Platform Strategy at ActiveCampaign: An Interview with Shay Howe
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.
ActiveCampaign combines marketing, marketing automation, and CRM capabilities in one software. In order to provide customers with an even more seamless workflow, ActiveCampaign offers over 290 integrations.
Shay Howe, the VP of Platform Strategy at ActiveCampaign, shared his insights on how to grow a successful tech ecosystem and technology partnership program.
What is your professional background that led you to becoming the VP of Platform Strategy?
When I joined ActiveCampaign, close to three years ago, I was hired to lead the Design team, including Product and Brand design. Being a startup, we’re an organization where you tend to wear many hats and at different times I’ve led our Platform Engineering and Marketing teams in addition to Design.
My experience leading these different teams, as well as owning relationships with a number of our strategic partners, has provided the opportunity to dig into all aspects of our business, which today, is leading our Platform Strategy.
What is the organizational structure for your team?
Outside of Design, the Platform Strategy team is a new team at ActiveCampaign which is still coming together. Responsibilities for the team include building an application ecosystem around our platform, all Strategic and App partner operations, be it sourcing, recruiting, onboarding, and growing partnerships, as well as helping define and shape the future of our products and services.
ActiveCampaign has a robust in-app integration marketplace. What was the driving force behind building it?
A core strength of ActiveCampaign is our automation capabilities. And with automation in mind, we continually ask ourselves, “How do we build automation throughout the entire customer experience?”
A large part of this requires integrations. Any given business is going to use many different tools to serve their customers, and all of these tools impact a customer’s experience. We provide the ability to bring these tools together, share data across them, develop new insights, and layer automation into the core customer experience.
How did ActiveCampaign start their process of offering their customers this automated and integrated experience?
Very early on we opened access to our API for third-party development. Around the same time, we created a few integrations ourselves, including one with Zapier to open up access to a wide range of other integrations, and added the ability to send data via webhooks across our platform. This planted the seed, allowing anyone to extend the capabilities of ActiveCampaign.
More recently, we’ve been adding new native integrations and applications for our customers. Many of which are being built by our partners, a select few including Calendly and Survicate.
Have you established a certification process for third party integrations to your platform?
Today, anyone is welcome to register for a developer and sandbox account on our website. Then when ready, partners are able to submit their application or integration for review. We’ll work with them, ensuring we’re able to test the integration, and once all is approved, we’ll list the integration in our public and in-app marketplaces. At the time, we also open other areas of promotion for these partners, including our recipe marketplace.
How have you built and improved the UX of the integrations for your customers?
Setting up an integration can be quite a complex process, so we’re continually trying to reduce friction here. Two small areas that can have an impact during setup:
First, we look to see how we can authenticate, most commonly across platforms. Best case scenario, we can do this with one click, logging in to connect the two platforms. Worst case scenario, we share API credentials.
Second, after authentication, is often field mapping, including what are the fields within each platform that need to be related to another. A customer's name or email address, for example, need to be synced and aligned across systems. During setup, we’ll look to try to dynamically and automatically map these fields for a customer, allowing them to override mappings where they want but not forcing them to set up each field mapping individually by hand.
Once connected and integrated, we look to improve the experience by offering branded and native touch points within the ActiveCampaign platform.
On a contacts profile, for example, partners are able to brand tags with their logo to create quick visual references. Within an automation, partners are able to brand automation start triggers and actions. So rather than saying, “send data to this webhook,” which can be a bit of a black box to know what that webhook is doing, partners can have their banded identity and the specifics of what that action is doing, such as creating a new row in a Google Sheet.
Cognitively, this makes using integrations easier as there is less of an unknown with respect to how our tools are working together, and better visibility into how the customer’s experience is being improved.
Elsewhere, to allow customers to get started quickly, our partners are able to create automation recipes. Where a partner sees common use cases for their integration they’re able to create a recipe, allowing customers to easily add an automation to their account.
Our goal is to make the integration and continued user experience as seamless and self-serve as possible.
What is your internal process for figuring out the integrations your customers need?
We are a very customer centric and customer-led organization. Today, we have 100k customers with no less than 50 ways to capture their feedback and listen to their needs.
This starts during onboarding, we ask what types of tools and products they're using and looking to integrate with. This continues with routine NPS surveys, is extended by our different social and community groups with customers supporting and helping one another, and weaves into our service, support, and user experiences practices internally.
As there are requests, we have a good pulse for how frequently an integration is being asked for and who’s asking for it. With this, we’re able to both prioritize the integrations and partnerships we should build, as well as understand from the customers what their desired use cases are for an integration.
Do you have the ability to track integration usage and errors?
For our many integrations, we’re able to see the number of connections, API requests, and the like while customer data is always kept secure and private. Likewise, we track support requests and questions regarding integrations.
All of this is in effort to improve the customer experience, learning where we need to improve or expand the capabilities of an integration.
What is your advice for companies who are in the beginning stages of building product integrations?
First, listen to your customers. Always orient around what customers are saying, and what they are asking for. From there, if it makes sense, decide which integrations you’re up for taking the responsibility to build and maintain.
Second, if you’re getting requests to extend your product in a number of different ways or you’re not quite sure where to begin, look to open an API or build an integration with an integration platform as a service (iPaaS). This will allow others to extend your product in many different ways, and you’ll learn how you can best evolve an ecosystem of integrations and partnerships.
Any other thoughts on building a tech ecosystem around a SaaS product?
Ecosystems, integrations, and partnerships are all an incredible opportunity for growth.
At ActiveCampaign, we see this as a way to expand the capabilities of our product while bringing together and building automation into all the tools that impact a customer's experience. For us, it’s a new wave of growth and opportunity for our customers.
Thinking about it in this lens, using an ecosystem and partnerships to support your customers, will end up improving your business greatly.