Howdy Partners #14: Partnership Politics

If you're expecting a free and easy ride to success, then stop assuming.

Strategic partnerships is now and always about proving your worth, value, and future success to the entire organization.

In this episode, we discuss the internal teams you need to have a solid relationship with always, and paths for you to build strong alignment. We also riff on friction we've felt in times past and how you may be able to recognize when it's not a "win-win" relationship and foundational ways to fix it.


3 Key Takeaways

  1. Prioritize alignment early
    If you're starting at a new company, do your best to start off on the right foot. Meet with key departments and stakeholders. Make sure that they understand how you help them achieve their goals too. Tie everything back to a North Star.
  2. Partnership teams don't (and can't) work on an island
    If you're trying to drive success with partners and you're not involving all of the departments, you're doing it wrong.
  3. Get in front of product early
    Product already has a roadmap and they're already communicating with the other departments. Alignment with product is important.

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Full Transcript:

Tom Burgess  00:20

Howdy partners, we are back again. I've got Ben I've got well, the whole gangs here taking a little break. I mean, it's us Thanksgiving so we're busy. I started a new job. How's everyone doing?

Will Taylor  00:35

Good. I'm doing good. P Alex happened. It was fantastic. Things are going well.

Ben Wright  00:42

Yep. Yeah. And I'm doing alright me without a job at the moment, but morale is high. And I'm feeling feeling good. And yeah, I think shout to the team at partner hacker. And I will just mention PL X. But that was a, that was a fun time. That was, that was a lot of a lot of good. A lot of good content. Got to meet a lot of interesting people off the back of it as well. So yeah, kudos to the to the team at partner hacker that was, that was fun.

Tom Burgess  01:11

Yeah, well, I unfortunately wasn't able to attend first week of work. But it's funny, I've seen nothing but amazing things I am going to be spending time just kind of going through some of the recordings in the courses, but it seems like it was pulled off in amazing fashion. And it's funny, you know, one of the one of my colleagues or new colleagues that I met, literally day one, he slacks me, he's like, Hey, are you attending pls? I'm like, hey, no, but that's awesome that you are like, go for it. So it's just crazy how that just kind of like spiderweb through the network. So Good on you guys. I hope, you know we're gonna be we can all be a part of that, from a Howdy partner standpoint, but I'm excited to see what you guys do with that more.

Will Taylor  01:56

Yeah, it was a big moment. And I'm glad that it got through the network effects into your team and your company. That's exactly what we were intending. And we couldn't have made it possible without anyone else, but the ecosystem themselves. So Ben, thank you for playing a role in helping us. And, Tom, I know that your support was was warmly welcomed. For today's topic. I know, then you're gonna ask the questions. But Tom, I want to hear about your perspective, starting your new role in the organization, we're going to be talking about the politics of partnerships, and really getting the buy in across all of the departments and getting the support from the entire business. And so, Tom, I'm curious what it's like for you right now joining the organization? What are some of the things that you're being aware of stepping into this new role? When it comes to the mindset of partnerships for the business?

Tom Burgess  02:54

Yeah, so yeah. Self plug here, yes, started in a new role at SAS labs, I'm super excited joining up with a lot of very smart people, just in partnerships in the industry. And actually, I think my answer, I'll probably have a little bit of a different answer than I've, I've experienced in the past, and Ben will, like we've all experienced in the past. In ETS, at this new company, it seems like everyone is bought into partnerships. That's why they started to hire around, you know, building a channel team building tech is because one they had, they had the partner relationships there. And they, they, they too, saw it as a viable path to grow over the next five years. So, you know, in this instance, I actually haven't experienced a lot of the politics, that that can happen. With that said, and we'll get into this, I think, regardless of whether you you see that or not, or you see maybe some friction, or pre-conceived notions on, you know, like partnerships, in general, I'm still taking the right steps to build proper relationships and trust to avoid that, or to maybe like, kind of start off on the right foot. So, you know, that's meeting with a lot of the the key and critical departments that that partnerships is built off of, which is, you know, marketing, product sales, of course, and honestly, like, every department can help your partnerships team so so really, like just just building that network meeting with the head of marketing meeting with, you know, everyone in marketing meeting with product, and that's creating a lot of good relationship building up front, because I'm hopefully aligning them to kind of like what we're doing. And keep in mind, like, we don't have a channel partner program in place, technically, like, we're building that out. But we want I'm, I think it's critical for everyone in those in those key departments to know kind of what we're building and why and how do they play a role and how do we play a role in their success? So that's been my experience so far. I mean, I could tell you experiences that other organizations probably differ as well and I, I'm sure we'll talk about that. But yeah, that's that's What I've started to do,

Will Taylor  05:01

yeah, when you were talking through that, I was like, okay, even if it's feeling good, you should still take those actions. Because even when we approach our partners, there's always the good idea of partnering. But the execution piece is the one that a lot of people will have attrition on

Tom Burgess  05:19

mean, the and the last thing I'll say is like, you know, you see it all the time you see it on LinkedIn, people shouting from the rooftops like partnerships, the partnerships team cannot work in a, in an on an island in a vacuum. And you can't like that is so true. And so by by starting your journey, whether you're just starting a new job, or like, you've been there for two years, but you're starting to feel the effects of like, Hey, I should probably be sharing what we're doing. versus kind of like just trying to drive my own success with partners. That's that's exactly what you need to do.

Ben Wright  05:53

Anything? Yeah, no, I I agree with I agree with with Tom wholeheartedly, I think I've I've seen it from both sides of the fence, so to speak. But I think it I'm just talking generically about, I guess, tips or advice I'd have for anybody starting in that new role, it would be just following on from what Tom said, I'd make it a priority to meet with all the key stakeholders that are going to be really driving indicators of a successful partnership program. So you look at product to look at marketing, you look at sales, you look at CES, I'd make it you know, first couple of weeks activity to get in front of those people understand what's good in their roles, what they're aiming to do, what their OKRs are, what their metrics and burniston. And having that in your back pocket, and that information available will really help you build out your partnerships partnership strategy holistically, so that you're able to help and influence each department inside of an organization. And so So yeah, just doubling down on what Tom said, regardless of whether partnerships is like your partner, first organization, let's say where everybody understands and is behind partnerships, or you're going in as a fast first partnership hire and actually building and scaling a program. I think the advice is the same is to prioritize meeting with with key stakeholders and try and influence them from from an early stage.

Will Taylor  07:15

Yeah, and I know, we were talking before about maybe some of the more important departments to partnerships. And I don't know if this is controversial or not, but I think product is probably the the number one that you should start with, because they're roadmapping is so far in advance that you need to get in front of them a lot sooner. And also, they probably have a better lay of the land within the business, because they have to talk to the CES team, they have to talk to the sales team, they have to talk to the marketing team product is, in my opinion, the most closely tied to partnerships based on the connections that they have internally. And I would say that there's probably too much of a focus on the sales side and the marketing side when it really pushes towards revenue versus the product team. Yes, they have KPIs and objectives, but they're mostly focused on client value and building the solution. And so I think getting in there one, I believe that they have good influence internally, because they do have those relationships, but to again, it requires the roadmapping into the future. And the quicker you get in, the better, you're going to be able to include partners in that roadmapping, because there'll be much more bought in. But what do you guys think? What do you think product?

Ben Wright  08:33

or exclude partners? Right? Well, because I think you started off by saying like, when to include partners, but I think the opposite is true in terms of like, I had a conversation today with Devin reputation. And in a previous role, he was saying that he'd put a lot of effort into building out these potential integration partnerships, and then product did a massive U turn and basically build out those capabilities in that product. And so it kills the relationship immediately. And and I think, yeah, to your point, like setting a direction from okay, what are we not going to build on our product? And who can we then partner with to fill those gaps? But also, what does our roadmap look like over the next two years? Because if you're going to build out that, that feature, then then it kind of is a waste of time and energy, I would say to go out and then have those conversations spend a lot of time and energy in developing them and then and not getting anywhere. So So I think you're spot on in what you said, but maybe just an added added point of that also knowing what partners to exclude, potentially as well.

Tom Burgess  09:29

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it's it like the more you talk about this, Ben, there's I think there's two ways to look at it like when you consider, you know, tech partners or integrations, that is very much future thinking like making sure you're transparent upfront, and you really need to like have that, that keen eye to say, yes, we're including these partners or we're executing because we're building that parallel product inside. And then if you look at the Channelside are like more of your solutions are service based partners, that's almost like the, the glue to like scaling your product behind the scenes because, you know, to me, the service based agencies who are, you know, I don't want to say putting their reputation or brand on the line to scale around your product, but to some degree, they they are right. Like if they're bullish about putting out a strong tech stack, and your product or your your, your, your technology is one of those pieces. Well take that feedback to heart like take the commonalities like what they see as strengths. And then, you know, they have so much visibility, like like HubSpot ecosystem, the Pipedrive, ecosystem, all these different products, CRMs, whatever it is, they know where that product is heading. And if you're integrated with it, great, but they know how to get you to that next phase, like they are going to be, you know, one of your, your, your biggest advocates and how you push forward from a product standpoint. And so it's just like, you know, taking taking I, what I one thing I will say to that is you can you can overkill that, like, I'm not saying take all of your channels like 100 channel partners and use them as you know, product feedback, let's take maybe the top five or 10, that you have very strong, transparent and honest relationships with that can that can do the same thing with your product team, and just creating like very parallel synergies to grow your product better.

Will Taylor  11:21

Yeah. And you were mentioning, it's kind of like the the roundtable of those partners. And so how would you say you can make that decision for which partners are right? You obviously mentioned? Not 100 of them? Maybe, you know, five, maybe 10 of them? How do you make that decision? Is it the ones that are most closely related? Is it the ones who are most engaged? Is it you know, the bigger ones? Is it the smaller ones, but I don't know, maybe their business acumen is a lot stronger? How are you thinking of making the decision? For those that sit on that roundtable?

Tom Burgess  11:57

I've got a couple of thoughts around this. The first is going to be their mindset. So like you, you would know, you would know the partners that you have a really strong partnership, mindset, or relationship with like, it goes back to what we talked about before, like, are they do they see you as a vendor? Do they see you as a strategic partnership that's helping to scale both businesses. So when you have that level of trust, then it should come naturally to they'd be like, Okay, I want them to sit at the table. But you bring up a good point on on, you know, what other? What other facets or pieces influence that? Well, I mean, yeah, I look at opportunities generated and revenue as one piece. But how that ties back to product isn't necessarily, you know, a strong bond unless you really see it. To me, it's like, who are the partners that are like stress, testing the crap out of your product day in, day out? Like, they're, they're the ones, you know, standing up in, like a secondary integration that you didn't even know you had, because they're solving for their clients. They're there, they don't take like natural product features to be like the end path, like they're going to stress test, and build through the roof. Those to me, just like, gut wise, are people that I would want to sit at the table with our product team. But, Ben, I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Yeah,

Ben Wright  13:20

I don't know if there's a there's a good answer this, I think it does vary, but like, I think the key attribute would be engagement. I don't really, I don't really think it is dependent on size or revenue brought in or anything like that. But ultimately, I think it comes down to who you're most engaged partners, who are your most important partners, and who are the ones that are actually going to give you valuable feedback. I think you've run the risk of just including like your highest revenue partners, or, you know, your the largest partners, let's say, because I think you have so many partners that you might not be a priority, and they might not be able to give you kind of candid feedback. So I guess that would be my comment on is is the most important part is probably the most engaged ones willing to dive in?

Tom Burgess  14:05

Yeah, yeah. There's no real scorecard to that, which, so you got to you got to go off your gut.

Will Taylor  14:12

Yeah, it's like choosing those trusted advisors. For a company, you have to do the same for your partners as well. And so I want to dive into some of the challenges that are associated with one building the political landscape or influencing it, but then to what happens if you don't have the seat at the table yourself within an organization? Tom, tell us about past experiences and what that resulted in, and then we can dive into like, how we helped to manage that.

Tom Burgess  14:44

Yeah. Well, well, this is, I would say, like the experience that I'm thinking of something that you and I both felt the relationship so established companies, and you come into a partnership team that's maybe stablished and now there's all these, you know, assumptions or relationships that are either there or not. The one that comes to mind is definitely with marketing. And I think I think like a bullish young partner team that is scaling, you know, or acquiring partners beyond the roof like, this is really where you need to shape how you want to go to market from, or go go to market from a co marketing standpoint, because I've seen it. Well, I've experienced that where it's been out of control, meaning partner managers are requesting, you know, co-market webinars through marketing all the time. And it's just like, ask, ask, ask versus like, a more sustainable, like, ask and give. So it's hard. And what happens is, you know, now when we start to maybe build a more succinct roadmap, and you know, like focusing on our top tech partners that are actually driving marketing, value, marketing will stand back and be like, no, like, we've been burned in the past, like, yes, we might include partners, but we're going to do it our own way. And that's a really, really bad approach. I'm not saying that's a bad approach from marketing. But you know, you've kind of set the stone to the fire, and this is where we're at. So to me, it's really important to just go back to the basics, call the timeout, like, hey, you know, what, I'm just starting at this company, or, you know, like, I can see this spiraling out of control, let's take a pause and figure out a more cohesive approach, which is, how how, how do my partners or how does partnerships influence your success, marketing, and vice versa? So now you're starting to build off this strong, like, Northstar that you're both trying to target together, forget about the past, that's really hard to do when you don't sit on the marketing side sometimes, but you've just got to keep running that home.

Will Taylor  16:42

Yeah, and you have to do a lot of backtracking. And there's that, that friction of Well, we think we know how this is going to go. And then you know, if there's new people coming in, or there's changes to the program, and you know, the partner team knows that it's going to be different, it's hard to go back on that because that internal trust is not as well established. And so

Tom Burgess  17:04

yeah, I was sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, because I'm very passionate about this, basically, here's the really like, just the, in a nutshell, if you have that happening, come back to the table that come back to the table with marketing and be like, you know, what, this is the CO marketing kind of rules and regulations that we have, we're gonna throw that out the window. And what we want to do now is we want to build our CO marketing efforts, or our CO marketing cheat sheet, like what partners can or can't do together, and we want your input. Because, ultimately, you know, you might be, you might have some accountability in execution. But like, let's put something in front of our partners, that shows them exactly what they can do what they can't, in that model, and now there's no friction, like you guys built this, we're adhering to it. It's, it sounds simple, but it's not. And in the same vein, it's something that you can absolutely do, go back and just throw it out and start fresh.

Will Taylor  18:00

And then I know that you are great at like staying top of mind, with the internal team. So what are some of the things that you've done in the past to keep partnerships top of mind, and when I think of this in the context of, you know, the political landscape of a business, you can have a really good conversation once, but that'll fizzle out. So you really do need to stay top of mind. So how have you done that in the past?

Ben Wright  18:24

So I think one of the things I'm extremely kind of passionate bullish about is, is the creation of a memorandum or manifesto or whatever you want to call it, right. And the basic concept of that is that you meet with these people to have an initial first conversation and from that get some really tangible outcomes that you are going to help them with and they are going to help you with So again, let's just use ces as an example. We might have a conversation, we'll talk about their OKRs. And they say, okay, net retention is a big push as it is with all ces managers. And so my benefit all I can give them in order to improve net retention is by using tools like revealing crossbeam, figuring out where we have overlaps with other partners, and then furnishing them that information. So when they have difficult renewal Conversations, I'm able to bring in the partner to influence that conversation alternatively, and then becomes from my side, but what I need from you is your CSM to promote our partners and get them leads as well, right. And so there's this give and take that happens, but you actually document that in a manifest or a memorandum, have them agree to even sign it in some cases. So it is like an official document. And then from there actually having like a monthly check in where you come to the table, you review what you've talked about what you've signed off on, and actually maybe setting up some kind of lightweight dashboards which is like, Okay, how many leads if the CS team referred to partners this month, and if it's zero, you can then have that kind of difficult conversation around. I have held up my side of the bargain. Why are we not getting leads to our partner As what else can we do. And so it creates a process for you to follow and also checkpoints which you can use to iterate and improve on process. So I think that's, that's probably the best tip I'd give people is to come to some agreement and actually document that. So that everybody's on the same page, there's no misunderstanding, and they've actually signed off on what they're going to do to help you as well.

Will Taylor  20:23

I like that I'm an advocate for contracts, whether they are physical or psychological. And that has like, it drives the accountability and that responsibility, which I think is really important. And there's this other idea of staying top of mind in like Slack sharing the wins that happened to each team's and actually came across this idea of having an internal podcast as well, not that everyone needs to start producing a podcast, but it could even be, you know, a five to 10 minute video update that happens every week. And it's from the partner team talking about all the wins, and it goes out to the entire company, maybe it's your email, maybe it's on Slack. I think that would be another interesting thing to play with where you're doing kind of that round up. So it's so top of mind that they it's not like they can say, well, I don't know how partnerships are impacting the organization, they have the weekly cadence of that information on how it's impacting. And I would say that in any kind of engagement with those leaders, if you tie it back to the overall company goals, then it's hard for them to say, I'm not going to put effort into this, or I'm not going to agree to this. And so what I think one of the most important things is, yes, understand what their goals are, but tie it to the north star because everyone's moving towards that North Star in their own way. And if you're saying that partnerships helps you in your OKRs. And that brings us all to that Northstar, then it's again hard for those leaders to say, well, this, why am I doing this? This doesn't actually align with the whole movement of you know, why this company is in business? And then from there, it has that trickle down effect.

Ben Wright  22:03

Yeah. And I think people that are listening to this thing can all like shit, I've got to create my own podcast now, like, a really simple way to do it. Like loom is free, right? Like, you can download a free version of loom. And what I did help scaling, like my first month is I just did a loom every month, which was like, Hey, this is the partnership strategy ever changed this the change and like we've just bought on this person, he's gonna be doing this. And so it can just be like a PowerPoint presentation with an overlay of of loom, right, which just gives them that the update and allows them some transparency into what you're doing in the program on what you require from spy love that will like the the constant update because then nobody should be confused. Right? And again, is that accountability piece of I don't know what's going on with partnerships war, I post a loon like every month, right? Yeah, exactly. So so I really liked the idea. And you can, you can definitely do lightweight ways of of getting that message out via via loom Vijan. You know, whatever platform you you want to use.

Will Taylor  23:07

Yeah. So in summary, what you should be doing, whether you are brand new, starting the program, or just entering into an existing program, or if you've already had an established program, you've been there for a while, make sure that you are talking to these department heads. And I would venture to say most of the new people that join as well, you should be I don't want to say indoctrinating, but getting them on board with with partnerships, because then they'll have that initial context on how important it is where you can say, Hey, listen, I talked to your leader, we talked about these goals. And this is how your team helps towards this partner goal. And of course, your own goal, which all leads up to that internal Northstar that we're all moving towards. And so step one is make sure you're having those conversations and do it regularly. So if you're doing something like a memorandum, then make sure that you're reviewing that every quarter or every month. And stay top of mind by having those meetings but then also the regular cadence of information within the organization. And from there, it'll be hard for people again, like we've been talking about to say, well, I don't know what's going on, or I don't know the impact. And they will understand the importance and therefore act through it and be more likely to, of course, take action when it comes to, hey, I need this, you know, marketing program, or I need this referral to this client, because they understand how important it is. Versus like Tom, we talked about where we come to marketing, and it's just all these requests, and they're exhausted by it. And the process isn't built out. And it's just overwhelming for them and they stop taking action because they don't understand the importance. It's not leading up to their overall goals. And it's just been all of this take take take over time. And anything to add for those steps that we should take?

Tom Burgess  24:55

No I mean, once again, like we'll call it out, we partners IT professionals need to be our own biggest cheerleaders. So, you know, to Ben's point, like get your word out there, whether people want to see it every week or not. Your success is shared success. And I think he just points to, you know, like, yeah, so a lot of this might be very partner facing in theory, but most of this is solved just internally through process development. And, you know, like, you might be an operations you might not be, but like, You got to have somewhat of that hat on and think about, like, how do we went together? How are we building efficiencies together?

Ben Wright  25:30

Yeah, and I guess final points to leave, leave the listeners with is like, it also is really important to influence the C suite. And like, why the seaso is actually the CEO all the way down, because you get the CEO on board, and he's back in your message around like partnerships affecting or impacting the entire organization. It makes your job just a little bit easier because there's less influencing you have to do because he is directly influencing everybody underneath him. So I guess for him or her Sorry, that was that was really him or her. Then anyway, yeah. So I think that's the final point I would leave people with is start at the top if you can, and that influence should disperse down and make your life a little bit easier as a as a partnership leader.

Will Taylor  26:17

There you have it. Tune in next time for some more howdy partners. Goodness. Thanks for listening.

Tom Burgess  26:22

Bye, everybody. Happy us Thanksgiving.

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