Howdy Partners #21: The One Man Army w/ James Urie - How To Start a Partnership Program Lean

A lot of partner programs start out with just one person. Instead of recreating the wheel, innovate on it.

That’s exactly what James did and you can do it again. James talks about his experiences being a Swiss Army Knife and making results happen. Not only that but his company is bootstrapped, so you know his advice will be execution and outcomes focused. He didn’t have the seemingly unlimited resources that others may have and is now seeing the fruits of his labors.

3 Key Takeaways

  1. When you do have synergy and alignment with a partner, lean in
    If you're a good partner manager, you recognize the potential in partners but you can't chase all of that potential. Prioritize by looking for synergy and alignment.
  2. Trust your instincts
    When you know your product well enough and you know your market well enough, you'll often have a gut instinct around where there's a good opportunity. Trust your gut but be sure to back it up with due diligence and data.
  3. Don't suffer in silence
    You're not alone. Even if you're the only partner person, reach out to the community of partner people on LinkedIn. Seek a tribe, and you'll find it.

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Full Transcript:

Will Taylor  00:20

Howdy partners, and welcome to another episode of The howdy partners podcast where today we have James from talking about the experience of building a program alone, being the only partner person in his program, James and I have had a few chats before. And he's actually talked to Ben in the past. And Tom, who's not co hosting today as well. So James is very well connected to us, James, thank you for joining us today. How's it going?

James Urie  00:50

Yeah. Thanks for having me on. Well, doing great.

Will Taylor  00:54

Okay, good, good. And Ben, are you

Ben Wright  00:56

I've actually had the pleasure of working with James in the in the previous role HelpScout. So not only connected, but been very present. And impressed with what he's managed to put together at close. So excited to dive in today.

James Urie  01:10

And once you're in the partnership circle, you realize how small it is, you just start to bump into everybody, which is, which is a lot of fun. And, you know, as you know, a community is created.

Ben Wright  01:21

Yep, for sure. 170. And I think like that would be a good segue into maybe like where we want to start off today. Tell us how you made your way in Tom ships.

James Urie  01:33

Yeah, so I was in on the sales team at close. About four years ago, I started was the sole salesperson at close. He was just hustling on the sales side. And we started to build out that team couple of years go by, and started naturally having a lot of conversations with consultants and agencies that were supporting clothes. And there was really no one there talking to them and managing those relationships. And so being the sales team lead at that time, I just took point on it, and started guiding them in the right direction helping them they were sending us leads. So it was a no brainer, right? To the point where it started to consume so much of my time worthwhile time, I propose to sell you Nick that I should move over and start managing this, you know, a certain percentage of my time, as well as doing sales until we made an additional hire. So that's what I did, I went and did a fractional partnership management was still on the sales team. Finally, we hired some more folks on the sales team. And that sort of unleashed me to go full time on partnerships, and really focus my time and efforts there. And that was, you know, roughly a year and a half two years ago.

Ben Wright  02:57

Yeah, I love that I love the unconventional ways that people get into partnerships. And I mean, in your case, it was kind of a, I guess a nice way to go about it, because you already had the evidence. And in addition to some revenue, they're already coming in from partners, which is sometimes not why you start with a partner program, right? It's funny business, there's thing that people just want to do without any any prior evidence or, or examples of it of it being successful. So I guess, give us an overview, you know, of what the program looks like, now close, like, what have you got cookin? What types of partners do you generally deal with? Maybe just give us an overview that?

James Urie  03:32

Yeah, absolutely. So naturally, it started with the, you know, service partners and affiliates, they kind of drop into a similar bucket, because we are paying them a commission for the clients that they refer us, although they're also building a service around close. And so that was our initial focus, we went all in there, of course, we had to stand up tech to do that. And implemented partner stack that cleaned things up quite a bit. Because as you know, if you're not paying your your partners, you're, you're losing trust, you're losing your credit score as a as a partner ship program. And so that was important to us making sure that people were getting paid for the business that they were sending us. So making sure the tech was right, got that organized. Got that right, so people can get paid, and then began and continued nurturing those relationships and then nurturing new relationships that hadn't been nurtured to that point. From there, we started, you know, diving into different sectors. So, you know, partners were natural. So accelerators, incubators, any sort of startup program, startup community. We wanted to be there, because close is notoriously great for startups, smaller SMB, so we needed to be present in all those big hitting incu, incubators, accelerators, all of those programs, to which we and in July became official Microsoft partners as well, which was a huge one for us. And that's been a fun program. It's been fun to work with that team there as well. So that's been another really strong pillar of the partnership program, integration partnerships. force. This is one that will be leaning into more into 2023. The whole ecosystem concept. Of course, we're a specialty tool or sales CRM, we depend on other tools to play well. So we need badass integrations. And you know, we'll be focusing there in 2023. So integration partnerships go to market partnerships is a part of it, but hasn't been quite the focus up until now where we're going to have more resources. And then I personally believe that, you know, content should just be a natural part of a partnership manager's role talking to other people, it just doesn't hurt when I believe when you're on a partnership called, and you're just not finding that synergy between your product maybe between, you know, your audience, there's just not quite much there, I feel like there's always room for some sort of thought leadership between that could be just partnerships related, that can be sales related, right? Nothing to do with your products at all. And you're just simply just creating more exposure for the for both brands. And I feel like it's easy when so contents always one that we're leaning into.

Ben Wright  06:04

And, and it's interesting as you've gone through all of that, like we started off this podcast by explaining the Euro one man team, and that's like, that's an awful lot of different types of partners to be to be managing. And so I'd be really interested for people that are sat here thinking more like we've got a team, we've got individual teams that handle affiliates that handle technology partners they handle, how do you prioritize your time? And how do you select like, which partners to maybe give some some more TL TLC to out of that group that you manage?

James Urie  06:38

It's recognizing the potential. You I think, as a good partnership manager, you need good instincts to understand like, this create a lot of impact. And now my priority is here. But you can't do that all the time. If you're telling everybody Yes. Right. So you got to be realistic with a lot of folks. And if you don't feel like there's going to be a lot of impact in a partnership. And you're having that initial discovery call, you got to tell folks now. And just getting better at that telling folks No, or being realistic of like, this is not a priority now. But it will be in this timeframe. And then I'd love to connect and have a more intentional conversation. So telling people, no setting clear expectations. But when you do have that synergy and alignment on a call leaning in, and that could be on the integration side, which been you know, we've gone through together an exercise like that, that can be on the service partner side where, you know, they're, they're exposing your product to a niche that you were unaware of was a good fit for your product, right. And now you've you've had this epiphany of this is this is great, let's lean into this, I'm going to bring in resources from my into to help you be successful. It's recognizing those opportunities that have big impact, using your instincts to recognize those and leaning in and telling people No, so that's in high level how I prioritize.

Ben Wright  08:04

Yeah, I love that, I think as an additional kind of question to all their all their, like, scoring matrixes or anything, you have to actually assess that that synergy, or is it mainly done via God, because I know that there's component managers that will have like an Excel spreadsheet in there, like, you know, take them off based on criteria, but maybe explain like how how you go about defining like, Hey, this is a high potential partner, or maybe not, like, let's come back to you. Let's say,

James Urie  08:32

I wish I was that sophisticated, I'm not, I definitely go with my gut a lot on this end, it's knowing the product well enough, knowing our market well enough to realize when there's a good opportunity, that's going to either add a lot of value for your customers and your top of funnel that will you know, add lead to new opportunities just from leaning into that right by making sure your customers and your top of funnel are taken care of. And then it's also those new brand new opportunities you weren't thinking of that you know, will be a fit because you know, the product and you know, the market. So it's gut feel for me, it's to this point worked out well, hopefully sometime I'll get be more sophisticated where I can score these types of interactions. But today it's got Yeah, yeah,

Will Taylor  09:21

that's having to do that's a that's a really good insight. Because a lot of people probably get caught up in Oh, I, I heard this thing on this, you know, other podcasts or I read this blog, and it was about tearing and in scoring, and they may get caught up in trying to do that. But in reality, if they're spending time, like you said, James, learning in market and creating content and really engaging in becoming that subject matter expert, then they'll be able to have more of that gut feel where they don't need to get in the weeds of the scoring and this like really formal process, and they're probably not engaging with enough partners for that to matter anyways, because they'll just be Working with, you know, the select few that they have a stronger gut feel through their subject matter expertise that this is going to provide value. So I think that's a really good insight that you've kind of like naturally come to that, because I imagine that if there's a lot of people consuming content, they can get caught up in in that kind of thing. So I really appreciate that that insight,

James Urie  10:19

it's very easy to consume a lot of content and feel like you're doing the wrong thing, right? If you're like, I don't have this really, like put together process for scoring. I'm obviously doing something wrong. Sure, that's nice. And if you can put that together, and it works, that's great. But you should lean on your instincts, initially before that's put together in a meaningful way.

Ben Wright  10:40

Yeah, I, I guess had an additional follow up of you said like, hey, when when there is a good fit, I'm then going to go away and like get the right people involved from, you know, internal resource perspective to to actually go to market with that partner? How have you found that kind of collation of other team members and actually influencing them that partnerships is the right way to go? If that makes sense? Like, how does that process look like a close?

James Urie  11:06

I think about it holistically, right? I think about can this partnership, add value for our customers can add value for top of funnel, can I add value for our sales team? Can I add value for our success team and can add value for our support team, right? It's, it's a holistic effort. And I feel like if it helps all of those parties in involved in just running a business and adopting technology, it's such a win, win, win, win win. And so those are the big, those kind of conversations that I'm going to go all in, I know this is going to make the job easier for my team, add value to customers, and add value for top of funnel. So that's where, when I'm pulling in more resources, I'm pulling in the support team, right, I might give them additional tech support or consultation on connecting integrations or setting up specific workflows within the product. Same with the success team, giving them a point of contact on the success team to make sure that they have a go to point of contact there. And then, you know, on the sales team, it's giving them these tools to make the conversations easier as this top of funnel comes to fruition. And this is, you know, service partner, its integration partners. All relevant in the scenario?

Ben Wright  12:25

Yeah. It's interesting. I've been talking with a few people recently around like, what they're focusing on for 2023. And the point you made earlier around being kind of data driven, I think is, is really topical. Because I think there's, there's obviously a need to test in partnerships. But I also think, especially in this new climate, where maybe there's not enough as much budget to work with, right, and there's reduction in headcount. Yep, it becomes like, How can I prove to my team through those points you made around, hey, this is going to make your lives easier, or contract was top of funnel, I think it's going to be the more and more important so. So yeah, I like that point a lot.

James Urie  13:03

It's also a good way to add value for your partners, right? If you're, if you don't have the resources in house to say, We can do this, you know, beautiful go to market campaign. And we can do all these crazy, amazing things. And there'll be everywhere, I think the simplest thing you could do is guarantee buy in from your sales and success team, knowing that it's going to add value to their process, and from their service or their integration, right. And your partners get excited about that, if you mean it and you follow through with it. If that integration does add value, and you get buy in from your team's huge win for the partner, if they're a service partner, and they have a service that adds value to top of funnel or your customers. They get excited, they win your team wins. And so lack of resources, leverage your internal teams by it.

Ben Wright  13:49

Yeah, I love it. And, and I guess like, where I want to go next is more around like the future for your, your partner program. So we obviously started off with like, how it was created, and then how it scaled and how you've now got all of these different types of partners? How are you thinking for 2023 and beyond about scaling that team? And then the second question is like, where you sit at the moment in your role, what is going to be the next role you hire for on the partner team,

James Urie  14:19

we will definitely be hiring for an affiliate manager to manage the affiliate program as well as our service partners. And so that will be the very next hire, you know, where it kind of pressure testing the playbook for that in q1 q2, if you know anything about clothes we run small and nimble, always have were bootstrapped and profitable. So it's like, really push it to the point where we need that person and we know we can sustain that person and we're not going to let that person go because we know we want to hire, we want to keep them we want to take care of them. And we know there's plenty for them to go out and tackle and so that's how we function as a company function as a company since I've been here. And that's what we're doing at leading up to this affiliate manager hire. So you know, we'd become a team to likely in and into q2, hopefully. And then after that I'm really going to be focused on on tech partnerships and content.

Ben Wright  15:15

I love it. I love it. Well, there's an affiliate manager out there looking for another gig. And I'm sure Justin. James, I mean, the point you made was like, was so spot on, I think there's a, there's a risk in partnerships, sometimes where an organization wants to go all in on partnerships. And so they think the best thing to do is just to hire a team of three, four, like, we want to go after all these things. But in actual fact, like, I think the better method is the one you've described there as like, let's run a series of tests. Let's see which ones are going to be successful and then double down once we know or we validated that correct, right. So I kind of love what you said there about, like, we want to make sure that once we get this person, and they're going to be a close employee for life, and we've got enough revenue to sustain that person. I think that's really great. Exactly. And I think that's the difficulty in the space at the moment in tech in general, but also in partnerships is we've grown these teams exponentially with the hope of reaching these crazy revenue goals. And now it's like shit, like, we can't actually sustain these teams. So yeah, I mean, I love I love that type of that type of mindset. For sure. Definitely. I guess I guess onto like, the next point, and you kind of mentioned it in that answer around how close has it built that business being bootstrapped? Right, not taking outside funding. And so I'd love for you to comment on that mainly around like how you felt that has changed one the trajectory of the business, but secondly, how you think has had an impact on your partner program as well.

James Urie  16:48

For control of our destiny, which is so nice, we, we get to listen to our customers, we get to listen to our top of funnel, and we get to build with them. And we get to adapt to the market. Based on how we perceive the market today, and how it's changing with no outside influence, which is incredible. We get to set our own KPIs not set by someone else. And I feel like those outside KPIs when you're funded, it creates a scurry and this unnecessary anxiety when you haven't quite figured out what works and what, what works and what doesn't. Right. And so I think it gives folks anxiety, I think it sets folks up for failure. And this is just my personal opinion, but being bootstrapped and profitable allows you to go in make those mistakes, pressure test, figure out what works, figure, Figure out what doesn't work, and then come to a conclusion and then lean in at the right time. Right. And that's, you know, we've been in business for over a decade now. And we've our growth has been slow, but consistent. But it's been sustainable growth, and will continue to be that way, because we've controlled our own destiny.

Ben Wright  18:05

Yeah, amazing. Yeah. I love it. I mean, like, you look at the market now. And those types of companies are suddenly the most sexy companies in the in the world of tech, right, it's not these companies that have raised $100 billion Series A, it's companies that have been profitable and continue to be profitable, and have kept their employees right to your point earlier. Which I love. And so like, I guess, really, unless Well, you've got any more questions for for James around, you know, what he's detailed there. I kind of like to end as we do with most of these, with just like some learning that you can share to fellow partnership practitioners that are maybe listening to this. What would you give us some tips or best practices around our own partnerships? I guess,

James Urie  18:49

I think the first and foremost is don't suffer in silence. If you're a small team or a one person team, reach out to other partnership teams, like get involved in communities partner hacker, like they've got stuff going on. But even then, like one to one, if there's a product that is similar to yours, reach out, like just see what they're doing connect with them on a call and just like start to build that community, right. I think it's easy to as a partnership manager to feel alone, especially when you're a one person show. And so building that community with other partnership managers is great, and you're going to learn so much. They're going to expose you to shortcuts, that might have taken you a couple of months to figure out and so I would say don't suffer in silence, reach out to folks ask for help. Is is a huge one. I've gotten a lot of value from that.

Ben Wright  19:42

I think that's I mean me and you did actually James Yeah. And like I was kind of smiling as you're talking to her because I think like on our first call we spent probably the first like 20 minutes just going through strategy or and being like what do you think of this? And so I think I don't know if it's the same in every type of job role like I can't remember it when I used to work in customer success. I don't know if it happens in sales, because there's a lot of lone wolves in sales, right? I don't want to, they want to give away their secrets. But I feel like because partnerships is, is still a fairly misunderstood business department, let's say Department of Business. We're all trying to learn, and there's all stuff we need to learn. And so I've been very impressed with any conversation I've had with partnership people, they've always been willing to share tips and best practices, right. So. So I agree that

James Urie  20:31

what's the point of keeping a secret, you know, share it, learn together. And it's just, it's a lot of fun to communicate with people in different companies in the same role in different parts of the world, like, what are we doing, if we're not, you know, connecting with people and building these relationships, to help our careers but also just connect with people on a personal level? It's enjoyable. So yeah, don't suffer in silence is a big one for me.

Will Taylor  21:01

Yeah, I completely agree with that sentiment, and I want people to really lean into this. So how would you operationalize that? Like, what are the day to day or the weekly things that you do to not suffer in silence? Like, are you intentionally meeting with one person a week or, you know, commenting on LinkedIn posting on LinkedIn? Like, what does that look like for actually taking action?

James Urie  21:23

I'm definitely looking at LinkedIn content. And if I resonate with something that someone said, I will DM them on LinkedIn and either ask them a question I was curious about, or just ask and I did this with I think I've done with, you know, did this with Will? Ways back. And then Ben, we kind of naturally came together, through HelpScout. But um, yeah, I'll just reach out and see what's see what's up with them, you know, and see if they want to have a conversation, being respectful of their time, right? I never gonna assume anybody's time. But just see if they want to jump on a call, just talk shop and learn together. There's no strategy for me, it's just, if serendipity puts me, my eyes on you, or we collide in some fashion, let's just connect and chat.

Ben Wright  22:15

Yeah, I can, I can kind of plus one that because I think the other thing that you've been good at James, and this is just maybe a comment on you. But also what people shouldn't be doing is like, even when I left HelpScout, we still kept in touch, we were still swapping ideas and stuff like that. And so I would say that even if you have these relationships in your role, keep them going right, like don't let it end, when somebody leaves a business, you no longer work with them. Because there's still so much value and experience and learning that they're going to have in their next gig or their next experience, right. And so I think you're really good at that part of connecting is like, it doesn't just stop with people that you work with,

James Urie  22:51

right? Exactly. In my I actually, there is a system to maintain that. And anytime I think about somebody, this isn't my personal life, or like in my professional network, I'll ping them or call them haven't talked to a friend in a long time. I'll just pick up the phone, if I got a couple of minutes, call them and see if they answer and bullshit for a bit. You know, same thing. And if I see someone run across a, you know, a LinkedIn stream, or thread that I hadn't talked to in a while, I'll ping them and just literally just see how they're doing. Or you know, someone did, you know, took had a hardship because of layoffs or something. I'm gonna hit him up and see how they're doing and see if I can help them. If I think about someone, they come across my mind, I haven't communicated with them in a while. I'm just gonna check in

Ben Wright  23:40

on it, I love that. Love it. Yeah. And like I said, Yeah, it's amazing. And like I said, kudos to you. Because you're, you're one of the best in the game at the follow up piece. So that's something that I need to adopt. And I think people should probably get from this from this podcast for sure. Yeah, amazing. Strategy. None for me, no great having James on great reconnecting. He's done some pretty fantastic things at close with, with just himself, which is pretty incredible, to be honest, given the amount of partners that he just went through. Like he's got affiliates. He's got like solutions. He's got technology partners, right? Like everything and then you couple that with the fact that he's a solo, a solo operator. So I'm looking forward to seeing what close does once they once you get that, that doubling of your team regimes and you're able to

James Urie  24:30

get I'm dancing all day, I'm dancing all day, but you know, it's fun.

Will Taylor  24:37

Amazing. Well, like you heard here today. Oh, go ahead, James.

James Urie  24:42

No, no, go for it. Well,

Will Taylor  24:44

I was just gonna say like, just like we talked about, reach out to James clearly, he's like, very personable. We've kept in touch with them. And he's only going to try and help out, see if there's a way to partner or of course, share insights. So for those of you listening, reach out to James and you'll have a new person in your network to talk to.

James Urie  25:02

Absolutely LinkedIn or

Will Taylor  25:07

Love it. Thanks so much for the time today, James and that is another episode of The howdy partners podcast. Thank you all for

James Urie  25:13

having me fellas.

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