Integrations as a Growth Strategy: Interview with Casey Hill of Bonjoro
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.
Growth leaders at SaaS companies are often responsible for increasing revenue across departments. They are always looking for new strategies that offer a compelling ROI.
Casey Hill is the Head of Growth at Bonjoro, an app for sending personalized videos. He shared with us why integrations are a key part of his growth strategy, how integrations have helped Bonjoro grow to over 44k customers, and his advice for getting the most out of partnerships with larger companies.
You’re the Head of Growth at Bonjoro. What is your overarching growth strategy?
I oversee marketing and sales, and am responsible for revenue. Our growth strategy has a specific focus on earned media. We have successfully leveraged podcasts, webinars, and integrations to grow to over 44k customers.
We focus on finding partnerships that are mutually beneficial, whether they are technology partnerships or co-marketing partnerships. I see customer delight as part of every department, and partnering helps us to get to know our audience better and provide them with real value for their entire experience with us.
I have managed millions of dollars of ad spend on Facebook, and done a lot with PPC so I am not suggesting not to pursue paid channels. But my philosophy is that the way people are buying has changed, and it is now heavily driven by referrals and word of mouth.
Ad channels are heavily inundated and highly competitive. A lot of companies are so focused on scaling as quickly as possible and so they pour hundreds of thousands into ads without really understanding their buyer. They don’t understand the why behind the product - and ads don’t really help them to develop personal relationships with their audience.
In my view, an earned media strategy can create meaningful relationships and partnerships. It drives better and stickier customers who are going to stick around longer and recommend you to their networks.
How do integrations tie into your growth strategy?
At Bonjoro, integrations have been our largest growth lever.
They have brought us thousands of paying customers
They have increased our CLTV
They have differentiated us in the market
They have reduced our churn
Launching integrations with the key tools that your customers use just makes your customers' lives easier. It saves them both time and money.
One of the biggest benefits of integrations is retention. The more connection points a customer has with your product, the longer they will stick around.
What was the impetus for deciding to pursue integrations as a growth strategy?
In our space, there are a number of incumbents and we realized this could be a point of differentiation. With personalized video, there is a problem with scalability. We realized integrations could help solve that. By connecting to a CRM or email automation platform, we could ensure that a sales or customer success rep always gets alerted when it makes sense to send a video.
From there, it was a continuing evolution and we keep adding more integrations. We are continually talking to our customers to see what they need.
How is your integration strategy evolving as Bonjoro acquires more customers?
We have rapidly grown over the last 3 years, and 90 percent of that was on a self-serve path without an extensive amount of hand-holding. But as we have gotten larger, we are getting bigger customers, and we are listening to make sure we build integrations that they need.
In addition, we are thinking about partnering with companies that can introduce us to larger, enterprise customers in order to expand our market reach in the enterprise.
We are also working on our Open API. We are really focused on the ethos of what is best for our customer, and we want to make things are as streamlined as possible for them, and let customers work wherever and however they want - whether that is from inside our app or from inside our partners' apps.
For example, we have a really strong mobile app, and we could build something into a CRM that customers could do at their desk, but so many want to work from mobile. So we will continue to assess that and make sure we are facilitating how our customers want to work.
How do you decide which integrations to build?
There are a few components. Customer interest and partner interest are both important.
We get a lot of feedback from sales and I have them mark it down every time someone makes an integration request. People keep requesting certain integrations. We also do surveys and prompts to our customers about what they need in general, and sometimes we might get integration requests or suggestions through there.
We track this data and not only does it help us understand what our customers need, but it helps us to pitch partners. If you go to a potential partner with strong data that your customers are currently looking to integrate the systems together, that’s going to be compelling.
How much value an integration is adding to the customer is one component, but another huge component is how much the partner is willing to invest in the relationship. We would much rather work with a smaller company who is willing to really invest and build up a whole partnership than a larger company who won’t contribute to the go-to-market or tech support.
The overall impact to the business of the integration will be larger when both partners are committed to sharing and explaining the integration to their audiences, as well ensuring the integration works and is supported.
Another element we consider is whether a particular partnership would bring another type of value, like serving to introduce us to a whole new market or enhance our brand.
How are you tracking outcomes from your integrations?
We track all active integrations so we see how many people are using integrations. We look at customers who are using integrations versus those who aren’t.
We see a fairly substantial boost in retention for people who use integrations - 15 percent annual retention lift for at least 1 integration. That’s pretty clear.
Another important metric for us is customer acquisition. Our large partners are working with us because we enhance their retention. But for us, we acquire a number of customers when they discover us through our larger partners’ integration marketplaces.
For some of our partners, we can get more information and details on this acquisition than others. With ActiveCampaign, for example, where we built integrated workflows inside their app, we can get a nuanced understanding of where exactly the new customer came from inside their product.
We do send leads to our partners, and enhance their brands, though we do not track those currently. Because of our marketing reach, we can expose our partners to fairly large audiences. We are not a sales driven company, but we still do 40-50 demos a week, and in those conversations, we mention our partners.
Part of the reason we do not track or monetize the leads sent to our partners is we always want to be driving what is best for our customer. I do not want to recommend to customers tools that aren’t a good fit, including our own. Sales should come across as consultants.
Any advice for getting the most out of relationships with your larger partners?
My first piece of advice is to move slow. Don't jump in with Salesforce and think they are going to start publishing your materials on day one. With ActiveCampaign and Shopify, for example, we found that it is gradual. The more we promoted them and hyped them up, the more they were interested in collaborating. After we promoted the Shopify partnership for a while, a content person asked if we could write a content piece. And we kept working together from there.
When we first started in the ActiveCampaign ecosystem, we were very active, and over time, they asked us to jump on webinars. They call their integration workflows recipes, and they did a Holiday Recipes roundup and we were involved in that. We are super active in their community, and became a cheerleader for them.
Many of these larger companies do not actually get that many comments on their social posts. Take a huge brand like Hubspot and look at how many comments they get. It’s not many. If you’re commenting and sharing, the individual reps will start recognizing you. And if you reach out later, they will recognize your name. This is something we have embraced.
What is your advice to other Heads of Growth who are looking to use integrations as a growth strategy?
If you’re just starting with this strategy, try with one integration that you think would be high impact and then track the results. Look at retention as your step one, and run a comparative test - how does integration usage impact customer retention and overall contract value?
Customer lifetime value is everything and retention plays a big part in getting that number up. If you can push the needle 10-15 percent on retention, as you should be able to with integrations, that is massive.
Some people who run growth are very much focused on the top of the funnel, and integrations can help with that too. But for us growth is all across revenue and integrations provide a boost all across revenue.
I am a big advocate of integrations because they are not only a channel of acquisition, they are a huge and lasting benefit to the customer. If you spend 10k on ads, there is no legacy benefit from that. You acquired a customer and that’s it. With integrations, you can acquire a customer and continue to increase their satisfaction with using your product.