In the beginning, the sale was direct. One product selling one solution to one buyer.
Over time, the stack of individual software tools grew, integrations became more important, customers bucked the funnels built for them, and multiple companies and products began acquiring and serving customers together. Joint marketing, sales, and customer success rose to prominence.
But it was largely happening as an afterthought and behind the scenes. Companies were leading with their individual value propositions, and only delivering shared value after the sale, often unsystematically.
Partner marketplace platforms have emerged to bring that value out of the backroom and into the front yard.
From utility to interoperability
As software ate the world, thousands of business tasks and processes became digitized, automated, and turned into SaaS products.
Selling these SaaS products meant showing people how they solved specific pain points. Sales reps just needed to get the right decision maker’s eyeballs on their solution and demonstrate that it worked.
But as software continued to eat the world, the stack got a lot fatter.
Marketing alone went from 200 to nearly 10,000 tools in a decade. Buyers became overwhelmed by choices. To add to buyer confusion, many SaaS tools do an equally acceptable job solving individual problems. That’s no longer enough. Buyers need tools with utility and interoperability. They need the tools to play nice with each other from the word go.
The digital buyer’s journey has changed. Prospects need to be able to tick the interoperability checkbox up front. Showcasing integrations means companies will convert more opportunities they didn't even know they had. A report from the CDP Institute shows that, in the marketing technology space, integrations are the most important factor when making a vendor selection.
The market is demanding a flip of the script. Instead of, come for the utility, stay for the integrations, buyers come for the integrations and stay for the integrations.
So why have companies been slow to give partnerships a more prominent place in the buyer and customer journey?
Partner teams tend to be small. They don’t have the resources on their own to restructure the buyer journey around integrations and joint value props.
Product teams need six months to build out a solution, and the opportunity cost of pulling engineers off the core product to build a marketplace is high.
Marketing teams don’t have the bandwidth while trying to hit monthly KPIs, and their tools aren’t purpose-built for the job.
Training sales and customer success teams to educate customers on partners is a constant uphill battle that yields unreliable results.
The partner-centric approach requires a longer time horizon. Most partnerships are post-sale, but they are needed to win customers, and keep them around and happy. Instead of creating and promoting a robust “better together” story, most companies settle for partner logo pages or static directories, if anything at all.
Partner marketplace platforms to the rescue
Before co-founding Partner Fleet, Kenny Browne was a tech partner leader at multiple companies. He ran into the problems most in his role face: inability to maximize the value of his partner program due to a lack of tools & resources to drive awareness and adoption of partners. Plus, duct taped processes and operations to onboard tech partners, and an incredibly delayed GTM motion and time to value.
He saw an opportunity.
It’s hard to benefit from this trend if you’re not showcasing your integrations. Slapping a logo page of your integration partners on the website doesn’t do the trick. Customers need to know what the integration does to understand if it’s valuable to them.
He spent nights and weekends for months building a partner marketplace for his employer and ended up seeing great results: quicker time to value, fewer questions from customers about partners yet higher levels of interest and adoption. That's when he decided it needed to be productized.
Rise of the partner marketplace
Kenny and co-founder Cody Sunkel created Partner Fleet to bring partnerships to the forefront without putting new demands on product or marketing.
In an era where who you work with matters as much or more than what you do, Kenny felt a simple solution to showcase partners, demonstrate joint solutions, and customize the better together story is needed.
We’re like the staging company. We take all these pieces that are already there - partnerships and integrations that exist - and arrange them, bring them to the forefront, and make the whole thing pop. You could say we’re creating curb appeal with partner marketplaces, instead of treating them like something to hide in the utility closet.
Playing nice to win
Partnerships often end up as lip service. Or worse, they play out as two companies begging each other for leads with little in return.
To win, there has to be real collaboration. Joint marketing, joint value props, joint lead flow into respective CRMs, joint ownership.
Cody and Kenny believe the key to the partner-fueled future is an easy to use partner marketplace that allows for more than static listings. Co-branded landing pages for each partner and unique customer flows allow the creation of a new kind of territory or step in the buyer journey, not owned individually by either company, but co-managed by both.
Companies have to learn to operate this way, because buyers already are.
The digital buyer’s journey means you can no longer rely on your sales team to educate buyers, you need to make information available for buyers to self-serve. Marketplaces are your answer for anything regarding connectivity and ecosystem compatibility, one of the earliest and biggest boxes buyers need to check. – Kenny Browne
Three big shifts created by partner marketplace platforms
Customizable partner marketplaces are more than just nice ways to show off integrations. There are fundamental changes not only to the way partnerships are promoted externally, but to the way they are formed, managed, and grown internally.
Shift 1: A new partner marketing paradigm
Partner marketing has been synonymous with co-marketing campaigns. The problem with that paradigm is campaigns are a heavy lift. It's hard to scale the model to an ecosystem of dozens or hundreds of partners.
Companies run time-bound campaigns with a dozen of their top partners, while their long-tail partners get no love and neither side gets much value.
A full-featured partner marketplace changes this paradigm. Promoting a marketplace all year long allows customers to self-educate on partner solutions and take action straight from the marketplace.
Shift 2: Internal enablement 2.0
The days of the partner 1-pager are over.
Marketplaces provide a consumer-grade interface that customer-facing team members are excited to show off to prospects and customers as they consult them on ecosystem solutions. Training becomes a cinch as all the information team members need to know about their partners are available to them in a highly consumable package.
Shift 3: A B2C experience in B2B
Without a marketplace, customers are forced to reach out to someone at the company to learn more about their partners. Inevitably, the rep they work with has to dig up information to send over to the customer. In a world of marketplaces, the customer has a beautiful ecommerce-style experience that helps them easily find the solution they're looking for as well as the information they need to decide whether to engage with the partner or turn on the integration.
An emerging science
There are a lot of questions about how to measure the effectiveness of a partner-led approach. Those in the trenches know it works, even if measurement techniques haven’t caught up yet.
In the fitness world, top coaches and trainers create methods and programs. They know what works from the anecdotal evidence of successful clients. Then science comes in a decade later and explains why it works.
The same can be said of our current marketplace-ecosystem reality. We have entered the post-sales era. Everyone knows they’re working, but the data are slow to come in so far. – Cody Sunkel
From the big boys to the curated markets
In the B2C space, you have a giant like Amazon that drives the majority of marketplace commerce. But you also have Shopify, which provides companies the platform to power their own marketplaces.
In the B2B space, you have mega marketplaces like AWS and Azure driving the bulk of commerce, but you also have emerging solutions like Partner Fleet, which provide companies with the platform to power their own curated marketplaces.
Smaller companies will have their own curated marketplaces that drive a minority of marketplace commerce. These storefronts will be analogous to Shopify in the e-commerce space, and they’ll be powered by marketplace platforms like Partner Fleet. – Kenny Browne
The future’s in the front yard
Partner Fleet believes this is only the beginning in terms of bringing partnerships into the spotlight.
It’s now necessary for tech companies to tell their better together stories within partner marketplaces. It’s not enough to simply show who their partners are.
I asked Kenny and Cody to give a few predictions for the future of partner marketplaces:
- Marketplace platforms will become the single content source for all marketplace “property” a company publishes, whether as an extension of their website or within their product.
- iPaaS and marketplace platforms will converge with deep integrations for a seamless and automated back and front end workflow.
- PRM & marketplace platforms will converge to enable pre and post sale partnerships, with all tracking & reporting available in one interface, and a reliable source of truth for users, deals, etc.
- Marketplaces will enable the outbound flow of leads to partners, serve up reports on those leads within the interface, handle attribution, and automate revenue shares (in the opposite direction as PRMs).
- Marketplaces will have strong buyer intent capabilities synced to CRMs for sales teams to take action on.
- Niche marketplaces will play nicely with other platforms that enable procurement and payments, including the cloud marketplaces.
Something’s definitely stirring.
Show off your partners
Walled gardens are crumbling, and community gardens are growing. Time to put them out front for all to see.
Partner marketplaces are here. We’re excited to partner with Partner Fleet and provide PartnerHacker members with an exclusive offer of 30% off for a full year.
Check out the details, only in the PartnerHacker marketplace.