Howdy Partners #2 - Why You Need (Or Don't Need) A Partner Program

Howdy Partners #2 - Why You Need (Or Don't Need) A Partner Program

Tom Burgess & Will Taylor & Ben Wright 28 min

We get right to the penultimate question - should you, or should you not have a Strategic Partnerships Program?

Ben digs into 6 critical questions that allow you to understand if the timing, alignment, and company paradigms are right to start your partnership journey.

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3 key takeaways

  1. Life’s too short to work for a CEO who doesn’t get partnerships.
  2. A CEO who doesn’t get partnerships will expect results you can’t deliver in a timeframe that’s unreasonable. Instead, work for a CEO who sees partnerships as a tactical revenue generator and a lever for future growth.
  3. If a company hasn’t nailed its direct sales process, that’s a bad sign for partnerships.
  4. When a company nails its direct sales process its value proposition is clear, its ICP is defined, and sellers know how to communicate with that ICP. You can’t build a partner program inside of a company that lacks basic clarity and alignment.
  5. Not having executive buy-in can kill a partner program before it even begins. To figure it out, ask investigative questions.

Here are a few questions you can ask to make sure you have executive buy-in:

  • Why are you thinking about partnerships right now?
  • Are you expecting this program to produce revenue in the next couple of months?
  • What is your opinion on partnerships, and what do you hope it drives?
  • How many customers do you have? What is your ICP? Walk me through your sales process.
  • Have you had any partners inquire about potential partnership opportunities?

Full transcript:

Tom Burgess 00:00

Ah howdy partners, and welcome back to another rendition, this second installment of our podcasts that revolves around strategic partnerships. What you need to do what you don’t need to do, how do you get into strategic partnerships? Just a rainbow of topics around that that field. I’ve got my co hosts my lovely co hosts here we got will Taylor. Well, how are you doing?

Will Taylor 00:46

I am doing fantastic. I am busy with everything partnerships related deep in the ecosystem. So I’m living it. I’m living through it.

Tom Burgess 00:56

It’s very clear. You’re living in the heat. I know you being in Canada we were talking about what it is. Outside temp why Celsius and I did my quick conversion. We’re about the same. I’m in Denver, Colorado, so pretty hot out there.

Will Taylor 01:09

Hot and humid. I like it for short bouts, but I definitely like it more than the snow. So I’ll leave it at that.

Tom Burgess 01:20

Very good. And then Ben out in Salt Lake beautiful Salt Lake House. How’s everything going with you?

Ben Wright 01:27

Beautiful soul Lake Yeah, we’re not bad. We’re about 7070 degrees Fahrenheit today so, so manageable. Usually this time of year in Salt Lake will like 100 or 95 which is too much for me. Yeah. So this is perfect, perfect temperature and long the long may it continue to be to be this temperature. Yeah,

Tom Burgess 01:47

well, the Rocky Mountain Boys you and I were just talking we we got that snowstorm in late May which was pretty nuts. We had wild Yeah,

Ben Wright 01:56

I actually had my my mom out here from the UK. And she bought like I was like it’s gonna be really hot. So bring like, you know, your, your swim stuff and we can have the reservoirs and we took her up to to one of the ski resorts they put like a little spa spa of theirs to go out for a spa day. And it was like five feet of snow like wild like crazy amounts of snow. So yeah, living in living by the Rocky Mountains you you never know you could be skin as late as as late as June. I guess

Tom Burgess 02:25

that That resonates. I feel like I saw on Instagram a couple months ago. We’re just like living in Denver. Like the layers that you were to prepare for all all types of climates and just temperatures is it’s pretty ridiculous. So I mean, the takeaway at least from the intro is we got to get your mom to pack a little bit more variety when she comes on next but that hopefully like next time she comes if in May. Maybe she just doesn’t come in May. It’s a pretty pretty wild time of year.

Ben Wright 02:54

Yeah, it’s tough me I mean, when do you come to Salt Lake as the world’s point if you’re not snow fan like you can’t come for the first six months of the year and if you don’t want to be cooked then you don’t come for the second six months so usually middle of the year is is ideal here in Salt Lake but yeah, just crazy. Yeah. Crazy. Crazy weather conditions it

Tom Burgess 03:12

Yeah, yeah, for sure. I’m partial to the fall weather. Get the Aspen’s changing colors out here. But anyway, enough, enough of the weather talk like that’s, that’s certainly up the dad alley dad jokes, like meeting people. He talked about whether we’re not, we’re good friends here. So let’s dig into the topic. And just remind the audience for whoever’s listening. Ideally, what we’re trying to paint a picture for is breaking down a lot of stigmas around strategic partnerships, making sure that you guys feel comfortable or, or have tangible takeaways for what you know, you think you’re trying to do whether you have a partnership program, and it’s well oiled? Or you you just don’t know, yet, you’re like, do we need one, you know, based on the industry we’re in, we’re getting a lot of feedback, and actually segues nicely into today’s topic, and I’ll be your host, um, Tom, got Ben here as our expert. And then Will’s going to chime in with some color, hopefully, hope he does, because he’s got a lot of color. When it comes down to this, this topic, but starting or thinking about starting a partnership program, you know, it’s been like pinging in your head, regardless of your role, regardless of whether you have a role, right? You’re interviewing for companies? What are the signals? What are those kind of markers that that you should be listening for, you know, hearing from your customers hearing from your prospects? What are those signals that that should resonate most for you to say, you know, what, we might need to start or think about strategic partnerships as an avenue, a resource, a revenue stream for our company. And Ben, I think you’ve got some some pretty relevant knowledge and understanding just based on where you’re at where your previous roles were. So let’s let’s get into this. Regardless of your role, what do You thinking, you know, like if you whether you know, partnerships is right for your organization or not. But if you’re in the mindset of knowing that we’re getting a lot of consistent questions, we’re getting a lot of consistent pieces around this topic. What’s, what are those signals to look out for? What do you what do you hear from your prospects, your customers to say, you know, what? This, this, to me means we’re trying to bubble up on a partnership program, whether it’s referral based affiliate, etc. What are you looking out for? What’s your background to get to that point to?

Ben Wright 05:30

Yes, I think it’s probably helpful. When you mentioned that this is probably a good topic for me to be speaking on it. I’m kind of two months into my, my journey here at HelpScout. So obviously, went through an interview process where, you know, I was asking a lot of questions as to, you know, why you started a partnership program? Why is this the right time to start a partnership program? So So I think there’s some things that are, are indicators, or are definitely factors that need to be taken into consideration before, either taking a role where you’ll be building out a partnership program, or alternatively, like in my previous role, where, you know, I went over from customer success into partnerships and was asked to build a partnership program so so both sides of the coin right, either in company, starting a new function, or alternatively, interviewing for a role, where the reason is you will be building out our partnership program, or at least the strategy around a partnership program. So So I think there’s, I would say, probably six, six or seven kind of main themes, I would say, or questions to ask. The first, probably most critical one, honestly, is, is alignment and patience from inside your organization. And what I mean by that is one of the the biggest blockers or things that can really kill a partnership program before you create one is, is not having executive buy in. So I think, and I think I mean, really to explain a little bit further, if you’re interviewing for a role, and you ask the question of, you know, why do we need a partnership program? And the CRO or the VP of sales? is like, well, we need to, we need to bring in a million dollars in the next six months. Right? That is, that’s not going to work. From a partnership perspective. Everybody that that is listening to this podcast will understand that partnerships are a slow burn, there’s a lot of pre work that needs to go into building out a partnership program for it to bring in revenue. So doing a bit of investigation as to why now and I would ask that question transparently. Why are you thinking about partnerships now often will reveal a real kind of underlying reason as to why they’re thinking about partnerships. And, and if the only reason is they need quick revenue. That for me would be a real red flag before jumping into a jumping into a role. So So one of the things I would look out for so looking from the other side, what would be a green light, or something that would make me think this organization is ready for a partnership program is we view partnerships as a lever for growth, and a lever for growth that we will give you time to create. So there’s a subtle difference that both eventually being tied to revenue, because it is a revenue generating part of the business, but the instantaneous revenue compared to the kind of ongoing more tactical revenue, if that makes sense. So I know, well, you’ve you’ve probably experienced this in previous roles, but any kind of, I guess, questions or even call it, you can paint on that topic from an executive buy in perspective.

Will Taylor 08:41

Yeah, so in terms of the signals for companies who don’t have the program built out yet, I think it would be around not just revenue growth, but let’s say expansion into perhaps a new territory, or you know, your SMB, and you’re thinking, let’s try mid market, or there are clients who are saying, we have this technology, and we’re using it, but we don’t understand how to use it in the other technologies that we use, or it doesn’t connect well, or there’s attrition with use or even churn for your revenue as well, where clients, although they use the platform, and they understand the general value, they’re not using it to its fullest potential. I think those are some indicators for Okay, well, you know, maybe we need integrations, maybe we need partners who are more versed in that specific geography. Maybe we need people who are experts that can help with implementing the technology. And so those signals I think, are good for, let’s say, a founder or a VP of sales, who is, you know, tasked with that revenue growth, but then also thinking about the the greater picture of it Why do we need more revenue? Where do we need more revenue? How are we losing revenue? And so I think those would be signals and then questions to ask would be, I would agree absolutely of, you know, why do you think this as a an organization hiring for a partner role? But also, you know, what led you to this decision? You know, was it churn? Was it you want expansion? What is the actual underlying business growth need for partnerships as that strategy to meet that need versus business as usual? I think that would uncover a lot of insights on you know, why is this business thinking about this? And what are the signals that they’re receiving? to then take this move? That’s what I’ve generally asked in the past for the surrounding information about why now?

Ben Wright 10:50

Yeah, yes. Okay.

Tom Burgess 10:53

Well, you guys touch on two really important things that I want to hone in on. One is the idea around, you know, like, Ben, you nailed it, like, if you’re, if you’re trying to make a quick buck, you know, partnerships. isn’t, isn’t that short term kind of burn or juice that you need? From an organization like long term, you know, you start to talk about the 5x, this, the, the 8x, the 10x, whatever you want to think about it, or however you want to take it as, as a really important piece of like, do one of my one of my points or questions for the listeners would be, you know, are you asking the questions to the proper people that are, are uncovering what the revenue potential is? So whether it’s on the service side, on the tech side, from an organizational standpoint, what’s the what’s the market share the market gain, when you think about competitors, whether they have a partnership program or not, that you start on covering? Like to not to try not go down the rabbit hole? There’s the true, you know, like, what do you think your revenue number is, by expanding, we’re building a partnership program. The other side is like the efficiencies gained by having a partnership program we’ll nailed it is, you know, your, your, as an extension of your team, partners, partners can come in and help execute or build or optimize your toolset for the customer? So I guess, to boil down, should you be asking about what the revenue potential or just the the, like the, the, oh, my gosh, revenue gain versus, you know, money spent, for lack of a better term. But then the second side is, you know, the integration capabilities and how you start to be your how you gain stickiness with other tool sets? Are those trickle down effects that, you know, if you get past that first layer? Are you asking those questions? Should you be asking those questions? What do those type of signals mean?

Ben Wright 12:54

Yeah, I think that’s a nice, that’s a nice segue into potentially like another factor or sign in my opinion, that partnerships might be a good route to go down. And that would be inbound interest. And what I mean by that is, have you got partners that are actively reaching out to you either through LinkedIn or through email, and saying, like, we would love to build an integration with you, we have customers asking all the time, we want an integration with this tool. And, and again, speaking about HelpScout, I get messages almost daily from people that have either built integrations that I’m not aware of, or helps go on or have just publicly abused our public API, right and built integrations out. Or people that want to build integrations out with us. So for me, that’s like another really good sign that partnerships may be a good a good way to go. And there is potentially a network effect there when you’ve got that, that inbound interest from partners. And again, we’ll meet some really good points there around like not just tech or integration partners, perhaps there’s agency partners that are reaching out perhaps there are consultancy partners that are reaching out any type of inbound interest, for me are really good signs that partnerships may be a good route for you to go. Because ultimately, you’ve already got like, almost an ideal partner profile mapped out for you, right, you can actually take those those those inbound requests and start to build out many partner profiles that probably would make sense for you to go after as a partnership professional. So I think that’s a really good kind of segue is is inbound interest is also a really good indicator of whether a partnership program might be

Tom Burgess 14:31

might be cool, and it’s and it’s an instant product validation to write like, if they believe in you and they say, you know, listen, have you thought about this, like, it’s because they see the value for their end users, their customers, their ability to use this long term or scale with it themselves, is a really good indication. Your inbound interest is huge. And so like that is that’s got to be one of the primary signals. Let’s talk about some of the the the internal stuff right so like your Trying to break through the mold. have these conversations with your VP of sales, CRO, just the exact level. And they’re starting to kind of like understand like, yeah, this, this might make sense. But let’s talk about some of the internal buying or the resources that you you should try and have available or understand that if you’ve already got this, you’re you’re chopping the wood to say, I don’t need to spend X more hours or x more days for that matter. To get this off the ground. What is that a signal? Does that make any sense?

Ben Wright 15:33

No, it does, man. And I think it actually probably extends on from what we talked about in the first episode. And that is, if you’re going to start a partnership program, or you’re already in partnerships, you are very entrepreneurial, meaning that you touch almost every part of your organization. Now for that to happen, what I’m not advocating for is you become a marketing expert, you become a direct sales expert. But what I am advocating for is you need to become a politician internally at your organization, meaning that you need to get buy in from, from almost everybody for this to succeed. Because especially if you’re starting off super lightweight, you might be a one man team, you might be in my case, a two, a two person team, there’s a lot of additional resource that is needed internally, for that program to be successful. So in what you’ve just said, there, like one of the things I love to do in week one, week two is you need to organize meetings with all key stakeholders, the VP of marketing, you know, VP of sales, and really start to get them on board and help them to understand the help that you’re going to need to get a partnership program off the ground. So So that’d be a definite factor that I would ask. I actually like to, in my interview process request that I speak to people at that organization that sit in those seats, because only like the the VP of sales or whoever is interviewing, you might say yeah, you know, everybody’s really excited about about partnerships, and you’re gonna have resource, but actually until you until you speak with those people and speak to them directly. That sometimes isn’t the case. So that would definitely be a question or at least an investigation I would do around internal resources. Because, yeah, without them, you’re not going to succeed. Simply.

Tom Burgess 17:25

That’s, that’s pretty powerful. Yeah, it and it’s, it’s pretty, it’s pretty shocking, you know, from just like an internal standpoint, how many? How many departments or wings of your, your company can benefit just from a partnership program? And it like, we’ll get into that more in future episodes, I guarantee it. But that’s great. You’re asking the right questions, you’re asking to talk to multiple people. So what else? Like we talked about some key areas like the inbound side, the cross functional resources to a degree, just kind of like, Lancashire, but continually

Ben Wright 18:04

Yeah, I think to be honest with you, man, another thing, especially as you start, we as we start to talk about internal resources. Another thing that’s, that’s really important is internal processes, and specifically, like the sales process, and what what I mean by that is, if, if you’re a company that hasn’t figured out how to sell directly yet, meaning that like, you don’t know, your sales process, you don’t actually know your value proposition, you don’t know your ICP. I would not even touch partnerships. And and, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. Ultimately, if you don’t know, your ACP, because I talked to stops all the time, they just want to talk to me about I think, you know, I think partnerships would be a really good route for us to go and ask them a question around like, Well, who do you sell into at the moment? Right, and they can’t give me an answer as to the target company, they sell into the geography, the amount of employees, you have to go through a similar process, when you’re mapping out your ideal partner profile, right? You have to actually figure out okay, who, who, who, who actually feeds into our ACP from a direct perspective, what partners are in their ecosystem? And without that ICP mapping, that becomes almost impossible. Secondarily, if your sales reps, your direct sales reps have not figured out how to sell your product yet, how are you ever going to train a partner organization on how to sell your product? Right? So so when we talk about like, having processes nailed down, having a sales process, a direct sales process, figured out is super important? Because if you haven’t figured that out for yourselves, how are you going to train and enable a partner to do that? Right. So so so that’s pretty another point and Will I see you?


Yeah, yeah, we talked the talk, right?

Will Taylor 19:45

That and then also like, as a partner, manager, or you know, head of partnerships, you’re going to be forced to develop those things because everything else that you do is based on, you know, how does our team sell What how do they describe the value proposition? Who are we selling to. And if that is not baked in the company, then as a partner person, you’ll be facing a lot of that development on your own, because you’ve probably done it before, or you’re, you know, entrepreneurial enough where you would develop that. But that takes time and resources. And that’s going to cut into that slow burn that we talked about, where it already takes you a good amount of time to get things up and running. So if you’re spending more time to develop those things for the company, then that’ll slow you down even further. So I couldn’t agree more with you know, needing to have that sales process the value prop, and especially in ICP as well, because that’ll set the course for a lot of what you do as a partner manager.

Tom Burgess 20:47

If I can, I’ll add one thing here. And as host, I shouldn’t be this chatty, but it if it rings true and being on the other side of being, you know, whether you’re an actual partner program, the last thing that I want to do is put one of my customers in the sales cycle of a product that I am, you know, consulting them or driving expertise around to say, you need this for XY and Z reasons. And then all of a sudden, you’re talking to the sales team. And they’re, they’re just kind of a deer caught in headlights. Like to me, what that does is breaks down the trust from a partner standpoint. So I from a partnership lens, want to have confidence and put my full trust that whether I know the product, or not, I can lean on the true Company experts to be able to to explain the why explain the value and actually sell the product properly. Versus that not happening? My customer saying I wasn’t impressed at all, like what are you doing? Now that puts up a pretty decent stain on on my end. So I think it’s calling out like understand that you need to be in the lens of thinking about thinking in the mindset of your partners, versus thinking the mindset of yourself, like and I know we’re talking about the internal side, but you’ve got to put yourself outside of your shoes and put in the shoes of your partners to say, Can I sit here and and talk to my partners and be confident that our products great for for these reasons. And we’ll help solve for these reasons and knowing that my sales team can do the same.

Will Taylor 22:18

Love it. So let’s let’s summarize for the listeners. Ben, I would love for your thoughts on you know, the questions or a resource that can can help out for walking away with that thing that they can action today.

Ben Wright 22:36

Yeah, so I think as with every episode, our goal with this is to provide something tangible or actionable for you to take away. So after this episode, we will be giving you a question sheet, I guess, which is questions to ask when you’re either interviewing for your next role, or even being asked to step into a partnership position. Right. So I think one thing is we will be providing you with a resource after this. So I’ll kind of review some questions to cover but you know that you’ll also receive this as a as a resource afterwards. So I guess first of all, when you go into a room and you’re talking about building a partnership program, one of the questions to ask is, do you have patience for this program? And even if that’s a simplistic question, what I would what I’d really dive into in that question is, are you expecting this program to produce revenue in the next couple of months? That for me is number one, one of the biggest red flags, you will fail at that role if you’re expected to go in and build a program within two months and deliver revenue. So starting there, that would be one question I would ask the second one. And I interviewed a Help Scout, I asked them about their sales process. Help Scout we’ve got 12,000 customers, right? All of that has been done through either inbound lead generation or sales, sales based selling, direct selling, right, that says to me, we’ve got our process figured out and our product pretty, pretty great as well. So that’s another tip, right? How many customers do you have? What is your ICP and walk me through your sales process? If they can’t do that nother red flag for me, right? Like they probably haven’t got their crap figured out from a from a direct sales perspective. And then the other piece would be, have you had any partners inquire about potential partnership opportunities. So it gets back to that piece about the in the inbound interest, which is another really good indicator that partnerships might be be a good good fit for your organization? So they can’t give you the if they say no, we actually haven’t got any. We’ve got nobody over the history of our company that one partner is inquired about partnering with us. Another big red flag for me, right, there’s no inbound interest. So even if we separate that, and I guess just finishing off actually, I should have been pretty mentioned this as question too, when we talk about internal resources, right, so talking about getting that cross cross company buy into a partnership program. I would actually ask as a tangible takeaway, especially if you’re interviewing for like, a position at a company especially a direct To level VP level, somebody is going to go in and build out a program, I would ask to speak specifically to whoever owns direct sales, whoever owns marketing, and then probably finance as well legitimately because they hold the budget, right? So, so I’d ask to speak to those people and actually find out their opinions on partnerships and what they hope partnerships to drive. And I really think then you will have a clearer understanding of look, am I walking into a situation where I’ll be given time where there’s resources available, and there’s a product that can that is actually established and I can create a good partnership program with so I think there will probably some, some tangible takeaways or questions and as I said, we’ll summarize all these in a nice, a nice question sheet for everybody. But yeah, those would be my, my be my kind of guest critical questions to ask.

Tom Burgess 25:50

Awesome. I think this was pretty insightful. I mean, you got to put the cart or no, you can’t put the cart before the horse. So you know, for the listeners out there or listeners out there who are eager to kind of figure out if this is right. Take Ben’s wise sage knowledge to heart, start to think about the tough questions. Be patient yourself, right? Like we talked about the patients that an organization needs to have the patient yourself, gather the right Intel. And I think the next episode we might be talking about, you know, like, Alright, you’ve got the buying, you’ve got the decision has been made, like let’s start now what do you do? So that’ll be exciting. I’m hoping that we get some course we’re gonna get some tangible takeaways. And just the last final plug, we’re still looking for sponsors episode two. We’re hoping to make record time I’m sure going to ranch water today. I think that’s on point with the howdy partners and I was feeling pretty good, but I think we’ll we’ll come at you guys another day with another episode and take care.

Will Taylor 26:49

Thanks for listening. Bye bye

Tom Burgess & Will Taylor & Ben Wright 28 min

Howdy Partners #2 - Why You Need (Or Don't Need) A Partner Program

We get right to the penultimate question—should you or should you not have a Strategic Partnerships Program?

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