Balancing AI, Automation, and the Human Touch in Partner Management in 2024

Balancing AI, Automation, and the Human Touch in Partner Management in 2024

Rob Rebholz 7 min

How much robot is too much robot?

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past year about whether or not we can actually automate relationship building and partner engagement. 


On the one side, there are those who believe that the human touch is everything and that AI and automation don’t have a lot of value to add in an industry premised on building human-to-human relationships. 


On the other side, we’ve got the people who believe that the robots are coming for us, that they’re making us obsolete, and that everything is terrible and impersonal and we’re all going to lose our jobs. 


I think we’re headed toward something that falls in the middle of these two extremes. The trick is finding the right balance between human and machine, and I don’t think we’ve hit that balance just yet. 


From my conversations over the last few months, I do know that many partner departments have come to realize that they need to significantly boost the effectiveness of their partner team to reach their goals in 2024. In the past, simply growing the partner team grew revenue. Those days are long gone; 2024 is all about achieving more with what you have. 


Here’s what I mean. 


Manual processes will be the death of us

Right now, I believe we’re way too far on the manual side of the human vs. machine balancing act. When it comes to partnerships, too much of the work we’re doing is manual. 


I literally talked to over a hundred partner teams in the last 12 months and we’ve done deep-dive assessments of more than thirty ambitious partner orgs. My realization as someone who’s run marketing, sales, customer success, and partner teams is this: The partnership department is amongst the least efficient departments in the building. Other departments have done a much better job of adopting AI and automation to maximize their efficiency, and it’s time we figured out how to do the same. 


When it comes to partnerships, 30-70% of the work PAMs do is repetitive and could be scaled much better with the help of AI and automation. This is especially true when it comes to onboarding, enablement, engagement, (re)activation, nurturing, updates, and even co-sell orchestration. Jay McBain recently stated that “generative AI will deliver new levels of hyper-personalization” in 2024. I could not agree more with Jay (as always). 


Time to take advantage of new tech!


So, what do we do about this? How do we catch up with AI and automation in a way that makes sense in the context of partnership management?


It’s all about that balance. 


I am convinced the future of work is going to be about people having digital assistants to help them be better at their jobs, and there are a few ways in which AI can be built into our workflows in a way that helps PAMs excel. 


Let’s take a closer look.


AI in the workflow: what could this look like?


The first point in the workflow where AI can help us is about identifying priorities. This is currently a highly manual, often biased, and pretty inconsistent process on the individual PAM level. AI, however, is really good at crunching a load of data, reading context, and figuring out what should be prioritized. 


There’s also sentiment analysis, which is where I think AI becomes super powerful in this context. It can tell us who we need to talk to, who to check in on, and in what order. 


A trigger could also be something more static like a Reveal or Crossbeam overlap. It could also be the fact that one of your AEs is working on a partner-sourced deal, and she’s hit a roadblock. AI could alert PAMs to this because they might not be aware that an AE is having an issue, and she might not be aware that she could turn to the partner team (or partners) for help. 



Next, AI can help us take action. Once it tells us what needs to be done first, it’s going to help us take action on those priorities a lot more efficiently than can be achieved manually. 


For example, it’s going to help us craft the right messaging, draft emails, and send them off in an efficient manner. If given the right instructions, ChatGPT is incredible at drafting joint value propositions. The possibilities are endless!


This all happens automatically in an AI-augmented automated workflow

The result? You save loads of time. You take up knitting. Your partners are happy, engaged, and feel valued. You’re driving more and more partner-sourced revenue at scale. You start to excel in knitting. You travel the world, wearing hand-knitted outfits. All thanks to AI. 


Not so fast…

Okay, this might not be the happy ending we get. AI is still, unfortunately, hallucinating during office hours. So the important thing to remember when setting up AI-assisted workflows is that nothing should happen without the human in the loop: firstly, because we need to check that the AI has got the right end of the stick, and secondly because there’s a load of valuable information you need to share with your partner contacts that’s not necessarily housed in your CRM, PRM, or account mapping tools, where the AI can factor it in. 


So, with Superglue as an example, this is how it works:


You’ll get a notification in Slack saying something like, “Hey, it looks like your AE is in trouble, should we connect her and our partner to help solve this problem?”. From there, you can either approve and send the pre-drafted message straight up, or customize it accordingly. 


While the human touch is required, the machine has 1) Identified an issue you may have missed and 2) Already generated the message (or the entire workflow) you’ll need to fix the issue. I find this use case especially exciting since it’s built to orchestrate multiple stakeholders and pulls in deal data as well as partner information (quick disclaimer: most workflow tools still lack that capability). 


This is where the efficiency gains lie. This is the future of partnership management: PAMs having smart assistants that help them achieve new levels of scale (while eliminating tedious tasks). 


Balancing human touch, AI, and automation to 10X PAM performance

The moment we start combining automation and AI with the human touch in the right balance, we approach the next level of productivity and efficiency in partner management.  We’re not talking about a 5, 10, or 15% productivity improvement. We’re talking about DOUBLING or TRIPLING partner team productivity. 


We’ve seen this stuff work in the Sales department. But we’ve also seen, through their experience, what doesn’t work. In many ways, Sales has overdone the automation side of things, and they’re paying for it now. Sorry guys, you neglected the human touch and now you’re reaping what you’ve sown. 


Partnerships is one of those professions uniquely positioned to survive the wave of AI. My advice: lean in and embrace it! There’s nothing to be afraid of! Just don’t ever lose that human touch. 


If you can hit just the right balance, you’ll win. 


And if you want to learn more about best practice workflows to get started, get in touch! There’s nothing we like to talk about more than AI automation. (Seriously, we’re obsessed).


Rob Rebholz 7 min

Balancing AI, Automation, and the Human Touch in Partner Management in 2024

Explore the challenges faced by Partnership teams and discover how embracing AI and automation while maintaining a human touch can double your partner team's productivity.

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