Howdy Partners #26: What to Look for in Partnership Talent

Hiring for partner roles can be tricky.

A successful partnership professional interacts with many departments and needs a culmination of different soft and hard skills. Because partnerships is a burgeoning aspect of the SaaS industry, those who are hiring for partner roles get to figure out how different past experiences in other roles, departments, or even other industries outside of SaaS and tech might play out in a partnership setting. Morgan Hines, Channel Partner Advisor and Coach at Thryv, analogizes the ideal partner talent profile to a bartender.

Someone who’s quickly able to strike up a conversation with anyone in the room, but is aware of what can and cannot be offered and isn’t afraid to say no. When hiring for partnership roles, Morgan looks for gritty, curiosity-filled candidates that know how to organize and manage multiple moving pieces at a time.

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Tom Burgess  00:17

Howdy partners, welcome back. We've got an awesome guest on the call today. Morgan, welcome.

Morgan Hines  00:25

Hello, thanks for having me.

Tom Burgess  00:27

We're gonna talk about your time at Thrive and just your time and partnerships. And it sounds like you guys are hiring, which is awesome. And I think that's what we're going to dig in today. A little bit about, you know, from a partnership talent perspective, what do you look for, you know, for our listeners, or maybe people that are looking to get into partnerships, you know, what skill sets do do a lot of partnership professionals look for. But without further ado, Morgan, would love to hear about you your role at Thrive and how partnerships is going.

Morgan Hines  00:54

Yeah, thanks so much. So obviously, my name is Morgan, but I manage a lot of our partnerships at Thrive, I really started on the agency route. So we had basically referral partners and value added resellers Thrive has been around for over 135 years at this point. So huge legacy business. And we decided to take on the task of throwing a partner channel on top of that, which also just adds another layer of complexity and fun. So that's been really fun to kind of navigate and understand where partner fits and where we just don't want to be involved. Because there's so many pieces of that business. For a little bit of color, we own the Yellow Pages, super pages, decks, media. So really all those iterations of what digital marketing has looked like over the years. And so as that's continued to grow, we've also moved into some strategic alliances as well as affiliate partnerships. And so I've been really lucky to help grow that out alongside of some amazing partner success coaches that really take care of our partners day to day as well. But really having free rein to build out the program and make all the mistakes that we've all made in partnerships throughout. And now we're really sitting in a space where we're really protecting and growing our agency side, really that referral partner program and that value added reseller program. Affiliates aren't necessarily the space for us, we found and really digging into strategic partnerships and alliances and finding others to come in and support myself as well as some of our success coaches

Ben Wright  02:32

with the move to more strategic partners give me an idea of, you're obviously hiring for this new role, which we'll dig into in a little bit, what was kind of the turning point or the thing that made you think he really needs some additional resource to jump on and help manage these partners,

Morgan Hines  02:46

because the agency side has been so important to our business. So far, it really brings in the majority of our sales, we can't turn off that lever. But as I think we all know, these larger alliances just take up so much time and resources that we end up sitting in meetings all day, and a lot of these agencies take so much one to one touch. And if there's not someone fostering those relationships actively reaching out to these guys, there's always a new up and coming marketing agency or business coach consulting agency that we've all gone after, they just get left behind and that side of business continues to dwindle down. And so looking for someone that can cut their teeth on that side of the business really understand not only our product, but how it can really, truly help small businesses and has that passion, so that we can continue to grow that person the way that we've continued to grow our channel. So I realized pretty quickly, there's I'm not going to give up the agency side 100% Right, that's I love those people. We've built some great relationships, but to have some backup is so important, the

Ben Wright  03:48

new role you're hiring for, and you touched on a couple of pieces that they're going to be over, which is like the management, you know, the hand holding type type of stuff that comes with partnerships. What else are you looking for in this highlight?

Morgan Hines  03:59

Yeah, so they're kind of primary focus will be on recruitment. So we do have some awesome success coaches that will do that hand holding after they've been brought into the channel. But really someone that's nimble and is able to identify these different kind of ICPs and IPPs. So that as we continue to grow and evolve, they understand where these people fit in. I think we're partnership professionals are often very different, is they understand that every relationship is just so different. It doesn't come down to making a sale or losing a sale, but what that ongoing relationship looks like. And so especially at agencies, oftentimes they're smaller businesses as well. And so these agency, these partnerships with agencies can really make or break their business and so someone that can really understand that I think is wildly important.

Tom Burgess  04:53

At Sauce Labs. We actually just hired our first channel BDM and purely you know, from an acquisition will stay point but it I think it's important to call out that this role is really the gatekeeper to building and fostering strong relationships. And I think it's worth pointing out because I feel like we've pointed this out a lot when it comes down to, you know, your channel programs, and you know, agencies being somewhat of the lifeblood to drive a lot of the success of Thrive, you sometimes leave some agencies in the dust, and then it's purely capacity planning, it's purely understanding that there are some agencies that, you know, might not be cut out for it or have different paths. So all that to say is that one of the things that I really find critical in a BD role, especially when it comes down to channel partnerships, is being able to prequalify is really important. Because once again, like if we're being honest with ourselves, there's there's agencies that fit your ideal partner profile. And then there are agencies that aren't, that's not to say that agency or this partner won't be a successful partner in your organization. But having that first line to really evaluate experiment, run, run through the science projects to get a pulse for who they're going to be as important, especially if you have tiering and different mechanisms. It's that's something that I interview for, and that's something that I look for as a positive.

Morgan Hines  06:13

Yeah, I completely agree. Um, we actually had kind of a chat internally, and I'm wildly bias. So before my partnership life, I worked in hospitality for years. And that's kind of how I found partnerships. So that was on accident, I realized, I worked for casinos. And I realized no one knew people who like to gamble more than other gamblers very quickly, right? Just because people have money, it doesn't mean that they're great gamblers. And so I've been having conversations internally is I give me a bartender, right? Give me someone that can really swift conversations, can speak to anyone in the room, but have no problem telling someone. No, they can think through all the ways to make a yes happen. But if 45 People have to jump through hoops to make a single sale, we're never going to be successful. So having someone that swift can communicate, but also not scared to say no, I think it's huge.

Ben Wright  07:09

And you touched on like, Yeah, I'd agree. I think I mean, I love this. Yeah, it's a great one. And I mean, I don't think we do it enough in tech in general, not just partnerships, looking outside of, of people that have previous Tech experience, right. Like, I know, people that have worked on golf courses have been the best sellers lately, who worked in the pro shop, you know, and so there's definitely transferable skills outside of tech. So I think that's a really important point to make you, you touched on a couple of key things that you're looking for, which is, you know, knowing when to say no, knowing how to speak to people, which not everybody is able to do. Are there any other things that you marked really highly in terms of people that are applying for this role? What are the things or the key skills that you're really, really looking for in this in this next person.

Morgan Hines  07:51

So some sort of communication skill, which we've touched on, but written spoken, really communication as a whole, I think is so important to partnerships, both internally and externally. We speak to so many key stakeholders, I spent my day I think I spoke to marketing, inside sales, outside sales operations, and partner stack today to get one thing accomplished. Before I even talked to my partner, again, about what was going on. I'm so separate of just speaking to those end people be able to communicate internally, externally. And then also organization, I'm sure I'm not alone. How many times have you guys had conversations with partners, they circle back six months, eight months, a year later. And it's like, you don't have some sort of way to keep track of all that you fall apart so quickly. And then you have to start all the conversations over again,

Ben Wright  08:41

that that adds like, I mean, I was just going to call into this thing, which I think is critical. But you you've touched on the reason why which is being in partnerships can be pretty frustrating, because we get partnerships, but sometimes the company that you're partnering with them get partnerships, and so you're always having to teach them a skill, as well as doing your job. And I think like one of the key things that and it's hard to quantify in a person I know that like grit and patience are like two things, which because it can get extremely frustrating. Being in partnerships, and especially being in that BD role, which I think you're hiring for, which is that you really have to have to have some grit to keep going after these leads keep going off these agencies. Would you agree with that, Morgan? Is that something that that kind of you had to had to deal with in partnerships as well? No, absolutely.

Morgan Hines  09:27

I mean, like I said, we have a huge legacy business. To be quite honest, one of the reasons why we've pivoted the way that we've looked at strategic partnerships is to really align ourselves with not only marketing, but our legacy sales team. So for example, we're working with a vendor now, vendors always want people to buy more supplies. We want people to buy software, they think if they do both, there'll be more successful business owners. And so we've now pulled in outside sales, working with people that have been selling the same price deduct for years and years. And having that looked at a bit differently is a very, very long term game plan. And it takes, I can't tell you how many hours of meetings we've sat in to make it work both internally and externally.

Tom Burgess  10:15

You have to be patient. And it's so funny. I have like, scars, maybe not scar tissue. But I certainly, you know, like, put in partnerships, yes, there's this idea of the quick win, but it to me, like every time I hear a quick win it kind of it's kind of like chalk, or like nails on a chalkboard because it is so much more than that. Like, yes, of course, bringing in a partner that brings in a referral in the first 30 days is awesome, you can you can work towards that. But you bring up a point where, you know, working with legacy products, or even just like this new wave of professionals coming in, I think about like sales, consulting, and sales consulting is now starting to shift from this, you know, the old school mentality. And so just thinking about, like enabling and being able to have this, this path forward with people that are, you know, maybe I don't want to label that putting it further along in their career. It's, it is all about the long game. And it's all about building the small baby steps, like those one or two strategic things that you can do in a month in a quarter that are going to prove the wins in the long run. So I I love that.

Ben Wright  11:20

And I I mean, I've recently transitioned, I run an agency now, right? So I've got a content deal. But I was thinking about as you're speaking around, like, Okay, put myself in the position I'm in now, if people reached out to me, like, Hey, you're a content marketing agency, you should promote X and Y like, it has to really benefit me and my clients, right. And I think, I think that's the piece we often miss out on is like, how do I make this agency elevate their business make more money, right? If you're able to do that, and if you're able to come to me with a value proposition that says, Hey, Ben, like, you partner with me, as an agency, I'm going to get you more clients or your clients are going to bring in more. That's the messaging that we all need to live with. And I, I feel sometimes as partnership professionals, we don't get that message across well, because if you're telling me today, you're going to make me an additional 10 grand a month. I'm going to partner with you. I'm going to put a lot of that. Yeah. You know, so like, as you're talking about that, it just becomes interesting by putting myself on the other side of the fence now, and knowing what would appeal to me and like that's, it's just an interesting scenario to think threatening,

Morgan Hines  12:26

and kind of circling back to hiring is. It's interesting, I spoke with someone from one of our sales teams today that was asking some questions about the position. And the difference between those quick wins, and just convincing someone to sign on the dotted line is so different. Yeah. Right. Like I could bully you into becoming my partner. Right? Yeah, like you're gonna buy some Uber aids, so y'all come freeze my butt off and salt like, you know, like, I could make I could make you sign on the dotted line. I have no question. You're gonna sell anything for me? Probably not

Ben Wright  12:58

know exactly. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. I mean, like, it's that funny thing, where I think we have this thing, which I signed us upon, I've got the contract signed. So what right like it doesn't, it doesn't mean anything like direct sales on the dotted line, great. The money's gonna be wider with your bank account the next day. But there's just that is the starting point of like everything else that you need to do. This is a good segue, because you mentioned you were talking to somebody internally that was that was interested in the role. And so I'd love to know from your personal experience, or just your opinion in general, what are the roles like outside of people that have experience in partnerships? And maybe we'll keep it to tech to start off with because you mentioned bartenders, which I love. What roles do you think really kind of translate well into a partnerships role? internally?

Morgan Hines  13:42

Yeah. So I really like we have a specific part of our sales team that really focuses on Winback clients. And so they have to have that understanding of why they left us why it didn't work. Has something changed? Has it not changed? Does it make sense to revisit the conversation? That's been really interesting to me. Anything revolving retention, as well. So those clients that are looking to cancel, that's interesting to me similar concept. To be honest, I'm a little bit jaded when it comes to our direct sales team, because so many of them have been conditioned and trained for years and years to make that sale and push for that sale. And like I said, we can push anyone to sign on the dotted line. And then success could be interesting, depending on how the org is currently set up. So if it's really focused on retention and growth and long term kind of partnership, as we as they like to call it. That's really interesting to me, because they do understand both sides of that coin.

Tom Burgess  14:47

Yeah, we've had this debate I think we like very starkly asked ourselves the questions would you rather hire a CSM or an AE? And I feel like we both had a very similar like Ben myself and will had I mean, which Just put it bluntly, I would I would rather take a CSM, like just based on I actually think will disagree with us. Did we did both good questions. Yeah, I think what we came to together was like both both roles have key strengths. And this goes, this goes to like the unicorn that being a partner professional is you have to be everything. And I think I think more so than that you you, you touch on a point where it's like, you know what you could you could get Ben to sign as a partner today. But what you can't do is you can't control Ben to then drive those quick ways you can't control Ben to drive that success. And I, what I found and I think is a really key, a key skill or like soft skill is just being honest. Right? Like, maybe that's maybe that's my conditioning and coming from the agency side and being this no frills kind of like, yeah, no bull crap type approach. But transitioning that to SAS, that skill set and being just like, Listen, you know what, Ben, like, I could sign you as a partner today, can I promise that I'm gonna drive you 10k in revenue per month? No. But what I can do is based on based on your mindset, your buying, and I think that's a really key thing to listen to, as you're acquiring partners is like, are they bought it, do they have the right team to like, really get you there, because that will prove to be way better in terms of building trust building relationship and make your brand or make your company at the forefront. You know, like, if you build that trust upfront as a brand, that trust is now instilled in your partner to say I can trust thrive, I can trust just call I can trust whoever it is, doesn't matter. That is That to me is like that's, that's my quick win.

Ben Wright  16:38

The other thing that the other like, piece with this, and we didn't mention when you're talking about key skills, but again, as you were talking, it's it's kind of provoke some thought like, fundamentally, if I partner with thrive as an agency, I've got change my business, I've got changing business processes and everything around my business to really start to offer your services. And so I think for somebody coming into any partnership role you need to be you need to be a strategic thinker in the way that you can position your product and understand where it's going to slot into their, to their services, right. And like, I think coming from any role, even if you're an A right and used to the quick wins used to push somebody to get the sale, people that are involved in really technical selling, and I used to pull in solutions together to create this package that the client then buys, I actually think I'm going against myself, Tom, because I didn't say CSS last time, as I was thinking, they would also make a good fit because they're used to taking our solution and packaging it in a way that's going to be a good fit. And I think in a similar way, if you find somebody that's able to do that for an agency and say like, Hey, we should point up because of x. And here is where it makes sense to fit into your, your workflow your business. Like I think that for me would be a huge plus. So someone definitely

Morgan Hines  17:53

owes you like an Uber Eats gift card or something. So I actually passed by a resume earlier today of a sales engineer. It's not something I thought of before but you're 100% Correct. We talked about integrations we talked about that full suite of solutions, thrive really prides itself on kind of being that all in one solution when it comes to client experience. Obviously, there's other tools in there that you need to effectively run, manage and market your business day to day. That's a really interesting take. I haven't thought about that

Tom Burgess  18:21

i plus one that and that's something you know, going from partner enablement and being at a partner organization where I knew that product inside now, coming into that organization, seeing how solutions consultants or engineers work, there's no there's no better tactical person to be able to one understand, you know, how your product like the heartbeat of your product, where it works, where it doesn't like the no frills like, hey, this feature is great, but it doesn't work within your organization. It doesn't. And and that to me is like the biggest connection point between being able to self prescribe or self solve. Versus like I've got asked my team and I cannot agree more Ben like i plus one that

Ben Wright  19:06

Yeah, and so like, I think for kind of final piece moment, we've kind of talked around skills, roles, etc. When you start interviewing these, these people, like what are some of the questions that you're asking, really to make sure that they're, they're fit, and they're going to be comfortable in this role?

Morgan Hines  19:23

Yeah, so the first question I've been asking is whether or not they know what channel sales are. And I asked for, what their opinion of Channel Sales are and what partnerships mean, because I'm sure if you asked all three of us we'd have different responses even. I think that's really telling where they focus where they spend the most time and that I asked him to give me a minute long explanation, which we all know a minute gets to be pretty long as you aren't prepared

Tom Burgess  19:49

the minutes later. Yeah.

Morgan Hines  19:52

So it's always fun to kind of see where are they focus? are they focusing on the sales volume? Are they spoke are they focusing On MRR, are they focusing on that ko win is really interesting to me. The last interview I did, they talked about sales volume and how they've, you know, over achieved and how they have the highest sales numbers and they're going to sign the most amount of partners and didn't tell me anything about partnerships. I'm sure he was a great salesperson, just not a great partner person. Um, second question is generally around asking for an example of a long term project that they worked on how they stay organized, and how they communicate with other key stakeholders, like we talked about, if you don't have that long term approach, you're going to lose so many of our great partnerships. That's kind of generally where I'm starting. And then from there, generally based on background, so I've only interviewed one person that had a chat channel background, so far, everyone else has come from something a little bit different. So they've been focused on the transition from sales to understanding that CO marketing approach, or they've come from something like client success. And we've talked about asking for the sale and their comfortability around that is,

Ben Wright  21:09

it's interesting what you just said that because like, you've got two sets of candidates, you've got like candidates that have channel experience. And then candidates they're coming from, you know, the in a bartender or wherever else. What's more difficult to teach? Is it more difficult to teach somebody with no channel experience about the channel? Or is it more difficult to teach on your channel experience, how to be a dynamic collaborate that you want in the role?

Morgan Hines  21:32

I think I'd rather teach someone channel. Yeah, like, I'm a very, very firm believer that I can teach anyone how to do a technical job for the most part, right? Like insert, like star star, all these caveats, right? But I can teach almost anyone how to do the job, I can't teach someone how to have personality. I can't teach someone grit, I can't teach someone. Curiosity. That's kind of why I made that bartender analogy, right? Like, I would rather find someone with zero channel experience that had all of those other soft skills, and maybe spend an extra couple of weeks training them. Yeah. I've been lucky so far. In interviewing, I think I might kind of get the best of both worlds with a couple of our options so far, to be honest. But I don't think that's the norm.

Tom Burgess  22:18

Yeah, I mean, it's just, it's still, it's still one of those things that is so new. So like the fact that you're interviewing, it's becoming more common, but the fact that you have interviews with people that have channel experience in one facet or another is is a positive, I think we'll start to see more of that. To me, it's, you've got to be a self starter, like the person that can that can adapt. Like, I think I'm going to go back and just talk about the mindset, like back to the bartender, like if you if you have the skill sets, or you exude the skill sets that you can sell start, you can sell finish, I think that's a really big piece too. But more so you're you're willing to adapt and grow. Like I think that's invaluable, right? Like, it's it's not to scare listeners away. But like, there's there's a rule in partnerships, regardless of that mindset being there, but I think it just suits itself, so much better to being that fullcycle success manager that you need on partnerships on.

Morgan Hines  23:12

And I'll be honest, I hate this analogy. But it's true. And I think it's really why there's so many people like Ben that exists, but it really is like being an entrepreneur inside of a big company. Right? I hate when people say it, right? Like, they're like, keep your own brand up and build your own company and build your own channel. Like To be honest, it kind of annoys me, it's not my thing. But there's so many people that have left partnerships to start their own companies. And it makes sense, because they've already had to do all these things.

Ben Wright  23:38

Yeah, it's it's like, the only role I think in an organization where you literally touch every part of the company, right? Like from product and integrations, like you have to know that stuff. Marketing, you have to know that stuff. You know, you have to know to go market and generate business success, obviously, the management, the sale of actually signing the partner. And so I think in general, if you think about it as a role, it's phenomenal in the way that you're never gonna get bored. It teaches you all of these skills. But it also means that it is going to be one of the most stressful jobs at an organization because you have to do all of this stuff as well. And so I think that's what kind of makes us a special breed in a way because we all we have to be competent in so many different areas if you want to make it difficult to hire somebody, right? Yeah, if

Tom Burgess  24:23

you're at a job right now, whether it's in SAS or not like you think partnerships might be right, just just trying to learn learn from as many different people in the organization as possible. I don't. You can learn from product you can learn from sales, you can learn from the various roles and sales you can learn from CSM, like those are all critical skills that as you develop your career and want to come into partnerships. To me that's a no brainer. Morgan, any final thoughts?

Morgan Hines  24:45

No, I completely agree. One of my favorite parts about partnerships, to be honest, is the sense of community but also the willingness to learn and really be vulnerable about learning. I think it's become really popular in the past couple weeks to really talk about impostor syndrome and No one really knows what's going on out there. But I think partnership's has finally been in front of something for once we're not behind. The trend is we've all been so open about not knowing what the heck we're doing and just kind of figuring it out. I think the first time Ben and I spoken, I was like, Do you know what any of us are doing was? Not so sure.

Tom Burgess  25:21

Yeah, no, I agree. I actually really think that's worth calling out. Get involved with the partnership community on LinkedIn. Like connect with Ben connect with Morgan. Connect with myself. I don't have a lot to say about it. Whatever. It's fine. Community this that's why partnerships is so strong right now is because we're honest, we're transparent, and I think that's what's gonna help us win. Alrighty, well, thank you guys. Again, Ben Morgan. This was a great episode. I'm excited. And Morgan, good luck with the hiring process. Let us know when you get that next great hire and we would love to have you back on if we can.

Morgan Hines  25:53

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you guys so much. I appreciate the time. Yeah. All right. We'll catch everyone later.

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