Howdy Partners #28: Positioning With Your Partners is More Important Than Working On Your Co-Sell Pitch | Katie Bentz

Today we’re joined by Katie Bentz, Channel Partner Manager at Aircall. Katie discusses the importance of working on positioning tactics with your partners. Katie discusses the unique challenges and opportunities presented in working with agencies.

The group discusses how to find win-win situations between software solutions and service-based partners. Tom and Will ask Katie about what to focus on with agency partners during initial meetings and how to keep engagement high as the relationship continues. They touch base about how to understand the digital landscape and build trust with partners and their customers.

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Will Taylor  00:03

Howdy partners, and welcome to the howdy partners Podcast. Today we have Katie Ben's. Katie, tell us about yourself, where you work and the types of partners that you work with today.

Katie Bentz  00:16

Yeah, so echoing what Tom said, I'm so excited to be able to chat with you both we we all used to work together at Vid yard, my first career in partnerships, and definitely learned a lot from these two. So excited to share some of my knowledge now a lot of which kind of started with with working with Tom with a bunch of our partners. So today, I work at aircall, which is a cloud based phone system. I work with channel partner, so specifically partners in the E commerce space agencies, BPOS, and then also majority of HubSpot partners. So my my portfolio is a mix of both right now. And that's been about nine months now. I think that I've been there. So learning lots, but definitely applying a lot of what I learned and my role a bit yard here. So happy to be here.

Will Taylor  01:05

Heck, yeah. And today, we're going to be talking about positioning with your partners. This is a topic that I feel people do get wrong, they either, you know, focus too much on themselves, or they don't develop the joint value proposition well enough. But, Katie, I'd love your perspective on why is positioning important for your partners to understand when you're working with them in any motion, whether it's co sell co marketing, why is that positioning piece? So important?

Katie Bentz  01:37

Yeah, great question. I think our partners, especially agencies really need to build and maintain like a really large amount of trust with their clients, especially when they have them on an ongoing retainer. So they need to make sure that everything that they do is in the best interest of that client, they never want to come across as you're just pushing a product to get commissioned, things like that. So helping your partners determine when is the best time and place to recommend your product, that it's very organic and helps them maintain that trust is really important. For example, I work with a lot of HubSpot agency partners, and I know that their core product and services are always going to be around HubSpot. But then I am very transparent with them and acknowledging that but then I'm making sure that they understand. Okay, first you're going to implement HubSpot, but then you're going to implement these supporting technologies. Let's figure out what those look like and when the best time is to recommend them. And I think like remembering that not every technology needs to be implemented right away. So help your partners determine like, what are the month one technologies month, three months six, if HubSpot needs to be implemented first, then like when does it make sense to implement something like aircall, or vice versa and kind of splitting the tech stack between essential versus nice to have will help them map out where they should be recommending them. So all in all, I think like, this is something that Tom and I really focused on, and I'm continuing to focus on in this role. And at the end of the day, it's like helping your partners keep that trust with their clients and make it very organic.

Will Taylor  03:07

Yeah, and I think the important piece to pull away from that is, you didn't necessarily say you're just telling them how to pitch it. It's the positioning, which I think is maybe one step above pitching, where it's like, not just the why you would pitch it to the client and the value that they would get. It's the when and the positioning really focuses on the customer. And when is most important. How are they? How can they think about it? That's, I think, another piece where it's a lot of partner managers, they think, how can I get these partners to pitch my product? They don't think about how can I help these partners to understand where this product lies in the greater tech stack in the customer journey? So let's dive into some of the tactics that that you mentioned that you and Tom have done this before. So what are some of the things that you do? Let's say for your meeting with a partner, maybe for the first time, and you're going to start the conversation around positioning? What what are some tactics that you employ?

Katie Bentz  04:12

Yeah, so I think like, first off, understand what technology they're already recommending, and when so that's, you know, usually pretty easy to find on their website or during the discovery process before they even sign on, but then dig into what does their actual discovery and sales process look like? So something that Tom and I used to do, and what I want to do now is like get them to actually walk you through what their deck looks like, what are they already talking about? What do you think that they should be adding, for example, your aircraft, like we developed a training exercise that helps partners add questions around telephony to their discovery process, so that it's easier to recommend based on like understanding their current situation and what we actually recommend that they do is like make a test call to their current phone number, see what that experience is and then again, it's like a very natural and organic way of of being able to then make a recommendation afterwards. And then also finding out who is making the recommendation. So, you know, is it the sales team before client signs? Is it customer success or client services post sale, you need to understand who's making these recommendations, so you know, who you need to be enabling, and then having like ongoing enablement sessions to ensure that they understand the product, the use cases, integrations, things like that. Something that worked really well when I was at videocard, is that we ran a series of small group training sessions with one of the sales managers. So it was a select group of partners, it was still intimate, but it was, we could do it a little bit more at scale, because we did it in a group setting. And then I think another big piece is helping them understand the competitive landscape. So especially if the CRM or help desk that they're recommending today have like a native version of your software, teach them when they should be recommending it. And so, as an example, I work with a lot of E commerce partners that work with gorgeous, gorgeous has a basic native dialer. Aside from feature comparison, one thing that I now teach them thanks to one of my partners, who actually taught me is that as soon as a client hits like a certain call volume, within gorgeous, it actually is cheaper to use aircall versus the pricing model of gorgeous is needed dialer. So I think like learning those things beyond just product comparison, and things like that are really going to help make it easier for your partners to say, okay, they make more than $75 a month, or receive more than 75 in mountain like, that's the time that we're going to recommend a different solution.

Tom Burgess  06:34

It's so it's so relevant right now, because I don't know if you guys remember, but I did this agency paradigm training. And I was at Vid yard. And I'm actually doing that in two weeks for our team here at just call. And part of what you mentioned early on, Katie is like transparency is really key. And like you guys both echo the fact that it's not. It's not, if it's when and you know, part of part of what makes positioning successful in what we do is, is really just understanding how the agency goes to market. Because as we know, you know, aside from like, very specialized agencies, or, or however you look at it, like, sometimes agencies sell different, there's a different, there's a difference between selling based on value, which is I'm gonna charge you $10,000 or $10,000 a month. And we're aiming to hit these three goals. But I'm not going to, you know, line item out everything that our team is going to execute it for you to be able to do that. And then you have the agencies that you know, you're charging based on points or whatever it may be, or it's like you're getting four blog posts, you're getting to site pages. And, and what that does in our landscape is it makes it there's two different paths to selling technology. And I think the most important key that that combines both, is when we prescribe a tech stack or when you're looking at sales collateral from a partner standpoint, it's really important to understand that you're not trying to change the way they go to market you're not you're not, you're not coming in and completely revamping what they're doing what you're what you are ultimately you're trying to achieve is making minor tweaks to make sure that they understand that selling technology can be very easy. In a sense, like if you put it on a timeline over three months, six months, 12 months, whatever it may be. And what that what that ultimately does is it makes you as a partner manager, a channel account manager, you're not stressed because like if you do it right, something like an air call something like a just call whatever it may be around the landscape of HubSpot, Salesforce or whatever it may be, we know that it's enhancing we know that it's secondary. So you're never going to be like, hey, you need to have air call before you have HubSpot. And so that makes it really easy for us to come at it from an honest and transparent approach to say, Listen, hub spots are going to be first, we want to make sure that you have plenty of time to convey to the customer that we're actually doing the right things to make your digital landscape, very efficient, very synergistic, etc. We can let you know when it's right, for air call. And so like it just makes it a lot easier. And you also mentioned something that I think is critical is that there's a difference between selling technology in the sales cycle. So like pre selling customers or prospects, I guess, and how you position it there. But, you know, for technologies that are enhancing or secondary, it's most likely going to the levers going to be pulled after that scope of work assigned. So making sure that you're connecting with their their go to market teams, the team that are executing work, building strategy documents in the onboarding phase, like it's super critical. And so I'm it makes me excited because I feel like we're we're doing a lot of similar things and it works as you get to talk to partners.

Will Taylor  09:59

So I think something I wanted to pull out there was when you were we were talking about the tactics. It was great. It sounded like a lot, though. And I know you can spend a lot of time on this positioning piece. So what are some ways that you've made this efficient? What are some of the things that you've deployed in the past? And it may be useful for you to walk through, you know, like step one or meeting one is this and then we move on to this? What is that process for making sure that it's efficient as you're working on the positioning with your partners?

Katie Bentz  10:29

Yeah, I think like, the biggest thing is starting from the moment a partner signs on like, sometimes people focus too much on okay, they signed on as a partner. Now I need to like teach them all the technical things about this product. Most of our partners are really smart, right? Probably smarter than us when it comes to technology. So it's like, it's not going to be that hard to train them on the product. Right away, I always on the first call, like dig into, okay, tell me about obviously, the ICP, all those things. Tell me about your team. And then tell me about, like, what technology are you recommending today? How are you recommending it and like dig in from the very beginning, because it's then going to be very easy for you to start making recommendations on how your technology fits into that, how they can improve, I think something like, you know, being a partner manager, it's one thing to teach them just about your product, but also like how to sell technology in general, like Tom mentioned. So like, digging into that process should be like, right from the get go, you can do a lot of technology training around the product asynchronously, and then spend your time like on these calls, because you don't get that much face time with them. Especially if you know, they're like a busy owner, or whatever it may be. So like, use that time to be very strategic, and then try to like make a lot of the other stuff asynchronous.

Tom Burgess  11:43

Yeah, and I would add to that, you, as you mature in your career, you will be able to understand whether an agency or channel partner is right to take on some of the position like positioning to me, like if I look at two cores, it's understanding how your product works. And then understanding how to position that product for your partners. And there are I would say, maybe, maybe selfishly, the positioning side can be a lot heavier. So to the point of, you know, how do you pull away the key tactics that that you can scale? Right, within your capacity? Your partners? I think there are two, there's maybe like a couple of key elements that would be right for any partner, like, Hey, can I provide resources assets that they can digest on their own, and get a better glimpse in terms of how they can position if they want to a product? Some of the deeper elements that we're kind of getting into, around looking at sales, collateral helping, helping to consult around, like the positioning of a full tech stack? And like the why in The when is it all that to say, like, you should this is why being honest and transparent, like listen, you know, I know you're a team of five, like, are you ready to do this, because it's going to be heavy. And that, that it just boils down to making sure that your timing is right to position with your partner that like, we've got some stuff that will help you sell better and faster, and probably easier. And I'm not going to shove it down your throat. And Katie, you mentioned this earlier, it's like, positioning versus pitching. And I think that's like a, that mentality carries through in these key courses. Like, I'm gonna help you because I'm in a position this for you. Do you want to go through this? Like, I'll give you the glimpse of the bare bones? And if you're not ready, that's okay. Right? That's okay. We can we can cover this at a better time.

Will Taylor  13:42

Yeah. And I think a lot of like, especially agency partners, they're so specialized in what they do, and they're such smart people, but a lot of them will admit, like they don't like selling right. So it's like, how can I make this easier for you and your teams? To not like don't even think of it as selling its positioning, right? It's not, you're not the one that has to make the sale. Like that's what our team is here for. And that's what this cosell motion is, but how can I get your team comfortable enough to at least start making recommendations, and then get them over to our team? Like, I want to work with where they're at. And I think a lot of them, they'll they'll openly admit like they just don't like to sell. That's not what they started an agency to do. It's like they did it to actually do the technical work or whatever it may be. So like, like, make sure you actually have those conversations and then, like, make sure they know that like you're here to be their consultant and help them get better at that. That's part of the role of a partner manager is just like teaching them how to do these things. Right. So let me ask you, how many one pagers do you send out per day? I know I like

Katie Bentz  14:44

I feel like that's such a common thing. I do send them out. But I think like for me, the biggest thing is like yes, I can give you an asset fine, but like the biggest thing is consistency in your communication, right. So like one thing that We do hear is when a new partner signs on we have like a channel pack creator that creates a Google Drive folder with the relevant like resources based on integrations that they work with things like that. It's great. But how many times do you think they're actually going to go back to that folder months down the line, probably not that often. So I try to focus on more is like having consistent engagement. Tommy will probably remember like when I was at video, and I had a Slack community for my partners, and it worked really well, because it was a way that I could have general channels for announcements, updates, things like that. And I could easily send that out, I just had to send one message. And then I had private channels with each partner. And it was a great way to like at scale, send out updates, something that we're doing here aircall Now is that we just started, like bi weekly, weekly, bi weekly partner digest email where all the partner managers take turns, like writing out templates on product features, Deaf updates, things like that. And I think just like staying top of mind, and also so that they have relevant and timely updates, is going to be a lot more effective than just like giving them a document or, you know, a slide deck, those are great, and they're still they still have their place. But for me, it's all about like consistent communication.

Tom Burgess  16:14

Yep. Yeah, that's, that's part of the, I guess, the hill that I'm climbing here is that you've got to remain relevant. And it goes back to the idea that like there are, there are partners that emerge or mature in your ecosystem that are ready to take on some of those more custom approaches. And, and I guess, one thing that I would, I would say to the audience is that positioning, although I mentioned before, like you can have a very consistent approach in in, in how you develop and deliver the best way to position, it's still very advanced like it, it is, it's something where it's not for, it's not for the agencies that aren't willing to put in the time with you. Because to Katie's point, you know, being able to help this is where a Partner Manager, which is a partner professional, in general, their their role expands because the exercise to help them position properly is much more around building trust, you know, the expertise and the knowledge to say like I can, I can extrapolate without demolishing the way you go to market like you're a surgeon, in the fact that I'm, I'm going in fine tooth and comb and saying like these couple areas, I think we can help develop a little bit a little bit further. And it, it goes beyond the continuous communications to some of your more like consistent partners, this is something that you have to get buy in, you have to absolutely get buy in from those partners that are ready to expand and Excel. And I'll tell you like the partnerships or channel partnerships, or agencies that are going to jump on the ship are the ones that are willing to adapt, they're willing to change their model. And I the amount of partners I've talked to, in the past two weeks that are like, Hey, we're getting out of that we're getting out of the content execution game, because of the margins. And just where we're heading, like we're trying to get into more of the consulting approach and like ding, ding, ding like this, this screams, the ability to help position and go down that path. So like, there, there are several markers that you need to be aware of, from a partnership relations standpoint, that tells you, they're willing to take this on, and they're ready for it versus like, let's hold off. And yeah, aside from that, it's like keeping up with the Joneses and making sure that your, your, your regular you're keeping like your communications up and and they'll tell you when they're ready.

Katie Bentz  18:36

And it doesn't happen overnight, right? Like this isn't something that you just have 145 minute call, and all of a sudden they like understand how to position technology. It's like an ongoing process, that deadlines give them tasks to do. And I think like, as long as you kind of get their buy in and they're willing to put the time in and you're willing to help them with that it can become really effective. But it isn't a quick process. Because it's it's not like they're going in and changing their whole business model. But it is changing like a mindset, right? And that that takes time.

Will Taylor  19:06

So if you were either starting today, or you know, someone came to you and asked, Okay, I'm ready to start helping my partner's position. What would you say is step one, what can be the tactical takeaway from everything we talked about today? What is that step one to get the ball rolling in your mind? Yeah,

Katie Bentz  19:27

I think like auditing what their current process is for recommending technologies is going to be probably the number one step for me and then doing like research on what those technologies are. And then you can kind of bucket them into that essential versus nice to have or supporting technologies and then have conversations with them to really like map out where each one fits in the client's journey with them. And then I think a big part too, is like helping define what services they're going to add around your technology right like they Yes, commission is nice that that's part sort of your your offering as a tech partner, but for them, like where the real value is, is obviously in services. So make sure like that is an important piece of if they want to add in services and then help them define like, what they are, what they can be charging and things like that a great place to start is look at what your professional services are at your company and then see what your partners can offer.

Tom Burgess  20:22

Yeah, and it's it's funny, like when you talk about that, like service development is really key because that's how agencies beat the margins that they have selling technologies Commission's it's all mailbox money, they tell you like the the best channel partners that you have, don't care about that. But you can work in kind of like, reverse order. It's understanding who your agency is. So, you know, do they are they broad speaking? Or are they specialized? Do they have sales enablement? Do they have the ability to like build strategy documents, if they do like your your service development with them is more open. And what that why that's important is because when you come back to the positioning side, they know, like they it will click with them to say, okay, yes, if I'm building strategic documents on, you know, call scripts, or implementation integration, like it just makes it easy for them to then come back to the sales front and say, like, I know how to position this. I know how to drive this technology, I know when it probably fits. And that's a really key point is that, although you're kind of reverse engineering, it's like if you truly grasp what the your your partner's capable of, it allows you to then say like, Okay, I know they can do XY and Z, let's come back to the table and say, All right, from a positioning standpoint, you're not just selling a product you are actually implementing. And this goes back to where like the brand identity and brand trust comes into place, like, I'm not going to tell you how to position it, I'm just going to give you tidbits to say like, here's what works really well. And then they'll figure it out on their own, then that's, like to the original point, like, building, building successful positioning around technology, as an agency can take months. And so it is not something that you can just jump into and be done in two weeks. You know, it's a lot easier to put, like a new page in your sales deck than it is to like, train a salesperson on how to actually do this. Right. So, yeah, kudos to you, Katie. Like, that's a great point. I think the service side is actually it's part of the positioning that, at least in my mind, that I sometimes get to later on. But in the same vein, if you understand what they can do early on, it allows you to help them position better.

Will Taylor  22:44

I love that. Nice. And, Tom, what is your tactical takeaway from our conversation today?

Tom Burgess  22:50

Um, I think the core the core positioning is really understanding your aid, like developing and figuring out how to make your your partner's position better, I feel like we covered a good amount of that. It's like, there's a time and a place. But if I could recommend for everyone, you know, I used to work in an agency. So like any organization I work with, it's actually it's pretty nice and easy for them to understand how agencies tick. And what I would say for organizations that haven't had a higher from an agency or a channel partner, lack of a better term. Talk to your channel partners about like, how do they sell how are they built, like, have some very, like deep conversations with them? Like, I just want to understand who you are, like in your land in the HubSpot landscape? How How are you? Like, how have you built success? Like how have you sold? How is your agency made up? Then how are similar competitors or different agencies because what that will allow you to gain is knowledge into like, Okay, I've got a better understanding, I have more confidence in how agencies are built. The main point of context, I need to be speaking with how I position a little bit easier, and ultimately to like, develop your own strategies and hypothesis around like, what can work, what can't so I would have my takeaway is like, if you have channel partnerships, talk with your agencies like off the cuff, like, I want to understand how agencies run. And hopefully that will help you kind of understand like, why positioning is important. And what it means to you guys.

Katie Bentz  24:24

I'd also add, like, figure out where they want to go, because some people like I have some partners who they're super happy with where they're at, they've got like, a consistent retainer with a bunch of clients. And they're, they don't want to like grow a ton. So it's like, okay, so you're not gonna be bringing in a lot of net new referrals. But how can we then work on like an upsell strategy, right? versus some partners who are, you know, have a small team, but they want to be like a team of 5x by the end of the year, it's like, okay, well, great. Like, how can I help you get there? Or maybe they want to, like build their partnerships, so maybe I can introduce them to a partner of ours, like another tech partner of ours, sorry. So it's like, yes, figure out where they're at now. but also what do they want to look like by the end of the year and that's going to help you help them.

Will Taylor  25:04

Amazing. Katie, thank you so much for your insights. That is another episode of How to partners. Tune in next time. Thanks, everyone.

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