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S3E16: Running a Partnership Program in EMEA: Aggregation vs Adaption

Show Synopsis

This week, on the EMEA Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the EMEA channel.
Join Palmer Foster who has a conversation with Guillaume Runser, Head of Sales – Growth Markets and former Head of EMEA Partnerships at Mixpanel. 


  • Building and running a partnership program in EMEA: the good, the bad and the ugly
  • Diversity fostering innovation: how running a partnership program across very diverse regions fosters innovation
  • Privacy/Data Security – critical topic in EMEA. Privacy is cultural in EMEA

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The Script

Welcome to the new EMEA Partner Channel podcast, where we sit down with the EMEA channel leaders who share their stories to help those of you just starting a partnership role, the channel experts looking to revamp their program or anyone in between.

Palmer Foster: Welcome to the new EMEA Partner Channel podcast, the Voice of the EMEA Channel. I’m Palmer Foster. I’m the account director for EMEA here and joining me today is Guillaume Runzler, head of Sales for Growth Markets and the former head of EMEA partnerships at Mixpanel. Guillaume, welcome. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Just a bit of background for you and I’m sure you can supplement this even more. But you’re based in France, you’ve lived in Germany, in the Netherlands, you’ve kind of gone all over. You’ve got, I would say, an extensive bit of experience, 20 years of it in the software industry, whether it’s at large enterprises such as HP, working with scale ups and directing all the aspects of B2B, whether it’s sales, marketing, business development. So pretty much everything that’s going to help set you up for for running partnerships. I don’t know if I missed anything out there for you.

Guillaume Runser: Hey, no, you didn’t miss anything. And thank you for having me. Palmer It’s nice to be here.

Palmer Foster: Yeah, we’re absolutely thrilled to have you on this episode. I know in our kind of our intro conversation, there are a lot of things that we talked about and a lot of different things that go into that as well. And I mean, given your your background, it’s not surprising what you can cover. So rather than kind of beat around the bush, let’s just jump into it. I mean, one of the things that we really started talking about and obviously being based in France is, you know, the cultural nuances of working in a media and more. So kind of what unites everyone in media is, you know, how to actually build and run a partnership in a media. So covering the things from the good to the bad and the ugly, I mean, you know, we talked about that one region specifically. Okay. How do you how do you go about navigating the nuances and understanding diversity versus where you see US companies making penetration? For me specifically, I know that’s something we talked about is they kind of ignore everything. They just do copy and paste and hope it works.

 Guillaume Runser: Yeah, yeah, they do that and there’s a reason for for it, right? You know, people love simplicity, right? It would be, you know, it would be so good to just apply all the recipe of building a great partnership program, everything that is working in the US. Right. And just come into this new block of countries called the European Union. Right. Or Europe. Right. And say, I’m going to apply exactly the same recipe and it’s going to work like magic, right? Well, guess guess what? It’s not working like magic. Right. And I think many, many of the companies that has tried this, this model. Right, whether it’s in sales, whether it’s in marketing or in partnership. Right. Tend to fail. Right. Tend to fail. And it’s painful. Right. It’s like really this kind of not comprehension of what did we do wrong, Right. Why is it so different? So and yeah, you know, EMEA has always been seen as kind of like from a from us perspective and also from Asian perspective, I would say as one region. Right? And and that’s, that’s the problem with that is that we ignoring diversity right As we all know, EMEA is a set of countries with different history, different cultures, different language. They’re really different. Right? So the main question is how do you find the right balance between what I call aggregation versus adaptation, right? So aggregation means that is just like one group of countries.

 We are just going to run one program. We’re going to adjust it maybe a little bit from the US, but we’re going to run one program and it’s going to work. It’s going to work fine. The beauty about that is that it’s scale. It’s one program, so it’s easy to scale, right? And it’s also from a cost perspective, also very, very interesting. Right? It should work. And then on the other spectrum, on the other side of the spectrum, you have adaptability where you think, well, actually, no, France is not UK, Germany is not, it’s not UK either. Israel is very different from the Nordics. Right. And you think about, okay, let’s do different strategy, different, different, let’s build different program for all those different countries. That’s beautiful because the impact is going to be very high, but it’s very costly and it’s very hard to scale, right? So the main thing is really about finding this balance between what I call really aggregation, right? And on the other side, adaptation. So one program that fits all or like really like being, you know, like being very specific country by country and like with everything, it’s about finding this balance, right? Trying to find some segment in EMEA of countries that are operating a little bit in the same way.

And as we all know, partnership is very cross-functional. So you need to really understand how do you how do you find similarities between those different countries when you come to legal when it comes to sales, the way you sell, right, The way the way you build contracts, the way you know, all the financing mechanics work, right? So it’s really it’s really complicated. But the beauty about it is when you get it right, it is absolutely a kind of a generation of innovation because something that works, for example, very well in Israel can also potentially with little adaptation work very well in another country. So you have this pocket of innovation of countries thinking a different way that are all all those countries are source of inspiration and innovation. Right. And that’s something what you need as a partnership manager or head of partnership. It’s all about like capturing those new way of doing things right across function. So I find, yeah, I’m definitely, as you can hear, very excited about this. So let’s find the right balance, right between aggregation and adaptation.

Palmer Foster: Well, in your experience too, obviously it’s it’s a case of, as you rightfully said, the balance what’s helped you find the balance. And I know we talked previously about there are certain countries and I know you kind of just touched on it certain countries that mimic each other, kind of how you can group them together. Like you’ve got the Iberian Peninsula, which is fairly similar versus, you know, maybe how Germany will operate. They’ve got the doc region. But understanding who’s who’s similar. What have you kind of used as your approach in the past?

Guillaume Runser: Yeah. You need to look into there’s a couple of things. There’s some when you you can look into industry first, right? Who are, for example, the biggest countries in terms of manufacturing in Europe. Right. You will end up with Germany. You will also end up with Italy, funny enough. Right. So you’ll get those those really those countries that are really big in manufacturing. And even so, they’re both big in manufacturing. Their culture is very different. Right? Italy versus Germany is again, very different. So you need to find those common those similarities that make sense for your program. Right. Putting aside the language. Right, just for a second, you also have some countries that are much more at ease with the English language than other. Right. And that’s also something that you might want to take into consideration. So in order to group those different countries together, the main thing is really about who are your target customers and then which industry are you targeting? And then you start to basically like kind of putting those countries together and run really specific program that target either the industry or some of the similarity that you find between those different countries? Right. That’s very important, I think. And it’s not on the industries one side. Right. But you can also look into how, you know, sensitivity to data privacy is another topic, right? For example, there are some countries that are really, really keen on on having data privacy under control, naming Germany, Austria, Right. Some other countries are less concerned, but you can see that it’s going anywhere in that direction. You can start with Germany, Austria and build your partnership program and all the legal aspects, right? All the data privacy aspect. When you build it for for Germany and Austria, then you’re pretty sure you’re okay with the other country. 

That’s what it is about, right? Finding similarities and running from there.

Palmer Foster: Do you ever find that you focus on the countries that have the more. Secure. Legislation or pieces that you have to comply with. So, for example, we were just talking about Germany. We all know they’ve got some pretty strict regulations in place. Do you kind of use that as your base and then assume you can apply it? And that’s kind of almost the US mindset of, okay, we can apply it to everything else, but at least you’re looking into who has maybe the most difficult setup and can we use it for everyone else, or is it a case that you find, hey, what we’re doing in Germany and Austria, we can’t actually apply to France or the Nordics or Israel?

Guillaume Runser: Yeah, you work. In that case, I’ll give you an example. So Germany, Austria, very sensitive with everything around privacy, right? France as well. France has an entity called the CNIL. Right. Who is looking really into data privacy. And from that aspect, those three countries are very similar. They share the same really value and the same concern. And, and and they really looking into what data privacy means for for their customers and their citizens. Right. If you look at UK and Israel a little bit less. Right. Because they’re not there but change really things are really changing. Like recently Google invested in Israel. They they built a data center there and they basically told the government in Israel that their data will stay in in Israel. Right. So you can see that that tendency. Right. And that’s something that in Germany you have to have from day one, Right? If you answer any RFP, any you know, if you do business in Germany, the fact that the data stay in Germany is pretty much at least for those big traditional enterprise is mandatory. Right? It’s not even a conversation. So so you can see that starting with Germany. Right. Ensuring that data stay in the country is actually very relevant slowly for Israel as well and as it will be and is already the case in some financial institutions in Nordics as well, for example. Right. So that’s how you learn. I think that’s that’s kind of the lesson, right? When you build anything, right, whether it’s business, a business program or a partnership program, it’s about finding who are the country that are a bit more mature in a specific area. Right. And taking those as so that the other one will follow anyway, because you’re like, you know, already you fit your program, fit with the the most severe regulation so you can apply it to the other country.

Palmer Foster: Yeah. And we’ve mentioned Israel a couple times and obviously you think of Mia, you typically say, okay, kind of Western Europe, Central Europe, Northern Europe is kind of really what a lot of people think of. And then you’ve got Israel that is being thrown in just because it’s such a hotbed for technology and great funding. And obviously English English proficiency there is is phenomenal. So it makes doing business with them very straightforward. But if you have to like in Israel to maybe a European country, in your opinion, who do they kind of operate or remind you the most of?

Guillaume Runser: So if you try to find similarities and just like you kind of group countries together, I would I would say that Israel plus UK plus Nordics would be a group that could potentially work very well. Right. Because of the reason I just mentioned like the this maybe not over focus on data privacy the way as well people are selling as well like you know and I will exclude for just for a moment Nordics out of that. But again it’s very interesting right. The the first thing is about how do you sell in those countries. Right. If you’ve been in a call and I’ve been lucky to manage a team where, you know, I had a country manager in Israel and a country manager in Germany, and just seeing how business is done in Germany versus Israel and also seeing those two country managers that are really talented people, how they interact in the team was really, for me, a really a big learning because it’s very different. Right? But they, they, they learn to to know each other. But each one is again you’re selling in a very different way in Israel.

 It’s very emotional. It’s very you know, it’s loud. It’s like something is happening. Like it’s really people, right? While in Germany, everything is pretty much controlled. Right? It’s really there’s no emotion in the sales process. It’s really structured like you would assume, right. From from Germany. So it’s really interesting to see those different way of selling. And again, you can learn, right? You can switch from one way to sell to another one. And the way when you build partnership is also very important because again, building a partnership is all about the human rights, about connecting and trusting people. So when you apply a partnership program and you start basically connecting with partners, looking for partners in those different region, the way you’re going to sell your partnership program, the way you’re going to engage and build trust is going to be very different from Israel to Germany to France. And that’s it’s a beauty of Europe. And it’s also something that you need to keep in mind. Otherwise it’s not it’s not going to work, right?

 Palmer Foster: Yeah, absolutely. And we had Shane Forrester and he from, and we were kind of talking about this because he’s an Australian that lives in Germany and we’re talking about kind of your approach to different countries. And I’d be very curious to hear from you because. What you’ve been talking about is more, it sounds like, the approach to dealing with your partners in these countries. And it’s always a case of do you find and you clearly have where, okay, deal with Israel is different than Germany, but the end clients, how different are the partners to then your end clients in those territories? Do you think the partners are kind of a middle ground where because they work with vendors of all different nationalities, they understand, okay, not everything’s going to be perfect versus the end client expects it to be done a certain way or do you think they’re aligned more with the client in terms of how they think?

 Guillaume Runser: So it’s a great question. So so typically what happens is and it’s also kind of the strategy of of companies coming coming to Europe and having this blank piece of paper. Right? And you start from scratch very likely when you don’t really understand the country and you don’t have local contact and so on, you’re going to obviously go with kind of sometimes an exclusive kind of partnership with a with a reseller or a solution partner or an implementer on site. And that’s where the partner is playing. As you said, this role of like being the man in the middle. Right. And I’ve been it’s so interesting because I’ve been there like so, so many times where, you know, the the pressure on selling from and the engine of selling works in the US right then goes to, let’s say reseller right in Germany it was it was with a reseller in Germany and then come the end customer right. And the reseller the partner in the middle is really like kind of translating, right, translating the rhythm, translating the language, translating the messaging and everything. They do this proxy work for you, right? And this is really this is interesting. There is a disconnect with in that case with the partner because sometimes they don’t deliver at the pace you want them to deliver and the partner tells you, Yeah, because that’s how the customer expected it, right? So it’s a good conversation to have because the partner is there to do this adaptation, right? And it’s very powerful.

 And my recommendation is always is to find partners locally that have this understanding of how do you work with a company that is, let’s say, an American company. It could be a French company, it could be any any any other country company basically, that can help them understand how you do business and why sometimes you need maybe to wait a little bit more or maybe you can go faster or quicker on some other aspect of the deal process. Right? But that’s exactly the beauty of the partner being this proxy, Right? And you need to find the right partner for that. If you look for partners that are that have been having been working with companies outside the country, then you end up with the same problem as before.

It’s like going direct. It would be the same thing. You don’t have this proxy, the value of the proxy, right?

Palmer Foster: Yeah. No, it’s it’s always fascinating. I mean, obviously we work in channels so we realize the value and the power of it. But if you’re new to channel or maybe you’re emerging into a new market, it’s you take that time to understand how powerful channel partners can be, especially when they provide those those services. And it’s something that we potentially take for granted. Um, something I’d personally be curious to understand is through all this experience and what, you know, were there any kind of countries or territories, even regions within a country that maybe surprised you? Maybe you had some assumptions that were completely shattered or whether it was for the good or for the bad?

Guillaume Runser: I would say, you know, when you work in an international environment and again in Europe, where it’s a set of very different countries with different culture, the basic rule is to expect to be surprised. Okay. Because we all have, you know, in French, right. We all have like some preconception about, you know, how what a country is about. And we all I think and I include myself very naive in trying to, you know, to categorize country and people into a box because the French then they must act like this because I saw it somewhere or whatever. Right. The thing is, what is interesting is that, yes, there is some always some truth in the cliché and how typically you would do business or how you would partner with, I would say like the source countries versus the North countries a little bit. But you always have that in mind and it’s good to be aware of it. But the main thing is really about knowing the difference. Having some powerful framework in your head whenever you are, you’re dealing with someone from another nationality always. And there is some really fantastic framework out there in the academic world and that’s being used, you know, like that, that helps you understand.

 Yeah, typically the distance between people and so on. So I would definitely encourage you to look into that. But that just only a tool, right? When you need to keep in mind that helps you connect with people. But ultimately the world is flat and very and specifically in tech, right? When you talk with a, you know, with a German person that is actually based on Spain. Right. Which kind of framework are you going to apply? How do you see that person? You know, so and it’s really the main thing is really about that. And again, when you run sales, when you run partnership, this is what it is, where the world is getting more and more flat and flat. Right? So you need to. Yes, framework are useful. But on the other on the other, you know, on the other aspect, people are multicultural, like in our industry that are actually very multicultural. So, you know, it’s always be be very open and be like always listen more than really talk, right? Like like try to identify who is the person in front of you and what are the triggers and what, what, what this person really what is important for this person. 

Palmer Foster: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And to go back to your example of somebody from Germany is working in Spain, your assumption would be okay, they’re probably more open to different types of interactions and how they might operate, or at least one would hope. But that’s kind of a nice segue into what I’d say, kind of the curveball of the podcast. So if you’ve listened to the previous ones, for our listeners out there, you kind of know what’s coming. Normally it’s, you know, what would your advice be to somebody that’s just starting off in channel? But given kind of what we’ve talked about, understanding in EMEA isn’t just one region, what would your advice be to US companies or companies from outside of MIA that are looking to come in to the Territory? And I appreciate we’ve kind of covered that, but is there what should their initial actions be?

Guillaume Runser: Yeah, it’s a good question. So, so typically and you see it happening, right? So when you’re a US company and you come to and you start doing some business in Europe, you already have a kind of proxy, which is the UK, right? Because of the language, because of the mindset and the way they do business and so on. It’s kind of similar. It’s not completely similar. I will do like a little bit more on that because I saw it happening as well, that, you know, it’s not it’s not the same country, but it’s a low hanging fruit where the adaptation is probably less costly than let’s go to Germany directly or let’s go to France. Right. So that’s probably your first base, right? Let’s look into UK. You got a first refresh or a first kind of entry door into Europe. And that’s that’s what a lot of companies are doing. No problem with that. It starts to get complicated when you start planning about the next step once you’re in UK and once you do like a fairly good business in UK, how do you deal with the other countries? And that’s where I would say the majority of the company are struggling with, right? You start with from a GDP perspective, you will go after Germany or France, right? Typically the biggest country, right. And then that’s where the cultural shock happen. Right? So how do you basically and you start to apply what did work in the UK? Try to adapt it a little bit and then you face language then for sure.

 And then you face really the you know, how business is done in France or in Germany, just just as an example. So the main recommendation is always to two things to do it right. Either you go directly like full indirect and you and we talk about that before you find you find your ideal partner in this region that firstly have the language, have the connection with your customers. And also it has been working with companies like American companies in the past so that you have your proxy right and you start with that. And then again, this is not this is pretty classical. Some a lot of companies are doing that as well, right? Like a year, six months. You see how that. Work, right to learn really out of the partner. And this partner becomes pretty much like almost like an informal affiliate right in the country. So you can do that. That’s working actually, I would say pretty well. And then you can invest right after that. If it’s working well, then you can start to learn from the partner and build your affiliate, and that’s one way to do it. The second way to do it is to put what I call the one man on the ground. Right? And this is something we did at Mixpanel, for example.

We did hire a country manager, and that person is locally, has a network and is sitting in Tel Aviv or in Munich or in Frankfurt, you name it. Right. And this person will be like kind of, yeah, a country manager. He or she will do everything right. Marketing, generating demand, sales partnership and all of that, right? So that also could be could be a very good approach. Again, we did it with Mixpanel. I think it worked pretty well and it gives you like a first person. But again, the main thing is about having someone from this country with the with the network and someone also work in American company or the other company in the past so that also that person is able to. Communicating the right way and collect feedback and communicate it correctly through the company. I think that’s also very important that it doesn’t he or she doesn’t think that. Yeah, you don’t understand because it’s Germany or you want to avoid the sentence. You guys don’t understand. This is Germany. You don’t want that. 

You want someone who tells you in Germany things are working like that. What can we do with our operational operating model right now, and what resources do we have to accommodate that to make that work? This is this is kind of person you’re looking for.

Palmer Foster: Sage advice. Definitely a thorough answer to that. And so the final question I’ve got for you, it’s the fun one as it’s the end of the episode, ask each of my guests to ask the next question for our next guest on the podcast. And it can be about anything. So the purpose is to get them thinking outside the box. But that means you also get to ask the previous guests question. So our previous guest, Alan from Trade Ledger, asked, How is your outlook on your professional life changed post pandemic, both positive and negative, and why?

Guillaume Runser: Yeah, great question. I think we all changed during those last two years. Right. And in positive and negative. But the thing that, you know, everybody understands is that it was really a life changing period of time, both on a professional side but also on the private side. And for me, it was interesting because in February 2020, just like a month before we put all the people in isolation and so on, I started at Mixpanel right there. I was hired as the head of partnership, right? And building a partnership is all about trust. It’s all about kind of building this trust relationship with partners, right? And I had in mind, you know, I had like, this fantastic plan in front of me and say, I’m going to meet this partner here and I cover 3 or 4 regions at this time. Right. And they were nothing, right? There were no really, they were like some tactical conversation, but nothing new program, nothing in place. So you had to really build everything from scratch, which is something I love to do. Unfortunately, then suddenly you’re stuck at home, right? You’re like at home with the zoom and. And. And then you start sending email and hoping that you’re going to get those potential partners on the phone in a zoom call. So it’s not anymore about, hey, let’s have a chat, you know, let’s have a lunch together and like having this first relationship and then you build the program. Then it was the other way around.

 It was, let’s talk about the program because we can’t have lunch, right? We’re just stuck at home. So. So it was yeah, it was. Wow. It was really challenging. But the good thing about it is like, it impacts everyone, right? Everyone was on the same level. So when you started to have a conversation with someone and say, okay, let’s have a zoom call, well, that person was used, was used to zoom, right? So we say, okay, let’s have a zoom call. And instead of having like one meeting a day with a potential partner, I suddenly had like 4 or 5 meetings a day. Right? So it definitely kind of, yeah. Decouple you really multiply the, the, the reach out to the partners. That was actually very, very good because I met a lot of partners. Right. Nevertheless, he didn’t he never replaced us. We know like the trust relationship and and even so he was you know I think we acquiring that at that time 20 or 30 partners. Right. Which was pretty impressive in 12 months. But then at the end of the day, you end up with the same thing, which is about out of those 20, 30 partners, which one are the ones that are really until one two, right? Like the one that are really you’re trusting and that because you didn’t spend enough time with them, you don’t know which one are those really. So ultimately, you know you build this program online and you have to have some mechanism of gouging the trust and like kind of looking into action of your partners, whether they’re committed or not in a different way. You can look at their eyes. You can’t really like build this trust again. So that was very interesting to yeah, to, to operate in that environment. And then when the doors open again, I remember clearly. Right. And you meet those partners. Wow. What and then that, that give you a boost of like, you know, a trust boost of two years. Almost. And and that was that was beautiful. So there’s yeah it was interesting it made people think about there are many things you can do online. There are many things you can really do with Zoom. Call with email, with Slack, whatever you name it. With the 25 collaboration tool that we all have today. Ultimately, partnership is about trust and the thing that will really make your partners work for you and trust you because it’s all based on on trust, again, is the fact that you’re going to spend some some quality time, eyes to eyes in like restaurant or somewhere, Right? But outside, potentially outside the office. Right. I think that’s what I believe in. Right. So that’s on the that’s on the the professional side on on the on the private side. I think we all live and if you have kids. Right, you all live this interesting time where suddenly you get another job on top of your job, which is your teacher.

Because suddenly you got some PDF in your email telling you this is a program for the week, you know, for your kids and GI, right? And you’re like, Oh my God, how do you do that? You know, like I’m a teacher for my kids and then I have a call at 3:00 with this partner. Yeah, it was, it was fantastic. And for me, it was really about eye opening in term of, well, we don’t spend enough time with our kids because they’re learning. They’re learning so much at school. Right. And we don’t see that because they learn from that at school and and having the chance to spend more time with them And yeah, playing the role of a teacher helps connecting with the kids, but also helps me professionally, I would say, because it helped me, you know, see the impact of, you know how when you help people, when you teach to people and you, you know, you’re trying to to to help them advance in their their life or their career. And this is what partnership is all about, right, as well. We’re helping each other. Right, to to a better outcome. And for me, it was a little bit eye opening as well on that side that, you know, kids are always telling us a little bit, to go back to our values. 

 Palmer Foster: Absolutely. Definitely Always looking for partnerships in your life. So that’s always good to hear. And then what would be the question you’d like to pose to our next guest?

Guillaume Runser: I would yeah, I would keep it very, very generic. But there’s something. A question I always like to ask, which is, do you think partnership is an art or science.

Palmer Foster: Okay. I like it. That’s. That’s a good one. Well, that brings us to the end. So thanks to our guest, Guillaume, head of sales growth markets at Mixpanel. Thank you to our listeners for joining us for our AMEA Partner Channel podcast. Finally, a special thank you to the people behind the scenes making this possible. Chloe, who leads the marketing efforts in EMEA for Allbound and gets all of our fabulous guests for me to have conversations with. And then Rachel, who handles all the in in-house editing to produce these podcasts. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen. Until next time, take care.

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