Building a Partner-First Mindset in Your Organization

Building a Partner-First Mindset in Your Organization

Justin Graci 6 min

It’s no surprise at this point that partner programs are a force multiplier for B2B SaaS companies.

There are countless articles out there with compelling stats about the value of investing in or expanding a partner program to contribute to your growth, so I won’t bore you with those.

But what I’ve seen in my own experience, as well as with other folks in the ecosystem networks I’m in, is that one major challenge is implementing a ‘partner-first mindset’ as an organization.

Common pains I hear:

  • “Our direct sales team doesn’t want to lose business to partners.”
  • “Partners slow our deals down.”
  • “Our marketing team doesn’t see value in featuring partners in promotions.”
  • “Our company won’t invest more into our program, and I can’t find a way to convince them.”

First–what do I mean by a “partner-first mindset”?

This can mean a lot of things, but what I mean by ‘partner-first mindset’ is:

  • Partners become a core part of your company’s go-to-market strategy, deeply embedded within everything you do.
  • Partners are one of the first audiences of consideration in a majority of projects, launches, or campaigns your company is planning and/or executing.
  • There is a mutual understanding about who your partners are, what they do, and why they matter -- regardless of team or role within your company.
  • Your partners are treated as an extension of your marketing, sales, and service teams -- not treated as any ole ‘3rd party’.

But, when building a partner program or even accelerating an existing (successful) partner program, this can be one of the hardest organizational changes to implement. Below are a few ways in which I’ve found success in building a partner-first mindset at my company.

Get on cross-functional team radars early and often

In my earlier days at one of my companies, I immediately realized a friction point. We were releasing products but waiting until after they launched to consider what we should be doing for partners.

It went like this: launch a new product, then ask your team if partners are successfully selling it.

The issue?

Partners got looped in after the fact, and they weren’t given the same level (if any) of readiness and enablement as your direct sellers.

To address this, I had to:

  1. Keep a pulse on who was leading these launches and responsible for the planning. Oftentimes, this is your product marketing team. Tip: Become best friends with the product marketing team.
  2. Build relationships with the internal enablement teams, whether sales enablement, cs enablement, or both. You’ll want to embed yourself in their planning of collateral, training, and timelines.
  3. Advocate for our partner’s needs. This often required asking if I could be added to a meeting I caught wind of, slacking the product marketer or sales enablement lead to exchange plans, or speaking up during internal calls to make clear the needs and timelines for partner readiness.
  4. Present to various teams about who partners are, what they do, where they can help, and how they fit into their goals.

After building these relationships, being proactive with stakeholders, and advocating for partners, I now get looped in as one of the first groups on any planning for campaigns and/or releases. Product marketing and our go-to-market teams now view partners as essential to the planning stage.

Build the right process, education, and rules of engagement to reduce conflict

Another area most B2B companies struggle with a channel or agency partner program is when it comes to conflict between direct and partners. Oftentimes, channel conflict stems from not having any rules of engagement or process for how to work with partners.

Early on, you should take the time to define:

  • The rules of engagement for both partners and direct. Who owns the deal? Who leads the deal? How does commission work? When do you introduce a partner to a deal? How does a direct rep find the right partner? This is just a short list of things to consider.
  • The training that both partners and direct reps will be required to complete. This training should, at a basic level, cover:
  • The value of co-selling
  • Success stories of reps who have worked with partners to close deals
  • A co-sell framework that covers: scoping needs, matching a partner, aligning direct and partner on the deal, and steps to close the deal.
  • Success stories of reps who have worked with partners to close deals
  • Accountability and enforcement of the process
  • (For reps) a section on who partners are, why they matter, and how they can help in a deal
  • The tools you’ll use for co-selling, whether buying a 3rd party solution or building in-house. Make sure there is visibility, transparency, and a continuous feedback loop for both sides. And make sure you act on the points of friction.

Get top-down support from leadership and build partners into the core of your company strategy

This one is certainly one of the harder tips to put into action, since much of this depends on who your leadership team is, their familiarity with partner ecosystems, and seeing the value and opportunity.

However, if you can get your top leaders to advocate for a partner strategy, you’ll quickly see every team across your organization begin reaching out with ideas, projects, and collaboration opportunities. Ultimately, you should see ‘partner’ as a core pillar in your strategy.

Here are some quick tips if you’re struggling to get leadership buy-in:

  1. Identify at least one leader in the organization who can help champion partners
  2. Frequently share wins you’re seeing with partners. Did a large deal just close because a partner helped? Send a note highlighting the win to your sales and marketing leadership team (or even your CEO). Did a partner publish an amazing case study or video? Share it! The more leadership sees these wins, the more interested they’ll be in partners.
  3. Keep driving your programs, but align your efforts with company strategy and goals. The more you can align the work you’re doing with partners to the company’s strategy and goals, the more you’ll see praise for your work and slowly get more buy-in.
  4. Partner with sales enablement to build ‘short-term fix’ processes and enablement to help bridge the relationship of direct reps and partners. Share helpful partner-created case studies with the sales team to use in their selling, and show them win-win scenarios.

With all of that, I hope these are just a few ways to help you think about building a partner-first mindset within your organization so you can fully realize the value and growth potential of leveraging a partner channel.

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Justin Graci 6 min

Building a Partner-First Mindset in Your Organization

How to implement a ‘partner-first mindset’ in your organization.

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