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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 7

Reporting Structure and the Right Way to Look at Partners with Unanet

Show Synopsis

 In this week’s Monday episode, Allbound VP of Marketing Tori Barlow sits down with Rachel Collie of Unanet and they talk all things reporting structure, the right way to look at partners and recruiting, and why stickiness is important.


  • How to sell internally
  • The concept of dazzling customers
  • How your view partnerships and recruiting is important

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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 Rachel Colley, Head of Technology Partnerships at Unanet. Welcome, Rachel. We’re really excited to have you.

Rachel Collie: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.

Tori Barlow: And most of you right now can’t see Rachel’s background, but she was going to put up a Unanet virtual background, and we decided to keep her original background, which is a wall of ducks, which has an interesting story. Rachel, do you want to give our audience a background on that?

Rachel Collie: Sure. So my story about the Ducks, this started back in early in my career in channel management, where I had really led an organization channel through a transformational change of going from perpetual to subscription licenses. And anyone who’s done that process knows that that is painful because it’s an it’s a revenue impact in the short term. So it’s painful. And as I was getting ready to leave and go to my next organization, my channel that I worked with, they all said to me, You’re going to forget about us. You’re never going to remember us. But we thought of you as our mama duck and that we would just fall in behind you and you let us through a great transformation, painful but a great transformation. And they said they kept saying over and over again, You’re going to forget us. You’re going to forget about us. They said, Nope, I will promise you I’ll never forget about you. So all the ducks behind me, they represent many of the troubles I’ve had throughout my my partner career, places I’ve gone to meet with partners or to recruitment or go to events. But London and Greece and Germany and DC and lots of various places that are all represented up on my wall. But those are all the ducks as a reminder to my former channel as I post on their Facebook page whenever I travel that I’ve not forgotten about them. And they’re always a part. They’re always a part of my thoughts.

Tori Barlow: That is so special. Thanks for sharing that. I think it’s amazing all of the ducks you’ve collected and know today, we’re talking about something really, I think, important and relevant to many channel leaders in the space. And this is along with our topic of building a partner program from scratch. So our topic today revolves around the reporting structure, the right way to look at partners and recruit partners, and then how to create that stickiness within partners. Our focus today is also primarily around tech partners, but I think this could relate to any type of partner manager out there. So let’s dive in. Do you want to kick it off with the fact that this is not your first rodeo show when it comes to building a partner program? You’ve definitely been here before. So do you mind walking us through your history and where you are today?

Rachel Collie: Sure. So I’ve managed various types of partnerships. I grew up in sales, my career grew up in sales, and then I moved into partnerships. And for the last ten years I’ve managed channel referral services, technology partnerships, and the last five years are really focused on technology integration, platform, whatever phrase you want to use, the technology integration partners. I get excited about technology partners because their software usually tells a really great story and ends up delighting our customers. So I’m really fascinated by technology partners and how we’re able to work together. In my current role, I do manage our tech partners across three different business units, and that’s really important to Unanet because we have two business units that are ERP focused and one business unit that is a CRM. So we have an ERP that is focused on government contractors, federal government contractors and all the compliance requirements that they have. Then we have a second one that is architecture and engineering, again, project based work and then Cosential, which is our CRM platform focused on the construction industry. What is interesting about what we’ve done with those three entities is that GovCon was built at Usenet. The other two are acquisitions. And why that becomes important as we tell more of our story today is that when you start looking at those three those three product lines, business lines, because they were built by different product teams, there’s different codebases, different APIs, different processes, different structure. So that has really created a lot of documentation, a lot of processes we need to create to help us scale. We launched our connector integration platform in July of 2020, and so organizationally we are relatively new to the integration game, but we do have about 90 integrations live on our marketplace today. Across our three business lines, we have 3500 customers.  We added about 600 new customers in 2021. Throughout my career, I’ve really been tasked with either building partner programs or, as I mentioned earlier, leading a channel through a transformational change, like a perpetual sales to a subscription model.

Tori Barlow: Okay. So you’re not busy at all then? So what it sounds like? Good. Well, no, that’s a wealth of experience just from building and then what you’re up to today. So it’s really impressive. And going back to the three things we’re talking about specifically with you, the first one is the reporting structure. And I know from talking to a few folks in the space, this is a highly debated topic and you have a very interesting take on it. So what is your take here?

Rachel Collie: Yeah. So traditionally technology, your partners report into sales and I think it’s because we have the word partner in our title. Partner usually equates to bottom line revenue. So sales made sense, made sense for reporting to sales. Partners typically were generating revenue either by reselling or referral business that technology partners are a bit different and we’re starting to see a shift in reporting structures. When I started with Unanet in October of 2020, I reported into sales. I reported into partner success, that then reported into our chief sales officer. In October of last year, I made a big pivot. I made a pitch and I said, this is not where technology partners should sit. And so today I report directly to our chief product officer. And the reason for that is everything that a technology partner needs to be successful sits within product; APIs, functional experts, technical experts, roadmap information, documentation all sits with product. Technology partners are all about building integrations that delight customers and further increase product adoption. Those two items delight our customers, increase further product option, also are the focus and elements for product team, so it makes sense for technology partners to sit there. When I first started working with technology partners, I think reporting into product is a bit of a wow or a unicorn. It just wasn’t seen in the market. While sales still seems to be the dominant reporting structure, you’re starting to see more and more tech partner professionals report into products, and you’re seeing some great success with these professionals reporting into product.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, that’s a really interesting take and I’m sure even if other channel managers report into sales, you still are very interconnected. You still collaborate. Is that the case with even though you roll up under different teams?

Rachel Collie: I do. And so I look at my day to day and the type of questions I get on a daily basis. I still get questions from sales. They dominate my inbox. Do we integrate with this? Do we partner with this company? How do I connect with this company, etc.? So sales definitely dominates my day, but then I’m also have a seat at the table now on how we build our roadmap, and that is really important. To give you an example of that, when I report into sales, I’m sure that every company does the same process. Once a quarter or every six months, you probably have a webinar with your VP of Product Management who would roll out the roadmap for the next quarter, two quarters or maybe a year. That’s pretty standard. As I would sit in on these roadmap calls, not as a participant, but just as an observer,

Rachel Collie: I would notice that we were building roadmap items that our partners were already doing. And when I saw is that there was a real disconnect about the technology partners that we were going after and how that dovetailed into product. So now that I sit on the product team, I sit with our chief product officer. I also work with our VP of Engineering who manages all development. I also work with our Director of Integrations, who manages all of our integrations work. And then I also work with all of our product managers across our product lines. And we have real conversations now about the functionality that they’re looking to build into the product, the timelines, and can we find a partner that can help us scale faster and get to that technology faster, that functionality faster, if we have an integration. And so it gives me a seat at the table for more meaningful conversations to help build a strategy rather than a contributor that is just an observer.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. No, that that makes perfect sense. And it’s interesting you found that pocket made a pitch and it seems to help the business out entirely as opposed to kind of like playing catch up with what your partners are doing, what you guys are planning. Makes sense.

Rachel Collie: And I also think too that for our technology partners, they really appreciate that I report over the product because they’re seeing answers to their question, access to pieces that they need. They’re seeing things they’re seeing those items accomplished much faster. Also, if they need additional functionality added to our product to facilitate what they’re doing, they are a part of the conversation to get that functionality built in again, rather than just being an observer. They’re an active participant and we truly are a partner in moving this integration, this functionality forward.

Tori Barlow: That’s great. Moving on to what you call the second key item we should prioritize when building out a partner program is the importance of how you view partners and recruiting. I think it’s definitely known that a partner relationship is not transactional, it is an actual relationship. So understanding the benefits that partner would bring, do you benefit them? That mutual relationship is really, really important as you’re building a program, and I think more often than not, folks get tied into let’s just get partners. Let’s get partners in here, let’s get them in. But that’s not how you can succeed. So what is your methodology for recruiting partners and why is this so important? 

Rachel Collie: So I think that if you if you had asked me this question six months ago, I would have told you that we want to partner with we want to integrate with everybody. And I think that that is a common conversation to have because you want to build out that marketplace as quickly as possible without a lot of thought about how you find the right partners. I also think that the strategy around your technology partners is going to dictate how quickly you scale. If your sole focus of technology partners is to drive bottom line revenue, you’re going to scale differently than how we’ve chosen to scale at Unanet. While revenue is our priority, the three pillars that we have used to look at and evaluate potential tech. Analogy partners wouldn’t jump out of you as revenue drivers, but at the end of the day, all three of these do generate revenue. So the first one we look at is, does this particular partner, integration partner, does this fill a functional gap within our software that we are never going to build ourselves? A great example of that is going to be payroll. As you recall, early in this conversation, we have two ERP platforms. And anyone who works with an ERP knows that accountants finance, they all want their payroll to talk seamlessly to their accounting software. And we made a choice. We made a decision not to build payroll because it’s highly complex. Once you start crossing state lines with payroll, all the legalities that come into it. So rather than building payroll, we decided to integrate into payroll. This is not again, we are never going to build a payroll platform.

Rachel Collie: And so far today, we’ve integrated a ten plus payroll providers. There’s pluses and minuses, pros and cons to that methodology, but that helps us fill functional gaps that our sales team needs to check boxes when they’re talking to customers about, do you work with ADP? Do you work with gusto? Do you work with payroll, etc.? And that really helps drive some of our sales within our prospect base. The second thing we look at, will this integration delight our customers? Will it impact product adoption or increase license count? And that kind of leads into that delight our customers. Good example of that on our CRM side is that we’re partnered with a digital asset management software that just stores assets that architects and engineers have used in building their projects. Pictures they’ve taken, various assets they’ve used in that building process. It’s not a critical element of CRM to have all these assets, but if it definitely delights your customers, when you can say customer prospect, with this integration we have with Open Asset, you are now able to pull in all of these assets into your proposals and make them more enticing to your prospects when you send them out. Again, not a functional gap, just a delighter. And for us, what that also means is that in some cases, our customers have needed to purchase additional licenses to make these integrations impactful to their internal user base. The third thing we look at is account mapping. This is something that I remember doing day one when I worked in partner management and is a critical element in our evaluation to determine if if there are enough joint customers to build an ROI around this work.

Rachel Collie: It doesn’t matter who is building the integration, even if the partner is building it, there is some internal resources that have to utilize Unanet to be able to support that work. And so we want to make sure that we’ve got joint customers before we go out and look at prospects, but joint customers that will want to be using this integration. If there are no customers we can tag as early adopters, it’s really difficult to sell internally that this is a partnership where we could dedicate resources. Even if, as I mentioned before, even if the partner’s building the integration, there’s still going to be internal work. New functionality we have to add, APIs, we need to add, information to connectors, we have to add. And we are just like everyone else. We are development poor right now, we’ve got limited bandwidth. So we want to make sure that when we take on a new partner, the ROI is going to be there. I remember when we used to do a count mapping the spreadsheet and you would literally email spreadsheets back and forth and go line by line, by line by line. I am super excited right now about all of the tools out there that make account mapping like, that quick. And it makes that evaluation so much easier. We’ve made 0.3 account mapping a requirement for any new technology partner. If they will not do account mapping, it’s a deal breaker for us and we don’t move forward.

Tori Barlow: Wow. That’s that’s really interesting. Yeah. The the tech stack has come so far with tools that are readily available for account mapping. It’s it’s pretty exciting. Those three pillars that you just called out, I think could apply to any partner type when you’re recruiting partners, thinking about partner relationships. So thank you for sharing that. And then the final item on on the checklist for building a partner program, according to you, is the stickiness and the idea that functionality complements retention. You know, why should anyone listening make this a focal point and bring this to the forefront?

Rachel Collie: Yep. So when I talk about stickiness, I think the commonality, the common when I talk about stickiness, I think that most individuals think about the stickiness of your customer. And that is true that if you’re talking about stickiness, about. Can I start over on that part? Mm hmm. Yeah. So when I first started my career in sales, customers bought one piece of software to cover all things needed within the organization. SAP is a really good example of that. That once you bought SAP, you installed it. It was very difficult to replace it because all those business functions internally, payroll ERP, CRM sometimes, all those critical business elements all used SAP. So it’s very difficult to pull it out and pop something else in. Those days are gone. We are now seeing customers buy one piece of software to complete one business process piece. One piece of software for CRM, one for email marketing, one for sales call recording, one for project management, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And the list keeps growing. I think MarTech is a really great example of that. We’ve seen the explosion of MarTech software in each piece, each software piece just doing one piece of functionality. And so customers now have a full stack of technology versus one piece of software. So we start talking about stickiness. We’re talking about stickiness amongst your partners and also amongst your customers.

Rachel Collie: And if you can create stickiness within your customers, you by design, create stickiness amongst your partners. And so when you have individual pieces of software, it’s very easy to replace that software with the new shiny object, replace an account mapping tool with the next shiny object, doing account mapping. Or replace email marketing with the next shiny object of an email marketing. Integrations within your tech stack make it more difficult to lift and shift software. You’ve made it sticky. Retention rates start to exponentially increase as you add integrations. At Unanet, our lofty goal is to get every ERP customer connected to their payroll provider. Right now, 60% of all new logo sales at Unanet ERP have their payroll connect built into it. So again, pay loss to ADP. So how do we get that to 100%? That’s a big hill we have to climb, but that’s our lofty goal. And then once we get all of our customers to one integration, how do we get them to two? And then how do we get them to three? Because the more integrations you have in place, the stickier, the higher retention and more likely to stay with the Internet. And that also delights your partners because their integrations have high adoption rates and they will become sticky as well. So all of it kind of all goes together.

Tori Barlow: These are great points. And Rachel, just from talking to you recently and today, I can tell you’re so passionate about this and that is so contagious and we all need that. So today you’ve shared some great insights on reporting structure, the right way to look at partners and recruiting and the stickiness piece, which is fundamental building blocks to building a program from scratch. Thank you to our guest, Rachel Collie, head of technology partnerships at Unanet. 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.