Howdy Partners #42: Success or Sales? Making Your First Partner Hire

Will and Ben discuss whether it’s better to hire someone with sales experience or with customer success experience as your first-ever partner hire.

Will argues that sales experience would be more relevant, opposing Ben’s support for customer success.

But, Will is slowly persuaded by Ben to join the customer success side, as Ben highlights that customer success managers must manage variable pipelines, build long-term relationships, and enable customers to achieve value with the product.

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  • Which side are you on? Success or sales? 0:03
    • Customer success vs. sales as the first hire.
    • Core competencies that translate well to partnerships.
  • Driving value and driving value. 2:10
    • Driving value is key to success.
    • Pipeline development and tenacity are important.
  • Understanding the value proposition of a partner. 4:50
    • Importance of partner understanding the joint value proposition.
    • Customer success vs customer success.
  • Core competencies of a successful partner. 7:49
    • Good partner engagement should have the sellers involved.
    • Core competencies in partner management.
  • What to look for in a partner? 9:34
    • Hire someone with more experience working on enterprise-level software.
    • Sales skills and relationships.
    • The first point is building trust quickly.
    • Building trust quickly and confidently.
  • Understanding the customer success math. 12:45
    • Understanding the funnel math and the customer success individual.
    • Existing knowledge and quota mindset.
  • Sales people just want to sell. 14:18
    • Partnerships require a higher level of work.
    • Sales people hate CRM admin and follow-ups.
    • Partnerships are like a vending machine.
    • No standardized funnel for closing deals.
  • The value of success in sales. 18:02
    • The transactional nature of success is over-emphasized in the sales world.
    • A really good salesperson is a good fit for partnerships.
    • Sales and success are complementary skills.
    • Partner strategy and maturity of partner program.
  • The case for success vs. success professional. 21:24
    • Making a case for success for a sales professional.
    • Partnering thoughts.

Full transcript:

Will Taylor 0:03
Howdy partners, and welcome to the howdy partners podcast where we give you tactical insights and how you can execute in your role today. Today, we're talking about the customer success role or the sales role as your first hire. I actually think I have some strong thoughts about this. Which side? Are you on Ben success or sales as the first hire?

Ben Wright 0:31
Yeah, like it's I think we chatted about this a couple of times. I think for me, coming from a customer success background, I think there's, there's a lot of crossover there a lot of kind of transferable skills. So yeah, for me, I would say definitely falling on the customer success side of things.

Will Taylor 0:49
Listen, yeah, I'm on the sales side a bit more. But tell me the case for success. What are the core competencies that you believe someone in success has that translates really well to partnerships?

Ben Wright 1:02
Yeah, I think when you're in customer success, your key kind of, I guess, driver, or your key goal is primarily driving value for the customer. So you know, traditional customer success for those that don't know that you're really looking at, like they just bought your your software solution, right. And it's up to you to make sure that they get the maximum amount of value from that software solution. And so if you think about like a transferable skill, or something that correlates to partnership by stating the very same way, like when you establish a partnership, it's your job now, to ensure that the partner gets value from the partnership. And so I think that crossover, you're very kind of driven to provide value. I also think like a couple other pieces in terms of how they set up a customer journey, which is, you know, they do onboarding, and implementation then do QB RS and stuff like that, I think, again, very similar kind of actions and behaviors that you should be doing as a as a partner manager. And so I would say the value statement is number one was second pieces, like the things that go into managing a partner a very similar thing to managing a customer in SAS.

Will Taylor 2:10
Interesting, I agree a lot with those points, especially driving that value, because, you know, for making this comparison to sales, although you do need to focus on value and the best sellers? Well, it's not necessarily this ongoing relationship, that's more long term. You know, it could be you sell them for one month, maybe it's a longer sales cycle. So maybe it's three months, but with success, you know, you're looking at a year to spend with them. And so your long term outlook is much more stretched. So what would you say, though, when it comes down to, let's call it the brass tacks of, you know, needing pipeline and managing the project in, I don't want to say an aggressive way, but in a way that really moves the interaction forward where there's this like, momentum and this fire behind the person, which you do get a lot in sales, having that quota and needing to achieve that. So making sure that you have, you know, the right funnel, and are really keeping up on those projects. I would venture to say that that skill is not as well developed in success. It definitely can be, but it's not kind of like the core across any kind of company, what would you say to that, like incentivization. And that tenacity, let's call it to really lean into those projects for things like pipeline development.

Ben Wright 3:45
I think there's a couple of things. I think it depends what kind of customer success manager you are in, or like me going back to customer success. I could call folks and my job was renewable. So expansion. And so I would say you'd be I think you'd be surprised the number of customer success managers that do have that. I guess, like, I don't know how to describe that the tenacity to go off during close deals, because then go on, really, you're clued on as a customer success manager net retention rate, which still means that you need to do certain things and if your customer isn't responding to follow up and stuff like that, so although I would say like maybe not comparable to net new, I do think the large majority of customer success managers will have experience in managing renewals and expansions, which do take some more kind of closing ability as well.

Will Taylor 4:34
Fair point. So my last thought around like the, I guess less traveled by skills, perhaps in success would be things like the actual selling process. You know, the partner is going to need to understand your value proposition, the joint value proposition and there isn't that The initial barrier of a lack of understanding for not just a partner, but also, you know, the prospects that you're working together in sales, you need to make it as simple as possible for communicating that value in such a short time. And in such a simple way, whereas in success, they already know the value to a certain degree, you know, they need to know the value as to why they're going to renew, but they know the core already, because they got that from the sales process. So factoring in the partner enablement side of things and needing to almost sell them on the idea upfront and be able to explain it clearly. What are your thoughts around, you know, maybe my own ignorance about, you know, the better success folks out there that could play a role there? What's your What are your thoughts?

Ben Wright 5:50
Yeah, I think there's this like, there's this notion in customer success of like going farther and deeper into an account. So one of the things that you're supposed to be doing as a customer success manager is gathering internal champions across the organization outside of maybe just your point of contact, and maybe the person that originally bought the software in a similar way, like, I actually don't think there's a need for you to teach your partners how to sell like, you should be comfortable. If you're in an organization that respects partners, having your employees come in and do that and provide enablement. And so I would say that, like, a large part of your job is just getting into the partner organization talking to those people and facilitating those conversations I, I'd argue that like it helps to know like your value proposition, but that's not, that's not kind of just unique to sellers, I would say customer success managers still know your value proposition because only they are the ones that are picking up your software and driving success metric. They get that they understand what your your product does, and what it's supposed to be doing. Maybe what they don't have is like the closing skill, and like the the sales specific, I don't know, presentation and how to you know how to position against competitors. But that's where like your enablement and training resources and you build them up well enough, you don't need to do that, because you have the resource there to go and train your your partner sales team. So I think that would be like, maybe a bit of my pushback is that customer success managers, I would argue, understand the value proposition, they understand how to get further and deeper into an account, which you need to do with your partners as well. And then I think the value prop, like the house position piece, really comes into play with your training and enablement. And so you should be getting that for every partner. So I guess that's why I'd push back and say that, maybe success, people are good in that role, because they don't have to pitch to the customer. If you're just sending a deal with typical gross omission is like, you throw sales in and with mealtime and with the partner.

Will Taylor 7:48
Yeah, that's a that's a very good point. So they need to know enough. And they don't need to be the ones doing the selling. And a good partner engagement should have the sellers involved anyways. So that does sound like in a perfect world. And would you say that all success folks out there like the average success person, would you say they have those core competencies? Because this is actually one of the things that I'm thinking about from, you know, hiring a salespersons perspective. But yeah, what are your thoughts on like, what we've talked about those core skills in partner management? Would you say that it is within the average success person?

Ben Wright 8:34
Yeah, again, good. Good question. I think it's like, it's really nuanced, because I know people that call themselves customer success managers that are customer support, which is like, you're just there to be reactive, right? As a way I view a true customer success manager is the proactive role, where you are, your Gantt issues beforehand, you're making sure people adopt your product. It's not just your like an email inbox, just answering feature requests and stuff like that. Right. So I think it's highly dependent on what customer success means and the organization you're at. If you are at a enterprise level solution, complex product takes a while to implement, then absolutely, I would say if you're more plg, where customers actually just adopt the product yourself, and you're there to answer the question and potentially not. And so it's probably not the answer you want. But I would say like, it's very much dependent on your experience and customer success, whether you have been a true customer success manager or more of a customer support role.

Will Taylor 9:34
Cool. So that brings the idea of, you know, if someone is thinking about how they can hire for this, they should look at maybe someone with a little bit more experience or someone who has experience working on an enterprise level software or just something that's more involved in general, versus like you said, maybe something like a plg

Ben Wright 9:57
and it's, it's, I don't know and it The other piece that I had is like, it's, it's even more nuanced than like, his sales, or his customer success. But right because I think back to when I was asked to take over partnerships in my organization, after leading customer success, it was more because I had like, create processes and was like very innovative in how I thought about how to build out our Customer Success program. And so I would say like, even if you're a seller, or even if you are in customer success, there's still like those additional skills that I would value very highly outside of like, oh, yeah, customers, or you've been in sales, like there's some intangibles or some other additional things that I would focus on as well outside of just which role you've been in previously, as

Will Taylor 10:41
well. Nice. We should save that for the end, because I do have thoughts on that as well. But let's talk about sales, because I think there are some very powerful skills that you can gain in doing sales. And I think one of the main ones is, salespeople need to develop a relationship and develop trust very quickly. And I think it's especially true in today's market. So if you're getting a seller that is performing, even decently, they're going to be a good person to strongly consider because they need to drive value, explain things easily and quickly. But then also do that people on project management, which if they're able to then bring that internally and help with people in project management, for running programs with a partner, then that's going to become so valuable. And I mean, this is a personal anecdote, but when I was doing sales, I was working with the government. And so you know, they move very, very slowly. And they're not very motivated in general, or at least the people I was working with. And so what that meant was, I really had to do people in project management. And since I've been in partnerships, those kinds of skills have been immensely beneficial. And I don't even think about it through a relationship management lens. It's not me making sure only that there is value delivered in the interaction. It's also my butt's on the line, I have this number. So maybe I'm going to do even more of that project management to make sure that I'm messaging all the people I'm, you know, setting up reminders, I have like a calendar invite for due dates, like really focusing in on that project management piece. So the first point is building trust quickly, and being able to confidently talk to the value and the reason as to why partner, but then also the project management side of things as well. And the last point that I think makes sellers a really strong case for the higher is on simply understanding the funnel math, and the customer success, individual, maybe they've been exposed to, hey, here's your top of funnel, middle of funnel, bottom of funnel. And I know that they manage their own type of funnel for renewals, but it's different. And the programs are different. And so that's why I think that existing knowledge can really play a powerful role for, let's say, your business needs to perform and produce revenue, I would venture to say that the seller is going to be a bit more aggressive in not only making that happen, but also their understanding of how they actually get from point A to point B, because of that existing knowledge and that existing quota mindset that they have

Ben Wright 13:38
not I think it makes sense. I think, again, I kind of go back to what I said around like, depends what kind of customer success manager you've been, I think it also depends on what kind of sales rep you've been because, I mean, setpoint used to sell into governments, which are, you know, notoriously pretty tricky and slow, long sales cycles. The other bit in that environment, you're selling to Midmark or SMB, you're gonna get pretty pissed off pretty quickly, I would say in partnerships because it isn't as transactional right? You don't get that that amount of dough to me, you're not going to get that many things that close quickly. So I would say that can be a blessing and a curse highly dependent on you know, what you've sold into before what type of sales cycle you're used to. And I think the additional pieces like I would, I would kind of throw away the sales people just want to sell so they hate doing CRM admin, typically, they hate doing cool follow ups typically, like they hate doing that stuff. And actually, like, I would argue that partnerships requires a higher level of all of that stuff. And especially if you're first partnership hire, you got to be super scrappy, you got to do your co marketing, your do all that type of stuff. And so if they don't like doing that kind of stuff, the admin the creation, stuff like that, then I would say that probably not going to like a partnership role just because it does require an a big list when it comes to doing that type of work as well.

Will Taylor 15:01
That is fair, good point on the doing the other work. And so my rebuttal to that, though is, again with the knowledge of the funnel, and you know, maybe they don't like it. But if they are able to attribute and set up those tracking principles within the CRM, sooner rather than later, I feel that a salesperson would be, especially if they're transitioning into partnerships, and they're held accountable for, you know, certain revenue targets, they would do more of that, because it's closer to that quota attainment, having that attribution having the data in there so that they can not only inform themselves, but also have that partnership attached to the opportunities across across the funnel. And so very good point that they probably wouldn't like to do that. But, again, I would say not only would they be incentivized, but they would probably have had some level of hands on to it as well, because they've managed opportunities. In the past, they've probably had the discussion of attribution with marketing to some degree,

Ben Wright 16:10
I don't know the right like, I'd even push back on that a little bit. Because, like, again, dependent on what you do, like whether you source your own opportunities, but I almost think sellers view it as a vending machine, which is like, I'm just gonna get SDRs book appointments on my calendar, I need X amount of coins on my calendar, I'm going to close for those that equals my target is like, I get the point of them understanding the metrics, but it's all very cut and dry, I would say all pretty simple ad like, stuff comes in top of the funnel comes through, I get a book a meeting on my calendar that qualified at that point, and then I can go four out of 10, during the month to hit my quota, you're not gonna get out partnerships, I don't think anybody's truly figured out attribution when it comes to partnerships. So even though you have got a number, and you can kind of work backwards and figure that out, especially when you've got a brand new partner program, it takes a while to actually figure out what that what that looks like. And then again, it's like, it's not as, like, I've had partners that one month crushed it, right, like brought highly qualified opportunities closed. Because they're big enterprise deals, you go here for another five, six months, and so like, there's less regularity to the funnel. And so like, I think that's the other piece that maybe I'd push back on that they understand how to how to push deals through the funnel. But they have a lot of help from a lot of different teams in order for that to happen. And it's also I would say pretty standardized in the way that it happened. Again, like you look at partnerships, there's no standardized funnel, I would say like even if you've got the best partner in the world, there's going to be ups and downs, it's not going to be like Hemmings amount is going to be like choose and there's going to be like a and then maybe zero and one Jamie says like, that's the other piece where it becomes like, I would see him getting more frustrated just because they used to that kind of very standardized way of, of getting and closing.

Will Taylor 18:02
Yep. And so I definitely agree. And that was one of the points that I had thought of is like, it may be over emphasized in the sales world. And I would say it's probably more often the case that a seller is having this quota stress, and they're more transactional than they are focused on value. And I mean, you know, I can't remember the last time I had good sales outreach done to me. And so I'm sure that sentiment is shared, shared with a lot of people. And so yeah, the longer term outlook and the less transactional nature of success, that's definitely a strong suit. So you mentioned something that I think is interesting. You mentioned, like, you know, the enterprise level or you know, the very experienced customer success, folks are probably better suited, I would venture to say that a really good salesperson is probably a good fit for partnerships, because they probably understand the need for focusing on value, versus just transacting and just trying to make it a numbers game. But I feel like the worlds kind of start to collide a little bit where the better you are in customer success, the more focused you are on, let's say revenue a bit or upsell, and you're conveying that message through a message of value. And the same goes for a good seller. It's this message of value and it's more strategic in nature. So I guess the takeaway from that is, if you are hiring and you can't find anyone who has partnerships experience, then try and find someone who has a good background in many years of experience for sales and success. And I feel like I am leaning a bit more towards success now, because I was taking the position of sales. And I think it does come in that idea of enablement because that's one of the reasons that I was excited about partnerships because I started in partnership Woman. And so I think it's a bit of a personality thing and like interest thing as well, so that they do like creating and doing the CRM stuff

Ben Wright 20:08
as also like. And again, this is about sales and success. But the more I've been thinking of I like the, you'll go in for tech partnerships and integrations, like a solutions engineer, and as a sales engineer might be a great fit as well, because you're just focused on the technical piece. They know how your API's work, they know how your product interacts. And so even though I would say traditionally, success sales, the Gantt partnership roles, I think, as the tangential role is based on what type of partner strategy you want to drive, where like solutions engineer might be really good for an integration strategy, if you're doing just affiliates, maybe some of your marketing, right, because they understand like, maybe a bit more about that. So yeah, I would say even I'd say broadly, sales and success have the largest number of complementary skills, but I would also say like a caveat, or something else to consider is what type of strategy you're trying to put into place. And that might also kind of influence the person that you want. I mean, like you might have, well, a whole list of channel partners that are already developing the, and you haven't got a partnership program. So in that case, bring your seller in there and just freakin you know, bat for him, so to speak, and get leads in and develop revenue. So again, I think I am definitely in in the bucket of customer success. But I would say mountains would differ depend on what type of partner and the maturity of your partner program.

Will Taylor 21:24
Yeah, absolutely. And another thought I had was, because we're, you know, now we're making a bit more of a case for success. If they are a really good seller, let's say you're weighing a success professional and a sales professional, if it's a very good seller, they're probably harder to catch, so to speak, because they're probably hitting quota. And, you know, if they're high achieving and sales, they're probably making more than they could in partnerships. Whereas in success, it might not be the same, because, you know, is less commission focused. And so it could be seen as, you know, a promotion or an upgrade for them, because it's more a more strategic role in general, or at least like one step removed. So you're orchestrating at a at a higher level. So that's, yeah, another really important piece, I actually spoke to a seller who was thinking about joining partnerships, they were offered the role, but then they're like, I'm crushing it. I'm the top salesperson, I'm not going to take this because I'm making more money, and I got, you know, the funnel to defeat it as well. So that's another really important piece that I think I actually didn't think about it before, that it could be as common, but now that we've talked through that, if it's a good seller, then they're probably already going to be in a position that they don't want to give up.

Ben Wright 22:44
Yep. 100% agree. Yeah, totally.

Will Taylor 22:46
So what's our verdict

Ben Wright 22:50
on my verdict is, is dependent, highly dependent on the partner program and what you're attempting to do. However, if it's just straight up, like brand new partnership program build, I would I would go somebody in excess of sales just because of some of the some of the points that we chatted about.

Will Taylor 23:07
Yep. I agree. In general, like, if we were to make a final decision, and it's like, it has to be a catch all I would say, success would be the role to consider based on not only the competencies, but also the point that we just made at the end. And maybe next time, we will debate a demand gen marketer. I mentioned on a podcast previously, I think, like the numbers, but then also the relationship management as a marketer. Could be interesting because you also do more top of funnel activities with partners, but we will leave that for another time. And any parting thoughts, Ben?

Ben Wright 23:51
Not I think it's been a good conduct your point. I think there's stuff outside of success in sales talk about but I think if you start a platinum program, there are two good places

Will Taylor 24:01
to go. Sure. That's right. Thanks for listening to another episode of The howdy partners podcast.

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