SaaS Partnerships Team Lead

Part 1: How to Successfully Launch your Agency-to-SaaS Partnership, w/ Fabian at stensul

Carina Shahin
July 30, 2021
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SaaS Partnerships Team Lead
July 30, 2021

Part 1: How to Successfully Launch your Agency-to-SaaS Partnership, w/ Fabian at stensul

“Day one week one, see that as an immediate opportunity to help your partner out.”

Starting from the ground up, Fabian Eckstrom-French shares with me the key pillars to focus on when growing your partner program and how to do it successfully.

Fabian is a strategic alliances and business development leader at stensul - the email creation platform for enterprise - with technology and international consulting background.



[00:04:05] Where Fabian started

[00:08:41] Influenced revenue from integrations

[00:13:52] Timeframe to kick off your program

[00:15:14] Initial acts with all new partners

[00:20:37] Team alignment

[00:29:34] Fabian’s advice to partner managers


Sendoso - The leading sending platform.

Partnerstack - Partner tracking and payouts.

Reveal - A free account mapping solution.

Episode Transcript


[00:03:08] Carina: [00:03:08] And I know you recently moved over to New Zealand, so thank you for joining me. We are completely different days right now and I, I love that. Actually. It's so exciting. 

[00:03:18] Fabian: [00:03:18] Yeah. Wednesday I'm a day view. Welcome to the future. 

[00:03:25] Carina: [00:03:25] Welcome to the feature. Let's talk about the future of partnerships. Awesome.

[00:03:29] Well, you have an impressive history under your belt of all things partnerships. And for those listening, I actually was introduced to Fabian through my CEO and co-founder Chris Rudy grab. He was like, you have to get this guy on your podcast. He is it. And, and we previously worked with Fabian when he was at one of his former companies a few years back.

[00:03:51] So it's great that things. Full circle. I think for those listening, it would be really good for you to just share a little bit more about where you started your career in partnerships and, and what you're doing now at stencils. 

[00:04:05] Fabian: [00:04:05] Yeah, absolutely. So I think honestly my, my earliest stages of partnerships came in the form of.

[00:04:10]Management, consulting, business development stuff, which has been and then really crystallized in my first role as a head of partnerships at a startup called visible while I was in Seattle. Yeah that was, that was the first time I said, I've got to launch a partner ecosystem from the ground up and it was everything from agency partners to ISV ponder.

[00:04:31] Strategic partnerships. And instead of everything in between, and it was, it was an amazing learning curve doing, doing that one, setting up as a team of one and growing. Through to acquisition. So that, that was a really fun one. I then post Visible's acquisition by my Cato. I moved over to run partnerships for one of one of the partners, Madison logic and did some similar things there.

[00:04:55] So ran the partner ecosystem. There was already something in place there. So it was really just helping to grow what they already had in place and managing their strategic partners. And then most recently, I have shifted across back into the email marketing space into running punishments for stencils.

[00:05:14] So similar thing to visible us dental doesn't really have didn't didn't really have a partnership program before I came on last year. And what we are now is building up building up that honor ecosystem. I did define sort of the best types of partners. And then bring those on us on polar and enabling them.

[00:05:33] Carina: [00:05:33] I love it. One, one of the most common topics, I think I've been talking about lately with some people in the spaces, how to launch a partner ecosystem. Quickly and, and not necessarily like as fast as you can possibly do it, but more so, like, you know, how do you do it efficiently and kind of in this almost like the same use case that you're at now with stencil, you just joined there and you had to launch it quickly and effectively.

[00:05:59] So what were those, you know, main, I guess, focus points for you when you joined stencil. And you're like, alright, here I go. This is how I'm going to, yeah, I 

[00:06:09] Fabian: [00:06:09] think really good question. And I know for me, The first piece comes down to knowing your business. And a lot of it, I think giving the answer, it depends.

[00:06:21] It is, has maybe not what you're looking for, but it kind of depends on, on what your organization has got that organization's goals are around partnerships. Are they looking to. Grow the business through through integrations and technology partnerships and, and help increase the stickiness of of customers across partners from a product standpoint, or are they looking to grow into a new spaces?

[00:06:45]they looking to get that brand recognition from some of the big strategic partner players? Are they looking to build services and have an them. Organization. So figuring out like what the actual objective is we're looking to Sort of both grow the volume of partners or the volume of customers, or are we looking to focus on on revenue because you can get sometimes my bed to bring you a large volume of customers, but if they're not the high revenue or the, the, the ideal customer profile, then that's not necessarily going to be ideal.

[00:07:13] So figuring out what the goals are is probably key. Number one, making sure that you're aligned with sort of your product team, right. Your revenue team and making sure that everyone's on the same page is probably priority number one. And once you've figured out who the pond is, we've got to go up.

[00:07:29] What are the categories of partner we're going after then? The strategy for me is always well within each of those categories. What is the best approach? Do we go after the continents that are easy or do we got to the partners that are most influential? What do we try to strike some kind of a balance?

[00:07:45]And so asking those questions, making sure you, you have built consensus is probably step number one. And once you're at that point, then you can kind of get to the hook. Building up that ecosystem 

[00:08:02] Carina: [00:08:02] that just going back to like this, this first point is really like, okay, what's the objective of your partner program align with, you know all of your exacts, make sure everyone's on the same page.

[00:08:12] What do they want to get out of the partner program? Do you see from your experience that it's been heavily influenced? Revenue sometimes like let's build a partner program or almost like a channel. So we have another source of revenue and let's try to identify partners that can do that. Or have you seen it the reverse sometimes where, well, we know that we can be really successful with the, you know, maybe more integrations let's first start with that and then see if the revenue comes in.

[00:08:41] Fabian: [00:08:41] Honestly, I've seen both. Yeah. And I think it helps too to strike a balance because there is a ton of opportunity. There are so many other players out there from a business development standpoint that has. Your customers, they are your perspective, your prospects here. And so focusing on if it had, is sometimes helpful to, to have sort of two separate initiatives, the business development initiative, where you're focused on what, see how much revenue we can bring in through partnerships.

[00:09:06] And that's, that's obviously very exciting but intended, it's always really helpful to be able to reinforce that and, and what the actual value to the end customers. So what I think about when I think of. How would the ponders that we're going to go after and which ones make the most sense for us to prioritize?

[00:09:24]I look at sort of these three core pillars those pillars being sort of the joint value that we provide. So the joint value proposition the ideal customer profile overlap. So how similar are their customers and ideal prospects to our customers and our ideal prospects. How strong is that, that joint value that we provide to the end customers.

[00:09:45] And then the third pillar, which is a little bit of a softer metric and more difficult to sort of understand on paper is enthusiasm. And I think this one is kind of like the secret sauce to partnerships because on paper one pot or might look like the business, right. That they have The, the value that your two products can combined create for the end customer is huge.

[00:10:11]And they have all of these amazing customers that you'd love to sell into. So on paper, they might look amazing. But sometimes those partners, because by nature, the fact that they are so big, they're not as enthusiastic. The other end, the sort of the other extreme that you've gotta be wary of is there will be Partners where maybe they do have a strong joint value proposition as well.

[00:10:37]And they're very, very enthusiastic, but they're smaller and they don't have, they don't have that customer base. So while you may share a similar ideal customer profile, And a, a strong joint value proposition and the very enthusiastic you've got to make sure that they're able to help support and drive for Cipro this, this, and so depending on where you are in your organization, so ecosystem development really influences a lot of who you should partner with as well as like who you're asking.

[00:11:06] Genuinely able to partner with, like, if you're the very early stage startup that, that only has a handful of customers, good luck signing on Accenture as partner. Right. But, but or, you know, any of those, those really big international the GSI or the advisory firms. But if you're, if you're working in a, in a very niche space is oftentimes Partners that are really, really able to provide a lot of value that are supporting and selling it to the same personas.

[00:11:35] So it's a little bit of a balance and a balancing act and making sure that you are checking off those, those three pillars. Like if there's no strong joint value that you can provide to your customers, it's very difficult to To sort of weave a upon a ship story into a, into a sales conversation with a prospect or with an existing customer.

[00:11:58] Right. If, if there is a very clear, added value to incorporating the partner into into the tech stack or or services partners as well. Yeah. Yeah, it's a lot easier 

[00:12:09] Carina: [00:12:09] to sell. I completely agree. I think really the joint value is a strong one. Something I see come up a lot more lately. You don't want to have.

[00:12:18] Also try to pressure or force that joint value. It will come very naturally. So maybe you do share a lot of mutual customers, however, they're not using your solutions in tandem. Maybe, maybe this isn't the right partner to Cosell or work with, but they're good for other things you don't want to force that joint value there.

[00:12:36] It, it would also come naturally. I think the enthusiasm is 100% on par and that's something I chatted with. Terminus and mojo media labs about as well. You know, you want to be, be able to have some type of synergy and come to the table, both excited for opportunities and different events and activities to work with one another.

[00:12:58]And then, like you said, as well, if that ICP isn't there, it's really hard to have those Cosell types of relationships, but it's also hard to even kind of share more about your joint value. I would also go to say like, even if it's not the same personas that sometimes can get a little tricky because if someone is selling to.

[00:13:18] Someone in it, but it is a good customer for you, but you sell to sales or marketing, then it does cause for more so, just a little bit of difficulties when co-selling, but obviously there's so many other things you can do in a partnership besides just co-selling. But I really do like all of those points.

[00:13:35]So how long do you think. Would you say, just in your experience that it took you to identify, you know, those different pillars and really kick off your partner program? Was this like a month, two months, six months? What did that look like? 

[00:13:52] Fabian: [00:13:52] It's an evolution, right? Like we're always learning, I think this, the, those three pillars, that's something that I would say.

[00:13:59] I identified pretty early on. But they are, they have three pillars that I, that I really try to stick to. Like if any, one of those core pieces are missing, it's going to be very difficult as you say, to Cosell and there may be opportunities to do to do more co-marketing and so on. But I think.

[00:14:18] When you talk about personas those are, those are something that influence whether or not you can Cosell. If you check those three boxes around joint value ideal customer profile and enthusiasm, I think co-marketing. It's definitely going to be a sort of top tier activity that you can do with lacrosse, all of those partners.

[00:14:36]But absolutely when it comes to  

[00:14:40] Carina: [00:14:40] yeah, exactly. The evolution of partnerships. I think that's such a great way to describe it because as your company continues to grow, the partners that you're going to work with are going to be a little bit different as well. That's something I've experienced and I think a lot of others can talk about that too.

[00:14:55] So you really are always learning. But it is 100% true. Are there any, any things that you do right away? Like what is your go-to strategy for really enabling your partners quickly and getting them activated quickly? Once they do join your program? 

[00:15:14] Fabian: [00:15:14] The very first sort of most important thing. That I really like to do first up is make sure that you're laying those foundations.

[00:15:22] So sharing, sharing information is, is key. And, and opening up lines of communication between your teams. And I think sort of how we do that, how you lay those foundations and how you, how you kind of get things started. I think number one, in terms of Sort of process is always start with the, in India, get that India in place.

[00:15:41]So that you're open to actually share the information that is important. And then number two is get some account mapping in place just to validate that, you know, we think based off of our research that we have. We have that match in terms of ideal customer profile across our, our customers and prospects, but doing an account mapping exercise really early on really does help to validate that.

[00:16:04] Yes, indeed. There is there is opportunity here. And, and also even if you're, you're already very clear about the opportunity, just being able to validate that using mutual customer case studies is another key point, because just sort of in terms of the us the best co-marketing initially. Getting a case study in place.

[00:16:23]And account mapping really allows you to do that. So once you've got that in place, it's been very quickly coming to formalize that joint value proposition. And again, like the joint value proposition you might think is obvious, but as you start talking amongst your teams and your customer facing sort of go to market teams, particularly the success teams and the solutions teams.

[00:16:43] They're going to come up with additional aspects of the joint value proposition that you may not have seen sort of at first clients and being able to flesh that out and really build upon it, to come up with something that is both. Agreed upon by both sides that this is the, the additional value that we provide and having that formalized and written down somewhere, we typically will put together a one pager or it's usually a double-sided one pager that lays out the, the full value of Y R.

[00:17:13] Our platform and our partners platform or our partners services combined helps to drive those synergies and develop that it provides. And why a customer, why might want to work together with both of us having that as the Keystone foundation piece, I think is core and it allows for very quick enablement.

[00:17:31]And the next piece is like enabling, enabling. Everyone on both sides, educated everyone and, and make sure it's easy for them to communicate with each other. So oftentimes we'll set up like a slack channel where slack connect are. Our go to market teams can connect with each other. Yeah, those, those are the kinds of some of the key pieces.

[00:17:52] And then I think the next step is like giving to get, so I think with punishing. The key to it, a high value partnership, and it's a true, and sort of the sign of a true partnership is reciprocity like that ability to, if you can give your partner some value upfront you're going to see a much quicker time to value.

[00:18:15] And sometimes there is a bit of a sell to the sales team and visit killer and as well as the success team. So to anyone that's touched your customers. They may be a little bit resistant, but if you can, if you can if you can sell that joint value story to your customer facing teams, to the point where if they believe it on your side, half the job was already done.

[00:18:36]So get them to understand the value that you provide and promote it to their customers, because once they're doing that and they're making introductions and pushing business in the direction of your partner, You, what I have seen does open the flood gates because the partner becomes grateful and they really, nothing helps them to recognize the joint value that you provide.

[00:18:59]Like actually feeling it and experiencing it themselves, kind of selling the what's in it for me is always key and the best way to do it. That is by actually having them experience. What is it? So 

[00:19:11] Carina: [00:19:11] I think that's that's right on point tune. And I think another, it doesn't always need to be, you know, like net new partner leads.

[00:19:20] That's what I've kind of seen in my experience. I think those will come naturally and we'll reach out to the partner when those. Do come in. But yes, you always got to keep educating and enabling your teams. So they know like, oh, if I hear this verbiage, that actually would be really great for our new partner, this integration we just offer.

[00:19:37] So I'm going to send them and refer them over that. But another thing I've also noticed to be really helpful and to just strengthen the partnership is also aligning on, let's say your partner is working some open opportunities that are your customers, you know, connecting that sales rep with your CSM and comparing notes and maybe sharing a little bit more about, well, this is actually how our two technologies can work together.

[00:20:01]And I will, you know, help push this deal for you because. If I do and that, you know, customer gets signed on with you as well. They're going to just be a better user of my solution as well. So it doesn't always need to be like net new. That's obviously really great because that's an extra source of revenue.

[00:20:21] However, that's how you can really get your teams kind of aligned and at least comfortable and trusting one another. And then I think some more of those, a net new referrals and leads eventually start flowing in a little bit more. Cause you're top of mind. 

[00:20:37] Fabian: [00:20:37] Yeah. The more that you can give your partner when they're yeah.

[00:20:40] In an ideal world, it's leads, it's work, that's active referrals, but even just intelligence sharing, getting them on the line, talking to them about real world. Examples is the best enablement that exists, right? Like it's one thing for for you to kind of talk about a hypothetical. And this is the value proposition that we provide to clients in general.

[00:20:59] But if you can talk to you know, specific. Customer a is experiencing this problem. It's it's a lot easier for you for you to. Get the buy-in of the reps that have like an actual tie to that specific account and care about the outcomes on that account. 

[00:21:13] Carina: [00:21:13] And in your experience, how, like where in the stage of that that new partnership, do you see this you know, alignment of teams happening?

[00:21:22]You know, you, obviously you sign on your partner, you make sure that you, you know, get an NDA in place. You. Look at what mutual customers you share work on that joint value. Maybe get a customer story. Do you think it's normally like, you know, maybe. Three months down the road, where then, you know, things are kind of finalized content is produced and that's where you can start having these conversations or does it really just vary for each partnership?

[00:21:48] I think that's a 

[00:21:48] Fabian: [00:21:48] pretty good estimate. Yeah. I mean, it definitely does vary, but I think on average, you know, there are going to be examples where you can't in like day one week one, see that as an immediate opportunity to. Your partner out or what to pull your partner in for how fun on a specific account, but more often than not, it doesn't make sense to get all of those foundations in place.

[00:22:09]And, and then, and then bulleted. And that, and that does take a couple of months. I do think though, when we talk about like having a case study of of existing sort of mutual customers it doesn't necessarily have to be a full-blown external market facing case study. Something anecdotal an anecdotal customer story of, you know, we share this customer and this is the value we provide to, to this, this particular customer.

[00:22:34]Just something that you can use internally with customers who the team. Recognize is also very 

[00:22:41] Carina: [00:22:41] helpful. Oh yeah. Do you ever have certain customers almost beta that integration or leveraging the technology together to then create that little story from there and then kind of follow along in their experience and even, you know, create a more fully developed one later 

[00:22:58] on?

[00:22:59] Fabian: [00:22:59] Absolutely. And I think, again, that sort of sounds very much like an. Integration technology partner will. Absolutely. In fact, oftentimes if we're talking about technology partnerships will the way we approach those is a little bit different to the way that we might approach a services partner, obviously.

[00:23:20] And with that. Typically, we kind of, with the, like I said, it will advocate the customer's a customer first approach. So it'll be work with the customer success team. What are the common issues and challenges that our customers are facing? What is it that our customers are most asking for? And building those integrations first and absolutely there's always going to be a better Inevitably, there'll be a use cases that I missed or, you know, challenges or bugs in the first, in the first round that you worked up.

[00:23:46] And so having, yeah, having those beta customers is definitely key on an integration partnership. Though I have to say, like not old partnerships even between technology companies require a direct integration at the get-go. Sometimes there are complimentary products that don't require integration.

[00:24:02]I think that's probably what you can go to market with a partner without having an integration. Though, oftentimes it will be necessary. 

[00:24:11] Carina: [00:24:11] Yeah, I think I it's. It's nice to hear you keep coming back to customers. They think partnerships are really customer centric as well. Like obviously, you know, in the very beginning, when you're growing out a program, it's what do you really want this.

[00:24:25] Program to look like, you know, what is, what is your business looking to achieve, but also going to your customers and trying to understand, like, what is it that you guys would like to see from us? Is there a specific integration or, or maybe you're working with agency or consulting partners that would be beneficial to join our program?

[00:24:42]I think it's, it's interesting because partnerships are really, really customer like product centric. So it's nice to hear you keep coming back to customers and really just trying to understand what they need in one. 

[00:24:55] Fabian: [00:24:55] I think so. I mean, for something to be truly sustainable in the longterm, I partnership does need to reflect the needs and wants of your S surveys.

[00:25:04]If you think it's a good fit, but that's not actually what your customer is plummeted. It's, it's not going to, to really provide the outcome that you want in the long run. So I think that validation working really closely with the product team, if it's a technology partnership, I think it's like Katie and in all aspects of Pasha being across the go-to-market teams that includes.

[00:25:25] Sales customer success solutions. Anyone that really touches customers is, is going to have really solid insights into not just the types of problems and the types of partners that make the most sense. But the specific partners that are coming up. That customers want to see and work with. What 

[00:25:43] Carina: [00:25:43] would advice that you would give to someone that is just starting off their program?

[00:25:47] What would you say if, you know, they're having multiple conversations with possible partners, but they're really not sure if it fits their ICP and they're kind of forcing the joint value. Do they commit to this partnership and just try to make it work? Or what kind of a piece of advice would you give to.

[00:26:03] Fabian: [00:26:03] There are so many opportunities across so many different partners. You really do want to take the time to validate that the, these partners that you're, that you're working with, you're considering working with really do support it, your business's needs. And I think that's something that, yeah, if you, if, if you're not checking all of those pillows, I would definitely think twice if you.

[00:26:24] Able to validate sort of the strong joint value proposition, the strong customer overlap and, and the enthusiasm on the partner side, it's going to be an uphill battle. Any lacking, any one of those, those three pieces, I think yeah. I mean, you can fake it. You can fake it without a joint value proposition.

[00:26:43] And if you've got the strong overlap between customers and the enthusiasm on the partnership, but ultimately it's going to fail. It's not going to be sustainable longterm. And similarly, you know, with a stronger value proposition and. A lot of enthusiasm, you can try, but if your customers, if it, like, if your customers out there, it's not going to work.

[00:27:03] And of course, like the same is true with the joint valley with other purpose or like, you know, they're just like you may on paper have this amazing joint value prop and perfect customer alignment. If one side is lacking that enthusiasm it's, it's probably not worth your effort of pushing too hard, you know, put by all means it looks good on paper push, but don't waste your time on a partner.

[00:27:29] That's not willing to reciprocate. 

[00:27:31] Carina: [00:27:31] Yeah, I agree. So for those of you who are listening in, you're looking to, you know, start and launch a partner program really quickly, and there's a handful of people you can partner. But you're not sure if really it's a good fit for you. And maybe you're going to be putting too much work into something that isn't a fit right now.

[00:27:49] You can always revisit it later on down the road. Really take the time, identify the ICP, the joint value. Find that enthusiasm. Make sure your goals are shared so that you can have a partnership that you can really move on quickly. I find that if you don't have those three main pillars to focus on and it doesn't make sense, it normally doesn't go anywhere.

[00:28:09]But that doesn't mean it will never happen in the entire, you know, era of your partner program existing. So that can always be revisited later. 

[00:28:18] Fabian: [00:28:18] So, I mean, all of those things can change, right? Like your partner's product changes your product change. And all of a sudden there is a joint value story that is compelling or they pivot and then move from sort of commercial to enterprise.

[00:28:31] And all of a sudden, maybe, maybe there is an ICP match or, you know, detain changes and, and the new one is a much more enthusiastic. Like there's always opportunity. I think you know, and the same thing can happen on both sides. So as businesses grow and change there may be opportunities to partner in the future, but I think.

[00:28:49] The base, the base approach is to look at, do we have the, the ideal set of factors foreign for an ideal partnership today? And if so, let's go really hot for the small set where we are able to provide reciprocal value. 

[00:29:04] Carina: [00:29:04] Yes. Yeah. I completely agree echoing that all day long. So I have one last question for you here, and it's really vague.

[00:29:13]But you obviously, you know, you've had a lot of experience in growing out different partner programs, various ones as well. If you could just share some words of wisdom to those that are looking to do the same are kind of stuck in a place that they don't want to be. Where would you tell them to put their focus?

[00:29:32] And what other words of wisdom would you share with 

[00:29:34] Fabian: [00:29:34] them? Yeah, so I think if this stuck in a place where they don't want to be what, where I would tell them to focus is, is figure out like what, and what is the, what is the place? What is the problem? Maybe going back to go back to step, go back to sort of ground zero and step one and just have that internal alignment.

[00:29:55] Your internal stakeholders, make sure that you're aligned. Your strategy is aligned with your product and revenue teams. You know, once you've got once, once you know that your approach works, the product works in my thing. What's the sales. Then it's a matter of. Okay. Which of our customers, which , isn't it.

[00:30:15] If the current one's done, then, then maybe reevaluate where you should be 

[00:30:19] Carina: [00:30:19] focusing your efforts. I love that. Okay. Well, you guys all heard it here. Patients take it slow, really get a good understanding of what is the objective of your partner program? What are your customers want? What do they need, understand your ICP, make sure it is you know, similar to the partners you're looking at.

[00:30:39] Your joint value should be something that you can really just draft up easy and that other people understand and see the value in. And the enthusiasm definitely has to be there. You, you are going to want to work with partners that want to work with you as well. You do not want to be chasing them. Phoebe, and it was so great to have you on, I appreciate you sharing all of your experience with us and I know our listeners do as well.

[00:31:01] So thank you so much. I really appreciate it. .

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