Howdy Partners #5 - Partner Qualification

Partner qualification gets overlooked a lot. You're in acquisition mode - the more partners the better, right?


We dive into why qualification is important, common criteria to utilize, and our collective experience to avoid the traps you may encounter.

3 Key Takeaways

  1. Partnerships aren't a numbers game. Quality over quantity, always.
    It's easy to get excited about having a lot of partners, but if your partners aren't active and effective, they're not actually helping you scale.
  2. Have milestones and homework for your partners
    Partner qualification needs to be done when you first partner, and consistently afterwards. Partners aren't just set it and forget it. Having milestones and homework for your partners is how you keep them excited and active overtime. It's also how you keep track of partner buy-in and engagement.
  3. Top 3 Questions to Ask During Qualification:
    - How does your organization view Technology Partnerships? How many tech partnerships do you have and and how have those relationships typically been run?
    - Do you have dedicated resources and a dedicated point of contact?
    - How is your partner set to go to market?

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Full Transcript:

Ben Wright  00:00
Ah howdy partners, welcome back to another episode of The howdy partners Podcast, the podcast where every week you will get a tangible takeaway or tip to learn more about partnerships. I'm here with a full house actually, for the first time in a little while, people have been away or on trips and doing bits and pieces. So excited to have both my co hosts on Well, Tom, how's it going?

Will Taylor  00:46
Going? Good, going good. Yeah, things are moving in the partnership space. There's so much momentum. It's not gonna stop. And I'm here for Yeah, you're just riding the snowball downhill.

Tom Burgess  00:56
It's been good. Likewise, summer is busy people taking vacations. Everyone in Europe is off for six weeks. So

Ben Wright  01:04
I missed that. I missed that. I have to admit, that was one of the things that like I had to get very, very used to moving to the States, like everybody loves working here. And nobody really likes taking vacation, where, whereas in Europe is like you have to take you take two weeks. Every song like that is that's just the thing you do. That was a tough thing for me to get my head around for sure. But yeah,

Will Taylor  01:26
the opposite here. Yeah. Yeah, I wanted to force you to work.

Ben Wright  01:30
Just like stepped into their seats. May nobody wants to take. But there we go. Well, cool. Yeah. So I think today, we've got another cool episode. This kind of follows on from an episode previously, where me and we'll talked about, you know, how to define your IPP and then a little bit around how you conduct outreach to actually reach those potential partners. So this is really a follow on from that you've booked a meeting now what right and this whole episode is going to be about how to qualify those partners as as good partners. Ultimately, I know, we've all got some some strong opinions on this. So excited to kick things off. But Well, Tom, would you jump in and kind of get us going on how you think about qualifying partners, once you're on a call with them?

Tom Burgess  02:13
Yeah. qualification is super important. So I'm just going to state that right up front. And I, it's much like, you know, if you're vetting out candidates for a job, your hiring manager, or you know, even your company that's looking to hire a digital agency for work, you know, you you want to go through some form of qualification to make sure they're a good fit. Personally, right, a good fit, you know, technically and just a good fit across the board to execute upon what you're asking. And if you think about that, in the same light of partnerships, you know, you are in the phase of your growth, you know, you have your IPP, you know, what, what that leads to is ultimately now talking to them, you know, getting face to face understanding who they are as a company, what their growth goals are, are they aligned around technology, which we'll get into a little bit later on. And you know, what that does or doesn't do is now you've got a clear path to efficiently run your partnerships, and ideally, effectively run your partnerships versus, you know, the idea of just being in land and Expand mode, like we don't, we don't really care who is coming on and joining our partnerships, like, here's the paperwork, just sign right, like just sign we don't care. And the problem with that is, you know, you're, you're playing the numbers game at that point. And the numbers game isn't going to be in your favor, because now you're hiring more people. You have misaligned partnerships, you have people that think you're a vendor and don't really do much for you. So I think qualification is one of those things where as you start to pick up steam, you understand your IPP, it's really important to flesh out what that means to you.

Will Taylor  03:52
Yeah, that's those are great points. And so you mentioned something about the the land and expand and it makes me think about the traps that partner people fall into. And so let's say someone isn't necessarily just you know, spraying and praying and trying to get as many partners as possible but they start having these conversations and the partnerships are either going nowhere or they lose momentum what's the trap that they can fall into when doing the initial conversations with partners and the initial you know kickoff with partners as a result of that what's that trap that a lot of people fall

Tom Burgess  04:28
Yeah, I think so. Well, let's let's back up one of the traps is by not qualifying right like let's let's just state that as something like if you are in Atlanta Expand mode, you are going to feel the pain and feel the burn after you start just launching 10s and 10s and 10s of 10s of partnerships every month because you're not gonna be able handle it right and you're gonna know who's clearly kind of like picking up on it who's not but but let's say you do have some form of qualification but you're still kind of eager. You just want to get some partnerships under your belt. I think. I think a trap on both parts one on the part or ship organization and then to on the actual partner side is you go through the honeymoon phase, right? You're you're super excited you guys, you're getting to know their business, you get to know them as people, and you seem super aligned. And then, you know, you get through your onboarding phase, and things just kind of slow down, or they they Peter off, and there's no real, there's no real Northstar, there's no real partner journey for them to kind of like, pick the momentum and keep the momentum going. And I know that's like a whole different episode, different conversation, which is the partner journey and kind of like, what is onboarding, how are you structuring onboarding? The problem is, if you don't keep feeding them and then feeding you, it's going to fizzle out. So truly one of the traps I think, is just being real and like realistic with yourself and kind of creating milestones that matter to you as a partner organization that you know, your partners can fit into. Because then you see, you see tangible growth, you see tangible buy in, and we're not talking about, you know, like 10 milestones in the first three months, we're talking about like three or four that are that are feasible, tangible, what that shows you is buying is is the ability to kind of like scale and go where we're going. And so I do think one of the most important traps to avoid is just like, is not setting milestones, kind of like bringing partners in and just like, you don't have a path, right, like choose your own adventure. And that never that works in some semblance down the road, but you've got to get through that honeymoon phase and keep excitement going. And momentum picking up from there.

Will Taylor  06:33
Yeah, that structure will upfront through that qualification will bring all of that. And it's it's like, you know, every idea is a good idea until you get out into the market or, you know, actually engaged with the people that would be using that idea or engaging with it. And then you get the real feedback. And the only way that you can do that in partnerships is asking those questions upfront, because you know, it can be a good idea, they'll probably think, yeah, this is great. But it could all crumble after that. And so that's where that qualification comes in. So great points there. And so I know when you and I worked together, we ran into situations where there were partners that were not as well qualified and what happened and I won't go into examples. But being in partner enablement, what happens when the partners aren't properly qualified for you? What is the backtracking have to do or you know, where does the interaction crumble? I know you highlighted some of it. But let's talk about those like heart pains that you as an individual felt trying to do enablement with a partner that wasn't properly.

Tom Burgess  07:35
Yeah, yeah. And I think it puts, you know, enablement. For me, you're kind of seen as the doctor, right, like you diagnose, you're checking up and you should be able to tell if something's not right. And that's a really bad analogy, but It completely makes sense in my head, so I'm going to run with it. But the problem is, when when you don't have properly aligned or qualified partners that passed, you know, even through onboarding, you're gonna see a lot of regurgitation, you're gonna see a lot of stole and and what it does is it turns the enablement role, or actually the partner manager role for that matter, into triage, it turns it into, into customer support, it turns it into operations, because you know, you think about a product, right, like videocards product, albeit simplistic, has some very complex aspects to it. So it's, like, product enablement, for me is of the utmost important. And I spend, and I hope that our partners spend all the time that I asked them to, to learn that product, because then you fast forward a month, we're on to bigger and better things. I'm not coming back to the table and saying, Hey, how do I upload a video? How do I record a video? I'm like, That's stalling type material. So it's important from a from a Trump standpoint, and just from a qualification, you know, think back, think back to the idea of tearing, right think back to the idea of like your IPP. And those alignment pieces are always kind of like yep, checkbox, checkbox checkbox, and now we're on to partnership doesn't necessarily stay checkbox or checked off. Right? Like, partnerships can go different directions. And I think just being acutely aware, to like, where, who your partner is, what they're buying, right. And we're not, we haven't talked about this a lot yet. But the partnership mindset is really important. And I'm gonna save that for another episode. But it's the idea of Do you have equal buy in, right? Is this relationship one plus one, and does it equal one or like, 1.5? That doesn't add up, right? Are you giving enough? Are they giving enough but you're not like, you've got to have the equal mindset or is it one plus one equals three? You're both strategically aligned, you're synergistically moving and talking about things that haven't been uncovered yet. And you're just kind of finally in tune moving down the field. That That to me is the sign of a truly qualified partner when they have buy in, they have the resources to action that and they are investing time, right? investing time is a huge thing. That from enablement. I need to see.

Ben Wright  10:02
Come talk to me. So you mentioned you mentioned enablement there. And I think it's interesting because not you're not fully mature partnership organization, chances are you don't have a dedicated enablement manager, right? Oftentimes, you've got a partner development manager who's doing, you know, the activation enablement everything all the way through through the development cycle. So somebody that sits in an enablement, see, what are some of the techniques or things that you use to really hold partners accountable to do those things that you think set them up for success and and really qualify them as a partner?

Tom Burgess  10:31
Yeah, well, good question. It goes back to setting milestones, right? And this isn't meant to. This isn't meant to overcomplicate, right. Like if you look at milestones that you can set or homework, right, like if I'm, if I'm onboarding a new partner, product onboarding, or product training product enablement. After every call, I am giving them a task list to complete before our next call, that next call is usually in a week. And if I start to see that there's no buy in, there's no effort to even like, get their account set up, or add their logo to their branded sharing page, that shows me that they're not fully invested into the partnership. So okay, from there, we can triage we can back up and call call timeout and say, Listen, guys, do we? You're busy? Do we have the right resources to kind of launch this partnership? Are we just all misaligned? Do I need to give you more time do we need to level set on expectations, and that's where that kind of doctor model comes in. Because you can call, you can call a pause, you can call a timeout. But the other side, the other side of it, too, is, you know, tactically, those milestones are there for us to both achieve, right? I'm not just giving them homework, or set goals like, hey, we want to hit we want to get you guys to have your first referral submitted after month one that's on them. And for me, I'm gonna show them all that I'm doing on the partnership. And I think what that does is it's like, well, you know, Tom's not here, just kind of like coaching, guiding and acting upon he's actually doing stuff too. And that builds that symbiotic relationship. So, you know, long story TLDR, Ben, milestones and homework. And I think that comes with building your onboarding structure, because it should start there. It shouldn't start after like, month six.

Ben Wright  12:14
Yeah, and I think I think again, it maybe moves away from the initial qualification. But I do think the, the hitting of milestones in itself is qualification that is a good partner, because to your point, if they're not willing to even go in and complete, like the basic level, you know, onboarding, training, and product training, it really probably is a sign of things to go on, you know, they're probably very engaged partnership. And it goes back to your point, well, like, on the face of it, a lot of people will say, Hey, I get the value in the partnership, but actually, like, qualification, and having them run through those steps is a pretty easy one to fully, fully qualifying. Right?

Will Taylor  12:51
Yeah. So the way I like to boil it down to is the clear expectation setting, and that starts right from the beginning. Because if you don't even have that, you know, MVP alignment, then everything else won't be clear. You know, there'll be focusing on maybe the project, but in a different way, because you don't have that alignment. And so that qualification helps with at least the initial impression, and sets those basic expectations on moving forward. Because, as an example, you know, if you are a marketing lead organization, you're very strong there, and your partner is more sales lead, then, you know, if you don't uncover that early on, then you might just be throwing random programs at them that will work. Just because that's how you do things normally. So it's all about those

Tom Burgess  13:39
expectations. The joint value proposition is just so important in that kickoff call, or even before because that you've nailed it. Well, you've got to set expectations and align before you even get started. And the last thing I'll say on that, too, Ben, you and I talked on an episode about about tearing and just like building that scorecard. And that scorecard goes into like the qualifying of of net new partnerships, which is what we're talking about right now. But in the long run, you know, like that, that scorecard is still really important, because qualification doesn't just happen upfront, it happens at those milestones that happens every quarter happens annually on your cube like QBRs, and stuff like that. So in the small things, right, we're not just talking about, you know, very tangible numbers driven calls, we're talking about, are you ghosting on calls? Are you not doing your homework? Are you not, you know, kind of practicing, say do and that all matters and it comes full circle?

Will Taylor  14:35
Absolutely. So, Tom coming from the agency side as well. I'd love to get your take on, you know, when you were vetting partnerships, how did you approach that from the agency side, which will give some perspective and then we'll dive into some more tactical things that maybe you used or that you would use today? What was that like? Did you do that qualification on the agency side when engaging with tech? Yeah,

Tom Burgess  14:58
we we absolutely do. And I think it's, it's partially, it's very aligned to how partners partnership works should be qualifying as is, is, you know, are we aligned organizationally, meaning can we both see ourselves scaling and growing together, right, like me feeding relationships there. And more importantly, like me providing a solution to my customers that will work and that has, you know, a team behind it. And that's really important to kind of fulfill, because I've actually, it's funny. When I was on the agency side, from a video marketing standpoint, we went through the run of the mill HubSpot, we were Wistia partners, their partnership side was like, pretty developed, but they didn't have a lot of resources. Like it was all very self sustainable, great product. But we wanted more, we wanted to build together, we couldn't have that. We went to 23. And 23 was kind of like just starting their partnership side, they were in a Mia, great org, like really bought into like investing in CO marketing every like that, but their product just wasn't. It wasn't scaling up as we needed to go. Then we finally came to Vinyard and we saw alignment and both we had dedicated partner resources that were willing to help us and invest. And we also saw a product that was trying to keep up with the HubSpot landscape that was trying to keep up with the digital landscape. And that's a win win. So just tying that back, like, never settle, right? We do qualify. And for us, it's about the product, can this product do what we want it to do? Can it help solve for our clients in any given time set? And on the actual partnership side? Can we scale and grow together? Can we influence how you go to market? can we influence your business, etc? That's really important.

Will Taylor  16:38
I love it. Yeah, especially that focus on how does this help the client, but also help us and those initial qualifications are really important. And Tom, you can say it's because I was on the team, and you somehow thought I was British, and you just wanted to

Tom Burgess  16:51
I was so pumped. That's when I was leaving the agency side is when will came in. But then I was so so distraught that I decided to go work with him. There you go.

Ben Wright  17:03
As that as the effects on people, I, I had one more kind of question or point I guess, to have to put out there. So again, you talked about the vigil maturity level, which was very mature, had a lot of resources available to them had had partnership teams. qualification, I think still matters regardless the team size, whether you're a one person partnership team, or a 10 person partnership team, so where you maybe don't have like software, for example. So you haven't got like a, an LMS or a partner? Maybe you haven't got that right. Maybe you haven't got other things that are a certain maturity level, you aren't given any tips from both of you around like, okay, fresh partnership team, how would you go about qualifying partners when you don't have those resources available

Tom Burgess  17:51
to you? Well, I, my answer is you gotta lean on your IPP at that point. But you also need to be very strong willed to say no, or I think more importantly, like strong willed to build two paths. One is that active portfolio where you've got true strategic alliances that you're building together, and then maybe that affiliate channel where like, you know, like, hey, we still want you to be a partner, we just don't, we're not aligned right now, organizationally, we would still love for you to like, act as a conduit to our business and vice versa. So I think having those channels kind of like discovered and build out, but like, most importantly, like, you're completely right, Ben, Ben, it doesn't matter what, what maturity you're at, or you're just starting qualifications still gonna be important. Use the IPP and say no, right? Like, take time and do what you need to do.

Will Taylor  18:44
Yeah, and I would say with that, you have to be intentional, because you are so strapped for resources. And so perhaps the newer programs require more focused choice. So make the choice, you know, I'm going to work with these 10 partners. And then if you you know, limit yourself to a select few, then you'll be hopefully, and if you're listening to this, you'll have the resources to do so you'll be more intentional, and you'll have much more structure to make those select few more successful. And I agree with Tom, you should not just only choose, you know, three partners, you should choose, you know, a handful of tech partners, and then maybe some affiliates, and you still want to test some things, but it's not, you know, here's the program, we're going to scale it, we're going to hire people for it, we're going to, you know, buy these technologies for this program, because, you know, I think it's the right thing. So small focus, be intentional, make the choice and choose, you know, one or two different programs, and don't try and do it all. That's what I would say for anyone who's strapped for resources, you know?

Ben Wright  19:52
Yeah, I think that's, I think that's great. I mean, I like bring it back to real life examples. And again, I think everybody knows I'm that kind of money. Due to an Arthur HelpScout. And there's a lot of different areas, we could go from partnerships perspective, we get a lot of inbound interest from agencies and BPOS. And you name it, you know, but for us, like, we've got three main programs, affiliates, our star program, and then technology partners. But to Will's point, I have engaged with a couple of marketing agencies and BPOS. But they're more passive just to see and just to test, like, maybe we start to see real, like, real action with one of those channels, because then it gives me at least data points to go back internally and get a headcount just to focus on agency partnerships, or, you know, you name it. So So I like the advice to be to test but also when you when you start to see success, maybe double down on a couple of those a couple of those channels. Yep,

Will Taylor  20:45
Yep, absolutely. All right. So Tom, let's dive into the the tactical. So what are the top three questions that you should ask? And of course, there's going to be more, but just in your opinion, what are some of the major questions that should be asked when doing the qualification?

Tom Burgess  21:03
Okay, so, first first question that you need to ask is, you know, just get it get a glimpse into the, the, kind of like the box of like, how this organization works, how do they? How does your organization view Technology Partnerships? You know, like, how many tech partnerships do you have? And and how have those relationships typically been run? Right? Do you do you? Do you see those as as ventures where you can build new services around it, you build go to market positioning, or you just see it as something like, If it pops up, you're going to refer business in right, that's an important question. And it helps you kind of dictate whether it's gonna be a strategic alliance, or maybe just a better affiliate, or referral style program. And then it ties into like, do you have dedicated resources, I think this is, this one is so critical and foundational, but, you know, you could be talking with CEOs, you'd be talking with the head of sales, you could be talking with, you know, marketing, whatever, if they don't have someone that is going to be finally in tune with this relationship almost as like a secondary job role, then it's gonna be very hard for you to execute and scale and mature together, because you're gonna be working with the CEO, he's gonna be doing other things you'd be worried about other partnerships can be worried about his business, sometimes, like they're bought in and invested. I'm not saying that there's a specific job role that should that works well, or doesn't, you'll see CEOs that are completely bought in and carry partnerships to new levels. But always make sure you've got a dedicated resource or resources to scale together point of contacts. Huge. And then finally, and this one's really, really important. It's something that you and I talked about before this was how is your company set to go to market? And I noticed more from like the service or the agency side, but it still is pretty tangible on like, the technology partner side, too. But there are certain go to markets or like, how your company sells at, like the core? Are you on a point system? Are you value based? Some of those work really well. And some of those don't. And you have to uncover that like that that differs organizationally, I would say like, based on how you sell your product, but once you find that alignment, you might say, okay, you know, what, agencies that so are just doing content, right? They don't do video production, or they're, they're into like point based selling that might not align very well with us, doesn't mean they can't be a partner. But maybe once again, they go down that more self serve or affiliate track versus the ones that sell value based, they do video production, they do video selling the house sales enablement. And that's funny because I'm just kind of giving you guys a glimpse as to what Vinyard looks for. They have sales enablement, video production, dedicated resources, value based selling that works really well with us. But those three questions, right? How does your view technology based partnerships and how those relationships been run? Do you have dedicated resources that you can align to scaling and growing this partnership? And tell me a little bit about how your company goes to market? How do you sell? What's your selling system? Like? Are you product sales or marketing lead?

Will Taylor  24:03
Nice, and the best way to prepare for that, look at the ideal partner profile, and write out those questions. And I think, you know, just at least be intentional with entering into the conversation with that preparation. And that that initial exposure to this is why I'm actually talking to this specific partner type. So you know, we should aim to achieve this on the call as our common North Star goal. And then of course, you can take it from there with the questions and then you'll get into conversation. So what should be next step after they're qualified? This will be of course our next episode, but what are the thoughts on qualifications done? What's next application

Tom Burgess  24:49
is done get get Inc. Let's get this partnership off the ground. I don't know. I mean, you guys might have a better answer. Close that.

Will Taylor  24:55
Yeah. No,

Ben Wright  24:57
I agree. I think um, I think once you qualify them it starts with like, some of the more tangible activities we touched on touched on them a little bit right around like actually saying the partnership agreement, how do they register deals? I think that would be like a good or will be a good next podcast around like some of the specifics that are needed once you've qualified a partner Partnership Agreement, some of the boring stuff, but some of the necessary stuff that people might not know about, so to speak. agreed to cool. Love it. Buy it. Well, thanks for tuning in everyone, and we're excited to talk to you again next week. Cheers guys.

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