The Value of Being a Swiss Army Knife as a Partnerships Professional
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.
Samantha Samuels is the Head of Partnerships at Friendbuy, where she recently began building a partner program. Today, Samantha joins us to discuss how she landed at Friendbuy, her experience building a partner program from the ground up, advice for others, and more.
Beginning a Partnerships Career at Friendbuy
Samantha Samuels went through General Assembly’s Website Development certification but soon realized software development wasn’t what she wanted to do. “I was one of the first business hires at Friendbuy, straight out of General Assembly. I actually met our Founder/CEO at General Assembly’s hiring event and told him that I knew I wasn’t destined to be a software engineer, but I love technology and I’m great with people. He called me in for an interview and I became employee number six at Friendbuy and the first business hire besides him and our COO. I basically made myself into a Swiss Army Knife and did everything. I learned how to sell, how to onboard, how to make customers successful, and I learned everything I could about how our product worked.”
“Then, one day our CEO said to me, ‘What do you want to do here? What are you most excited about?’ I told him that I thought the most value I could add was in working to retain our clients by establishing strong relationships with them and making them successful. I went on to become Friendbuy’s first Customer Success Manager and then eventually I became the Head of Customer Success, and managed a team of five CSMs for about four years.”
Samantha was able to see the company from many different angles, which helped her to identify new opportunities. “During this time I was also forging relationships with technology partners as we were interested in developing integrations that our customers could leverage in their tech stacks. I felt part of my job as the Head of Customer Success was to not only make sure that our customers were successful with our product but to really understand where Friendbuy fits into the MarTech ecosystem. I researched what the most common technologies were that our customers leveraged and that was really exciting because we realized we could add a ton more value to our customers by increasing automation and scale with these integrations.”
Building a Partner Program from Scratch
Having started as an early team member, and always proving herself with each new idea, Samantha has built a role for herself at Friendbuy where she can readily bring new ideas to the table and work to get them implemented. One of those ideas was implementing a partner program, something Samantha points to as her proudest accomplishment in her career so far. “I had no real experience in this area, but I took the time to research it, I read every blog post on Crossbeam I could get my hands on, I reached out to other incredible partner leaders to get advice and asked tons of questions.”
Armed with her research and years of Friendbuy insight, Samantha made her case for developing a new department. “In September of 2020, I went to our CEO and said, ‘I think we’re leaving a lot of opportunity on the table without a Partnerships function and I’d like to start it and run it.’ He said, ‘Go for it.’ and now I’ve been building the Partnerships function from scratch.”
Making it as a Manager
You might be sensing a pattern so far in how Samantha approaches problems — research! When she began feeling friction in her role managing team members, she approached that obstacle the same way she did other challenges of the role. “When I became a manager for the first time, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t provide feedback at the right time and I kept my frustrations to myself and let them build up. One day I ended up letting a direct report go without the proper communication leading up to it, and it was a tough experience. That was a wake-up call and the very next day I purchased a book called The First Time Manager by Loren Belker, Gary S. Topchik. I learned that I had been doing everything wrong as a manager and I quickly course-corrected. Since then I’ve been fortunate to manage some real rockstars.”
Self-advocating as a Woman in Partnerships
Samantha has truly been able to drive her career based on her interests and what she enjoys. “One of the biggest lessons I learned in my career is that it’s my responsibility to communicate my value and demonstrate my impact. No one is going to come up to you and ask if you want a raise or ask if you want a promotion. I think some women feel self-conscious about touting their accomplishments, but it’s incredibly important if you want any shot at career advancement. I was also afraid of admitting when I made mistakes for fear that my teammates would think I was incompetent. But, throughout my career, I’ve learned that admitting my mistakes and conversely, showing empathy is one of the best ways to succeed in a leadership role.”
The Impact of Female Mentors & Advice for Other Women in Partnership
Partnerships — and tech in general — aren’t often filled with women in leadership roles. However, Samantha has been lucky to have plenty of mentors to look up to. “I’m thrilled to say that over 50% of Friendbuy’s managers are women and I have incredible mentors and collaborators that I get to work with every day. I’ve been fortunate to work with one particular female mentor who was the CEO of her own company that was ultimately acquired. She’s now the GM at Friendbuy and I’ve learned so much from her about how to be an effective leader. For example, she really taught me how to channel failures or disappointments into learning opportunities and showed me how to create space to have candid conversations with my superiors as well as with my direct reports in an effort to continuously improve as a leader and a collaborator.”
From her time in the industry, Samantha had a few pieces of advice to share with all women in partnerships. “Speak up, lean in, give yourself a seat at the table. Demonstrate your value every day and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Also, one important tactic I’ve learned is to not fumble your way through an answer you don’t know. Simply say, ‘Let me do some research on that and I’ll get back to you by X date.’ You will gain much more respect this way.”
Empowering Professionals Through Women in Partnerships
While Samantha has many valuable mentors within her immediate network, she highlighted the value of groups like Women in Partnerships to bring like-minded women together. “I can’t express enough how grateful I am that there are groups like Women in Partnerships because it’s so rare that you get to collaborate with like-minded, ambitious, driven women who love what they do and want to share their knowledge. We’re also so fortunate to be living in a Zeitgeist where incredible women like Katrina Lake (Founder of StitchFix), Whitney Wolfe Herd (Founder of Bumble), Trina Spear and Heather Hasson (Co-Founders of FIGS), can take a company public and become billionaires. All of these women no doubt had an incredible support system of women who guided them, supported them and lifted them up so they could accomplish amazing things. I’m thrilled to be able to collaborate with other Partner Leaders who work for incredibly high growth, successful companies who I can learn from.”
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