Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, we hosted a discussion with partner operations leaders about best practices for managing activities and processes across partners and functions, assembling a partner tech stack, and key metrics for partner operations managers.
Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Megha Bhatt (Partnerships Lead, Operations & Strategy operations at Shopify), Greg Mitchell (Partner Programs and Operations at Starburst), Matt Irving (Sr. Manager, Global Partner Programs and Strategy at WP Engine), and Manishi Singh (SVP of App Orchestration at Spryker Systems).
You can join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to see the full event recording, but we wanted to share some of the insights, which include internal processes for communication and data sharing that improve partner UX, program structure, and more.
What should partner operations teams adopt as their key metrics for success?
The panelists agreed that partner operations can become a catch-all for many things within an organization. For this reason, Manishi from Spryker System suggested that before determining metrics for your partner operations team, all teams within partnerships should align on roles and responsibilities, and then achieve alignment with other stakeholders and leadership.
While there are many metrics to consider, he specifically pointed out that it is integral to focus on lead reporting and submissions, number of partners onboarded, and feedback about their experience.
“Operations functions are different based on the business, but at the highest level they tie themselves to business metrics. This includes the number of leads enabled, opportunities created, closed won deals, and whether these are partner sourced or partner engaged.” - Greg Mitchell, Partner Programs and Operations at Starburst Data
At WP Engine, Matt Irving shared that their north star metrics are centered around unique transacting agencies, meaning, how many partners have they won over, and how many are on their journey to deeper levels of adoption. This is their focus as they have many partners that are consumption based, including tech partners that are adding to use cases, or partners they are working with on deals and implementation.
“Generally you want some tracking around who your partners are, where they interact across your journey, and where you have clear feedback loops to figure out what’s working, what isn’t, and where you can help.” - Matt Irving, Sr. Manager, Global Partner Programs and Strategy at WP Engine
At Shopify, Megha’s team sits under the revenue department, and are more focused on agency partnerships and the commercial impact of partnerships. Her team aligns their success mostly to the north star metrics of the larger organization, but she stated that they generally like to look at metrics for partner operations in internal and external buckets.
The internal metrics can be aligned, for example, to the success of setting up a new process or building something that will help the efficiency of partner managers when they talk to partners.
The external metrics would be key measures of success for external projects, using the larger organization goal as their north star for determining these.
Technology partnerships require engaging your partners' product and engineering teams along with the commercial side of the house. How do you recommend managing the relationships at scale so that the teams on both sides are getting everything that they need and it doesn’t feel disjointed?
Shopify has many different types of partnerships including agency partners, app partners, and business development partners. Megha advised that organizations should recognize internally how they’re handling this.
For example, at Shopify they have a model for handling communication with partners based on where they are regionally or globally. For North America they have defined what communication will only be sent to North American partners vs what will be communicated to all their global partners.
To further manage relationships at scale, Shopify implements “Agency Education Partner Days” where they share upcoming plans and what’s happening for partners in a particular region. They also host a global conference where they share future plans for their product and partnerships.
Along with this model, they have specified partner managers that work with and enable specific agencies once they become a Shopify Plus Partner. This person is responsible for establishing expectations upfront, which includes account planning with key metrics, and inquiring about resource needs.
When it comes to ensuring both sides of a partnership are getting what they need, Greg from Starburst Data suggested using metrics aligned to the larger organizational goals to help drive the right allocation of resources into partnerships.
Manishi added, however, the importance of bringing the right people in when building competency within your core partnerships team so that they can handle most release stages themselves. While it takes time takes to define the right roles needed, he shared these important qualities to have on your partner team:
A Technical Evangelist - Partnerships person (or people) that understand the product well enough to engage the partners. This person has a high level understanding of the roadmap and maintains the relationship with product managers internally and on the partner sides, becoming an advocate for both.
Marketing Managers and GTM People - Partnerships people who can engage at the right moment to create strategies, and who engage in white space opportunity analysis to decide whether an organization should bring in more partners or build a solution.
Matt from WP Engine stressed the importance of creating a shared language around partnerships that can be communicated to all the teams that are involved. He added that this shared language should be built within the first 90 days of building out a partner operations team.
One of the first exercises he suggested for creating a shared language around processes is by starting with a core customer, and figuring out what the core customer is getting out of each partner and each partner type. Figure out what the “better together” synergy is that you and your partners can offer your customers.
This framing helps partner operation teams decide which partner types to pursue deeply and invest in strategically. There are no shortage of people to partner with, but having a defined language and understanding of the value different partners offer your customers, you can more efficiently allocate your resources and have the biggest impact.
What internal processes for communication and data sharing have you seen most successful in improving partner operations?
A theme that came from this part of the discussion was the importance of infusing partner operations in all the core functional communication mechanisms that a company has internally. Many of the panelists shared that their organizations use Slack communication to do this in some capacity for day to day communication.
When it comes to the use of Slack for internal communication, Megha shared that they try their best to automate repetitive tasks like communication around deals closed in a month. She urged the audience however to be mindful of whether communication via slack is always purposeful by auditing Slack channels on a consistent basis.
Megha further built on the point made earlier in the discussion about creating a shared language around partnerships. She recommended infusing that shared language into communication that is sent out by the partner operations team.
All in all, she urged the importance of not assuming others’ understanding if there hasn’t been a shared language clearly defined. One tactic she offered to avoid miscommunication is including something in your communication that defines terms or processes specific to partner operations.
What are your favorite points to cover in a monthly or quarterly review?
At Spryker Systems, Manishi shared that they like to involve other groups who contribute or take advantage of partnerships in monthly and quarterly reviews. Part of their discussions revolve around discussing specific partners who are easy to do business with, and what makes them good partners. He stressed that this is helpful when it comes to giving feedback to other partners about what works with their company.
Matt explained that at WP Engine they try to get a sense of how active and impactful their ecosystem is during these meetings. He defined some of the metrics they discuss to demonstrate this as output and input metrics. Output metrics include the number of leads, number of opportunities, and revenue created by the ecosystem.
Input metrics would include overall number of partners that they are looking to activate, their rate of transaction, and how it compares with other personas and groups that they are looking to build with.
During monthly or quarterly reviews we like to talk about who are the right partners for us and next partners for us. It’s a good opportunity to hear from the sales and CX teams about what they're hearing from their customers and in the field. That helps us prioritize our strategy of partnerships as far as who we should partner with first and in what area. - Manishi Singh SVP of App Orchestration at Spryker Systems
Along with monthly and quarterly business reviews, at Shopify, they also have year-end reviews where partnerships have the opportunity to demonstrate their impact to their organization and team. Megha communicated that some of the important points covered during this review include how many leads were acquired from partners, GMV (gross merchandise value) associated with partnerships, and deals closed with partners.
To further demonstrate their impact to the company, they also attempt to specify the percentage of deals or opportunities that were acquired from partnerships vs not partnerships.
Panelists also discussed specific tools in their technology stacks, and when a company should hire their first partner operations person.
If you're interested in hearing the full discussion, join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to gain access to members only resources and a recording of this event.
You can also register for more upcoming roundtables on interdisciplinary topics relevant to those working in technology partnerships.