Partnering with SIs & Agencies: Greg Portnoy
Updated: Apr 15
This article 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, Greg Portnoy joins us to discuss best practices for partnering with SIs and agencies based on his experience in the industry.
This spotlight series is brought to you in partnership with PartnerStack.
Greg Portnoy is currently a Strategic Partnerships Consultant and has spent more than seven years in the partnerships space. Greg’s business consults SaaS companies and agencies on building, scaling, and executing high-performing partner programs.
Greg started as a management consultant at companies like Deloitte. He made the transition to technology on the direct sales side about six years in. Then, he got an opportunity with Oracle + Bronto to move to the partnerships side of the industry.
During his career so far, Greg has built programs across two software companies: Oracle + Bronto and Attentive. Greg also built a partner program at Hawke Media, an agency that specializes in digital marketing for SMB e-commerce brands.
Across those roles, Greg shared that he's run the gamut in terms of organization size, but generally stays in the e-commerce ecosystem with digital agencies. In the past, he’s partnered with Shopify, Magento, and Salesforce ecosystem agencies.
The Partner Manager Profile
When working with an SI or agency, Greg shared that it’s helpful if the partner manager has worked with this type of organization in the past. “The most important factor is for the partner manager to understand their business, how they operate, and be able to speak their language. If you’re working with an agency, you should have marketing familiarity and product dev if you’re working with an SI.”
Greg also shared, “Candidates should have patience and critical out-of-the-box thinking. It requires maturity when you run into obstacles. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and keep working to be productive. Those traits make it much easier for this person to build creative solutions and get over activation obstacles.”
Past having relevant experience, patience, and maturity, Greg shared that sales and technology perspectives are also beneficial. “If agencies are trying to sell your product, having a technical acumen will be helpful so you can answer questions about your product and integrations. It also helps to have a sales background so the partner manager can manage their pipeline in the same way a salesperson would.”
The Importance of a Strong Value Proposition
Between large agencies and SIs, Greg feels the biggest difference would be the strength of your value proposition. “When you approach a large agency or SI, you need to have a really well thought out value proposition in their terms. You don’t need to say, ‘We do this. You do this.’ You should only come in saying, ‘This is how we can help you get further along with your strategies and goals.’ The moment you make it about anything other than their business, you start losing their attention. Unless they can clearly understand how you help them accomplish their goals, you’re not going to get very far very fast.”
When looking at agency size, “Smaller agencies might be interested in referrals, rev-share, or co-marketing relationships. Meanwhile, larger agencies look at time, effort, and resources needed compared to the perceived value on their end.”
Partnership Timelines and Key Milestones for Activation
Another critical difference Greg highlighted was the timeline to activation. “Smaller agencies are usually faster. They can stand a partnership up in under three months. Mid-size agencies take between six and nine months, while GSIs often take a year or more. However, it all depends on the partner. I’ve had massive partnerships that kicked off in just three months.”
The first milestone Greg looks for is partnership alignment. “Setting goals, milestones, and timeline together — that process of aligning on that partnership. If you’re not on the same page about what, how, and when you’re trying to accomplish, you will face miscommunication.”
After aligning goals, you need to get the right stakeholders on board. “Next is getting executive buy-in on the partnership goals. The bigger the agency, the more junior the person will be that you’re working with. You want to make sure that someone who makes business decisions knows everything about the partnership and is bought in. If they aren’t, you’re always going to run into that wall. No matter how excited your stakeholder is, you won’t make progress without executive buy-in.”
Greg also shared that account mapping, identifying prospects, and educating each other’s team on your value propositions are huge milestones. When looking to partner with SIs, Greg shared that team education is a significant component. “If you don’t have clear implementation or integration work for them, it’s a harder path. Either way, you have to make sure that training, enablement, and certifications are powerful tools that you are offering and the partner is leveraging.”
Some of these milestones carry over to the agency side of partnerships as well. “With marketing agencies, there are similar activities, like how to use the platform on behalf of their clients. Once you have those things going, it’s time to look at building a joint go-to-market strategy and ensuring you can effectively communicate your joint value proposition.”
After those initial enablement milestones are met, it’s all about new clients or referrals. “Once you work on your first project together, everything becomes easier. Both teams can see the partnership works and it’s possible and valuable.”
Target a Variety of Partners
Like many interviewees, Greg highlighted the importance of knowing when to walk away from a partnership. “You should always be judicious with your time. Don’t go too far down the rabbit hole, despite how attractive a partner might be, it’s easy to get caught up jumping through their hoops. Some partnerships, no matter how much you want them to work, might not make sense. Sometimes it’s organization alignment, personnel, timing. Regardless, you have to be really smart with your time.”
With that in mind, it’s important to be transparent and aligned with your counterpart at the SI. “If you’re consistently discussing goals and timelines, there shouldn’t be any surprises. In partnerships that take longer, there should still be consistent progress of some sort, even if it’s small progress. Agencies never move at the speed of a technology company, especially not a SaaS startup. It’s important to be patient.”
If you’re frequently checking in to ask questions, understanding their process, and discussing progress, you’ll know quickly when you reach obstacles. “If you get stuck in a particular spot, sometimes the stakeholder doesn’t have enough influence. If despite their best efforts, you can’t get where you need to go, you may need to consider other avenues. With large agencies, it’s important to take a multi-pronged approach, just like in sales. You never want to be back at square one.”
With so many variables and moving parts, the best way to ensure you always have new partner opportunities is by having a diversified funnel. “You should have a wide lense. Make sure you’re going after a few partners of each kind. If you have a good smattering of all sizes, you will constantly have some sort of progress and wins.”
How to Build Relationships with Agencies
Greg highlighted the importance of a deep familiarity with your target agency or SI’s business model and how your counterpart is measured. “The better you understand their business and their KPIs, the easier it will be to frame your goals in their terms. You can’t do that if you don’t know what their goals are.”
One of the most important factors Greg noted was ensuring you’re working with the right people. “Make sure you have a strong champion or stakeholder in their business. Sometimes that means you have to take more time developing the relationship.”
A common mistake is expecting your partner to bring you leads first. “Always start by giving to get. You’re not likely to be super successful if you come to an agency with your hand out. You will be one of dozens of tech companies asking for their clients. If you try giving them something first — no matter how small — your willingness to do so will go a long way. If you can provide them business up-front, that’s especially helpful.”
Greg reiterated the importance of approaching a diverse group of partner prospects. “Make sure you have a well-diversified portfolio. Start with smaller agencies as they're likely to move faster, so you can also solicit low-risk feedback from them on your program and value prop. Then, you can implement that feedback and go after the large agencies.”
Outside of helping to steer the direction of your program, Greg shared that “agencies feel valued when you solicit feedback from them and they take that very positively. Solicit as much feedback as possible and iterate your program accordingly.”
Once you’ve understood your ideal partner’s business model, developed a plan to give before getting, and established a process for soliciting and incorporating feedback, you’re ready to start working with partners. “If you have the above solidified, you’re in a good place. Agencies don’t have a lot of patience to wait for you to figure things out. Come to the table prepared. Most importantly, do what you say, say what you do. Not being dependable is one of the easiest ways to be disregarded entirely from an agency perspective, especially the big ones.
Avoiding Misalignment During Co-selling
When working with an agency, Greg shared that the most common obstacle technology companies face is misalignment on communication with customers or prospects. “For example, if the salespeople from both organizations get on the phone, and there’s a miscommunication with a prospect, you can’t point the finger at them. You always have to be humble, patient, and honestly bite the bullet (and often take the blame). The agency will walk away from a partnership much faster than you will.”
The only way to avoid misalignment is preparation. “When we would co-sell at Attentive, we built entire co-selling playbooks so everyone understood what was whose responsibility on each side. We always had plenty of alignment calls in advance of meetings with clients.”
In the end, identifying the miscommunication, apologizing, and clearing up confusion for next time is key. “They get that this stuff happens. When you’re building out a joint talk track, there will be missteps. It’s about working past them to develop a successful partnership.”
Setting Accurate Expectations
When deciding which metrics to track for success, Greg shared it all depends. “The metrics to track are going to be whatever you count as success for partnerships. If it’s technology — how many implementations have they done? If it’s referrals — how frequently are referrals coming through?”
Similar to sales, Greg shared that tracking as much as you can, as granularly as you can will make you aware of what is and isn’t working.
While metrics differ across partnerships, it’s important everyone is on the same page. “The most important thing is to set the appropriate expectations internally. Make sure your team understands what success looks like and that you’re aligned on those goals. When you’re trying to work with larger SIs and GSIs, you don’t want to leave them wondering when the partnership will activate. Instead, you want to create the opportunity for small wins throughout the process and celebrate those along the way.”
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!
Partnership Leaders enables personal and professional development for professionals in partnerships. Explore the benefits our members rave about.