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The Partner Channel Podcast | Season 2, Episode 9

What to Do When You’re Brand New to Partnerships and Building Your First Program 

Show Synopsis

VP of Marketing at Allbound Tori Barlow takes a seat and has a chat with Noam Horenczyk, Head of Strategic Partnerships at walnut.io. Noam talks all things he’s experienced in the first six weeks on the job and building his first partner program from scratch.

Highlights:

  • How to create flow through partnerships
  • Making your integrations mutually beneficial
  • What first steps you should take in your first weeks

Subscribe to the Partner Channel Podcast

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 Noam Horenczyk, Head of Strategic Partnerships, Product and Business. Welcome, Noam. We’re very excited to have you.

Noam Horenczyk: Very excited to be here.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. Outside of talk talking partnerships today, Walnut has had some really exciting things happening in your sphere. You were recently recognized as a top 16 New York enterprise startup and a top for sales startups. Those are really exciting things to be proud of.

Noam Horenczyk: Those are I’m I recently joined, but it’s been a phenomenal 2022 for us. I think it’s a growth of 700% in the last couple of months. The company has only been in business for two years, but we’re seeing a lot, a lot of healthy, healthy pipeline and just excitement around the brand as well just across.

Tori Barlow: Wow. Yeah. Well, snowballing off of the growth where we’re taking a bit of a turn. This podcast still along with the theme of how to build a partner program from scratch. But your angle is unique, in my opinion, where you are starting your career in partnerships and you’re also starting a partner program at the same time at Walnut. So when we when we chatted a few weeks ago, you kind of touched on this, but I’m sure the audience would love to hear how you got into partnerships and a little bit about your background.

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah, happy to. So, yes, I joined a month and a half ago to build a partner program and this is the first time I’m building a partner program. So definitely a challenge. The way I got into partnerships, I think most of what I’m going to talk about will be two different paths of partnership. There’s going to be the product or the tech partnerships, and there’s going to be the business partnerships. That’s why it’s even in my title, those two separate things. I think from a tech partnership. I’ve always been interested in that. I worked at companies that integrate with a lot of different products. So you can have, for example, Chorus, which is where I worked a couple of years ago, integrates into Salesforce, integrates with Outreach and all these other sales and engagement platforms. Then I worked at People AI, which integrates with Salesforce and other platforms as well. So just the whole idea of, hey, two companies can integrate and can partner on the tech side that I really see it as a one plus one equals three. And it’s a very exciting thing to think about if this product integrates into that product, here’s the value that customers will get. And I was always interested in that. And coming from a solution engineering background that made a lot of sense, So I mean, when you’re a solution engineer, you kind of build a solution for a customer using your product.

Noam Horenczyk: So building solutions of how multiple products can work together and partner together and create a seamless flow, for example, for a specific use case is very exciting. That’s the product side. From the business side, partnerships is very exciting. Because I remember working at all these companies, you will see all these deals start flowing like 8K, 10K, 12K. It would be great, great. Everyone was celebrating all these small deals, but then a partnership deal would come and that would be a beast, like a six, even seven figure deal. You’re like, “Wow, that has a lot of impact.”   And that one deal could be worth 50 of those smaller deals just because it’s a much more strategic initiative. It’s like, okay, we’re going to work with a certain partner, they’re going to resell our product or whatever that specific thing is. Just the idea of having the ability to impact the business in a very, very unique way. It was also exciting when I took this partnership role, which is both the product and the business side.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, yeah. That’s very unique, I feel like and and starting a program from scratch, but focusing just a little bit more on the transition you made into partnerships, you know, going through all of these interviews and and thinking through that route as opposed to an C role, what are some interview techniques or I guess things folks can do to prepare if they’re looking to make a transition into partnerships or if they’re interviewing for a partner role?

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’ll start with the product side as well. I think from a product partnerships perspective, the best way is to really understand the industry you’re interviewing into. Try to understand the different companies in the space, but really understand. A lot of people go to websites and try to figure it out. The problem with websites, a lot of the times that they’re just SEO machines. They don’t really tell you what the company does. You can’t understand what that company does. So I think just try to go to tech companies that you’re familiar with.   You just go and look at their website and try to understand what they actually do and look at their integrations or their partner hub and try to understand here’s how they work with other companies. And the key questions I would think are worth asking; Why do this? There’s investment needed on both sides. Both partners have to invest resources and time and money. Why do it? Why? What’s good? What’s going to come out of this for partner A? For partner B, and obviously for the customer. So I just try to take if you’re interviewing for a company in the cybersecurity space, look at cybersecurity companies, look at how they integrate between themselves, integrate into other systems, and try to understand why are they doing this? That would be my recommendation for people interviewing because then you can come to the to the interview and you’re knowledgeable you understand, okay, this is how this works.

Noam Horenczyk:  And you can even suggest ideas of how you see different companies work with and just it makes for a good interview. From the business perspective, I think the most important thing is just read what and understand what the terms mean. No one really tells you and there’s so many different terms in partnerships. There’s reseller, there’s referral, there’s affiliate, there’s GSI, there’s ISV. There’s all these different acronyms, different words that people just throw out there and they mean very different things. But if you’re not in the partnership domain, you don’t know what they mean and you might just get confused and you might confuse others. So just and there’s all the all these companies in the partnership space do a really good job of educating you. If you’re willing to be educated to just go to those companies websites, sign up to those newsletters to their blogs, just understand the industry terms from a partnership perspective before you get into that interview.

Tori Barlow: These are all really good points. I’m a marketer and just thinking of my website that we have on Allbound and it is very SEO driven, but you make a really good point of understanding the integrations and that can speak volumes to how the product actually works with other technologies and what it can serve for the end user.

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah, I can give you an example for Bombora, which is a company, the intense space. On their website, you go to the integration hub, the partner hub, and you just see it’s their logo plus another company logo. And there’s two sentences of why that integration exists. Very simple and very slick, very clean. It’s like Bombora and 6sense. Here’s what you get from getting those two together. So companies have learned how to do this in a very good way because at the end of the day, I remember I was listening to another podcast on the partner ecosystem. Most are always the marketplaces. There’s always like, Oh, here’s the integration hub and all that. People usually don’t go to an integration hub and just like, Oh, I’ll see what’s here. They don’t come and browse. Okay, what new integrations exist. No one has time for that. They come with a specific use case. They’re like, Oh, I’m thinking, I want to do this, this and that. Can I do this with an integration? Right. So companies have learned to just surface that you have to be very crisp about these things, like, here’s why I would use that integration, because no one has time to just play around. Oh, this new integration, I want to see what it does. When you’re interviewing, if you can understand what pain that integration solves and if you’re going on websites and you’re kind of trying to understand with that mindset of what this integration could solve, can really help you kind of get into the partnership mindset for that interview and for that role that will benefit you.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, very good points. And transitioning back into okay, now you’re at Walnut, you’re now in the partnerships space. You want to create a program. What were some of the first steps you took in the first couple of weeks in your in your role?

Noam Horenczyk: Yeah, great question. I’m in week six, so it’s pretty much the first couple of weeks right now. I think it really matters how mature the partner program is when you’re joining. For me, I’m joining when there’s nothing and there’s a lot of inbound. So it’s a pretty interesting and exciting situation to be in where there’s all this inbound and I need to balance it and I need to understand, first of all, what of this inbound is actually meaningful? But then create my more outbound, my strategy, of where I want to go. And it’s easy to go with the first one with a former kind of like be opportunistic and then say, okay, there’s this thing that’s happening, they’re coming to me, it’s going to be easier. But what’s easier isn’t necessarily what’s best, right? So I’m right now trying to balance, yes, we do want all these deals and we’re actually working with the partner that came but is now helping us and they’re closing the deals for us in Japan. If you would ask me before I joined, would you have gone and expanded into Japan in your first month? I would say no. There’s no way I would have done that. But that is happening. That is a real thing

Noam Horenczyk: that’s providing value to us as a business, so I will pursue that. But what I did in the first couple of weeks that I’m now kind of establishing it with my manager is to figure out where do we want to go.  So from a product perspective and again to separate things from a product perspective, I would just try to envision essentially where we can connect and like where can people consume Walnut and Walnut’s data of how people engage with demos in the best way. And I just categorize different sub industries within the SaaS space of companies that are worth talking to. One of them, for example, is the software review sites like G2 and Trust Radius and Capitera. The idea is that our product helps you present your product in the best way possible. And where does it matter? I was thinking, where does it matter? Where do you really want to show your product? Obviously, on a sales cycle, when you’re talking to prospective customers, that’s the regular direct selling motion that we have. But also, where can showcasing your product in the best way be powerful? That would be those websites like G2 and Trust Radius.

Noam Horenczyk: So I’m talking to those companies. It’s like a strategic initiative of how we can work with them on helping customers create Walnut demos within their platforms. And we have other six or seven different subcategories like sales engagement platforms and sales enablement platforms and demo trainers and VCs. There’s all these different things that you can work with to try to understand where your product is the most powerful and how to get there. Then on the business side, it’s more like, Which channels do we want to pursue? I said earlier, there’s differences. People don’t necessarily understand the small difference between resellers and referrals, but they’re significant. We were discussing like, what do we want to actually offer to people that want to work with Walnut? Do we want to let people resell our platform? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we want to allow a referral program? Do we want to allow affiliates to kind of put our website and get and get compensated for it? So we’re kind of trying to understand where do we want to start? And I think a very important thing is to just start with something.  You can spend months just trying to think about all the little edge cases of like, Oh, what if that partner came from a lead and that lead already existed? Do we pay them? When do we pay? Do we pay for upsells? Do we pay for renewals, all that stuff? Yes.

Noam Horenczyk: You can get into that rabbit hole very quickly and get stuck with all these little decisions. But we’re just saying, you know what, let’s just launch it there. Let’s just get out there and see how it works. Because you can experiment with with a partner program, you can start and be, okay, I’m only going to offer this and you get nothing in return. No one no one’s interested in that. So you just pivot and you offer certain other programs, then you might get a lot of traction in that program and you’re going to have to change the terms to make it more favorable to you, more favorable to them, whatever that is. But the idea is, I’ll kind of summarize it from a product perspective, try to map the different strategic product partnerships you’re thinking of as like domains, not necessarily specific companies, but domains of companies that you would want to work with. And then on the business side, it would be like, figure out which channels you want to start with and then just launch it. Launch it and see how it goes and then you can iterate on it later.

Tori Barlow: Yeah. So it’s almost as if and I chatted with someone who also had a similar viewpoint with product and how close it is with a partnerships manager or head of partnerships at an organization is they go hand in hand. So you’re also recommending when you get down to the nitty gritty and you are in your first 30 or 45 days of the company, really hone in on what the product vision is. And if you are selling a product, you know, really being tight with the product team if you don’t already roll up under the product team. But that seems to be a key theme here.

Noam Horenczyk: 100%. I think we need to realize that the word partnerships used to mean something very different than what it means now in tech. So if you look 50 years ago, a partnership program would mostly be on the business side. It would be channel sales and resellers and stuff like that. Then the whole SaaS thing exploded and there’s now partnerships, people within tech and within SaaS. What does that mean? Is it the product side? Is it the business side? Are you under product? Do you report to the chief product officer or to the sales or even to the CEO? Who knows. So I think, yes, the first and especially if you’re building a product program from scratch, I was referring earlier mostly to what you do externally, but internally is also very, very important. So how do you create a new flow for an integration? You have to work with your product counterpart, Head of product, VP of Product, CPO, whatever size of company you’ve joined and figure out, okay, I’m going to be let’s say I’m going to be in charge of product partnerships. What does that mean? How can we work on prioritizing these together? What is the amount of resources that we’re going to get for that specific thing versus the regular roadmap? There’s all these decisions that need to be made.

Noam Horenczyk: And I work very closely with our head of product to kind of understand which integrations we’re going to follow up. And I’m using product methodologies as well.  We have all the methodologies of understanding what is the reach, what is the F of all those product terms. You need to be familiar with them so that you don’t just come to your head of product and say like, Oh, let’s integrate with that company. That will be cool, right? That’s not how product people think. They’re not like, Oh, this will, this will be cool, so I’m going to let engineers do it. It’s like, why should we do it? Which problem are we solving? What is the reach that we have? What is the evidence that we have for companies that actually want to do this?  Is this just a dream that you have that you think companies want to do, or do you have actual examples of companies requesting that specific use case? There’s all these ways that product managers and product leaders think, and you have to align with that when you’re talking about strategic product partnerships.

Tori Barlow: That’s that’s really important to distinguish. Well know you’ve been in this role now six weeks, it sounds like. What advice, just fresh off the press, would you recommend someone who’s starting out in partnerships for the first time?

Noam Horenczyk:  TThe biggest thing I would recommend is to just sit down and think where do you want to take this in the next six months? The next 12 months? Don’t get sucked into what already exists. Maybe there’s a partner that you’re already working with. Maybe there’s a certain way that the organization is thinking about partnerships. Try to zoom out for a couple of minutes and just think about strategically, where do I want this role to be? Because there’s going to be a lot of visibility for a partnership role within an organization. A lot of people are are going to say, well, what does this partnership do? Why do we need partnerships in this specific role? For example, sellers can say, I want to sell direct, like, how do I work with a partnership role? So just I think you have to really understand where do you want to go and what are the incremental steps of getting there?  So for example, what I said about that business partnership like, okay, we are now going to categorize the different ways we’re going to go to market with our partnership program. Here’s how people can work with us and why. Like, why is that good for us? Why is that good for them? For example, will there be a program that you do co discovery and then we lead the whole sales cycle later.

Noam Horenczyk:  We’re working with a lot of marketing agencies and they’re bringing us in. We need to understand how do we position ourselves as a partner versus just selling direct. It’s a different motion. When you’re selling direct, you’re selling, hey, here’s the product, here’s which pain it solves, here’s why you should buy this product. But when you’re doing the whole partnership motion, it’s in a bigger story. It’s like, how do we fit with this strategy that you’re working on with this marketing agency. So there’s all these different things that you need to work and think about from a strategic perspective. And for me, it is a big challenge because I used to work as an SE, I led a team of SEs, in multiple companies. And a lot of it is deal oriented. So you’re very used to like, oh, that deal we can sell to them. I have to stop myself from getting into the deals and think about, no, that’s not what I was hired here to do. I’m not here to help close more deals. I’m here to help figure out a way in which we partner with someone that benefits both of us and our mutual customers so that it becomes instead of, hey, here’s the deal, here is whatever, $40,000, let’s move on to the next deal.

Noam Horenczyk: It’s like, here’s this deal that opens up this whole channel for tens and hundreds of new deals. And when you think about it this way, you just have to position it in a much more strategic way of how it fits in the bigger picture. And I think that is just a huge thing to think about the beginning, because if you don’t do that preemptively, you don’t do that early enough, you might just get sucked into the flow of how the business is already operating, and it will be a lot harder to just switch it up when you’re six months into the role. Never come with an agenda to begin with and just like, here’s what I want to do, here’s what I like. Listen to what exists in the organization, but take a step back and figure out, here’s what I actually want to do, here’s how I want to get there, and establish that within your first 30, 60, 90 days so that you can kind of develop it for the next year or two.

Tori Barlow: So many great takeaways from not only building a partner program from scratch and for the first time at a company, but also transitioning your entire career into partnerships. Thank you to our guest, Noam, forensic head of Strategic Partnerships, Product and Business. 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.