How Kristin Brown Helped Contentful Nearly Double Partner-involved Revenue Year-over-year
This article is part of our Growing a Partnerships Team spotlight series. Each week, a different professional joins us to share their experience scaling their partnerships team. Learn more in this quarter’s introduction.
Kristin Brown started her career in sales and channel sales. Soon after, she found enjoyment working with partners, from building the network to establishing relationships, completing strategic planning, and seeing results. After making the leap into partnerships, Kristin worked to build sales channels for ThinPrint in the Nordics.
Today, Kristin is joining us to discuss how she’s grown with the Contentful Partnerships Team, her best practices for hiring, and advice for excelling in the industry.
From Channel Sales to Partner Management
Kristin Brown started her career in channel sales. She shared, “Every deal had to go through a channel or reseller partner. Through this role, I got in touch with partners and learned about the whole partner motion. It was interesting to learn about involving a third party in your deal. I enjoyed working with partners a lot — from building the network, establishing relationships, enabling partners, doing planning with them, and then seeing the results.”
While Kristin enjoyed this, after 4-5 years, she was ready for the next step in her career, and a new opportunity opened up. “We had a new product which we already tested in the market and working in the Nordics, and I had a lot of product feedback already as this is an early adopter market. I have a high-level technical background and a bit of coding skills; therefore I decided it would be a nice new challenge to get into product. I presented to our CEO what my product strategy would look like, and apparently, he and the senior management liked it as they then made me the product manager for this product. After some time, we spun off this new product into a new startup, and I got the opportunity to become a managing director. I did a little bit of everything — product management, analyst relationships, and building a tech partner network to expand the use case scenarios for our product and provide more value to our customers. With the analysts and tech partners, I worked with external stakeholders. I enjoyed that a lot. I decided this is what I was strong at, and I want to stay in this partner world.”
After building the startup, Kristin went off as a consultant for a while, gaining tons of experience. “Eventually, I wanted to find a cool tech company that had a solution that is cutting edge, with growth potential, and that works with partners. I applied for a Partner Manager role at Contentful back in 2016. At that time, there were only three people on the partnerships team, my manager, a Partner Development Representative (PDR), and I. We started building the partner network in EMEA as well as NA. We also hired our first partner manager in NA. Over time, my manager left. We hired a new director in NA, and I had the opportunity to lead the team in EMEA, reporting to the director. We were three people in EMEA by this time. Today, I fully manage the team in EMEA and Asia, and report to our VP. I have a counterpart director in NA.”
Growing Contentful’s Partnerships Team
After starting with just three people, Contentful’s partnerships team has grown significantly. “By the end of 2021, we will have eleven partner managers and two managers in EMEA. We also have a similar structure in the US. It’s incredible to see how our partner network grew to over 350 partners with steadily growing revenue. We’ve almost doubled partner-involved revenue every year and brought partner involvement from 20% in 2016 to 40-50% in 2021 (in EMEA).”
The team has become so valuable, it’s now split into two focuses. “I lead the solution partnerships team, which consists of digital agencies, consultancies, and SIs. We also have a tech partnerships team led by our director of tech partnerships. In my role, you experience a lot of different cultures, languages, and ways of doing business. Especially in an EMEA role, you need to be culturally aware. When hiring for my team, I look at languages spoken and previous territory experiences. For example, a conversation with Finnish partners compared to French partners will have a completely different style.”
The partnerships roles you hire depend on the phase you’re in regarding building your partner network, program, and operations. Kristin explains, “First, you need to build a partner network. So, we needed people-oriented roles that could go out, prospect new partners and build up this network. These are Partner Development Representatives (PDR) and Partner Managers. The PDR is responsible for prospecting and onboarding a partner. The Partner Manager is responsible for taking the partner through enablement and building up a Go-To-Market (GTM) motion. We still start with this setup when we enter a new market.”
Once an initial partner network is established, you need to start scaling to manage more partners than their individual capacity allows. Of Contentful’s experience scaling, Kristin explained, “We started collaborating with other teams internally to scale technical enablement. For example, we work with Solution Engineering for ad-hoc and project-related enablement, with Professional Services for conceptual enablement, and with our Learning Services team for programmatic enablement. We also hired a Partner Enablement Manager to coordinate these teams and all enablement initiatives. Our goal is to become more programmatic so we can shorten the onboarding time of a new partner.”
“To scale our GTM motion, we hired Partner Marketing Managers, initially for all of EMEA, and we are now becoming more specific with individual regions. In addition, we hired partner operations to coordinate internal operations, make sure we track outcomes and make educated decisions based on correct reporting. We are still hiring many individual partner managers as personal relationships are important, and we are most successful when our partners have a personal contact, and we have regular check-ins to plan GTM activities. The partner manager also coordinates across multiple departments and makes sure our partners are aligned with our sales teams and sales motion.”
As far as team involvement with regards to hiring for partnership roles, Kristin explained, “For our partner manager roles, we involve Partnerships and Sales. For our partnership supporting roles (Enablement, Operations, Marketing) we involve Partnerships and the respective department. At Contentful, our partnership supporting roles sit in the departments mentioned above for knowledge-sharing purposes. However, even if they sat in Partnerships, I believe we would still include the departments mentioned above as these roles would need to collaborate and coordinate with these departments.”
Essential Qualities for Partnerships Hires
Kristin has done a lot of work in growing her team at Contentful. She shared her tips for growing a team from her experience. “Every hire should be really strong in relationship building, and at the same time very structured. They should be able to build business plans, know their region, scale and enable partners, and execute the plan. Tactically, they should know how to put data into a CRM and keep it updated so we can pull reports and use them for planning.”
In addition to being great relationship builders and structured workers, Kristin looks for strong collaborators. “They should be good at collaborating both internally and externally as well as have a technology affinity. In our space, we are talking to a lot of tech directors, so my team needs to understand them and be credible when talking to them, which is why I look for people with a tech understanding.”
Finally, Kristin recommends looking for an entrepreneurial spirit. “Especially for the Regional Partner Managers who have to come in and build the region. They need to think about their plans for achieving revenue targets. In a fast-paced environment, you need to be able to deal with ambiguity, be adaptable, and be solution-oriented.”
Where does Kristin look for ideal-fit candidates? “A lot of our candidates come from our professional networks. They also join us from our competitors. Otherwise, we source on professional networks like LinkedIn, the Partnership Leaders community, and local job platforms. If you are interested in joining Contentful or know somebody, we are currently looking for a Regional Partner Manager for the DACH region. We are looking forward to applications and referrals.”
Excel in Your Career & Scale Your Team with Partnership Leaders
Kristin shared some excellent advice for effectively scaling your partnerships team. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and watch for the rest of the interviews in our hiring series. For even more tactical advice from professionals in the industry, grab our Career Progression Playbook, which breaks down a partnerships career into four key stages, highlighting the necessary skills for each.
Partnership Leaders connects professionals from modern technology companies looking to advance their careers, expand their partner programs, and grow their organizations. Whether you’re looking to land a new role in partnerships, excel in your existing role, or grow your team, Partnership Leaders has resources for it all. Apply now to join the exclusive community hundreds of partnership professionals rely on.