Partner Community and Experience: Interview with Amanda Nielsen

Kelly Sarabyn

Amanda Nielsen is the Partner Enrollment Manager at Formstack and she shared her advice on attracting new partners, creating a partner community, and the best way to onboard partners.

What is your role at Formstack?

I’m the first person people encounter in the partner program as I do outbound to potential partners and field inbound requests. A big part of my job is building a partner brand as a subset of Formstack as a brand.

Part of that is having a social media presence, and being active in the communities we are trying to integrate with. We work with companies in the Salesforce, Microsoft and HubSpot ecosystems, for example, so we go to community-led events that occur in those ecosystems. 

We are focused on creating a brand that partners know about.

Are you creating your own partner community?

We just held our first customer and partner event. It was not exclusively for partners but we included them. We do virtual events once a month and we have a Slack community for our partners.

A lot of partner programs are led by a channel sales manager who is focused on closing as many deals as quickly as possible. We lead with community and enablement first, and believe that the revenue will be generated behind that.

Do you have advice on the best way to do partner outbound?

I recommend getting a handful of evangelized partners and interacting with them publicly. Promote them on your podcast or social, for example. We have a blog dedicated to showcasing partner success. The more you can be associated with the top players in the space, the better. We continue to build our presence with these partners and that has given us a lot of credibility in the space.

You should also make content that is going to be relevant to your partner base. If you look at my LinkedIn, for example, I am not only posting partner content. I share information on operations and Salesforce headaches that are all relatable pain points but aren’t directly related to us or our partner program.

I also recommend developing relationships instead of just pitching potential partners. I will add people on LinkedIn who would be good for our partner program, but I don’t try to pitch them right away. I have them as connections for a few months and post relevant content frequently. Then when I know they have seen my name and content, I will reach out directly to start a conversation.

I had a personal brand before starting here and that helps. I worked at a top HubSpot agency doing more partner marketing. My brand was relevant to B2B marketers and tech and I have niched it down here to make it more relevant to our audience. For LinkedIn, you don’t have to post every day. I aim for once a week.

When I do partner outreach, I try to lead with value. I keep it super brief and I name drop if I can. If you can get any semblance of a referral or even “this person mentioned that you would be a good resource for X,” it helps.

When you are trying to grow your program, you should be active in the larger players’ ecosystems as you can foster lots of relationships there.

Related Content: Advice for Building and Managing a Technology Partner Program

What is the best way to onboard partners?

With onboarding, we really aim to eliminate the hoops that partners might have to go through. Our top competitors create a high barrier to entry for most partners. One is becoming super focused on enterprise partners so their small to midsize partners are getting left in the dust. We are happy to have those partners and want to make it as seamless as possible for them to join our program.

For our onboarding, partners will meet with me and I will explain the process and do introductions and basic housekeeping. To be a referral partner, you have to get certified but this only takes 2 hours of time, which includes training and getting a demo account.

How do you approach partner operations and partner tech?

We use PartnerStack to manage our affiliate payout process. They make that easy as they handle paying our partners, and that we just have one monthly bill. We have built out our partner operations in our CRM because we are often letting our sales team work directly with partners to get opportunities. So it is important to have all the data in our CRM.

We have good alignment with sales and we have a routing process where we try to distribute partner leads evenly. We round robin it, taking into account timezone compatibility. Our sales team isn’t specialized by vertical, or we may have matched partners based on that expertise.

We did not always have a good process as it used to be more manual. Now, PartnerStack is integrated with our CRM and if a lead comes through that link, it appends a partnership key to the account. This enables us to see which partner it is and then associate that account to the relevant Opportunity. 

There are times where partners don’t want revenue share and in those cases, we still use the key to identify them and just add it manually.

Related Content: Advice for How to Tackle Technology Partner Operations

What are good KPIs for partner teams?

We track partner-driven pipeline overall. Each person on the partnerships team has individual KPIs that align with their specific function. One of mine, for example, is discovery calls booked and held. It all contributes to the team goals of driving more pipeline.

Do you have any other advice for running a successful partner program?

My advice is to always put community first. Don’t treat your partners like a sales channel. A lot of consultants pride themselves on being neutral and not compensated for their recommendations, for example. We figure out different ways to invest in those partnerships, like co-marketing and co-selling with those partners. 

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