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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 38

Where Are You Now? 6 Months Into Building a Partner Program

Show Synopsis

This week on the Partner Channel Podcast, it’s the return of Noam Horenczyk! Host Tori Barlow first spoke with him at the start of his partnerships career, but now we pivot to a 6 month progress check. Tune in to find out what lessons have been learned at Walnut.io and what Noam wishes he would have known when he was just starting out.

Highlights:

  • How to settle on specific objectives that align with the company
  • What to communicate to leadership and when
  • How to utilize integrations to prevent churn

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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 again with Noam, her and Shaq, head of Partnerships, product and business at Walnut.io. Welcome. Now I’m excited to pick up this conversation again.

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah. Long time no see, Tori. Nice to be here.

Tori Barlow: I think you’re the first person to come back around again on the series. So this is a first and it’s a good first. Before we get into that, though, a little bit about what you’ve been up to in a few accolades about Walnut. You recently just won LinkedIn’s Top Startups, the top Israeli startup as number one. So congratulations there.

Noam Horenczyk: Thank you.

Tori Barlow: And just a refresher. You were on the podcast; We were talking about starting your career and partnerships and really building a program at the same time. Like this was net new for you and you were learning as much as your company was learning. So it’s a lot to handle and since then it’s been about six months now. You’ve been in the role, you’ve been up to a lot, you’ve created a lot for Walnut, for partnerships, and we just wanted to touch base on some of the things you’ve learned and some wins and maybe some not wins, but what you’ve learned in the scenario. So I guess kicking it off with what have the last six months been like just in a nutshell over at Walnut?

Noam Horenczyk: Well, yeah, we use that all the time. Those little puns, it’s been it’s been great. So it is very interesting to build a partner program from scratch. You learn a lot, right?Like I’ve had a pretty long career so far and you. Don’t always feel like you’re. At a point in time. When you’re learning a lot. But that has not been the case for me, learning new things every day. And yeah, last time we talked it was six weeks. This is six months. I say we do the series and keep it at six years and six years at Walnut, that would be an interesting conversation compared to these two. Yeah, we’ve had a lot happening. I think I listened to the previous episode like the stuff I was talking about then was very initial of just like, Hey, try to understand what we even want to do. I think the next four and a half months since then and the next. Couple of months from now will be like, okay, we decided what we want to do, how do we go full? Just actually focus all of our attention on those three strategic initiatives. We have three strategic initiatives. It took a lot of time and a lot of research and a lot of effort to come up with those three because there’s a lot of trade offs. You want to do more things, but you know that the more things you do the low, it’s going to be just scratching the surface with all of these things. So we decided on three strategic initiatives and now we’re just deciding how do we move all the different metrics associated to these three strategic initiatives forward. And how do we kind of purposefully ignore the rest, which is painful to me because like I have all these emails that keep unread, even though I read them a thousand times, I just don’t have the the focus and the. Attention and the time to kind of reply to them. And I’m keeping people hanging for a long time, so I apologize if anyone’s listening.That I’ve been I haven’t given. Them the attention, but that’s just because we have.To stay focused. I think that’s the thing. The first six.Weeks is like, what do we want to focus on?And then the next couplef months is like, Hey, once we’ve identified these things, how do we move the metrics and kind of like build out? How do we start with it, how do we measure it, how do we optimize it throughout the first year?

Tori Barlow: So with the key metrics, did those align to the overall company objectives? How did you nail this down?

Noam Horenczyk: Huh. That’s a good question. So I think at the end of the day, there’s a lot of different objectives. For the company. I think the partnership’s objectives, you have to have some that are aligned with the company, some internal that are a bit more detailed. I feel like at the end of the day, yes, a lot of it is around revenue, but some of our but it’s funny, like our goal is revenue. But one of my strategic initiatives is actually offering walnut free to a certain use case on a certain on certain websites. So the idea that you’re actually offering something free, Knowing that you’ll be able to monetize later. So there are certain KPIs that kind of look funky initially, but once you realize why they’re actually there, you understand  it’s meant for growth and it’s meant to actually get money at the end of the day. Right? We’re we’re all fast companies that need to get revenue and ARR. I Feel like what I learned in the last couple of months is that partnerships take time. I heard that a lot. But partnerships do take time. And if you talk to a partner and you lead with like, “Hey, do you have leads for me,” that just conversation is going to go nowhere. Maybe 20 or 30 years ago, that was fine. That was the expectation. But now when you’re talking to a partner, they’re approached by many other companies, right? It’s a busy space, especially if you’re talking to an agency which is one of our focuses; agencies. They’re being chased by many tech vendors. Every tech vendor wants it to be sold by agencies. Just another if you get that right, like HubSpot did, you know you can have an army of people selling your product on your behalf. It’s perfect, but because it’s perfect, you’re not you’re not the only one there. So you kind of need to realize how to get, you know, how to actually talk to them in the right way. That’s not just like, hey leads for my management to see that I’m bringing leads. So there’s this like how we operate towards the company goal, but in kind of like a little bubble with your own metrics and your own understanding of how the business works.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, it’s like give before you get basically with partnerships. Is that what you’re learning?

Noam Horenczyk: It’s given before you get which I heard, I can’t I can’t emphasize how, how accurate that is. The rev share is dead.That was kind of like the theme of Catalyst partnership leaders in August. At the end of the day, especially when it’s tech, partnerships like rev share, like no one cares about something that’s not ARR right, because everyone’s trying to raise ARR, everyone’s trying to show ARR. So if you’re if you’re just getting paid, that’s great. Like you get paid 10% of a deal. But it doesn’t It doesn’t Affect anything that the investors are looking for or that the CEO and the senior management is looking for. So it’s all about What I found is kind of helping existing customers so that you can retain them. And again, that’s not necessarily the the goal of new ARR that you always hear from partnerships. That’s actually how partnerships help retain ARR and make sure that the customers don’t churn right. So if you give them the integration they ask for or you give them the solution partner, that can actually help them implement whatever they were trying to do, they will stay with you and they won’t churn to a competitor or whatever. That is, and that’s how you actually justify the existence of the partnership. So on that from I learned that that is definitely one way to go. So one thing that we are offering is also discounts to the end customers. So if we’re working with agencies, what they say is like, Hey, I don’t care about your 10% that I get. If, if you close the deal, I care about looking good in front of my customers. So if you let me offer discount on your product on behalf of your products essentially because you’re coming through agency X, you’re getting 20% off of the product. That’s what I want to do. And essentially what we also learned is that a lot of the times when it comes to these agency partnerships, you have to think about what do their customers need? The old mantra of just how do we solve problems for the agency’s customers? And does the agency’s customers see you as a technology that’s being adopted by their ideal customer profile at the end of the day? Because if you’re trying to get an agency to onboard and do your certification program and all that stuff, that’s all great. But if they don’t see how the companies they’re already talking to are using your product or can’t use your product, then you’re going to go nowhere, right? People will certify and then they’ll just not do anything with it. So just like aligning w with your partners on what their customers need is a huge lesson that I learned in the last couple of months.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. So have you gotten to the point where you’re really honing in on certain partner types? It sounds like agencies might be one of them, but are you tiering and spending more time with certain partners at this point?

Noam Horenczyk: Not yet. I think we have talked about tiers. I think tiers is a bit of an overkill. At this point in time. I think a lot of the times you if you if you do too much too early, or just spending too much time on stuff, that doesn’t matter. Then once we have hundreds of partners, yes, we’ll tier them out and we’ll have like bronze, silver, gold, platinum, whatever people make for tiers. I’ve seen some creative ones as well. I think at the end of the day. We focus on our time on partners that are that we See good potential with, right? So those are the ones that I care a lot more about enabling and activating a partner that I see a huge potential with versus spending. Time on an on enabling a partner that might be might be more engaged with me. It might be easier, right? So it’s easier. So I want to engage with that partner that’s already very active, but I just don’t see the potential long term with them. I need to avoid doing that and focus my my effort on the partners that can grow to three or five years with us. So that’s definitely something that we learned how to focus on those specific ones.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. So you’re still just now focusing on the relationship building that it takes two to tango type of theme versus like still like casting a wide net this early on.

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah. So it’s a balance that you’re trying to do, right? You’re trying to spend a certain amount of time on getting you into new partnerships in the door. There’s a lot of a lot of different ways of getting that in, right? So there’s the, for example, crossing. Just once you have someone in there you can use cross into account mapping. That’s great. You can also use things like Partner Hub and all these events that we have to just get access to all those agencies. That is not the hardest part. The hardest part is not getting to those agencies. The hardest part is understanding which agencies you actually want to work with and getting their attention while they’re also being chased by everyone else. Right? It’s like, how do we actually get them to be interested in working with us? Like share the vision of how they can use our product to service their customers. That’s where we are. Like, we’re in the education phase. I would say. Like the first phase was just like, Who do we want to work with? It was just like identifying which agencies you want to work with. Now we’re trying to narrow it down and educating the ones we identified as the ones that are relevant. And then we’re going to focus the next couple of weeks and month on enabling them and kind of like going through full cycles together. So at the end of the day, when you’re talking about it’s all theoretical to begin with, which is kind of but once you have an actual customer wanting to work with you, that’s when you kind of realize, okay. Here are the boundaries between the agency and the tech provider. How do we help? Which collateral do they need? Which training assets do they need? So you kind of build that. I feel like you have to build that while it’s already happening versus trying to plan for all of that in advance.

Tori Barlow: Okay. That’s fair. And then let’s talk about the number one question I think most people would have listening to this. Are you seeing any sort of revenue from getting this in the ground up? And if not, what metrics are you seeing?

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah, So revenue takes time. I think people people understand that and our leadership understands that. It’s not like a deal cycle where, you know, 40 day deal cycles. So you get something in the door and then 40 days later there’s the revenue. You’re talking about a much more strategic approach. These things take time, but what you can do in the meantime is you can kind of track things that will lead to revenue later. Right. It’s like I’m looking at a report in Salesforce that I have right now where I look at agencies. I have different stages that I care about. So the first one is did they sign an agreement with us? That’s like the first thing, but that’s not enough. So I measure are they signed and then are they engaged? It’s kind of it’s like a funnel. So they start. As they start nothing, then they become signed. Then some of them become engaged. And engaged means that we scheduled a monthly call. We have a Slack channel together. They’re actively referring customers to us. They’re doing our certification program. There are certain criteria for engaged. And that’s what that’s what I want to see. I want to see that there’s no drop off from sign to engaged because that’s where we are right now. And then after that, there is contributing revenue, right? So it’s either they are. They successfully resold the deal or they successfully referred one. That’s where they become like the end bucket. But if you just looked at contributing revenue for four or five months, even three months since you launched, you’re probably going to be disappointed because those things don’t happen that quickly. But if you start seeing like where the drop off is, right, if I start seeing that, I’m signing a lot of partners, but none of them are being are engaged. And that’s a different problem to solve than if they’re all engaged but none of them are selling, right. So we’re looking at all these different kind of like, let’s call it mid funnel for agencies, specifically. A lot more than than end revenue. And I told you earlier, I’m even going after a free offering. So there will be conversion from that free offering within a couple of months. So all those things just mean that you have to make sure that you’re tracking progress. That’s not necessarily dollars because you believe that they will be at the end, right? You’re not just tracking it. You’re not doing anything that you just don’t believe in, but also that you have your leadership on board and that they understand that this is how this works.

Tori Barlow: We see we see that, too, from our customers. We get all of this first party anonymous engagement data, and we do see that the most successful partner companies have the highest amount of partner engagement. So seeing those leading indicators definitely leads to the lagging indicators, and I think that’s an important expectation set. It’s almost similar to retention. If your customers aren’t adopting your product, that’s a really great indicator that they’ll probably churn. So I think it’s a similar view with partners and setting that expectation with with execs and, you know, Noam you’re six months into the role. Now, if you were on your first day at Walnut, knowing everything you knew now, what’s like one thing you would do differently?

Noam Horenczyk: That’s a good question. I think I would. Share what I’m thinking and what I’m doing with the with the company earlier on because I think there’s a lot of partnerships, people we have to work with everyone. We’re basically a little business within the the bigger business. So we have to work with legal to have our own different contracts. We have to work with finance because maybe the financing and the user and the licensing model is different. You have different marketing, we have different sales motions, we’d have different everything. And I think when I went in, I was like, okay, I’m just going to do it all. And you realize that you can’t because you don’t have either access or understanding of how these things work necessarily, right? And there are people there to help you. So I think that the moment, like acouple of weeks ago actually started broadcasting to the whole organization about what I’m doing, like the different strategic things I’m doing and not just keeping it within leadership and my manager, and it really helped because people that I wasn’t that didn’t even think could be involved came to me and said like, “Hey, I can help you with this. I can help you with that, here, have access to this so you don’t have to ask that person to do something.” So there’s all these different things that can happen if you just explain what your vision is and just communicated it to the company. And it’s okay. It’s okay if things don’t move as quickly as people are used to. I just have a weekly brief that I do like a little weekly partner update that I do on Slack, and sometimes within a week, nothing changes that much, right?It’s not like a deal is where you’re just like, okay, here’s the amount of deals, here’s the amount of opportunities. It’s a lot more exciting from that perspective. But just like every week, I make sure that I’m communicating to the business, Where are we? What’s the direction we’re going with? For those three strategic initiatives that everyone now understands, Everyone understands what those three strategic initiatives are, why they are strategic and how they will help the business. Moving forward so I just make sure that I communicate that and I get help more than I did before. That’s definitely something that and I think it’s even if you. I think that’s something that people should ask and kind of get. Suss out in the interview process to understand how much understanding of what partnership is exists in the organization. Because if you don’t have that, you’re going to have a really hard time moving anything.

Tori Barlow: You’ve been in here for six months. You’ve done so much already. Set a great example for other folks that are embarking, you know, as the leader in the company for partnerships for their first time and creating something from scratch. We’ll talk again. And I think you said six years, but we’ll make it six months. Thank you to our guests, head of partnerships at Walnut. 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.