Don't Expect One Person to Handle all the Partnerships Roles

I love how the partnership movement is taking off!

I feel so lucky to be connected to so many great people. But there's a dark side to the explosion of partnership’s popularity. Our ears (and the ears of our executives) are perked up to the promises of partner sourced / influenced revenue.

And last month’s virtual event hosted by PartnerHacker and Partnerstack was a full hearted effort to help us all. BUT most executives are still likely saying “WTF is an ecosystem?”, pulling the trigger blindly, and hiring their first partnership leader.

The problem I see from this (and experienced 1st hand) is real.

As top VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz, sites like PartnerHacker, and partner tech blogs like Crossbeam and Reveal publish more and more compelling reason to “go to to ecosystem”,  more and more executives are praying to this new altar as a channel for hyper growth.

The first problem

The demand for experienced partnership leaders is greater than the supply.

You’d think this is a good thing. More demand than supply should raise wages. But the reality is new inexperienced people are being pulled into solo partnership roles and they are struggling to keep sane.

The second problem

There's nothing near-term hyper-growth about partnerships or ecosystems unless you're a well funded partnership-first company. Most companies are not.

Mix these two problems together and you get good people stumbling into the aspirational crosshairs of under-informed, under-involved, and overly-expectant executives.

They hire fast, underestimate the time and resources needed to build a partnership program, and inadvertently crush the soul of the poor person who signed up for the job (sorry to say, that was once me).

Heck, we all like the sexy sounding, “move fast and break things” mantra. But it also has a real human cost (just look at all the recent layoffs) when growth is the god people are sacrificed to.

So while I get genuinely excited by Jay McBain’s “decade of the ecosystem” declaration and Scott Brinker’s visionary move to hire HubSpot’s first Ecosystem Advocate, for the lesser funded and lesser experienced companies, it creates FOMO.

And FOMO-based decisions are often poor decisions.

The jobs to be done are many

Before launching a new partner program, do not expect one person (or yourself) to handle all of the partnership roles.

Pick one strategy.
Pick one program.
Pick one role.

There are a lot of them:

(1) BDR & SDR for new partnership pipeline
(2) Explain, sell, and support API integrations
(3) Create co-marketing: webinars, blogs, campaigns
(4) Handle field marketing / travel to events
(5) Enable / Onboard new partners
(6) Manage / support partner relationships (PAM/AE)
(7) Drive affiliate and referrals
(8) Manage / Support affiliates and referrals
(9) Partner / Marketing / Sales Ops (internal tech)

Gary Keller, billionaire entrepreneur in his book The One Thing says it simply,

Success is built sequentially. It's one thing at a time.

Be patient. We’ve seen this movie before.

Apologies to Ernest Hemmingway for co-opting his quote, but if you want a poetic answer to so how do I start a partner program?

Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

For reassurance gradually is the path to suddenly, let’s look back to 2006 and the start of the content marketing movement.

“Inbound” was the newest shiny growth lever and companies rushed into blogging. But what happened? Many companies FOMO'd into blogging and soon gave up.


Blogging was hard, it was undefined, and good writers (like good partner people) cost a lot of money and were hard to find. So what ended up happening was companies tried content marketing but didn’t stick with one approach long enough to see results. So they gave up.

On the other hand, people like Brian Clark started Copyblogger. In 2006 this simple one-man team started with just a $1,000 budget. Fast forward 16 years later and he and his team have written 3,000 articles and generate 8 figures in annual revenue.

They played the long game. They leaned into Seth Godin’s concept of “The Dip”. And they defined what it means to grow gradually, then suddenly.

Like content marketing, partnerships are on the same decade-long journey to defining proven practices, roles, and results.

So please…

Don't hire someone to come in and "do partnerships".

Hire someone to come in to get clear on what type of partnership program to initially launch (and gradually grow from there).

You don’t have to take my word for it.

Ask anybody at the cutting edge of partnerships and ecosystems, like Bob Moore and Adam  Michalski, and they'll tell you we're super early in the movement.

In fact, if you ask anybody in the partner tech world, they'll say we're making it up everyday as we go [nod to Jessie Shipman].

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