Automation: keeping up with the future
In a perfect world, every person in an ecosystem would be valued the same, and partner managers would have enough time to give everybody the same amazing treatment. That's not possible, though, and far from reality. Partner managers today are super busy, and most don't have time for all their contacts.
I recently talked to a partner manager at a big tech platform, and she told me she only manages to actively engage 30 of the 80 partners she is assigned. And she furthermore needs to prioritize whom within those partner organizations she engages with. She doesn't have time for every AE and CSM in those partner organizations but focuses on a few key people. She's not alone. It's what almost every partner manager will tell you.
And this will get even more challenging. Ecosystems will grow 10x in the next five years; partnership teams won't. It won't be humanly possible to engage everyone manually. We'll arrive at a crossroads – we can either choose to leave some of our partners behind or leverage technology to make partner managers' jobs more scalable.
That's why I agree with people like Jay McBain, who says that "automation has become the #1 growth opportunity" in our space. I also agree when he states that much of what we do is "still painfully manual and error-prone." The partnership space is one of the least automated, especially when compared to marketing and sales.
Losing the human touch in a digital-first era
Before I dive in, I'd like to address an obvious concern. That is: will automation mean the end of authentic relationships? I am convinced that the opposite is true. Automation eliminates tedious, repetitive tasks so that people can focus on the things that matter, like actually building relationships. Automation can free up time that can be invested in relationships that matter into more personal connections instead of copying & pasting email templates.
So why are we reluctant to embrace automation? I think we can answer this by considering recent developments in the world of sales. A few years ago, salespeople feared that automation would destroy meaningful interactions with potential customers. Then, companies like Outreach and Salesloft proved them wrong and gave them superpowers via cadences. Today most sales reps can't imagine not having those tools that make their job easier, more fun, and more impactful.
Why is automation so late to the partnership party?
One major obstacle in the way has always been the accessibility of data. When data lives in silos, it's difficult to access it. Thankfully, that is starting to change. Modern PRMs include APIs, and they're focusing a lot more on integrations. They've realized the importance of making their data accessible outside the PRM, and enabling companies to marry that data with other data sources. Account mapping tools are doing a great job at not just generating even further powerful data (by automating the account mapping process) but also making that data accessible.
On the one hand, more data in more data sources makes a partner manager's job even more complex and difficult. On the other hand, it creates opportunities for better decision-making and automation. It helps us move from a gut feel to an objective foundation that tells us what to do and when. Or rather: who to engage, how to engage them, and when.
Defining the limits of automation
It's important not to lose sight of the fact that partnerships are fundamentally different from other functions in many ways. We need to assess where automation adds value and where the human touch is needed. Anyone claiming that automation will replace partner managers doesn't know how partnerships work. These relationships are formed when people feel seen and valued. Not all of that can be automated, even if some of it can be.
Keep in mind that not every email you send needs to be unique. What matters is that it's relevant. If it feels like a newsletter, you have already lost. Just like in marketing and sales, you need to show people you understand them and that you don't see them merely as assets.
For example, in marketing, random sales campaigns don't perform as well as birthday campaigns or recommendations based on past purchasing patterns. That's all automated communication, but it's highly effective because it's relevant and timely.
Can we leverage a similar approach when it comes to partner engagement? Of course, we can, and we should. What's so great about this approach is that it enables companies to also engage the long tail of their partner contacts.
Think of that junior AE at Salesforce you didn't have time to stay in touch with or that head of consulting at a smaller SI that you deem less relevant. By engaging even those people, you expand your reach. And while manually engaging them may not be worth it, using automation definitely is, because it costs you virtually nothing in terms of time and effort.
You'd be surprised at what may come of all the extra engagement. Those people all have relationships as well. By making them feel valued and special, you activate them. What may have remained a stale partnership on paper could become a real, value-generating relationship. And all it takes is a click.
Finding the balance: how much automation is too much?
It's always about the perfect balance to reap the benefits while minimizing the downsides of automation. When it comes to benefits, I believe that it actually is not about cost reduction. It's rather about further increasing partner-driven revenue. It's about unleashing the full potential of ecosystems and about giving partner managers the ability to focus on the things where they can have the biggest impact vs. just working off chores.
What's so great about this for partner managers is not just that they can have a bigger impact; it's also that this repetitive stuff usually isn't what they love about their job. It's just not fun to send pretty much the same message for the tenth time that week. Let a machine do that.
What’s fun is actually building relationships, planning new initiatives, and helping partners win big deals. With automation, everyone wins: more partners feel valued and supported, partner managers’ job satisfaction goes up, and companies ultimately make more money.
As you can tell by now, I’m all for embracing new tech. We are already seeing so many new companies emerging to help take the ecosystem forward. Superglue is just one of them, and I could not be more excited about working in this space. Partnership teams, forward-thinking consultants like Allan Adler (who also just published an article on this topic), and other partner tech companies - we’re all in this together as we continue to learn how technology can help shape the decade of the ecosystem.
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