How to Tackle Partner Operations: Interview with Vlad Khazanovich
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.
Partner Operations is a quickly growing field. Vlad Khazanovich runs partner operations at CaptivateIQ, and he shares his advice on how to optimize processes, tech, and teams to ensure partnerships are driving the most revenue.
What does your current role look like and how did you get into partner operations?
Today I am at CaptivateIQ, a VC-backed startup in the sales commission space. My role is partner operations and partner enablement. I own the end-to-end partnership experience across our broader go-to-market team, and that includes sales, systems, processes, enablement, and partner certification.
It’s a very large role, and my goal is to build an ecosystem around our product that is as productive as possible.
I recently moved to CaptivateIQ from SailPoint, where I led partner operations for 3 years. I have a background in business development, which is what led to me becoming involved in partner operations.
What types of partners have you worked with?
At SailPoint, we had the full range of partnerships, across VARs and resellers, system integrators, service providers, and tech partners, and players that wore many different kinds of hats.
At CaptivateIQ, we’re still building out our ecosystem with a focus on system integrators and tech partners.
What is your advice to organizations looking to implement partner operations for the first time?
PartnerOps is relatively new but a lot of internal processes can be drawn from SalesOps and RevOps. The goal with PartnerOps is to set up your systems so you can track and enable the partner journey as well as see the results of partnerships.
Some basic things to do when starting out are to set up partner accounts and contacts in your CRM. In terms of sales attribution, you want to create fields for sales so that they are tracking when partners influence a deal.
In Salesforce, for example, you can use individual fields on the Opportunity object to consistently and accurately get this data. Alternatively, you could do a related list where there is a custom Object that shows you how many Opportunities a particular partner was attached to. That enables you to easily see how effective each partnership is.
Whatever CRM you are using, it boils down to being able to identify who partners are, and having specific fields to note what any partner’s involvement is.
As an organization, you have to decide what all the possible types of partner involvement there are. Then, partner managers and account executives have to note when that occurs. You really want to be able to identify where and how partners helped in a sales cycle.
How do you ensure this information is entered by the sales team?
Getting account executives to enter all the data can be a challenge to enforce. At scale, it depends on having a culture and DNA with front line sales managers who encourage and motivate their team to work with partners as much as possible.
I recommend implementing ongoing education about what partners are doing and why they are valuable. Partner managers should be aware of sales and their accounts, and educate sales reps on why things are being tracked.
From an operations perspective, it is good to work partnerships and data integrity into the day-to-day processes of the sales organization.
You can use pipeline reviews and forecast calls to review partnership contributions and draw attention to tracking them, for example.
Do you recommend using a PRM? How do you get the highest level of partner engagement?
I do recommend using a PRM, though currently we do not have one unified portal. We use Salesforce for deal registration, which it works great for. We also have Zendesk set up with a separate category only for partners so they can log in there to access the partner content they need.
In previous roles, I never had a single partner portal. It was broken out across a number of different systems. We had deal registration, technical enablement, and sales enablement in different portals. The community was in a different place. It was nice to have all that content, but it was a pain to manage, and our partners had to have multiple logins.
I would recommend using a PRM, but operationally, you should always make it as easy as possible for your partners to get what they need.
Sometimes that can be done through identity access management so that companies can use single-sign-on to access your portals. That may be out of reach for a lot of startups, though.
Beyond a streamlined tech setup, what makes a big difference is providing incentives to partners to log in.
Make sure you have updated, relevant content for your partners, for example.
You should also give partners data they will find valuable. You can provide a trusted window into joint customers through data sharing tools like Crossbeam.
You don’t have to open up the whole kimono, just give the data you want to share. But give them as much actionable data as possible. You should also show them results and analytics, like their registered pipeline or bookings, as this can be motivating and prove value to their organization.
Be cognizant that partner companies will have many different people on their teams, with different roles and objectives for the partnership. A marketer and a sales rep from a partner will want different data and materials. As would a developer. Make sure each of them know where to get what they need and make it as easy as possible.
While they are your partners, you are just a slice of their business. The crutch of all this is the Partner Manager. Partner managers should know what benefits partners have access to and be able to guide partners and ensure the experience is a positive one.
Having a world class PRM, motivated teams, and partner cheerleaders will ultimately make your company as enticing as possible to partners.
How do you enable technology partners?
In my experience, tech partners fell under the go-to-market org, but as you can imagine, these partnerships weave themselves into product, engineering, and product marketing.
For enablement and the more go-to-market side of operations, you can use much of the same infrastructure you use for channel partners for tech partners. The tech partner is still a partner, and they can register deals and be involved in co-selling and co-marketing.
You can certainly add some partner fields in your CRM that are specific to tech partners. A partner-built integration, for example, might influence a deal closing and you should be tracking that differently than a channel partner who is actively involved in an account and co-selling with you.
In addition, product marketing is much more involved with technology partners because they can best highlight how the two products work together.
Do you track sending leads to partners?
At CapitivateIQ, we are currently most interested in co-selling and joint prospecting. We have a motion where we identify opportunities early on where we need a partner to get the prospect to the point where they can use CaptivateIQ.
For example, a prospect may not have Salesforce or compensation plans set up properly. A partner can do this for them, and then they are in a position to use CaptivateIQ. This shortens our sales cycle and keeps engagements moving.
When should an organization think about implementing PartnerOps?
This is specific to everyone’s business, but a ballpark is if you have a dozen engaged partners. At that point, you should get a professional operations person to tackle the processes enabling partner relationships and tracking their results.
You need to provide successful onboarding, engagement, and enablement for active partners, and that is not easy to do if relevant information is always in ten different systems, and nothing is being tracked.
Partners in SaaS are an overlay of your professional services, customer success, sales, and marketing teams. So someone who has experience in revenue operations should be able to take on partner operations.
If you look at your traditional revenue ops professional, they are someone who is process oriented, systems oriented, and metrics driven, and those are the skills most needed in PartnerOps too.
How do you best measure the success of a PartnerOps professional?
The way I always measure an Ops person is on how well they are solving internal stakeholders’ pain points. That could be anything between big, cross-functional projects around processes or simple Salesforce administration.
Some of the other questions I would ask are: are they able to triage issues and make changes that incorporate stakeholders’ feedback? How are they automating manual processes? What insights are they generating from their reporting? What tools are they evaluating? How are they making their teams more productive?
I also look at an Ops person’s turnaround time and feedback on the quality of the processes and tech they implement. You don’t always have to buy more tools; you may just be refining and improving the processes around what is already in place.
What partner tech do you recommend?
I recommend a PRM, but there’s not one in particular I would pick. It depends on your industry and partner types. I’m a big fan of Salesforce as a CRM and as a way to track partner accounts and deals. People complain about Salesforce but if you figure out the tech of it, it has a lot of great capabilities and automations.
6Sense is good for intent data. After you account map with a tool like Crossbeam or Partnered.io, you can overlay 6Sense on top of that to prioritize which accounts you go after. HG Insights and ZoomInfo also provide strong enrichment data.
Do you have advice for getting partners to use new partner software?
No matter how strong of a relationship, partners have their own business and they want to keep it secure. They don’t want to show you everything, or have to worry about compliance or security issues. Not every partner has time to try and trust a new software. All you can do is make sure you enable partners where they are, explain the value of new tech, and make it as easy as possible for them to use any new tools.
Do you have advice for someone thinking about moving into PartnerOps?
I got thrust into partnerships early on. It is a great role if you want to learn how an entire economy of indirect sales works. There is a whole world of partners of different kinds out there, and a lot goes into running a successful partner program so it can be very rewarding to get exposed to that.
In order to succeed, you have to get used to servicing both internal and external stakeholders. You have to toe the line between doing right by your partners and all your internal teams.
It can be a challenging role, but on the plus side, you get to see how partners intersect your business across various departments which gets you a ton of access to different people and projects at your company.