VP Insights on Selecting Strategic Technology Partnerships & ROI Management

Gary Balliabio is the VP of Technology Partnerships at Cloudinary. He shares a framework for choosing strategic partnerships optimized for joint value, where technology partnerships bring the most ROI, and how to manage leadership expectations.
Written by
Elizabeth Garcia
Published on
August 9, 2023

On this episode of our podcast Between Product and Partnerships we interviewed Gary Ballabio, the VP of Technology Partnerships at Cloudinary. In this interview he shared his framework for choosing strategic partnerships, where tech partnerships bring the most value, and his advice for managing expectations around ROI. 

Suggested Technical Understanding for Technology Partnerships Managers  

Before his career in partnerships, Gary worked in engineering and product roles. From his experience, he believes that comprehending both the technology your company offers and business practices within specific markets is crucial for success. 

Gary notes that the technical understanding you do develop is meant to enhance your communication and ability to simplify complex concepts for various audiences, and suggests developing skills in explanations to the audience's level of understanding. 

Ultimately, those who can bridge the technical and communication gaps tend to excel in roles involving sales or technology partnerships. 

Making a Case to the Product Team About Building a New Integration

When making a case to the product team for a new integration, Gary explained that it's crucial to focus on comprehensive assessment and creating compelling arguments. This involves understanding the technology you're looking to connect on both sides. 

This includes identifying possible integration points and researching how an integrated solution would improve the end user experience. The rationale for bringing two technologies together should address a unique challenge or problem, and there should be proven demand for the solution.

He also suggested evaluating the technical characteristics of the company you're looking to integrate with to see if they have complementary technology and target audiences. This includes gauging whether the partnership addresses specific needs, even if from different angles.

All in all, Gary suggested including both technical and business aspects when building a case for integration to present to product teams and executives. 

By delving deep into an integration's potential benefits, explaining its unique value proposition, and aligning it with user needs, partnerships professionals can enhance their success and secure backing from relevant stakeholders.

Picking Strategic Partners Optimized for ROI

When picking strategic partners, Gary stressed that any successful technology partnership must start with the core technology and its integration and that both parties involved should have clear reasons for collaboration.

These reasons can range from one side adopting the technology to fill product gaps, to seizing monetary value or enhancing marketing and sales efforts.

Gary acknowledged that partnerships can be varied, spanning referral, reseller, OEM, embedded approaches, and more. With any type of partnership, however, there should be an alignment with both the technology and business aspects.

He suggested a framework where complementary fit and addressing technology or product gaps should guide partnership types, whether it's an integration, embedding features, or offering optional add-ons.

The framework also takes into consideration business alignment. This includes assessing target markets, buyer personas, and whether messaging will resonate.

Gary also advised taking into consideration the size of the partners that technology partnership managers may be looking to work with. Relationships and programs differs based on the size, like tech giants versus startups.

Each require different strategies. For example, for larger partners you have to figure out how to stand out among numerous collaborators, leveraging various programs and elevating your position.

Where Technology Partnerships Shine

Gary pointed out that ROI measurement varies for technology partnerships compared to systems integrator (SI) programs. While technology partnerships can lead to new business and opportunities, their primary role is in streamlining sales processes and helping overcome hurdles.

In B2B sales, the partnership bridges both the technical and business aspects of the sales process.

In the context of a B2B sales process, Gary spoke about two sides of the sale: the technology aspect and the business aspect. On the technology side, sales engineers collaborate with customer engineers to ensure compatibility with the architecture and setup. Simultaneously, the business side encompasses pricing, terms, and other related factors.

Gary highlighted that expediting the technology conversation is critical, and partnerships play a significant role in achieving this.

For instance, when a customer can be confident that your solution fits into their stack, and that you readily connect with partners they need and are familiar with, it simplifies the process, making it smoother to close the deal.

Ultimately, technology partnerships contribute to accelerating the sales cycle, and influence the time it takes to finalize deals. This is one of the strongest (and trickiest to track) aspects of ROI for technology partnerships.

Infusing the Partnerships Team or Partnership Manager into the Sales Process 

Gary highlighted the importance of integrating the partnerships team or partnership manager into the sales process, though how this happens depends on the organization's size and scalability. 

After establishing a technology partnership and defining the joint value proposition, he explained the necessity of making sure that sales teams and sales engineers on both sides of the partnership comprehensively understand its benefits. 

He emphasized that the downstream consumers of the partnership – not just the ones initiating it – need to fully grasp its value. 

Establishing an effective process for educating and supporting these downstream stakeholders is key to successful integration and realization of partnership benefits.

Advice for the First Technology Partnerships Hire 

Gary was the first US hire for Technology Partnerships and the inaugural VP of Technology Partnerships at his organization. 

He likened his advice to starting any new job – the initial phase involves thorough assessment. For someone starting their journey in a technology partnerships role, this includes taking a deep dive into the technology your organization provides and identifying potential complementary areas for partnerships.

Gary shared his experience of identifying complementary elements, as he did with CMSs and e-commerce providers at Cloudinary. He suggested tapping into internal resources like systems integrators and other technology partner managers who possess insights into partnership opportunities and popular technologies. 

Conversations with the sales team can also provide insights into customer needs, hurdles, and potential integration requirements.

From this assessment, he stated that relationships become pivotal, and suggested networking, connecting with peers in the field, and exploring different avenues. 

In essence, it's a process of assessing, building relationships, and actively seeking opportunities within the partnerships landscape.

Managing Expectations Around ROI

In order to manage expectations around a technology partnership program's ROI, Gary spoke about the importance of aligning overarching goals between technology partner managers and executive management, both in the short and long term. 

Executives might already have specific partnership ideas or objectives in mind, such as collaborating with industry giants like AWS or targeting mid-sized companies. 

"Defining the benefits expected from partnerships you're building is crucial," Gary shared. "This could involve generating new business sources or simplifying the sales process. For more ambitious goals that might take time to achieve, but clarity on incremental steps and anticipated returns is vital."

Communicating expectations and checkpoints within the organization ensures everyone comprehends the initial versus future returns post-partnership establishment.

Gary underscored the significance of planning and understanding timelines, as partnership establishment, integration, and launch require time. He acknowledged the complexity of this process and highlights the need to keep stakeholders updated. 

For those starting from scratch, he recommended pursuing multiple tracks simultaneously. This approach involves collaborating with both larger and smaller providers, and diversifying efforts to showcase progress with different partners in a shorter time frame.

Educating Internally About The Value Tech Partnerships Bring 

Gary emphasized that educating internal stakeholders about the value technology partnerships can bring is often necessary. He noted that the understanding of partnerships varies among different individuals and executives within and across organizations. 

Technology partnerships can have varying placements within an organization, sometimes existing as separate entities or falling under revenue-generating teams or product departments. The placement often reflects the organization's focus and objectives.

He pointed out that when setting up systems to track and report on ROI, while long-term benefits are important, short-term goals and checkpoints should also be considered. This is especially true for technology partnership teams that sit under revenue. 

He highlighted that technology partnerships can help fill product gaps, expedite sales cycles, and generate new opportunities. However, he suggested that generating new opportunities is typically not as prevalent as the acceleration of sales or addressing product gaps. 

When partnering to fill product gaps, it's important to convey to your company the resulting business growth, even if attributing the impact can be challenging. He advised using creative ways to collect data to effectively communicate the value added by technology partnerships.

How to Collect Attribution Data in the Early Stages 

Gary recommended involving teams such as sales, technology partner managers, and directors to input relevant information into CRM tools like Salesforce for example. 

He also shared the potential use of services like Gong that record sales calls and can be configured to identify keywords related to partnerships. While some automation is possible, he pointed out that a person is needed to validate the alignment between the data collected and metrics that are important to stakeholders and the organization. 

Lastly, Gary shared the importance of creating a streamlined process for gathering this information, consistently reviewing the data, and addressing any gaps. He admitted that acquiring this data is tricky, but underscores its significance in presenting value to executives and identifying its sources.

Listen to More Conversations About Technology Partnerships, Integrations and APIs

If you enjoy this conversation, check out our podcast page at https://betweenproductandpartnershipspodcast.buzzsprout.com/ to hear more conversations with experts.

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