Successful Product Partnerships, Part 2: Michelle Lerner
This article was guest written by Shohei Narron, Technology Partner Manager at Google Cloud
Many of our Partnership Leaders community members work in [Product Partnerships], managing strategic product integration initiatives at their respective companies to create a win-win-win outcome for their customers, partners, and the companies themselves. We sat down with five such partner leaders working on product integrations to understand what makes integrations a success, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to sustain product partnership relationships long after the initial excitement of signing a partnership agreement has waned.
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Background and Context: “I currently work at Branch.io, a mobile deep linking and attribution company, as director of business development for the North America region. I started my career on the customer success side in traditional media before mobile was around. I then found myself in the tech world working at social media management technology companies, and eventually moved over to technology partnerships. I truly believe my background in customer success, figuring out how best to provide the highest value-add to our customers, set me up well for the partnership world.”
Deciding which partners to focus on: “The most important rule of thumb is around our partner’s willingness to work together. This is often overlooked, but if you don’t have the desire or drive to help each other achieve business objectives and if you don’t genuinely care about one other, that’s an early sign of potential failure down the road.
Getting initial traction beyond the partner team: “You can’t have a successful partnership without enabling and mobilizing your internal teams. Having partner managers on both sides agree on something is only table stakes. Don’t forget you still need to get stakeholders across departments involved to push the partnership forward. If you’ve found a joint value statement that resonates with your teams, you’re ahead of the game — but make sure the message is easily digested, especially by the Sales team. They’re crucial when it comes to getting real mutual customer or prospect wins.
Some ways to get started are initial enablement swaps whereby you and your partner schedule some time to run through the partnership and GTM plan with your respective teams separately. Once you have more than a handful of strategic partnerships, you should consider running frequent partner GTM training with your sales teams, inviting different partners to join each session.”
Measuring success: “This will depend on how you’ve structured the partnership role. For us, revenue metrics are only one piece of the puzzle to evaluate our activities. The trouble is, once we pass on an opportunity to the sales team, the deal is out of our hands. In other words, we influence the deal, but not the seller or the deal cycle at a core level.
With that said, what can we do to track our success? We source opportunities by talking to partners and figuring out who we can be referred into (and vice versa). This has led us to track the number of engagements we can get from partners — and of course, we track whether these get validated by our sales people and move down the funnel. This is for us to make sure we don’t source deals and wash our hands of them, but also act as a strategic advisor to sales throughout the various stages even though we may not be directly involved in the deal. We also use a tool called partnered.io to track every single partner engagement, which ultimately helps us assess our success throughout the quarter.”
Raising partner awareness inside and out: “Stepping back a bit from the tactics, the core of our GTM activities comes down to spreading the idea of our “better together” story — the idea that together, our tech stack drives even more value to customers. We strive for this message regardless of what we’re publishing, from case studies and blog posts, to webinars.
One of the most effective collateral from my experience are case studies, especially one where both the partner and joint customer have signed off. It takes a lot of effort to get these done since it can be difficult to get approvals from customers, but it’s worth it in the end to have real market validation from a paying customer using both your products together.
But there are so many more ways to showcase the success of partners. For example, internal case studies to highlight what worked and how the partner helped reinforces the value partners bring to the sales organization. At Branch, we love doing webinars and roundtables, since it’s been hard to maintain people’s attention by throwing content at them in 2020. People are getting Zoom and content fatigue, so we like to make things more intimate, whether it’s running a roundtable with a handful of registrants or an interactive webinar.”
Maintaining your focus and keeping your partners engaged: “Breaking up with partners doesn’t happen often, but it certainly might need to happen, and it’s obviously not fun. You have to remember it’s a joint business motion you’re managing at the end of the day, and if there isn’t much value being added, it’s time to go your separate ways.
Once a relationship gets to this point, I like to understand if I find value in the specific partnership. If so, what can we do to turn things around? Maybe we need to set new expectations or goals. It might be best to have more of a reactive relationship, where we can help introduce AEs, but we won’t schedule time to speak on a weekly basis.
To maintain partner engagement and avoid any surprises, we like to find ways to hold each other accountable. Our certified partners are re-evaluated every 6 months and have specific requirements, mostly on the tech side, like sending us the right type of data, maintaining product quality and maintaining a certain number of customers using the integration.”
Closing thoughts: “It’s cliche and maybe a bit cheesy, but transparency with partners is critical. Open and honest conversations lead to close relationships. It shouldn’t feel like a transactional relationship. Celebrating wins, maintaining consistent communications and meeting them in person when you can helps build long-term rapport. I’ve even made personal friends through partners.”
Partnership Leaders is the industry association for Partnership/Channel/ Alliances/Business Development leaders.
The association’s mission is to elevate the role of partnership leaders at their companies and provides a vibrant online community, virtual events, curated professional networking opportunities, and educational resources to drive success for our members.