The Value of Focusing on Culture-fit When Growing a Partnerships Team
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.
Drew Quinlan has spent a long time in the partnerships industry. After graduating in 2001, he spent about seven years in direct sales, where he really latched on to the success associated with selling third-party apps as a part of a total solution.
Right around 2007, he made the shift over to a partnerships role at Oracle. It was there that he realized his roles in direct sales helped him understand how organizations function, what they think, and that they don’t have an unlimited capacity to learn about every solution. Having that direct sales background was critical to Drew’s success in partnerships. Today, Drew joins us to discuss his role at RingCentral, advice for excelling in the industry, and how he approaches hiring.
Drew’s Role at RingCentral
Today, Drew Quinlan is the Vice President of Strategic Alliances (ISV & GSI) at RingCentral, where he’s been for the last two years. In that role, he reports directly to the Chief Revenue Officer and handles the organization’s strategic partnerships.
Drew oversees three key groups in the organization: the strategy group, strategic alliances group, and platform partnerships group. Out of a partnerships team of a little over a dozen, he has three direct reports — the Director of Strategy, the Area VP of ISV Partnerships, and the Director of Partnerships.
Resources for Advancing in Partnerships
Drew shared that one of the most valuable resources for his career has been networking. “ take an approach with it where I try to give as much as I can. I try to give advice wherever possible. I stay in contact with a lot of former bosses and employees. Having that broad network is super helpful. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in Silicon Valley. I recognize that it was important as having an extensive network has been helpful.”
“I find Partnership Leaders to be a great resource because the same problems I’m having, others are having, or the problems others are facing, I’ve already fixed. That makes it easier for me to share insights and learn from others.”
Hiring at RingCentral
For Drew, resource prioritization is always very closely aligned to near-term impact. “If you don’t show the progress that execs want to see with the additional resourcing, you won’t get more in the future, so it is critical to show immediate impact. With that in mind, the first few new hires always go into Partner Management roles typically associated with the largest ecosystems that have the potential to drive the most sourced revenue, like Salesforce.com, AWS, Google, Microsoft, etc.”
On sourcing candidates, Drew explained, “We are lucky at RingCentral given the fact that we have a lot of inbound interest and a very strong recruiting department. The company focuses a lot of time and energy on creating an amazing environment to work in where the employee is always first, which drives that inbound interest. We heavily utilize our intern program which allows us to ‘trial’ potential long-term employees and the entire org uses our own personal networks to source additional candidates.”
Drew shared that while he’s directly responsible for hiring anyone that falls into his three groups, he tries to take a relatively hands-off approach. He explained, “On occasion when they’re [Drew’s leadership team] struggling to decide, I’ll jump in to give input. To me, culture fit is so important — I really want people who are a really good culture fit for my individual leaders. While their decisions might not directly align with the choice I would make, they tend to do a really good job.”
“Primarily what I look for are brains and passion,” Drew continued. “I don’t put a lot of significant weight on prior experience. If I have a candidate who I feel is really intelligent, interested, and excited to be in this role, typically they’ll figure it out. We might spend more time onboarding, but it pays dividends. Of my team, about 2/3 of people have additional partnership experience in some capacity, while others have sales backgrounds.”
“Past partnership experience is important, but not necessary,” Drew explained. “Especially with what my teams are doing, their work is so cross-functional — they have to interact with product and product marketing. Getting people who can learn, understand, and operate in close proximity is hard. You will never find someone who has experience in all those areas, so instead, I focus on finding people who can learn and are excited to be part of the team. Ultimately, they go on to build relationships and work well with people.”
Drew ensures his team includes heavy cross-functional involvement in all hires. “We need strong cultural fits and that can be difficult across sales/alliance, marketing, and technical groups. If there is a personality issue, there can be a major problem in the future success of the candidate. Plus, when somebody feels involved in the hiring process and gives approval on the hire, they are much more invested in that person’s success going forward.”
Drew’s Advice for Advancing Your Career
Drew shared a few pieces of advice for anyone looking to succeed in partnerships. “Be curious. In partnerships, you have to be really well connected. You have to understand broad parts of your organization — you have to understand product and marketing. With that in mind, relationship building is just huge. For people that never want to stop learning, partnerships is a really good fit.”
On his personal tactics, Drew explained. “I read a lot of books and articles. Some of the major software vendors create amazing content on a regular basis. Follow WorkSpan, AppDirect, and Crossbeam as they are typically at the forefront of thought leadership in the space, and I heavily utilize the Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals. I use their textbook and the methodologies and strategies it contains on a daily basis. I attend almost all of their webinars and I go to their annual event. I also require my entire org to get their CA-AM (Certification of Achievement – Alliance Management) test completed. — I just try to ingest as much info as possible. The partnerships world moves so fast. You need to constantly be learning, open, and seeking out new ways to do things.”
In closing, Drew shared, “For people that are early on in their career and are looking to make this their career, it’s really about being curious, patient, and networking as broadly as you can. There are so many different partner types and partner categories. Every company you go to will have different strengths. There’s no single right answer for any company. The more tools you have on your tool belt, the better off you’ll be. When you go into new companies, you can take a clean look at what’s going to be the most impactful and you’ll know how to implement it.”
Excel in Your Career & Scale Your Team with Partnership Leaders
Drew had excellent, tactical advice for advancing as a partnerships professional, scaling your partnerships team, and succeeding in the industry. In your role, look to expand your network as much as possible and always be on the lookout for new opportunities to learn. When developing your team, seek out candidates with a strong culture fit and the motivation to succeed in the role.
While RingCentral doesn’t currently have any open roles, keep your eyes open as they expect to grow in 2022 and will likely hire Strategic Alliance Managers, GTM Managers, Platform Partner Managers, and more.
This quarter, we’re digging into hiring practices with partnership professionals in various stages of their career and team development. 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 network with Drew Quinlan and hundreds of other partnerships professionals.