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S3E20: Starting and Scaling Partnerships

Show Synopsis

This week, on the EMEA Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the EMEA channel.
Join Palmer Foster who has a conversation with Per Allin, Head of Partnerships Growth at Contractbook.


  • Starting and scaling partnerships: some of the biggest challenges partnership professionals are experiencing, in particular when partnerships are a fairly new function

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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: Hi everyone. Welcome again to the new EMEA Partner Channel podcast, the Voice of EMEA Channel. I’m Palmer Foster, the account director for EMEA. Joining me today is Per Allin, head of Partnerships Growth at Contract Book. Welcome, Per. It’s great to have you. I know we already had a brief conversation getting into the Lego, but a bit more about yourself. You’re 41, you’re from Copenhagen, so I think it was legally required to be a fan of Lego. But that’s so fantastic. You live with your girlfriend and your two kids and you’ve got a dog. Balto, What kind of dog is Balto?

Per Allin: Well, first of all, thanks for the introduction. I’m super excited to be here today. So really looking forward to this conversation And yeah, Balto he’s actually he’s a he’s a mix of everything. We actually don’t know what he is. It’s a he’s a former Turkish street dog. So he was found when he was three months old. We adopted him from Turkey when he was around nine months old. And now he’s just a little over two years old and he’s like the most amazing dog, we think. But yeah.

Palmer Foster: And does Balto play with Lego?

Per Allin: He would love to, but I’m afraid he kind of misunderstood the concept a little bit. So yeah, he’s not getting too close to those Lego sets.

Palmer Foster: Yeah, I can imagine. Probably a choking hazard. Although he might not. He might just eat through them and it might be a painful experience for him on the other end. But no, that’s brilliant. Great to hear. And then obviously, you’re a self-proclaimed foodie. You like to travel, you like your gadgets and technology. Um, what’s your what’s your go to cuisine right now? And, and if you could travel anywhere. Where are you going

Per Allin: Travel anywhere? Um, I would probably go to Australia. Um, I don’t know. I just have a soft spot for Australia. I’ve been there a few times when I was in the airline industry and I just loved the country, the people, the nature, everything about it. And I would love to show my my kids and girlfriend what what is all about. So definitely Australia. Food wise? I don’t have any particular craving right now for a specific cuisine. I’m kind of all over. I really like the Asian cuisine, so that is probably where I would go right now if I if I had to choose.

Palmer Foster: Okay, perfect. Well, again, appreciate you joining us today. And you know, I know we’ve had some conversations about your background in terms of professionally and kind of what you’ve been able to do. And, you know, something that really stood out is kind of starting and scaling partnerships for you. And I know you’ve got experience with that and you’ve had some, um, some interesting processes with that. And, you know, you’ve got a lot to say. So I mean, let’s jump into it. I mean. Where do you start? You know, you need to start in scale partnerships. What’s your starting point?

Per Allin: Yeah, it’s a good question. Yeah. So I joined Contribute 2nd of May last year where when the partnership team was more or less like four months old, started in January last year. So came in very early on and kind of starting to find grounds as to the direction we were going to go and and grow the team and grow the whole partnership business, so to speak. So it was like building everything from scratch, finding out what should the playbook be like in terms of engaging with partners. And once they signed that partnership agreement, how do we make it a win win situation and grow it from there to figuring out who should we actually go after in terms of partners? Is it just any cool company that we subjectively think would be cool to work with, or should there be some, you know, deeper meaning behind it? And of course there should be. And that’s where we kind of also looked into how should we define the ideal partner profile and a lot of things along the way. But to begin with, it was a little bit, uh, you know, messy if you can say that, but in a good way. It’s a very good learning points.

Palmer Foster: We got well, and it’s so funny because like you think about most partner programs they’ve and this is something that I’ve known through through my experience is it has to start somewhere and it’s usually almost organic. And most of the time, like a lot of our listeners, probably it might be their first time in partnership. So they absolutely are incredibly green to it. They don’t really know what to do. And, you know, how did you kind of navigate that scenario of did you have previous experience to rely on whether it was channel or just kind of whatever your background could be? Do you rely on that kind of how do you go about navigating just that starting bit? Because you mentioned, okay, our playbook and and the ideal partner profile like, you know, what led you to that?

Per Allin: Yeah. So I think most of us in the team had like limited experience in in this space. I come from a, you know, account management, market development background and in the industry I had experience with managing partners, but it was in a different way still. So we used each other very much as a team to pick each other’s brains. Um, talk to the communities out there, like partnership leaders, for instance, um, to really get some, some inspiration and great ideas and best practices. And from there we kind of mapped out the different kind of partners that we thought would be relevant to us. And we started out like probably, I think most are doing with the referral partnerships and referring leads back to us and also looking into the affiliate, um, content affiliate space. And we had some good conversations at the beginning about actually also just from the scratch these terms, like what is an affiliate, what’s in a referral, strategic referral. There were some misunderstandings along the way, but we nailed it. We determined it and we figured out that, yeah, we’re going to start with the referral partnerships and also looking into the integration partnerships. That would be the ideal setup to start out with for us.

We determined it and we figured out that, yeah, we’re going to start with the referral partnerships and also looking into the integration partnerships. That would be the ideal setup to start out with for us.

Palmer Foster: And you highlight something that’s so important is internal communication, because you mentioned you guys were relying on each other and collaborating and that’s great. You have the team to do that. And you know, I know we’re going to get into a bit later kind of getting the rest of the business bought in and and understanding what you’re doing. But the fact that you had that team to collaborate and say like, Hey, what do we actually think is right? And and what’s so interesting to me is you pointed out, okay, we’re going to go referral and and before you even did that breaking down the terms because every business, every industry has its own set of terms and acronyms. So it’s always kind of understanding, do you go with them, do you go with SMB, which are the same two things, but and to say, okay, what is actually referral to us? What is the affiliate about? Like especially in security partnerships, you have MSPs and MSPs, So you you get to that point where, okay, what are we actually dealing with? And that’s so great to hear that you took the time to break that down because I have conversations with people and they’re not even sure of what’s going on. And so that’s always a good starting point. And then and what’s really interesting here is you said, okay, referral, but then you kind of looked into affiliates where normally in my experience, what I hear is, okay, we go from affiliates to referral and then they start building from there into, you know, resellers and value adds and all the great acronyms that we were just talking about?

Per Allin: Yeah, I think we did it kind of maybe upside down. Not on. Not on purpose, I guess, but, uh, in in country book, the partnership team is a team on its own, so we don’t report as such into marketing or sales, which is probably the most common scenario, I would guess. Which is also why you mentioned that affiliate will probably come first and then maybe referral, because that’s more kind of the partnership ecosystem kind of thinking. But we didn’t do that. We thought about we called it affiliate to start with. Right? And speaking of, that’s kind of like, well, we’re mentioning this. We’re wondering what how does the partners actually then integrate into into this? Like, is this is this affiliate for them or is it more strategic referral partners? Because we want to do more than just the affiliate part of it. We want to engage with them, do joint marketing with them. So that’s when we change it around. But I think the reason for us starting with referral is because we we looked at it from a different perspective from the start instead of belonging to another department that would have probably picked up affiliate as well.

Palmer Foster: Yeah. And mean to be fair it’s affiliate and referral get interchanged a lot and it’s what does it mean to you and you guys clearly went through that process of no we want more value from well we want more value from the partners, but you probably want to give them more value, whereas affiliate typically quite transactional. Usually you see in B to C versus referrals is going to be more B2B. And obviously that’s the space that you guys are wanting to operate in. And then, okay, we’re going to do joint marketing plans and, and all those great things. And then from there you kind of start to realize, hey, some of these partners probably could actually run these deals themselves. And I mean, are you are you guys seeing that? Is that something you’re thinking about for the future of do we want to actually just enable these partners to to maybe go do some deals on their own?

Per Allin: It’s a very hot topic in the team. Yes. So so for sure, Like we right now, we have strategic referral partnerships like joint marketing opportunities should be like a mandatory part of the partnership at various levels. And then of course, referring leads. What we’re still trying to figure out is how can we give back that favor, which a lead is, How can we give leads back to our partners? So it becomes this famous two way street. Um, and we’re not there yet because it depends a lot on the type of partner that you have. Is it very obvious that we can bring leads to them or would it require something else? And then what you also touch upon in the beginning? Palmer The whole internal communication of stakeholders as well, because we would be depending on that particular sales, but also marketing would be on board for this and support our mission and our partners mission and kind of give back to our partners and look at it in a bigger picture that that motion would generate also more leads to us in the long run.

Palmer Foster: Yeah, and there’s a lot to unpack there. But the thing to start with that I’d like to to go into is more of you mentioned okay the two way street. Yeah. And providing leads to your partners the almost reverse referral. Do you find your partners want that? Do they ask for it or is it just a case of the thought of, hey, if we provide them leads and you’re providing them value already, but it might be a case of this actually gives them clear value beyond just commission payout. Yeah. Is that a case of you taking the initiative or are they asking for that?

Per Allin: I think it’s a combination. Wee wee wee probably thought for a long time that this amazing commission would be enough for just volumes of leads coming back to us, which is pretty naive looking in the mirror. But that’s what we thought. And now we do realize, of course, that we need to figure out how to give back. It might might sound like something that anyone would have thought of, but it proves to be a bit more difficult in real life, so to speak. But yes, it’s a combination of like we have requests for partners, new partnerships coming in that there much interest in us signing their partnership agreement so we can give back to them which makes so much sense. Um, and also some discussions that we had internally in the team on how can we actually scale the volume of leads coming through. And we believe that we need to engage more with the partners in the sense that we need to give back.

Palmer Foster: And it’s so interesting because it just kind of it takes my brain down, just kind of a dangerous rabbit hole here thinking of you have companies such as like Meta that are growing through acquisitions and just buying up everything versus partnerships potentially presents the the ulterior competition to that is no one’s buying up anyone. It’s let’s all partner together to build that ecosystem. We use the term ecosystem and partnerships and channel all the time. And it’s okay. We don’t all have to be owned by the same single entity, but we can all compliment each other. We can provide these value adds and work together to provide that entire piece. So it’s always an interesting conversation and thought to have when you start thinking of it in terms of that of how do we actually all work together and what value can we also bring to somebody. Um, but something you mentioned that’s, that’s always interesting is coming back to kind of the start of the program. You guys were your, you’re your own department and you haven’t come out of marketing, you haven’t come out of sales, which typically, as you mentioned, that’s usually what you see as a result of that. You’ve been able to kind of come at it from a different angle. And you mentioned, okay, commissions. You know, it’s not kind of the affiliate flat fee. Usually you can actually design these structures. And you said, oh, you know, in hindsight we were naive. We have this commission structure set up. Why? Why aren’t the leads coming? How did you go about navigating that? Because obviously if you put in place attractive commission fees, you’d think, oh, yeah, people are absolutely going to take advantage of this. And when it doesn’t happen, you might have a panic. What did you what did you and the team kind of do to to navigate that?

Per Allin: Yeah. So, I mean, we didn’t really we didn’t panic, luckily at all. It could have obviously have happened, but we kind of just took one step back and tried to get this bird’s perspective and see, okay, so what’s going on? We have these great commissions. We have now defined our ideal partner profile. We made some criterias, we made some scoring. Um, so so why are the results not coming in as expected? And that’s when we realized that we need to figure out how to be more perceived as a part of the partner’s business, like get under their skin instead of just being their partner. Because, you know, let’s be honest, they don’t get up and out of bed to sell country book. That’s not what they live off and that’s not their mission. But we would like it to be more perceived that way. So how do we do that? And that’s where we are right now. Um, second to that, we, we have we are refining all the time the partners that we want to work with. So that’s the whole kind of scoping discovery sales part, if you can say that, of getting new ideal partnerships in. And I think that combination has has proven really successful right now and we’re definitely on the right track. So I think it’s all about not panicking, taking one step back and evaluating what you’ve done so far and then plan out what are you going to do as a team.

Palmer Foster: That’s absolutely spot on because you’re constantly evaluating like you guys are doing where you’re you’re saying, okay, we’ve we’ve got these types of partners. Do they still fit? Do they still make sense or are you getting to a scenario where, hey, we’ve onboarded 30 partners? Great. You go two years and all of a sudden you’re going, okay, we need to shake things up again. And it’s kind of  either that constant or you stair step in your program. Um, what kind of criteria, if you don’t mind me asking, do you use with like your IP or ideal partner profile? Yeah, sure. How did you figure that out? Because obviously you probably look at your, your current clients that you’d have and who might have access, but what was the the process you might have gone through?

Per Allin: Exactly. So we sit down and open up a Google sheet. And then we started writing down in one of our weekly meetings. And so what we thought about is what we want to. Well, in order to look at how would it be relevant for us, we need to somehow mirror our customers, our ICP for the partner as well to a certain extent. So we’re looking at what kind of industry are they in? How big are they, how much experience do they have with partnership previously? How many of our competitors are they partnering with already? Um, which market are they in? Is it one of our focus markets as well? What’s the average contract value of the partners clients? 

Because it doesn’t make sense to partner with a cool brand that where the customers pays 100 on average and our product is 1000, then that’s already a mismatch most likely. So those were some of the things that we were kind of looking into and then giving them a different weight metric and kind of making an average at the end.

Palmer Foster: Yeah. And obviously you go through this process to understand, okay, who would be great from that standpoint? And then to your point, again, you’ve got an awesome commission structure in place, but you need more than that. You need a way to actually engage them. Yes. What did you end up doing? And I know we’ve kind of already touched on this that, you know, really drove that engagement from partners. You know, I know you’ve talked about making it a two way, providing value for them, but was there anything else that you kind of said, hey, why don’t we try doing this? Or let’s see if this works out?

Per Allin: Yeah, we, we, we adjusted the IVP profile system a little bit, focusing more on the engagement part. That’s the latest iteration. Um, and then. As we’re not there yet in terms of how can we, you know, structure in a structured way, give back to our partners. We’re hopefully be there very soon. What we really can get back on is the whole joint marketing activities, which has multiple added values. We think, and I think our partners think as well, so they can help us. We can help them to penetrate new markets that we are dominating in, for instance. But they want to penetrate. We can help them amplify their voice by doing joint articles, LinkedIn announcements, webinars, podcasts like we’re doing now. So a lot of different levers to adjust on. And I think that is something that’s really appreciated and adding value currently and that’s fantastic. You know, I know for our listeners that are more new to a partnership or channel role, those are things that they need to start thinking about. Okay, how do we actually leverage what we have to entice these partners? You know, what kind of value are we providing them, especially if we’re not giving them leads, you know, Yeah, we pay them commission, but what else can we provide to them?

Per Allin: That’s the thing. It’s not it’s not just about the leads. And I think until you accept that and change the mindset a little bit, you won’t be successful in the long run. It’s not just about the transaction. It’s not just about getting in the leads. It’s just as much about, you know, telling someone in your network about this company. And that might, two months down the road be a new lead or make this joint marketing opportunity together. That really creates the value as well. So you need to look at it in a more holistic way, although the leads, of course, also from management and so forth are very much in focus. But you need to you need to think about that.

Palmer Foster: And so you mentioned again, I know I’ve touched on this a couple of times now of the partnership program is its own department. And obviously we talked a bit about getting the wider company buy in. But at the same time, it sounds like the business said, hey, this this is a priority for us. We’re going to start this division. You know, you’re not going to report into marketing. You’re not going to report into sales. You’re your own department. So did you did you feel like you had the buy in right away? Did you have to do much internal selling? How did you navigate the internal departments in that sense to to get that support? Because all too often the and I’m sure most of our listeners will agree, partnerships are always treated as the younger sibling to sales and marketing, having to fight for table scraps for budget and resource. And it’s always a it’s always a a fun but challenging conversation.

Per Allin: Yeah, we were in we’re in that same boat. So I think the whole idea with partnerships, of course, came from that. You hear that other tech companies, they like the big ones, Salesforce and so forth. They’re like 80% of revenue coming from partnerships. It’s low cost acquisition per customer and we need to do that as well. It makes sense. It makes so much sense. But I didn’t feel from the beginning coming also from the outside and not being in country book since the beginning that maybe 110% the support, so to speak, was from top management and also the other departments. It was obviously there since we we got the department and the team and we could do a lot of things. Um, but it just didn’t feel like that it was presented in the same way in, in meetings and announcements as the same level as marketing and traditional sales. It was more like partnerships. And I could also hear that a lot and not so much anymore, but the first six, eight months, like what is it, partnerships, What is it that you do exactly like internally? And that’s for me also just tell us that it has not been communicated from top down, that this is partnerships. It’s a strategy. We don’t have our own resources yet in terms of like partnership marketing or product marketing or a partnership representative, which would have been ideal from the beginning as well.

Per Allin: So we kind of. Done that on the side, like on ad hoc basis, like having, you know, a conversation with maybe 1 or 2 for marketing and one from sales. But it’s not been defined from the top as well. Like this person is a resource of yours, which we would have loved and will love and we are getting there slowly. But I think I think that’s the case for many partnership teams when they start out that. It’s a kind of mysterious beast. And you know, what is this? And it’s the new unicorn. But what is it? And you know, internally, to get that buy in, that takes a lot of effort. There are many stakeholders and in partnerships, sometimes you might also have departments that can feel like, are they going to take away some of our work or are they going to add value? Or what is this? So I think it’s super important to be transparent and and really, you know, speak loud of of your results when you get them in so everyone can see that this is actually good for the company

Palmer Foster: Yeah. You’re the new kid on the block. Sales is thinking, “Are you going to take away from my business? Marketing is thinking like I have to do even more now for you. When in reality channel program they’re almost like the Marines. They have to do everything. Not to say that marketing and sales don’t either, but. because the way the you know it’s new to most companies.

 And to your point you’re not going to have all the resources. So you have to wear multiple hats. And I appreciate again that salespeople marketing people are in the same boat. Usually they’re they’re creating stuff for themselves. But, you know, when you don’t have the resources and then you need to communicate, hey, we’re not here to be a hindrance. We’re here to actually help enhance what you guys are doing, you know, and it comes back to communication and internal buy in and, and anyone in channel is aware that you know C-suite senior leaders they want to see that return on investment before they really start dishing out resources. So yeah it’s it’s not too surprising to hear that, but it’s always it’s always good to hear from people just kind of what that experience has been. And and that leads me quite well into kind of if you’ve been listening to our episodes, it’s not really much of a curveball anymore. But, you know, for somebody just starting out in a partnerships role, what advice would you give them? You know, whether it’s their first day, their first week, what should they really start thinking about in in prioritizing to be successful?

Per Allin: Well, first of all, make sure that they got management support. That’s resources is kind of key, I think, to really get off to to the best possible start. And then it is to really. Because most are super eager to get started and show how well this can can go. But I think it’s important to just really, you know, take a deep breath, look at the things you need to have in place before you. You just jump make the jump. Like, define the market. Define the partners you want to engage in. Look at the different terms. Figure out what is it actually that we want to achieve. How do we want to achieve it and when do we want to achieve it? And then make actually like. A recipe or a plan for how you want to do that. A playbook, if you like. And then you start doing it. I think that that would have been really good. But then once you started doing it, you shouldn’t never be afraid of trying new things, make mistakes, break things while running that I think that’s part of partnership. You need to think outside of the box. 

You need to to try new things. And it’s okay to fail as long as you learn from it. And that, of course, also needs to be accepted from from the management that kind of support this project.

Palmer Foster: Not being afraid to fail is such a good piece of advice. And not just for channel but in everything But yeah, some very wise words in there and great advice for people starting off in their first partnership or channel roles. So definitely appreciate you for sharing that with us. And now the final question, it’s the fun one. At the end of the podcast, I ask each of my guests to think of a question for the next one. It can be about anything, but the purpose is getting them thinking outside the box. But that also means you get to answer our previous guests. Question So Niels Bergman from Trace, if his question for you is and excuse my language, but what muck up would you do over again and why?

Per Allin: Yeah, Yeah. That’s a good question. Um, also how you define a muck up. 

Palmer Foster: When he said it, I Think he meant kind of mistake. But, you know, essentially, you know, failure that you.

Palmer Foster: Maybe a failure you had, but you would do it again because, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of value in failing.

 Per Allin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You learn from you need to learn from your failures. You don’t repeat them. That’s the whole purpose of them. I think. So definitely what we talked about today, if we have to look at the whole partnership angle, then it’s it’s the it’s the mistake we made of not really determining and getting, you know, the, the exact, um, what do you call it? Like determining what, what the different partnership types are and just jumping in. All the way and then figuring out along the way that, you know, this didn’t work. What is an affiliate? Is it actually a referral? Okay. So we’ve been actually approaching partners that we might not be that that might not be the ideal profile for us in the very early stages. So that was a fail like a fail, a mistake from our end, but it would never have been without it because it really sparked and ignited some really good conversations and teams. And it kind of resulted in where we are right now, where we’re on the right path and we’re working in different way and we’re setting us up for success and to scaling the partnership program. So that’s kind of small mistake probably along the way, but a good one to learn from

Palmer Foster: I’m sure Niels will appreciate that one and I’m sure he’ll give that a listen. And then your question for our next guest.

 Per Allin: Yes. So my question for the next guest is, um, so what, what, you know, being in partnerships, there’s a lot of things going on if you just talked about, but what are the three most important skills to have as a partnership professional in order to succeed and why?

Palmer Foster: Oh, that’s a good one. I’m looking forward to hearing the answer from our next guest. But that brings us to the end of the episode. So thank you to our guest Per Allin, Head of Partnerships Growth at Contract book. A thank you to you, the listeners, for joining us for our episode of the EMEA 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 and gets her fabulous guests that I get to have these conversations with. And Rachel, who handles all the 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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