Howdy Partners #12: Making Partnerships = Sales with Aleksi Mattlar

We chat with Aleksi Mattlar from Vena Solutions about his journey from sales to partnerships. We discuss the challenges associated with his role transition, as well as the step-by-step process for getting co-sell motions up and running.

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Will Taylor  00:20

Howdy partners today on our episode, we're going to be diving into CO selling. Now this is a very important topic it is perhaps the closest to revenue. And so I'm personally excited to dive into this topic and learn more especially because we have Alexi here who is going to tell us about more of the enterprise level co selling. And, of course, our friend Tom is going to be the interviewer. But thanks for joining us guys. How you doing?

Aleksi Mattlar  00:49

Doing doing pretty well. How are you?

Will Taylor  00:52

Doing good, doing good? Yeah, Tom, I know that. You're excited for this. Because co selling you've done it in the past on the agency side. And then of course, on the the tech side. So I'll let you take it from here. Let's dive into it.

Tom Burgess  01:07

Yeah. And I'd be remiss in saying we we missed our buddy Ben, he's actually in Denver. Right now I'm within a football field away from him, theoretically speaking, unfortunately, won't be able to meet up with him. But yeah, I'm excited to talk to Alexei today. And from my perspective, I, I certainly get both sides of it when we talk about CO selling and what it is. And in you know, I've sat on the agency side, and I know we're not necessarily going to touch on I guess we'll differentiate that today. And then I've set on the partner word. So I think it's this is a fun episode for me. And we'll you nailed it, this is the closest to revenue. So this is when partnership succeeds or fails as one. But Alexei, tell tell us a little bit about your background, who you are, where you work, you know, the story of how you and or kind of started, like in the partnership realm, and then, you know, digging into the CO selling aspect there. Yeah, absolutely. I think that's, uh, thanks so much for having me on the show. First, I'll talk a little bit about how we started co selling. So I think that will provide a good context. Then I'll talk a little bit about how I've gotten involved into in my experience. So I'm at a company called venna, where leading financial planning and analytics SAS solution, generally sold, we're very much geared towards the mid market, we do touch SMB, and enterprise, but we're sold in more of a kind of enterprise partner strategy, we originally started co selling, because there happens to be a lot of consultants that exist that were for like CPA firms or ERP firms, or generally sell in work with the Office of Accounting and Finance, who they're overall a good fit for someone like us to co sell and implement our solution. So we originally started more as a channel approach, we're gonna see what could maybe come out of this, no one was really sure of partners. So the year is probably 2016 2017, we end up having an individual within the organization, while it's kind of the idea of Alright, let's slap on a quota, see what you can make and see what happens. But the really interesting thing about partnerships is for the past several years after that was more than over exceeding the expectations and the growth attainment terms of ARR driving revenue. You know, helping influence revenue as well basically beat beat the rest of business on almost every metric for quite a while. So our partner organization now has grown a lot. And now we're providing rounds. 20 25% of the business touches revenue from partnerships, how I got involved in this space is actually came from direct sales, and I was an SDR. And at one point in my career, I was doing inbound sales. And at that point, no one was really calling partnership opportunities, and I accidentally cold called one trying to sell them software. And a lot of you guys I know, I believe will you've been in an SDR role for a time, I'm not sure about you. It's a grueling hard job. People don't really want to talk to you, you're ultimately trying to not trying to sell them anything, you're not trying to sell them a product, you're trying to sell them a meeting, trying to sell them taking time with you near your organization to see if you can solve a problem that they have. But really, people don't really want to talk to you. And people are trying to kind of buck you off the line. So it feels like you're you're a little bit of like a rodeo rodeo person who's trying to stay on hold and trying to you know, make it to the end and survive while still booking a meeting. And anyways, the company was actually really nice to actually listen to what I had to say they asked thoughtful questions, which made me think about my software in a new way. And overall, the whole thing was great. They showed up to the meeting that we booked, I got paid everything went well. And overall I started building an expertise to partners because I realized no one was calling those leads and then position so I could join partners when there's an opening full time and been at it for about two and a half years full time now in a variety of different roles within the vendor partner ecosystem. Oh, that reminds me of will notice Josh Kirk, am I when I was on The agency side, I think this dude figured it out, or it's like, wait, you know, partners are submitting leads. And most of the time, they are way more qualified, and way more ready to buy, like, I can just tap into this whole bucket of leads. And it's amazing what sales organizations can do when they start to kind of realize that partnership programs can work. And I think you kind of described the pipe dream, upfront wise, when Yeah, we'll give you a quota. You know, like, let's see if this works. And all of a sudden partnerships is now just on fire and driving value. And so for anyone listening who wants to start a partnership program, that's that's your sweet spot. That's your ticket. Blitz. So let's talk about your you're now in the partnership side, you kind of realize like, Okay, this is this is untapped kind of green space. Greenfield? Clearly there's a lot of alignment with what you're doing. How does this? How does this now unlock the CO selling that you guys are doing? With your partnerships, you know, with, with, like, the vendors that you have? What does that mean for your organization? You know, like, talk about maybe some of the challenges you guys face in terms of your co selling motion, etc? Absolutely, I think it's really interesting for us, so then I would I will add is we have more of an enterprise sales kind of motion. And what I mean by that is, it's financial planning and analytics, we don't sell plug and play software. You know, it takes several weeks to implement, so does every one of our another exact direct one to one competitors. But other software's that people buy when they're also trying to solve financial planning and analytics needs, you know, they take some time to sell it. They're complicated sales, where there's not usually one single person in impacts many people in the organization, so many people usually involved in that decision criteria. So it's not really, you know, a quick cheap plug and play, but a bit about it being suddenly they have a software. It's not really that kind of style selling for us. Where does it exactly play is a lot of companies, when they have problems around the problems we solve in planning and analytics, they often won't exactly know the root of the problem. So oftentimes, they will go to a consultant or a consulting firm, say, we have this problem, and you know, we're looking for help and that those firms, they tend to do many different things. And oftentimes the answer to the technology or the problem is technology could be there could be another different solution. But ultimately, people go to our partners for trusted advisory and also definitely for, you know, objective third party consultation, because you know, a lot of the software's if you're if you're new software buyer, you're a new buyer to this space, specifically, a lot of things can kind of start to sound the same, it can start to sound redundant, and then you get the old question of how you actually differentiate between them guard, you know, can someone help me translate and guide me in the right path. So there's a bit of a natural, it's a natural bridge for us. And what's interesting is we found the deals that we bring partners into over deals that have no partner impact, all deals that are sourced from our direct sales or marketing or any channel except partners deals, we bring partners into close at about three times the rate of those that do not. So I think that's a testament to how effective partners can be specifically in our space and how vital they can be to the CO selling motion. So that's a little bit about how our team works that so we're very much a partners who act as trusted advisors and help guide our prospects through the prospect or to or through the I think sales process to make sure that they're making the right business decisions for themselves and that they're going on the the right path, if you will, and doing Yeah, yeah, it's you know, it's funny, you, you talk about the end customers of your partners, why they're going to these partners are because they one need trusted knowledge in the space whether it's you know, derivative of technology sales, or building technology around your your, your ecosystem, your go to market plans. A lot of these customers that aren't aren't customers of any technology yet, are going to find trust because they need help digitally. They need help to scale whether it's like online, you know, front office, whatever it is. And I think that rings so true, regardless of your you're selling enterprise software, you're selling, you know, via service agencies, or tech providers. Ultimately, if you can find balance and trust or see a partner as you know, someone that can help you code aside, in this motion, it makes partner sales so sticky and just you talking about it's not you closes three times as fast as it probably closes like 10 times more effectively, because you have someone that is unbiasedly driving opinions and and value towards you scaling regardless of the technology. I just wanted to state that that that that is a core principle that if you can interest or build around your partner ecosystem, and that's actually one of the motions that I try and enable on is building confidence and being you know, very tech agnostic but driving around to EQ is so critical. Yeah. And you mentioned you mentioned one thing. And I think it's, it's, it resonates towards, I guess the variety of what people consider co selling, whether it's through partners or not. You talked about stakeholders. So you talked about the, there are multiple people that a deal touches. And I just wanted to ask, like, is there any friction in that, like you're going from, you know, point person A to person B, back to partner back to you, like, talk about that process? Have you guys found any, I guess, magic moments where you can kind of like build on that process? Or how does that really work for you? Guys? That's a really interesting question. Well, I think every company there's, there's of course hierarchies, which exist inside businesses, and you know, different departments will have different priorities, and hopefully, that they all align in the same direction. But sometimes they don't always align in the exact same direction. And I think it's real challenge of a sales rep can be to understand what exactly are those dynamics, then who, if you think about that, who would be people who are going to benefit from your solution, or who would people who potentially might detract because maybe you would take away part of their roles and responsibilities, or maybe they would feel threatened in some certain way, and trying to understand all those dynamics, and who are the really important people. And that's not always necessarily the economic buyer. But the thing is, the more familiarity that you have, within an opportunity, and I think, ultimately the not familiar with the opportunity, per se, even the more you understand the dynamics of what are going on, the easier it is for you to I think do your job effectively, and really, really serve that client and understand, you know, what challenges are present. Sometimes they're visible, sometimes invisible, and I think partners can be a really, really great way. They can't be like having an insider in that circle. Yep. Yeah, I think sometimes sales reps they can, of course, what they're going to try do is sell their software, I think that's obvious. And of course, a lot of the time the answer is going to be trying to, you know, to push new software or to, you know, move that up. So I think having someone who's ultimately an advisor, and can really, I think, provide that more consultative level of selling, especially for a complicated software, where, you know, something like that. There's not that many accountants who become salespeople, you know, they're few and far between. So if we're able to basically bring that expertise in, and ultimately, you know, I think, bring peace to people and help people feel like they're being guided by a true expert. I think that's invaluable. Yeah, for sure. That's really good. Tell me, tell me a little bit about have you, you know, Venice here than I was in 2022, it seems like you guys have a firm understanding of, of how your partners play a role, how these multiple stakeholders, like really just understanding the process and driving towards the common goal of closing business that that is, you know, equally seen from both sides. Describing any challenges that you might have faced in the past where, you know, like, for me, I'm thinking, thinking about the several varieties of CO selling, or what that means in partner organizations, whether you're, you know, a larger tech company working with smaller service agencies that are clearly, you know, building digital ecosystems, building content, building a digital presence, versus maybe some more of this enterprise level software, where it's not just a plug and play, talk about some of the roadblocks that you see, you know, like some of the process development that you and the team have had to go through to kind of like, figure out where this process fits, or like maybe the most efficient way to sell. Just want to hear a little bit about that, because it's a lot different from my experience. I don't know, well, you and I, like, Yeah, we could build custom approaches. But it was pretty easy to figure out how we could paint a picture for our partners to sell effectively. And my goal was to try and take as much pressure off the sales team internally and essentially turn our partners into an extension of that. I know, that's not a one size fits all. So as we talk about large, complicated complex software, I'd love to know, you know, if are there consistent or common roadblocks or challenges you guys see? And how do you overcome that? Yeah, that's a really great question. To two common challenges really come to mind, maybe even three, actually. And I think the first one is simply getting the trust and buy in of your sales team to work with partners. I think many reps what they're used to, especially before they are if they work for a company without partners, or they come from a company that maybe didn't have partners, that they see it as an extra threat of let's bring if they're bringing in another person into the cycle to then work then they have to, you know, listen to another person to work with them. They might just get in a different rhythm. And especially if they're a successful rep doing that they might feel that there's not very much incentive to for them to work with partners. Let you know, I understand that actually, that makes sense, you know, why fix what isn't broken? The interest, the way that I think we've gotten around that more mass is by getting partners to work with reps making sure that they're very, very well aligned and finding, finding, frankly, reps are willing to work with them. Oftentimes, there's, if you have a team of 10, let's just say for example, 10 sales reps, you'll have a couple of them who inherently are going to be more open to working with partners than people who won't, you might, you might have to find out those people there's some people are naturally a bit more collaborative and will want to want to also be a bit more open minded and explore and see what's out there is those people to if there's someone who's looking for new opportunities, or looking how can they get a you know, fresher approach on their pipeline, for example, those would be great reps to look for. But once you have those certain win rates, once you actually start having certain when metrics, then you can start basically driving the ball off the field, promote those stories, promote those win stories, make sure other people know exactly how they happen and how the partner is important. And then actually, you hear about people start hearing about wins and sales reps really care about winning deals. And if they hear about how deals are being won, and how they can make more money, of course, they're going to be interested. So I think that's been that's been effective for us. I think that's kind of an ongoing challenge. I think the other the other interesting parts, I think, somewhat have to, I think work with enablement to an extent. So even though you have a dedicated expert, your partner, and then you have your sales reps, how do you get them to work together in the most cohesive fashion. And the way that I've found is by really understanding how partners work, how their business functions, how they see their business, and also understanding how sales teams see their their pipeline and see how they see a sales process and then finding the overlap. And then also kind of helping quarterback both sides, so they know how to best work each other. And I think the thing is, is a lot of discussion upfront of exactly what's the lay of the land, what's going to be the strategy. So everyone goes in with the plan, and goes in accordingly. That sounds really obvious. But sometimes it's more challenging that because people can get onto a call and say we have this opportunity. Okay, great, but then they'll forget to pass, you know, key details their process along and then there starts to be friction at that point in the process. So I think it's trying to make sure that reps and partners understand exactly how to best work with each other kind of what roles are bringing to the table, etc, there. And they start to get more of a flow once with a bit of practice. And I think also the last bit too, is simply just I think just enabling your partners really, really well. And I think making sure that they understand everything. Rest reffering as well, because they have a lot of other things are worrying about most of our partners, they aren't just exclusively focused on the category of software that we sell, they also work with ERP as they do other. There's other kind of point solutions, which people sell to finance and accounting, not that we're not a point solution. But there's just other solutions, which would make sense for the department with where they have to worry about so how can you give them you know, the best possible information not to fully educate because those won't work as partners, but to really round out and give them the most important points and things that they need to understand to I think ultimately help progress cycles and make them really really good at their Yeah, no, you're speaking you're speaking my love language here. Because that I mean, well, that was that was you and me like that was our enablement role at Vinyard. And I think I think you captured two, actually three really key points that that is not agnostic to a specific software or process one is in Well, we talked about this yesterday on the panel, you have to be your own cheerleader. And I think, as a partner organization, regardless of whether you're one person, two people, 10 people, 28 people, whatever, however you are, you know, other other other pieces of the company's sales specifically, are, you know, they're so fast paced in their lanes that you've, you've got to like break down the barriers to say like, Hey, listen, like I'm trying to help you like here are 10 Fresh, qualified leads that could close tomorrow, like I can make your job so easy, by not needing to worry about hunting. And the challenge there to your point is that salesperson does not want one person, two people, three more people to kind of come in and be this. You know, kind of like the evil twins on your shoulders, like telling you how to dictate the sales cycle. I get it. But once you kind of demystify what this means and what it is and what it isn't. Salespeople are like I got like, let's make this happen. Let's close this deal fast because you can do it. So that's one really key point. And I think it is so important and imperative to be to be working from day one with your sales team to kind of dictate and build the most efficient process because everything you talked about is there are no there are no big challenges that you're going to see like pop up where it's like whoa, this is due to the product. This is due to a part or it's always going to be simple things that can be derailed based on mindset, right? Like a salesperson thinks that someone's going to come in and, and you're just like, throw the deal because I'm not getting the information I want. And that's just a simple fix. But I think you, I think you nailed that one. The other side too, is partners, partners, being an extension of your team allows you to scale so much faster. And if you set that process or like make it very easy for the sales team, if there is that handoff to say, like, Hey, here's what a typical deal looks like coming in, here's the information that we get, how can I what other information do you need, that I can build into this, this form or this handoff? That will make your job easier? Because what I will tell you is if you can enable partners properly. All well, I say this, with a caveat, depending on the software, if you enable partners properly, all they're going to ask where all they can be asking a salesperson is like, Hey, give me an so for this company. And I'll get it signed right away. You're not reselling, but they are essentially selling your product without any necessary means means of a salesperson or trying to reduce that. So you nailed that there. I was just wrapping up, you're conscious of time. Talking about, you know, some of the challenges, the friction and where you guys are at. If there's one tactical takeaway that you have just from like, maybe a partner lens or a sales lens. I think we've been touching on both of those today. But what's that one tactical takeaway you can give our listeners to say, Listen, co selling can be different can take different shapes, different sizes, different colors, but here are like the one or two impactful things that regardless, you should be paying attention to. Yeah, that's a great question. I It's funny with, I think the most important thing that you can do to help repel co selling. And I think this is also the most important skill for partner professionals, is facilitation really facilitate everything. Understand what can a partner bring to the sales process down to the nitty gritties. Understand, you know why or sales team would want to work with them, what their stand ups and worries about and excetera there, but make sure you're really making it easy for your partners and salespeople to work together. Don't leave guestroom, ultimately, people, people are inherently a little bit lazy. And they want to go the easiest possible way. And they won't necessarily want to sit there and think through and do all the detective work which you've done. Because that'll just seem like it's extra work to them. And they'll get frustrated. And we're take away that guesswork from them. Yeah, facilitate provide them an example of exactly how they can be tactical how they can tactically work together, and make sure that every side understands their what's important to know about the other side what their wants, goals and needs, etc, are, and really help facilitate that whole process. And I think you're gonna have a heck of a lot better time. Because oftentimes people even if they have questions, a lot of times they won't ask questions, because they don't want to look silly, or they don't even realize that they will have a question because they haven't reached a stage yet where they've thought about it enough to have questions. So that would probably be the number one. And then once you have a success story, blow it up, make sure it's famous, make sure everyone hears about it, make sure they hear about the good, the good works of partners and the gospel of ecosystems, and he'll be on a good road. That's music to our ears. So just to kind of recap, just make it simple, right? I think this this speaks to so many pieces of documenting building processes. Regardless, whether you're just starting your partnership journey, you're in a mature state doesn't matter. Make it easy, and that's why internal and interdepartmental processes are so important to building relationships and successful partnerships. So Alexei we appreciate having you on. This was one I would love to make you a recurring guest. I feel like we get to get a lot of juice out of that. And yeah, this was great. Well, any final thoughts?

Will Taylor  23:50

No, that was a wealth of information. I didn't want to hop in because y'all were on a roll. So yeah, that was that was fantastic. I'm excited for Yeah, episode two when we dive even deeper Alexa, you'll be back for sure. We'll get you

Tom Burgess  24:03

back. Oh, yeah, get off on whenever you guys want. Yeah, you're gonna you're gonna do like our you're gonna be like our expert, you know, weatherman that we come in, you know, not making light of the current hurricane of Florida but like, we've got some of the big going on. I feel like you're just gonna come in and kind of sweep the ecosystem across on its sides. This is this was awesome, Alexei, appreciate your time. And we'll catch you guys later on for another episode. Course. Thank you so much, guys. Thanks for having me. All right. Cheers.

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