Key Milestones for Agency Partnerships
This is part of our 2021 Q1 spotlight series on working with strategic integrators and agencies. Read more about this series in our intro article.
This week, Doug Gould joins us to explore his experiences partnering with agencies throughout his career.
This spotlight series is brought to you in partnership with PartnerStack.
Doug Gould currently works on the Startup Business Development team at AWS. However, most of what Doug discusses is about experiences in his previous roles. Before he moved into this role at AWS, Doug managed Intelligent Cloud partnerships with Microsoft. During his time at Microsoft and Xamarin before that, he built agency partnerships.
Doug comes from a world of startup business development, which is where he spent most of his career. Doug started working for Cloudability as one of their first business development representatives. After spending several years building out their partner programs, Doug moved to Xamarin, where most of his digital agency experience comes from. After that, Doug spent about three years at Microsoft identifying, recruiting, and co-selling large digital agencies and consultancies.
“Agencies are never going to use that.”
Doug started working with SIs a while back when he first got into the cloud space. “I got a lot more agency experience at Xamarin. The story was, a friend of mine who ran a digital agency, told me ‘Agencies are never going to use that.’ I wanted to highlight how agencies focus mainly on native mobile development for platforms like iOS and Android when the agency could write a single code base to go across platforms. As someone who owns an agency, he presented 2 problems. One — it doesn’t give creative teams the ability to control the experience. Second — deploying a solution quicker that’s sub-optimal means the client may spend less money, but they get a lower-quality output.”
That was a significant, eye-opening experience for Doug. He realized that in order to work successfully with digital agencies, you need to understand how they make money. “System integrators come in and just deploy. A lot of them do that, it’s less differentiated. With an agency, they want to be able to offer the polish of a high-quality product, and their clients come for the experience and are willing to pay a premium. I took that on as a challenge. I wanted to see that the opportunity was, and with the support of my leadership, I was able to build out those agency partnerships.”
Doug shared that he often advises startups around this. “I learned that an agency won’t want to execute an out-of-the-box solution. You’ve got to have a solution that will be compelling for people at the agency to flex their creative muscles and get value from.”
Understanding Scope of Influence and Deal Stage
After understanding how agencies made money, the second biggest obstacle Doug faced was understanding the scope of work an agency is doing for a particular client, as well as how far along the RFP or pitch is. “I would talk to one agency and hear, ‘ Company A is our client.’ The next agency I called would say the same thing about Company A. Many agencies were taking credit for ‘building a mobile app’ when they might have played a part in the conception, design, development, or could have owned the full end-to-end delivery. In murky waters, it’s important to understand the true scope of the work the agency does.” Doug shared that other times agencies can be really ambitious and aspirational, but they’ve never done the actual deliverables before.
Doug explained that it’s also key to understand what kind of technologies are relevant for each specific opportunity. “If you are a CX platform and your new partner mentioned Nike as a client, but their Nike work is just micro-sites, then it’s less likely that the agency will provide a realistic opportunity in the pipeline for you. You need to understand the scope that the agency has when they work with a client and if your solution actually fits into that.”
Looking at where a prospect is in the pipeline is also important. “You need to know if it’s an existing client or RFP. If it’s a competitive situation and you’re putting all this effort into helping an agency win a deal that they don’t win, you have to start from scratch. You have to be smart about understanding where a client or prospect is in the pipeline and being able to respond accordingly.”
Key Milestones for Activation
Being in a large organization, getting support from leadership was important. “My team and I came into the space as novices, but we went out to make an impact. The first metric we looked at was evangelism. We needed to ensure that agencies actually utilized our technology. We did not differentiate if it was used internally or with a client, we just wanted them to use it.”
Doug’s first milestone for partnership activation was about adoption and ensuring the agency had actually leveraged the platform and built something successfully. “We really took a very adoption-focused view initially. It became a very heavy business development evangelism effort. I spent a ton of time in the offices of agencies. Eventually, it became something I was so focused on, I had to move to NYC. There, I had a desk at an agency partner where I would work once per week. It was all about earning the trust of the agency so we could gradually expand the partnership.”
While Doug was operating as part of a large company, small companies need to take the same approach. “Instead of trying to recruit 50 partners, starting small and being high-touch will lead to the best success. Make sure you know the agency really well. Ask yourself: ‘Do they care about the solution I’m bringing to the table? Do they want me to keep showing up? Is this technology something their team gets excited about?’.”
Advice for Building First-time Agency Partnerships
Doug would recommend someone looking to build an agency partnership for the first time to start by working through some key questions. “First, broadly ask, ‘How relevant are agency partnerships to my technology?’ It’s easy to anecdotally say, ‘Oh we’ve heard from an agency and think we can get deals working with them.’ At a high-level, you need to understand how relevant your solution truly is. From there, you need to understand how does the agency make money, how do they manage clients, and who has influence at these agencies.”
It’s important to iron out those answers before approaching partnerships for the first time. “That’s where you want to ensure things are aligned. If you have a very technical product, it may solve something the agency wants to do, but if they aren’t tech-savvy, it won’t truly be beneficial.”
Once you have aligned goals, you need to look at capacity. “Second thing to add: Do you have the time horizon and resources to make this successful? If you’re looking for rapid results, it could depend on the technology or platform you’re pushing. Agencies won’t be able to get you instant results.”
If you have a lot of balls in the air, it’s important to weigh partnerships against other priorities. “It might take more time in order for you to see success coming out of the agency channel. Especially if you’re trying to go up-market after corporate and enterprise clients, the sales cycle is pretty long. A solid foundation starts with resourcing the partnerships correctly, setting realistic timelines, and earning the trust of the agencies. I was fortunate to work on groundbreaking projects with amazing agency partners so I know the opportunity is there for other tech companies!”
Explore more insights on successful SI partnerships.
This article is part of our Q1 series highlighting partnerships with SIs and agencies. Each week, we’ll highlight a different leader and their experience in the space. Follow us on LinkedIn to ensure you don’t miss an update!
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