036 - Introducing Michele Albanese - Why You Need a "Partner Programs Manager"

What is up PartnerUp!

On today's episode we're bringing back the duo format more dynamic than ever with the addition of Michele Albanese to the show. Lettts go!

Today we discuss what the role of a "Partner Programs Manager" is and why you absolutely need one, now!

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Jared Fuller  00:00
So random What is up, partner up? We are back. And I said, we said we it's not just me. And I said, we because I mentioned that there's going to be some new stuff coming. So if you didn't catch the last two episodes, a couple episodes, I was flying solo. But the guests definitely carried the show we had Bobby Napal Tonia, and then Avnish, the high who were just incredible. a cut above in terms of partnership leaders that that I know and that I've talked to, and those were just incredible episodes, so go check them out if you haven't. But I said we because we are bringing, we're almost there in the transition to kind of like the next phase of the show. So this episode, and kind of the subsequent ones, I'm joined by my new co host and colleague of the past three and a half years, Michelle Alba knees,

Michele Albanese  00:48
that's what's going on? What's up partner up? Yes, yes.

Jared Fuller  00:54
So Michelle is here. And we have like the perfect topic, because Michelle is the programs manager for partnerships at Drift. And she was actually the first person in partnerships at drift. So we worked together a long time. And yeah, Michelle, your purview is kind of like changed and moved around. It's in various parts of partnership. But I feel like, you know, this transition that we've been on, would be a great topic for people to align to around, you know, why do you need a Programs Manager, you know, kind of the scale? And what, why we came to that conclusion and some of the conversations you started to have with, you know, the wider community is, I think a topic that a lot of people would be interested in, is this introductory and very fitting episode before we bring on, you know, the next guest, which is a big one, like, we got you huge announcement. And then the next guest we got we got Dave from impact, right?

Michele Albanese  01:46
Yep. Yep. Next week,

Jared Fuller  01:48
we got him as CEO of Impact calm, I think it's the biggest partner software company around there, I think is an IPO soon Dave's about to release a book on partnerships, the book, we've all been waiting

Michele Albanese  02:00
about this. I'm excited to hear from him, so to speak. Good.

Jared Fuller  02:04
Absolutely. So today's kind of topics aligning around this program managers position. And I'd love to get your take Michelle, on why we felt we needed to make the budgetary push for it and why you were excited to hop into this role versus, you know, just touching channel versus looking at the wider remit of ISV, you know, Alliance, kind of like the entire park partner ecosystem against the different parts of our business.

Michele Albanese  02:26
Yeah, I think this role is very unique, it took me a while to understand why it's so important. So my experience in partnerships is mainly been on the channel side of things. So drift has kind of three tiers, or three different facets of partnerships, we have our alliances, we have our ISP tech partnerships. And then we have our channel. And I've always been on the channel side of things working specifically, with our solutions partners post sale, my backgrounds and customer success. So that's always where I've spent my time. But as the program has grown and drift is grown, we found this need to actually have somebody doing the cross collaboration between departments. What happens a lot in partnerships is you can feel really siloed and not so integrated in No, no way. It grows on its own and then eventually needs to integrate with the rest of the business. So as we've been keeping up with drips, hypergrowth, we've had to change our program, Jared, you know, we've we've seen every sort of phase of what this thing has gone through and is still going through. So being aligned cross departmentally is super important. And why we decided that this role is going to be the next, the next thing that the team needs. So I'm excited to dive in. And specifically, I'm excited. Jared mentioned this, I don't know if this is a secret. But this is the fun side of partnerships. In his opinion, this is where the good stuff happens with tech and ISV partners and alliances. So I'm excited to learn and get exposed to you know, a whole other side of partner ecosystems, and to learn from the people and partner up. So I'm excited.

Jared Fuller  03:57
Yeah. And I think that's that's been one of my biggest lessons in kind of like starting the show and hosting it over 35 plus episodes now. Yeah, I think we're all students have a, I don't want to say a department or even a, I guess a motion that was really predominant in the technology space in the early days, kind of emanating out of telecom. And like these big you know, big PBX systems, like, you know, hardware like to do anything technology related their channel was everything right, partnerships was everything. And then the explosion of SAS over the past, you know, 1015 years. Like we've grown up in a world from a, you know, b2b kind of SAS perspective where partnerships was not a part of it. Yep. And now we're seeing a resurgence, so to speak, of it becoming critical to where the the big winners right the outsized market category defining folks, they don't just have direct relationships. They really have a pulse on the market in a wider ecosystem. And as you grow what you what you start to realize is, I think, Michelle, we were using this a lot in our narratives to like align the business, because I feel like that's the first step. The first step is making sure the business understands that, you know, what is this Programs Manager? What are they supposed to be doing? Like? Yeah, this is a transition from a partner team, to a partner program. Yep. And programs are what I mean, they're their projects, their operations, their their things that need to continually run engines, if you will. We know a LEUs isn't listening to this. But if you were to like that, that phrase is that you realize really quickly, and I think I've said this to you multiple times, that I kind of want to treat our partner programs like a product manager, yes. Right. Yeah, that's treating everyone as a stakeholder and being able to prioritize what do we need to ship in terms of motion, Cadence, rituals, projects? For our partners? Yeah, I look, I'd love to hear how you think about that from, you know, coming into a function like this.

Michele Albanese  06:02
I think positioning it as a product product manager is probably the best way to put it right, you think about all the different cadences and systems they have in place to make product, right? It should be thought about in a similar way, because there's so many moving pieces, and you can ship things. Jared, you and I have spent the last three years just shipping shipping shipping constantly. But what we fail to do is continue to keep those engines running in specific areas and like how do we evolve them over time, as the business is changing over time. So I think this, it's super important to have those systems in place so that the engines don't break. And we don't get sort of fallen to the wayside of what's actually going on in partnerships. The way I like to describe it is that, you know, we're going from a, like you said, a partner team, but also we're going from a non partner ecosystem business to a partner ecosystem business, and getting the whole business aligned to that, versus just one team getting aligned to it. So I think it's, it's, it's a crucial role. It's, it'll be important and we could fail without it. If you don't have a good program manager in place.

Jared Fuller  07:05
And, you know, looking back, I feel like you know, you need to understand where you're at. There's this, there's this concept I've been toying with in terms of like a, you know, an ecosystem or partnership maturity model that there's some there's a handful of folks out there like Jay McBain or Authentische, that have wanted to riff on this concept that you can really start to evaluate, you know, where are you at in your maturity curve? Yep. Where this component of consistent engines cross departmental, like accountability and collaboration, you know, are baked in is that if you have that ecosystem, you know, maturity model to kind of follow, you know, just zoom out think of it that way. But you also need to think of it in terms of like ecosystem like company fit. So we have like product market fit, like market product fit. Some companies really shouldn't be making investments in partnerships at an early stage. You know, Jay McBain made that point on one of our most popular episodes. He said, like, look, this is a horrible analogy, but McDonald's, McDonald's perfected the kitchen where the fry machine was where the Yeah, Coke machine, what burgers were made, like, they get it all set up. And then they go to franchise, right. And then they're branching out into you're giving that model to other people. And I've heard, you know, stories of companies as early as 12 employees going all in or I mean, even earlier than that, Michelle, like one of our mentors and role models. Pika buta? Yeah, right. Yeah. Data Box was 100%. Channel driven from what the first four or five employees? Yeah. Yeah. And I think all of the operations and projects and programs there were what I mean, they were partnerships focused integrations. Yeah, agencies, everything from the beginning. So you have to think like, do we have that fit? And do we have that buy in at the executive level? And if you're right there, this role becomes essential immediately, because without it, you hit Escape Velocity. Like, I mean, just think about our sales and customer success teams. Yep. Like if you hadn't moved into this position, we have a new chief customer officer, new VP of Customer Success, new VP of services, how the heck would what our channel account managers and ISV people interface with a multi 100 person Customer Success organization? Yeah,

Michele Albanese  09:17
I mean, the business moves so fast. The only way you're gonna be able to keep up with it is if you have somebody at the top actually seeing everything at a zoomed out view because you can get so lost in the day to day actions of the work you're doing. So yeah, it's vital in my opinion, especially when you're working at a company moving so quickly.

Jared Fuller  09:37
No doubt no doubt. I mean, we got a lightning bolt in our name. We were definitely not going to turn this into like a drip focus podcast. It's just more US riffing. I think this um, you know, beginner's mindset and having a culture of curiosity is something that's so important that I think this role forces upon other departments like It's been amazing to me over the past year. I mean, really, like a year ago, there wasn't much by way of I felt like partner community, there's been some great companies that have started and really come started to come into their own, like crossbeam that, you know, they kind of sponsored the first 10 episodes, we've had Bob Moore, the CEO on the podcast, they're producing some great content, if you're not following the crossbeam blog blog, and what Sean bland is doing, and the team over there, it's great. I mean, it's phenomenal content, there's the cloud software Association, boom, I get that every time I get to do at the beginning, and I get the shout out in throughout the cloud software association. So here's my shameless plug, too. So if you're not a member, go check it out. Cloud Software Association, 4000, plus partnerships professionals, a great slack group and Thursday. So the 21st, I believe, let me double check the calendar, the 21st at 1pm, Eastern Time, 10am. Pacific time, I am giving a master class, which I'm super excited about. So for members of the cloud software Association, that is titled I'm gonna get the title, right, how to secure alliances with market leaders at at a startup. And kind of giving some of the secret sauce behind how I've landed partnerships with no relationship with like Panda doc to HubSpot, and that leading to our series B investment, Microsoft, how we did it with Marketo and drifted Adobe. So there's my cloud software Association. But the the the point being, is that no matter how curious we get as a community, we have to recognize that, you know, our counterparts leading customer success and sales and product, they don't have that same curiosity. And it's not because they don't care. They just don't know. Yep. And I feel like a program management function allows us and kind of going back to like, what are the key cornerstones of program management? We're kind of building out, you know, the, the, the program management playbook, if you will, is like the first step Michelle, that maybe we could talk about is the cadences and rituals, right? Yeah. Like, there has to be some consistency in a forcing function, because it just can't be projects in a spreadsheet or project management system. It has to be something a little bit deeper. Let's talk a little bit about that. How you think about approaching rituals and cadences?

Michele Albanese  12:30
Yeah, I'd say we had a really good, we had really good rituals and cadences within our own team. Right. To start off, we had, you know, how we were sharing what we were working on, we had weekly meetings, we had email updates, things like that. But once again, silo to the partner team, right? So how do we take that and bring that at scale, and work our way into the other departments? So for example, our marketing team is something that we're getting a lot closer to, we'll start a new cadence with them, we'll start a new intake, how do we actually get on the radar for that marketing team, given their changes in their size at this point? So

Jared Fuller  13:04
let's, let's pause there and like even go one layer deeper. So for example, like one thing that you don't realize maybe being in partnerships is that if you're not completely aligned, like you might be tangentially aligned. Yeah. And we were like, how much partner marketing happened organically? I would say quite a bit, right. But you don't realize that marketing campaign planning happens a month before the quarter starts, right? We were on a different schedule for our plans, and they weren't necessarily aligned to be strategic. Right. So now that cadence is okay, there is a partner marketing, you know, one month before the quarter starts meeting where they're sharing their campaign initiatives for the quarter, and every single major pillar initiative has to have a partner initiative.

Michele Albanese  13:45
Yeah, I would say that was that was a big learning, right? I think we were waiting. And we were saying, Hey, we have partners at the ready to talk about topics A, B, and C, and we would bring them to marketing. And they would say, you know, that's not our focus. Now, we're kind of flipping it on its head and saying, Hey, marketing, what are your campaigns? What are the topics you're going to be focused on within the quarter? And then how do we, as a partner team, go out and find the right partner fits for each of those specific topics? And that's going to be more welcomed by your marketing team? Because they're thinking well, okay, it integrates exactly the offers that we're going to have for this specific topic, why wouldn't I use a partner to help out there have a different voice, not it all coming from the company itself. So I'm excited for the way that we've kind of flipped it on its head are getting plugged into that specific motion. And that becomes a new ritual and a new cadence right, now that they know that that, you know, this new role exists and they can coordinate through me, quarterly planning partner would now be a new line item that we can rely on and make sure that we're getting integrated into the larger marketing efforts. So that's a that's a great example. And Jared, what I would say too, is, you know, we're talking about program management, you're talking about those core pillars. I think it's it's interesting how you and I even came to the concept of this role and If other people are thinking about, hey, this might be something that we're ready for, I'm not quite sure yet. As far as I would love to hear your opinion, like why you felt now was the right time for this role. And then what were some of the other like key things, you wanted to make sure we're in that job description of, hey, this is what this role should entail. And this is the type of person that should fit this role.

Jared Fuller  15:24
Going back to the concept of, I'm going to have to work on this content with someone like an ecosystem or partnerships maturity model. And like, can we

Michele Albanese  15:33
build a maturity model before you can do it again, right.

Jared Fuller  15:39
The way that I thought about it was, whenever we had the core pillars of different motion spun up and like stood up is, as part of like a long term plan like that. When you when you're early stage, and you have a plan, and you're trying to follow that plan 90% of its garbage, right, like a plan is a plan in an early stage hypergrowth SaaS company, or even a division of like a bigger company that's kind of treated as its own independent business unit. The results need to be weekly. Like you're changing things so quick that doing like a year to year plan, doesn't not only does it not have value, you're setting yourself up for failure. Absolutely, we got to a point where we started to I, you know, into the different phases of revenue and growth, where we needed to look longer term, and we needed to make sure that okay, each department within partnerships, so channel, so agency solutions, partners, you know, s eyes, alliances, which are, you know, the Sumos, the industry leaders, and then more like tech platforms, so ISVs you know, we have these functions kind of spun up and now we're like a what a 14 person, you know, BD team. And we have these three buckets. And when do you know it's time is whenever each each kind of like function within partnerships, each of those three buckets have a formative leader, and they need to be able to operate across all four departments. So, you know, marketing, product sales and customer success. Yeah, you need that interface between all four and this is why it's so critical. Is that nine times out of 10. I've talked to, I've talked to as many partnership leaders, as anyone in b2b SaaS, I think I can geek out on this way too much is your, your ICS, your individual contributors? They have a quota that's directly related to revenue. And that's not to say that's not the goal. Of course, that's the goal. Why else like we pay money, right? Because we make money. Yeah. But product, like how was it individual contributor going to interface with product and think more strategically? Like I'm thinking that way? I mean, you've seen me jump in with like our Chief Product officers and chief technology officers and even ship innovative things like on the main stage of Adobe Summit, conversational ABM, that was a partner generated idea that generated tons of enterprise value, which individual contributor would have drove that? None of them no, like, you can't do it. And then we think about, you know, sales, there's typically alignment there. But there's a lot of like, post sale, distrust as partner doesn't know what they're doing. Right, and like a forcing function. And then there's a lot of, you know, marketing, hey, we just had this great win. But how are we translating that into promotional materials? Or my favorite phrase in the past six months is FOMO. Right? How do you create FOMO? Yeah, how do you make your other partners jealous and make your partners famous, which makes other partners want to lean in? So I think at the point at which you realize that you need to have to be a part of every other business is, is when that starts to come together. So we we built this, you know, ecosystem plan and end of q1? Yep. We said, Hey, here's what the next year and a half kind of, you know, year, two years look, look looks like. And there was a bunch of rolls in there. And one of the foundational roles was this one. And that's, you know, it's kind of like, I think that's the first time that I've really zoomed out that far, and like executed quarter over quarter at putting this into place. And if we hadn't had that on, I think we'd be, we already feel like we're behind all the time, every partnerships person, we would have been way off. So I think it's the point at which you realize you have multiple partner functions, your individual contributors can no longer impact the business just through, you know, revenue, sourcing or influencing. And you need to start to think across the entire, you know, business, and it's actually funny, Michelle, I was talking to a guest that we're going to have on Katrina from live ramp today and like a pre interview We've kind of just developed a really, I was trying to I was trying to recruit her over to drift a while back. And she said no, like, so she's like, No, I'm sticking with LiveRamp. I got a great thing going on. But one of the things that she was talking about, and I think a topic that we'll get into is corporate strategy. And like, to me, so people I know that own a program management position, like Lindsey over at Adobe, you know, it's not just program management, it's program management and strategy, right? And why because this, this is where I'm like, the most interested in why I believe that ecosystem and partnerships, the time is now is that we're coming up to a point where there's 10,000, SaaS applications, yeah, where everyone's over inundated by choice, and that a lot of business decisions cannot be made simply from the perspective of how do I reach my customer? But what is happening in the market? Mm hmm. And you don't do that by simply looking at it through the lens of just how do i source pipeline? Like your go to market? Like I've said on this show before? A great product never beats great, go to market? Mm hmm. Great go to market never beats great ecosystem. Yep. And then I would even say the great ecosystem is subservient to, let's say, a market strategy, like there's a, if the market has shifted in an entirely different direction, then your ecosystem strategy might have to change as well. Yep. And most people aren't there yet. I mean, there's few companies that really have this type of function and role. And I think aligning to your C suite, the thing that I'm most excited about Michelle is like, we start to get we, we've had opinions about market strategy before. But now that we have the foundation for program management, we can start to make more strategic bets. Because we're interfacing with every part of the department, every department individually. So like it, there's this inflection point where the company actually needs market strategy. And your ecosystem team is the best place to gather that information, because they're thinking about the relationships in market where the market is not just the direct relationships with the customer.

Michele Albanese  22:15
Yeah, yeah. Thinking about where your partners are playing where your solutions partners are finding value with their customers, how do you follow with all those learnings to make your strategic Best Bets as a company? Totally agree, I think it's great.

Jared Fuller  22:27
It's, it's exciting. It's the stuff that

Michele Albanese  22:31
exciting partnerships is all about just making things that don't exist, and just trying it out and learning from each other. To your point earlier, Jared, like, when I was going to be in the My first partner role, there was no resources out there. I remember I asked my CEO, David cancel, hey, where should I learn? Like, where can i Is there any books, guys a curious learning machine, he's like, I'm not sure. Here's a couple blog posts from HubSpot, that's been doing it, I can introduce you to Pete Kabuto. Um, but to your point that the learning opportunity is is better than ever, I think everybody's so willing to share, because no one's been bigger. Everybody's trying to figure it out, right. And we're all kind of figuring it out together within within our own respective organizations. So the the partner program role, like you said, is a newer role. But I think there's an absolute massive learning opportunity for how we actually make that role work and make it better for everybody. So

Jared Fuller  23:27
I think, aligned to the future of your business, I think a lot of companies don't see the roadmap of where partnerships moves from, what say, a lever? Or is it starts as the bet, yeah.

Michele Albanese  23:45
Let's just see if this thing even works. Let's just like, put it out there and see if people buy or want to work through partners, and you're just kind of like, okay, it's an experiment, if you will,

Jared Fuller  23:56
right. It's an experiment. It's a it's a bet. Yeah. And then perhaps it becomes a lever. And then at some point, whether or not you want to admit it, it has to become a strategic imperative. Yep. Right, where you're not going to win beyond your another book that I nonstop reference. If you haven't caught the reference yet go buy the damn book is crossing the chasm. So senior shout out, shout out from the CSA for forcing that book on me. I think I glossed over a long time ago is, you know, going from your early adopters to the entrenched masses, is you need to have a perspective on the market that you don't already have relationships with right and your ecosystem. And like those players that might span across multiple verticals like a systems integrator that works with you know, the vertical that you work with, but they also have a new vertical for you, but it's kind of like their bread and butter. Yeah, like that. That strategic imperative forces the conversation to go okay, now we need to think about a vertical strategy that Vertical strategy is going to emanate from your partner strategy. Or at least it should,

Michele Albanese  25:04
it shouldn't. Right? Why would you just go to market with no understanding of what that vertical is looking forward needs? What's worked for them in the past? Why wouldn't you go through a partner that's tap that market? Or excuse me vertical? And understand that customer, right? Why would you take the long way? Go straight to the

Jared Fuller  25:21
right. It shows the amount of ego that we've built up. And I say this being guilty of being let go to market teams is that we think we can go directly to any customer with our emails and our ads, and then we're going to go win in that market, when there's relationships that already exist. I mean, cold email, SDR cold call versus your trusted advisor who's going to win in terms of like vendor selection, it's not even, it's not even a debate, right? But it's our job. And that's why kind of circling back to like, why this, why this role is so important, right, and how you might be able to bring your executive team, you know, escalate this to kind of like the board level in a more strategic part of the business, is we have to educate the C suite, we have to bring that to bear that look, this bet, you know, like whether we're in the experiment to lever stage or lever to strategic imperative, here's where it ends up. And it's the long game and the long game and compound interest is what generates you know, outsized returns. So if we can get ahead of that, and not just fumble into our next vertical write, try to, you know, throw throw a throw a line, a rope across the chasm from our early adopters to the next one, and actually build a big bridge. We can go when that next market faster and that's why this program management, having product aligned marketing, sales, customer success is so vital to any ecosystem business, that's, you know, worth their weight and salt in 2021. So, with that, we're gonna we're gonna do a quick episode on this one, we had to bring Michelle into the fold introduce the partner of community to her so tag her up on LinkedIn. Whenever you see this, share your favorite episode and Michelle, should we tease the next couple we got done so we mentioned Dave with impact. Then we got another one that I'm really excited about. Which I'm going to drop here which is we had Jay McBain on we're gonna have on the better half. Michelle McBain So can you imagine that household? Yeah,

Michele Albanese  27:25
we must be nonstop talk about partner ecosystems and the trends and what you're seeing out there. Think about that dinner table.

Jared Fuller  27:32
I know it's um, so Michelle is the Michelle McBain is the global head of a community and ecosystem at Cisco. So that's gonna be amazing conversation. So we're bringing in like the heat to partner up, we're going to be releasing some updates to kind of the brand that makes it a little bit more fun. And also some more, I'd say. I would say interesting, like long tail kind of content. So the format I'm still working on but be on the lookout for more content from partner up the the podcast format, just bigger and better. More guests. And also, maybe some things like some partner news, some newsletters, some media stuff that we've been toying around with. So always improving open to feedback. And if you're listening to us on your Spotify, Apple podcast, make sure you leave that review. If you're if you want to check us out on YouTube, that's actually growing pretty decent. Not too bad. Check us out on YouTube. You can see the new studio. Michelle and I might because we're both in the Tampa Bay area. We might try to do a couple in person. Yeah, absolutely. should

Michele Albanese  28:36
do that. Absolutely.

Jared Fuller  28:37
Definitely. We we screwed up in not doing it in Boston whenever we were there last time. But you can check us out on YouTube just partner up and you know, every episode is available at partner up podcast.com. So we will see you all next time partner up. Michelle.

Michele Albanese  28:55
Thank you Sure. Let's do it. Let's go

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