A successful partner ecosystem requires an extension of your company team culture – that’s not an easy thing to do, but it will drive success.
CaptionHub has built a successful ecosystem that has delivered 50% YoY growth and delivers over half of its revenue. The success of that largely lies in us considering the teams of our partners as an extension of our own.
That means building very close relationships to drive success with sales teams, marketing teams, and development teams – all the way to the top. Building, extending, and joining two or more separate cultures takes attention, trust, time, and effort. This article will touch on some of the key success factors and drivers we have seen in the last seven years and also some of the risks we’ve identified along the way.
Having built an ecosystem-led go-to-market model from the ground up - we’re acutely aware that the success of any partnership is enabled by considering our partner teams an extension of our own. At times that has felt like anything but scalable, but it can be extremely effective: although it requires as much effort as building out one’s own culture, the results are worth it.
Ultimately when we’re building those relationships and processes, we pay as close attention as we do to our internal processes, if not more. This is, after all, about us extending and joining two or more separate cultures.
Extending your sales team and culture is not an easy thing to do – it’s far from easy building a strong internal culture! So, I’m going to say from the outset here that there are no shortcuts or hacks to making this happen overnight or with any guarantee at all.
What I will describe here and what I hope is helpful are the repeated behaviors and attributes – specifically in extending team culture – that have been key in the success of our partnership model and, ultimately, the driver of significant revenue growth.
What will probably also strike you as you read through this is how obvious it all is.
As I’ve discovered and described here, there is no hidden trick or magic; what I hope to get across is that perseverance can and does pay.
What we’re not talking about here are all factors underpinning a successful partnership. For instance, the must-haves we’d expect to be in place outside of a performant joint culture are a rock-solid product and joint product value proposition. But what I’m focusing our attention on here, very specifically, is the human element: inter-team culture.
Early and then sustained buy-in at every level
In every key partnership, there has been a moment early on (and our data shows the earlier, the better) where we have sought and won executive sponsorship: we’ve built early and rapid trust. That’s typically CEO or CRO level, and once that’s in play, it must be sustained in any way possible. Invites to lunches and dinners, demonstrating early success, moving mountains to give your partner a win.
In one particular partner, we cycled through three CEOs and had to start the process each time afresh. That has just been an essential part of the whole thing. If you can find a clear way into the sponsor through a mutual connection, all the better.
The first partner CEO we reached through their VP of Sales, who had been my VP of Sales in a previous business. They went way back, we went way back, and so there was trust there to immediately step things up.
When that’s not available, you’d be surprised at how effective a c-suite to c-suite call can be: picking up the phone and making the call, with adequate research and focus, can and does make the difference between a partnership that doesn’t have c-level visibility and buy-in to one that does will often be the game changer.
Listen to their challenges, feel out how you can help, and gauge how far you can go in inserting your team and your process into their team and process. You want your executive sponsor to be enabling – shoulder to shoulder with you – a hugely collaborative culture.
Over communicate, be transparent, and work hard
This is really the leading from the front piece. No job is too small for your senior partnership team. CROs scheduling webinars? You got it. CMOs writing partner decks to make things happen tomorrow and not next month? Done. Is your CFO or CEO amending pricing to ensure it fits with your partner model for next week’s partner sales kick-off? Let’s go.
This is the type of action that will make your partnership culture a success. Not only are you driving action and activity, your partner understands that you’re in it to win it and that you’re not afraid of the hard work.
As with your internal team, that attitude will be infectious. You then take that hard work and grit and repeat it at every opportunity.
Even when it feels like you’re repeating yourself and boring your audience, there’ll be people in the partner organization that will find out new things about the partnership. With one partner, a NASDAQ-listed leading video platform, we had their Head of EMEA Channel tell us that out of all their global partners, we were the most known entity within their organization.
We didn’t let size matter, we were a headcount of 6, and they were a headcount of over 1,000. He was, in his own words, continually intrigued at how we could become so well known and how we could continually bang our own drum so much.
And this isn’t over a year or two, this has been a sustained effort over 6 solid years. That last particular relationship only started to bear significant revenue by year four.
That drumbeat will look like continued sales enablement and training, co-marketing, and management buy-in. Persist, apply grit and do the hard work.
Create street-level rapport wherever you can
This is hugely important.
Outside of the day-to-day agenda-led Zoom calls, you need to get to know your Partner’s Regional Sales Managers, Account Managers, VP Sales, VP Marketing, Support team, Engineering team, partner clients, and so on. Their team is your team; make no mistake. So, where you can, socialize.
Be present at Thanksgiving or Christmas parties, ask for invites to SKOs, socialize and break bread. Take the teams out for regular lunches.
But remember, it’ll be your ability to pick up the phone to chase a sale or a webinar report that will deliver the incremental value that will determine overall success.
Share your values
Our team is proud of our attention to detail, perhaps to the outside world, boringly so. However, for us, that detail is the detail that matters both in the product and in our go-to-market.
We’re honest if we don’t know something, and we also work with a clear intent to get things done and to win. These are some of our key values, and yours might be the same, but they might be different.
Our partner needs to understand these so they know who we are and how we operate, how they can operate with us, and where we have shared mutual values (or equally where if we depart, we are clear about how we are different and tolerant of those differences in values).
Building effective inter-partner cultures is not a straightforward or linear path. CEOs and VPs leave. Your best partner AMs depart. Reseller frameworks need renegotiating. And when these downsides are in play, you have to be in there quickly and rebuild.
Having a strong underlying intercompany culture is the foundation of allowing you the capability to do that. Take care to build positive familiarity and relationships at all levels, supported by executive sponsorship based on trust and results, and you’ll have the foundations for a successful ecosystem strategy.
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