How everyone wins with automation: Building a better SaaS partner program

If there's one thing that defines the moment we're living in, it's the rise of automation. Almost every aspect of our lives is being reshaped by its possibilities. But how about communication and relationship building? Surely that's the last silicone-free redoubt of humans. You have to be carbon-based to communicate authentically. Right?

Well, not exactly. 

I'm convinced that if done right, automation can unlock better communication and deeper, more authentic partner relationships (more on this in a bit). That's a bold claim, but it's one that I'm going to defend in this article. Let's begin with what's wrong with ecosystem business building today.

Partner management: today and tomorrow

As we all know, partner management is not for the faint-hearted. Partner managers have their hands full, and most don't have enough time to give all of their contacts the same degree of attention and care they'd like to. 

I recently spoke with a partner manager at a major tech firm. Out of 80 partners, she can only actively engage with 30. As much as she'd love to devote time to each AE and CSM within those partner organizations, she simply can't. Instead, she has to focus on some key people. And there's nothing unique about her story - most partner managers are in the same boat. 

The bad news, then the good

This isn't ideal, but it will only get more difficult: partnership ecosystems are set to grow 10x over the coming five years. That growth rate will completely outpace the growth of partnership teams themselves, forcing them to let go of some of their partnerships.

That is unless they embrace tech. By removing what Jay McBain calls the "painfully manual and error-prone" elements of partner management, automation will enable forward-thinking teams to scale and meet the rise in demand. 

How automation can re-center people

So tech adoption is about to become a necessity. Is that all it is? Or can it go beyond making things manageable and making them better? This takes us back to the question we asked at the beginning. As you can probably tell by now, I'm a firm advocate for using automation in partner management.

Why? Let's be clear about what automation takes away. Think about all the tedious, repetitive, manual communication tasks: copying, pasting, attaching, and drafting. We barely think about them because they seem inevitable. But they're exactly what automation allows partner managers to avoid. All the time they save can then be channeled back into building relationships.

So what's holding people back?

Despite the benefits, many people are still reluctant to dive into SaaS partner programs and ecosystem business building. I'm optimistic this will change in time because we've seen this all before. When companies like Salesloft and Outreach first arrived on the scene, there was concern among salespeople that this tech spelled the end of authentic interaction with customers. Fast forward a few years, and automation-like cadences are so indispensable that most salespeople couldn't imagine their jobs without them.

Busting silos to unlock data

It's not just human reluctance that has delayed the uptake of automation in partner management. It's also the way we handle data. To make automation work, you need access to data. Siloed data has always been a major obstacle to automation. But that's changing: modern PRMs focus on integrations that make data available outside the PRM. Account mapping tools work wonders, generating powerful data and making it easy to access. 

Having more data in a wider range of data sources is complex. But the tradeoff is worth it: we now can make data-driven decisions instead of relying on intuition. To whom should I engage? How? When? These questions can now be answered in concrete, objective terms. 

Locating the limits of automation

Earlier, I drew a link between sales and partnerships. But we should always remember that partnerships uniquely function in many ways. Great relationships form when people feel seen, valued, and needed. Those are all partner manager roles that lie far beyond the frontiers of AI. 

It can't replace you, but intelligent partner tech can make your life much easier. Let's consider email, for example. Every email you send must be relevant to the person who receives it. People want targeted solutions to their problems, not newsletters. But that doesn't mean you must type out every single email. You can use a template modified to fit your partner's specific situation and needs.

Lessons from marketing

As any marketer can tell you, campaigns work best when they include personalization: birthdays or recommendations based on prior purchases. It's all automated, but it's relevant, and it's timely. The fact that automation plays a role doesn't register in the reader's mind, and it doesn't detract from personalization.

This is exactly what we should be doing in partner management. It's a great way to engage the long tail of your partner contacts, too. That junior Salesforce AE or the head of consulting at a small SI: automation makes it easy to fit them into your communication strategy. 

Doing it manually may be more effort than worth it, but leveraging automation cuts that effort, time, and expenditure out of the equation. With a click, you can engage or reactivate all of these people. You never know what may come from an active relationship with someone you once deemed less relevant.

The decade of the ecosystem is here - and we're here for it.

So what's the ultimate benefit of automation? In my view, it isn't cost reduction. Rather, it's the power to increase partner-driven revenue. With the help of tech, we can discover the potential of ecosystems. We can free partner managers from mundane, manual processes and allow them to focus their efforts where needed.

What most partner managers love about their jobs is relationship-building, planning, and contributing to big deals. Let machines handle the boring stuff - you won't miss it.

So many new companies are playing their part in taking the ecosystem forward. We're excited to move into such a dynamic space at Superglue. Forward-thinking consultants, partnership teams, and tech companies are all moving forward into a new, technology-enabled era for ecosystems.

Note: A slightly different version of this blog post was first published as a PartnerHacker op-ed. I highly recommend you sign up for their newsletter and check out their blog! 

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