Building a Partnership Program That Works - with Donagh Kiernan

We recently welcomed a new partner to our PartnerHacker Education Hub. Tenego Academy works to help companies build partnership programs with intention from the ground up.

Aaron sat down with Tenego Academy's Founder & CEO, Donagh Kiernan, to dig in a little more.

This is the 6th article in a series focused on our Ed Hub partners, you can read the rest of the series here:

Check out Aaron's latest interview with Donagh Kiernan of Tenego Academy below:

What makes Tenego Academy different?

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[Partners] don't have a clear plan. They think they do sometimes, but they don't have a clear plan for building the partner program. What we've developed over the years was be[ing] able to help them at different stages of the journey. - Donagh Kiernan

When Donagh founded Tenego Academy, he wanted to create something to help people build programs that worked for their businesses. He's been at it for almost 13 years now, and he's learned that it's not a one-size fits all process.

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There are many companies out there that can teach you how to operate a partner program. But there are very few who can train people on how to build one. - Donagh Kiernan

What are the biggest mistakes people make in building their partnership programs?

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Many of the teams in the early stages of the partner programs copy the larger, the more the global leaders in partner projects. Think of Microsoft, the articles, and so on, and they're taking small parts of what they're doing and assume is going to work for them without understanding the greater context. - Donagh Kiernan

The team at Tenego is focused on providing in-depth partner training to anyone involved in the partnership program and process. This allows for programs to be curated uniquely for every business they work with to create beneficial relationships.  Along with allowing the individuals involved in the partnership programs to learn and grow alongside each other.

The worst thing that can happen is that people follow the textbook when they should be more practical about it. - Donagh Kiernan

What makes a great partner program?

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There's so much detail that it's, it's relevant to their particular business and must be aligned to their particular business and how they want to operate as opposed to copying somebody else. - Donagh Kiernan

Donagh notes that great partner programs are made up of finding the right partner, honing on your partner proposition, and, lastly, creating great partner enablement.

What does partner enablement really look like?

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If your partners out there are dependent on your product, you should be focused on helping them build their business, not just sell your product. - Donagh Kiernan

The term, "partner enablement" is bantered about on LinkedIn, but what does it actually mean? Donagh explains below

Donagh Kiernan talks about what partner enablement REALLY looks like.

Full Interview:

Aaron Olson talks with Donagh Kiernan about Tenego Academy

Full transcript:

Aaron Olson  00:01
Hi everyone, this is Aaron from partner hacker, and today I am with Donagh Kiernan. Donagh runs the program over at Tenego Academy, which is one of our newest member partners of the education hub that we have at partner hacker.com. So Donagh, thanks so much for coming on the call with me.

Donagh Kiernan  00:19
Thanks, Aaron. Good to be here.

Aaron Olson  00:21
Yeah, so I wanted to get you on the call to talk a little bit more about Tenego Academy and what it can offer to people who follow partner hacker. Can you tell me a little bit about why you started Tenego Academy?

Donagh Kiernan  00:33
Well, in Tenego, we've been delivering channel development partner recruitment services for about 12-13 years now. And in that, you get involved with the companies and help them to build their programs. So we developed methodologies over the year to help these companies, and what we developed is a program for companies to start and grow their partner programs. So the companies we deal with could be companies of 5 million revenues to could, 50 million raised 100 million revenues, rarely bigger than that. And the companies that say, typically have established themselves in a direct sales market. And maybe they have started in working with partners, but they don't have a clear plan, they think they do sometimes, but they don't have a clear plan for building the partner program. And what we've developed over the years was be able to help them at different stages of the journey, depending on how well they are getting on.

Aaron Olson  01:34
Okay, okay. As you've helped some of these programs get their partnership program going and their channel program going, what are some of the biggest mistakes that you've seen?

Donagh Kiernan  01:45
The first one is people assume it's easy. Okay, that's a big one. I think our biggest challenge is people don't know what they don't know. You know, and they, I think at the start of that is they get into this, they spend a lot of time spent a lot of money dealing with the wrong partners. And related to that, a typical one is going to the biggest potential partners in the market. So the essentials of this world, and they think it's all about getting in the door. So that's probably the biggest mistake I've seen.

Aaron Olson  02:19
If someone is someone in a partner program or working at a company, and they're new partnerships, would this be the type of course that they would be interested in?

Donagh Kiernan  02:29
So typically, companies are typically people we deal with? So the answer to that is yes. And the difference between training people how to operate a partner program like partner management training, we help through tech leaders, sales leaders, channel leaders on the guidance in how to build the program from the very start and end to work with the partnering team and the various activities in deciding what type of partner to be dealing with deciding on what enablement, how to find them, and every detail on how to start and build on that journey. So I think one thing was pointed out to us back a few years ago, on our own journey, was, say, there are many companies out there who can train and know how to operate a partner program. But there's very few who can train people on how to build on.

Aaron Olson  03:19
Okay, okay. And what are the big differences between building versus, versus just training as a single individual, you know, building the entire program,

Donagh Kiernan  03:29
Well, in more established partner programs that have got much experience and much validation on the partner types and the partner proposition. And how to enable these partners and success partners have was when a program is starting at early stages, that is unproven. And many of the teams in the early stages of the partner programs, that copy the larger, the more the global leaders in partner projects. Think of Microsoft, the articles, and so on, and they're taking small parts of what they're doing and assume is going to work for them without understanding the greater context. There's so much detail that it's, it's relevant to their particular business and must be aligned to their particular business and how they want to operate as opposed to copying somebody else.

Aaron Olson  04:23
Yeah, yeah. So it's more it sounds like it's more like a systematic, holistic approach that you're taking, where you're really trying to build a program from the ground up.

Donagh Kiernan  04:31
Yeah. Okay. I mean, the core aspects is, are you dealing with the right type of partner so that they the partner profiles and the partner fit the alignment within the partner's business, and then the partner proposition back into those partners and understanding what that means it's more than revenue. It's all you can do for the partner. And the third key pillar is partner enablement. Now, those three areas are very much overlap overlaps. Okay, Remember this party or offer? Your proposition has only makes sense to the right partners. So but then your whole program is built around those clear aspects.

Aaron Olson  05:09
Okay. You know, I hear partner enablement thrown around a lot in articles and on LinkedIn. Yeah. What does that actually mean in practice to enable your partners?

Donagh Kiernan  05:19
What from the very start it is in the onboarding? How do you take the enthusiasm that was in that initial engagement to get them started and start engaging their particular customers and to help them do that? And depending on what you expect from the partners is to sort of get us in the door, and we'll help you sell together, or we want to train you how to sell, or we want to train you how to sell, deliver and support. And it's, that's the sort of the customer journey, part of it, how do you operationalize their business with your product, and it has to fit into everything else their business is doing. So you start off with the first part was just getting in the door we had with our business. And I believe in it sort of just in time, approach lean approach to these things, we're going to help you get started. Now, the partner has to be active enough that remember to do all these things. If only do one or two deals a year, there's probably no sense and train them how they how technical the delivery is going to be. No, so if they're doing one or two a month, then that's good. So the other part of enablement is go to market, the whole marketing supports, they can roll in. And take a look at we looked at the global leaders, partner programs, and some of the large companies have 21 different elements to the partner proposition. Right? So if you take some of the larger the global leaders, the Microsoft, the articles, the SAPs, and so on, right, kind of at the top end, they're really helping the partner to grow their business on the back of their platform and their brand. You know, so if your partners out there are dependent on your product, you should be focused on helping them build their business, not just sell your product.

Aaron Olson  07:04
Yeah, yeah. That makes more sense. I like that approach. Now, you also, as part of your program, I believe you have regular meetups. Can you tell me a little bit more about what those are?

Donagh Kiernan  07:17
So I think our approach has always been very much a coaching and say in I always think the sort of best practice exists because every business is the same. But expertise exists because every business is different. So how do you take sort of the cookie cutter and what's good for everybody and really help them apply it help them make sense of what the best practices to their particular application or their particular need? Because the worst thing, that can happen, the people are following textbook when they should be much more practical about it. You know, so and then maybe they have to go on baby steps and maybe realize they are pushing too fast, too far without validating or proving a certain point on the journey. And so you'll find this said, peers learn better from each other. People can get frustrated with the learning journey if it's online; online materials regularly don't just people don't complete. So having that extra layer of support along the way helps a lot.

Aaron Olson  08:24
Yeah, yeah. Is there a you know, I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to come and talk with me a bit about your course. Is there anything that I haven't asked that you think people should know before they think about enrolling in Tenego Academy?

Donagh Kiernan  08:39
Yeah, so you think about the different responsibilities in a partner program. So if it was a tech CEO, has some vision in mind what the program should be, but they don't know how to operate a program. I've never done it before. So they should have one level of learning. And the sales leader may be similar, with a level of learning of how to work with partners, and then the channel leader, another level of learning. But then the people we're going to build the program under the channel leader if you like, or the partner operations team, they have to go deep and how this is done while meeting the needs of the sales leaders. So there are different levels of training that are gonna be needed, and we help the different levels in what they do.

Aaron Olson  09:18
Okay, well, Donagh, I sure appreciate you taking the time out of your day. Thanks so much for coming on the call.

Donagh Kiernan  09:24
Very good. Thank you very much. Take care

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