Lessons Learned from the Leaders of Larger Ecosystems Roundtable

By 
Kelly Sarabyn

Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, we hosted a discussion with leaders from larger tech ecosystems. Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Scott Brinker, VP of Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot, Bader Hamdan, Head of Platform Partnerships at Twilio, Shay Howe, SVP of Platform Strategy at ActiveCampaign, and Heidi Williams, Head of Platform Engineering at Grammarly.

You can join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to see the full event recording, but we wanted to share some of the insights, which included how to build an internal culture of ecosystems, measuring the value of tech partnerships, how to prioritize integrations, and more.

Building an Internal Culture that Values Ecosystems

Panelists agreed this has gotten a lot easier in the last few years as the concept of ecosystems has become more mainstream. Scott recommended sharing the book “Platform Revolution” with colleagues as it eloquently makes the case for the value of platforms.

Scott also made the point, which other panelists agreed with, that “If your company culture is aimed at keeping customers happy, partnerships fits right into that framework.” 

Customers want integrations and they want their tech stacks to be integrated and easier to manage. So, ultimately, an integrated tech ecosystem significantly improves the customer and product experience. Ensuring your organization believes in that core connection is key to getting the resources needed to develop your ecosystem.

Measuring the Value of Tech Partnerships

One of the reasons building an internal culture that believes a thriving ecosystem brings the customer significant value is because there are real challenges around measuring the value of tech partnerships.

The biggest challenges are around attribution and showing causation (as opposed to correlation). Shay pointed out that due to external dependencies, in certain cases, there may be no way to track how much a customer is using a particular integration, for example. 

Shay also posited that organizations should be tracking the quality and quantity side of the impact. From the quantity side, one can track many different metrics. 

Panelists suggested tracking customer integration usage and its correlation with: contract expansion, retention, customer dollar retention, professional service contracts, and attachment to deals closing. 

On the quality side, surveying customers and soliciting their feedback can also demonstrate the value they see in integrations.

Scott made the point that “Actually saying it is worth an exact amount is really really hard. But when there are so many correlated metrics, in the aggregate it is clear the value is there. If you can say this is making customers happy, then it is integrated into the value prop of what our company is here to do.” 

Organizational Structure

Panelists agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for organizational structure. As Shay said, “It is about being in the culture and being embedded in every team.” 

Bader made the point that, ultimately, “It is about getting cross-functional collaboration solved more than the reporting structure. Be intentional about your go-to-market strategy and understanding what type of partners you are bringing in and what problems you are trying to solve for customers.”

How to Prioritize Integrations

At a high level, Bader reiterated bringing it back to customers. “As cliche as it may sound,” he said, “look at what your customers want and how they want to consume this. At Google, we prioritized certain integrations over others due to the opportunity and the influence.” 

Panelists pointed out two elements to factor in to the analysis that organizations often forget: the maintenance and support costs of an integration, and the quality of the integration.

Shay shared, “Every integration is a product in itself. Once you build it, more feature requests will come. It is not like you build it, set it up, and it is good to go. There is ongoing nurture and support.” 

And, nowadays, there is almost always a way to connect two systems, but as Scott said, “The spectrum on what that looks like is broad and has a huge impact on whether customers are actually happy with the way it works.”

It may be better to hold off on building an integration if the integration you have the resources to build is simplistic and won’t meet customers’ business objectives. 

Though, Heidi shared that when she was at Box, they did sometimes build integrations that were akin to a proof of concept to get the ball rolling and see what was possible, and this could have the positive impact of bringing the partner to the table to invest in improving the integration and building it out further.

Internal and External Communication

Integrations need to be shared with other internal teams, like sales and marketing, as well as externally with customers. 

Panelists shared one way to frame this is as understanding your mechanisms for “pushing and pulling” information. Ensure that other departments and customers can easily pull information on integrations in a way that works with their normal workflows and processes.

Pushing information to customers is important but you should be selective in what you push and also do it in a way that leads them back to where they can pull information. Pushing should include not just strategic partners, but also some from the longer tail of partners that are doing something interesting or may be up and coming.

Heidi shared the importance of having Developer Advocates on your teams, as they are “an amazing conduit. They are out there playing with the product themselves, trying to connect other apps. They can speak truth back to the team about how good the platform is. It’s like having a customer in house all the time who is able to speak for the community and then speak back to the community.”

If you're interested in hearing the full discussion, join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to gain access to members only resources and a recording of this event. 

You can also register for more upcoming roundtables on interdisciplinary topics relevant to those working in technology partnerships.


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