How to Run a Tech Partnership Program: An Interview with Jeff Reekers, VP at Aircall

Aircall is one of the most used phone systems for businesses all around the world. They have an in-app marketplace with over 50 integrations, as well as listings in the marketplaces of their larger partners, like Salesforce and Hubspot

We talked to Jeff Reekers, the VP of Marketing at Aircall, and he shared his advice on how to build successful tech partnerships and create a powerful ecosystem around a SaaS product. 

What is the best way to identify the right tech partners?

You have to develop a thorough understanding of your customers’ experience, and then analyze what types of integrations customers would find extreme value in. 

Initially, we map out the impact we can have through different types of integrations from both a usability and a product standpoint. From there, we ask which particular tech products best solve these problems for our customers.

In addition, we look at inbound demand - what our prospects and customers are requesting - as well as how large the customer overlap is with a potential tech partner.

Have you derived value in entering the app marketplaces of larger tech partners?

Today, a lot of B2B buyers purchase through the app marketplaces of larger companies, like Hubspot, Zendesk, and Salesforce. When we first got started, a significant number of our initial customers found us through these exchanges.

They were searching for the phone system that best integrated with the application they were using, and we stood out. 

People are largely buying through ecosystems now so it can be a great tool for lead generation. This method can be so effective that you see successful applications built entirely on those platforms. Gorgias, for example, is a cool company that was built entirely on Shopify. 

What’s your advice for how to stand out and be successful as an app in a larger marketplace?

The bigger the marketplace, the harder it is to get on the radar of the users. Salesforce, for example, is tougher because it has thousands of apps already competing for users’ attention. If there are already many apps solving the problem your app is trying to solve, it’s going to be a challenge.  

The first tactic is to try to find an opportunity that others haven’t seen. Hubspot’s app directory, for example, was younger when we entered it. We were the first company in our category, and so there was an open opportunity to solve a real problem for their users.

When you join a larger marketplace, you should focus on racking up a lot of users as quickly as possible, and making those early users happy. We made sure to provide very hands-on customer service when we first entered a marketplace. We tracked our net promoter score from shared customers and it was very high.

You should also try to engage the partner’s marketing team as much as possible. We did a lot of e-books and webinars with Hubspot and Pipedrive, for example. Our biggest, most successful partnerships have stemmed from active co-marketing and co-selling.

How do you attract tech partners to build integrations on Aircall? 

About 20 tech partners built into Aircall last quarter, and that was due, in part, to marketing around our API. Our large and growing user base has also made it more compelling for partners to build on us.

Most of our API marketing has been toward business decision makers and highlighting how it can improve their bottom lines. We are starting to do more marketing to the developer community, though, and I think, in the long-term, that is the strategy that will drive the most results. 

Do you have a relationship-based approach to working with your tech partners?

Jeff Reekers

It is still relationship based. We start off by demoing our product to the partners, and we give them sales collateral. We set up Slack channels for specific partners so the Aircall team can easily communicate with the relevant people on our partner’s team about co-marketing and co-selling opportunities. 

We have partner relationship managers who handle these accounts, and the bigger and more strategic the partner, the more resources we allocate to the relationship. 

As we have grown, we are trying to turn this more into a scalable process with a formula but in a way that still facilitates a real relationship.

How is your team structured in terms of who owns the relationships with the tech partners?

We have partner relationship managers that own anywhere from one to 15 accounts, depending on their size. 

Partnership managers report to marketing, though they are their own team. Their ultimate goal is to onboard and train new partners. A smaller side of their role is doing co-marketing, sponsorship of events, and webinars. We have a partnership marketing manager who is responsible for overseeing the marketing of all the partnerships.

The partnership team manages our top integration partners but they don’t necessarily oversee which partners would come in next. 

Our ecosystem manager owns the marketing of the API, who comes in next, and building out specific product categories, as well as getting adoption from our customers. They report to marketing as well.

The partnership team and the ecosystem team are really closely connected but independent of one another. Product is also separate but involved as they have to map out the integration configurations for each tech partner, which is key to its success.

Aircall’s marketplace is fairly large at this point. Do you have advice for SaaS companies just starting to build out their own marketplace?

I would recommend avoiding too many cookie-cutter connectors. Just having a connection to another software isn’t enough. Focusing on volume without quality is not a good strategy - such integrations rarely meet the needs of your target customers, and so they will gain little traction. 

Integrations are not an assembly line product. You need a good understanding of how and why your customers want to use an integration. It takes a lot of research and customization to make an integration and a partnership successful. It’s better to invest heavily in a few tech partnerships instead of trying to do a ton on the surface level.

Aircall's App Marketplace

Another important consideration is the brand and culture match of a potential partner. You can have a technically compelling integration but it won't be successful if there is a culture clash.  

Co-marketing and co-selling efforts tend to falter when brands have different voices and values. And if the brand personality is that different from your own, your customer bases likely differ as well, which would make it difficult to generate leads or drive adoption from their ecosystem.  

How important do you think app marketplaces are in the SaaS market?

Companies are looking at ecosystems now. We have reached a commodification of the SaaS market, and users have 50 different logons and no one talks to each other. 

Pandium’s motto of “integrate all the things” is what people are looking for. People want apps that are working together. Customers don’t want individual products. They want ecosystems that make their workflows work.

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