Auditing the Health and Mutual Success of Tech Partnerships

By 
Elizabeth Garcia

This conversation is transcribed from our podcast Between Product and Partnerships, a podcast brought to you by our group the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance. It’s focused on bringing together product, partnerships, partner marketing and engineering leaders to discuss how to build support and scale SaaS ecosystems. 

In this episode we spoke with Caitlin Teed, an integration partner manager at Ryder Ecommerce by Whiplash, a 3rd party logistics provider for enterprise and fast growing Ecommerce brands. 

In this episodes Caitlin shares: 

  • How she aligns on mutuals goals and defines success with partners - including her mutual success plan template
  • How she defines and audits the health of a tech partnership - including a Health Score template.
  • Her 5 partner manager KPIs 
  • Skills that new partnership managers should focus on developing early on

If you're interested in watching or listening in on this conversation, you can access the video here and a link to listen on podcast platforms here.

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Transcript

Start

Caitlin: Thank you so much for having me, Liz. My name is Caitlin teed. I am an integration partner manager at Ryder Ecommerce by Whiplash. Big sentence but we do a lot of really big and great things here. 

We're a third party logistics provider for enterprise and fast growing Ecommerce brands. I've been in the Ecommerce space for some time and in the SaaS space for even longer. At Ryder we're a warehouse and fulfillment company for brands with over 24 omni-channel facilities across the US and expanding globally as well. 

Where do we even start Liz, I can tell you a little bit about what brought me here today? 

What roles do you feel like really inspired your current work in Technology Partnerships that really got you to where you are now? 

Caitlin: Yeah, of course, well, I thought I was going to be a journalist. But then I fell in love with tech. I've always loved troubleshooting and creative exploration, and I found myself at companies like Apple and Shopify. 

It's at Shopify where I really first fell in love with the idea of partnerships and how companies can come together to build really beautiful and creative technology and the storytelling through that.  

You know I think about it like Legos. We have this masterpiece in mind, but how do we get there together? While a large volume of my history has been in strategic and agency partnerships, I find I'm really interested in and focused on that marriage of a product and strategy. 

We see it happen so often in our daily lives I think we sometimes forget about it. Like when Uber partners with a loyalty program or when Starbucks partners with your credit card. These kinds of things that help build that better-together story. 

I like doing that on the technical side. Being on the warehousing and fulfillment side, it's the nitty gritty of like physically shipping and fulfilling things and how our technology and our warehouse management system plays into that. So that's the long and the short of it Liz.

Liz: I definitely agree. I don't work specifically in Technology Partnerships, but I've talked to a lot of people working within them, and that's definitely a piece that I find the most interesting. Those joint use cases, and building the story together to solve problems is super cool to learn about. 

I don't think you mentioned this, but I know that when we spoke personally, you said that you had a lot of experience in client services and customer success before your role now, which is really focusing on more managing integration partnerships. 

For anyone who might be transitioning from similar roles, and thinking of transitioning into technology partnerships, what skills did you bring to the table from your previous roles in customer success set you up for success? What skills did you personally have to develop along the way? 

Caitlin: Yeah, I remember we talked about this a lot, and I've seen other episodes of this podcast and I loved hearing Chris Lavoie’s story from Gorgias about the different types of skill sets to look for when hiring a technology partner manager. 

When I think about someone in this role it's a mix of product and arts and science. It is really a robust number of hats you can and should wear. Initially wanting to be a journalist helped build that curiosity in me, and I think anyone, even in a partnerships position, whether you're on the technology side, or just looking strategically, you have to have that curiosity. 

You can't  be someone who is like “We've done it this way in the past, this is how we do things.” Partnerships in itself is a very young craft. You have to be excited about new opportunities, thinking about things from different perspectives and creatively pulling things apart and together.

That's a skill set that I think most people need to have in their heart. So if that's not something you have in your toolbox, curiosity is a hard thing to teach. So, I would challenge you to think about if partnerships and being in tech relationships is something that's interesting to you. 

You do have to think about the types of questions that you can ask and no questions are dumb questions. Coming from a place of curiosity, is one of the most beautiful things. 

Another thing I've learned in the past is that the relationships that you can build are so key and so important. Building that trust and reliance between yourself and a potential partner or partner company that you're working with. 

The types of integrations you build also build trust with you and your customers. When you say you can do something, can you actually fulfill that? Versus if you build a reputation of not being able to do that. That can be really painful. 

You can get a really bad reputation in the industry for over promising and under delivering. Even when I was at Shopify I would always get anxious about our product announcements, because the marketing speak is saying that we’re able to do something, and we want to make sure that reflects what we actually do. 

All in all, being able to build those relationships with partners and customers that have trust, because what you're saying you do should actually reflect what you can do. Also, marrying that curiosity into it. 

As for skills I am learning, being able to speak tech as a non tech person is something I'm always learning. It's something that I've had to learn, and I always say that I know just enough to be dangerous. Just enough to speak at like a fourth-grader level haha. But that comes from asking the intentional questions and being curious about things. 

One other tiny thing I will toss in here that I learned at Apple when I was working retail and trying to help 80 year old grandmothers set up their iPads is patience. 

Having enough patience to understand that technology won’t work the way you think it will sometimes. You got to be understanding, and you got to be open to feedback. 

There's a lot of patience needed with partnerships and a lot of patience in any relationship building role. 

You mentioned being curious is important - curious in what way when it comes to technology partnerships? 

Caitlin: For me, the curiosity comes from a problem solving perspective. So for me, I typically try to start at the customer level. What are the biggest problems or challenges that they're trying to solve? 

It's one of those things where people are asking for one thing, and you have to consider is that actually what they need? That's where curiosity comes in. Dissecting those problems. You also have to be curious about the technology and what’s available and possible to accomplish. 

What are the new things out there that we can leverage to help solve this problem? That might not be the same thing we've used in the past, so there’s a research component. That's where my journalism background comes in, 

I love being on top of things and trying to understand what’s possible for us to leverage. For example, there might be this platform or the integration we've always leveraged, but is it the best one? Or are there other things that we could be playing with? 

The curiosity comes both intrinsically from understanding your customers’ problem and dissecting that but also, understanding what technology is out there to help you accomplish your goals.  

Liz: That makes sense. You also said something about “knowing just enough to be dangerous.” 

Who or what were your resources in trying to build up that technical knowledge? What are some of the big areas where you felt like you needed to know “just enough to be dangerous”?

Caitlin: I remember the first time I heard the word API. I was like, “Oh great, another acronym in Ecommerce, that is exactly what we need.” 

I didn't initially understand the core functionalities of something that is such a connecting piece for so many things. Enough to be dangerous means I am curious enough to ask the right questions, and I know where to go for the resources if I don't understand something.

I did lean heavily on a lot of folks who are in that developer evangelist or developer relationship role. They can be great translators. So, I leverage folks in those areas of the business.

I also use external resources like the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, Cristina Flaschen, the CEO of Pandium, I love watching all of her talks and attending her office hours. She’s been working in this space and with technology partnerships people for years, and has been a great resource. 

Knowing enough to be dangerous also includes being comfortable enough to speak, but also accept feedback.

Liz: Yeah, to your last point, just being a lifelong learner, and being open to feedback in that way. Not being afraid to say the wrong thing, because everyone's learning here. 

To transition more into your day to day work, you mentioned getting feedback and learning more from customers to try to get at the root cause of things that they need. 

How do you go about partner prospecting and identifying and reaching out to potential partners?

Caitlin: It's so funny when people ask “what's your day to day like?” Every day is different. When it comes to partner prospecting, it's so reactive for us right now. 

I've been in my current role for six months now, and I'm coming in to try and build a bit of that foundation. For us, we’re currently working on a lot of integration rollouts, and that takes some time.

It’s been a lot of just reactively, listening to things that customers want. In the past, our company has done a really good job of catering to our enterprise customer needs when there were fewer enterprise customers. That’s when the needs we had to solve were very obvious. 

Now we're trying to build more of a foundation, and for more customers. We're doing some amazing surveys, and I'm leaning heavily on our sales teams, as well as our customer success teams to identify what comes in frequently for them, and what their blockers are. 

When it comes to prospecting we’re looking at what gaps we’re not filling with our current directory of partners and integrations. That requires a very proactive approach in my day to day to do things like message in channels, hop on a few sales calls, or offer some consultative calls with our customers. 

But we're very fortunate to have a lot of amazing existing relationships with partners that also require a lot of attention. There's a lot of focus on how we can do a better job of telling our joint story to customers of ours that could be leveraging either of our solutions better. 

One really good example that actually came out this year was that our customers had a desire for some EDI providers, electronic data interchange. This is something where I'm, again, always being curious because the world of third party logistics fulfillment is very new to me, but Ecommerce is isn't.

So when I think about someone getting a call from Nordstrom to send 1000 skirts, that's easy, you just make it happen. But, when you get into the weeds of it, there’s actually this technology that's existed since the dawn of retail that the Macys and Nordstroms of the world need you to be compatible with in order to send to their fulfillment centers. 

So we were having a lot of customers come to us asking for recommendations for an EDI provider because they were not happy with the one they had, or they were just getting into this space. 

So, we started building a relationship with an EDI provider, and we started building an integration with them. We've been able to send them a bunch of business and have been working closely on our relationship. 

That's been great, and that's been something that came out reactively as  our customers were raising their hand and asking us to come in and help solve a big pain point of theirs. That's been a really cool win for us this year.

Liz: So, right now your prospecting is mostly based on volume of customer requests. 

What else goes into narrowing down who you invest in? 

Caitlin: When we look at a new partnership, or we look at reassessing a current partner, we actually have a health card score that we use, and that's been really helpful. 

HEATH SCORE TEMPLATE

We have a template we use, and I can share that with the folks listening in. That's been really helpful more at that strategic level of deciding who we want to partner with. 

Then on the integration level we look into: 

  • How easy is it going to be to integrate with this platform? 
  • Do they have API documentation? 
  • Do they have gated access to priority dev support? 
  • What kind of partner opportunities do they offer there

If a company doesn't have an open API, or doesn't have a lot of these foundational things you need, those can be big blockers. So it’s not just the customer requests, because that goes back to the question of do they really need it or is this just a want? 

So we look at partners to see if they are someone who has a lot of mutual prospecting potential. We use a tool called Crossbeam, and we're able to connect with a lot of our prospective partners or even current partners. 

Some of our partners we have like over 100 mutual prospects with. That's a huge opportunity there to say “Hey, we have the same customer we're going after, maybe an integration or some kind of like case study we could build with existing customers that would be really beneficial for those other 100 people. 

Then to those 100 prospects we can say “Hey, did you know that by leveraging this integration, one of our mutual customers was able to increase their sales by 10 times or were able to see revenue.” 

We can message whatever the mutual value proposition is. For us, we're trying to help our customers make as many sales as possible, we do not want stale inventory, we want it out, we want it to be out in the world. 

No one wants to be charging people for wasted space in a warehouse. We want our customers to be selling. So any products that help with that, from a strategic perspective, and if we're aligned on the same customer, it just makes total sense. The stars align.

Can you speak more to the health score for your current partners?

Caitlin: Yeah, the health scoring, is a very cool, intricate document that my colleague built out actually. Think of it like a report card you'd get in school, like it's literally like a report card. 

Some of the other categories in the rubric are the account mapping and defining how many mutual prospects and customers there are. What does mutual overlap look like? What’s the joint value proposition? Why are people coming to us as a solution together? 

It could either be that both of these technologies work well together or that both of them actually integrate and help solve major business pain points. 

There’s also a relationship section of the health score. That boils down to being responsive and having a partnership that is not one-way directional, but bi-directional. They're able to reciprocate. 

For example, if we offer them a chapter in our ebook, they are going to be able to provide some resources for that. When it comes to sales and customer success enablement, do they offer us the opportunity for lunch and learns with their sales team? How often do we get them in to speak to our team? 

Content is another huge category in the health score. That includes ensuring we have foundational content like mutual one pagers and case studies. Do we have things that make it a no brainer for the sales team to be able to recommend the solution? Do they have marketing resources? Are we going to the same conferences? Are we able to do some fun  webinars or podcasts together? 

We look at all those different touch points. 

Are all the sections in the health score weighted equally? Are there things that are weighted more than others? Or does that kind of change based on the partnership?

Caitlin: Such a good question. Yeah, that was one of the most complicated parts of it all, because it feels like it could sometimes be easy to just build your checklist. But, some of these things are heavier than others. 

The relationship part of the score  is one of the heaviest weighted, and beyond that, it's also sales and customer success enablement. There's a couple of smaller categories as well, like, do we have a legal contract and do we have a revenue share plan? 

Those are weighted a little less, because that's just more about operational onboarding. Because it's more of an integration and technical partner focused, I also have in mind to track if they have an open API. 

Those pieces are worth quite a lot, counting for I believe 10% each of the total score. But definitely relationships is the highest, and I don't think people necessarily understand the importance of that. 

That relationship at the end of the day could also just boil down to responsiveness. It doesn't have to be a partner who's your best friend. I do like building strong relationships with all of our partners and our integration folks, but it just means being responsive. 

So even if you don't have the answer right away, transparency is important at the end of the day. Building that trust battery comes over time, but it also comes from consistency. So relationships, on the health score is worth 20% of our total score. It's quite hefty.

What would get a partner a really high score on sales and CS enablement? 

Liz:  I mentioned “lunch and learns”. One thing we try to do internally as well is what we call micro content. So we'll do something as simple as a one liner like “hey, did you know that we recommended this customer to loop returns, and 40% of the returns that they process actually become exchanges, which is great for our business.” 

Because like I said before, the more inventory moving, the customer maintains that revenue, and loop is able to provide them with some great statistics with their technology and with the flow that they have. 

So it's little things like that where we just try to keep certain channels internally active. It could be us being asked to join a sales call and being able to make some recommendations of integrations. 

It could be us pulling some data and information about how often an integration or a partner comes up in a sales conversation from like a Salesforce. There's a lot of a lot of things we try to do from a micro level. 

Even short little videos we create. I've also been doing little trading cards that I've been joking around with where I'll say “Hey, take this customer then level it up with this partner and look, you get like a bonus round.” 

We try to keep it fun and light hearted, but also keep it educational, and experiment with it. 

Liz: Those are great ideas. I love the Pokemon example. That's super cool. To talk a little bit more about those partner relationships. 

What are your partner manager KPIs? And how do you align on those and decide on metrics with your partners?

Liz: Some of my KPIs and metrics with my partners are as simple as like, hey, we noticed that you scored low on the marketing category, then we’ll decide that once a quarter we're going to do some kind of co-marketing activity together. 

That could be a blog swap, attending an event together, or co-sponsoring a happy hour together. So that could be a simple mutual agreement between us and a partner. 

But, if we pull it back, and just go into my KPIs as a partner manager, we track five different assets. We track: 

1) The leads that we send to partners.

2) Net new customers, and the value that has been sourced by partners. 

  • When a partner sends us a lead, what's the value of that deal in our pipeline, and then if it closes?

3) Influence revenue.

  • This is if the lead wasn't net new from a partner. It wasn't a direct or a first time intro connection, but we found out through the sales cycle. For example, there’s a customer that is a big user of Loop Returns and loves their product. Letting them know we have an integration, that we have a good relationship, and that it wouldn't be any headaches to get them set up with the systems that they have. Those kinds of things are really beneficial in a lot of partnership conversations.

4) Expansion revenue.

  • When we have an existing customer that we refer a partner to. For example, we referred Loop to a customer and then this customer saw a huge spike in their exchanges, instead of having returned volume. So, here we're trying to track an actual dollar value that we can equate to the change in success of a customer when we introduce a partner.

5) Health score.

There's a lot of different ways we tackle this, there's no perfect formula. This is going to be a really cool learning year for us on how a lot of these things pan out, because we're just setting a lot of foundation here. 

All in all, for each partner individually we have a mutual success plan. I can share that template as well that my lead Marco created. 

MUTUAL SUCCESS PLAN TEMPLATE

It's a really cool resource to get a good poll of everything from the foundation of a partnership all the way to launching an official partnership with someone including that public marketing presence and trying to get some adoption, whether it be an integration or some kind of lead sharing through that. 

What would be considered an average or satisfactory health score for a partner? 

Caitlin: So, it’s a score out of 100, with different categories weighted differently. A strong partner status would be considered a score of between 75-100. A stable partner status would be a score of 60 to 75 or 50 to 75. 

Then, 50 And below is what we consider a developing partner status. A lot of folks that we just start building relationships with tend to score 50 and below unless they have a strong position in the market. 

Position in the market is another category in the health score that I didn't necessarily bring up. For example, some partners that we might be very interested in working with that are huge in the space and don't have a lot of time for you or your company.

For them, they score fairly high in that category because being able to partner with someone who has a huge presence and authority in the market is a great opportunity. We keep our eyes out for those, and that could be a reason that a developing partner still scores fairly high. 

In an ideal world, how often would health score audits take place?

Caitlin: It took me so long to do them all this first time we. We are going to try and do them quarterly. Check back with me in three months, and I'll let you know if I got through it all. 

But we I definitely think at least two times a year, they should be done. At least every six months or so is a good time to do that kind of reset because so much can happen. 

We're about to head into an uncertain year, so I think it's good to do these resets every once in a while. It's also good to hold yourself accountable to multiple different categories and multiple different metrics because when I first started as a partner manager, my only metric was MRR. 

The highest MRR week I had was when I was on vacation, and it didn't make sense to me. That’s because when you just look at something one way it doesn’t work in this case. Partnerships are a culmination of so many things. 

What are you as an integration partner manager prioritizing going into 2023? 

Caitlin: Foundations! I'm also a spin instructor by night and I always tell anyone in the class that you have to have a solid foundation before you get out of that saddle. You're gonna have a bumpy ride if you are not taking off on a good runway there. 

So we're building a lot of runway along with the roadmap for next year. I love this part of it because it's looking into the future, thinking strategically, taking the best practices that we've learned thus far and putting that into actual process and practice. 

So I'm doing a lot there for the foundation , which is exciting. I think that's going to help make it easier for us to launch and work with more prospective partners in the future. 

We're planning on launching an integration marketplace, which we're super excited about. And yeah, building a lot more like processes and things for future integrations. 

I like to keep things organized, but I'm not a process-for-the-sake-of-process kind of girl. So I understand that things happen and things change. I'm looking forward to taking the things I learned over the last six months and putting them to action.

Liz: This was great, thank you Caitlin for taking the time. Where can our audience connect with you? 

Caitlin: People can connect with me on LinkedIn and in the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance Slack channel. 

End

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