PartnerHacker Principles: Never Market Alone - with Mark Kilens

This week, we kicked-off a series of articles focused on the PartnerHacker Principles. We reached out to our ecosystem to talk with those who embody the PartnerHacker principles to find out how they put them into practice.

(Read the first article about Trust is the New Data with Jessie Shipman)

Today, we reached out to Mark Kilens, CMO of Airmeet. Mark has gone all in on the PartnerHacker Principle: Never Market Alone.

Mark leverages this principle to get the most bang for his buck from his marketing efforts.

Partner led marketing starts inside your org

"First, it was internal partnerships. I partnered with other HubSpot employees to help bring to life this idea of better educating our customers, adding more value to the customer experience teaching them things. It was a content camp, and then it eventually became HubSpot Academy." – Mark Kilens

To build an amazing marketing machine, start by partnering with those closest to you - employees at your own company. Partnering up with fellow employees will kickstart the partner led marketing engine.

Partner led marketing is inevitable

It's a matter of fact that partner led marketing will happen, it's just a matter of, when will you embrace it? – Mark Kilens

For Mark, partner led marketing is inevitable for every company. It is merely a matter of time before you realize and embrace this principle.

Everyone eventually realizes that marketing alone won't get you where you want to go.

If you want to shape, grow, and capture the market, the only way to do it is by partnering with others.

Mark Kilens talks about shaping, growing, and capturing markets.

Partner led marketing starts with belief

"It's about the fundamentals. And a belief that continues to strengthen, and as you see early indicators, your conviction is only going to get stronger, your beliefs are gonna get stronger, and it starts to create that flywheel effect." – Mark Kilens

Great marketing starts with engraining the idea of the partner led philosophy into the heart of your org. Get people on board by testing out the partner led approach.

Show em' the results. Once they see them, they'll never go back.

Full interview

Mark Kilens and Micaela Richmond discuss the philosophy behind the PartnerHacker Principle: Never Market Alone

Full transcript

Ella Richmond  0:10
Thank you very much for sitting down with me and for being here. We're here to talk about the principle, never market alone. So my first question for you is, what is the value of marketing with another company or team?

Mark Kilens  0:25
There's so many. I mean, it's hard to even put into a concise statement. If I had to start somewhere, I would start with audience. Your audience relationship building, going at something alone, if you think about any type of team sports, right?

It's always harder. And even if you say, well, there are some sports that are team based in their individual individualistic base, like tennis or golf, there's still a team behind those people, the people that perform with the highest of levels still team.

So that's how I would equate it to power, equate partner led growth, partner marketing, that kind of same way of thinking. So the question is like: "who do you want to have on your team to help you achieve your goals?"

And their goals, ultimately, the team wins together, so the team has to believe, because back to belief for me, in similar things are in the same thing for the partnership to really, really thrive?

Ella Richmond  1:28
I've heard people say that partnering is like an extension of a team, right? Or like extending your company? Why would somebody who is a bigger company also want to partner when it seems that there's a lot of value, especially for small partners, small companies? What is the value for bigger companies to partner together?

Mark Kilens  1:55
That's a good question for, for my, for my sense of it, it's all about it's the brand, and the emotional piece behind a brand. And that's where it starts.

So say you have a big company, and they're 2030 plus year old company, that company is probably in maybe late stage scale up mode. Most likely, they're in sustain or survivorship mode, like Salesforce, I'd say is in sustaining mode. Now. They're not quite surviving yet, but they're sustaining.

You know, there's like they're starting to scale up, sustaining surviving. Those are the four kind of phases of a business. Once you get to sustaining mode, you how do you get back to scaling mode or like startup mode? I think that's where a lot of partnerships can play a big role.

It's also then going back on the emotional side of things, it's, you're trying to create a new connection with a new set of buyers that you weren't maybe going after 510 1520 years ago. So don't you want to partner with someone like the difference between Gen Z and Baby Boomers, Gen Z and millennials, it's pretty different.

So if you're trying to enter into a new fundamental demographic segments of a country of the world at large, going at it with a partner makes a ton of sense. Look at all these people that are partnering, look at all these brands that are partnering with celebrities, artists, you have athletes, because they know that they have an emotional connection to that audience that the brain doesn't have. So they need to partner.

Ella Richmond  3:40
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I like that I like that look. It's, it's a lever for growth beyond what you can do. It's also interesting because like, you segment yourself, as you mentioned, Salesforce, you segment yourself into this brand, like this is who we are. And then it's really, really hard to go outside of it or go adjacent to it or like adapt and evolve, especially since you've built all these processes around like what you are. And so that's really interesting.

There are a lot of marketers that have this idea of what marketing is, you know, and they've conflated like all of these processes, all of this, all of these tools, SEO ads, like all of these things that marketing is how do we go from will market with others sometimes to we're only co-marketing, marketing with other people is always better. How do you bridge that gap?

Mark Kilens  4:44
Well, first, marketing is definitely not those things you mentioned. As you kind of hinting as you were kind of hinting at marketing is about creating, shaping growing. At the end of the day, capturing markets. That's kind of, that's the gist of it.

It's like those four things, you create it, you shape it, grow it, capture it, you do all four, if you can. How do you create a market? How do you shape a market? How do you grow captured? I mean, the partners, you know, to do that alone, it's it's, that would be I mean, maybe there's a couple of companies that have done that, you know, those companies are like the ones that just are incredible, I'd say maybe Apple would fall into that category of creating, and then shaping and then growing and then capturing a whole market? How many apples are out there?

Right? So, you know, and those don't last forever, either, right? Because once you do that, and once you capture the majority of the market, you're like, Well, what's next? What's the next thing we have to build? or do whatever, right? Build by partner? Right? So it's almost, it's a matter of fact that that partner lead partner marketing will happen, it's just a matter of like, when will you embrace it? That's the real question. And why do you think people have a hard time embracing it? Um, cuz that's very situational.

So it's hard for me to give like one answer. If I had just generalized why people might not think about it initially. It's because first off, many people are not taught that. Definitely not in school. But definitely even in like online marketing, classes, courses, programs.

These days, it's not a very well known thing to be taught, you go faster, the Tactics versus the strategy. And I think that's also where then it makes a case for why people don't adopt a more, it's a strategy, not a tactic, SEO. Blogging, those are tactics that are applicable to a wide range of higher level strategies like partner lead, like content, lead, event, lead ads, etc.

But you have to first realize that the way I'm gonna go to market is going to be through relationships, I build, not just with my customers, because that's definitely one of the most important ways to go to market is through partnering with your customers, and building up that advocacy and community and flywheel effect.

But it's also the way I get customers, the way I keep customers is through companies that have the same, the same, if not similar objectives in mind. And while it goes back to my earlier comment about why a team is one of the best ways to think about this, even though the partner might not be on your team, the more that you can pull the partner to be on your team in the most closest realist way, the stronger the motion will become.

That's when the best channels have the folks that are operating the channel, those partners, those agencies, those other businesses, as close as they can, to the direct side of the business, the ones that are more successful, have them as close as they can to the direct side, because they then philosophically believe that we need to be doing the same things or as much of the same things we're doing to enable equip our direct team as our channel team, and if you don't have that mindset, then it's like, well, this is an inferior thing to this other thing.

So then the likelihood that this thing, the partner motion will be more successful or as good as the other thing will just naturally be diminished, because you're introducing that bias to it. So a lot of this is like, at the end of day, just human human instincts and human decision making. It all goes back to education, I think, though, you have to be to educate yourself and understand why this is a good thing and a smart thing to do. And then actually how to doit.

Ella Richmond  9:08
I actually I'm loving where you're going with this because I was reading Seth Godin is marketing made simple. And I think that was just crystallized in my mind, like, marketing is about change. Marketing is about as you mentioned, it's about markets. Like there's a higher order, I guess, about what marketing is, and I think that you're right, people have conflated marketing to strategies, like okay, marketing is SEO

Marketing is content marketing is, and they've put these labels on all of the things that marketing is, and if you step away, and you say, Okay, we're never marketing alone. Like, that means that we're never changing things alone. We're never, you know, going into the market alone.

And I think that that's really amazing. How, how do you like, applicable in practically how do people and companies fit partners into their everyday Marketing? Are you looking for partners that are great at XYZ? You're like, Okay, I need I need to do a blog post, I need to do social media, I need to do XYZ, like, and finding partners that fit or how would you recommend going about that practically?

Mark Kilens  10:17
It's tough, there's a lot to unpack there. I mean, you have to ask yourself, are you looking to partner with an individual, a company, a group of companies, I like to think you start small and simple. And you might do that at an individual level, you might try one or two companies, but at the end of that, you always have to have the goal to find the what's in it for me, and what's in it for them.

So if you can articulate that, and you know, think of it as a as a yes, building relationship, but it's, it's a sale, you know, there's gonna be a compromise between the relationship and the action, you're trying to get out of that with a mutually agreed upon action that you're trying to get out of that relationship. So you have to, like, do a lot of prep planning.

So, you know, think of it as building a pipeline, you know, for a sale, and create your ideal partner list customer list, if you will, for your partners, and think of it like that, and then go just go at it and start figuring out how to get in front of them. Do you have people in, in someone else's network in the company that can make introductions, you, you know, a friend, family member can make introductions, can you just do cold outreach? Y

ou know, with a fast track this over time, not probably initiative over time, it's yet to build up your own clout and influence across the relevant social site or sites, communities, where the partners are participating and listening. Sometimes you can even fast track this through customers you have, and customers can make introductions. But I think it's just pure like, you know, think of it like a sales motion of this pipeline, you gotta you got to build that relationship, you got to close the deal, make the compromise happen, and then execute after.

Ella Richmond  12:13
It's hard to never market alone, that's one of the principles that we that Isaac wanted to cement, because he sees the value in like, you know, always, like I said, going to market with somebody else. But it's hard on processing on a processes side, like on a planning side, like how do you always go to market with a partner?

Do you have any thoughts on that, like, on the processes side? On the, like, systems side? How do you make it possible to always go to market with a partner? internally?

Mark Kilens  12:47
Yeah, I mean, I disagree with that. It's not so much a process and system thing. It's a philosophical thing.

Ella Richmond  12:53

Mark Kilens  12:54
Yeah, it goes back to my current beliefs, like, philosophically, you know, I've told my marketing team, this is one of the core ways we're going to do things, we're always going to try to find a way to partner with someone, when it comes to anything we do.

And then you hold that line, you just hold that line, and you show people how it's done. Right? So you lead by example, as a leader, another teammate, the the CEO, might, but it's a philosophical, cultural thing.

And that's where all of these things start. And that's where they actually become habitual, and a ritual for the company staying and actually ingrained to the company strategy. System process. That's like, it goes back to the thing. We talked about tactics with like SEO and blogging, that's just a tactic. That's the way we frame it.

Ella Richmond  13:35
Okay, okay. That makes a lot of sense. So then, then you would call BS on the fact that there are some, there are some companies that don't like partner marketing, because they've had bad experiences. But maybe it's just the culture between the two. Or maybe it's just one culture or another culture. And then that goes back to the belief and the philosophical, which is, they were not aligned.

Mark Kilens  13:57
Yeah, in some cases. Yeah. I mean, yeah, there's multitude of reasons why that could be right. And that could be a one off case, it could be anything, but I don't think it's as much like system and process, okay, you know, with anything, you know, when you talk about this type of stuff, it's very much at the human level, and humans are irrational, for the most of the time, so.

And they they are very, like, sometimes instinctual. But they're also very, like, ego driven me me me, like this, this feels good. This feels doesn't like doesn't feel good, and data can only get you so far. So it's like all about that human dynamic. And how much trust was either gained or lost as as you do more of these partner motions with other businesses and people over time, because the more you do it, the more trust that's developed across all of those partner relationships, the more that you're going to lean into it.

And if you do a lot, there's a lot Trust and your one bad incidents, there's pride and like, all that trust won't be lost, some trust will be lost, but not all of it right? You might have one link that gets a little weakened, but you can replace it. But if you only done a couple and it's a major incident, you lost all trust, then it's like, you know, time, money, energy, whatever, like, then it's like, well, I don't want to do this anymore. There's a lot of factors, right? It's, it's, it's there's definitely an art.

Ella Richmond  15:24
Yeah, I like that better. So why did you mention that you told your whole team like, we're not going to mark it alone? That's the goal. And you're ingraining this belief? When did this become such a conviction for you? When did you become convicted about never marketing alone?

Mark Kilens  15:45
Around  2010? When I was at HubSpot, yeah.

Ella Richmond  15:52
Why? Because they hadn't such a Partner Network or?

Mark Kilens  15:56
No, no, it was internal partnerships. I partnered with other HubSpot employees to help bring to life this idea of better educating our customers, adding more value to the customer experience teaching them things. It was a content camp, and then it eventually became HubSpot Academy. So.

Ella Richmond  16:16
So you saw something massive come out of this one principle, and then you saw the value in it.

Mark Kilens  16:21
Yeah, through all those partnerships, like I was able to get, like, you know, dozens of people to participate in that kind of experiment. And if they're a man, I could never do, if I did this alone, tried to do this alone, this never would be successful, or would have ever been as successful as it would have been. So like,you have to partner with people.

Ella Richmond  16:35
So then it's not just never marketing alone. Like with partners with outside companies, it's also an internal thing.

Mark Kilens  16:42
Oh, 100%? Yes. That's where it should always start.

Ella Richmond  16:49
I love that I love that reframe. Um, what is one piece of advice that you would give somebody who either wants to adopt this, this principle and doesn't know how, or doesn't know how to practically tangibly like, take this from belief to conviction? Like, I'm going to, you know, stand by this and make everything built off of this? What? What is one piece of advice you'd give them?

Mark Kilens  17:14
Well, I mean, gotta hit head on it just in that statement. But with that question, it was it was you have to believe first, so you got to get to the level belief, and then you have to try it a few times. And to strengthen that belief in that trust. It just, you know, be consistent with it, especially in the beginning, you have to be consistent, consistent. And stick and stick with it.

So no magic, no magic stuff. There. It's more about the fundamentals. And if that belief continues to strengthen, and you see early indicators, early indicators, excuse me of success and, and whatnot, your conviction is only going to get stronger, your beliefs gonna get stronger, and it starts to create that flywheel effect for you, in your mind. So yeah, I think I just say, think back to some of the things that you did outside of business, and ask yourself, were you able to do those things? How successful would those things have been or not been? If you did or did not partner with people? And you probably get your answer it there.

Ella Richmond  18:14
Yeah, my goodness, this, this, this changes everything the whole, because I think I saw it from an outward company perspective. And I think that making it about the internal is I think that's the perfect place to start. Because then you start to build that abundance mindset more people is good. You know, let's work together. Let's let's help each other out, and let's become better and I don't know, I think that that's really, really important.

Mark Kilens  18:41
That goes back to cultural right, the philosophy and the culture of the business.

Ella Richmond  18:45
Yeah. That was all the questions that I had a really really really appreciated this. This was very eye opening.

Mark Kilens  18:52
Yeah, my, my pleasure, Ella. Thanks for having me.

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