SaaS Partnerships Team Lead

How to Form "Partnerships" Not "Vendor-ships" with Brian Jambor

Carina Shahin
February 2, 2021
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SaaS Partnerships Team Lead
February 2, 2021

How to Form "Partnerships" Not "Vendor-ships" with Brian Jambor

It has to be done with almost like an account-based marketing approach where it's. Highly customized and tailored. They're significant reciprocity on both sides of the table to support meeting those objectives. That's where the magic partnerships happen.

Brian has been in partnerships for 14 years. He was a part of one of the fastest growing SaaS partner programs at Infusionsoft (Keap), and now leads the channel endeavors for Sendoso’s team. He is famous in our minds for reminding us that a partnership is not a vendorship. In this episode, he explains what that means in practice.

Main sections:

[00:02:40] Brian’s background

[00:05:13] Partnership types and differences

[00:09:16] Roles and duties for success in a partnership team

[00:13:35] If you could only make one hire for a partnership team, what would that be

[00:16:00] What’s involved in partner enablement

[00:23:38] The most important factors to success in a partner program


Resources: - The leading sending platform. - Partner tracking and payouts. - A free account mapping solution.

Episode Transcript

[00:02:40] Brian: [00:02:40] Thanks, Corina. I appreciate that. And it is so great to. To be on here. Appreciate you and Alex Glenn putting this together.

[00:02:48] So I have been in partnerships for almost 14 years, something like that, too long. And I head up partnerships at Sentosa so responsible for all of our partner ecosystem across the board. We have referral program. We have a integration partner and product partnership programs and ecosystems, and then we have very specific to us.

[00:03:10] Merchant ecosystems for our platform, responsible for all of those things and very passionate about partnerships. Again, I've been doing it for a long time and really love partnerships in general as a practice and all that entails. 

[00:03:22] Carina: [00:03:22] I love it. Yes. I think everyone can feel your passion for partnerships.

[00:03:25] And since I've been working with you, you've definitely shared that passion with me. And I now take it into my day to day. So I love that. This is a pretty big question, but I would love to understand. How you view the world of partnerships? 

[00:03:40] Brian: [00:03:40] The big question I'll sum up partnerships in one word.

[00:03:44] How about that? There'll be so bold. Reciprocity. Love it. Reciprocity. So partner partnerships work extremely well when both organizations have objectives that are aligned and sometimes that's revenues, sometimes that. Strategic accounts. Sometimes that's a merger or a proposed acquisition or an exit strategy, but whenever both organizations have objectives that are extremely aligned.

[00:04:18] And they're significant reciprocity on both sides of the table to support meeting those objectives. That's where the magic of partnerships happens. I completely 

[00:04:29] Carina: [00:04:29] agree. And I think that's something that, a lot of the partners we work with today, they really prioritize reciprocity. And that's something we've really prioritized here at Sonos.

[00:04:38] So too. So I love it. That's a great, like one word to summarize. How we view the world of partnerships. So I think it's always so interesting understanding just how different each partner ecosystem can really be. You're not just selling to different people or you have different solutions. Partnerships truly differ from each organization.

[00:04:59]I would love if you can share with me the different types of partnerships and partner programs you have worked with through your career and how they differ. So maybe just for this example, I'm like, Sindo so compared to when you worked at infusion 

[00:05:13] Brian: [00:05:13] soft, certainly. So at infusion soft, we had, and formerly known as infusion soft, they renamed their organization relatively recently to keep.

[00:05:25] We had a multitude of partner programs. We had an affiliate program very traditional affiliate model. You have links that you give to content creators and individuals, and they push traffic your way. We also had a broad base referral program. We had a full reseller program. We had a trusted advisor, or we would call them nail influencers program.

[00:05:51] And then we had some very fundamental product partnerships and what I would call broader business development, where we did some M and a. And so partnerships was a core discipline at. In formerly known as infusion soft, currently known as keep rials refer to them as keep moving forward, but really a core discipline.

[00:06:12] And then transitioned a little bit into industry specific partnerships, where I was working at Yodel, which eventually got acquired by And those industry specific partnerships, very interesting, very niche products in very specific industries. So you were looking at vertical partnerships.

[00:06:31] So who in a specific space was an influencer or who had a sizable customer base or who had technology that we wanted to partner with from a product or integration standpoint. So that was interesting. And then transitioning to Substantial product partnerships. So across three different major divisions.

[00:06:52] So I was responsible for working with each of our executive vice presidents of each of those three divisions in shoring up product offerings, working with our chief product officer to figure out where the gaps were as far as technology was concerned. And then go out in the market, do competitive analysis and figure out which technology solutions would be a good fit from an integration standpoint, oftentimes white label.

[00:07:16] And then we would enter into strategic partnerships that way, fast forward into Sandoz Hill. Yeah, a little bit different. So since we have referral partnerships from consulting partners, that refer clients into us. We have product partnerships where we do integrations and add additional technology components to our core platform.

[00:07:39] And then we also have our what we call our merchant partner program, which is quite unique to Sindo. So it's perishable goods companies. That we actually procure and partner with and order to offer on our platform. So there's quite a wide breadth of what I've been exposed to. You also have, what I would call more traditional channel, which, you think about, companies like IBM, right?

[00:08:06] Massive reseller channel. You think of companies like Microsoft. Massive reseller channel, where you have ISV fees that are really trying to sell hardware and software in a resale environment. And  the word partner and partner programs really is quite expansive. And I've had the opportunity to play in a lot of different aspects of it, which has been really fun over the course of the last several years.

[00:08:30] Carina: [00:08:30] Yeah. And I think that's, what's so exciting to be able to share your knowledge with everyone listening, because. Like you said it, what we have here at San DOSO too specifically with the merchant partners. It's so unique to San DOSO. But obviously there are a lot of things that you can replicate from, different partner, ecosystems and partner programs you've built before.

[00:08:52]But definitely building up the merchant partner program here for you was completely new and unique and creative one.  Have to give you mad props there because I know that can be. Crazy difficult sometimes. Obviously with building out different programs, there are some things that are really replicable.

[00:09:09]What do you think the specific titles and roles that you need to build a really great partner program? Yeah, 

[00:09:16]Brian: [00:09:16] I think that it depends on the types of partners that will fit well in your ecosystem. So I recently had a conversation with a software company. And they were looking for some consulting around their partner ecosystem.

[00:09:30] And they explained to me what the situation was, were selling enterprise software designed for the enterprise, but there wasn't a significant service component or set up component configuration component to the software. And one of the things that we discovered as part of the, this discovery process was while there was a desire to have a significant revenue objective.

[00:09:54] From that program. The challenge is when you don't have a sizeable service offering that partners can wrap around that program, it's extremely difficult to convince partners to see what I would call seriously, invest in any sort of referral or Consultation strategy. So to speak with your specific solution, right?

[00:10:18] The money's just not in it. And so one of the things that we realized as part of that was we need to not have a reseller program. Really? This is more of a referral, potentially a referral type situation and probably more so along the lines of a technology play. Who are the players in your ecosystem that you can actually partner with that have a similar ICP?

[00:10:43] And you're able to jointly do some go to market activities together. And that would be the best way to create a partner ecosystem from a V1 standpoint. So the roles get to go back to your question. The roles get defined based on the objectives. But what I can tell you is that the framework in terms of.

[00:11:04] Just partner programs in general, that I've seen work best across multiple organizations is fourfold. I think of it is four legs to hold up the table of a partner program or ecosystem. And the four legs, the first one would be some sort of partner account management function. And the title can be what it is, but you need somebody that's able to actually meet with partners.

[00:11:29]Oftentimes face to face. Certainly that's not an option in the current climate, you can use zoom and other things remotely. No. The second component is some sort of enablement function. So call it part marketing, call it partner, enablement, whatever that looks like, providing your partners with the right tooling and resources and collateral that they need to be successful.

[00:11:54] That was the second component. The third component is an operational component. So somebody that, that manages all the tooling and runs all of the commission or rev share reports, or make sure that all the leads make it into Salesforce or make sure that, the technology is working the way that it's supposed to do from an integration standpoint.

[00:12:16] So there's an operations side to partnerships. And then the fourth component, typically, depending on the size of the program is a recruitment component. So you have. It could be a partner recruitment manager or, part of , directors or the case may be that actually bring new partners into the ecosystem.

[00:12:37] And that could be from a product integration standpoint, it could be from a referral or reseller standpoint could be affiliates. It can be the gamut, but those are typically the components that I think about when I think about structuring a partner program from a staffing standpoint.

[00:12:54] So again, Partner account management function partner enablement, function, partner, operations function, and then a partner recruitment. 

[00:13:01] Carina: [00:13:01] Yeah, I agree. And I think each role is really so crucial and helps just for the overall success of the partner program. I think for those listening, it would be great to just hear from your perspective, if someone is building out a company.

[00:13:16] Completely new partner team from the ground up and they can only hire one person in one role right now. What would you suggest that role to be a 

[00:13:25] Brian: [00:13:25] new program? If you're going to hire one 

[00:13:27] Carina: [00:13:27] person outside of obviously, the head of partnership,

[00:13:35] Brian: [00:13:35] I think you have to have somebody that's really good at the partner account management side. I think a. A good head of partnerships or VP of partnerships. Somebody is going to start that program. Odds are, they have a decent network, they have connections. They can bring new partners in and you don't want to hire anybody in partner recruitment until you really dial in your ideal partner profile.

[00:13:58] That's going to be critical. You definitely won't be ready to bring on full-time anybody in terms of full-time operations, because you're still figuring out your operations. And at the same time from a marketing and enablement standpoint, you don't have enough partners or depth to any one partner to make that viable for one person.

[00:14:16] Typically you can also utilize a lot of it. The collateral in items that the sales enablement team is producing or marketing is producing. And so I would absolutely say somebody in some sort of partner count management capacity. So as you, as the leader are going out and figuring out the strategy and what works and bringing partners in and having those conversations so that you can then identify your ideal partner profile, and then you can, once you've got that figured out, you can then eventually.

[00:14:44] Bring in somebody to actually do some of the recruiting for you. But the challenge is typically, as soon as you go in and sign one or two or three partners, then it's now what? So it's this orchestra of trying to balance, always refining that ideal partner profile with, okay, now we have a couple of partners and we need to give them all the resources trading and things that they need to be successful and coach them on the best way to make money in our.

[00:15:11] Partner program, or in our ecosystem or Frigo the technology piece and make sure that it flows properly and that we've got good reciprocal relationships back and forth as far as introductions into new accounts, whatever the objective may be. But that's, I would say the partner account management function would be a key first hire.

[00:15:29] Carina: [00:15:29] Yeah, I agree. All right. So everyone that is listening and they're just growing out their partner program, and you were only able to hire one person right now. You know that you should start with a partner account manager. So switching gears here a little bit, I want to ask you another vague question, but on a scale of one to 10, how crucial do you find enablement?

[00:15:50] So like training, marketing resources asset exchanges. To have an effect on the overall success of your partner program. 

[00:16:00] Brian: [00:16:00] It's hyper-personalized. So if you think about almost like account based marketing for partner enablement, that I would call it a 12 it's critical. And when it works extremely well.

[00:16:11]If it's broad more of a marketing circa 2002 approach where you load up a couple of generic pieces and just blast them across your entire. Partner-based then I would call it a two not very effective and in candidly do that, not very important. But it can make or break your program if done.

[00:16:33]But the key then is it has to be done with a, almost like an account-based marketing approach where it's highly customized and tailored. As much as possible to each individual partner and their go to market strategy they have, or the objectives that they're trying to achieve in any given quarter.

[00:16:51] Carina: [00:16:51] Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. If you think about how we reach out to prospects and try to bring on new customers, you obviously have to do it in a very personalized way. And if you do try the spray and pray method, That never works. So the same thing goes for when you are trying to enable and work with your partners, definitely keep it personalized and keep them engaged and really tailored the messaging and everything towards 

[00:17:15] Brian: [00:17:15] them.

[00:17:15] I'll tell you, that's the difference between a good partner account manager and a great partner, a cramp account manager, a great partner account manager. Let me backtrack a good partner account manager. We'll take whatever collateral there is. Just send it to the partner and say, Hey, we have this new thing for you.

[00:17:30] A great partner account manager will. Work with the partner, figure out what objectives they have and then if there's collateral tailor it to that specific objective, if there's existing collateral, if not work with the team to get some bandwidth in order to get the collateral created for the specific partner to reach the specific objective that they mutually have in a given quarter.

[00:17:53] Carina: [00:17:53] So what are some of the things that you and your team at Sindo so are doing to take these, steps towards enablement and sharing this collateral and making sure that your partners are set up 

[00:18:05] Brian: [00:18:05] successfully. We've invested a lot in technology. We have a partner relationship management portal that we've utilized through Impartner.

[00:18:14] They have some great technology that allows you to co-brand collateral at scale, which has been challenge. Probably the biggest challenge for us is scale. We have hundreds of partners and. The handful of partner account managers were growing the team very quickly. We're growing partners very quickly.

[00:18:33] And so trying to keep up with everything is always a challenge. And so you default to, what's going to generate the most value for both the organization and the partner in the shortest amount of time. And so we try to, again, focus on scale and we've invested in some type technology, which has been great.

[00:18:49] We've also doubled down in terms of resources. So we have not only shore, but we also have offshore resources from a creative standpoint that gives our partner account managers, the flexibility that they need to create the enablement that their partners need in order to be successful. So if we've approached it as balanced as we can, given the complexities of growing extremely fast, as far as our partner ecosystem is concerned.

[00:19:13] That's a 

[00:19:14] Carina: [00:19:14] good point there too. You are constantly growing and expanding the partner program. So making sure that you're creating great resources that reflect that, growth as well as keeping it personalized. It's a lot to do, but in the end it just helps make your program more successful.

[00:19:31] What are your two most successful strategies, which end in partners, sourced revenue? 

[00:19:37] Brian: [00:19:37] The I would say that the key to generating partner source revenue, first and foremost, it's in tracking.

[00:19:47] Carina: [00:19:47] How are you tracking? How are you tracking 

[00:19:49] Brian: [00:19:49] today? A significant amount of time and resources in making sure that we had operational clarity on several key. Partner revenue generated metrics. So partner generated revenue part or influence revenue, and all those are available in Salesforce. We also publish that into an executive dashboard.

[00:20:10] And so all of our executive team has insight into exactly the impact that partnerships is having not only from a revenue standpoint, we also have additional reports that show. Impact to sales cycles and increased revenue per user ARPU, if you will. And so we spent a lot of time on that in terms of generating it.

[00:20:34]Again, it depends on the objective, but if you're trying to generate. Revenue. I will tell you, I am a huge proponent of co-selling through third-party platforms, but we've done a lot with that team in order to actually generate partner qualified revenue or product qualified leads that turn into a partner revenue per generated revenue through that process.

[00:20:58] So that's been huge for us in being able to showcase that. The secondary process is going deep with partners where the strategy works. So we have handful of partners that class in classic partner, Pareto principle generate the bulk of the volume for us. And so we've gotten deep in those relationships, right in partnerships, and in partnership circles, you'll hear sometimes there is this predator principle where 80% of your revenues from 20% of your partners, and I, I believe that holds true in what I've seen in the past and currently. And so when you figure out who those partners are double down on the enablement side, and again, make sure that you're tracking everything also helps. They have really good relationships with your CMO. Our head of marketing, whoever that may be in addition to your CRO, whoever's responsible for revenue.

[00:21:52] So that way everybody's aligned on. What counts and that's that sometimes can be a interesting conversation to navigate, but once everybody's aligned and you have good reporting, and then it's a matter of, again, implementing the tactics and one tactic that I love again, is. Co-selling with crossbeam.

[00:22:11] I think it works really well. Yeah. 

[00:22:13] Carina: [00:22:13] I agree with all three of those 100%, you need to track, you need to figure out what you are tracking. Is it going to be called partner generated partner sourced? How is this going to look? Are there going to be fields for it within Salesforce or your CRM? I think that's absolutely huge and something that you should.

[00:22:30] Figure out a narrow down right away. Co-selling this is something that is so important even before you, decide to partner with someone. If you use a solution like crossbeam or Shareworks partnered there's really great tools out there now that you can look and identify so overlaps that you share.

[00:22:47] And that's a great indicator, to partner with this person connect on mutual customers, mutual opportunities. That's something I do every single day and I absolutely love it. And then I completely agree with the 80 20 rule and really doubling down on your top partners. And working more with them.

[00:23:03] Cause if you see success there, I can only grow the more that you focus on them. So I really love all of that. Those are really great things to take away and for our listeners to implement, if they haven't already, I think we're going to end today, but before we go, I want to have you share. Your most important tip to those that are not only entering partnerships, but, have maybe been it for a very long time.

[00:23:27]Just for building out a successful program. What is the one thing maybe let's say, and in three words, how can you describe what that most important tip would be 

[00:23:38] Brian: [00:23:38] to help out? Takes time if you're building a new partner program from scratch, don't expect massive results for the first nine months.

[00:23:49] Yeah. It takes time. If you're trying to ink a product partnership and you're figuring out all the ins and outs, the initial conversations to the contracting, to the actual development, into the go live and the go to market strategy that comes thereafter. It takes time. And so with that, I would say the most important thing that you can do is make sure that you set proper expectations with whoever your C-suite sponsor is.

[00:24:15] Of the partnership objectives. So that's one to get extremely clear about what those objectives are. Is it revenue retention? Are you trying to decrease churn? That's a completely different strategy than revenue generation in optimization, right? Increasing ARPU or increasing new revenue from partners.

[00:24:35]Or are you really trying to go after key accounts or is it a product playing? You're trying to shore up product gaps and so get really clear on what the objectives are and do yourself a favor. I'm trying to limit the objectives to one to two objectives as much as possible. So often I run into partnership leaders where, you were just like a new similarly to a new entrepreneur.

[00:24:58] You wear a ton of different hats and there's eight different objectives that you're trying to hit. And the customer experience leader wants you to focus on revenue retention and the customer. Or excuse me, the chief revenue officer wants net new revenue from partners, partner generated revenue. And the chief marketing officer wants you to focus on ARPU and the chief product officer maybe wants you to focus on product partnerships and showing up those gaps.

[00:25:23] And if you're building something. From scratch, or if you have a relatively decent sized team, when you have a dilution of objectives, your results will become diluted. And again, it takes time set, proper expectations and get really specific on what your objectives are and limit them as much as possible so that you can be great at what that one or two things are that you're should be focused on above everything else.

[00:25:46] Carina: [00:25:46] I think that was absolutely perfect and said, it takes time. Be patient understand that this is a process. You are building something from the bottom up and working with so many different departments along the way. Be patient set your focus, make sure everyone is aligned. It takes time and it takes a village, but we'll get there.

[00:26:07] This was amazing. Brian, it's always great talking with you and learning from you. And I think our listeners have a lot of great things that they can take away, whether they're building out a new program from the bottom up or, this is someone's listening and they just are, hitting a roadblock and they need some help.

[00:26:25] I think everything that you mentioned today was absolutely perfect. And it's just always a 

[00:26:30] Brian: [00:26:30] pleasure. Likewise, Corina, thank you so much for having me on you're one of my favorite people and I just really appreciate the conversation that we've had. Of course, 

[00:26:39] Carina: [00:26:39] Brian. All right. That's it for today. So we will catch you guys next time and tune into the next episode.

[00:26:45] Thank you, Brian. And we'll talk soon.

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