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.
Sometimes SaaS leaders are on board with the value of investing in integrations and technology partnerships, but other times it may require persuading leadership of the business case to get enough resources.
The best way to approach this is to lay out benefits that have already been experienced, keeping in mind the current strategic goal of your organization. The more company andindustry specific datayou can provide, the more compelling your argument will be.
Before Tracking, Keep in Mind Business Objectives
With at least a few integrations, you should be able to show results. When deciding on what results to track, keep the core business objectives and KPIs of your organization at the forefront in order to increase the likelihood of getting visibility and showing value to the highest levels.
In addition to showing the benefits of implementing integrations, you should assess how long it took to build one integration and with how many resources.
In the rest of this article we’ll provide some examples for what you can track in order to demonstrate the impact that integrations and technology partnerships has on different SaaS business outcomes such as:
Demand generation and customer acquisition
Adoption, retention , LTV
Increased leads, opportunities, and sales
Where to Start: Tracking Integration Installs and Usage
The first step to showing the significant influence integrations can have on retention and lifetime customer value is to put the infrastructure in place to know which integrations your customers are using and how they are using them.
At scale, you will have integrations you built in-house, integrations partners built, and integrations third-party developers may have built to other systems that they do not represent.
Unless you have invested in a tool, you’ll have to ask product and engineering to help with providing information on who is installing apps and how they’re using them.
This requires authentication protocols for your API that track who the end user is as opposed to just showing who the partner app is. You may have to also coordinate with partners who have built apps into your ecosystem to be able to get data from them on adoption. To alleviate some of this partner tracking, it best practice to build into your authentication both a way to discover what customers are using an app (typically the API key) and if that app was registered by a partner.
If you and your partner are using OAuth 2 protocol, then the logs should show the end users (however they are identified in the system).
Companies that do not follow OAuth may have other authentication protocols that do not reveal who end users are, but may only identify the partner app’s unique keys. This can give you a sense of how much an integration is used, but not by who or how many different customers.
Creating a centralized dashboard where you can see integration usage by integration and by customer is key to tracking. You’ll also need a process for merging this data with go-to-market data (and ensuring it can be mapped accurately against each other).
Using an integration management solution likePandium can help you build this infrastructure both reliably and cost effectively.
Once this infrastructure is established, integration installation data can be compared to:
Customer satisfaction rates
Average contract size
Lifetime value of customers
Impact of integrations on Customer Acquisition, Retention, and LTV
Technology partnerships that are based on a product integration can attract new customers, help close deals, and significantly improve the product experience.
Tracking integrations’ impact on this can help get buy-in from C-suite executives, as well as, the product organization for more resources to build integrations and eventually an in-app marketplace.
This requires tracking which integrations customers have installed and how often they are using them. Best practice is to track customers in cohorts based on timing and important characteristics like size and industry, along with comparing their retention rates and other key metrics like LTV (Lifetime Value) by cohorts of how many and what types of integrations they have installed.
For example, ShipBob, a 3PL worth well over a billion dollars, wanted more visibility into integration usage and analytics. They initially had no centralized place to expose their merchants to integrations or to see the integration usage and analytics.
They were also spending a lot of developer time on integration, but weren’t able to articulate the ROI of that. Their head of product chose to standardize and centralize their integrations into one place where they could track traffic to their marketplace and track leads coming from and flowing to partners. Their centralized platform also gave them metrics to do the analysis on retention, churn and upsells to show the impact of developer work.
With more visibility to this data, they were able to identify that customers who were integrated with more than two systems had a lower churn and a higher ACV, and the NPS for customers with more than 5 apps installed was 10 points higher than those with less than 4.
As a SaaS company in today’s world, you not only need to create an enticing product by demonstrating the breathe of integration capabilities you enable (acquisition), but you also need deep integrations that provide extreme value and address customers needs (retention) in order to keep them using your product.
In MarTech.org's Martech Replacement Survey 2022 for example, marketers who replaced apps over the past 18 months shared what their primary motivation was in doing so. The #1 most commonly cited factor in choosing their replacement solution was integration capabilities/open API.
How to Track the Impact of Integrations on Customer Acquisition
Potential customers are looking for SaaS solutions that can work with products they use daily and lack of integration has the potential to kill opportunities during the sales cycle.
To demonstrate the impact that continued investment in integrations can have on your product, you can utilize tools like Crossbeam, ZoomInfo, or in-house built tools to evaluate the overlap between a potential integration partner’s client base and our own clients and prospects.
You can also visualize the potential impact of getting in front of new customers by looking at metrics such as potential reach or overlap with your ideal prospect list.
Other tools like Gong and CRMs can be put in place along with internal processes to capture feature requests and feedback from client-facing teams, run periodic surveys and interviews with customers, and analyze client calls.
How to Track the Impact of Integrations on Retention
When first shopping for integrated solutions, customers may be confident about going with certain platforms because they have all the logos they need on an integrations page; However, poor integration experience can become a problem once they become customers and it turns out the integration doesn’t meet their business needs.
On the other side of this, offering integration that have been customer tested and vetted allows you to begin making correlations between integration installation and usage and better retention.
There isn’t a specific number of integrations that every SaaS company should be looking at to start analyzing the relationship between integration adoption and retention/churn. This changes based on the market your product is in, so you should identify your customers’ tech stack and how many integrations they tend to need to feel like they get full value out of a platform.
How to Track the Impact of Integrations on Customer Satisfaction
Customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys that include questions specifically focused on integrations can not only provide you with insight on how to improve your integration offerings, but allow you to collect data on integral they are to your customers’ experience.
You can create surveys or schedule interviews with users who have installed and used integrations after a specific period of time, for example, after one month of usage and then again six months later.
Customer support should also have tickets on issues with current integrations, and professional services should be tracking how much time they are spending on integrating systems for your customers. CS and PS can also track the number of requests for new integrations.
How to Track the Impact of Integrations on Referrals and Sales
Referrals from tech partners can be direct introductions from a tech partner or they can arrive from an integration marketplace or website when a prospect requests a demo or signs up for or purchases an account in a short timeframe.
Referrals have to be qualified, but they are higher intent than marketing leads. Especially in the case of direct partner introductions, referrals have a stronger propensity to close due to the partner recommendation.
Prospects may come to your website from a partner’s integration marketplace or other links and request a demo or sign up for an account - the difference between these accounts and marketing leads is marketing leads require additional outreach to start a sales conversation or purchase, while these leads are immediately entered into the sales process (or, if possible, immediately purchase).
Before implementing tooling and processes for tracking, define what influence is, and get buy-in from the internal teams.
Tools for Tracking
Direct introductions from technology partners or customers expressing interest in integration solutions are some actions that could defined as partner influence on sales. To track this, tool like Crossbeam, Reveal, or Partnered or some PRMs enable deal registration.
These tools can not only increase the number of referrals by highlighting when a partner has customers who are good prospects, they can also create a record of this referral that enables it to be more easily tracked.
This information can also be logged manually in a CRM (and may have to be if they are in-person, direct messaging via social media, or via a private community).
You should be tracking whenever a partner directly recommends your product to a prospect and then makes a demo or purchases the product.
Most organizations will integrate tools with their CRM, where records can be automatically appended to reflect the deal was partner sourced if the intro is made via email through the tool.
This is a much more accurate way than relying on people to manually log it in the CRM; However, if you are relying on manual logging, you should ensure whoever is logging has an incentive to do so.
In-person intros and intro via private communities or direct message on social media will usually have to be logged manually regardless, so cultivating an expectation and culture of tracking is important.
Tracking integration requests, must-have integrations, and partner influence on sales calls will require sales leadership’s agreement to track these requests and influencing factors as a separate field. Otherwise you will have to rely on surveying the sales team.
Aligning sales and partner financial incentives can also help ensure the info is logged.
In addition to introductions that are made directly via email, in-person or via DM, partners may often recommend your product to their customers and prospects without notifying you.
With tech partners, these referrals may often be made from customer support or customer success as the integration may improve their customers’ experience of their own product.
Customer support teams will usually be even farther away from account mapping tools and the CRM. In those cases, tracking the source is dependent on sales (or marketing via a demo request form) asking the prospect where they heard about the product.
If your organization asks this question generally and logs it in the CRM, it simply requires a process that systemizes partner data or that someone is reviewing and organizing this data.
Depending on how many partners you have, it may not always be easy for the sales person to log it specifically as “partner” sourced.
They may not know all your partners so may just log the partner name. This might be resolved by a drop down field listing all partners or organizing the data after the fact. Once you have logged the deals that were referred by partners, you will want to track their conversion rate, time to close, average contract value, and lifetime value as a customer.
All in all, you’ll want to enable sales by communicating the value for them and the organization, incentivizing their participation, educating them on the tools and questions they should ask, and celebrating joint successes.