Howdy Partners #48: First 8 Months as a Channel Account Manager

This week on the Howdy Partners Podcast, Tom Burgess talks with Will Taylor about working as a channel account manager for SaaS Labs.

Tom shares what he’s learned through various phases on the job. He explains what is and isn't working, and what he's focused on to scale his partnerships program in the next few months.

This episode is full of insights, lessons learned, and takeaways for anyone navigating the world of partnerships.

Subscribe & Listen On:


  • The first few months of a partner program. 2:01
  • Building a blueprint for the future. 4:35
  • Things that were punted into the future. 9:35
  • Internal enablement. 11:53
  • Being honest and transparent with your partners. 18:09
  • Scaling partnerships. 20:29
  • Keep a swipe file of hypotheses. 25:35


Will Taylor 0:03
Howdy partners, and welcome to another episode of The howdy partners podcast, where we give you tactical insights so that you can be successful in your role executing on partnerships. Today, it's Tom and I, and we're going to be diving into the first eight months of being in partnerships as a partnerships manager, whether it's a new org, whether you're just starting, and we're going to talk about Tom's experience. But before we dive into that, Tom, how are you?

Tom Burgess 0:38
I'm doing okay. I feel like in 48 hours, I'm flying by the seat of my pants. And that's okay. You know, when you have two kids, it creates a little bit more anxiety on top of it, but I'm doing good. Then excited to talk about this topic. I think we can get kind of raw about it. But we'll see.

Will Taylor 0:59
Yeah, I'm gonna, I'm gonna grill you, that's for sure. I'm gonna make sure that we really dig into what you've done, why you've done it, the impacts of it. And some of the challenges as well.

Tom Burgess 1:11
I started at SAS labs a bow eight months ago, I think was November maybe was nine months, I can't remember. But I was essentially their first kind of like, channel partner hire. Now Kyle, my manager was brought in before that. And just to know, like, we have very similar backgrounds, I what Kyle, and he's been on the podcast before. So if you haven't listened to that episode, highly recommend going back. But we both come from, like channel partner backgrounds. We both worked at HubSpot agencies. So I think just knowing that I was coming into this role into this company, I felt pretty excited and motivated just because I had someone that kind of shared the same experiences, background heartaches successes. So that was fun. And I guess in joining you know, I, we had a lot of wood to chop, we had an existing affiliate network, we didn't have like a true Solutions program where we were actively managing a lot of these these agency relationships. So on on multiple accounts, I think we had a lot of work to do in the first few months. Just just kind of noting some of the early milestones. You know, we both built the program alongside a couple other people on our team, really from scratch from like ideation to conception to launching and, and as I look back, I, it's a lot of fun to think about kind of like what we did. Now, what I'll also tell you is like, there is a lot of personal and onboarding goals to like, just working in SAS. Previously, I had a unique experience where like the SAS company I worked for before, in partnerships, I knew that product coming in day one inside and out. So I, you know, learning the product, adapting to like how this works with partners, and just understanding how that that platform worked in general was a lot easier than coming into this where I'm trying to balance, learning, and educating myself on product processes teams, while also thinking about how that will influence the program that we're about to build. So I would say that that did wasn't necessarily like a big challenge. But it did kind of help me pinpoint where I spent my time. So like I said, it took us a couple of months to get everything down, I just kind of touch on the areas that we focused on in the ideation stage was, you know, one, what are the other complementary technologies that our technology works really well with? That that really helps you kind of develop the framework for the the ideal partner profile, which we once again, had an episode on. And, and I think it gave us a good glimpse in terms of one who's in our existing network that we should talk to, right in our existing affiliate base. So you know, we were able to kind of go back through our affiliates figure out, do we have partners that fit the IPP that we built? Are they in these ecosystems that we are making a strategic bet will be the right ecosystems for us to play in? And so we we started IDT on that, and then we we put that into the contextual side of it, what does this program look like? Who are we trying to attract? What are the benefits of the program? What are the inclusions? What aren't we going to do? And I use predicts experience to kind of build that with the future in mind. I say that in terms of think about what you want this program to look like in one year, in two years, in three years instead of okay, let's build something really grand right? really complex and then figure out six months later that it's not like, you know, tearing isn't gonna work now so you gotta kind of built break down the house. So just saying the mindset of of let's think about the architecture the blueprint in a in a smart manner. So yeah, that was that was a lot of fun we built the the inclusions, the processes like how this is going to flow through our systems etc. And it took a few months I like we really launched in February, March. So it took some time.

Will Taylor 5:28
Nice. So let's, let's summarize some of that into like, what were the phases that you work through? It sounds like there was initial discovery, there was some building, you know, there was the launching, there was the managing, but like, how would you summarize, let's say the first two to three months? How would you maybe categorize that into, you know, phase one? And then what did phase two look like? Go through those different milestones?

Tom Burgess 5:53
Yeah, good, good, good point way to keep me back on track, since I probably lost all of our audience. month one and two was was really like the onboarding. So like, I once again, it's important to say that I spent a lot of this time learning myself, as everyone should, whether you have a company that has a pretty robust onboarding plan or not. But at the same time, you know, through that onboarding and knowledge, I would call month one to like the the ideation phase, because you're learning about the products, how that might influence your experiences and your partnerships. You're learning about the teams and the processes and how that how those influence processes. So that was really, for me, like I would say, at the end of month two, my goal was to have conversations around what I think works really well with our product in the current partnerships that we have, and what isn't working really well, I think that's a really good time, whether you have a full team around you, or you're just one to, to talk about what you see as a good fit and what needs to be changed. And so from those conversations, it, it then kind of spurned into, okay, we got some ideas, we've got some concepts. Now let's build it and stress test it. So month three through C four or five was, let's build it. Let's put the IPP, in writing, let's put our program benefits, what we want these partners to see what we want them to achieve what they get in writing. And so with that we're doing a lot of building, we're getting new site pages up and running, we're building a lot of collateral. This was an important time for me. And I guess just to kind of dive into the camera here. My goal was to help activate our channel partners from everything in enablement. So understanding and being experts in the just call product to helping them position so consulting around service development, going to market how they can position the product with HubSpot, how they can position it with Pipedrive, to hopefully lead to successful partnerships. So in thinking about that, I did a lot of building in month three through five of kickoff decks, product enablement training, like this is where all the training that I went through on understanding this product in month one through two is now okay, how do I translate that to my partners? How do I build a plan for them to get enabled, and then just building out a lot of the do the positioning pieces. So that was conception and build and then fast forward to like March, April, May, we were ready to launch we brought on a channel BDR to acquire partners, we we figured out the the environments that we want to play while in and we turned it on. And once five through what now eight has been do it do it and also learn and and and I think this is a really important piece to call out is that in a in a role where you're launching a partnership, like I think the months six through 12 is a really critical time for you to make executive decisions on is this working yes or no? And just looking at everything in like a microcosm processes? Are we working really well with sales? Have we enabled CX? Have we built automations and efficiencies with our internal technologies? And then how is the activation plan working with our partners and I'm happy to say that it's working like I'm it puts a lot of proof in the pudding for what we build. We're seeing some good success, but we also think see things that we want to change.

Will Taylor 9:39
Cool. And so what I'm curious about is like I imagine a lot of partner managers get really eager to build something or do something and I imagine you experienced some of that as well. And so what are some of the things that you wanted to do earlier but knew based on previous experiences that you needed to push that out further, whether It's, you know, in the building phase or what have you? What were some of those things where you're like, you know, it'd be great to have this. But we need to learn more. Before we do that, what were some of those things that you kind of punted into the future?

Tom Burgess 10:12
Yeah. There, I think it kind of falls into three categories here. One is internal technology. So I wanted a more robust PRM. Because I just did like I've seen it in action before, like, when you when you think about the, the PRM, or what you want your partners to access, I want a central hub for our partners to get education materials, go through certifications, and trainings, register leads get paid out. So I wanted a full kind of enclosed system. And we have a PRM in place already. So I think I kind of gave up like the reins on on having something a little bit more robust early on, but say, the internal tech side is you got to build over time. So thinking about what do we need? What do we currently have, and what does like a phased rollout plan look like? The the other piece was, was building some of the future state partnership, aspects like tearing, etc. Now, this one's interesting, because like I said, when I went, when we were going in, in the ideation and conception phase, I'm looking years out, like sometimes one or two years out, because if you can build the blueprint, then, you know, with very, with hopefully reducing a lot of the the potential to like massively change, you're doing yourself a service. So early on, I really wanted to launch like tiering and really be bullish about like, who we're bringing in, have a scorecard around it. And we do like I would say, the cool thing here is we we've have pieces of that. So we're getting ready, and we'll talk about what's happening in the next months already. But I just wanted the whole thing ready, upfront, and it just took time. So we kind of push that off. And then I'd say the other piece has been like, internal enablement, I, I wanted to develop a really good cadence with the teams that were important to us a marketing sales CX support early on. And once again, I think what I've learned is that you're doing it and you're doing it in baby steps or bite sized pieces, you can't just like, throw the whole kitchen sink at them at once. And what I would say is that it's also been a challenge to you is like, we're, we're, we're really rolling this out in phases. And now to me is like the time to make sure that we have our processes, we have good relationships with these teams, because look out like you're coming to channel partners. But it it just once again, I feel like I had a different vision in mind of like, Oh, my sales team would be like a well oiled machine with channel partnerships right now. And it's not entirely untrue. It's just like, it's taking a little bit longer to get there, which is okay.

Will Taylor 12:53
Yeah. And I think that's a really important point. Because, you know, there's a lot of information out there for, you know, we've even had episodes around building those internal relationships, and, you know, starting early, but it's not always clear how much you should really invest in that. And so what I'm pulling from that is like, at least on the internal relationship side of things is like, still have those conversations, but maybe not a weekly cadence, or a bi weekly cadence. But every once in a while you're having a conversation, so that you are building that internal champion, and then being able to tap on them when you need them versus constantly doing work with them, where you may not have an update. So

Tom Burgess 13:32
the same goes for how you approach partnerships is like you want to spend the first bit of time build establishing trust, establishing rapport, and having like really just open conversations and asking questions. And I did that, but but the, the microcosm, there's got to be patient, like, and, and over time, like as, especially in that ideation or consumption phase. You should be having really important conversations with sales CX, but it's, it's more of like, Can I get your buy in? Or can I get your help on like shaping this process so that you have influence it fits into what your sales model is? Or like the sales training aspect? And how can I help get us there? And then, you know, at month six through eight, it's like, alright, we're turning this on, like, let's figure this out, and see what we need to change.

Will Taylor 14:25
Awesome. And so what impacts have you been seeing now, now that the program is underway? Has there been any, like initial momentum? If so, what does that look like?

Tom Burgess 14:35
Yeah, for sure. And it will kind of frame this around, you know, partnerships can take a long time to see the success like or see like, the fruits of the labor, whether it's integrations, whether it's channel affiliate, it doesn't matter. You've got to put in the effort and the groundwork to get us there. But I, I think one of the one of the bigger milestones and achievements that we've had is like, by spending the time and this is is less like measurable, it's more like, you'll see it in your everyday work. But by spending that much time in ideating, like breaking it down, like asking really hard questions, and then conceptualizing it, it's working, like, I don't see any gaps and kind of like that the the foundational pieces of like launching partnerships and what that looks like. And that's been, that's been really invigorating, because what we put together is, is working in and now it's a translate that into some actual, like, hard numbers. I was I was looking at, I mean, we we started bringing on new partners in May. So May, June, July, we're almost three months and of our new partners. 40% of them have already brought at least one customer, which I'm just like, I don't know, I can't remember the benchmarks. But that seems pretty good. But more importantly, like, over 70% of them, have brought us at least one qualified lead. So what that tells me is that I'm focusing on the right things in establishing trust. And then keep in mind, like a lot of this is in my control, like a lot of partners, as we know, come to us because they have a customer already, or they've got a customer in mind. But that that translates into like a lot of these partners are brought multiple customers. And so really focusing on simplifying like this is one call out that I would make to the audience is like, if you're in a role where you have your partnership manager like or you're enabling, simplify your objectives. Because what you don't want to have happen is your your initiatives and your partnerships are focusing on like five or six key different things at once. You're not going to get more than skin deep. Rather, focus on establishing trust. And our very own Ben Wright had an awesome LinkedIn post on this this week is like, how do you how do you? How do you come into a relationship and judge? Like, if they're giving a lot or you're giving lots like the emotional bank account? And how do you say no. And so once again, it it really leads to like the importance of building and establishing trust, focusing on a couple of initiatives, my initiatives are, let me understand your business. Let me help you understand how we can work really well together. Let me make you a product expert. And let start developing hypotheses around how you can position the product. And that's it. I don't even talk about CO marketing. I don't talk about like anything else. That that's it.

Will Taylor 17:29
Yeah, and that's driving action first, which is what you need in any partner program, you need that initial momentum. And so overwhelming partners, I think a lot of people try to do so much at once. And that just immediately clutters the partnership in the partners mind where they're like, Well, how can I do all of this, or, you know, what's the value of this or, you know, they're focused on their own business objectives, and it might not align. And so if you're choosing one thing, I think that's the really important piece there. And that's what I've been trying to do as well, where it's like, you can do a lot of things, and a lot of things are probably a good idea. And a lot of things will probably produce results as well. But if you're spreading yourself too thin, and your partner too thin, and kind of like convoluting, the actual partnership itself versus being exceptionally focused on, you know, like we talked about on the last episode, the specific list of accounts or the specific program and who you're marketing to, specifically, and having that focus that I think is exceptionally critical.

Tom Burgess 18:34
The one thing I want to stay in, like the first eight months here, that has also made a big impact is being very honest and transparent. Like especially if you're building like ideating, conceptualizing, launching and then then working, you have to have a very open line of communication with the people that matter. Because if something's not working, now's the time to mention it. So like you talk about the burnout, or like focusing on activities that that are ultimately towards revenue or hitting your goals. Half of that relies on you, building efficiencies and making sure that you're calling out efficiencies in in or gaps in the game to make that change right away. Because if you just kind of sit back and like things will change on their own, someone else will figure out a better process or like, build this enablement piece. So I'm not doing it live for an hour every time. It's not gonna happen. You've got to be the one to kind of stand and be like, You know what, I bet I can make this more efficient. And so the way I really like to think about this is like, you've got capacity, right? So like my role, my capacity is built around how many partners can I carry effectively, and make sure that I'm efficient in scaling those partnerships. And there's a lot that goes into that. But then the other side so like that barometer is going to continue to go up as new partners come in. The way to kind of like level that out without necessarily adding headcount is why technologies do we have? What processes have we built? What efficiencies like what assets materials? Can we really unlock and unleash our partners to kind of measure that out? And that's a really good like, month six, month eight, like I'm in the middle of that right now. You gotta gotta consider that.

Will Taylor 20:16
Love it. So what are you working on next? What do the next eight months look like? You know, you've done the first eight to nine months, what do the next eight months look like in your mind for? You know, phase four or five?

Tom Burgess 20:31
Yeah, there's, I think there's two or three initiatives that I'm looking to put into play, which kind of hits on on one, scaling our partnerships and what's available for our partners. But So in that vein, we're starting to talk about, you know, partner awards, or like, how do we, how do we recognize our top artists, we just launched a newsletter, which is really cool. Like, we're absolutely trying to make sure that we have a presence in communication chain, with our partners, which took some time to get there. And I think we'll still take time to make sure that we have the right elements and right pieces in place, we were launching a partner resource hub to make sure that they can access materials assets readily, instead of needing to ask or knock on our door every time. So a lot of it is is making sure that we have value or putting like valuable material and opportunities to our partners. So month nine, through 12. And then probably early next year is going to be a big focus to make sure that we're, we're, we're keeping it fresh, is the cool kids are calling it. And then the other piece, now that we have some data we're starting to see partnerships come through the door, is is actually launching our tearing mechanism. And this speaks directly to my capacity, my efficiencies. But you know, not every partner that comes on board is necessarily going to one be a good fit for the program. And I actually want to call this out, I'm really proud of my team, especially our acquisition team for, for putting those kind of pieces in place early on. We're not necessarily like letting everyone into the program or like we're making sure that they're a right fit for either the affiliate your solution, and it's providing a lot of value. But the next phase is like okay, well, now that we've had some partners in place, and we've activated them, where what are they doing? And, you know, so the tearing model is, is a beast, and I there's a we have an episode on it previously. So go back and listen to that. But this is the time to really start kind of like lightly roll it out where it's like, okay, top partners now what can we offer them like incentives, enablement, materials in front of our team, etc. So really looking forward to that. And then we are hoping to work on some of our affiliate and just getting a better presence there, we have an established program there, their affiliate partners are doing well. So I think it's time that we get Patty into the mix, and I am going to introduce him to Kyle and hopefully talk about how we unlock them a little bit more.

Will Taylor 23:04
There you go. I love it. So let's wrap up with one daily practice, that you think a partner manager or a channel manager would do to be successful in the first eight months. What is that? One daily practice is, you know, is it learning? Is it talking to the internal teams? Is it you know, reading about what the partners are consuming? Or where they're hanging out? What is that one daily practice that you think a partner manager should do?

Tom Burgess 23:39
Let's say goodbye. I think in the first few months, it's definitely like listening and developing hypotheses. And I think developing hypotheses was really important for me, because then I could, once again I like the Open dialog and besides being very open and transparent with leadership and your team is critical because I could I could talk about those hypotheses with our team and really start to hone in on like, Okay, how are we going to build this? Like, what matters to our partners? Yes, it was a lot of like convert, conversing with existing partners that kind of fit that mold. But from a daily practice standpoint, it's like, getting like, always be like ideating always be creating that next vision because if you don't, you're going to stall like I think it's critical early on to establish the like, Guys, team. We are we are in a mode right now. Where bring your ideas, there's no wrong ideas, no wrong question. And what that will lead to is a very well oiled team. As you get to month three, and you guys are ready to launch like alright, now is the time so let's continue to talk let's continue to ideate what's what and on that note is like being competent, being confident and strong and your strategy opinions like everyone has an opinion on how Things work. So I really use that to your advantage. And I don't know, once you once you get to like month six, and you're like, Hey, I got this like, I'm, I know the product I know, our partners I know this works well is don't kind of sit back and let things just unfold, like, go out there and tackle some of those like hairy, dirty initiatives like enabling internal teams, if we don't get that done, it's not going to work. And so it's just continually being able to, like, ask those and put those pieces in place.

Will Taylor 25:35
No, yeah, that's I knew it was going to be a challenge. And my tack on to that would be like, keep a swipe file as well of these hypotheses. And so what I have in my calendar is like, a daily reflection, where I'm going to create, you know, three points, and maybe I structure it so that it's kind of like, you know, if you have a gratitude journal, you're gonna write three things down, that you're grateful for, do the same for your job, where it's like, what are three things that I learned, or what's an interesting piece of information that I need to be aware of, or, you know, write a sentence or two about your hypothesis, and keep that as a swipe file, because then when you look back at it, you won't lose track of the things that have happened and the ideas that you've had. And then you'll see, oh, well, you know, we actually tried to implement this thing, but it didn't work, or I talked about this idea. And it wasn't, you know, well received on the partner side, or the internal team. And so keeping that swipe file, and like, those personal notes of what you're thinking about, and what you're wanting to try, is good, because, you know, everyone's jumping from zoom to zoom every single hour. And so you're gonna lose track of information that you hear, you know, three days ago, and so best to write it down, have a swipe file and keep it simple.

Tom Burgess 26:47
Yeah, I think I think one of the best analogies that I could put it put into, like layman's terms here is be an investigator that's working on a murder trial, or like a murder investigation, ask questions, develop hypotheses, never stop talking to people that you know, you need to talk to, and save evidence, like I invest, save evidence. It's like, you're gonna get inundated in the first few months with like other teams that are already here and working. But as you start to think about, like, what do I need for myself, and for my partners to be successful, I need a lot of material, I need a lot of guidance, I need a lot of expertise. I need other teams to help out. Keep tabs on that. Like, right now what I'm doing is like every asset that I see coming from marketing, or coming from engineering, or CX, I'm like, huh, like, would that piece be great for our partners? Can I partner fie it and the other thing I would say is be scrappy, you know, like, you might not have a lot of experience in like writing content or, or, you know, designing files. You don't need to be designing files, like just create something that your partners will need. And whether it's a Google Doc or like a branded figma file that your marketing team is already on top of like, Just do it.

Will Taylor 27:58
There we go. Thank you everyone for another episode of The howdy partners podcast, and we will see you next time.

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