Processes for Tracking Partner Influence in the Sales Pipeline

Elizabeth Garcia

Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance and in collaboration with Tech Partnerships Ecosystem we had a discussion on Tracking Partner Influence and Attribution in the Sales Pipeline on Clubhouse with partner sales leaders at Salesloft, Quora, NoFraud, and Partnered.

We wanted to share some of the highlights of the conversation, which included advice for tracking partner influence and getting internal buy-in using CRM systems, how to collaborate with partners to drive sales, and tactics for motivating and enabling sales teams to work with partners. 

Our CEO Cristina Flaschen spoke with Dante Gordon (Partner Sales Director at Salesloft), Allon Massil (Former SVP of Sales and Partnerships at NoFraud), Noam Cadouri (Head of BD and Sales Strategy and Operations at Quora), and Adam Michalski, (CEO and Co-Founder of Partnered). 

Read on for conversation highlights, and access the audio recording here. The conversation begins at the 6:15 timestamp. 

What are some of the biggest challenges with tracking partner influence and attribution on sales? Why is this such a challenge?

Dante: When it comes to partnerships, a lot is measured against a long history of marketing lead attribution. Oftentimes those are equated in the same fashion.

That's one of the challenges I've had at some of the companies I've worked with. It's also hard to determine what influence a partner is providing, because they're not in the same office as you, and you don't know the conversations that they're necessarily having with customers and prospects. 

The bigger challenge is when people have much more familiarity with marketing lead attribution. They aren't used to working with partners, and want to equate the two in the same way. That creates challenges in terms of really understanding and appreciating the impact and the level of influence that partners can have. 

Allon: In my experience, when you're dealing with partners and sales teams this falls into two categories: partner referrals, which is an easy to track and identify the source of, and then partner influence. Partner influence doesn't necessarily originate from the partner, but the interaction or recommendation is made by the partner to drive the opportunity down funnel. 

As Dante mentioned with marketing attribution, I think a big problem is that many people still look at attribution from a first-touch perspective, meaning, the initial way the prospect heard about the company. They tend to only capture that first touch attribution in their CRM or their marketing automation platform. So, you'll see things like "organic", "Google Ad", "LinkedIn Ad" or "G2 review", etc. 

There isn't a good understanding of how to properly track partner influenced opportunities when they get stuck, or when you're trying to book meetings. In my opinion, that’s one of the bigger challenges. 

Adam: Yeah, I think it's a multifaceted problem. To start, you have to define what influence actually means. That's where I think a lot of folks will fall short because it's really tough to define and get the internal buy-in from the sales organization. If you don't do that to begin with, it’s like building a house without a solid foundation, because no one is actually going to believe it when you're reporting on influence down the road. 

So, I think that's really the first step. For us, when we work with organizations, we tend to think about sourcing and those initial introductions. That's the first-touch point as Allon said. Influence is arguably as important, if not more important. There's a variety of different ways in which a partner can influence. They could provide a recommendation, they can give you information, and more. Any additional touch points can really help you fast track your deal cycle. 

All in all, I really do believe that first step is like making sure that you understand and define what influence is, get buy-in from the internal teams, and then you can start to focus on the tougher attribution problems which definitely still exist today.

Noam: I think everybody has brought a lot of different types of pain points to the floor. You've got the questions of “how do you tactically go about logging different events?” and “how do you do analysis on your CRM to figure out what's working and what's not?” We’ve also had someone share that partner value is multifaceted. It could come in the form of an introduction, a referral, or a material that’s sent.  

What's really fantastic here is the audience is getting to hear all the different ways that partner driven sales can accelerate a business. One of the ways that you help manage this, or at least that I've seen be successful from a process standpoint, is to really narrowly define the objectives of a partnership in the agreement so that it's not so open ended.  

That way you have “point-one to point-two” workflows that are very set. Achieving something like that can be a challenge, but I anticipate that we're going to be diving in to those details shortly. 

Related Content: Leveraging Partner Data & Tracking Partner Influence on Sales

What are some of the processes, systems, and technologies that you have used in the past to help with influence and attribution within the sales pipeline?

Allon: Dovetailing from Noam’s point, before we started anything at my prior companies there was a good understanding between our internal partner and sales teams about how this was going to work and how this benefits everyone.

Secondly, we would have a conversation with our RevOps team to figure out what we wanted to track, how we wanted to track it, and how we were going to report on this information. We wanted to use this information to better understand what's working, what's not, and what's getting lost in the shuffle. 

In the past we would leverage our CRM Salesforce, and put in data when there was partnership assistance to track that in the opportunity. For example, we’d prompt representatives to ask during meetings if partnerships assistance was requested. Then, in the CRM that would be labeled as "yes" or "no" with a date stamp. Then, we’d see if the partner actually assisted. If they did, we’d figure out who the was partner, and what was the assistance type. 

We started this in a freeform, text fashion just to gather some data. Then, once we saw some structured results, we created a drop-down in the CRM because that's easier for building reports and dashboards.

To summarize, the systems and processes we implemented included first, we had conversations and a consensus internally about what we wanted to do, and how we were going to measure success. Second, we leveraged our CRM and Salesforce as much as possible. We customized the Salesforce environment with the RevOps team to collect this data so that we can understand when it's being used, how it's being used, and if it's effective. Third, we leveraged the reports and dashboards to analyze against all of that. 

Noam: I love that framing. I think we can all imagine a perfect reporting attribution environment in our mind, at least abstractly, but the truth is when you launch partnerships, it's complicated. You're not so sure if they'll be successful. 

You might not even be sure what the value will be, but you might have a hypothesis that you'd want to track. So, a lot of what Allon was describing, where you’re sending out forms, collecting feedback manually, doing cuts in Excel, and analyzing the data, that ends up being a lot of the discovery work that is almost required whenever you want something like this up for the first time. Especially if the value isn't super narrowly defined.

As you crystallize what you want to scale with partnerships, the kind of partnerships you want to make repeatable, and how to launch those types of programs, you're able to build things like standard fields in Salesforce, and build your tooling so that feeds in those inputs in a more automatic way. That's if you're privileged and work with a company that's able to give you those resources.

I think a lot of companies get hung up where they see this perfect end-state of attribution, and all these dashboards and reports and cuts that they would like to have happen. That is the end state certainly, but I think the grand truth is you're gonna learn as you go, and the starting point is non-scaled solutions. 

Cristina: Yeah, I totally agree with everything that you just said around not optimizing for the end-state too soon. I think there's a lot of impulse to buy tooling to do all of these things, but if you don't know what you're looking to track in the beginning, those tools won't necessarily help you. 

Dante: I want to echo some of what Noam and Allon mentioned in terms of using the CRM in the beginning to track that data. We’ve taken a crawl, walk, run approach. First, start to figure out what are the important elements you want to track within partnerships based on what makes sense for your business. We started building out a model for when partner assists have been initiated. We included the partner type and the level of influence with this. 

I also agree with the other point about getting buy in from from RevOps and sales teams on what is going to be tracked and measured. Along with that, get some data,  learn from it, and constantly iterate to improve it so that you come up with an analysis that provides what you need to understand the role each department is playing. 

One other thing I wanted to add around tools and processes is leveraging new tools like dynamic account mapping platforms like Crossbeam. They have been tremendous in terms of being able to help identify accounts where there is an opportunity to potentially source business through partnerships or influence it. This provides yet another way to quantify where a partner has an existing relationship that you can leverage through the partnership.

That system has been transformational in terms of moving away from spreadsheets and trying to figure out where you have the opportunity to partner. It gives us the ability to zoom in, and focus specifically on a defined sets of targeted accounts and customers that we can work on with partners, and gives us insights in terms of the the nature of the relationship that our partner has. 

Adam: I spent five years working for a mobile attribution company, so the whole topic of attribution is super fascinating to me. Particularly when it comes to applying the marketing lens to attribution towards partnerships, I think we are still in the first setting here. Things are going to accelerate pretty quickly. Today, most companies that we see are basically just tracking sourced and influenced manually, usually on the opportunity object in a CRM. 

There are some automations and things you can do with PRMs as well, like deal registration and having those track into objects; However, for all intents and purposes, everything is tracked extremely manually today. This leads to the issue where a lot of this data just frankly isn't being tracked or just falling through the cracks.

When organizations do actually track this well, it becomes very apparent how impactful and how efficient the partnership channel is when it comes to closing deals faster, closing them more efficiently, and driving up deal sizes. For anyone who was at Crossbeam’s Supernode, this was talked about in almost every single presentation. Despite this, there’s still this major attribution gap. I think a lot of that is because, frankly, the data didn't exist historically. 

In order to really solve this at scale, in a more automated fashion, you have to understand the overlap of accounts across organizations, but also all the interactions and different touch points that are happening. Then, I think you can get to a place where this isn’t just something that a partner manager is responsible for manually tracking, because that will never scale. 

Because of Crossbeam and other account mapping tools that exist now, a whole new world of attribution is going to be unlocked over the coming years. I'm particularly excited about it, and I do think that there's going to be a lot of updates coming probably in the not too distant future.

I'm happy for the entire partnerships ecosystem in general. Not only because the data clearly supports how impactful this is, but because due to the lack of automation, many organizations have never really been to benefit from that.

Noam: One piece of guidance that I found really helpful is that it's good to pair the level of investment you put into your process with a level of value you're getting out of the program. 

For example, if you have a program that’s hypothetically generating a million dollars in annual revenue, you don't want to build a $100,000 process to attribute. Have lower level lifts in place, but also a plan for how you can continue to invest in your attribution process and tooling as that program scales.

It important to give your program the opportunity to scale in a way that's not hard tethered to a rigid process, because then you might start deviating from what you actually want, which is to bring your organization value. 

You want to make sure that you're attributing that value, and continuing to invest and grow your process, but at the end of the day, your process shouldn't inhibit your growth. The process has a lifecycle where it starts at one point, and eventually graduates to be something really sophisticated, robust, and powerful. Just remember it doesn’t have to be that from the start. You can think about it as a spectrum instead of something that's hard and binary.

Cristina: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Even in the early days, the more data that you can capture to draw inferences, the better off you'll be when it comes to building, as you said, a million dollar program or even $100,000 program. Even if the data isn’t super well analyzed or the sample size is too small. Being able to say “I brought in XYZ. It's a small sample size, but we're seeing early signs of results” is a great way to make that case. 

What are some best practices for collaborating with partners to drive sales?

Allon: When thinking about how to collaborate with partners don't make any assumptions. Talk to your partners about what you're trying to do, and get permission and consensus. As everyone mentioned before, there's different types of partners and partner programs, and that comes with different expectations for the end result. So, first and foremost, get permission and get consensus on what you want to do. 

Get a sense of how partners can help and how you can reciprocate. Second, once you have some high level agreement, take the time to create a formal process. I'm a big fan of workflow diagrams, just because it helps visually clarify how the engagement is going to work. This can be for your internal teams once you get a partner request or for the partner itself when it comes to partnership assistance, outreach, etc. 

Really outline what engagement will look like, which internal or external teams are going to be involved, what their expectations should be, and how you will support the partner. Whether you're doing this manually, keep track of this processes, and think about how to make sure you're not saturating a partner with too many requests and vice versa. All in all, talk to partners to get permission or consensus, create processes and workflows to outline this process (internally or externally), and then track these requests. Lastly, make time for celebrating successes and understanding failures.

Noam: 100%. I think people often I think that because it's a company, it knows what it's doing. The truth is that’s sometimes the case, but at the end of the day, it's a collection of people. What is a partnership really? It's just people coming together on a project, right? Now the project could be a one-off or it could be an ongoing engagement.

When you want to set something up for success, communication needs to be built in. Just like internal companies have a project manager, it's good to have someone take on that role in a partnerships scenario as well. This person can come in and create whatever cadence makes sense based on what you're trying to achieve.  

They can have information going both ways, identify clear action items and deadlines, and can talk about what you're able to capture and what you're not able to capture. All in all, communication is paramount. Even if a partnership is super invested, built-up, and there's a technical integration that’s going smooth this is still important because API's can change. 

Also make sure that you’re value-aligned with your partners. You're forming a coalition, and so, define what that coalition is about, who's doing what, and how you are you going to cooperate as business entities and not people on a project. Understanding that is also really important. 

Dante: I’ll add that it's also about spending the time on enablement. This includes making sure that the sellers on each side truly understand what the mutual value proposition is. They should understand what the “better together” story is. Healthy, successful partnerships are really built on communication, shared and aligned values, and objectives for what you want to achieve through the partnership.

A mistake I've seen is not spending enough time making sure that the sellers, the people that are ultimately responsible for ensuring the success of the partnership, truly understand why the partnership exists, how they benefit, and how the partner benefits. You want to enable them to articulate that story both internally and to mutual customers and prospects. 

Another thing that is essential in terms of best practices is remember partnerships are about people. This is kind of stating the obvious, but I think it's really important to take time to build the interpersonal relationships that I’ve seen drive the most successful partnerships. One of the things that we focus on is figuring out times to connect our teams to start to build those relationships. It’s old fashioned networking. 

When you're able to establish those connections, and build that trust, you've earned the right to be able to ask for more. This allows the potential for the partnership to take off, and for all parties participating to benefit.

Adam: Yeah, I definitely agree with what everybody has mentioned. One thing I’ll add is to not underestimate the bandwidth of a salesperson. They have a million things that they're doing on any given day. They can be the least forgiving when it comes to any new technology, because if you think about it, RevOps is looking at new technology all the time and putting it in front of them. 

A lot of the time, the shelf life of those technologies doesn't last very long. So, you have to have a lot of empathy for the salesperson when you are trying to get them on board. For partnerships people, co-selling makes a world of sense, and it's what we're gold on; However, the salesperson may only care to the extent that it's going to help them hit their number. 

Knowing this, you really have to communicate the value prop, how this benefits them, and provide them with the tools for enablement. What we've seen is that for about 5% to 10% of salespeople this will click immediately, and they'll know that it's going to be beneficial to chat with a partner. Still, that's around 90% of people who don't get it. For those folks, it takes a combination of enablement and making sure it super easy for them. 

I've seen really creative strategies enablement. For example, you can take all your account mapping data, and toss a happy hour together. Before the happy hour, let your account executives know where overlap is. Strategies like that make this easier for them, and I think it’s a good way to kickstart the engine.

Another thing that I've seen companies do really successfully is highlighting “wins” in case studies. Highlight cases where a big deal that closed super fast was partner influenced or partner sourced. Overall make it clear to the sales organization how important partners are. These are some ways that you can start instilling this as part of the sales organization.  

I was also having a conversation last week with Kyle, who's the Head of Partnerships over at Moveable Ink. They're at a 100% partner attach rate. All of their deals have partners attached to them, because they've gotten to the maturity curve where their sales team just won't sell a deal unless they speak with a partner. 

Now, that might not be feasible for every company. They’re in MarTech for example; However, I do think that they have a good playbook. They deploy a lot of those examples that I gave earlier.

Related Content: The Benefits of Reporting to Sales & Best Practices for Cross-functional Collaboration

What advice do you have for quantifying the value of partner influence within a burgeoning partner program? While sourced revenue is simple, figuring out how to get partner influenced revenue into a model to encapsulate ROI is more nuanced.

Dante: We built a simple model of identifying when a partner is attached and assisting on a deal. Then after getting a little bit of data, you can start to draw correlations. An example of some of those correlations can be “Deals that had a partner involved closed at a 60% win rate versus a 30% win rate without partner influence.” 

Start with some basic correlations. Look and see when a partner is involved in a deal, and see if that is having a positive impact on the results. Look at whether it's a lead conversion opportunity or closed successfully.

Using those simple correlations is how we got started. You then start to get buy-in and grab the attention of leadership to understand that there's something to this partner influence. Then, you can invest in getting more sophisticated.

Allon: That’s a great point that Dante is making. You can also use your CRM to track for some low-hanging fruit opportunities. You can track if partnership assistance requests were made, if the partner assisted, and the type of assistance.

Then, as you start to build reports and dashboards off of this information, look at what portion of your deals are being partnered influenced. See whether this is happening at the SDR or BDR level in terms of booking meetings, or whether it's more on the account executive level in terms of signups and closed-won revenue.  

You can also look at which sales reps or sales teams are leveraging partner teams or partner influence, because you can create that checkbox in there now. Then you can compare that performance to those that don't. You can also look at things like average sales cycle of deals with partner influence vs those without. 

Again, if you start to collect at least a small subset of data, you can start looking at it and building some reports to provide meaningful output immediately.

Noam: Exactly. You're hearing a lot of different recommendations, but the audience should be mindful that we don't know if you're using Salesforce, or a CRM, or what data you're tracking. At the end of the day, it depends on what you're tracking, how you're tracking, and if this data is in Salesforce or another CRM. 


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