Howdy Partners #43: Approaching Strategic Partnerships

Alyshah Walji, Director of Partnerships at Vividly discusses how he navigates strategic partnerships. Alyshah, Will Taylor, and Tom Burgess compare and contrast strategic partnerships with other partnership types (like agency).

They dive into the mindset it takes to succeed when responsible for strategic partnerships.

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And here's some of highlights:

  • How to navigate strategic partnerships. 0:03
    • Building partnerships from the ground up.
    • The first time taking on a strategic partnership.
    • The first step to building a partnership.
  • Understanding the goals of a strategic partnership. 3:17
    • The challenge of working with salesforce.
    • Understanding the goals of every partnership.
    • Understanding the incentives of a partner.
    • How to navigate the salesforce partner program.
  • Understanding your partner’s success metrics. 6:36
    • Step one, understand what makes them tick.
    • Step two, ask brutally honest questions.
  • Three things to look for in a strategic partnership. 9:04
    • Three things to look for in a strategic partnership.
    • The three things to consider.
    • Why 30% of people are probably not the best at their job.
    • Partnerships can stall out.
  • The importance of not having all of your eggs in one basket. 12:19
    • Making sure not to have all eggs in one basket again.
    • A day-to-day goal for salespeople to make sure they're making progress.
  • How to think like a Bdr when building relationships. 15:08
    • What many partners may get wrong.
    • The importance of being incentivized to talk.
  • Tips for dealing with bandwidth issues in partnerships. 16:25
    • Be honest and transparent with yourself.
    • Don't be afraid, regardless of your first role.
    • Building a name for yourself in the forefront of their minds.
    • The daily levers.
  • Alicia’s advice for scaling strategic partnerships. 19:50
    • Aligning goals with the goals of other teams in the organization.
    • Defining definitions of RIMS partners.
    • Aligning with business objectives and metrics.
    • The one tactical takeaway for partners.


Tom Burgess 0:03
Howdy partners, welcome back to another great rendition of the howdy partners podcast, I want to introduce the listeners to our special guests. This week we've got Alicia, or as we like to call him out in our video and a little ecosystem from where we worked out, how are you doing?

Alyshah Walji 0:23
I am doing great, nice, warm day and ended up you know, always makes you want to be outside,

Tom Burgess 0:29
happy to hear you're doing well. And just for everyone to kind of key in today's topic is fun one that I feel like we'll Allen myself has have at least like shared a little bit up because of our work experience together. But we're gonna talk about what it's like to navigate strategic partnerships. And I'll kind of kick it over to you, Alicia, you know, tell us where you're working. Now your role. But more importantly, you know, where did where did your journey in strategic partnerships start and kind of talk about like the lessons that you learned as you kind of first got into that mix?

Alyshah Walji 1:02
Absolutely. So right now in my career, I'm actually the Director of Partnerships at CPG company called vividly. So building partnerships from the ground up trying to grow a team trying to build strategic partnerships from the scratch. So definitely timely topic here, something I think about quite a bit these days. But you know, my first experience building a strategic partnership was with YouTube. Actually, when we were over at video art, I think the first time you take on a strategic partnership, it's not necessarily that you did it on purpose, I think it's sometimes something that, you know, you're not super well prepared for but you kind of dive right into it, because maybe you're the solo partner person, or maybe you've started develop partnerships. And now you're just ready to take on a massive beast at the time. For me that was a Salesforce partnership. So definitely, I think starting in is not might not always be purposeful, sometimes accidental, but always a great learning lesson.

Tom Burgess 1:55
Yeah, well, do you have anything there, I feel like that's that we shared, we beat the same drum there. It's like you kind of fall into partnerships. For me, it might have been a little bit more different. Like I was kind of searching it out after being on the agency side for five or six years. I was like I I can see this as an awesome environment to be in. So like, let me see if I can do it. But you Alicia, I know you kind of like jumped right in boots. First will any thoughts there?

Will Taylor 2:17
Yeah, yeah. And I was also brought in boots first, even though I was hired for a different role, technically, Alicia, you were like, I do need additional help. And I'm like, let's do it. And that was very interesting, because it was a different dynamic compared to working with, you know, a volume of agencies versus one or two strategic partners. So what was it like, in terms of working with the strategic partner from a just like, your perception of the workload and all of that, but then also, what was effective? What did you actually do that you felt was kind of the staple for helping to bring that partnership forward and building progress there? What are your thoughts on that? Alicia?

Alyshah Walji 3:07
Yeah, that's a great question. I think the first thing you got to address is when you're building strategic partnerships, sometimes that can be for a massive company. And sometimes it doesn't necessarily have to be for a massive company. In my situation, that was Salesforce. So you know, you're dealing with a company with 80,000 employees. And like you, you know, when you'd work with when I've worked with a ton of small technology companies, you know, it's a lot easier, you can cycle through the ones that are interested in the ones that aren't interested, when you have one or two strategic partners, whether you like it or not, whether they're interested or not, you have to make them interested. And so it's a bit of a challenge in that respect, where like, you know, you can't always move on to a different partner, an easier partner to work with. And in some ways, you're almost thinking about easier people within the same organization to work with. So the value proposition isn't changing in the partnership, really one of the things that I think is always best when you take on a strategic partnership, maybe even every partnership is just understanding the goals. I think that was like number one, and really helping me learn how to work with an organization like Salesforce, which was, you know, the person that's managing my relationship, what would why what makes them interested, what makes them want to help it? You know, I think that's step number one thing is also what's going on in the organization, the teams that are most likely to be interacting with companies I want to be introduced to if you're kind of running a referral type model, you know, what do they care about? How do they get paid? And really like understanding how that model works for a company that has a very established partner program is going to be in your benefit. And Salesforce is, you know, terms for example, my partner person was compensated on how much revenue we sold into Salesforce, for example, but at the same time, their account executives were compensated on a size of deal. So if you had too small of a deal size, like less than 30k, you know, an AE that's helping you out might only make like 30 bucks, you know, nobody's getting on a call when your ote is 200k for 30 bucks. So understanding what their incentives are to help push that You know, work internally to maximize what their incentive is, it's really going to set you up for success from the beginning. Because at the end of the day, everybody's there to hit their own KPIs. And a partner is supposed to help you accelerate your KPIs on both ends.

Will Taylor 5:12
Yeah. And so how can people navigate that? Is it? You know, at least from the Salesforce perspective, is it listed somewhere? Was it you know, you asking the hard questions, was it, you know, going to the partner person? Was it going to the AES, how did you navigate figuring out what the people actually care about and what that they're held accountable for?

Alyshah Walji 5:32
Well, if you're listening to this podcast, and you're, I think you're already on road number one, which is talk to people that have done it before, I think there's a lot to be learned from people that have gone through the struggle, there's no need to go through the struggle from the very beginning on your own. So I think like talking to other folks that have managed that type of partnership, learning from their experience, what's worked, what hasn't worked really lets you have an upper hand and starting fresh. The other thing as well as talking to your direct point of contact, most times, you're gonna have somebody who establishes relationship with you, as part of their official partner program, Salesforce has called a partner development manager, or partner account manager, that person knows exactly which partners are succeeding and which ones aren't succeeding and why. And so getting a good glimpse and understanding from them, and having them help you shape your program, super helpful. And then lastly, I'll say for sure, just trying to understand your internal network at your own company. So folks that might be connected, or might have known somebody that worked at that company before to help get you introduced to different parts and organization you will have exposure to, so that you can learn from them. It's also a great avenue.

Tom Burgess 6:36
Yeah, and you're touching on an avenue of success that we've, we've harped on a few times recently, which is really understanding, you know, whether you're talking to your point of contact there, or just like even so when you're in your internal team is understand what makes them tick. So understand what what they're judged on or the criteria and for their, their, you know, their comp is like, if it's lead volume, great if it's like, revenue numbers, great, but like, I think that's step number one to understanding how you can help them is by understanding, you know, their success metrics. And then the other point that I think is worth calling out to and this is pretty global and broad, when it comes down to establishing partner relationships is Ask, ask the, like, brutally honest or transparent questions upfront, like, hey, you know, what are you the right point of contact for me, like, let's, let's understand and talk about how this partnership is going to work or succeed. And let's, let's talk about the initiatives, or the two or three strategic paths that we have. And if this isn't you, then who is it and so like, it's not necessarily meant to cut this person out. But I think what it helps do is establishes the relationships that you need to have to be able to drive that success. And it helped, hopefully, helps me like shed a lot of light visibility for the other end to like saying, okay, you know, if I'm working without, and I know that I need to pull on, you know, my AES or, or the CX team, then I need to help establish relationships there. Just to drive that forward. So I all good points. And I think, I mean, just tapping into the network of there's so many partner people now that have gone through this. And as we've talked about, the partner, the partnership, professional world, we are very open to sharing and very open to helping. So you know, if you're worried about you know, intellectual property, or what other people like might have done successfully in the past, please don't ask ask anyone ask Alicia like, ask ask us. Because we know more than likely to not have experienced and can help you get there. So let's kind of flip the script here. We talked about some stuff like how, how you can establish that kind of like, get in the door motion. But let's, let's talk about maybe what's gone wrong, or maybe some more common missteps that you faced. So just so we can shed light to you know, people that are in strategic partnerships, or getting into it, like what to look out for, what are those roadblocks, what you feel like you missed?

Alyshah Walji 9:04
I'd say, I would put them at three things. The first one is bandwidth. Do you have it? The second one is? Are you working with the right person? And I'd say the last one is, are you evaluating it enough to recognize that this is good or bad in the long run? So you know, to break down, you know, on the first one is bandwidth, sometimes sub strategic partnerships are can be huge, right? They take a ton of time, a ton of effort. And if you're a first partnership person, I think one of the mistakes that I've made and maybe even I'm making right now is you sometimes tried to take on something that's too big. It doesn't have to be so complicated. Sometimes it can be easy, sometimes just a referral partnership, where you're friendly is good enough. It doesn't always have to be to the point of level of strategic newness where, you know, the product teams are integrating. You're doing a ton of cool marketing together. Sometimes that's that's overkill. So when you're thinking about strategic partnerships, definitely think about the fact that you also have other other partners that you could potentially be working with and investing every Thinking to one partner might not always be the best route. Even if you have a lot of conviction, I always say like, you can have a lot of conviction that it's the right move, but don't be so determined that you don't see the red flags. So you can take a step back and recognize, okay, as much as I would love to execute on this, I just don't have the time. A second one that I see often happen, especially in companies that have very large partner programs, whether it's Salesforce, NetSuite. Shopify is the person that you're working with their goal is to help you grow revenue alongside them. But it's not necessarily that they're going to be really good at their job, you know, let's say, let's say, let's round down and say 30% of people are probably not the best at what they do, or maybe you don't even care. And so ultimately, if your whole program is reliant on one person, and you're putting all the onus of success on them to unlock doors for you, within their organization, probably not going to be successful. That's an unrealistic view of how much time and energy they have, especially with how stressed they might be and how many partners they might hold. So figuring out if you're working with the right person, if they have the bandwidth to help you, and understanding how to work that relationship, so that you only ask them for help in areas where it's going to make them feel like it's a win, or go around them in areas where you feel like they just won't have the bandwidth to help you. Those are always great things to think about. And oftentimes I see people reach out to me, they're like, Hey, I'm trying to build a Salesforce program. So you built on before, like, my, my partner person isn't introducing me to all the AES, they're not, they're not bringing me in to go marketing activities. I like well, did you ever think about just reaching out to the ease yourself? You know, like, I can do that. It's like, yeah, of course, you can do that your partner. Alright. So it's like people oftentimes get get so blocked up on their one point of contact, who might be a blocker, that they forget that, you know, you got to be scrappy, sometimes go around him. And then the last one is sometimes partnerships just, even though they might be really exciting, you get all the internal buying, you got a ton of momentum at the beginning, kind of stalls out, sometimes they can stall out and that momentum isn't accelerating, you're not getting like your your growth. So you know, you need to be evaluating think about whether even if it's something you put a ton of energy and time into, you know, it's the honeymoon phase. Yes, exactly. It's the honeymoon phase, people are excited to continue that momentum, that takes a ton of work a ton of time. So also thinking about that, I think is is is important, making sure you don't have all your eggs in one basket again.

Will Taylor 12:25
Yeah. And I want to pull on a thread there that I think, you know, when we were working together, you did this really well. So you established that there is potential in the partnership. And let's say someone else is at that point, as well as a listener, and they maybe feel a bit hung up on this one specific person in the organization. And, you know, they don't know how to navigate elsewhere. You mentioned, you know, reaching out to the AES yourself. So what is like a day to day goal that someone could have to make sure that they're doing that and making progress towards, you know, if there's 1000s of sellers at Salesforce, how do I even start, like, what is that day to day practice that you did that allowed you to then build this influence and, you know, connect with those at ease and not have to rely on that partner manager? What are those day to day goals? And what is the actual, like, work look like for that day today?

Alyshah Walji 13:25
I think you make a really great point there. Sometimes people get hung up on what's that end of year goal, and they never really think about what's that day to day input that's going to make me successful. And a case like Salesforce, I think because I'd come from a BDR background, it was really easy for me to think about pipeline and partnerships in a very similar respect, right, where if I'm not putting in 10 people into a sequence or a cadence every single day, I know, by the end of the month, I'm not going to make it and like there's no point reaching out to just one account, you know, as a salesperson reaching out to one account and just hope that that's the one that's going to land and close. It's that's not realistic in sales, nor is it realistic and partnerships. So especially, that's one of the advantages of having a big company like Salesforce is there are so many people, so you do have a ton of opportunity to, you know, engage with many people trial error, so that you can actually build a really strong process of engagement. For me, what I would do is I would kind of like work back. So it figure out, what's the math? How many E's does it take to refer one deal to me? How many A's do I need to engage? So let's work that back. And if my quarter number is, you know, half a million dollars, how many leads do I need to talk to you to make that possible at all? So really like working back, your pipeline and your funnel kind of like you would as an eight year I think is always a super valuable skill and thing to do. I actually still do that. Now. It's not to the same level because I don't manage companies like Salesforce, but for me, it's like how many partners or you know how many people at a certain partner do I need to get X amount of pipeline? How many types of that partner do I need? If I'm building like an agency model, for example, how many agencies would I need so kinda like Thinking about your metrics in terms of referrals and number partners and pipeline, I think, taking a look at that funnel and keeping track of that is super important.

Will Taylor 15:08
Yeah. And I think what many may get wrong is they think of it through, I need this many leads, and it stops, like, they're like they and then they know their funnel math thereafter within the organization, but they're like, I just need this many leads from the partner. So I'm gonna go try and do that, but they don't look at well, what's above that those leads, while it's, you know, an AE actually being incentivized to talk about it. And so I think that's really smart to bring it I guess, like one step above, and think like a BDR, when you're in these organizations, because you need to develop so many relationships. So I think like, when I think about the work that you've done, and also, like the work that you continue to do, because I know that you did this in your previous role as well, with other organizations, it's like, send those videos to people, like send those emails, all the CSMs, AES, if you're going to see them at an event, then like, try network with them, I think, yeah, we, as partner, people may get too focused on working with that partner manager and orchestrating from a high level and then just hoping that the leads come through, but it really comes down to everyone else in that network in that ecosystem, even if it's one company that's massive. So I think that's that's testament to your good work.

Tom Burgess 16:24
Yeah, I would. But add, there's a couple points, one you touched on earlier, which is like, if you've never experienced bandwidth issues before, then it's hard to visualize, like, you're super, you're super scrappy partner manager, just getting into partnerships. The problem is, like, when you start to talk about everything, from an activity standpoint, that you need to pull off, you just can't physically do it. And granted like that, that's based on a lot of things. But if you're looking at it from like, a partnership capacity standpoint, and you're hoping to get more than skin deep with your partners, you need to like, it's almost like the idea that you talked about earlier, where it's like, be super honest and transparent with yourself to then say, you know, what, like, are the activities that I'm trying to initiate with my partners? Going towards my goals going towards my numbers? If no, then why are you doing it? You know, it's like, how many webinars do you try and two and a quarter with like, five or six different agencies and like, the amount of work that it takes, whether you have a marketing team there or not, like, Dude, it you, it is very easy to miss that. And so I think, just like thinking about that, in a forward lens, like, don't be afraid, regardless of if it's your first role, or your, you know, fifth role in partnerships, like, go in with a mindset that you are going to most likely have to forego a lot of activities, or a lot of, I don't want to say relationships overall. But just like partnerships, potentially, and downgrade them so that you're focusing on the ones that are driving the most value. And then the other thing you touched on too, which I think is really important is that, especially when working with someone like a Salesforce, which is like, you know, kind of like the golden, the golden goose in some regards, like that is a large organization. And so you on one side, like when when someone gets scared that they've got a goal to hit, and they're not going to hit it with like small agency partners. It's like, I don't have enough partners, or like the just this partners generated nothing like what am I going to do, versus going into strategic partnerships, where it's like, I've got 30,000 people that I could talk to where do I start, you know, like, it's, I liked how you framed it in the sense that like, this is very, this is a positive opportunity, where I have this many people to reach out to reach out to, but then it kind of leads into the point where it's like, you got to, you've got to build a name for yourself to like, be in the forefront of their minds, like, remember some of the activities you were doing, where you're just like lunch and learns and getting like, as many of these Salesforce AES just in front of your face, whether it's through a video or not, that's really important to kind of build that relationship. So it goes and speaks to like your experience as a BDR. And kind of like the sales mentality, but that that to me is like those daily levers like, what are those levers that you're gonna pull, that will activate your yearly or quarterly goal and like, people need to slow down and focus on what's in front of them, not, you know, like, what's in front of them and a quarter away, because you're never going to hit your goals like that. Absolutely. Yeah. We talked about the goal setting. And let's, let's maybe break that down into like, we talked about these daily goals, like, especially as you're trying to venture into spreadsheet, strategic partnerships, but what do you think those lag measures? Are those bigger goals that, you know, really helped make a partner organization run fluidly are and why? I mean, aside from revenue, you know, like, what are the what are some more of those daily levers that you can pull?

Alyshah Walji 19:50
Yeah, I think that's a great question in the realm of strategic partnerships, or in general, both. I think from a general perspective, it's probably an easier lens to look at but I think definitely comes down to aligning your goals with the goals of other folks in the organization. I think one of the things about partnerships and scaling partnerships is like getting cross functional teams bought in. And the only way to do that is to help them hit their goals while you hit yours and having the same goals that you can add together. So I think whether that's, you know, number of CO marketing events or webinars a quarter or whether that's, you know, number of e's, you engage, I think there's a ton of different types of metrics you can think about and track. But I think it's important to have something that's quantifiable, so that you can reassess it. And one of the other things is also like definitions, I think it was one thing that I've recently right, which is like, what's a rams partner? What's an onboarded? Partner? Right? What does that mean to you? And defining the bat? Because that's a very qualitative metric against something that's very quantitative. So let's say you're three ramped partners, you know, one is being tracked. But the other one, what does that mean? Right. So like defining it, so it's easy for the rest of the organization to understand what those definitions mean, I think is super critical as well.

Will Taylor 21:06
Yeah. I think the point of what does your business care about and the other teams, what do they care about, I think is very critical. Because let's say, you know, right now, we're in the economic downturn. So then what are people looking at? Is it retention more? Is it a pipeline problem, where they need more leads from the top of funnel? Is it closing revenue, that's where every partner person should be focusing their efforts, even if they were hired on to only focus on revenue. Because if you can show that you are then aligning with these business objectives that the business has, as a strategic initiative, especially to survive, then helping that out, can then say, I am extremely valuable, not just in my core metric, but also these other metrics that our business cares about. And I completely agree with those qualitative measures as well, because those things are going to have those long term downstream effects of, oh, none of our partners are actually onboarding because we never defined what that means and built a process around that. So we have these partners, but they're not taking action.

Tom Burgess 22:09
burning in my mind right now just thinking about like, aligning my organization's goals around like decrease or the LTV of a customer and like just the churn rates and like, okay, like how can I think about that, and the partnership lens, and it's really easy for me to help enable my partners to help enable their customers. So if we agree, stop, but, man, yeah, I just go back to the first thing in the outside, which is like, Dude, your bandwidth is so important. And I will tell you like, if you do not take that as a critical thought up front, you're going to be in just like a buttload of her down the road like trying to rebuild or trying to break down trying to add tearing and like just the model of like, what you're going after, from like a manager perspective, like it all comes down to manage time. Right. That's why you have partnership teams there. And that's like, what you do so food for thought. This has been great, Alicia, I appreciate you being on just in terms of wrapping up your talks about a lot. But what's that one tactical takeaway. So if our listeners right, you know what I'm just getting in strategic partnerships, or I'm right in there. What's that one takeaway that you want to leave our audience?

Alyshah Walji 23:17
Understand the goals of the people that you work with?

Tom Burgess 23:19
Stay tuned for another episode of howdy partners, and join me next time.

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