Partnership Leaders roundtable: Driving the partner journey

The great thing about roundtables… is that they’re round. There is no divide between the roles: everyone gets to speak, and the questioner can become the questioned. It’s an effective format for capturing multiple perspectives, and you never know what you may learn. 

So I was really excited to have the chance to participate in a roundtable hosted by Partnership Leaders. There were 9 of us in all, from a wide range of industries, geographies and backgrounds.

Here, I’m going to summarize the highlights and key takeaways of our conversation.

Top challenges in partner management

I kicked off the conversation by talking about partner life cycle stages we’re all familiar with: onboarding, enablement, co-selling, and so on. But for this discussion, I wanted to go a little deeper, and take a look at the touchpoints that are contained within each of those stages.

In my experience with partnership teams, there’s often a lot of focus on onboarding new partners and reactivating dormant ones. And of course, co-selling is a major focus, especially in uncertain economic times like ours. But not enough happens in between. 

So I wanted to learn about the perspectives and experiences on the panel, to figure out what challenges they’re facing, and how they’re dealing with them.

Commitment and relevance underpins everything

Desmond started us off with a really important point. He pointed out that partner journeys aren’t linear. Partners don’t get on at Stop A, progress through Stop B, and then get off at C. They go back and forth between touchpoints, all while juggling their own business priorities. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your partner journey is relevant to your partners’ businesses. If it isn’t, you won’t be able to motivate them to commit to moving along the journey with you. 

Corrine added that it’s also about time. Even the most committed partners have to be strategic with how they allocate time. The fact is, it’s hard to stay top of mind, and partners may go for long periods without engaging with your systems, or the journey you’ve laid out for them. When they come back, they may require support and enablement to re-familiarize themselves with how things are done. The challenge, as Corrine put it, is to make these journeys clear enough that it’s easy for them to come back in and start. 

Retrofitting sales tools for partnerships: a case of square peg, round hole?

For Chris Smith, a major challenge is the mismatch between what partnerships teams need, and the tools they’re given. In his words: “We live in a world where our business systems are set up for our sales teams.” That forces partnerships teams to retrofit sales tools to a partner motion. And sadly, this often comes from the top, because VPs often view partnerships as simply a lead source. Desmond agreed that this was a problem, but with an interesting caveat: in his view, “you have bad tools, but a great journey”. 

Kristine also expressed some optimism on this. She mentioned that there are companies (like Superglue) investigating ways to integrate partnerships data in ways that make it easier for partner managers to make sense of their partner programs at a glance: how many partners there are, how each one is performing, where they are in terms of enablement, and so on. In Kristine’s view, we are getting closer to the promised land of a single dashboard and systems that talk to each other.

But what should partnership tools look like?

For Jisse, the real value of partnerships is in helping companies “get to wins quickly”, whether that’s a sale, preventing a churn, or providing a great onboarding. But in his experience, what partnership teams are lacking is a reliable way to measure the speed and impact of those wins, and accurately assess the ROI of partnerships. 

This point brought us to a discussion of what partnership managers have on their wishlists. As Corrine put it, she doesn’t have a single dashboard to view her entire relationship with a partner. The systems partner managers use are generally made for channels with a vendor. Collaboration, co-selling and referrals make it more complex. 

Kristine added that attribution is another challenge. Sourced revenue is fairly easy to track, but influenced revenue is harder: how do you measure different outcomes and match them to the right incentive? A partner who goes all the way to help you close a deal is different to one that just provides an introduction, but it’s not always clear how to measure this difference.

Is a PRM even the best solution in all cases?

Neha wrapped up this topic by discussing the difference between adopting a PRM and developing something in-house and adding specific functionalities to an existing system. She pointed out that even with the best PRM, you still face the challenge of motivating partners to engage with it. After all, they’re all using their own tools, and ecosystem partners constantly logging into each other’s portals is not ideal. As Corrine put it, this is not the seamless experience we wish we could all provide.

Data is everywhere, but how should we be using it?

That led us to the topic of data, and what we should be doing with all the data we’re producing in partnerships. As Corrine mentioned in connection with tools, partnership teams are usually not technologists, so they face critical data management challenges. Chief among these, for her, is being able to differentiate effectively between partners, especially those who look similar on paper. 

This is a topic that I really care about, and I’ve discussed before. I think there’s a lot we can learn from the world of Customer Relationship Management about how to create better partner experiences with data. I pointed out that there are real similarities between partnerships programs and B2C loyalty programs. Fundamentally, they’re both about using data to build relationships.

Motivating for partnerships in difficult times: “the point is to grow the pie, not share the pie”

Bhavna’s most urgent challenge was upstream of all the others. She pointed out that it can be difficult to motivate partnerships internally (especially incentives paid to partners), especially in difficult economic times. As Corrine put it, it’s about getting the company to see that developing partnerships is about “growing the pie, not sharing the pie”. 

For Kristine, this comes down to telling compelling stories that help leaders to “get it”. In her experience, Cisco prioritized ecosystem development because they had seen salespeople win with the help of ecosystem partners. 

Want more?

Follow my fellow panelists on LinkedIn:

Kristine Stewart is a Channel Consultant with over 13 years of experience at Cisco. She has expertise in strategy, program evaluation, and partnering. In her career, she’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the partnerships world.

Corinne Bartow is a member of Partnership Leaders and the VP of Partnerships for MX Technologies, a fintech data platform. 

Jisse Plaggenborg is the channel sales coordinator at Teamleader, a work management software company serving 12,000 SMBs in Europe. 

Chris Paolucci is a former mid-market fintech employee who has worked his way up from SDR to Enterprise AE. He has experience creating and scaling partnership programs and enjoys learning and sharing knowledge.

Desmond Russell runs a business called Partner Elevate and is also the co-leader of the APAC chapter of Partnership Leaders. 

Chris Smith heads up the Partnerships team at Next Health, a B2B SaaS platform that provides a patient engagement platform for patients and doctors. 

Bhavna Sakhrani works for Amplified, a customer engagement platform for modern consumers. They help brands with marketing, commerce, and care across their social channels. 

Neha Mohnot leads the partnerships team at Panda Health, where she helped to create and establish the partnership concept. Neha brought a welcome dose of digital health expertise to our panel.

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