Launching a Partner Program: Interview with Casey Padgett
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.
Casey Padgett launched a partner program at LeaseQuery before moving to Gravy to help scale their partner program. She shared her advice on launching a partner program, why reporting to sales is risky, ideal partner KPIs, and how to get early wins.
How did you get into partnerships?
When I was in college, I studied accounting with the intention to work for a Big 4 firm and be an accountant. But I was recruited by an accounting software company to help with client relationships.
While doing that, we realized our clients had huge networks of partners, like associations and auditing firms. We saw that was an untapped market and so I moved into a channel type role to leverage the opportunity.
I could talk the accounting language and I understood what fueled our business. I had to figure out how we could work together strategically to drive partnerships. I defined the program, including what the partner journey would look like and what the metrics were for success.
Recently, I joined Gravy Solutions, which provides tech enabled services to recover failed payments. We currently have an informal partnership process. There is no shortage of people who want to work together, so I am trying to build out our partner program to make it more formal so it can scale.
What would be your advice for someone looking to launch a partner program?
One thing that is really important is understanding what is going to be enticing to your partners. Understand what gets them driven and out of bed in the morning.
Additionally, take the time to truly understand the ecosystem you are operating in. Not every partnership is going to be the right one, and you have to be okay saying no.
In the beginning, you shouldn’t get too bogged down with trying to define what the process is. It is important to get both short term and long term wins.
Everyone likes to hear about the long term strategy but if you can back that up with some early wins in the first 90 days that gets people in the organization excited.
How would you advise someone trying to get some early wins?
Reach out to a customer you have a great relationship with and get feedback from them on a potential partnership. If the customer is excited about the partnership, then you can get the partner to give them a demo and build momentum from there. If your partner sees excited customers, they will be excited and invest more.
If right off the bat you are pushing a newsletter and very salesy about your partnerships, that’s not going to work. It has to be a natural progression. You want to be hands on at first and make sure everyone is excited. Spend the time with customers and partners to make sure everyone stands to win from a partnership.
Do you have any advice for making the most out of technology partnerships with large SaaS companies?
If you think of the Oracles and Stripes of the world, everyone wants to work with them. It takes a couple months to get partnerships like that off the ground. I would recommend good internal enablement in your organization so that your sales, marketing and CS teams know about the partner’s products and the integration.
I would also recommend trying to do something more creative with your marketplace tile to make the listing more engaging and stand out. You want to put your best foot forward marketing this type of partnership because it is a competitive channel.
We positioned ourselves as a thought leader, not just a software vendor. If you are able to position yourself that way in the ecosystem, it can help you to get more traction.
We were able to do some co-marketing events with our technology partners, and it was top of mind topics that drew people in. We were able to get on their webinar schedules. It wasn’t prime time on the main stage but talking about what we do in the breakout sessions was helpful to attracting a new audience in those ecosystems.
Where do you think partnership teams should report in an organization?
At Gravy, our partnership team is under Marketing. I haven’t rolled up to Product. It definitely depends on your particular product and ecosystem.
I see benefits on both sides though I would caution against reporting to Sales. We are all revenue driving but it can get sticky.
With partnerships, you are building long term, lasting relationships that help mutual clients and prospects. You don’t want to get caught up in short term metrics and if you report to Sales, that is a risk.
I prefer reporting to Marketing as I think the KPIs are more closely aligned. I could see a lot of benefits to reporting to Product for technology partnerships, though.
What do you think good metrics and goals are for partnership teams?
In the beginning, one of the most obvious is new partnerships and opportunities. You don't want to sign every partner though. New partnership discovery calls is one thing I am tracked on. But that is part of a process of building out your ideal partner profile, and seeing what is going to work.
From there, you should look at whether you are able to develop relationships quickly. There should be a revenue centric metric. Have you been able to sell your product through partnerships? If you are not generating revenue, it is not entirely successful. You want to make sure you are getting some short term wins.
First quarter expectations should not be the same as your fourth quarter expectations. Partnerships need time to ramp up and a team needs time to figure out who the ideal partners are. It usually takes about three to four months of going through introduction calls to really slim down where you fit in.
Build out a partner framework so you know what to look for: it should have criteria like ideal size, type of firm, and core value alignment, for example. Value alignment is something that is often overlooked, but it can really underpin success and create longer lasting partnerships.
Another element to look at is whether a potential partner has already built out a partnership practice. Sometimes that works if you fit the profile of their successful partners. Something that is tried and true can be reliable in helping to move the needle. You can get grit and flexibility from new partnership teams, but that can be more of a risk.
Treat this almost like a rubric. To be partner type A, there might be 6 criteria. But early on, you don’t want to make it a hard grading. Perhaps the partner only needs to meet 4 criteria, for example, to form a relationship with you.
Do you use any partner specific tech?
At Gravy, we use PartnerStack and have it integrated to CRM. It allows our partners to log in and see their stats. Right now we just use it as a PRM, but I do want to use it to explore their marketplace.
Any advice for those starting a partner program?
I think going into it having an open mind about what the partnerships will look like. It is not always going to look the same and what works is very ecosystem and product dependent.
I would also recommend taking advantage of all the growing partnership communities and content out there. There is no shortage of information and resources. Women in Revenue and Partnership Leaders, for example, are two groups I have gotten a lot of value out of in terms of learning and building a network of people working in partnerships.