Howdy Partners #16: Soft Skills

Partner professionals are jack of all trades. Their skill sets are some of the broadest, because they need to be. But soft skills are another story.

We dig into the soft skills we believe are most relevant to partner professionals and why they are critical.

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Full transcript:

Tom Burgess  0:20
Howdy Partners. Welcome back. Man, we got to figure out like a better tagline to start, like, our podcasts, I feel like it should say Welcome back. Welcome guests. We got will myself Tom here today. Ben is off galavanting. We don't know where he is. But he'll be back soon. Ben

Will Taylor  0:41
Ben does a lot of things he has a lot releases where his hands are, yeah. Which is good, because he's really immersed in this space. And we love him for that.

Tom Burgess  0:52
He's a jack of all trades. We got a fun episode today is really just talking about soft skills and in partnerships. I think it goes without saying like, if you're in the partnership space, and let's say you want to become an AE, you want to become a CSM, like everything that you learn and and work towards in partnership sets you up really nicely to one stay in the space and kind of cultivate your career there. But to it, it sets you up to be a very broad expert. But well, I'm going to talk about it. In your mind, let's, let's dig into the soft skills that I think partnership professionals need to be aware of, and how you start to build those those skills out.

Will Taylor  1:33
Yeah, this is all relating to that main thing, which is trust. And the really interesting part about partnerships is because you are removed from the interaction with a client for the most part, you really need to maintain that trust with these other businesses, because it's an ongoing engagement. So it truly is a relationship. Whereas it could be argued that for your clients, especially if you are in, you know, in like a sales role, you close the contract, and then yes, the relationship might still be there. But it's more than likely that, you know, they're handed off to someone else, and you're then going and pursuing other opportunities. And so you don't necessarily need to manage the relationship, you know, as a salesperson. And so the trust element of the relationship that you manage with your partners, as you're doing partner management, and your strategic alliances, that's all of this will come back to. And some of the main ones that we'll be talking about today are things like communication and active listening, and then getting into more of the, how would I call them more strategic soft skills. So emotional awareness, and really leveraging that knowledge to then move the interactions forward. And then of course, project management to manage everything and in terms of those tasks, within the relationship. So I love this stuff in psychology, and I geek out on this stuff.

Tom Burgess  3:01
Yeah, and you actually brought up something that that kind of like jogged or sparked my brain. And it makes me feel really proud to be in partnerships, which is, like most other roles, there's, there's an end game, right, and I say that lightly, I'm not saying that every AE then just kind of cut ties and enhance a close one sale off to the CSM. But you have to you in partnerships, it's you manage, you manage the factory, the cycle from start to finish, and then you're not done, right, there's, there's no end goal, it's always continuously building. So let's do all that to say I'm really proud to be in partnerships. And I'm sure a lot of people out there that are in partnerships are as well. But let's dig into that active listening piece and how that's important. Because when you think about in our experiences, you know, partner managers, let's say, I've experienced partner managers where they're in charge of both, you know, partner acquisition, and then once they acquire that partner, it's it's relationship management, taking off the partnership, etc. But active listening is a key indicator to to your scalability. So let's talk about some of the the benefits of growing that skill.

Will Taylor  4:15
Yeah, so with active listening, you You truly are becoming a business consultant in some respect with your partner where you're going to be bouncing around ideas about what you can do together. It's it's very common that the diffusion of responsibility is a lot fuzzier within partnerships, because you don't know who's going to take lead. Whereas, you know, in a sales conversation, it's very clear who is going to be taking lead, which is or at least guiding the conversation, which is the salesperson, and so you still need active listening as a salesperson, but I would say that the act of listening is is almost even a bit different with partners because there could be so much going on that the skill needs to be more open is what I'll say in terms of everything that's going on in their business is going to influence how the partnership is going to move forward. And so the reason that this is important is because when you are planning anything with your partner, you need to be hyper aware of the things that are going on within their business and with that individual specifically. And that will inform how you can navigate through their organization, or the relationship with that person when it comes to aligning the programs associated. And so all that to say is there's a lot of moving parts with a relationship with a partner. And so that active listening piece is I'm not going to say more important than any kind of sales conversation, it's just more widely applicable, because you do have to be present across, you know, all of those things that are happening. So, yeah, active listening. And I always I actually wrote about this today, and I like to call out that, you know, you can actively listen and be passive in the interaction. But I would say that active listening should be sparking your curious questions as well. And so you should be really intentional, which we can get into. But yeah, it's a lot of people talk about active listening. But the after effect is, I think, really important.

Tom Burgess  6:21
Yeah. And as I was actively listening, there's two things one, I mean, I kind of prelude to a guess we're gonna have on Zoom, which is, is my director, Kyle Kramer, who, you know, him and I are going to riff on like the agency paradigm, the agency mindset, that's, that's certainly going to be that next level kind, of course, for for running channel partnerships. But the other side, too, is that it's, it's active listening, but then as you as you get familiar with your role, and you start to like, dive in, it's active understanding, because, you know, a lot of the times you'll pick up on very common indicators or common pieces, or you've experienced that before, and being able to prescribe or be solutions oriented, like back to the point, you can be very passive, and actively listen. But if you're, if you're, if you're in the right mindset, then your act of listening leads to action. So it's much more like, you know, what have I learned in the past, you know, how have I learned from, you know, certain negative interactions or like understanding, like the prioritization of certain conversations, allows you to one remain really calm, and I think that's really important is that from a professional standpoint, you know, partnerships and partner management, you need to be able to defuse situations. But more importantly, is be confident that that over time, the skills and and knowledge, like the act of understanding that you're going to gain is going to allow you to be solutions oriented more than anything else. So I think it was just a really fascinating point that I kind of picked up on. Let's dig into the, the aspect of being a solutions expert, kind of like prelude to that once again, but you know, partnerships is about providing solutions, from front to back in the various hats, the various roles anywhere, but let's talk about the soft skill of building that piece around being solutions experts.

Will Taylor  8:20
Yeah, I would say why, if you are activating the active understanding, then I think there is. There's something to be said there where you, the more you understand, the more you can comprehensively approach a problem or an activity and so that Jack, or Jill, of all trades, is more than necessary in partnerships. And I think that's why there's a lot of talk about, you know, if you're in partnerships, you need to be entrepreneurial, because you can't only think in the one function, and you know, partnerships is the strategy. It is not a department. And so if you think in a department lens, then you're going to think, Well, I'm over here doing this thing, and I don't need to understand what those other departments are doing. And so that active understanding piece, I think is, is really valuable, because that applies then to being entrepreneurial. And that would then bring your awareness to the things that of course, are most important within the organization, which would then bring the later skills because you'd be more immersed in those things for things like understanding customer success objectives, you know, sales targets, marketing programs. And so, in terms of cultivating that, maybe I'm jumping ahead but cultivating that I would say is cultivating that, you know, spread of being solutions oriented will come from being someone who actively tries to understand the situation shouldn't. So the way that you can cultivate that, in my opinion, whenever you join an organization is to talk to every single person that you can, in each of the different departments and truly live through partnerships being a strategy, not a department and you know, then you won't be segmented and your mind won't be segmented in that way as well.

Tom Burgess  10:20
Yeah, we we talked about this a lot in the partnership politics episode, where it's, it's, if you're doing it partnerships, to your point is not necessarily department, it is much more of like a How can we? How can we utilize our internal teams? How can we utilize maybe some of the gaps that were set or established even before you joined? To start to once again, actively understand? Okay, how does how does partnerships lead to sales or, you know, like partner referred leads that come in and are actively worked by the sales team? How do you establish a relationship where, you know, you're putting your best foot forward, you're, you're acting on behalf of your partnership, so you're an extension of their company, their brand. So it's really, it's it's understanding that you have skin in the game on both sides? I think one of the interesting things that you and I were talking about before this is that, you know, being a solutions expert, is not necessarily understanding that there's a process in place, you know, that there's an established curriculum for people that, you know, raise a point that you have a prescribed answer, I think this is going not necessarily like counterintuitive, what we just talked about it being like prescriptive and solutions oriented, but it's more so in the line of, regardless of your team size, regardless of your job role in your, in your activities. If you're thinking about this in the lens of I'm actively understanding actively listening, you're going to pick up on very, very consistent commonalities and trends. And when that prescription is an asset, or a resource, or like, you know, like let's just say a joint co marketing effort, whether it's a webinar, success story, whatever, break down the barriers and start to understand I can I can one build a more efficient job role for myself, for other internal teams, if I really shed light on some of maybe the the inconsistencies for lack of a better term, or just like the net gains that you you can achieve through building out a more collective approach, kind of like drawing a blank here, but a perfect example is if you've got tears, or if you've got partnerships, that there's not necessarily active management start to think in the lens of how can i What do partnerships that never talked to me need to succeed? And even in the sense of like you're working in and have an active portfolio? What are some of the activities that I can build a process and efficiency around to make this very easy to scale and win at large?

Will Taylor  12:58
And I think the the solutions piece, like, if you're focused on the interaction moving forward, I think that's the sentiment is like, you don't need to be an expert in everything. You just need to understand how the interaction can move forward. And the mindset is not, you know, what can I get? It's not, you know, what am I trying to extract from this? It's what is the path forward? I think that's the overarching theme there is, as a solutions expert, you're not, you know, only ever always having the correct answer. It is focused on moving it forward.

Tom Burgess  13:38
It's listening to respond versus listening to solve. And I mean, I fall into this trap, I'll tell you guys transparently, like there's some times where I'm just like ready to answer. And I would say that in the past three years of being in partnerships, what I've learned is like, the active listening piece cannot be more critical in terms of how you see success. And I want to back up it's not just like, how do I succeed? How do I make sure that my partner succeeds? How do I help a sales team succeed? Is it truly makes you think about what success is because it's so measurable when it comes down to Yeah, I can try and hit my goals, I can help my partner hit their goals, I can help the sales team by like driving, you know, qualified leads out of the butt. But understand like there are success points around like time getting back in your day, like being able to like help triage and maintain a lot of the consistent pieces that you might see as a headache and that's all I'll say there. Okay, good. So let's talk about how active listening active understanding the solutions expert mindset, you know, what's, what's next like? We were going to riff on the emotional awareness piece, and maybe that's where we had, but like, what does that mean for You know, like you're hearing words, I'm going to put this in like just very plain terms. You're on a call with a partner, you're hearing them speak, you're actively listening act actively understanding. There's, there's a time where you start to think about where's the relationship ship at? Where's the health score? What does emotional awareness do from a soft skill standpoint for partnerships that maybe it doesn't do in any other department that you see?

Will Taylor  15:23
Yeah, so I would say because the relationship is so ongoing. And because you have so many of those moving parts, the emotional awareness of, you know, picking up on some slight, you know, tone changes, or you know, micro expressions, or even you know, just how someone writes over an email and picking up on those things are critical, because within partnerships, you need to be as efficient as possible, you have so many relationships, there's so many things going on so many projects, and so many introductions that need to be made to clients and across teams, and whatnot, that if you can pick up on these things and identify them, then you can, again, continue to move the action forward, just like we were talking about being solutions oriented. And so emotional awareness, I would say is, again, I don't want to say it's more important than in other roles, but just because there's so many things going on that it can get convoluted, if you're not being emotionally aware, then what may happen is you waste time with a partner, or you are not truly understanding you're not truly sitting with them, and figuring out what is most important to them. And so that's very, you know, general, and you know, awareness is already hard enough to cultivate and measure. But I think the main thing that has helped me personally, for building more of that awareness is removing all distractions, first and foremost, being as present in the moment as possible. So, you know, your mind isn't wandering, you're not elsewhere. And you know, if you're doing the act of understanding, then you're going to be there more so in the moment, but then also being reflective and thinking about, you know, what could this person actually be thinking or feeling? And you could even ask them that. And so one of the things that I like to do to start off any kind of call is, I'll, you know, do the pleasantries you ask, how's it going, but then I'll ask it again, like, so how's your week been? How's it really going, you know, what's going on in your life in your world, that's going to immediately bring in, like, the real talk essentially, of, well, this is actually what's going on, you know, I said, I'm good. But this is actually what's going on, I've been having challenges with this, you know, this is a barrier, we got all this stuff going on. And so I think to build that awareness, the things that you can do outside of the interaction is remove the distractions, and really focus in and I would say, if you come prepared, that's going to be even better. And then the second thing is in the interaction itself, ask those hard questions. That's exactly how you're going to uncover those emotions. And then you can truly move the interaction forward without any you know, stone that is not untrimmed yet.

Tom Burgess  18:08
Yeah, I think it's, it's interesting. So we got three, three key themes, active listening, active understanding, but even before that, it's just being actively present. And once again, it goes back to the idea. Are you listening to respond? Are you like, actually present? And it goes, you know, to, to what you said on like, asking, you know, how's your week? How's your week? How's your week? It's, it's almost like, you should just ask him, like, hey, what distractions are on your mind that come with that might come in the way of like us, you know, talking about the agenda, or the strategy we have at hand. And it's really hard to do, right like that, that that comes with more of like a, a consultive experience, or maybe not, like just just be bullish enough to like, ask the hard questions. And once again, you know, I can tell you the amount of times that I've had conversations where it's been less, less focused on the actual partnership and the success there, but more of like, me listening and understanding, like, what are their current business problems, like talking to a company in the UK when they're like building out a video production way? Well, I helped build a video production wing, so like, How can I help you there? And those are some of the intangibles that you're not necessarily required to do in partnerships, but it goes a long way. But it also it comes back to this idea, and it will you and I talked about this and we talked about it a lot when we're at Vinyard. You know, one of the coffee curriculums that I subscribed to pretty closely is the idea of this emotional bank account where you know, I have a bank account, you have a bank account, the partnership has a bank account. You know, like how much are you depositing like where's the balance that so like, you know, just kind of like level setting before each call, like, Where's where's the balance at? Like, am I being withdrawn all the time? Are we in a really good spot and both bank accounts where we're like having good honest conversations, and and what I will tell you is that, regardless of some of the activities or outcomes of understanding, you know, the emotional health score of your partnerships, what this leads to is a lot of scalable activities, which is, you know, a partnerships in itself partner professionals have have time in their day, right, they have for time in their week. Where's your where's your time being spent? And if it's being spent with a partner that has overdrawn their bank account, time and time again, okay, what are you going to do? Like, what does that mean to you, and we could talk about, you know, some of the solutions there, but ultimately go into each partnership, knowing that each partnership isn't the same. And you're going to have solid relationships and building that trust building that that identity will help you. And sometimes you have to have conversations that aren't necessarily on track. But what it does is it puts a lot of deposits in your partnership account. So that's really important. Right? Well, yeah, I mean, it's just it think about in that manner.

Will Taylor  21:01
Yeah. And so just to summarize that, in terms of something that can be tactical is, like I mentioned preparing for a meeting, whether it's questions, or you're reflecting on that emotional bank account piece, I think that can really help you to bring that focus that I mentioned that you will need to bring that emotional awareness to you. And so all it can take, honestly, is five minutes, you know, clear your head, from the last meeting to now write down some of the questions that you want to ask, including some of those hard questions that are like, what are your barriers this week? What's legitimately going on? Like, let's get down to business, but also like, let's be honest, and then have a quick reflection for a couple minutes on? What is the current state of the emotional bank account? Do I really feel like they're fully in it as a partner? Or, you know, maybe do I feel like they're not giving as much as they could be? And so if they are, I should ask more questions, to figure out why. And if they are, then I should like lean in and then, you know, allocate my time accordingly. So that reflection piece right beforehand, I think is really critical.

Tom Burgess  22:12
For sure. Yeah. And it's, it's kind of like building a soft skill of how do I unleash or uncap, my partner's potential. And that could be like, am I am I like actively talking to the right point of contact. And once again, you're going to, you're going to be talking with a lot of people that are owners, CEOs, versus like, head of sales or head of marketing, like there's several different roles, and what impact means to them. So like, once again, actively listening understanding will go a long way. So all right, talked about the emotional bank account. That's hugely important. That's something I'm super passionate about. But now let's talk about the the other side, which is project management. I think this is we'll cap off our episode today. But it's, it's it's one of those things where whether you have experienced or not, you need to understand what it means to your role. And it kind of goes along the line of like, how do you get the most out of other teams? How do you help quarterback initiatives like making sure that you're on top of it? So let's, let's talk about that

Will Taylor  23:10
piece. Yeah, and I think this is great to turn it all off. Because it applies everything. It's not just getting tasks in order and key dates in place. Those are really important for project management, but the people management side of project management, and you know, getting your ducks in a row, which I'll dive into in a sec is perhaps the most critical. And so what I've always done is if you're communicating any kind of information, give them the, you know, TLDR if it's a lot of information, or, you know, summarize the MVP of what needs to be done to really make it as simple as possible, because when we're all busy going back to back meetings all day, when we get a request from someone else, especially if they're from you know, what we perceive as another department, then we're going to think, Okay, well, you know, I'll action this later. And if it's a big long message, they're not going to action, it's going to be the last thing that they read, and the last thing that they action. So one of the main things that I like to think about for project management is simplify everything, simplify it down to the actual task at hand, what do you truly need, and when does it need to be done by from there, you can then of course, delegate to people apply those specific dates, get the calendar meeting in the calendar, and you can have some sense of what actually needs to be done. And so I like to think of it as working in sprint. So you know, think one to two weeks out for however long the project is, even if it's one year long, yes, you know where you need to go but you know, focus on that immediate piece, the one to two weeks out, because then you'll be doing things like setting calendar meetings in advance, and you're not thinking in a month because so much can change in a month where you know, calendar shift and projects, you know, timelines will slip and so I just threw a lot of information at you but In summary, create a CTA that is extremely clear, add the simplified tasks in to who is doing it and when they need to do it by. And then from there, you can do some light working back to get those things in the calendar. And so project management, again, you're working with so many projects, so many people in your organization, your partners, this one is vital for moving things along. And everything that we talked about today will align to making those things informed on what is actually important how we can prioritize, and, of course, having that compelling reason for people to do them.

Tom Burgess  25:37
Yeah, and the other side, too, is something that really helped me out is like understanding roles and responsibilities. So, you know, if you've got a joint webinar with a partner, where you know, you've got to tap into marketing, okay, let's, let's come together and understand, you know, who's in charge of what and just to make sure that we're super visible on where the momentum is happening, like, what aspects are what initiatives and getting to milestones, like who needs to be what, so it was a really good point, any, any final takeaways?

Will Taylor  26:09
My final takeaway is, for all of this, set, agendas, before your meetings, in lead up, you know, right when you book it, but then also think about it before you enter in. And the reason I say this is because it will help guide to where you're dedicating your active understand understanding energy, and how you're going to approach the, you know, emotional awareness, because you do that pre check going in, you know, the questions you're going to ask, and what you're going to find is the more structure that you give to those meetings, and you know, giving yourself that time ahead of time, the more prepared you will be for things like project management, where you know, you have a goal for the call, you have, you know, the first half, which is going to be the first few things we talked about. And then you can do the project management side after that at the tail end of that meeting. And if you literally set the structure for that meeting and set that expectation, then things are going to move smoothly. And you're going to communicate a lot more clearly. Because that expectation is already doing some of that legwork. And that lead up to that meeting in terms of the work that you do there, that's also going to allow you to be more efficient. And the reason I say that, specifically, as you know, set agendas for your meetings is because, one, it's helped me immensely and two, people will respect it when they see it, because they're going to be in back to back meetings all day, as well. And so if they forget what the meetings about, it's right there. It's clear, and they know, you know, ahead of time what they're actually going to be doing in that meeting. And it also helps you to honestly like I do it selfishly like why am I on this next meeting that I have? Oh, yeah, here's, you know, three bullet points. Here's the doc, everything's clear there. And that's going to bring that clarity and move everything along.

Tom Burgess  27:56
Yeah, yeah. And to cap that off, make sure that you have you read that meeting with actionable takeaways. And don't be afraid to tell the partner or whoever you're talking to you like, Hey, you're in charge of this, like, is this doable? Talk about like, deadlines, it that's how you get to that next agenda is understanding there's work to be done in between. That's a lot of time but this is a great episode. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you next time.

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