7 Insights from SaaS Partnership Leaders
Last week I met some of the wildly talented leaders breaking new ground in partnerships. I attended the 10th annual SaaS Connect, a conference for and by B2B partnerships executives. Below you’ll find a collection of quotes that have stuck with me since I left the event. Most of these insights are useful whether or not your partnership work is in B2B SaaS.
Since I wasn’t able to attend every session, the insights below reflect those who I heard and spoke with. I unfortunately missed (or had to step away during) some great talks from Crossbeam’s CEO Bob Moses, Pronto’s CEO Swaroop Kolli, G2’s Director of Partnerships Brittany Wroblewski and many others.
The Cloud Software Association (CSA), which hosts SaaS Connect, is powerful community for those working in B2B partnerships. Huge props to CSA CEO Sunir Shah (CEO of Appbind) and the CSA board and volunteers that put on a great event. I recommend CSA’s Slack channel and speaker series for useful advice from partnership leaders operating on the frontlines.
1. “It’s not prioritization unless it hurts.” - Amelia Kirby, Workplace from Meta
When someone utters “we need to focus” in a meeting no one will disagree. But don’t expect nodding heads when you get specific about what focus really means and the projects that you or your team cannot support. Prioritizing means saying “no” or “not right now” potentially to your leadership and your internal partners. Doing that effectively is a skillset unto itself that is so often overlooked. Establishing and communicating your principled approach to prioritization is an art form that partnership leaders need to master.
2. “The four P’s of partner ecosystem management: product, partners, programs and people. Too often we overlook that last one.” - Laura Padilla, Zoom
Laura spoke passionately about the challenges of her scaling her team as Zoom’s valuation grew over 5x. Few companies have faced that kind of demand and many that have did not survive. Laura highlighted how important it has been to focus on her team's health and wellness throughout Zoom's pandemic rocketship ride. Laura’s simple framework can be applied to most partnership teams.
3. “The #1 skill of partner professionals is entrepreneurship … if you’re hiring your first partner pro, screen for start-up skill sets.” Allan Adler, Digital Bridge Partners
Builders needed! Partner ecosystem building is still a new domain and my conversations at SaaS Connect served as a reminder of how much companies are uncovering new solutions and learning from each other. This kind of work requires a startup mindset - even at large, publicly-traded companies. Customers’ needs are constantly evolving and they are looking for their partners to work together to solve their problems. Partnerships requires leaders who can blend together sales, product, marketing, legal, operations, etc.
4. “Once your partner program is finished, so are you.” - Cory Snyder, Sendoso
Partner programs grow and evolve along with your business, your customers and your products. If you think your work is done, then you’re lost.
5. “Service partners are technology companies even if they don’t write a line of code.” - Scott Brinker, HubSpot
Agencies, system integrators and consultants play a role in the decisions made by leaders at SMBs and large enterprises. Service partners are sometimes overlooked, despite the role they have played in scaling partner ecosystems for (and with) Salesforce, AWS, Google, Workday, Shopify and others.
6. “Your partners are an extension of your team.” - Amy Gorman, Salesforce
Amy spoke forcefully about extending the same kind of compassion for your partners as you do for your own team. She organizes her team around providing partners with the services and materials they need to succeed alongside Salesforce’s teams.
7. “The last 10 years we’ve seen the explosion of CRM; next we will see the growth of ecosystem management tools.” - Amit Sinha, WorkSpan
Partnerships require their own set of tools to govern, track and measure collaboration between companies. And the startups building those tools are just getting started, including Crossbeam, PartnerStack, Partner Fleet and WorkSpan, Impact.com and others. Just as social networks connected consumers, ecosystem management tools will help connect companies and uncover new ways to partner and innovate together.
My apologies to anyone listed above whose quote I didn’t nail 100%. I tried my best to capture your words. And my regrets to the many speakers and vendors whose insights were not captured above.