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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 8

How to Get Exec Buy-in When Building a Partner Program

Show Synopsis

In this week’s Wednesday episode, Allbound VP of Marketing Tori Barlow sits down with Samantha Samuels of Friendbuy and they discuss everything from getting exec buy-in to internal alignment when building a partner program.

Highlights:

  • How to leverage technology
  • Identifying early adopters
  • How to highlight the value of integration.

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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 here at Allbound. Excited to be here with Samantha Samuels, head of partnerships at Friendbuy. Welcome, Sam. We’re really excited to have you.

Samantha Samuels: Thank you so much for having me, Tori. I’m super excited to be here.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think this topic is definitely a fundamental building block to our theme of how to build a partner program from scratch. And you have a ton of experience here with this topic in particular, and it has to do with getting exec buy in. And I think when we talk to our audience, we talk to customers. You can’t have a partner program without getting cheerleaders around it, folks who believe in you around it, and you are really passionate about that. And so, you know, I think this could be a big step in any type of partner program build for any partner type. So let’s start at the very beginning. You’ve been at Friendbuy for almost seven and a half years. And it’s interesting because when you started there, you weren’t in partnerships.

Samantha Samuels: Yeah, that’s right. So actually I was one of the first business hires at Friendbuy outside of the CEO and COO, and I just came straight out of a General Assembly’s coding boot camp. They have like a web development, immersive and actually met our founder, who’s also currently the CEO at General Assembly’s hiring event and told him that I knew I wasn’t destined to be a software engineer, but I love technology and I’m really great with people. So he called me in for an interview and I became employee number six at Friendbuy, and I basically made myself kind of into a Swiss army knife and learned how to do everything. So I learned how to sell, how to onboard customers, how to make customers successful. I learned what SaaS was and learned that you need to retain these customers once you acquire them. And I really learned everything I could about how our product worked as well. And then one day our CEO said to me, “So what do you actually want to do here?” And so I told him that I thought the most value I could add was in working to retain our clients by establishing strong relationships with them and making them successful with our product. So I went on to become Friendbuy first customer success manager and then eventually became Head of Customer Success and managed a team of five CFMs for about four years.

Samantha Samuels: And during that time I was also forging relationships with tech partners as we were interested in developing integrations that our customers could leverage in their tech stacks. So I really felt that part of my job as Head of Customer Success was to not only make sure that our customers were successful with our product, but to really kind of understand where Friendbuy fits into their MarTech ecosystem. And I researched what the most common technologies were that our customers were leveraging, and that was really exciting because we realized we could add a ton more value to our customers by increasing automation and scale with these integrations. And so in September of 2020, I went to our CEO and I said, “Hey, I think I’m ready to transition out of customer success. We really need a partnership function. I feel like we’re really leaving a lot of opportunity on the table without one, and I’d like to start it and run it.” And he said, “Go for it.” And now I’ve been building the partnerships function ever since from scratch.

Tori Barlow: Wow. You have been up to a lot, it sounds like. And I think that’s such a bright thing in a startup environment where you can come in doing one thing and and transition into a whole nother thing. And that’s the beauty of that entrepreneurial spirit taking something on. And I am a huge fan of General Assembly. I love their work and what they do. So that’s awesome. You were a part of that. All right. So you came on to Friendbuy, you transitioned from CS into partnerships and said to the CEO, “Hey, this is what I want to do.” What was your first plan? Or stop to get buy in at the C level and how did you approach that?

Samantha Samuels: Yeah. So one of the first things I did, I actually I learned about this tool called Cross Beam about a year and a half ago. And one of the first things I did was read as many blog posts as I could on the cross website to learn what it might take to build a partner program from scratch. And cross movement is a really good job of providing tactical, actionable recommendations for how to approach building out a partnership function. So after I read all those articles, I put together a list of questions and reached out to other partner leaders in the space that I had forged relationships with while I was in customer success. So I sent them all a LinkedIn message, or I emailed them requesting a 30 minute call to ask for advice. Really, they were all gracious enough to give me their time and I gathered a ton of information around things like team structure, compensation, and how to measure the impact of partnerships at my company. How to measure things like partner source and partner-influenced revenue and what does that even mean? So I took about two months before transitioning out of Customer Success to put together a proposal deck that I shared with our CEO and head of finance at the time. And the deck included things like goals for the partnerships function and for friend buy. That meant increase in qualified leads in the sales pipeline by X percent, increase customer retention by x percent and more broadly really elevate from his brand in the E commerce, martech and VC ecosystems and for from BI specifically technology partnerships is where I felt we really needed to focus. Our energies and it has really paid off. We’ve been focusing on integrating with the leading email, SMS and CDP platforms in the space and and that’s really helped our customer retention efforts as well as help generate new highly qualified opportunities for us. So then I outlined the responsibilities for the check partnerships function and included recommendations like how we could collaborate with sales, marketing, customer success and engineering to prioritize integrations and create a go to market plan for these integrations with partners.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. Wow, that’s a lot of good ‘meat’ into how to get C-level buy in. And I think thinking through what are the business goals, what are our company goals? And you had been there for a while at this point. So you knew the company vision, you knew how partners fit in. So then creating that deck, I think is key for we’re going to add partners, I’m going to manage them. This is time in an effort. What are we going to see out of it? And I think everyone likes to see, well, revenue will go up. But also an interesting piece you put in there was the customer retention and that alignment there, which brings me to my next question. So you got CEO approval, you’re good there, but it doesn’t stop there. You need probably other buy in from people. So who did you go to next?

Samantha Samuels: Yeah, it’s a really great question. You know, I’m definitely a firm believer in getting buy in and alignment from every department or team at the company who, you know partnership motions are going to effect. So for for for somebody that included sales, customer success, marketing, product and engineering.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, yeah. That’s pretty much everyone else in the organization then. So how do you get them excited about partnerships? And because in my mind, if I were in marketing, oh, Sam’s coming to me, I’m going to do more work. Like what’s in it for me? So how do you get these other departments excited?

Samantha Samuels: Yeah, absolutely. So what I really tried to do was outline the benefits that partnerships would have on each department and presented that to each department head. So I put a deck together again. So, for example, to get buy in from sales, I explained to our head of sales that we could leverage partners to bring in more highly qualified deals that would close much faster, especially deals sourced or influenced by our integration partners. And then I also committed to creating sales collateral for them, such as a better together one pager integration slides that really highlighted the capabilities and the value of the integration. And I also created specific talk tracks for the sales team and now 30% of our pipeline is now is driven by partners. So yeah. And then we also got the customer success team on board and excited about partnerships by highlighting the positive impact it will have on customer retention. So for example, with Crossbeam, we can see when one of our customers as a new technology to their tech stack and if we have an integration, the customer success team can share one sheets, health docs and workflow recipes that the Partnerships team has created to help customers adopt the integration and get more value out of Friendbuy. Partnerships also now works with the Customer Success Team on identifying customers who want to be early adopters of new integrations, participating in case studies and webinars with our partners. And the CSMs get really excited when their customers are doing well and when they can provide more value to their customer, they get to be the heroes. I can also definitively point to instances where a customer was about to churn, and then we identified an integration or two that they could leverage they weren’t taking advantage of, and then they adopt. The customer adopted the integration and we ended up saving the accounts. So that’s a win-win all around.

Tori Barlow: That’s really interesting. I think it’s a testament to not just generating that net new revenue, but there’s so many goodies and nuggets just within your own base of customers that partnerships can really help solidify that relationship all around. So you definitely have experience with getting buy in. I think we’ve learned. All right, creating knowing who you’re talking to, first of all, knowing the company goals, knowing what it’s like talking to a CEO versus a CRO, what their goals are, and how partnerships can fit in building that deck or that case around it based on the vision. And then in tandem with that, you know, reaching out to the sales leaders, the marketing leaders and the leaders and product just around championing this initiative for partners by also creating some sort of deck or buy in piece of what their goals are and how it relates to partnerships. So a lot of good stuff there. And now, can you tell us once you have buy in from everyone, what is the next step?

Samantha Samuels: Yeah. So once I got the go ahead from the CEO and our head of finance, the first thing I did was I identified five partners where I knew we had a meaningful number of mutual customers and where an integration would add a lot more value to our customers. Based on feedback from the customer success team. I didn’t have Crossbeam at the time, so just chatting with our CMS and I reached out to partner managers at these companies cold over LinkedIn and I explained to friends I was and named a few of our mutual customers and then highlighted the most common use cases that I felt our integration could help enable. And I received responses from each partner and got on calls with them and forged some of our best partnerships just from these outreach messages. So I think it’s really safe to say that people in the partnerships world are just so generous with their time. But also, I think if you really explain the value of why a partnership makes sense and the beginning, the key here is if you’re reaching out cold what I would recommend is highlighting the value that you think the integration could bring to mutual customers, and I think that will really help the partner then respond and get on the phone with you. So I think it’s important to make sure that you explain why you think a partnership makes sense with a particular partner.

Tori Barlow: I can tell that with everything you’ve put in place in your time at Friendbuy, you clearly know the building blocks to implement a successful program, and it’s really intentional from everything you’re saying. It’s not about just checking off boxes doing things. It’s really honing in on what’s in it for the partners, what’s in it for the rest of my organization. And then building out that strategy there. Because if you get buy in or you get a yes and it’s really not a wholehearted yes, it might fall flat. So I think getting buy in to your point and what you’re saying, is key to a successful launch. And, you know, thank you to you, our guest, Sam Samuels, Head of Partnerships at Friendbuy. 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.