Most organizations have huge partner operations problems. Those problems look different based on the company size and industry, but due to the changing nature of partnerships, the crazy number of stakeholders, and the newer technology, almost all organizations are failing to nail their partner operations.
Scott Brinker, Jay McBain of Canalys, Asher Mathew of Partnerships Leaders, and I have teamed up to run a survey on partner operations and programs. Our goal is to collect 500 responses so we can generate market-wide data that will provide valuable insights into how organizations are tackling this challenge.
Please help contribute to this market data by taking the 8-minute survey. (I know it’s tempting to let “everyone else” do it, but we need YOU to contribute too. Yes, you. Plus, you’ll get exclusive access to the anonymized data when the report is released if you complete the survey.)
The goal of the survey is to get a better understanding of partner operation pain points and limitations, in part so we can mature our tech stack and processes. But what are some of the most common partner operation fails and what can you do about them today?
Tracking Partner Influence Presale
There are many buying touchpoints that occur with prospects before they even come into contact with your website, let alone your marketing or sales team. Tracking influence during the sale is tough, but tracking it presale is even more challenging.
Conversations with partners and peers occur every day that completely change buying decisions. Partner-to-partner interactions, participating in professional communities, attending conferences, and peer-to-peer networking often result in a prospect choosing to move forward with one system or another.
I’m sure we’ve all had some variation of the following conversation both with our partners and with the broader business community.
So what happened in this conversation? Let’s imagine Dunder Mifflin, Bob’s Burgers, Unicorn SaaS, and Vodka Donuts are all partners (hey, burgers and vodka fuel all that corporate paperwork).
In that case, partners seriously impacted the sale of Acme, resulting in Acme not even having a chance to pitch Vodka Donuts. In addition, the tech partnership between Acme and Salesforce and its terrible integration also blew the sale before it even started.
But despite determining the outcome of the sale for Acme, none of this is being tracked at most organizations.
Or consider another example. A prospect goes to your technology partner’s integration marketplace and is browsing through your product category. Then they see something like this:
This prospect will likely never go to your website. Instead, they will just scroll to a similar app that has 200 5-star reviews and go to their website instead. While organizations know bad reviews in app marketplaces are not helpful, they are rarely tracking the lost deals from it.
Similarly, your partner may post positively about your app on social media or at a live event, and, even if you see it, you likely won’t have access to any analytics to gauge the brand equity gain or understand how many prospects heard or saw the mention but only later went to your website. The vast majority of this very substantial influence just goes untracked.
Current Best Practices
Part of presale influence will not be tracked anytime soon due to privacy concerns. But partner and marketing technology will likely evolve to do a better job tracking brand mentions in emails, video calls, and even in-person conversations.
Right now, encouraging partners to post your website URL with a UTM code no matter where they are sharing will capture an additional layer of impact. But, honestly, most people won’t do this without a financial incentive and it only captures written recommendations (and it certainly doesn’t capture written pans).
A better bet is to have a website form and/or AEs ask “Where did you hear about us from?” People often forget where they first heard of a product or will blow off this question, but it can help get a view into how often partners are mentioning you in casual conversations, at events, or on untracked social media.
The second biggest thing you can do is partner data sharing, which in this case includes marketplace analytics, mentions, sales data, and marketing campaign data.
Remember those bad integration marketplace reviews? Ask your partner for information on title visits and the user journey. Are users immediately going to higher-rated apps and never visiting your tile? Are they seeing your tile and then moving on? How many go on to purchase from that product category?
Many of your partners will not share detailed data with you because of the lack of elegant tooling and the trust it requires to share customer data. But in an ideal world, you’d be able to get their marketing campaign data that mentioned you (pulled from their marketing automation or in a co-marketing automation tool or portal) and get data on when their AEs, CS, or partner teams mentioned you (pulled from a tool like Gong).
If you can’t get this data from your partner, you can try to track their public mentions in shared communities and at events and assess whether it had an impact on your brand, traffic, or sales. But for now, the best thing you can usually do is directly ask prospects and customers.
Even beyond asking where they heard about you (which you should do), you can ask them about their general sources for information, what relationships they have with other entities, and track how often partners are cited as trusted sources. Mapping these partner relationships can help you to understand which partners are having more influence, even if you can’t quantify the exact impact.
Partner communications at scale are usually slow, manual, and disorganized. The industry has the challenge of 1000 partner portals, to which no partner can or will log in to. For the largest players in the ecosystem, they can expect their partners to log into their portals and even have other companies build products that make it easier to connect to their portals.
But for the typical company that is not the center of gravity, they have to communicate with partners in a scalable way without putting a heavy burden on their partners to log in to yet another system.
Many companies are still relying on portals, emails, Slack, spreadsheets, and project management tools to go back and forth with their partners. The crazy amount of systems and modes of communication are resulting in missed opportunities, lost information, and bad data.
Current Best Practices
A number of ecosystem management systems are aiming to become a single pane of glass so that partners can all connect through the same system. TIDWIT in learning management, WorkSpan for co-selling and partner management, PartnerStack in affiliate marketing and partner management, and PartnerTap, Reveal, and Crossbeam for partner data sharing are all aiming to become more centralized places for partners across ecosystems to connect.
The current best practice is to understand your own ecosystem and what your partners are currently using or willing to use. If the vast majority are not on one system or not willing to be, you have to cobble together different systems and rely heavily on integration to move data around.
Using systems that your partners are already using, deploying systems with SSO, robust APIs and out-of-the-box integrations are the best bets for streamlining data sharing and communications with partners. It’s more realistic to ask partners to set up an account in a new system once than it is to expect them to regularly log in to yet another system.
Beyond systems, processes are also key. Establishing clear communication practices with partners and having a centralized place where partners can refer to these practices can help ensure that, even if multiple systems are involved (as they will be), time and data aren’t being lost because partners do not know where to go or look for certain information.
Partnerships teams should be sharing data, insights, referrals, and enablement with marketing, sales, CS, and product. But like with partner communication, cross-departmental collaboration is often stymied by disparate systems that do not talk to each other and a lack of processes.
Additionally, different departments often rely on different reporting and workflows, meaning cross-collaboration requires creating processes and permissions that cross over departmental lines. But in many organizations, that just doesn’t happen.
Asking salespeople to log in to your partner portal, for example, to find if there is a partner relevant to their deal, often results in the salesperson just not bothering to use a partner on a deal. Or relying on AEs to manually log when a partner referred or influenced a deal will likely result in much of that impact not being tracked.
Failure to share partner account overlaps or partner feedback and roadmap with product can result in a misalignment between the tech partnerships integration roadmap and the product roadmap.
Current Best Practices
Unifying technology and establishing clear processes and communication cadences are key to operationalizing cross-functional collaboration.
This is an area where technology is still emerging to make cross-functional collaboration easier. Partner Fluent, for example, is a new-to-market product that works with account mapping tools to alert AEs in Slack with enablement materials on partners that are relevant to their accounts.
This type of technology is important because it surfaces valuable information to a different department when they need it, rather than asking for the other department to do the work to find the information. Other departments will only do extra work to log in or request information if they are already ”all in” on partnerships (few departments are) or being financially incentivized to work with partners.
Integrating partner technology with other departments’ systems is an important step in making it easier to collaborate cross-functionally. Much of partner technology already integrates into CRMs (albeit in varying degrees of robustness), and this can effectively pipe partner data and information into and out of CRMs.
When integrating to existing systems isn’t a possibility, pushing to use the same systems for project management, reporting, and workplace communications can help to minimize friction across departments. Implementing processes like regular meetings, quarterly presentations, and at least one centralized point for mapping where to go for information (like a company wiki) can also help.
When it comes to reporting, operations teams should set up processes and systems so different teams can see partner impact and that partners can see other departmental data that is relevant to optimizing partnerships. For example, tech partner teams should be able to see analytics around an integration marketplace, installs, and how those installs connect to revenue data like ARR.
Cross-functional collaboration requires strategic alignment on KPIs, but partner operations and processes that make that collaboration possible are equally important.
Ultimately, most organizations are falling short on partner operations and, as a result, they are failing to unlock the full value of partnerships or demonstrate its impact to their executive leadership.
Please take the 8-minute partner operations survey to help us collect more insights on partner operations. This data will illuminate how partnerships as a practice can improve the systems and processes that are currently dragging down its rate of growth.
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