Launching a Partner Program: Interview with Casey Padgett

Kelly Sarabyn

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. 

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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.

Casey Padgett

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. 

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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. 

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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.

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