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S3E7: How First Orion Increased Channel-Sourced Revenue to 50% in One Year

Show Synopsis

We’re seeing double this week on the Partner Channel Podcast. Host Tori Barlow is joined by both Mike Coleman, SVP of Enterprise Sales and Channel Chief at First Orion, and Mike Otting, SVP of Platform and Wholesale at First Orion. The trio talk all about what branded content is, and the kinds of challenges the First Orion partner team faced. Listen in and learn more!


  • How First Orion’s partner program scaled up
  • Why partner experience is so important
  • How Allbound helps First Orion with every day occurrences  and ensuring a positive customer experience

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The Script

Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, the podcast for partnerships. In our episodes, we discuss ways to power your programs and gain actionable insights for all company sizes and partner types. We sit down with industry thought leaders to get the best tips and tricks for you, the listeners, to achieve your channel goals.

Tori Barlow:  Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the Channel. I’m Tori Barlow, VP of Marketing at Allbound. Excited to be here with two mikes today. We have Mike Coleman, channel Chief at First Orion and Mike Otting, Senior Vice President of Platform and Wholesale at First Orion. Welcome Mike and Mike super pumped to have you.

Mike Otting: Thrilled to be here. Thank you. 

Mike Coleman: Thanks Tori.

Tori Barlow: Yeah a little bit about both of you. So Mike Coleman, VP of Enterprise Sales and channel chief at First Orion. You have more than 35 years of experience working for Samsung, HP and SAP, big names. You’ve also been named to the Channel company’s list of channel chiefs and C brands, top 25 channel execs, big names as well. And then Mike Oteng, SVP of Platform and Wholesale at First Orion. You have more than 25 years of experience in telecom, I.T. and insurance industries. So I think if anything, we have a wealth of knowledge today, lots of experience and just really excited to have you guys on. 

Mike Coleman: We’re excited to be here and we appreciate the opportunity.

Tori Barlow: Yeah, And, you know, kind of starting a little bit with both of your backgrounds and kind of what you’re up to at first. Orion I know there’s a Channel chief title floating around, also SVP of Platform. Can you kind of walk us through, I guess, the roles and responsibilities and what you guys are looking at up to every day?

Mike Coleman: Yes, absolutely. I’m happy to start Mike Coleman here. So. Yes. So as you’ve described, we collectively have many, many years of channel experience in many different facets of the channel. And we are essentially co channel chiefs for first Ryan super excited about the product that we have to offer, which solves a real business need in the in the business world and as channel chief on what I’ll call the the two sides of the organization. My side essentially is the TSP or the master agent formerly known as Master agent and the traditional distributor reseller side. And I’ll hand it over to Mike to describe his portion of the responsibility.

Mike Otting: Yeah, So I’m on the Thank you, Mike. Audience So I’m on the platform and wholesale side. What, where our focus is, is being able to get into these large sea paths. See, has carriers to be able to build our solution in a native integration or a plug in plug ins are going to give us access to our our entire sales ecosystem, especially on Mike’s side with the TSP. So it’s really a great combination, bringing us both on at the same time first. And Ryan understood that they needed to create a channel program and they invested the head of revenue.


Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think what you’re saying is really interesting because a lot of folks who I’ve talked to and I know struggling within the industry, they really struggle with that exact buy in. So seeing that first Orion really believed in partnerships and brought both on at the same time as a true gem. I think it makes it easier to kind of sell partnerships at that point when you have exact buy in. And today we’re kind of talking about a gamut of things. One is and where I want to kick it off is could you introduce us to branded communication and and a little bit about what that is?

Mike Otting: I’d be glad to. So this is Mike Otting. So just real quick First Orion, we were started in 2008 really with the focus of the guiding principle was to be able to put transparency back into the phone. With that focus, it was on Landline and we quickly realized that mobile is the future. And so as time went on, we started to get calls and we sort of get calls that we’re from a local area. We’d answer them and it’d be somebody that was trying to scam us. And so we when we had that focus of like, let’s protect the consumers more and more of the farther away that we got or the closer we got to where our solution is, say, with branded communications, what this allows for enterprises to do is to be able to brand their phone calls. That way, when when an enterprise is calling you, you know to pick up the phone and answer versus we’re so conditioned now that 90% of the time we don’t even answer our phone because we don’t know who’s calling us. 

So it really enables the enterprises to give a better customer experience, employee experience and brand experience all around.

Tori Barlow: That’s really exciting. Love to see our team here, and I feel like that’s something we could use for our dials. Very, very needed technology and kind of transitioning into the partner side of things. You know, you guys are a real big success story in the in the industry. You scaled up your partner program. You guys have exact buy in. Let’s kind of start from the beginning. How did first Ryan’s channel program scale up? Can you kind of walk us back to the beginning stages there?

Mike Coleman: Sure. Sure. I’m happy to take that one, Mike Coleman here. So we were hired just over a year ago, actually, and Charles Morgan, who is our CEO and founder and co founder, realized that if we were going to take the two sides of the business and grow them both, he needed kind of expertise on both sides. So when I say two sides, as Mike alluded to, we have with the call protection side. So if you ever get scammed, likely or spend likely on your phone, we’re identifies a number as spam. Likely. That’s us on the back side with TMO. That’s called the corporate tech side. Call branding is on the front side or the outbound side. And that’s where, as Mike described, you can actually with 32 characters, describe who’s calling and why. And so in order for us to be able to expand beyond what was a small, direct team, Charles realized as well, the exec team at first, Ryan, that we needed to bring in channel experts with a lot of experience. And so that’s how the recruitment started. And luckily, I guess the recruitment teams found both Mike and I with kind of tremendous channel experience but different as he described, versus my experience as well. And so together we’ve kind of come together in the course of a year, we’ve actually taken the channel business to about 50% of our resell revenue.

Mike Coleman: So we have a direct team and an indirect team. But the goal here is to take it a lot farther towards the 80% indirect and 20% direct, because we know that the channel is such a powerful kind of force and it multiplies our effect without having to hire individual sales reps. And so we started off with, well, all right, we need a platform. And so that’s when we started to interview all of the competitive platforms and we found all bound to be by far the the best, most suitable platform, as we call it, for us to launch our partner prime program around. And so then we built kind of the logistics of of how to access that. We tried to engineer it with the partner experience in mind, knowing that they need something different to be able to sell to their customers, something that fixes a real problem and something they can make money with. And so we designed the whole pricing model, the whole give get model in exchange for their representation of our product into the marketplace. And so far, we we’ve signed quite a few partners. We’ve had tremendous success, and we’re expecting to quadruple the business next year.

Tori Barlow: You know, I think it’s really interesting what you say about having the percentage of indirect versus direct. I don’t know if a lot of folks think of it that way when they’re trying to grow a program or scale of program. I also think it’s very pertinent right now, especially in the market conditions for companies to think about their indirect selling motion over their direct selling motion. But earlier we talked about getting that exit buy in, like what were some things or what are some things? Things that you two recommend folks kind of put in front of the exec team to get buy in or I guess have this structure of scaling when they’re thinking about building a team.

Mike Otting: In my opinion, it’s really first and foremost to being able to show that what the what the runtime looks like. How long does it take to grow a channel? Because far too often what you see when a when a company is just now embracing a channel, they’ll let it run for 6 to 9, 12 months and they’re not seeing the revenue that they were hoping for upfront. So it’s really setting a clear defined forecast and expectations of what the channel can do over time with the right amount of headcount support really having a playbook of how are you going to help support these partners to be able to sell effectively.

Mike Coleman: And I’ll add to that, I think some folks don’t really understand the power of the channel, if you will. And so thankfully, Charles Morgan and Jeff Stone or some of our co founders realize that the extension and the expansion of our sales force function would be very expensive if excuse me, we did it in house. And so they realized that the magnification effect of the channel would be super powerful and certainly grow the revenue exponentially. And they had to invest ahead of revenue, as Mike said. Right. Which is really the the key. In addition to investing ahead of revenue, you have to make sure that as you’re doing that, you have the patience to actually endure the process of building the channel.

You’ll reap the rewards, but it takes planting a lot of seeds and waiting for them to germinate; that is the key

Tori Barlow: That’s really interesting. you guys have done so much with your the last year and then it sounds like the the rev share breakout is 8020 indirect direct. You know there has got to have been some challenges that the partner team faced while kind of thinking about all of these steps to put in place to scale. Can you elaborate on some challenges or what you did to kind of overcome challenges?

Mike Coleman: Oh yeah, I’m happy to start with that. So I think my experience at SAP and at Samsung. The direct team is necessary and a wonderful asset to have, but you also have to engineer the compensation and the go to market model such that you collaborate and you don’t compete with a direct team because as soon as you do that and partners worry that the work they’re doing can be taken direct, so to speak. You know, they lose faith and they lose trust in you. So we’ve we’ve put together a very specific collaboration, collaborative model where the direct team and the channel team work together to get the customer through the partner channel, essentially in some cases or in other cases direct to work collaboratively and work together. And that from a compensation perspective, a go to market and an internal recognition, making sure that in the forecasting calls it’s valued when a channel partner lands the deal that a direct rep was assisting on that. That seems to be the secret to the success of that.

Mike Otting: Another thing that I’ve seen, just as you’re launching a channel, is getting access to all the necessary tools. So we were blessed to be able to go out and, you know, when Mike and I first came together, it was like, what’s the first thing we’re going to tackle? And that is getting that partner portal. So there’s there’s additional toolsets sets. There’s so many different companies that provide solutions, but we want to be very strategic on how we go to market, what tools are needed, and sometimes those tools can take a little bit longer to develop, but really it’s getting each executive aligned with we need this and this is the reason why we need to make sure that that billings compensation is paid on time and it’s accurate. We need to ensure that we have all the automation in play. So those are things that we that we’re constantly focused on and are always focused to tackle.

Mike Coleman: The other thing that we we focused on was user experience at either the reseller level or their ability to empower the customer to access our portal to make the changes to the 32 character texturing. They can do that on an individual basis, meaning number by number, or they can do a B testing. Hey, does this tagline resonate better with customers than this one? And we tested that as well. Access to the Allbound portal with our early adopters, partners and all of that helped us see the value of the investment and then communicate that upstream so that they understood that we were investing in solid processes, procedures and tools. 

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think that going back to your perspective point, I’m a huge believer in incentivizing for the behavior you want to see, and I think that’s a great learning lesson. And then Mike Oh, I want to focus a little bit on the the technology piece of it. I think that can go either way. It’s interesting if you’re think about like a startup who maybe doesn’t have a ton of budget, they’re trying to build out a partner program and they can’t get buy in for a tech stack. But if they could create a business case or proof of concept around channel tech, you know, what would be the the main tech stack pieces that you feel like fall into that category because there’s so much out there you could really start with.

Mike Otting: Yeah, like I mentioned before, Partner Portals is the first and foremost a billing system of some sort. That’s something that’s, that’s crucial. A partner calculator. So yes, you have a solution to sell, but you need to be able to empower the partners with how do I sell this effectively, how do I show the ROI, and then also create a panel for the partner so they can understand like, what does this mean to me? 

Because when you first start that partnership, they want to see success quickly and they want to see it consistently. So it’s creating those type of toolsets or accessing those type of tool sets in order for a partner to be successful. 

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think those are really great points. And, and jumping off of that one, you know, a partner portal can really help with partner experience and we’ve done a lot of backend analysis around what are the leading indicators to some of the lagging indicators like indirect revenue and deal reg whatever your lagging indicators might be. And the Northstar metric that we found was partner engagement. So if your partners are engaging with you, you have a likely higher, higher hood seeing them generate revenue for you. And I think that all boils down to what is your partner experience like? So why is partner experience so important? Specifically in first Orion’s case.

Mike Coleman: I can take that Mike Coleman era. I think it’s, you know, you get one chance to make a first impression, right? So we we have a partner success team that we’ve kind of grown ahead of revenue, if you will, to make sure that we kind of engineer that customer partner experience in advance. And so we have a team that once we get a partner to a point with which they’ve signed to become an authorized reseller representative of First Orion, then we kind of launch this whole partner success program and it actually takes the partners through a very methodical approach to how simple this is. You’re the tools, here’s the marketing materials that are available. Here’s how you essentially make this work so we can get them to revenue quickly. Then we embark on the rep education process, right? How do we educate the sales reps within that reseller slash agent to understand the power of this tool and the fact that most of them are looking maybe all of them are looking for something new to take to their customer base? Have you are you experiencing challenges with your outbound calling our customers, answering your phone? Do they think you’re a spammer when when you call them, you know all of those things? Well, let me tell you about first Orion and how with branded calling, we can help fix that. And it’s a very low cost per call option. And so once we’ve kind of got them kind of thinking how easy this is, it brings something completely new to their customer base, fixes a problem that exists and oh, they can make money at it. Wow. That’s how we get the reseller engagement, if you will. And we start with one and start and two and three and four reps as we start to compile it. 

Tori Barlow: Yeah, I think those are really good points. And I also think for every vendor out there who has a channel program or a partner program, you know, you’ve got to level up against your competitors and you have to think your competitors probably also have a channel program. And are they giving your shared partners a better experience than you are? I think that’s something to really take into consideration there. And then I want to end on a really positive note. So 2023 is upon us. And you know, Mike, you mentioned having an 8020 split of of channel revenue. You know, there’s also a lot of uncertainty in the market. There’s a lot of up in the air around what can happen and more investment going into the partner programs at companies. So what’s some advice or what are some key things that you guys are focused on next year to get to that revenue breakout or really just buckling down on the partner program in 2023?

Mike Coleman: That’s a great question. And Charles, we’re going to our CEO asked us, what do you need? And I told him we need a Super Bowl ad. What do you mean? I want to tell the world what we do and how cool this technology is so that everybody understands the value of it and then wants to know more about it. Right. And so he said, well, we’re not quite at a point where we can afford the Super Bowl ad. So our our number one priority for 23 is to create awareness within the general community, the end user community, a differentiated essentially solution. Why is what we sell different? Why is it compelling to your customers and why do they essentially why can’t they live without it? And then ultimately, from a channel perspective, you can make some real money at this and it’s an annuity, right? We charge on a per call basis. So the more calls you can generate over time, month to month, the more money they can make, the better the customer experience is. An interesting side note on this. We found that the call centers that are making these outbound calls have a 250% turnover in terms of agents, which is just crazy when you think about that because the agents get so frustrated. We’ve actually had tremendous success when we have those agents brand and outbound call, because the customer that answers knows who’s calling and why. And the agent’s not spending time trying to convince that customer or prospect that they’re not a scam or a spam. It’s actually created a much better experience at the agent level, and it’s a much better experience at the customer level from a customer perspective, etc.. So all of those things conspire to communicate that into the marketplace and that helps us to get to the big numbers we’re expected to deliver here in 23. 

Tori Barlow: You guys have done so much in such a short amount of time since you’ve been at First Orion. You have great plans for 2023. Thank you to our guests, Mike C, Channel Chief and Mike O, SVP of Platform and Wholesale at First Orion. And thank you to 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.

That’s all for this episode! We’d like to thank you for taking the time to listen in. If you like what you heard, we’d love the chance to take the talk to LinkedIn, and continue the conversation. If you want to stay up-to-date with all of our latest episodes, subscribe to our series wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

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