B2B Partnership Marketing for the Win!
If there’s no partnership experience (PX) function in your organization yet, it’s high time you made one. As this episode’s all-star CMO guests can avow, a well-built and well-maintained partner ecosystem can do a lot for any B2B brand. Not only can it accelerate brand awareness and trust in the market, but a well-run partner marketing program can also directly and exponentially impact both pipeline and revenue.
In this episode, learn why partnership marketing needs to be taken seriously, with real-world examples to prove it and a slew of incredible insights into both growing and sustaining a powerful partner program from CMOs Denise Vu Broady of Appian, Michael Welts of Wasabi, and Melissa Sargeant of Litmus.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
- How 3 B2B CMOs run B2B partnership marketing programs
- How to run a successful partnership program
- What it means to be a good partner
Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 252 on YouTube
- RTU Episode 43: Redefining Core Brand Values to Drive Marketing Success
- RTU Episode 185: What a CEO Wants in Their CMO
- RTU Episode 215: Litmus Testing Your B2B Email Marketing Strategy
- Appian Partner Connect page
- Wasabi’s Technology Alliance Partners page
- Partner with Litmus page
- [0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Thinkers Live
- [1:22] B2B Partnership Marketing at Appian
- [10:31] B2B Partnership Marketing at Wasabi
- [17:06] B2B Partnership Marketing at Litmus
- [23:34] How to Effectively Manage a Large Partner Ecosystem
- [29:36] How to Be a Good Partner
- [38:38] How to Measure Partnership Success
- [42:42] Managing Reputational Risk in Partnerships
- [47:57] Top Tips for B2B Partnership Marketing
Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Denise Vu Broady, Michael Welts, and Melissa Sargeant
[0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Thinkers Live
Hello, Renegade Thinkers! If you’re new here, welcome. If you’ve been here before, you know the drill. This is how it goes—today’s episode comes from a recording of Renegade Thinkers Live, a livestreaming show about hot marketing topics with not just one, but three B2B CMOs!
In today’s episode, you’ll hear from CMOs Denise Vu Broady, Michael Welts, and Melissa Sargeant about how to run a successful partnership marketing program. And by successful, I mean 70 percent of Appian’s new logo coming from the partner ecosystem successful; I mean 93 percent of 5,000+ partners actively producing revenue for Wasabi successful.
Be sure to tune in for a bevy of best practices for setting up and maintaining your own B2B partner marketing program—now, let’s get to the show.
[1:22] B2B Partnership Marketing at Appian“We have a dedicated platform; we also leverage our partners to really develop and create an entire developer engagement and community.” —@dvubroady @appian Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I’m your host Drew Neisser, live from my home studio in New York City, and thank you for joining us. On today’s show, we’re going to tackle the occasionally squishy but often critical world of partnership marketing. It’s squishy only in the sense that whenever you have two organizations trying to work together, there is the likelihood that one will be dissatisfied with the relationship.
It’s critical because few B2B brands can afford to go it alone. Partnerships can open up new markets, shore up product or service vulnerabilities, enhance customer experiences, and in some cases, build brand. In other words, partnerships can dramatically improve marketing effectiveness. Or they can be a vast time suck.
Finding the right partners and building these relationships is especially tricky given the possible configurations—from charitable partnerships to joint products to sponsorships to distribution deals to back-office things. So, on this show, we’re going to explore the do’s and don’ts, the ins and outs, and maybe even the coulds and shoulds.
With that, let’s bring on Denise Broady, the CMO of Appian and star of episode 43 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Hi Denise, how are you?
Denise Vu Broady: Hey, Drew, so nice to see you.
Drew Neisser: Nice to see you as always. It’s been a long time between shows and the last time we were together you were at WorkForce Software, and I recall, before you joined Appian, that partnerships were a big part of your go-to-market strategy at WorkForce. I think I’m right about that. Why were partnerships so important?
Denise Vu Broady: Yeah, you are absolutely correct. We did about 40 percent of our revenue through the channels, and it was critical. We had some big partnerships, so SAP re-sold the WorkForce software. In addition, Oracle was a tech partner and then there were quite a few, not only global SIs like an Accenture, a PWC, but there were also regional SIs. Being able to support them, whether it be through campaigns-in-a-box, content, or even just pure enablement, there were just so many things that we could literally pull marketing in so many directions just in that structure.
Drew Neisser: Well, as you were talking about all of those giant brands, I mean, really—SAP and Oracle, and then you talk about the Deloittes and so forth, how does a smaller company navigate that without just getting crushed?
Denise Vu Broady: Oh, yeah. We used to joke about it at first. When we didn’t have a dedicated team, for example, to support Oracle, it was myself and the relationship manager for Oracle. Then we would show up and I think on the Oracle side it was like 15 people on the other side. Then they were like, “Are you sure we can do all this stuff together?”
We had weekly calls and it was just a great cadence, but it was also getting them used to working with somebody like myself because they are sitting there going, “Oh, can we give the COO/CMO some tasks and activities as well?” And eventually, we did get some additional partner marketing help as part of it.
But I think it’s always a balance to figure out how much energy and how much freedom do you have with that particular partner to really run effective campaigns. I say that is really how you evaluate the time investment because it was very easy to do it with Oracle. It was also easy to do it with SAP because they were reselling our software.
But at some of the larger SIs, it was hard because there was really no incentive for them to help us, let’s say, drive incremental ARR opportunities or SaaS opportunities. It was more or less that they were coming in to implement. I remember one—and I’ll leave their name out—but they promised we would do a 10-city roadshow as part of the MDF together, and we ended up doing zero for the year. And then, of course, the pandemic hit as well. But that just gives you an idea. Sometimes it’s wildly successful with small and large, and sometimes it can be a complete time-suck, as you mentioned.
Drew Neisser: One of the things as I’m listening to you—I want to make sure I understand. When it comes to a marketing partnership, in those cases where they are like, distribution channels, what role does the CMO and marketing play in making sure these relationships work and are effective?
Denise Vu Broady: I think that really starts out with the first conversation between the CMO and the CRO. We’re very fortunate, for example, at Appian, we have a dedicated Chief Partner Officer and we had lots of conversations on what is the extent of the support.
It all depends on the category as mentioned. It depends how active you are with the partner, how strategic, how many joint MDF funds with them. Is there a reseller in place? Is it purely a channel as part of it? And then there are commitments from both sides.
As I mentioned, do you want to purely drive joint content, co-branded content? Do you want to come in and actually do campaigns in a box? I love the concept around campaigns in a box because for us at Appian, for example, we sell low code automation as part of our overall platform. Our partners can come in and build that and we have over 70 partner-built solutions that the partners have actually taken it to market.
But some of those smaller resellers, they may not have the ability to have their own creative team or run an end-to-end campaign because they don’t have a dedicated marketing team. We created this idea of campaigns in a box where we would deliver the entire campaign for them and even offer access to our creative team.
It really depends on the size of the partner, it depends on the goals that you want to achieve together, and then it also depends on the extent of what the partner marketing team is doing. Is it content? Is it demand generation? And by the way, is there even an aspect of enablement as part of this? And driving an entire ecosystem for us?
We have a dedicated platform; we also leverage our partners to really develop and create an entire developer engagement and community. So there are two aspects: we want to go to market, but we also want to have an active partner community where there are developers as part of it.
Drew Neisser: Right. It’s so multidimensional. It’s fascinating to hear that there is such a thing as a Chief Partner Officer. It’s getting crowded at the C-Suite level with all of these chiefs. But remind me again, because I know there are a few listeners who may not know what MDF is.
Denise Vu Broady: Marketing development funds. Sometimes we get it from our tech partners, like, for example, Amazon gives us an MDF, and then in turn we make it MDFs or have a joint marketing development fund with other partners as well.
As I think through what you’ve just mentioned, Drew, it’s so important to really think through—there’s a lot of times the bickering of the lead source. A lot of times, marketing is not incented to help the partner team because you make it only credit for marketing lead sources versus sales or partner lead sources.
The big advice that I would give is, turn on multi-touch attribution and analytics in your company where, if you’re coming in and you’re touching a partner-led source, no one should care as long as you can say, “Hey, because marketing has been involved”—and whether you’re driving the content together, the demand generation together, the enablement—you’re able to come in and touch that opportunity that is sourced by a partner, let’s say, six or eight times.
That data really gives you a different perspective around the partnership and thinking about attribution versus purely lead source. That is when it becomes a really good partnership. Getting that synchronization—my first week, I actually met our CPO here and pretty much said, “Here are some things that I would love to change on the partner marketing perspective. Let’s get some joint KPIs together.” I gave the team not only dedicated resources and added to the resources to support it, but also funding. We have a separate budget for partner marketing.
[10:31] B2B Partnership Marketing at Wasabi“It's now taken off on its own to the effect of literally 350 new channel partners every single month being added. Well over 5,000.” —@WasabiMike @wasabi_cloud Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: We need to bring in our next guest. Michael Welts is the CMO of Wasabi and the star of Episode 185 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Mike, how are you? What’s happening? Or should I say, Wasabi!? Hey, sorry, I couldn’t help it.
Michael Welts: Well done, Drew.
Drew Neisser: Thank you.
Michael Welts: Really great to be here. And just a big fan of everything that Denise just went through. Spot on. I did learn one big thing—I hadn’t heard of a CPO yet.
Drew Neisser: There you go. Exactly. Well, that’s part of the show, that the guests should learn something while they’re here. So one of the things that we’ve talked about several times in our conversations is that you have some pretty big competitors in the cloud storage space. What role do partnerships play in helping you compete with the big guys?
Michael Welts: Sure. Great question. For those that aren’t familiar with Wasabi, we’re in the cloud storage space, so our competition is not small. We’re up against three small players named Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. As our CEO and I found out in the early days, who in their right mind would back a company that would be taking on those huge incumbents?
What we learned over the first two years as we started to get some traction in the market was, the only way to keep pace, the only way to grow our market share was actually going to be through the channel because it’s actually an exposure of our two largest competitors, Amazon and Google. They don’t have strong channel partner programs, so we needed to build a brand and we needed to recruit partners fast.
We actually took a two-tier kind of approach to doing this. The first approach was to recruit partners on our own. But as we quickly learned as a startup—this is now our fourth year in business—cloud storage is a second part of a solution.
Primarily when you move data to the cloud, you do it through what’s called backup or recovery, so you’ll go through a technology partner solution that ultimately points to the cloud storage solution. We went and started to build out our partnership strategy through what we call technology alliance partners.
That was critical in expanding our presence very, very fast, because what it did was it allowed us not only a great solution to take to market, but it gave us immediate opportunity and exposure to the already well-established channels of some of the largest partners in the tech space, including companies like a Veeam or a Commvault or Rubrik. Those are the biggest names out there—Veritas—in the backup market. It was an immediate expansion opportunity in a familiar market where they were already comfortable working with their partners.
Drew Neisser: Well, I think it’s so interesting—and for those who don’t know, I think Wasabi, you raised like, what, $128 million or something recently. I mean, you’ve had a big capital round.
Michael Welts: A couple of weeks ago, Fidelity got behind us with another 113. We’ll be making another major announcement on that front next week. About $250 million to date and it’s going very well.
Drew Neisser: Just to set the stage for all the folks who may not be familiar with the phenomenal growth that you’ve experienced—and there are so many lessons in the Wasabi story I included in my next book. I just love a lot of the story that you all have done.
Some of this we haven’t talked about and I think it’s so interesting. If you’re a little company in the tech space and you want to figure out how to take down Goliath, probably you can’t do it alone. What’s so interesting, what you’re saying is that the ecosystem around that, they weren’t getting any love from the big guys either.
Michael Welts: Not at all.
Drew Neisser: In some ways, that you’re helping them and they’re helping you compete, I think that’s so interesting. So when you were first getting going with these partnerships was the challenge simply who the hell are you and why should we trust you?
Michael Welts: Great point. That’s kind of how we actually stumbled upon this second part of the model with the Technology Alliance Partners. Because if we tried to recruit partners—the channels, if you will—they were saying, “We’re not sure about your brand yet.” At that point, we were only two years into it, and they weren’t familiar enough with us.
Yet they’re also being squeezed by our direct competitors, Amazon and Google, in terms of margins, so there wasn’t a lot there for them to do in partnership. Instead, when we moved to the Technology Alliance Partnerships and developed a bundled solution that we could go to market together, they already trusted those brands. They were already reselling those brands. So now, it gave them a joint solution with a trusted brand. Then the next request was, “Just go build air cover for us. Build your brand as fast as possible so that people would recognize Wasabi when we go to sell it.”
Drew Neisser: There are a couple of key things that may seem obvious but are so important, which is, a partner that is better known immediately gives your brand credibility that you can’t earn. But the second part of it is, your brand has to catch up. You invested a fair amount, as I recall, on building the brand and what that enabled—now we have a bundled solution with a company you’ve heard of and a company that you may-may have heard of. It’s just a lot easier for this partner to sell you. And that’s ultimately the point of this. you want to get some sales out of it, so you’ve got to make it somehow easy for them to close in a world where, I imagine, it’s very hard to get deals done.
Michael Welts: Yeah, well said. You know, it’s crazy. Once you get this flywheel spinning, it takes on a life of its own. Now we’re up to over 350 technology alliance partners with a total integrated solution ecosystem. And then we have, of course, their routes to market, their channels, their partnerships.
It’s now taken off on its own to the effect of literally 350 new channel partners every single month being added. Well over 5,000. The program’s less than two years old. It’s just taking off. The biggest challenge next for us is how to replicate this around the world.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, taking that global. And that requires probably all sorts of other things because whatever awareness you’ve built has been in the US. So interesting.
[17:06] B2B Partnership Marketing at Litmus“You're only limited by your own imagination in terms of what to ask for as part of those relationships.” —@mhsargeant @litmustapp Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I want to bring in Melissa Sargent, CMO of Litmus, and she’s the star of Episode 215 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Welcome Melissa, thanks for joining us.
Melissa Sargeant: Thanks for having me, Drew. Super excited to be here.
Drew Neisser: When we spoke last year, you mentioned how Litmus sits in this world of—I guess they’re called ESPs—email service providers. Do you think of those as marketing partnerships?
Melissa Sargeant: Absolutely. The way Litmus works, Litmus is an end-to-end email optimization solution. We help companies that are using Oracle, they’re using Salesforce, Pardot, Adobe, HubSpot. They’re using those for their marketing automation and to send their emails. We sit on top of that and help them automate the building, the testing so that they know the different 90 combinations of clients that they’re going to be sending emails are going to render properly, and then we also give them additional insights on the engagement tactics, the engagement with those emails.
Absolutely. We consider them partners. We have partner relationships with them. We have go-to-market programs that we execute with them. And they’re very key to the company’s entire strategy.
Drew Neisser: Talk a little bit about the go-to-market part of this. How does that interplay? What do you do for them? What role does marketing play in all of this?
Melissa Sargeant: Our relationships are quite extensive in that there’s obviously a technical piece of this because we have to make sure that our solutions integrate and that you can sink back and forth with the different ESPs so that you don’t have to toggle in and out of tools from a practitioner perspective, the people that are using the tools.
And then from a go-to-market perspective, we build joint go-to-market programs with a lot of these companies that we work with, a lot of these ESPs. We’re doing a lot with Oracle, we’re doing a lot with Salesforce, we’re doing a lot with HubSpot. All of the big marketing automation vendors that you typically think of.
And what those joint go-to-market plans are—think of them as mini-integrated marketing plans. Just like you build your entire integrated marketing plan for the year, we build joint go-to-market plans with those partners.
You’ll see it in programs like joint webinars, sponsorship of each other’s events, blog swaps, joint customer success stories. All of the tactics that you traditionally use in a direct sales motion, we partner with them to get greater lift from that because we’re both trying to achieve the same thing. They want people to be invested and get more value out of their solutions, and we help drive the marketing effectiveness of their email programs for our joint customers.
Drew Neisser: Oh, that’s interesting. One clear thing about these partnerships is the word—and you used it—shared goals. But in your case, it sounds like they’re actually using your tool as part of the campaign management. Did I hear that correctly or is it more about how Litmus sits on top of Eloqua, Oracle, or Salesforce as Pardot or HubSpot? Maybe I missed it there.
Melissa Sargeant: In some cases, it’s both. Some of them will actually use Litmus—they are not only partners of ours, but they’re also customers of ours. They want their emails to go out beautifully and render on devices the way that people expect to be able to view them. But in terms of the joint go-to-market things that we’re doing with them, it’s having a webinar with Salesforce and Epsilon, who’s another big partner of ours. We did one of those a few weeks ago.
And lots of joint content. You know, it’s phenomenal. We get really great uplift on our content, so if you think of an e-book that’s “The State of …” with both Litmus plus one of these big ESPs, we get fantastic engagement from that and a lot of value for both companies.
Drew Neisser: Is part of this the fact that you’re getting their list, so you’re reaching people that you weren’t reaching on your own?
Melissa Sargeant: Definitely. It helps us tap into new audiences and they get to tap into, you know, Litmus is blessed with a very passionate community of email practitioners. They are able to have greater access and surface up what they’re doing to that audience more readily.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. Again, Litmus is a relatively small brand compared with Oracle and Salesforce. How do you avoid not getting squashed?
Melissa Sargeant: It was funny when Denise was talking about having those big groups, you know, like SAP and then I think she was talking about Oracle as well. It’s interesting because when we come to a meeting, there are like three or four of us. And then when we invite them, there’s a lot of folks on their teams because they just have much bigger organizations than we do here at Litmus.
But it’s really a benefit for us. We don’t actually find that we’re getting crushed by it. What’s interesting is that I found that you’re only limited by your own imagination in terms of what to ask for as part of those relationships.
If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and what we find is they have different resources that they can tap into internally, whether it’s publishing a joint customer success story or someday we’ll all go back to a studio somewhere and an office and be able to do some higher production value things. We can scale, we can work with them and scale much more effectively than we can do on our own.
Drew Neisser: Right. Interesting. So you’re counting on their scale. You just got to live with the fact that they’re going to bring an army when you’re going to bring a small team. It’s like, how many Oracleans does it take to do a campaign?
[23:34] How to Effectively Manage a Large Partner Ecosystem“With things like your partner portals and all the analytics that are available to you now, you can stay very close to your partners and how you work together.” —@WasabiMike @wasabi_cloud Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: We’re all here now and we’re talking about a partnership pre where you are now, but have you ever had a partnership that just went off the rails?
Denise Vu Broady: I wouldn’t say off the rails, but even coming here, we’ve got over 600 partners in our ecosystem. I think some partners are not necessarily leveraged to where we need to be, so it’s not necessarily off the rails. It’s just the question is also resources and investments.
It comes back to, you know, how the team was set up as part of this. Partner marketing for us when I came in was pretty much an enablement function. I really looked at it and said, how do we leverage it to elevate the branding, work with partners on joint content, and really activate demand generation with and through the partner ecosystem?
It took a little bit of a shift in order to come in and structure the team so that we can support these things. I think that you’ve got to really come in and look at: how big is the ecosystem, what are the goals, and then how do you set up your own team for success as part of the marketing support?
Drew Neisser: What I’m going to take from that—part of the reason it might not be working is you’re simply not investing enough and you don’t have the resources to get the most out of the partnership, which I think is a really good point.
Mike, Melissa, any partnerships that didn’t quite work out as you planned? We don’t have to name names, but…
Melissa Sargeant: At a previous role, not where I am now, we had a big ecosystem of channel partners. I wouldn’t say things went off the rails, but it’s kind of what Denise was talking about in terms of enablement.
It can be a real challenge in a channel partner ecosystem and keeping them in the loop with everything that’s happening with the organization and what’s available to them.
The times where I think things haven’t gone as well as we wanted them to or the partner got frustrated was usually around enablement and then feeling like they had everything they needed to be successful out there selling.
Drew Neisser: So they were just under-resourced. And again, it goes back to the Denise scenario—the more you do for the partner, the more you make it easy for them to sell you and work with you, the more likely the relationship will work. Particularly when it’s this sort of small company-big company. It sounds like you have to almost spoon-feed them everything. Mike, anything different on that front?
Michael Welts: I would just say that in this new modern digital marketing era, with things like your partner portals and all the analytics that are available to you now, you can stay very close to your partners and how you work together.
For us, to net it all out, it really comes down to what kind of pipeline is being generated. We’re very proud to say that of over 5,000 partners, over 93 percent of them are actively producing revenue for the company. We monitor that literally through our KPIs every single week and we go back to them with joint partnership marketing strategies, much like has been discussed on the call today.
Drew Neisser: I’m trying to figure out, Mike, when you have that many partnerships—did you say 5,000? How do you as a marketing department support so many partnerships?
Michael Welts: Well, it’s not easy, believe me. Resources are the biggest issue, but the way we manage it honestly is through our partner portal. This portal is a turnkey solution for establishing—from day one—the training, the content. As was set up by Denise, the whole idea of a campaign in a box, it makes everything so simple for these folks to go out there and literally get revenue right out of the gate on their own.
Last but not least, which is just one of the foundational tenets of marketing at Wasabi is it has to be super simple in terms of the value proposition and the message. If it isn’t and complexity enters, it just adds time and ultimately it can kill deals.
Drew Neisser: Interesting. I think that’s so good because there is a tendency, perhaps, with this when you have a partner is to overexplain and, “Wait, we need to add this to it.” What you really want to do is think it all through so you can make it so simple. That’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s hard to do it well.
Well, I think this is a perfect time as we’re talking about the challenges that take to take our break.
[29:36] How to Be a Good Partner
Drew Neisser: Let’s try to break this down. What makes a good partner?
Denise Vu Broady: What makes a good partner? I think it all comes down to joint goals and meeting those goals. If you’re coming in and you’re working with a reseller and they’re not able to resell your software and get to their goals, they’re not going to be happy, you’re not going to be happy.
I think that the more transparent—as Mike mentioned earlier, the easier you make it for your ecosystem to consume and work with you and interact with the company, the better it’s going to be. And it’s both sides. It’s kind of interesting. At our size typically were horizontal, but in the larger SIs, they’re all set up as verticals. We know this and when we create content, we want to make sure that we verticalize it and support the way that they’re structured as part of it.
Drew Neisser: Yeah, it really is like working with a customer. It sounds like you really have to get to know them. Melissa, anything to add from your standpoint where you focus to make sure that Litmus is as good a partner as they can be?
Melissa Sargeant: Yeah, we try to bring as much as we can to the table in terms of programs that we want to run and really show them that we can execute because we’re working with companies that are so much bigger than ours and have so many more resources that we can create the audiences for them that they want to get in front of and execute to the quality and the production values that they’re accustomed to in their organizations.
Drew Neisser: I’m curious on all that. As I’m thinking about these partnerships, I’m thinking about how you’ve got this big brand and you’ve got your brand—I’m thinking, Mike, with Wasabi, you’ve got a lot of fun elements built into the brand with hot cloud storage and so forth. How do you make sure that your brand survives while you’re next to this giant? Or does it matter, I guess, in the scheme of things when you’re bundling with somebody else?
But I always think about brand, so I’m just curious, how do you make sure that there’s some element here so that the end-end user knows that “Oh, there’s this company called Wasabi and they’re a really important part of this and they’re cool.”
Michael Welts: It’s a really good question. In our world, it’s really about disruptive technology. For us, we present an opportunity for these partners to go out and sell something that’s new and different and literally generations ahead, not only from a technology standpoint but also from a marketing standpoint.
We market quite differently than anybody else in the industry. And as large as our competitors are, they don’t pour a lot of effort into their marketing efforts. They don’t drive a lot of thought leadership programs around strategy and how to deploy hybrid cloud storage or things like that.
We educate the market and we basically allow our partners and jointly work with our partners to go educate that market through thought leadership. Collectively, they look like a leader as well, so they get to associate with a really hot brand in a new market category, a disruptive play in that category, and it gives them differentiation as they go up against the big competitors that we do as well. It also gives them competitive differentiation against their own direct competitors.
Drew Neisser: Well, it’s interesting because you’re talking about the value of the investment that you made in building the Wasabi brand so there was something to carry over that would add value.
I was sort of thinking of it the other way when—and maybe, Denise, you can talk about this—you’ve got Oracle and SAP over here and these are huge, well known, not necessarily known for their agility or nimbleness—but how do you make sure that the Appian brand doesn’t get lost in this?
Denise Vu Broady: I think that’s where the balance comes in. I didn’t even mention this a little bit earlier, which is, partnerships also take time. If you think about the fact that, if you’re starting to sell into a brand-new industry, it may take you six to nine months to crack into that industry. If you’re going through the partner ecosystem, that may be an additional 50 percent of the time is part of that.
There is a little bit of a time lag as part of it and I think that in order to make sure that you bring value to the table, when you look at your go-to-market motion, you have to really think about: are you direct first or are you partner first?
Maybe the answer is both. And if it’s both, when you roll out, for example, a new product, you should make sure you have the partner component first and not wait six months until after the fact. I think these things are so important because if you’re going to go out and do enablement let’s say for new product, if you’re going to enable all your SEs, you need to go out and enable all of your partner ecosystems so that you minimize confusion in the market.
Then as I mentioned, when you’re really thinking about selling with and through partners, it’s so critical because during the pandemic, think about how long it takes you to get a net new logo versus going in to do an expansion versus selling with and through a partner ecosystem because it’s already their customer base.
Anything that you can do to ease that process, whether to put the partners jointly and the go-to-market together, will be key to the overall success and really shrinking down and getting them enabled as well as rolling out new products, new areas into your entire ecosystem.
Drew Neisser: I think there are several things that you said that were so interesting to me, but we think a lot about how important it is before you launch a new campaign to get your employees up to speed, to understand what that is, and so forth. There’s just this whole other element to it with partners in that you have to get them involved, too.
I think that that could be one of the places where people make a misstep. They say, “We took care of this. We got our sales guys. We’ve enabled everybody there. We’re going to launch this new campaign and this new prod—oh, wait, the partners!” So if you really want to support that ecosystem, I guess you really got to support it as if they were just members of the team which I think is so interesting.
We’re at the moment where we ask on the show, “What would Ben Franklin say?” And we do that because I’m obsessed with Ben Franklin. I consider him America’s first chief marketing officer. I have a little story that is relevant to this thing, which is, when Franklin retired at the age of 43, he was one of the wealthiest men in the new United States. Actually, it wasn’t even the United States yet.
One of the ways that he made his money and continue to stay wealthy was through partnerships. What he did was he set up printers all up and down the eastern seaboard. He invested the money and he set these printers up and got them started. Then he took 50 percent of the profits, but he took all the financial risk.
It worked out very well for Ben. Anyway, when it comes to partnerships, the quote I want to feature is: “In differences among friends, they that make the first concession are the wiser.” I want to think about that in the context of partnerships.
As you guys are going to these big folks, do you think about trying to keep this balance? Or do you realize that it’s really about you give—within reason—you make a concession. You don’t necessarily try to get every last inch of every single deal. Just curious.
Melissa Sargeant: I think he’s exactly right in terms of making concessions because I think you want to, as a company that’s partnering, be a company that’s easy to do business with. You want the relationship because you know the value of the relationship is far greater than the 20 things on your list.
Maybe if you only get half of those to start and you can demonstrate that you can provide them value, they’re going to want to continue to work with you over the long term because you’re not looking at these partnerships as a one-quarter thing. We’re trying to build sustainable value for our companies.
As Denise said, these things take time, as do the partnerships and learning how to work together and get the most from both organizations.
[38:38] How to Measure Partnership Success“It's all about pipeline and then conversion of pipeline. That's where the rubber hits the road.” —@WasabiMike @wasabi_cloud Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: We spend so much time in our industry talking about CX and customer experience. It feels like we need a new term. PX, as in partner experience. And we need to be able to measure that. I’m curious, how do you currently measure partnership success? Mike, you want to take that one first?
Michael Welts: Well, like I mentioned before, for us, it’s all about pipeline and then conversion of pipeline. That’s where the rubber hits the road. That’s how our CRO measures whether we in marketing and especially in partner marketing are getting the job done.
Beyond that, we also measure it in terms of their ability to carry forward as brand evangelists. And back to your earlier question, Drew, are they promoting our brand equally as much as they are their own in a partner solution that they take the market?
I’ll go back to the comment that you made about Ben Franklin. The key word that stood out there for me was “invest.” He invested in them and that’s exactly what we had to do—we continue to have to—especially as an emerging company. Invest heavily upfront in them, and then the returns come back. Our pipeline conversion rate is the perfect proof of how that investment has paid off.
Drew Neisser: So I heard a couple of things. I heard, yes, how many deals that they are setting up. That’s pipeline conversion, or the deals that they close. But I also heard share-of-voice, if you will, or share-of-market, which is another one. What we didn’t talk about is any kind of thing like this PX notion of how does everybody feel about things? Was this a friction-free experience or was this a painful one? I’m curious, Denise, do you look at partnerships with any vision towards the ease of experience?
Denise Vu Broady: Absolutely. Look, forget just having partners have an ease of experience when they come into our community or if they’re helping us work on a deal—they can trigger a trial as part of it in a very seamless manner. But there are things that become so important in the experience.
Even something so simple as when we create thought leadership content, whether we’re doing a low code guide or we’re looking at an automation index, we would be more than happy to hand it over to one of our partners, let them chop up the thought leadership, put their branding on it as well, and feature us jointly as part of it.
We also work really hard to enable the partners so that they can carry the message over to the market and their customer base. Last year we did 70 percent of our new logos through partnerships. When you look at that number, I think both Melissa as well as Mike mentioned, it’s like a marriage, right? It’s not just about compromising, but it’s also building trust. With that trust, you end up having a great experience together. If you don’t have the fundamentals of trust, you’re not going to be able to drive pipeline together. You’re not going to be able to have one voice in the market together.
Drew Neisser: 70 percent of new logo as in new customers. Wow. That’s a big important channel for you. Melissa, I’m curious as you were listening to these metrics, was there another one or anything else that you look at to measure a successful relationship?
Melissa Sargeant: We look at pipeline as well. Since all of our business—they’re going to be using some sort of email service provider, we typically look by ESP where the most pipeline and where the most ACV is coming from that. We set specific targets that we look at as part of our entire integrated marketing plan and as part of our business plan. So, absolutely, pipeline.
[42:42] Managing Reputational Risk in Partnerships“We want to be able to fuel and help them grow their practices, so we will make it as easy as possible to do business with us.” —@dvubroady @appian Click To Tweet
Drew Neisser: I’m curious—one of the things that I know some brands are really concerned about is the management of reputational risk. It’s so hard today because there are so many different places where reputational risk exists whether it’s a data breach or something like that. Where does that fit in at all?
I remember, there are certain companies that you work with that have incredible requirements, for example, from a security standpoint or a data storage or even a data process in an office working situation. I’m just curious, how do you deal with that factor of reputational risk when it comes to sharing your brand with another brand?
Denise Vu Broady: Yeah, Drew, that’s always a balance. Look, when we partner, whether it be with a large SI like Accenture or PWC, just automatically assume that we’re just one of the practices that they have. I think this goes back to what I commented a little bit earlier on—the trust is so important.
We want to be able to fuel and help them grow their practices, so we will make it as easy as possible to do business with us. But at the same time, we try to also make it very inclusive for the partners to come in.
If they’re working with the customers, doing the joint stories, doing all those pieces together, what we try not to do is to really break that trust where we will come into a deal with two to three partners at a time and try to really identify that as part of the go-to-market.
I think that there are so many components. If we’ve got, let’s say, Booz as one of our partners in the fed space, for us, it’s not just the security of providing the content or the focus areas for marketing in giving them our brand. The other side is like having that fedRAMP certification and having all of the standards to support whatever joint go-to-market and focus for the industry is also critical.
Drew Neisser: Right. Interesting. Melissa, how about you in terms of, obviously you’re dealing with a lot of big brands that in theory are taking care of their reputational risk, but do you think about that at all?
Melissa Sargeant: We do because we go through the same robust security, whether it’s like SOC 2 and all of the privacy regulations. I think really what it does, it comes down to trust. That’s one of our core values. Building customer trust and expanding customer trust is a core value within our organization and that’s something that we share very readily with our partners so that they know everything that we’re doing to maintain our side of the house in that.
Drew Neisser: Interesting, so you guys have used “trust” a lot and obviously a partnership would have to be built on trust. It sounds like there’s a lot of transparency and planning. I’m curious from a marketing added value standpoint—because you have a chief partner officer in the case of Denise at least.
From a CMO standpoint, where is the place that you can have the biggest impact in this? And then, where do you just sort of say, I’ve got to turn that over to somebody else. Because you have so many things to do. How do you make sure that you’re getting maximum leverage from the CMO position and then moving on? I’ll throw that one at Denise.
Denise Vu Broady: Yeah, I was going to say, again, it’s prioritization, right? We have lots of tech partners, but we don’t have enough people to spend all of the time between the tech partners. Some of them we’ve divided up into, for example, our product strategy team may help with overall integration around that from a marketing standpoint.
But when we apply partner marketing, it’s going to be on our number one tech partner because there’s a joint MDF fund already established there. And that’s important. To have that transparent conversation. That was just a conversation last week between the CPO, the CRO, as well as myself, to say, “Hey, limited resources, new focus on all the stuff that we’re doing, so can we just take the number one tech partner versus trying to cut across all of them?” I think you’ve just got to make some of those tough business decisions and be really transparent about it.
Drew Neisser: Yes, the definition of strategy is saying no. It’s having focus. That’s so interesting that even in partner marketing, while you need a lot of them, you may not need to invest in all of them equally because not all of them are equal.
[47:57] Top Tips for B2B Partnership Marketing
Drew Neisser: Let’s try to summarize, pretend as if this was a Tuesday Tip exercise. As folks are looking to develop new marketing partnerships, give us one key insight that you think would really make a difference moving forward for their programs. I’ll start with you, Mike.
Michael Welts: We look at the partnerships that we have, the partner program overall, as really one of our key intellectual property assets for the company. I think that’s an interesting way of approaching it with the executive team, with leadership, with your board of directors, to pitch it that way because as you build out your partnership network, it becomes a force in the market and becomes defensible IP for you. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving. If you treat them well, they continue to treat you well and you build up almost this resistance to competition by building a market or a channel partner marketplace that just continues to evolve.
Drew Neisser: Wow. I love thinking about it that way. Melissa, what’s your tip there?
Melissa Sargeant: Yep. I think I’m going to build on what we were talking about related to trust because I think you have to go into this with a shared understanding of your joint goals and really document those as part of your integrated marketing strategy.
Then you want to make sure you measure them against those goals and see how you’re doing and be really transparent about them whether you do that through regular quarterly business reviews or just regular check-ins with them so that you can optimize the plan as things change.
Drew Neisser: I love it. We’re going to set some goals and we’re going to track against them. Denise, take us home here.
Denise Vu Broady: Yeah, I would really look at this and put my growth marketer hat on. When I look at the growth strategy of the company, I will come back and ask the question, “If you were to market with and through partners, could the marketing team actually have an impact on the overall growth strategy?”
For us last year, if we’re getting 70 percent net new logos through the partner ecosystem, adding more marketing resources, dollars, and investments, would that help grow that even higher or maybe even shift it into taking into expansions as part of it? When you put your growth hat on, you’ve got to really ask the question: If you’re putting in resources and dollars, does it drive incremental ARR for your company? That should then help you answer the question do you invest or not.
Drew Neisser: I love it. I think that the final lesson with all of that is, as a CMO, you are a growth marketer and you are looking for the maximum leverage everywhere we go. One of the things that’s very clear from this show is that partners certainly represent, in most cases, an opportunity for that. So thank you, Denise, Michael, and Melissa—you’re all good sports. And thank you audience for staying with us.
Renegade Thinkers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey. Our botanical expert is Nicole Hernandez. For show notes and past episodes, please visit renegade.com, home of quite possibly the savviest B2B marketing agency in New York City. I’m your host Drew Neisser, and until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.