Building a Partner Program from Scratch During a Pandemic

Cass Polzin
Cass Polzin15 Apr, 2021

This article is part of our Women in Partnerships series, highlighting female professionals in the partnerships space. To learn more about the series and the Women in Partnerships group, check out the series intro.

Today, Sarit Chalamish joins us to discuss building a partner program from scratch during COVID-19, parenting during the pandemic, and what it’s like being a woman in partnerships.

Meet Sarit

Sarit Chalmish has been in the channel world for about eight years now. She joined monday.com a year ago to help build the North American channel for the company. monday.com has had channel programs for a few years in other geographies, but now the time has come to focus on the North American region.

Primarily what Sarit does is focused on reselling motions with an outbound focus. The partners they’re looking for are partners who know how to resell software. Sarit shared that she works with lots of tools to enable more accessible communication and collaboration, both internally and externally. She also noted that it’s been interesting to build a channel during a pandemic.

Implementing a Partner Program Amid a Pandemic

Sarit shared that she’s had three channel roles over the years. “Two of those roles I started programs from scratch. In the other role, I inherited an existing channel and had to deal with lots of issues. I’m personally very excited about building something from scratch.”

The recent COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in how everyone works. “It’s a very unique challenge to build during a pandemic. Anyone who’s client-facing has been challenged by it. When you start creating something out of nothing with people you’re never met, shook hands, broke bread with, it’s incredibly difficult. I will be the first one to say that when I was interviewing with monday.com, we had no idea what would happen — I even said, ‘I just hope I’ll be able to visit my partners.’”

Fortunately, going digital hasn’t slowed Sarit and her team down. “I’m very pleased to say that the human connection, the trust, and the professionalism still carry through. That’s why we’ve seen success. People are gravitating toward this idea of what monday.com is offering. Additionally, our Work OS fits nicely with market trends these days, as remote work accelerated the need for transparency and easy collaboration.”

Two Passions Converge as a Career in Partnerships

Sarit admitted she didn’t expect partnerships to be her career path. “I didn’t know partnerships existed. Everybody now wants a channel partnership manager and to have partnerships as part of their organization. If you looked at me eight years ago, I didn’t know it was an option. I come from a background in marketing and market research.”

Sarit started on a different side of business with consumer and luxury goods, where she quickly identified her love of two things. “First, understanding the consumer and understanding individual perspectives — why people purchase, how they buy, and what they buy.”

“I’m also very passionate about business. To an extent, I feel like before I knew partnerships existed, I did great work around market research, understanding consumer dynamics, consumer insights, leveraging consumer data, and consumer patterns. What was missing for me that whole time was that I wasn’t in the front of the house. I remember back when I was doing my days in marketing and market research, I was always looking for ways to network, go to conferences, and represent the company. I was shut down — it wasn’t my job. My job was to really be conducting research, sending emails, or strategizing. The moment I got my first job at partnerships, I realized this is what I’ve been looking for all along.”

Sarit is able to use all of her favorite skills when it comes to partnerships, including understanding what consumers look for and trends on the business side. “Also, building relationships and building trust, creating things together — that whole world just opened my eyes to something completely new and exciting. I’m still excited every day by it.”

Proud Moments in Partnerships

Sarit shared that, like all else, the partnerships realm has its peaks and valleys. “My proudest relationship-based accomplishment goes back to when I had to take on a really poorly managed relationship where I was the underdog. I was the unfavorable partner in the ecosystem where I really had to shift things around and level the playing field. I had to go out and say, ‘Time-out. I know things aren’t going well.’”

While the impact on the bottom line should be a key driver of partnerships, it’s not the only consideration.“You might be making the most money, but it might not be an ideal partnership if you don’t like working with that group. Even if the solution is great, if the relationship isn’t working, it will never work. Over the course of a few months, I could see how my actual efforts were making things better. I was creating cadences I know other partners didn’t. I made sure I did more of a grassroots effort around the organizations to create a watercooler vibe. That experience is one thing I’ll take with me forever.”

Sarit shared another proud moment in her career: a really large deal that came through a partner. “This deal was memorable because it came through a partner I had been nurturing for a while, and I just knew something was going to come out of it eventually. When you drill for oil, you never know if something is there until you find it. You really need some patience. We’re holding something delicate with partnerships — we’re managing other sources, powers, dynamics, and relationships. We don’t always know what’s going to come out, but you do have to keep on digging.”

Removing Tension Between Sales & Partnerships

Sarit shared that the first thing she asks of almost anyone she’s speaking with is about the dynamic between sales and channel in an organization. “If you want me to manage your channel, you need to make sure you remove as much — or all — of the tension between us and sales. If we go in together, we’ll win. If you make us butt heads, we have no prospect of succeeding. Instead, it’s going to be tense, hard, and unhealthy.”

Sarit has worked in instances where that tension hasn’t been resolved and had to really work hard to change. “We had to ensure sales didn’t see partners as a threat. If they do, then you’re losing on both fronts. To do so, you need to demonstrate value. Some doors cannot be opened without leveraging a partner. Any salesperson who has worked with me now knows that. On a different note, not knowing what the channel can lead to, in terms of not having data and putting completely random figures as the goal — I think that’s just destined to fail. Put realistic goals.”

Propelling in Partnerships as a Woman & Parent

Sarit shared that not just because she’s a woman but also because she is a mother of three girls, she feels like the work she puts out there is extremely important. “I’m always available and professional. I create things in the market that will hopefully transcend to more young female leaders that wish to take those roles. For me, even before I went to business school, I didn’t necessarily have a clear vision. What’s a businesswoman? You think of someone in a suit; you don’t really know what that is.”

“I feel like my role today is to do the best work I can, to speak about it, to be vocal about it, and to make sure that others know that I’m doing it. That’s kind of my north star. Asking for things and not assuming they would be handed to me. Honestly, I’m not thinking about it as I’m a woman doing my work — I think about it as doing the best work I can, stretching myself and my goals.”

Sarit noted that in partnerships, there’s an important differentiator to consider. “Specifically with partnerships, the relationships component is done differently by women. That’s not good or bad, it’s just different. Generally speaking, women tend to be detail-oriented and bring other qualities to the relationships they build. I feel like women bring a really unique voice to partnerships.”

Unfortunately, her last few roles haven’t had the advantage of diversity. “I can say in the last two partner roles that I’ve come from, it was all male. The entire industry I was managing partnerships in was very male-dominated in supply chains and logistics. Having a woman semi-intelligently speak about warehouse systems was surprising to people. I think specifically because we’re speaking in the framework of tech, that’s another thing I’m always pushing myself on is to understand the technology and be as smart as I can on it.”

Today, many corporations are starting to include more and more women at the leadership level of channel teams. “Large organizations are really blessed to have a layer of female leaders in the channel — Microsoft is a good organization doing a fantastic job. If you look at the SaaS space, younger generations, you see females out there. I’m currently reporting to a wonderful female leader. There should be more female leaders in our space, and they should be more vocal.”

Seeking Out Mentors for Specific Areas

Like her coworkers in recent years, Sarit shared that most of her mentors over the years have been male. “This is kind of a fact of the matter. I have some female mentors in my orbit, and what I learn from them is more specific to being a woman in partnerships. First, with regards to motherhood and the notion of the non-existent work-life balance. That’s one thing I always like airing with female executives more. And second, the tips that aren’t written anywhere. The male executives could have told me, but it transcends the network differently when it comes from female mentors.”

Sarit also shared that there is no work-life balance. “Everything is just lumped together. It’s just happening, and you have to be the best professional while doing your work life and life life in a symbiotic way. Knowing that you become a role model for your children is so important. My kids know my colleagues. My kids know when I close a deal, and they get happy for me.”

Parenting During a Pandemic

Sarit shared that her husband has been immensely supportive during the pandemic, often doing more than her despite also having a large job. “That has been extremely helpful. We have to be a sounding board. Kids were really afraid at the beginning of the pandemic. ‘What are we doing? Is it ever going to end?’ You have to supply those answers for your kids that you don’t have for yourself because you’re the adult.”

“It’s true in business. Being able to hold to notions about uncertainty and keep running the course is the biggest win. I think the biggest success or the biggest thing I strive to maintain in life is being able to hold a lot of uncertainty, and it has served me well at home and work. That’s the magic bullet. It’s not easy, but it really requires you to know it’s going to be okay, know you’re doing the best you can within the framework. Whatever it is, this deal shall pass. The pandemic will pass.”

The Importance of Groups Like Women in Partnerships

It’s important to have a community where you share experiences with like-minded professionals and get advice specific to the situation you’re going through. It’s also crucial to increase the visibility of incredible women in partnerships. That’s why we’ve created a Women in Partnerships group, specifically for women in the industry.

Partnership Leaders enables personal and professional development for professionals in partnerships. Learn more about the benefits of Partnership Leaders.

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