Best Practices for Cross-Functional Collaboration in Tech Partnerships
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, partnership, and engineering leaders to discuss best practices for cross-functional collaboration in tech partnerships. Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Roger Haas from Pantheon, Jamie Boardman from Mailchimp, Kenneth Marks from Olo, and John Greene from Airship.
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 leadership teams should think about aligning KPIs for different departments, as well as, common goals and pain points from each department.
How should leadership teams think about aligning KPIs for different departments, so that tech partnerships can serve the organization’s objectives? What are some common missteps you’ve witnessed when setting KPIs?
All the panelists agreed that it’s important that there is a sense of a mission that organizations are working towards from the top down, and horizontally across departments.
Kenneth and Jamie, however, brought up the point that this can be counterproductive when specific initiatives or tasks start to come from the top down, instead of deferring to those who are managing teams across the organization to decide how their teams will move the needle towards KPIs.
Jamie described how at Mailchimp they don’t set performance indicators that are too far downstream from the work that individuals are actually doing, and they avoid over communicating the goals of their KPIs.
He shared that in order to allow teams to be able to work with something that's tangible and measurable, whatever the KPI, it's up to teams to decide how the work they're doing will contribute to meeting those KPIs.
“For example, the KPI itself may have something more related to revenue. For us at Mailchimp on the product partnership team we focus on the number of connections to Integrations or apps. Product marketing may have their own kind of upstream metrics like social Impressions, open rates on emails, etc. We know that those connections are highly related to revenue, but we don't want these different things to focus on the revenue aspect of what they're doing, we want them to be able to work with something that's tangible and measurable to the work they're doing.”
- Jamie Boardman, Director of Product Partnerships at Mailchimp.
Roger from Pantheon shared the necessity of gaining clarity around what your CEO and C-suite think when they think about “partnerships.” He described that partnerships can be revenue defined, marketing defined or product usage defined.
Roger advised organizations to stack rank against these different definitions when determining their KPIs, and to avoid getting locked into specific KPIs given that these definitions can change as your organization goes from early to late stage.
John brought up the difficulty of aligning with typical product KPIs and to define metrics specific to partner integrations and implementation. He explained that with a public API, it's not always clear how and why customers are using integrations and that has to be accounted for when structuring goals.
From the perspective of each of your functions, what should other departments know and understand about your goals and pain points? What might they be missing when it comes to building tech ecosystems?
From a Product Manager’s perspective, Kenneth suggested that other departments shouldn’t only view PMs as the only people who make business cases for opportunities that exist within the organization.
He suggested that there should be a sense of shared responsibility when it comes to bringing up customer problems, potential solutions and business opportunities, because this allows the organization to have multiple ears to the ground to get solutions to customers quickly.
“I think every department can do its part to get as much information when there is a problem. Put that product manager hat on for a second, elicit as many requirements as you possibly can, and keep that information flowing into the product, because there's likely always more information that can help us determine that something should be more of a priority than it is today.”
- Kenneth Marks, Associate Director of Product Management at Olo
From an engineering perspective, John described that he often has to explain the difficulty that comes with scaling resources when adding new integrations.
He explained that often when adding a new integration, one or more resources on the team has to become a subject matter expert in that partner company, their technology, and use cases. John advised organizations to be cognizant of this, and to define the line between what their organization does and what a partner does.
From a partnerships perspective, Jamie and Roger shared similar sentiments about other teams understanding that partnerships are balancing many partner requests internally and externally. They explained that because partnership teams work with many different teams, it can become difficult if there is not a clear process for managing requests, or if other teams are not clear on what the priorities of the partnerships team are.
Jamie shared a process they have at Mailchimp to manage internal requests, where other teams can fill out a form in detail with information that partnerships can use to evaluate, opportunity size it, and compare requests to what's already on their roadmap.
To limit the amount of requests that aren’t in line with what the product partnerships team is actually working on, he suggested having an information campaign internally to educate people about what product partnerships generally are, what their goals are, and why.
Communication Practices and Software That Helps Enable Cross Functional Collaboration
Office hours were a common practice that Kenneth and John both shared at Olo and Airship.
“From the product manager side, we have weekly office hours where people can come to bring us feature requests or a complex issue related to an integration. it's time for others to come in and learn from the product teams.”
- Kenneth Marks, Associate Director of Product Management at Olo
Kenneth explained how office hours allows people to see product as approachable and empathetic, and that it gives other teams a chance to gain clarity around the PMs decision making process, and what information they want to know in order to determine the impact of an opportunity.
John spoke highly of how retrospectives run by program managers at Airship have allowed his teams to come out of projects with actionable intelligence and improved collaboration. He described that they use a retrospective tool called Retrium when leading retrospectives with anyone who touched a project, including engineers, designers, product managers, etc.
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.