Howdy Partners #40: Strengthening The Foundation with KaraLynn Lewis

KaraLynn Lewis (Partnerships Expert) and the Howdy Partner posse discuss securing internal buy-in and building out a partnerships program.

She shares how to build structure and clarity and nurture relationships, as well as what tools she would use (if any) at the beginning stages of a partner program.

She also talks about questions she would use to understand the needs of other departments in her company.

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And here's a quick summary:

  • How to make friends for a living. 0:03
    • Making friends for a living.
    • Building partnerships from the ground up for tech and agency.
  • Defining zero to one. 2:56
    • The number one thing needed to go from zero to one.
    • How to track zero-to-one.
  • Building a plan and a strategy. 6:28
    • The importance of having a plan and a strategy.
    • Building structure and clarity.
    • The most negatively impactful mistake to make when going from zero to one.
    • The first partnerships hire.
  • The long game of partnerships. 9:42
    • Partnerships are a long-term play.
    • Finding common ground to avoid being under fire.
    • Building internal buy-in during the zero-to-one phase.
    • Seeing the perspective of others for partnerships.
  • Understanding their goals and understanding their goals. 12:48
    • Building the enablement structure internally for the most important teams.
    • Understanding the value of partnerships.
  • Company-wide strategy vs. departmental strategy. 14:26
    • Focus on the individual and what they care about.
  • Top-down approach. 16:00
    • The top-down approach and bottom-up approach to sales and marketing.
    • Finding out what their priorities are.
  • How to build professional relationships with partners. 17:19
    • How technology can help support zero-to-one
  • Scheduling tools. 19:38
    • Scheduling tool and partner tech tools.
    • Partner CRM and onboarding process.
  • Mapping out and building the partner journey first. 22:08
    • Mapping out the partner journey first.
    • Who the first hire should be for a partnership?
    • Hire a demand-gen marketer for the first part.
    • One tactical tip for partner managers.

Full transcript:

Will Taylor 0:03
Howdy partners, and welcome to the howdy partners podcast, where we give you tactical insights so that you can be successful in partnerships. Today, we're joined with guests that I had a chat with must have been month, month and a half ago. And you said something that really resonated with me. It's on your LinkedIn profile. We're joined with Carolyn Lewis. Carolyn, tell us more about yourself. And that that tagline that gets me so excited whenever I hear it.

KaraLynn Lewis 0:35
Yeah. Well, to start, thank you so much for having me. It's great to chat again, and now very honored to be on the podcast. So yeah, so my tagline my tn little tagline on my LinkedIn is making friends for a living. So that's something that I just said randomly, many years ago, because basically, it's true. That's what partnerships kind of do. And they also make friends between companies. And I noticed that whenever I was saying it to partnership, people, specifically, it resonated so much, because everybody, it hits them, because that's actually what we do. We all talk, we all make relationships. And those relationships are really authentic, and they last for a long time.

Tom Burgess 1:18
It's so it's so simple, and so elegant. And it is like never been more true, especially in the partnership space.

Will Taylor 1:25
Yeah. And so, Carolyn, tell us more about your experiences.

KaraLynn Lewis 1:29
Yeah. Just to say as well, I think the authenticity of relationships in the business is also critical as partnerships. But yes, so regarding my previous experience, most recently, I built the partnerships department or Trango, from the ground up, that's a customer communication platform for E commerce. That was actually my third round of building partnerships from scratch. So other than that, I've also been at Office app, which is a company that Prop tech space, which was later acquired by Boston's h2o, and binder, probably most notably, they recently had a $650 million exit. So that's an exciting journey to have been a part of. And at binder, I actually came into partnerships, almost by accident, I hear that from a lot of people in the partnership space, that I originally was in sales at binder. But I quickly realized a couple of months into the role that my pipeline building capability was a lot stronger if I tapped in to our peers in the market and the opportunities that they might have. So after that, I eventually moved into a full time partnerships role, it was a team of one very used to being that loan man, powerhouse department. And yeah, it built it up, built it up from the ground up for both tech and agency. And those were also the days when basically no one had heard of the word ecosystem before. So it's so cool now to see that it's such a big space and lots of technology coming up. It's really cool to be a part of,

Tom Burgess 3:09
we had an episode we were talking about. Would you rather hire a CX professional into partnerships or someone from sales? And it's just it's gonna be a long, ongoing debate, but we'll take one off for the sales heading in a partnership. And it's I think it's like very eye opening because I feel like Will and I both had colleagues on the Vinyard side. And actually, this goes back to when I was on the agency side, too. And working with Vinyard, you know, a couple salespeople that understood the value. And I guess just the ease, like I don't know, if it's like, you're trying to cheat or anything, but like understanding that partner leads can help you and is so much easier, like I I, it's fun hearing other people that I've kind of jumped into the space because it's like, Wait, this makes total sense. They can help me my pipeline that much faster and easier. And it's really cool. So I'm going to jump on board. That's sweet.

Will Taylor 3:58
Today's topic of discussion is the starting from scratch. So that zero to one motion. I feel like as more companies start to use the word ecosystem and think more about partnerships, the thing that's top of mind, and I've had a lot of conversations with, you know, founders and salespeople that are coming to me, and they're like, hey, it's hard out here. How do I do this partnerships thing? They need that zero to one. So we know that you are an expert on this. So let's talk about it. What in your experience is the number one thing that is needed to go from zero to one if you were to choose that one thing that people need to consider or do to start the motion? What is that in your mind?

KaraLynn Lewis 4:42
Yeah, so it's a good question, and it's hard to pinpoint just one thing. I think the first thing to start with as also defining what zero to one really means, because of course, one is not the Salesforce app exchange program, which sometimes people do think that that it is So I think my definition of zero to one is really taking your partnerships from non existent or non structured to standardized and operational. So at the end of the day, when you're at one, your partner should be able to or a potential partner, let's say, should be able to come to your organization and say, what does it mean to be a partner of Aix, and you should be able to give a clear answer on what that means and how to get there.

Tom Burgess 5:27
It's funny how many people think that one, one, I appreciate the fact that the zero to one model should be defined by the organization, right? Every organization has different goals, especially from a partnerships perspective, I feel like and correct me if I'm wrong, there's probably several zero to ones that you could track or I guess, goal around from a milestone perspective, especially as you're starting from scratch. And I think it it, it echoes the idea of, you know, partnerships, we kind of need to be our own cheerleaders, we need to cheer each other on and celebrate, like those bigger milestones, because being able to go into an organization and say, you know, what, partnerships in some format is going to be right for us. But like, understand that the journey, that's not just like, oh, let me leap over this little curve here. And we're good to go. So curious to kind of get your perspective on. Is there a way you can track many zero to ones like, I love the idea of like the ground up approach where it's like, Salesforce AppExchange is not your one? That's like your point? 01?

KaraLynn Lewis 6:29
Exactly. Yeah, I think it's really interesting. You mentioned the sort of different sets and different ways that you can go, because I think that's also something that companies sometimes fail to have is a plan and a strategy. So being able to actually look at the complete picture and say, What are we already doing? Do we already have, maybe partners that aren't partners that are doing something really successfully and take that road, or, for example, maybe the technology partnership, space is really opportunity deep, full for us. And we should go down that road. So having that time to gather your data, look at all of your opportunities, and then choose where you're going to put your resources and approach it strategically. As opposed to just kind of trying some stuff and seeing what works can also be a strategy, I've definitely followed that path, at times, but always good to just take stock of what you already know. And then that way, you can make a calculated decision on on what you're going to do.

Will Taylor 7:29
And I love how the response is build structure and build clarity, because I feel that and we'll get into some some errors that people make. But I feel that people will rush into this relationship because they have this good idea. But then there isn't structure, and then it's not clear what the value is or how we engage or you know, why we're engaging. And so without that initial structure, it kind of runs into this chaos, where there's immediately a diffusion of responsibility of, well, mate, why are you building the structure? And, you know, even though I initiated the conversation, and so I like that as as an answer. And so when your experience and maybe it's a mistake that you've made, or that you see others make what is often the mistake that is made when trying to go from zero to one, is it going too fast? Is it validating what in your experience is like, the most common or perhaps, whichever way you'd like to take it the most negatively impactful mistake that one could make?

KaraLynn Lewis 8:34
Yeah, I mean, there are so many, not always dire, let's say, but definitely there are a lot, I would say that the the one that I see the most especially with a first partnerships hire is treating partnerships the exact same or as a subset of sales. So I mean, at the end of the day, partnerships are a revenue generating machine department, that's why we do it. Great. However, sales is so different than partnerships. It's fundamentally not based on a transaction which sales is and treating it the same way that's where it leads to mistakes because with sales you want quality or quantity with partnerships you want quality. And with sales you know you put in work it's a one to one relationship you put in work you got to deal with partnerships that may take a little bit more time to ramp up than going after a customer one to one. So all these things that a lot of times people will equate sales with partnerships just don't work and then they got a an improper picture of how their partnerships could be or what the opportunity is.

Tom Burgess 9:42
Yeah, and just the idea that it it it's a long game right like of course you can talk about quick wins and quick wins differ from you know, tech partnership to a channel partner for sure. But I couldn't agree more. I definitely like the idea of like a sale like if you're If partnerships rolls up to revenue, which 99.9% of the time it's going to, and either the CEO or that leader, all sales, sales driven, I think one of the most important things from a partnership, internal relationship standpoint is really setting the tone. And making sure that you have buy in that this is a long term play, in most regards, and not something that they're necessarily going to see or like trying to temper your expectations of a sales leader to say, Where's my pipeline? Like, if you have a short sales cycle, they're always like, quick, quick, quick wins versus partnerships is going to be months, years, potentially. And so it's, to me at least, it's important to really drive and find that common ground to make sure that you're not just like under fire all the time.

KaraLynn Lewis 10:47
Yeah, definitely those battles. I mean, you're always going to have battles. But if people aren't bought in at the fundamental level of seeing the value of partnerships, you're going to have those conversations so much more often. And they're going to be so much harder than if you have that core belief of everybody that this is a good thing. It does work differently. And we're going to get there.

Will Taylor 11:07
So speaking of those battles, especially internally, how have you approached that in let's say, you're the one person shop, the team is kind of interested in partnerships. They see the the path to revenue, but they're, they're too maybe too eager, or maybe even too hesitant? How have you approached it in the past to start to build that internal buy in during this zero to one phase? What's your your story around that?

KaraLynn Lewis 11:32
Yeah, I think I guess it kind of goes along with making friends. But just talking about it, I think, if especially if you believe in partnerships, and you can explain why it adds value. People just need to know, they haven't thought about it before. It's not their area of expertise. And I think as partnerships, people, we talk to each other all the time, we think that it's common knowledge. But if you actually get out there and speak to your colleagues and people that maybe don't know so much about it, it's not necessarily as intuitive to them as it is to us. So it's our job still, to educate them and show them how this can be valuable. Provide examples, tell stories about it. And I think as well, one really key thing for partnerships is seeing the perspective of others. So if you need to put yourself in their shoes, goes without saying you have to deal with your partners. That's a whole other story. If you're talking to marketing, going on and on about your partner experience is not really going to swing them. You need to be talking about leads, you need to be talking about brand awareness, you need to be talking about events or whatever marketing's priorities are, you really need to listen and ask questions and understand what their struggles are, and then find a way to explain how partnerships is going to push their initiatives forward. Because inevitably, it always does.

Tom Burgess 12:48
You can never placed in us enough emphasis on enablement. And I'm not even talking about like external partner enablement, I'm talking about like building the enablement structure internally for the teams that, you know, you're working with the most. And will actually brought up a good point on a few an episode a few months ago, where and you touched on it, which is understand their goals, right. So I think it kind of talks the idea of like, you know, partnerships now has this like, kind of like bubble where we can talk with each other, we can vent we can, you know, ping ideas off of? And it's, it's easy, because everyone else understands partnerships. So we're, we think we do and so it just makes it more comfortable for us to have open conversations with. But you are so right. And I've never thought about it this way is that like, I keep talking to sales, I keep talking to marketing, like they understand the value of a partner. And that's just an assumption, versus, you know, going into a conversation where it's like, the idea of how can I help you marketing? Or how can I help you sales, hit your goals, through partnerships, and I guess just like understanding their what makes them tick, allows you to kind of insert yourself in those micro areas to make sure that they do see the value of partnerships. And I think that's really important to know,

KaraLynn Lewis 14:04
it's funny because partnerships. I mean, as partner centric people, we sort of see it, if you think about all the buckets of departments of an organization, you think of them beside each other, but I actually see partnerships as like a long one. underneath. No, this is a podcast, we don't have diagrams, but yeah, as opposed to standing alongside you're really supporting everybody.

Will Taylor 14:26
Very good point. Yeah, it's, it is company wide strategy, not a specific department. You know, technically from a people perspective, it might be a department but the way that it engages in the business is not the silo that is you know, segmented with its own numbers and all of that. Obviously still good to track those things. But it's an everyone together, literally in the partnerships ethos, mindset, and I really liked what you had to say there were, you know, it does harken back to that idea of The, you know, making friends for a living. And if you're not doing that internally, if you're just doing lunch and learns, that aren't even that engaging or fun, people aren't gonna learn that the thing that they care about most, because you're going to be talking about this high level stuff, it's not relevant to them. And so that's one thing that I've also personally always been aligned with, where it's like, you have to focus on the individual and what they care about, you know, speak their language, not the partner language that all these partner people get. So I really appreciate that. And so what would you say is a good tactic for that? Because if I work in an organization, and there's 200 people, what would you say is a good tactic to start making those those friendships? But then, of course, having it be strategic and allowing you to prioritize? What would you say is the practice that one could do to build that internal buy in and build those relationships? What's your take?

KaraLynn Lewis 16:00
This is internal, right? Internal? Yep. Yeah, yeah, I would say I mean, from top down approach is one thing, I think bottom up, the best you can do is actually just talk to people, like sit with them at lunch, do projects with them, just get involved and really know them on a personal level. But from a top down level, which is critical is understanding from those senior leaders, what they're struggling with, what their problems are, what their focus points are. So for example, if you know that marketing is not interested in conferences at all, because of budget, maybe you say, let's not do conferences, and maybe you could also say, Hey, I have a conference, but it's completely free, because it's from a part. So let's put our resource there. Or, you know, maybe a customer success is not necessarily concerned about churn, but they're concerned about NPS, maybe you see that some of your partners, I don't know, are always sending out surveys or anything like these, these are just random examples. But finding out first what they're looking at what their priorities are, and then being creative of how you can fit that, as opposed to demanding that everybody you know, you need 20k for this conference, or I don't know you need something else from sales, you thinking about what you need from them is less effective than what you can offer them.

Tom Burgess 17:18
It just goes back to the idea of like, how you build professional relationships, like you might be it, you might be really good at that, from the outside perspective of you know, what I was in sales, I was in CX, so I have the relationship professionality to go out and manage partnerships and understand and kind of like, go where they're going. But it just like it. I don't know why there's such a stark contrast between like taking that, that approach with partners and seeing value of being able to kind of like help them drive stickiness. versus, you know, talking to the extra talking to sales or even talking to like just internal enablement teams, where it's like, you kind of flipped the script, you almost take it, where I think you bring up a really good point is like, a lot of times people will think in the mindset of like, what's in it for me. And I would implore all partner professionals to take a quick step back and understand that the value that you drive with your partnerships is almost the same value that you drive internally, which is, how can I like if I'm going and trying to build efficiencies in my role? I know that sales and so like the referral process, or CX and just like the customer management could build a lot of opportunity and value by understanding my partnerships. But in the same vein, how can I make it very easy for them to manage that relationship? What process do I need? So it's just it's taking a pause, understanding the understanding that you can ask the same questions that you do with partners internally and still build the value they need to build.

Will Taylor 18:51
As we're nearing the the end of talking about the Zero to One, I'm curious, your take on what technology can help support this zero to one? I imagine there's a lot of confusion out there where, you know, do I need a PRM? Right away? Do I need to, you know, invest in enablement resources? Do I need XYZ? What is your take on the quickest deployment of a tool that then gets you to value in that zero to one What are your thoughts around tools? And it could be, you know, as simple as making sure you have a scheduling tool or something like that, or it could be partner tech, what's your take on making that zero to one as efficient and effective as possible?

KaraLynn Lewis 19:38
Oh, man scheduling tool makes my mind go crazy, because I'm like, how many things do I use without even realizing it? But I'll go with the partner tech to start off so maybe controversial, but I actually don't think you need a PRM from the beginning. I've always been super scrappy with budgets and not having anything so I guess that's kind of in my DNA. Um, But the the PRM isn't really necessary from day one, because you don't have any partners, you don't have any processes. What are you going to put into it? Right? So that's not really the time. But I would say tools like reveal and crossbeam, the account mapping tools as operational tools that you work with the partner, it said, those are invaluable, honestly. Because you can really see and quantify your relationship. I mean, you can't gauge everything from those tools, but they really help you. And I remember in the early days being like, how many mutual customers do we have? Is it worth building an integration crossbeam will tell you. So that's a that's really helpful. And also your CRM, I mean, you can finagle a lot of things in your CRM and make it work for you know, simple partner onboarding organizations. And then once you have that idea of, okay, this is what our onboarding process looks like, this is our part, these are our ideal partner profiles. This is what we typically do, we need x onboarding calls or whatever it takes, I mean, partnerships are all unique, then you can go with a really crystal clear look of needs to a partner system like partner stack or key flow, and get a lot more value out of it from day one, as opposed to using the partnership, or partner PRM and then having to re do it a year later, because you started out on day one of your program and not day 90.

Will Taylor 21:25
I like that approach. I've actually seen like people use notion as a, I guess a zero to one PRM, let's call it or even setting things up in HubSpot. I know a HubSpot consultant that is actually starting to build like a service around this where it's like, Hey, if you want to manage your partners, you can use your CRM, and it's not going to have the robust functionality of a PRM. But you can at least track these, like you said the onboarding, you know, how many calls does it take look at a little bit of the data to then say, All right, now let's get the PRM. And let's you know, ramp it up at a much faster rate, because we already have some of these things built. Tom, any thoughts there?

KaraLynn Lewis 22:04
You've got to track your revenue somehow as well. Exactly.

Tom Burgess 22:08
Building, you got to build a lot of stuff with duct tape and baling wire. And I think that's, that's okay to start. Like you're not you don't have sunk costs. But I, what I would emphasize there is that it is to me way more critical to map out and build the partner journey first, and then attach technology and process to it. Because if you know, what's going to make your partnership successful, even from day one, then start to figure out okay, what does onboarding look like, look like? What do I need to enable on what does you know, production activation look like? And then really like, Okay, this is where a pm does come into play. This is where so it just makes it a lot easier. And honestly, it makes it 10 times easier. If in a year and a half, you're like, Okay, it's now ready. We're time like, it's time to bring on a PRM instead of like building all this like major structure early and then having to tear down the house and rebuild.

KaraLynn Lewis 23:01
Yeah, 100%. And now it also helps you as well, when you have that to implement it, because it goes super quickly.

Tom Burgess 23:07
Totally Exactly. Like it's already done. So last, I got a hot take for you. And it kind of we kind of touched on earlier. If you if you were hiring, like let's say you started a partnership program, your first hire, would it be? If you had to choose from a CX professional or a sales professional? Who would it be?

KaraLynn Lewis 23:26
Oh, that's an impossible question. Um, oh, man, it's hard because I would I this is not an answer. But I really depends on the person. Because I think if you have, like, there's hunters and farmers, right. So if you have a pure hunter that doesn't like just wants to close a deal, and then runs away, your partners are just going to be completely lost as soon as they sign a deal. Whereas if you haven't only only a farmer, then you're gonna have like, three really strong relationships, which is great that we're already on boarded, but then you don't really grow from there. So you kind of need to, on the individual side, evaluate like, Does this person have a bit of both? Yeah. Although I guess, as I as I think out loud a little bit, I think the first hire would probably have more of those Hunter instincts. Not necessarily commercial. In that sense, like not, let's close more deals. But you need to be proactive, because also, if it's your first hire, presumably you don't really have a lot of the infrastructure built up and you need to be thinking a little bit creatively you need to be identifying opportunities in the market. And maybe someone who's a little bit more, you know, farming is going to dive deeper into those relationships that you already have that you wouldn't have at that point. So that's my answer.

Tom Burgess 24:51
Watson, love it.

Will Taylor 24:52
Tom, I'll throw you a curveball and we won't talk about it because we will end the episode but I would say hire a demand gen marketer, for the first part. Oh, I like, stay tuned. We always do and offer episodes though Carolyn with one tactical tip that people can implement in their day to day. So if I was a new partner manager, and I'm coming to you and I'm expressing my, my woes have I'm anxious, I don't know what to do. I am starting this program. What is that one tactical thing that you think would impact them the most? What would you advise them to do to help them hit the ground running?

KaraLynn Lewis 25:32
I would say look at what you already are doing and build on that. So the first thing you can do is what agencies are in your customer base? Or what integrations have you already built based on customer demand? Dive into that call those people talk to the customers, look at how many customers there are, check out your reveal instance are your crossbeam look at the data you already have. And then make a plan based on those things. So organically, I

Will Taylor 26:03
guess. Amazing, great tie into basically everything we talked about the tools the the first step and driving that focus. So thank you so much for your wisdom and your time. And I feel like we got to have that debate at some point. We'll we'll do another episode in the future. And we'll have we'll have that chat.

KaraLynn Lewis 26:24
Oh, sounds good. I think I'm gonna learn a lot. You already opened my eyes at the demand, John. So happy to.

Will Taylor 26:31
There we go. Surf ball. Thanks, everyone. Thanks

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