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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 39

Let’s Get Technical…Technical…Technical

Show Synopsis

This week on the Partner Channel Podcast, host Tori Barlow is joined by Krishanth Thangarajah, Head of EMEA and America Partnerships at Yellow.ai! The two talk all things tech partnerships, including how to segment your potential partnerships and the impact of upping integrations.

Highlights:

  • What it means to have partner-based solutions
  • What the framework may look like when qualifying a tech partner
  • How partner managers can set expectations with execs

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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 Krishanth, Head of EMEA and America’s Partnerships at Yellow. I welcome super pumped to have you here.

Krishanth Thangarajah: Thank you so much. Pleasure is mine.

Tori Barlow: You have a very impressive background. You’re at Yellow.ai right now, but previously you used to lead up integration partnerships at Freshworks and you scaled the team from 250 apps to 1000 apps. And by the way, that’s never happened in any tech marketplace before you entered the space. So that is huge. Congrats.

Krishanth Thangarajah: Thank you so much, Tori.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, we are all about tech partnerships today. You bring a plethora of experience here and I think this is a really hot topic, hot take now in the partnerships world, not only for where tech partnership programs fit in within an organization, but what it actually means to have a tech partnership in a company and how you vie for that with execs. So before we dive in, I know there’s a lot of lingo, a lot of different acronyms, but what is the definition of a tech partnership, at least to you?

Krishanth Thangarajah: So yeah, people get different definitions, according to us. When I was at Freshworks and at Yellow.ai as well, tech partnerships refers to the team that works with other SaaS companies or ISPs to build integrations. So that’s the theme and that’s the thing that we refer to as partnerships team.

Tori Barlow: Great view on it. And then, so people know the lay of the land, what’s the partner type makeup right now at Yellow.ai?

Krishanth Thangarajah: Yeah, we kind of typically have five partner types. I can actually split it into two. One is going to be our tech partners where you’re going to work with SaaS Partners. Big ones like Waba, Cloud partnerships, etc.. The other one is the ones that kind of help you out pipeline or avenues. So we have consulting partners. We work with GSI referral and we sell totally five different types of partners.

Tori Barlow: And then when you started at Fresh Works, because I know a lot of your ‘from the ground up’ happened at Freshworks, what was the lay of the land like there when you were there? And then what was it like when you left?

Krishanth Thangarajah: When I joined Fresh Works, we had around 200 odd apps in our marketplace. So we were building our marketplace. We kind of had a page listed, and we also had a concept of paid apps that was more from a concept perspective. And then in a year’s time, we actually crossed 1000 apps from 200 to 1000 apps, I think that’s the fastest in an ecosystem. And I think the second year we kind of work more on a set of partners with respect to building pipeline revenues. And in 2021, the third year when I was there, we were working more around building the partner program. We took multiple OKRs like we had data to back us up, the number of integrations, the churn was less. So we had OKRs around working with customer success managers, etc.. So that had been my journey at Fresh Works.

Tori Barlow: Well, speaking of working with CSM, you have an interesting belief that solutions should be customer driven and not relationship driven. So what exactly does that mean? Because that can be taken a few different ways.

Krishanth Thangarajah: Yeah, definitely. Right. Typically what happens is let me give you a Fresh Works example. We had a target of reaching to a 1000 plus apps marketplace so that we can have more investments in our platform. And so we were kind of brainstorming on different use cases, different categories, and we were going out, reaching out to multiple folks to build integrations, etc.. But invariably, what we did it was a mistake, a genuine mistake, but we kind of added certain partners where the marketplace was not giving them any traction at all. They were in common customers using the integrations. And that’s the reason why I kind of always believe, rather than building relationships where you kind of bump into partner managers from communities or from events rather than you brainstorming on use cases, it’s always better that you kind of validate it from your customers or prospects before kind of building on those integrations. So that’s why I always believe your customers are the best folks to kind of tell you what to build and what type of integrations to have.

Tori Barlow: Now, when I think of going from 100 to 50 apps, whatever it was in the beginning to 1000 apps, in my mind, I’m thinking, “Well, let’s just bring in as many integrations as possible.” Obviously, there’s a lot of work that goes into it and you have a specific framework for qualifying a potential tech partner. And I think this is what gets misconstrued in any organization is, “hey, you’re hired to bring on these partners.” If we’re talking about tech partners sure, you can scale really quickly by just adding partners or apps in, but what’s the science behind it and how do you do this thoughtfully without getting over your head?

Krishanth Thangarajah: Okay, great. That’s a great question. Ideally, it’s always best to kind of look at partnerships from two perspectives. One is from an integration perspective. So you’re going to categorize, I’m sure you always have a list of prospective partners or you’re already in touch with a bunch of partner companies. As companies, you kind of make a list of all those and then categorize them into three. One is going to be in terms of integration, right? It’s going to be must still have, good to have, and then not a great fit. That’s the first category. And then you look at your GTM strategy and kind of look at is your GTM strategy or other your goals match with your tech partners or prospective tech partners. So again, have three categories that great fit, medium fit, not a great fit. So you kind of have a three by three matrix, so you kind of have nine boxes, your must have integration and your great fit with respect to GTM or goal alignment. That’s the best partner that you’ll have to work with. You’ll have to prioritize, add steam into it and kind of go all out on working with those partners. And then your GTM is medium fit and then you have a medium fit for integration as a rather good to have integration. Then of course look at overlapping goals, try to help each other with every other box except for us to have integration with every other box. It’s always better to just be friends rather than jumping and walking into a partnership, because invariably after six months or a year you will realize you have spent a lot of time building integrations that are not going to be taken in the market and you would have wasted a lot of time. So I always recommend kind of look at tech partnerships from an integration perspective and GTM perspective and kind of start working on prioritizing them before even building them.

Tori Barlow:  Let’s take the Fresh Works example for now: when you had 250, that seems like a lot already, but then scaling to 1000, are you from the go to market perspective, you know, spending time with all of these different tech partners to give them attention and love? And to your point, seeing if it’ll work before you actually have a contract or whatever that may be, are you giving all of those integration partners love? Are you tiering them? How do you really segment that?

Krishanth Thangarajah: That’s a good question. Yes, you’re right. Fresh Works had 250 apps because we were a multiproduct company. We had a CRM helpdesk, live chat tool, the calling solution, and there was a ITSM tool as well, right? So we had multiple products and so more number of integrations. And so we had 50 apps in our marketplace. Having said that, 50 in itself is a lot. And you can imagine when it goes 1000, I think it was somewhere around 1000 to 50300. Now what typically happens is you will have to definitely deal partners, right? So in terms of apps, we had two types of apps. One, of course, we work with integration partners, whether it’s the SaaS partner, SaaS vendors, the other ones are companies who will build integrations in our platform, right? So we kind of categorize them into two different buckets and kind of give different approaches, different teams kind of handle size and a different team kind of handles the SaaS partners. Now again, SaaS partners, you’ll have to tier them based on must have integrations. Very a number of integrations are going to go high, probably put them on the Tier one. Right. And then you have the medium good to have integrations and of course there is good alignment with respect to GTMS. Well, I’ll put them in tier two and then rest of them will come under the long tail, right? So I kind of have my team prioritize accordingly. And then of course zero or the the star partners are the ones which are going to be your cloud partners, right? Maybe your hosted on a database will be working on partnerships. You’ll have to explore how to work with them. That’s going to involve a lot of energy because you have to list in their marketplace, undergo a multiple evaluations, etc.

Krishanth Thangarajah: So that’s where most of your time and energy should should be spent. Second, with the down partners that we just discussed. Tier two and Tier three. Right. So as long as we have this kind of adhering internally and kind of have different partner managers handle partners across each of these buckets, it is going to be easier. And for tier three and long tail, right? Even after thousand, you’re going to have a lot of inbound requests. After Fresh Works went public, we had quite a lot of requests from inbound requests that people want to work with us, partner with us, etc.. Typically earlier we just had a web page that said partner with us. They’ll fill that subset later. What we kind of started doing is we start to add quite a lot of content. And in fact, even in that form, we kind of had questions something like, “Did you take a look at our marketplace? Did you find solutions like yours already available in our marketplace?” So kind of trying to make them think whether the integration will make sense or not. They’ll have to kind of do their homework by asking these series of questions. We kind of did that. And that kind of pretty much will help any company as they scale tech partnerships because they’ll have a lot of inbound requests. And you can kind of set this on an autopilot mode and of course, attach your API documents that are publicly available. And of course, we had a developer community as well, which was super helpful. Kind of have all the assets in one place. When someone is interested in partnerships, they should go to one place and then kind of find all the information so that it’s on an autopilot mode.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, it even could make sense to you to start thinking about tearing if you even just have a handful of partners. Because I think the more you scale, which is the idea, the ultimate goal is to have that tiered aspect, but maybe starting earlier on could really help segment there. And I know this is a hot debate of where partnerships sit within an organization, whatever that viewpoint might be. Curious where you, the tech partnerships guru, sits within the organization. Who do you typically report into?

Krishanth Thangarajah:  We had a VP of Partnerships reporting to Chief Revenue Officer And that yellow is with the Chief growth officer. Ideally, I would recommend I think it’s best if the partnerships go to tech partnerships go to directly reports to the CEO. But nevertheless, it also depends on the stage in which tech partnerships team is in. So if the goal is to kind of have more integrations focus on solutions, then ideally the team should be closer to the product. So it’s best that it reports to the chief product officer. If it is going to be more around, you already have a network of partners and then you are trying to scale, then the idea should be half of you spend half the time on solution and getting the right set of assets and you spend the other 50% of your time working with partners with respect to co-marketing, cross-sell, etc.. In that case, of course, you’ll be able to add value with respect to pipeline.

Krishanth Thangarajah: And then, of course, you can also have influenced revenue as one of your OKRs. Of course you can set targets to it. But nevertheless, anyone asking for an integration, pulling a partner for a support where they’re responding immediately, right. These are obviously going to add to reducing the sales cycle. And then so those can be attributed as partner influence revenues. But if you’re going to have partner sourced revenue targets, that’s going to be super hard because if you’re referring to a chief growth officer or a sales leader, if it is revenue targets, they’re going to just ask about that. The focus is going to be on that because from an audience perspective that stop on the priority. And if you’re going to contribute to revenues and a bunch of other OKRs, you’ll always be questioned on revenues while you’re dealing with a bunch of other stuff. So it’s ideal for tech partnerships team to not focus on revenues. It could be one of the OKRs, but again, influence. This better source could be adding to pipeline, but definitely not doing everything.

Tori Barlow: Okay. Yeah, that can be hard too. So not focusing too much on revenue, but what what are the leading indicators like velocity, maybe pipeline, maybe influence. But, you know, any advice to the listeners on how to set expectations there with execs if that’s out of the gate or what you’ve done in the past to really set that expectation?

Krishanth Thangarajah: Oh, yeah. So typically it’s important to understand what you are currently doing and what stage you are in and kind of start listing down where you’re spending most of your time on it. It will predominantly be around helping your internal games to find integrations, connecting them with tech partners, helping the customer success managers find out whether their customers are stuck with an integration or maybe onboarding support with respect to integration kind of list out all your spending time and then work backwards, start kind of prioritizing the one where you’re spending your maximum time, probably that should have the maximum weightage with respect to OKRs of course, that’s the best way for any tech partner team to kind of work on back work, start from where you’re spending most of your time and if your management’s expectations is predominantly around revenues. Try to kind of look at what the others are doing in the market. Educate them on what will add value to your company. Of course, you could still do revenue. So if you are going to be a white label solution, right, you could still sell into a solution white label. So yes, of course, those kind of partnerships are also possible. You will have to look at what product you are and what category you are in and then kind of figure out whether revenue will work or not.

Krishanth Thangarajah: I think the easiest way is to kind of have pipelines because you can work on co marketing where you’re going to position webinars are going to be on solutions. You can include multiple partners and work on probably a round table or probably discounts for a group of partners. If your customers are going to choose two or three products out of the session, etc.. So you can do a lot of innovative things when you’re working on co marketing, but it is going to be revenue where it is going to be partner-sourced leads, it’s going to be very difficult. You can only work with five maximum ten partners, right? It’s going to be so hard. And you can ask another partner sales manager to work for you, right? Ideally, if you think about it, you get your leads from another company sales manager, you can all talk about incentivizing them, etc. but they have their own goals and their organization, their own revenues to chase. So the revenue are byproducts for sure definitely should be secondary priority and can be the primary priority. As long as we are able to kind of explain to the management on on this whole construct, I believe you will find success.

Tori Barlow: We’ve gotten a definition of tech partnerships. We’ve gotten a belief system with tech partnerships. We have KPIs, and we have a framework. So everyone listening should be able to go scale their tech partner programs, just like Krishan did at Fresh Works and what he’s doing now at Yellow. I thank you to our guest, Krishanth, head of EMEA and Americas Partnerships at Yellow.ai. 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.