Product Leaders Share Best Practices for Building API and Integrations Roadmap
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.
Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, we hosted a discussion with product and product partnership leaders on how they build out API and Integration Roadmaps. Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Chloe Wu from Gusto, India Anderson from Avalara, Deven Ravel from Reputation, and Matt Marum from SugarCRM.
You can join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to see the full event recording, but we wanted to share some of the insights, which included what framework to use when prioritizing integrations, how to balance the go to market value of an integration partnership against the product value of the integration, vanity metrics to avoid when prioritizing integrations, and more.
Biggest challenges around establishing an API and product integrations roadmap compared to traditional product roadmap
When discussing the biggest challenges to developing an API/product integration roadmap compared to a traditional product roadmap, panelists agreed that one of the major differences was targeting a different persona. In the case of building an API, Matt Marum stated that the persona is not a traditional customer but a developer partner, and so there can be a learning curve when it comes to determining the needs you’re building to address.
India Anderson from Avalara added that there’s a necessary balance between what’s necessary for your own product vs. what’s ideal for your developer users based on where their product roadmap is, and that companies should keep in mind that they’re selling the ability to provide a service not the ability to consume a service.
Deven from Reputation brought up the challenge of defining the strategy behind integration roadmaps, and balancing the future go to market with existing customer needs.
He shared an example where product teams might have a vision and they define an ICP and go to market strategy, but a larger tech partner then promises to bring new accounts, verticals or market segments that you previously weren't a part of. Defining a strategy of how to prioritize and balance these two things takes time.
Chloe Wu from Gusto agreed and added that when creating an Integrations Roadmap, you don’t want to fall in love with the first solution you come up with, and you want to look at different alternatives and discuss their benefits and trade offs.
She also shared that avoiding scope creep when working with a partner can be a challenge if goals are not clearly defined and revisited throughout the partnership, especially when managing additional requests from partners.
She advised the audience to keep the initial goals of their partnerships at the forefront of their conversations and decision making processes, and filter requests as they come up with these goals in mind.
Best processes to ensure that the core product roadmap aligns well with the integrations and API roadmaps
Deven from Reputation described a cadence used at his previous, early stage company where product leadership would meet with him and other go to market leaders to talk about what integrations they anticipate might come up as they were shipping new product features or new modules.
“We wanted to try and get ahead and think through ‘if we're saying that our product is going to do these things, are there going to be gotchas where we are just creating a bunch of 80% solutions versus something that can be really expansive?’”
Overall he mentioned that even in later stage companies, creating processes so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to integration strategy will help with aligning product and partner teams.
Matt Marum from SugarCRM reminded the audience that the integrations and use cases that companies might be building on top of their API are not necessarily the same ones they are targeting when looking to partner.
He pointed out that companies must build the right APIs to target external consumers that they want to recruit.
India Anderson from Avalara shared that getting to a minimum feature that is going to be a “minimum lovable product”, and getting customer feedback on that product as soon as possible, is what drives a lot of the collaborative effort at her company.
She stated that while it can be a challenge to balance roadmaps, doing so helps create meaningful discussions across teams about what problems they’re trying to solve for the customer.
Chloe Wu from Gusto shares that one way to ensure there's alignment is to have an understanding of how your ecosystem strategy fits into the overall company strategy. Aligning on shared OKRs with the core product teams ensures teams won’t be pushing for different roadmaps.
Having clarity around these shared OKRs, and having a cadence to regularly check in with teams about them, can help gain more buy-in internally and the resources for success in building and meeting an API and integrations roadmap.
Best way to collect customer feedback and prospect feedback to feed into your integration roadmap to figure out what you should do next or iterate on
Panelists shared some tactical advice on how they have collected customer feedback. Deven from Reputation discusses the importance of training SDRs and AEs to “ask the right questions” during discovery calls as a way to get audience feedback.
For example, asking specific questions like “Why is our product going to be valuable for your overall business processes?” and “What are some tools you're currently using?” vs “ Why do you want to integrate with us?” can help you gain much more insights into what customers are looking to accomplish and the potential services you can provide.
Deven and Matt also discussed how they pull on their network of partners, resellers and SIs to get feedback about potential technology partners and customer solutions. Matt Marum specifically shared how resellers and SIs have been a powerful resource for him in identifying which potential tech partners and integrations would be most valuable to customers.
Deven mentioned using his network of consulting and agency partners to ask for feedback about their product and what they are hearing from their other SaaS partners.
“We’ll say, ‘Here's what our customers are integrating with today. If you had your wish list and access to all of our end points, what else would you do with this? What are you hearing with your other SaaS partners that might be valuable to take us to the next level?’”
He described how Including those SI partners in monthly or quarterly sessions with the product integration teams provided an outside perspective that one may not want to or be able to ask from prospects or customers.
India describes how her team at Avalara expedites their ability to get customer feedback by deciding exactly who their ideal customer would be when thinking about new products. This gives her team a clear idea of who they will be going to for feedback during the beta phase.
“When we talk about adding things within our roadmaps, it is really important to have your ideal customer in mind and to specifically start thinking about who that customer is that you’re going to involve in beta so that you can ensure that you are prepared for that feedback cycle.”
Common missteps organizations make when creating integrations and API roadmaps
Deven and Matt stressed ensuring that organizations should consider all the resources required for building a marketplace or robust public APIs. This includes the processes and staffing required to support your partners.
Matt described how at SugarCRM they’ve implemented processes for developer relations around their API to ensure they are proactively communicating about changes. Some of these processes include quarterly developer webinars, a release preview program, newsletters, a blog and a dev community.
India pointed out the importance of not being so focused on launching a product that you’re not thinking about the ongoing need for improvement. She makes the point that in the API space, partners are not only depending on the product you're building, but on the fact that it will continue to be stable and maintained.
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.