Building Confidence and Conviction - Embed the Partner Ecosystems across your B2B SaaS Organization

Co-authored with Ty Lingley

Last week’s article, How to Talk to Your CEO about the Ecosystem, discusses bridging the gap for Partner Leaders to confidently have The Talk with their CEO, C-Suite, and functional org VPs. The article is a guide on how to present the big-picture ecosystem opportunity, showing where you are and the steps you need to accelerate, and mostly evangelizes the importance of becoming an Ecosystem Business. You might enjoy this read.

After attending a pretty inspiring Ecosystem Week 2022 (kudos to PartnerHacker and PartnerStack for last week’s event) I realized that most partnership leaders lack confidence, and therefore conviction, to drive organizational change. Now, this may come off as a put down, but here me out on this because our intent is to inspire you.

For those of us who have tried to convince a reluctant C-Suite member of the business value of investing in partners, you know that you need a lot of confidence and conviction to fight the good fight. This is not just a challenge of convincing, but of changing processes and cultures in organizations that think GTM is marketing and selling directly to ICPs.

To help us out, I decided to ask my friend, Ty Lingley, who has driven this kind of business, process and culture change in SaaS startups to the enterprise, and now with Microsoft Viva. Let’s answer a few questions that might help all of us build our confidence and conviction.

Ty, thank you for helping us to advance the cause. I have three questions for you:

Question 1: How should Partner Professionals go about building the confidence and conviction to drive Partner Ecosystem alignment and culture change in their organizations?

Answer: Short answer - it’s a process and you have to earn the ability to enact change.

I break it down by these key components:

Understand your business inside and out. Partner Professionals are intrapreneurs, building partner business within a business. In order to do that effectively, you need to intimately know what drives the mothership and how it makes sense for partnerships to plug in (conversely, your product/vertical/ICP may not support a partner motion!) Partnerships touch most aspects of a SaaS company and act as an extension to many departments; do you know what matters most to these departments and how they operate against that?

Earn credibility, then trust. Credibility comes with developing relationships and demonstrating that you understand how the business operates and specifically how partnerships contribute to the goals of the company and each department. In any new position, after a lot of conversation with partners and internal teammates, I like to develop a partner strategy that clearly articulates this in detail. I have the exec team sign off on the strategy and then I roadshow it around the company at town halls, team meetings, and hold office hours.

Have a strong POV, loosely held. Demonstrate confidence in your strategy as you represent partnerships, but remain flexible enough to iterate as you get new information. People like to collaborate with those they trust while feeling heard. Good signs that you’re tracking? Comments and collaboration in your strat doc. Building, learning, socializing in public (ex. Slack channels). Building key alliances with key stakeholders and sharing goals.

Arm yourself with data. Having the right data to demonstrate both business opportunity and success is vital. Partner Professionals need to be the de facto “Partners Ops” if it doesn’t exist. Partner Professionals need to know how to account map and how that data should flow through internally. Partner Professionals need to get in front of the partner data conversation and drive it in context of the broader business outcomes outlined in your strategy.

Have ongoing conversations with your CEO. Do they have confidence and conviction in the partner ecosystem motion? Do they understand it? Do they support it? If you can’t get your CEO onboard, that’s a problem. A true #gotoecosystem approach needs to be adopted by the CEO and part of your job is having hard conversations that uncover whether or not that will be the case.

Question 2: CEOs and the C-Suite want to see the hard ROI, and if you don't have that yet for your Partner Ecosystem, how should Partner Professionals lead the conversation?

Answer: Full stop, if a Partner Ecosystem is just beginning, it will need at least 12-18 months to bear fruit.

At this stage, the c-suite needs to understand that a Partner Ecosystem is an opportunistic investment. How do you lead that conversation? With a good business case supported by data and the leaders that represent the parts of the business that will benefit from the Partner Ecosystem: sales, marketing, and customer success.

Account mapping will enable you to roughly size up potential customer quality and potential revenue by looking at overlapping prospects, open opportunities, and shared customers. Outlining the Partner Ecosystem journey with a supporting map like the GTE Maturity Model that you explained in your SaaS Connect Keynote will help everyone understand the steps in the process. And providing any preliminary data on success indicators like integration requests, partners impact on LTV, close rates, deal sizes helps others see how the Partner Ecosystem will help them hit their goals.

Question 3: Focusing and proving value through Partner Ecosystem pilots with a small number of tech partners is so key, but what if leadership wants to stretch Partner Professionals all over the place? How can we say NO to the distractions so that we can say yes to the prioritized actions?

Answer: This is a tricky one because if this is happening, it’s likely a structural issue that extends beyond partnerships.

Good strategy and correlating execution need a systematic way to achieve alignment, transparency, and focus; a methodology like OKRs supports this. OKRs shine a spotlight on the things that matter most in a given period of time (like a small PE pilot) as opposed to your question which suggests leadership wants to use a floodlight to explore multiple partnership opportunities that might not be in scope - if everything is in focus, nothing is in focus. There has to be established rules of engagement for how an organization executes against strategy, otherwise it could be a “dog chasing its tail” environment.

A good Partner Professional includes their annual and first quarter’s OKRs in their strategy doc (which falls out of the company OKRs and gets signed off by the exec team) which clearly articulates what’s in scope and what is not for the period of time.

Thank you, Ty, for this insightful guidance. Now Partner Professionals have some calls to action to build confidence and conviction to drive the conversations, plan creation, and execution needed to mature their partner programs. Remember it's all about getting to that hard ROI. When we GoToEcosystem together, we win together.

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