Advice for Measuring the Value of Tech Partnerships
Nikita Zhitkevich lives in the world of partnerships. He leads partnerships and alliances for PartnerStack, which is a leading PRM and partner marketplace.
Nikita shared his insights on when you need a PRM, identifying your ideal partners, strategies to avoid channel conflict, and how he sees the partnership landscape evolving over the next 5 years.
Can you tell me about PartnerStack and what makes it different from other PRMs?
As a graduate of Y-Combinator, PartnerStack has been rooted in helping some of the world’s fastest growing SaaS companies scale. Companies like Asana, Monday.com, Unbounce, Intercom, and Intuit all use PartnerStack to manage and scale their partner programs, and onboard thousands of partners into our platform.
There are a few unique aspects to PartnerStack, which has led us to becoming the #1 platform on G2.
PartnerStack is the only solution that has both the PRM and a B2B focused marketplace that connects vendors with partners. On average, our marketplace drives a 30%+ lift in revenue for customers.
We are extremely focused on partner experience, which is a big distinction for us. Most PRMs are focused solely on the vendor experience. But if both sides of this equation are not having a good experience, then it becomes a problem.
And with PartnerStack, all of your channels can be managed from a single platform - affiliate, referral, reseller and ambassador. We see a lot of companies, agencies, and resellers choosing our platform to help them consolidate their channels into a single view.
How is your partnership team structured at PartnerStack?
Our team is still relatively young, as we launched it in April. The majority of this year has been building relationships and working with both agencies and resellers.
I lead the team, and we have an incredible Account Manager that works closely with our partners, as well as a partner marketing manager that works on any co-marketing efforts we run with partners.
Our partnership team is currently focused on two core areas:
First, working with agencies and resellers that are currently reselling SaaS vendors, bringing those vendors onto PartnerStack.
Secondly, working with agencies and resellers that are looking to shift their existing customers onto a modern partner management solution.
We often work with sales when one of their SaaS prospects wants to launch PartnerStack right away but doesn’t have the internal bandwidth. In those cases, we connect them with an agency partner who we know can do it right away and do it well.
Technology partnerships are also on our radar. We have recently built a number of integrations. One of our goals in 2021 and going into 2022 will be to further build out our technology partner program and our own integration marketplace.
We also plan to enter the app marketplaces of other SaaS vendors, especially CRMs like SugarCRM or Hubspot. CRMs are good partners for us because, with the exception of Salesforce, no CRM has a PRM as part of their product offering. So our software is complementary rather than competitive. And it benefits our customers to have those systems integrated.
“If you’re planning to scale your partnerships at all, you need the infrastructure in place to do this.”
What advice would you give for organizations trying to think through who their ideal partners are?
Ultimately, everything has to come down to revenue. Whether you’re pursuing referral, reseller, or technology partnerships, you have to tie them back to driving revenue.
Especially since you need the support of other departments in your organization, whether it is collaboration with the sales team or the product team to help build integrations, the benefit to the business needs to be very clear.
For agency and reseller partners, I would advise looking to see if they power similar products to yours. I’d also think about whether the partner will continue to evolve over time in the direction you are going and whether they truly understand your product and space.
Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, we hosted a discussion with ecosystem leaders about best practices for how to measure partner influence, retention and upsell impacts, marketplace leads, and more.
Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Raphael Assaraf (Former Head of App Ecosystem at Aircall), Don Baron (Strategic and Enterprise Alliances at Slack), Sunir Shah (CEO at AppBind and President of the Cloud Software Association), Shailesh Powdwal (Director, ISV Business Development at Salesforce), and Billy Robins (Head of Partnerships at Productboard).
You can join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to see the full event recording, but we wanted to share some of the insights, which include processes for tracking partner influence, metrics to evaluate the value of tech partnerships, how to track partner impact on retention, and more.
What are the best processes for tracking partner influence and assigning it a business value?
The panelists agreed that the first priority is to make sure that partnership teams keep the core business objectives and KPIs of their organization at the forefront when determining what to track.
“You might be doing a good job, but if you're measuring things no one cares about it will be difficult to get visibility to the highest levels, show the value, and prove that partnerships are meaningful.” - Don Baron Strategic and Enterprise Alliances at Slack
Sunir added to Don’s point, and shared that it is helpful for partnership teams to ask higher ups in their organization what part of the customer lifecycle they are most focused on. They can then use this information to align with their objectives and find partners who can address that part of the customer journey.
He further explained that he sees partnerships as an additive function to the core lifecycle of a customer, and advises partnership teams to know where their company is focused, whether that be demand generation, retention, net revenue growth etc.
“As a SaaS company the customer already has a journey. Partners come in when the customer needs another company for some reason in order to migrate through that funnel.” - Sunir Shah CEO at AppBind and President of the Cloud Software Association
Sunir also shared metrics that internal partnerships teams can use to evaluate tech partners. This included metrics to evaluate partnerships based on if they are meant to support increased demand, adoption and retention, or revenue. Again, the metrics used to evaluate partners should be aligned to priorities of a larger organization.
In the context of partnerships, demand can mean more sign ups or upstream partners sending clients to one’s company. Adoption and retention can involve evaluating partners on whether they are helping to make a product more interesting, therefore influencing customers to convert or to want to stick around longer. Lastly, with revenue, one can evaluate partners based on upselling, cross selling, or revenue share activity.
More specifics on his framework, the metrics described, and when to use them, can be found here.
Continuing in the context of integration partnerships, Raphael added that understanding one’s product, the value that integrations deliver to it, and the place that one’s software has in their customers' tech stacks, will help with determining what integrations will be required to close certain deals vs influencing customers later in their journey.
“As an earlier stage company, you have to understand your product and the value integrations deliver. You have a place in the software stack of your buyers and some integrations will be required to close certain deals and some will influence customers later.” - Raphael Assaraf Former Head of App Ecosystem at Aircall
Some integrations may bring additional value to customers that may drive referrals from partners, and it can be challenging to attribute this to partnerships. Creating a system in sales calls to unpack and identify this can help with attribution.
This may also come up organically during sales calls. For example, Raphael shared that at Aircall there were about 80% of deals that they wouldn't have closed if there wasn't an integration to a CRM or Helpdesk involved. They made a conscious effort to unpack the value that integration partnerships had on prospects’ or customers' decisions to meet with them or close a deal.
Shailesh built on this point by expressing the importance of interviewing customers and having a “single source of truth” (the practice of aggregating the data from many systems within an organization to a single location that is considered the definitive source of information) for those who touch tech partnerships in an organization.
Setting a system up for this can help with validation for partnerships at every stage of the sales cycle, and can help show partnerships’ value in providing or closing deals.
Interviewing customers isn’t only a way to demonstrate the value of your internal partnership team, it can also be one way that your team can determine which partners to attribute leads to.
“Create a system to validate or assess partner influence at every stage of the sales cycle. This is where you can start to see the influence of partnerships.” - Shailesh Powdwal Director, ISV Business Development at Salesforce
As for having a single source of truth, he warns that when data isn’t updated in CRMs where it’s clear how partnerships have been involved in leads or deals, it can cause issues. One example he offered is having a practice of asking a customer or prospect whom they are working with, why they are buying your solution, and adding these notes into your CRM via a field.
For partnerships teams just starting out, Billy offered the advice of focusing on discerning patterns, such as, identifying what software a company’s customers are using or what software is coming up repeatedly in sales conversations. He also added the importance of knowing where one’s product sits in relation to another, and to use this to create different value propositions at different points of the funnel and sales cycle.
For example, he mentioned that with Zendesk, they understood that ecommerce platforms were chosen before customer service solutions, therefore, their product was downstream from solutions like Shopify and BigCommerce.
This helped them with determining how they tackled education, enablement, and the creation of different value propositions during the sales cycle and at different points of the funnel.
How should organizations track integrations’ impact on retention and ACV (annual contract value)?
Sunir mentioned that companies can (and should) track things like how soon customers activate integrations after a deal, and the LTV (Lifetime Value) for customer segments. For tracking LTV, he gave the example of a company seeing HubSpot-integrated customers as their highest value customers, but noticing Salesforce customers were churning more due to problems with the integration. This would help a company to identify where they need to improve their integration services.
Despite these being important metrics to track, he reminded the audience of the importance of conducting customer interviews, as correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Metrics that show integrations correlate with retention and a higher ACV need to be supplemented with qualitative feedback and interviews that show these correlations are reflective of customers finding real and impactful value in integrations.
Cristina shared with the audience that Aircall made an early bet on ecosystems and integrations when their company was first growing. Raphael gave a perspective for companies with less than 1000 people who might not have as large of a cohort to draw insights from on integration impact.
When at Aircall, he mentioned that their team started by operating with the assumption that the more integrated a customer was, with many different types of integrations, the stickier their product was because of the integrations. They also looked at the impact of a specific integration on the customer lifecycle.
They verified this by using cohorts of longtime customers that had a high ratio of activated integrations relative to the total available integrations they had.
To build on Shailesh’s earlier point about having a “single source of truth,” Don shared a process they implemented at Slack to help them better track influence and attribution. First he advised against only the partner team going in and tagging deals in their CRM.
At Slack they have a process where sales representatives can reach out to partners for help in shared channels. When those requests happen, they have workflows and automations in place to create objects in Salesforce that hangs off of those Opportunities. There’s then a conscientious effort to circle back to ask the sales representatives if the conversations had influenced or moved a deal forward.
By keeping sales people in the loop and having them attest to the value of partnerships, an organization will maintain better cross-functional alignment and better surface and identify the value of integration partnerships.
How do you think more integration marketplaces are going to become transactional? How do you measure the business value of being in and having your own marketplace when it’s not transactional?
Billy shared his perspective that SaaS companies and marketplaces are on a continuum from value creation for customers to value extraction. He explained that earlier stage companies should worry less about transactions, and focus more on optimizing for customer value.
Further, companies can lean into the transactional piece when they are a platform or at the center of an ecosystem and better able to take a value extraction route. This is when it’s easier for companies to start defining how much revenue they are generating from integration partnerships and how much their partners are generating.
Sunir gave the opinion that there are currently very few successful transactional app marketplaces. This is due to billing challenges around reselling ongoing subscriptions, which differs from the traditional model of reselling a product that is a one time transaction and does not require ongoing involvement or billing to the manufacturer.
He gave examples of companies like Shopify, AWS, Microsoft Azure and Salesforce who are transactional app marketplaces, but pointed out that even many of those marketplaces are conducting many of those transactions via paper versus truly processing them through the marketplace.
But he said, in the future, he believes the app marketplaces for platforms and keystone systems will become more transactional as the billing challenge is solved. This is because this model adds value for the customer: it is easier for the customer to purchase a platform app and the apps that plug in to from the same place, rather than having to juggle dozens of different orders and transactions.
“When it comes to B2B customers, different teams within those companies have different anchor apps or platforms that they use for their day to day functions,” Sunir explained. “For example, customer support teams may depend on Zendesk, sales teams on Salesforce, and accounting teams on Freshbooks, with other apps acting peripherally to those core apps. Because of this, building a transactional marketplace makes sense for these platforms because customers want to buy whole solutions.”
To hear what the rest of the panelists had to add to this question, and the remainder of this conversation, 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.