The Future of Provider-to-Provider Partnerships: Interview with John Guido, CEO and Founder of P2P Global
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.
John Guido is the founder and CEO of P2P Global, a marketplace for IT solution providers to partner with other solution providers. Tech companies can sponsor their solution provider partners' presence in the marketplace.
John shared why he founded a provider-to-provider marketplace, how he sees the IT channel ecosystem evolving, the growing importance of provider- to-provider partnerships, and best practices for finding and managing partnerships.
What is P2P Global and what was the impetus for founding the company?
I am very fortunate for a career that provided me the opportunity to work with many IT solution providers. My roles spanned from territory and brand sales, marketing, strategy, to general management – and the IT channel was always part of my success.
Information Technology has clearly entered the era of specialization.
I’ve learned that vendors cannot be experts in every sector and solution providers fill this gap. Channel partners are often well-positioned to develop deep expertise to meet customers’ needs. But as I looked across the marketplace, I didn’t see an approach that was holistically addressing the IT Solution Providers.
At the same time, various skills are needed to design, implement, and support cross-brand and multiple IT vendor solutions. These solutions need to address challenges such as security threats and the proliferation of mobile devices, hybrid cloud hosting, and software as-a-service platforms. Some vendors address this with programs specific to their ecosystem but it doesn't extend beyond their particular solutions, so it’s not open to the industry.
We’ve started hearing a lot more about the need for trustworthy partner-to-partner (P2P) collaboration – the solution to filling skill gaps and presenting a more comprehensive front to customers.
The old way of forming partnerships ad hoc has not always delivered the needed flexibility, scale, and repeatable growth for solution providers. It has also been inefficient and sometimes costly.
P2P Global is a new marketplace platform for an ecosystem of trusted partners. P2P Global provides a simple and clear approach to posting project opportunities, reviewing and selecting proposals from a set of curated candidates, and facilitating partnerships.
Members of P2P Global are able to expand their business opportunities and find providers to fill narrow skill gaps, especially in new and emerging technology segments.
How do you see the IT ecosystem and how do you see it evolving in the coming years?
The ecosystem includes any firm who has specialized skills in the IT space. These skill sets and various vendor certifications can be leveraged for various needs - ongoing or single project partnerships, business development and relationship building so that you’re prepared when a need arises, complementary services to help grow your business, and more.
The goal for P2P is to be a destination where you can find the right partner for what you’re looking for that you can trust and to be able to help you plan for future needs.
Adoption of an ecosystem has increased immensely in the last few years and is still becoming more and more popular. Jay McBain from Forrester recently noted that 50% of companies are now using channel ecosystems, and IDC predicts that companies who don’t have one in place by 2022 will fail.
If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything last year, making adjustments on the fly as more businesses operate remotely and having an efficient way to find these partners so that you can scale your projects and focus on other valuable initiatives is critical.
Interesting point related to our membership profiles -- we are gaining traction with non-traditional IT solution providers too. These non-traditional solution providers could be considered “influencers'' -- but are still very engaged in IT projects. As an example, digital marketing agencies are partnering with other P2P members to implement end-to-end marketing projects that include web design, infrastructure, or even data insights.
If you were advising a solution provider who was looking for a partner, what would the most important criteria be in making the decision on which companies to partner with?
P2P partnerships can be a lot like a dating relationship. How do you ensure you have a match- across skills, culture, engagement models and business ethics?
Vetting well-defined skills is often the first step, but true success requires a much deeper analysis. Do the firms have similar approaches to working with clients? Can they truly deliver on the skills and solutions they advertise?
This is where our proprietary matching process and marketplace ecosystem can make a big impact by providing credible and vetted solution providers.
Any advice for solution providers who are seeking to look more compelling and attractive to potential partners?
We like to talk about using our platform to “find and be found.” Partnerships are a two-way street, so what’s useful to understand about a potential partner when looking to fill a skill gap is a good way to project yourself when showcasing your own skills and resources.
Solution providers in our marketplace find it very effective when partners include referenceable customer success stories, whitepapers, and solution collateral. Vendor and ISV specific certifications are also a great way to share relevant experience and skills, which we encourage including by providing specific areas in P2P Global to highlight those assets. The more detail you can provide about your firm, the better.
In your experience, what are the biggest reasons provider-to-provider partnerships fail?
Usually, a failure isn’t about one big problem. It’s often a combination of small issues that, when stacked together, impact the relationship.
As simple as it seems, setting detailed expectations for a project upfront and having a mutually agreed upon set of roles, responsibilities, timelines, and goals goes a long way.
Anytime you are sharing potentially confidential and proprietary client information there is a certain level of sensitivity that needs to be addressed so that the foundation of the partnership is built on trust and transparency.
We provide a Partnering Agreement for both parties to sign when they enter a partnership through us that aims to protect both parties should something go awry as they are finalizing the terms of their partnership.
What processes should be put in place to ensure the success of provider-to-provider partnerships?
A transparent and detailed onboarding process will set a solid foundation for any partnership. This includes setting detailed expectations for the project upfront and having a mutually agreed upon set of roles, responsibilities, timeline, and goals. Keeping the lines of communication open is also critical. We also encourage our partners to treat each other as they would a client, with periodic reviews, detailed reports on engagements and robust communication from the C-suite down to the field.
Is there an ideal number of provider-to-provider partnerships?
We don’t think there is an absolute right number for partnerships, but channel research tells us that 5-7 is the average, and that number is only growing.
It is all about finding partners with complementary skills that help deliver higher value to clients by addressing their needs across an IT project.
Partnerships can emerge from a number of different angles; around certifications, focused on particular geographies, or addressing specific industries, so a half dozen partnerships can develop very quickly.
The magic number is being able to treat each partnership uniquely and like it’s the only one. As soon as you can’t dedicate the necessary resources to make the partnership successful, you’ve gone too far.
What is your advice for a company that wants to scale the number of provider-to-provider partnerships they have?
Joining an ecosystem like P2P Global can be critical in scaling your business. It makes it so easy to keep track of partners, find new ones that you can trust, and even find new business for your firm.
Doing so ad hoc takes up valuable resources like time and money and has the risk of failing if your partner turns out to be less than they advertised. In a word, be selective. Make sure the partnerships meet a well-defined need and can be nurtured in a meaningful way for sustained success.
Should these relationships remain high touch or is there a way for them to be effectively low touch?
There are certainly cases for both high and low touch relationships, depending on the frequency of the need plus the complexity of the skills and solutions.
We encourage our members to stay in contact once they’ve established a working relationship, but we’ve designed P2P to help them quickly re-engage and leverage new and emerging skills. We also suggest partners keep their profiles up to date with new skills, vendor relationships, and customer success stories.
On P2P Global, technology companies can sponsor their channel partners. What are the different relationships in the marketplace?
We want to provide flexibility depending on the needs of our customer. There are several ways to join P2P Global and become an active member by creating and responding to opportunities:
Solution Provider (channel partner) can self-fund their memberships
Solution Providers (channel partners) can register their firms with P2P Global and their employees become active members that can create/respond to opportunities.
Solution Providers (channel partners) can be sponsored by a Technology Partner
For the P2P Global marketplace, Technology Partners are the creators of technologies and services that serve the IT industry. Typically, these are Vendors/OEMs, SaaS Solution Providers and/or ISVs that leverage channel partners as part of their go-to-market strategy.
The Technology Partner Program allows for sponsorship of their channel partners. The Technology Partner Program value proposition includes:
Retain and grow channel partner network
Operational efficiencies (lead passing, referrals, service requests)
Differentiate value proposition to channel partners
Integrate an open ecosystem as an extension of traditional channel programs
The P2P Global software platform may be provided under a licensing model
For those Technology Partners that want to offer their own version of an ecosystem platform to their channel partners, a P2P Global private label licensing model is available. Our intent is to be flexible to accommodate the unique needs inclusive of branding, customization and integration.
How big of a role do you see for multi-party partnerships, where you have more than two solution providers or SaaS companies actively working a deal together?
We believe that it starts with two firms to create a partnership -- but clearly with more complex IT projects, more than two speciality skills may be required that will drive the needs for potential multi-party relationships. One classic example that typically required multiple firms to deliver on an end-to-end solution is with IoT projects.
Our members that create opportunities, in search of solving for skill gaps, really play the quarterback role. As such, they can create multiple opportunities for one IT project -- solving for each skill gap across the project. Then, all of the parties come together to deliver an end-to-end solution.
How do you see the increase in digital discovery and online purchasing from enterprise buyers affecting the partnership landscape?
There is no doubt that end user buyers are taking advantage of digital discovery, comparing/contrasting brands and solutions. So, end user clients are getting smarter on what they want and why.
In a way, this now places even more demand on channel partners to become very skilled and specialized in order to provide a compelling value proposition. In addition, as a trusted advisor, the channel partners that leverage an ecosystem approach become more valuable as they solve their customers' needs across a wide spectrum of specialized needs.
Any other advice for solution providers or technology companies looking to grow through partnerships?
Almost every vendor is considering development of an ecosystem platform to facilitate channel growth, partner-to-partner interaction, and services orchestration. The reasons are varied, but mainly they can be summarized by a few key points:
IT solutions are now more complex and multifaceted than ever.
No one vendor or service partner is delivering the entire customer solution.
Shift to more service-centric multi-vendor models.
To provide continued value to channel partners, facilitation and enabling P2P engagement is essential.
Channel partnerships go beyond service delivery. Often there needs to be partnership at the selling stage of an engagement as well or to support even earlier business development efforts.
Channel partnerships do not fit the “RFP method” of skills sourcing due to the highly guarded nature of customer relationships and other confidentiality concerns.
Solution Providers can play both supplier and buyer depending on the deal and end user customer relationship.
Clearly, ecosystem platforms are becoming more in demand with recognition that a P2P approach can deliver value and competitive advantage.
While leveraging a platform like P2P Global is an efficient means to partner, in the end, it is just a tool. When implementing these types of tools, organizations need to also consider their culture, leadership, ownership, and how their P2P approach will become the new norm for strategic growth.