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S3E9: From Apprentice to Partner Manager:
Max Büscher’s
Journey with Shopware

Show Synopsis

This week, we launch New EMEA Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the EMEA channel.
Join Palmer Foster who has a conversation with Max Büscher, Manager Integration Partner at Shopware.


  • Experience at Shopware and career progression that started from an apprenticeship program
  • Redesigning a partner program
  • Challenges faced working with different countries within Europe, relying on partners and channel
  • Setting up in the UK – the challenges and key learnings

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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 to the new EMEA Partner Channel podcast, the voice of the EMEA Channel. I’m Palmer Foster. I’m the account director for AMIA for Allbound here. And joining me today is Max Boucher, who’s the manager of Integrations Partners at Shopware. Max, thanks for joining us. Welcome to the podcast. Just a little background on yourself. I know you’re based in Germany and you’ve got a very fascinating story and I’m super excited to get into this, I know you’ve been there for over six years. You’ve developed your career with them. I’m really looking forward to digging into that. And you know, right now you’re responsible for the partner managers. So I guess before we really dig into the nitty gritty, like it’d just be great to kind of have that high level overview of what you’ve been doing and, and maybe share with the the audience of kind of how you ended up at shop where exactly that story, because I think it’s so fantastic of how you decided on them.

Max Buscher: First of all, thanks for having me here. It’s super excited. Actually, my first podcast. So if I sound a little bit nervous, it’s about that. I think I would start with the basics. I’m 27 years old, as you already told the listeners, I live in Germany and I work for a German company called Shopwell who is developing an e-commerce platform serving the mid-market. And how I ended up there is in Germany. You went through a general apprenticeship program. Is it I think, where you can learn a specific job? For me, it was the job of a salesman in school and part time in a company, and I did that for the average three years after that. I wanted to continue the job and I knew from my time at school someone who already started that job where and while chatting with him, I found out that they are looking for salespeople and he might have helped me to get into the room to get the interview. But from there on I figured out that it was quite a good fit and they were like crazy enough to hire me just after this apprenticeship I did for three years. Back then, the company was maybe 120 people and now it’s 450. So there was tremendous growth in the almost six years I’ve spent there. And when I started, the sales department was organized in a way where everyone did a little bit of everything and shopper was mainly focused on the German market. Recently, the last 2 to 3 years, they focused on other territories in Europe and since last year also in the US.

I quickly picked up the job of just answering questions coming in from partners and customers that haven’t had a dedicated person they could talk to. And when the company developed, there was the opportunity to have a dedicated set of partners to manage in the UK and I just ran to my former manager and said I would like to do it. And again, they were crazy enough to give me that task so I could really, throughout my career, learn on the job. So I every month, maybe two or 2 or 3 times in either London or Manchester to be with the partners and set up the UK market with an incredible team. And that brought a lot of challenges. We will dive deeper I think, later on, but the beginning of 2020 or mid of 2020 when obviously the pandemic hit, a lot of partners had issues and I had more time. The team was always asking for for a team lead because there was from an organizational point of view, a director responsible for a bigger area that couldn’t really focus on the specific needs of the team, which obviously wasn’t the his task. So the team was asking for a team lead. And again, I was just bluntly asking, I would like to do it to to the director. And somehow again, they were crazy enough to say, yeah, sure, you can do it without any experience and leading a team.

 So you see throughout the time at shop where they give a lot of trust in people that are there and if they prove trust, they, they reinforce it. So I could lead a small team. I think it was 6 to 8 people focusing on the business outside of Dutch. And then at, I think the end of 2021. So I was one year in the role of leading a team shop where I completely reorganized its sales team to fit more the needs of our international growth. So from then on we had four teams that were all completely international and every team had a dedicated mission. So one team for customer acquisition, one team for like after sales services and two teams focusing on the different partnerships we have. And from there on, I led a completely international team only focusing on partnerships that brought a lot of different challenges with it because we had to redo all our processes. We developed a completely new partner program and because that wasn’t already enough in one year, we also completely changed the pricing structure of the entire product. Maybe a bit longer overview of my just six years of work experience.

So if because it’s only six years, if anyone, if any listener has a different opinion on what I’m going to say or what I already said or even disagrees, I’m happy to have a chat. Just reach out via LinkedIn. And I’m always learning and I think listening to different opinions always help.

Palmer Foster: And I think just knowing your story, you know, you’re such an open person, open to opportunity and learning. You know, it’s been the catalyst for your career of just asking that question and putting your hand up to say, Hey, I want to go do this. And quite often that’s what you see in partnerships is somebody just making that move into a role where they have no idea what they’re about to face and, you know, being sent to deal with UK partnerships. I know it’s always interesting, obviously, you know, that that recap is fantastic and that’s just high level having everything you’ve done and and gone through, I mean, when you first started, you mentioned you were kind of answering questions for clients and partners. I mean, at that point was where really engaging with partnership programs. I mean, obviously they must have if you’re answering questions for partners, But was it developed out or did you have the chance to kind of come in and and figure things out and and maybe lay some of the foundation work for that?

Max Buscher: Yeah, great question. I might jump in in timelines a little bit, but when I joined software, there was already a partner program in place for this integration partners or agencies that use the platform to implement an online shop. There were three levels and the differentiation was more in the service they would get from shop where if there would be in the middle tier or the highest tier, at least the highest tier had a dedicated partner manager, the middle tier, it would depend on the success of partners, which back then for software meant just license sales. And the lowest tier. Obviously, we try to acquire as much partners as possible back then to get more market share in Germany or to to get the name software out there, which was already done before I joined. So I was already a household name in the mid market for eCommerce platforms in Germany and I think. The partner program as it existed when I joined in 2017 was already in place for 4 or 5 years, so there were some smaller iterations, but they never really revamped the whole thing. And that’s where I want to jump the timeline to last year, because when we had the big restructure in sales, we had the opportunity to rethink everything and to set up the organization that it works on European scale, on a global scale. So our team, when it was formed in end of 2021, got the immediate task to develop a new partner program that hasn’t been really touched in a major way for almost ten years at Square. So it was a huge task. And then I was lucky to have a great mentor who is also directly responsible for myself and the team at Square and both partnerships teams that are already mentioned who already been through that at another e-commerce platform and could give me some insights on what worked well there.

Max Busher: But we also wanted to make sure that what makes Square. A great platform to work with, especially in the partner management area, should be represented in the new program as well. And that we can put this program on, on or roll it out on a global scale. And that was really the task that we could give to to the team, because what really valued at was the influence of the team. It’s not that some some managers, directors, VP’s, what have you come up with an idea then give it to the teams and they need to execute. It’s really these are our ideas and let’s workshop around what you want to implement and and what made Chopper great in the past. I said I’m there for almost six years, but there are people that are there for ten years or even longer and they know it even better than than myself. So we highly use that. And a happy coincidence was that software got, I think it was beginning of 22 that they announced their first funding. 

And within the due diligence process of that, obviously people that invested money did an outside in analysis also of the partner management, which gave me a lot of valuable insights on what partners like. Obviously we could have asked them, but if you ask a software, maybe the feedback is different, as if someone else would ask. So that also helped a lot in redesigning the partner program.

Palmer Foster: What was the biggest takeaway of that, I guess analysis exercise?

Max Buscher: Yeah. Um. Understanding that if you join a new market. Back then, when software entered the market, it was really important to get the name software out there. So we tried to acquire every partner there is. And back then, software served. Not really the mid market a little bit smaller merchants if you if you can say that. So our partner network really reflected that from the maybe 800 partners we had in the old partner program. The majority were in the smallest level. And obviously for 800 partners, you cannot give a dedicated partner manager to everyone. So we had to differentiate and focus on partners that are really committed and that can go the next step with the company towards the mid-market. When we changed versions from Chopper five to Shop six within 2020, the platform was already dedicated to the mid-market, but the partner network had to had to step up. So we looked at obviously certain KPIs. One that always counted at shop was license turnover, but we knew that we couldn’t only measure partner success by license turnover. So also things like engagement from partners via marketing activity, or just because they delivered us a certain amount of deals that they might have not won, but they were crucial in, in getting the name shop out there and getting us at the table with the merchant that should also be rewarded. And we took these measures and applied it to the partners we already had and looked at data we already had in our old CRM system and figured out how much partners can make the step towards the mid-market. And that was, I think, the main exercise to figure out from this 800 partners there might be 200 partners that can really do the next step in the mid-market.

And then it was getting the ideas from the team together, roughly put it together in a new partner program, now having four tiers, but that doesn’t really matter and present that to, from our perspective, the partners that fit best are mid-market approach and get their feedback in before rolling it out to the partners and say, Hey, that’s it, you need to live with it. So we took on the task with the partner managers to present it in in a very short amount of time. I think 3 to 4 weeks to 40 or 50 of the top partners, which was a lot of time giving the same presentation, but it was really necessary and the feedback was super valuable. And I think with that we could incorporate some changes that really helped in the end make the partners happy with the new program, which I hope we did. I’m not 100% sure that we did it for everyone. Some feedback we obviously already got and we are always open for for more feedback from partners if some shopper partners would be among the listeners. But I think. After the first year of implementing it or almost the first year, we see a lot of success coming from partners and they really saw that we all need to pick up the pace to serve the mid-market, and we see it in our KPIs, which is obviously license turnover, but also marketing activities and merchants reaching out.

Palmer Foster: Yeah. And with that kind of exercise, I mean, it’s so fascinating because she was had this partner program for a while now and it was really kind of. It. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like it was kind of one of that partner program for the longest of times and then a year ago. It’s okay. We now need to really look at what we have. We need to move up the market, and that’s a natural progression for any channel program. So it’s really interesting to hear that. And as you go through kind of what I would call your ICP process under understanding what your ideal partner profile or IP excuse me, your ideal partner profile looks like. It’d be interesting to hear because I know you started working with partners in Britain before that. How helpful would that have been when identifying partners and then understanding the differences because you go through this complete. Understanding of what you have in your partner program. So you’re really aware. But having that before you go to a completely different territory, I don’t want to overstep the mark, but the doc region is fairly similar to the German region, obviously with Germany being the biggest player in that. But going from there to like Britain or France is a completely different transition. So I’d be curious to understand, were there things that you drew out of this exercise that you guys just were not aware of, or were they things that made sense because you had already started going out of the Doc region prior to that exercise?

Max Buscher: Yeah. Shopware was, I think, in a pretty unique situation, at least if I talk to people that have more experience in the in the sector and worked at other platforms, they told me it’s unique. It is that software existed for almost 20 years and was a household name in the Dutch market, as I already said, and when I joined the team. And I have spoken to partners and visited expos for the first time. It was the complete opposite. It’s like no one ever heard the word software and that it exists and that it’s an e-commerce platform. So in Germany we were the top player in the mid market versus in almost every other country in Europe that we were focusing on on that at that time we were non-existing. So it that was, I think, a crazy task and we tried to approach the UK market at that time with one director that had experience in the UK and that worked in the UK and that helped us to acquire the first partners. But at some point there was a change and it was only like German people working on the UK market. And what I learned is it doesn’t matter how how good your English is and people will also hear my German accent, but you will never get like the last 10% that you would have as a native. That’s that’s born in the territory that knows everything. And obviously that can bring the network, which is key. So we changed the approach at some point when we addressed new territories.

So when we address a new territory like Italy, for example, we always start with our partners because they software is not known and the competition is already known. The trust comes in via the partner network. So we would make a local high end Italy, a partner manager that has contact to partners, that can learn the platform software or learn to pitch the platform software. And I think it’s quote unquote easier to explain the value of the platform software to to the agency that that get it, that it really serves the mid market, that it’s an open source platform that’s still out there, which which is rare, that has different opportunities to be to be distributed, whether it’s on prem, self-hosted in a SaaS environment or in a past environment. And if the agency gets that value and they have the brand recognition in the market, they can show it to their merchant whenever it fits. So if they if a merchant wants to see something new or merchants that want to be among first movers, and if we get the first project, we usually call it lighthouse project, I think that’s a term within the industry. We use that to go out with marketing. t.

So to put the agency front and center say they did a great job. And by the way, it’s on software and more merchants will see it and more importantly, more agencies will see it and then hopefully get back to us and also want to offer that to the merchan

Palmer Foster: Yeah. And you mentioned something that I’m curious about because you mentioned having a partner manager that’s in that territory as well. And obviously we use partners and channel to expand into new geographies because we don’t understand the cultural nuances or that language barrier. And you know, that’s why Channel is so brilliant. However, there’s the approach of either, you know, you might have your partner managers based in Germany and they work with the partners in Italy or you or the model you guys have approached is, okay, we have a partner manager that’s also in Italy that speaks the language. Do you think there’s a massive difference in either approach or because obviously having somebody that can speak the language, that can work with the partners is ideal, but at the same time, partners normally are a bit more receptive to this kind of global network or working beyond borders. I’m curious what your kind of opinion of that is.

Max Buscher: In my humble six years experience, it differentiates from market to market. So territories like the Benelux or especially the Netherlands or the Nordics as a territory. What I feel is like they are more open to new technologies or adopting new things earlier, like in general, but especially in software. So if something new and fancy comes around, at least the partners are eager to to try it out, rather than you need to have a big track record of merchants in that country, in that territory, to at least get on the table with an agency. So that’s what I experienced when trying to acquire a partner in the UK. The market is very saturated because every vendor from the US, what is their first step? Obviously the UK because it’s the same language and so that’s one thing. But also you need to have a big track record of merchants and you can in some sense buy your way in there to have salespeople, local salespeople that try to acquire potential leads, give it to the agents and give it to the agencies. But we wanted to take the partner approach. So that was what worked quite well in the Netherlands and the Nordics, where they want to adopt new technologies, faster partners and merchants versus other territories where you need to have a track record or territories and countries that need to have local or where you need to have local language capabilities.

The example that pops up in Europe, I think most often is France, because you need to have French, a French speaking sales team to be able to really crack that market. And from what I’ve heard from colleagues and friends outside of Germany, it is kind of the same for Germany that you really need someone to understand the culture and to speak the language because Germans are tend to to want to buy from German vendors. So you need to at least quote unquote look German. And security is a big topic. Always with everything. And Germans are, from my perspective, very the opposite from from the Dutch and the Nordics. We are we are not very quick in in adopting new technologies in general. So that’s why I mean, the past two years with the pandemic gave a big push. But still, not everyone in Germany uses credit cards, for example, or does mobile payments in general in stores, which is just one very basic example.

Palmer Foster: Mm. And what’s been if you could sum it up and I know this is a difficult kind of question, what’s been like the biggest primary challenge when approaching different countries within Europe or even the UK?

Max Buscher: The biggest challenge for us was more or less find the right person that really believes in the shopper story to give 110% when going to their partners and believing in the technology in the in the business opportunity behind it. And that took the majority of. First half of of 2022, we defined these people because we almost doubled in size in partner management. And the biggest growth was obviously the team that focuses on European market software is active in outside of the region. So finding people that believe in software and that are that don’t have on their agenda to be here for for like one year or two years and then move to the next. They really want to build up something there and especially approaching them as a as a company, as a platform that’s maybe not that known in the market. And we need to find the right people that are interested in this challenge. And then it’s figuring out the needs of the market. Because if we approach a new market like Italy, they have different payment service providers, they have different shipment providers and making them get a like default integration into software, which is a given if you want to win any merchant is pretty difficult because we cannot say we have dozens or hundreds or thousands of merchants in Italy. So the shipment provider, the local one, maybe doesn’t see the business case right now. So software would need to make the investment or we find the first merchant together with a partner and then it’s a co-investment. But it’s always difficult to to find that first customer because if they compare software to any other platform that’s locally already available and the integration to payment provider shipment providers or whatever is given in the market is, is basically for free in the store of the vendor and they compare it to software and it’s not and it’s custom development, It already adds cost and you cannot discount the license cost of software in a way that you can make up for it, even if you would give it out for free. I mean, the agency would need to implement it.

Palmer Foster: Mhm. Yeah. And there’s a lot of things going on with that. So and that just reflects the, the time and analysis you’ve been able to do on all this. I mean again you jokingly say you’re, you’re humbled six year career but I mean what you’ve been able to experience and develop is just nothing short of amazing. I mean, to consider what you, you know, kind of went into and just kind of kept putting your hand up saying, hey, let me go do this. And to be able to sit there and kind of rattle off these types of analysis is something you know, I know there are a lot of people on channel that wish they could have such a pinpointed pressure marker that they can put their thumb on. And so I appreciate you’ve had mentors along the way and you’ve also had the opportunity to just kind of, you know, figure stuff out on your own, which that’s a reality that most of us go through, whether it’s in channel or any kind of new position. But kind of the curveball question to you and as as these as the series goes on, it won’t be such a curveball because everyone will figure out what’s coming. But if you could give a you know, that one piece of advice to somebody just starting out, what would it be for them? 

Max Buscher: For me with with the the story I told at where at some points it was being in the right spot at the right time but also do not shy away from an opportunity. And especially when I knew there was the availability or shopper was searching for someone doing partnerships in UK together with the team. And I was thinking, do I have enough experience or is it the right thing? Or I don’t know anything about managing a dedicated set of partners and doing something completely new and changing everything you do every day at work is always difficult and hard to overcome, but at some point, you. You just need to. Put up your hand and say, Hey, I want to do it. And then you figure it out along the way. I mean, obviously the first few weeks a month were pretty hard and learning everything was was definitely an experience for every of these steps along the way. But. For me, it’s just doing it and I will figure out the rest. And if I’m not good enough, people will tell me at shop. It’s a very open culture, so if I have questions, I can approach almost everyone with my questions. And I can also very openly ask, Is this the right thing or am I good enough? Do I perform in the way where I should perform? And if someone says says no, that’s great, because then I ask for what could I do better? And usually they give great advice and and what I can do and always. 

I think for me, besides work, I was always interested in the broader tech industry and in e-commerce. And later on, when I was about to get a chance to lead a team, I was also super interested in everything around the big topic new work and how to lead a modern and remote team. So I consumed a lot of nonfiction literature. I’m not big in reading books, so that’s why I just listen to summaries via via a certain service. But if I really like the summary, I then read the full book. But I could learn a lot of things out of that because I didn’t go to university for for any of that. So in some ways I need to get the general knowledge. And for me, I was maybe lucky that I’m personally interested in these things and that makes me dive deeper into everything I can get even more. And what really, really helped me is having regular exchanges with people at software or other companies that are in a similar position and learning from them.

 What would they tell me? What to avoid or what were their biggest mistakes? So I can learn from that. And that really helped me and keep that going. So at Shopware, we have a so-called leadership exchanges on site, I think twice a year now. So everyone is in one room and they do a good job in mixing different groups up and you get to know the people. And for me, the optimal outcome of that is that I have an additional regular call with someone I met there I haven’t met before to figure out what are their challenges, because when leading a team you tend to speaking to team leads that lead also sales teams, but listening to team leads that lead development teams or any other teams, there’s always 1 or 2 things that they do that like the regular thing to do in leading a development team that you could apply for a sales team or that you could at least try out. So just exchanging with people with different experience and always asking for things that you could do better. And I think an open culture like the one at Chopper or the one that I experienced at where I really helped them.

Palmer Foster: That. And I think having a cool head office probably is a good starting point too. But no, that’s fantastic, Max, I really appreciate that. And so the final question for you, and this is actually not from myself, it’s from Shane Forster from So you’ll get to ask our next guest a question. But his was it’s within the channel kind of ideology. So simply quality versus quantity.

 Max Buscher: At Shopware where we tried different approaches. So first everything on quantity to get the name out there. But now if we strategically approach a new market and we have our ideal customer profile and we know it’s the mid-market and it’s this specific customer in the mid-market, and it’s definitely, for me at least, quality because we need to find the right partners that can really serve this specific customer, which is not every customer out there. So we need to get a really quality network of partners. And especially when approaching new markets and you go for quantity, you have a set of then maybe instantly 50 or 100 partners in, let’s say again Italy, and you cannot keep up with serving them with leads because or deals because obviously we expect that partners bring in leads, we bring in leads, but it should be an equal share. And if you just go for quantity and you have hundreds of partners and you cannot really serve, that market frustrates the network because the promises we made, we cannot hold them. So really, starting with a handful of quality partners and doing everything to deliver or make them deliver their first successful project on our platform is key, and then other partners will see their success and the business opportunity they had with software or whatever else they have. And then new partners will be acquired almost automatically, or we at least have some success stories we can we can share with with the market. That’s how I would interpret that. The question. But I don’t know if that’s a good answer.

 Palmer Foster: No, it’s a good one because there’s no wrong answer. So now the fun part. What is your question for our next guest? And it doesn’t have to be within channel. It can be anything. The whole idea is just kind of get them thinking outside of the box.

 Max Buscher: Yeah. So I have a very, I would say, loaded question. So stick with me. Um, looking back at especially 2020 and 2021, where the pandemic forced all of us to approach our job very differently, at least I think the majority of us. What is the one thing you learned during that time you still apply today that you haven’t had figured out If the circumstances wouldn’t have put you in this position, which could be everything from working from home, working remotely, maybe for the first time for the team and talking to to partners, customers, merchants, anything you figured out there that you wouldn’t have figured out otherwise that you still use today and that it’s maybe a positive, positive change that this very unfortunate times brought? To your working life.

 Palmer Foster: I like that. That’s a that’s a good one. Well, Max, I can’t thank you enough. Thank you to our guest, Max, who manages the integration partners at shop for joining us. Thank you to our listeners for joining us for the Mia Partner Channel podcast. And finally, a shout out to the people behind the scenes making this all possible. So Chloe, our head of marketing for MIA and then Rachel, who handles all the editing in-house at Allbound. But we hope you’ve enjoyed this and feel free to subscribe to wherever you find your podcast materials, whether that’s Spotify or Apple. Until then, take care.

That’s all for this episode. Thank you for listening. If you want to stay up to date with all our latest episodes, subscribe to our series wherever you like to listen to podcasts.

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