And I’m like, Forget that. Let’s put that on pause. Like you can be both right. And I think that’s a really good partnerships. People are they have this this, this analytical mind minds like you can take this data, I’m going to build this model. There’s forecast or this plan. I’d be very creative with the concepts of why we’re going to do this or how we’re going to do this and this go to market strategy and all that stuff. Right? So kind of taking those both sides of your brain, kind of blending that together is something to be make anyone very successful. I think in a partnership role.

Tori Barlow: Measure everything and always be ten steps ahead with creativity and campaigns. Thank you to our guest, Jason, senior director of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships at SAS Labs. And thank you to the listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, please subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.