Partner Qualification

Introduction to All Things Partners

A quick note from LeadMD’s CMO, Andrea Lechner-Becker, before getting into the heart of this article.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard someone talking about partner, alliance, or channel marketing and sales recently. Now, keep that mitt in the air if you’ve heard anyone provide actionable ways to qualify and engage these people and companies. I don’t need to see you to know your hand went down, because we don’t see anyone talking about this, which is why this month and next we’re focusing on partner marketing and overall enablement. In this article, our VP of Sales, Josh Wagner, explains the similarities between prospecting partners and what we like to call “future customers” AKA prospects.

How do you define partner?

The partner world can seem a bit like the wild west. Some organizations have folks dedicated to partner development, some leverage key members of the sales team, others simply have executives take the reigns. What I’ve found consistently is the lack of a blueprint to run a successful partner program.

As LeadMD’s  sales leader, I’ve found myself thrust into our partnership development role. I’ve looked high and low for an instruction manual, but in a world where it seems there’s a playbook for everything, partner programs are noticeably absent.  I feel a bit like I did when I left the hospital with my first child… left to figure it out on my own. Sure there are people you can lean on, but there certainly isn’t a definitive guide.

Stand Out with Qualification

Like the parenting advice you seem to get from the most random people, I’m going to give you some advice to stand out in the sea of partner people. Successful partnership comes down to a single word, qualification. I’ve come up with 3 key qualification criteria.

  1. The partner in question MUST solve a common problem for your customers
  2. You must know specifically how you are going to drive success for YOUR PARTNER
  3. You must know specifically how the partner is going to drive success for YOU

Find the Common Customer Problem

The first critical component to partner evaluation is to determine if the potential partner solves a consistent problem for your customers. Nice-to-have’s are just that … nice. They do not move the needle and are therefore not worth the time.

LeadMD is a services based business, we help our customers grow revenues through our Revenue Acceleration Framework. Our business is focused on outcome-based results. If we don’t create positive outcomes, we don’t earn repeat and referral business. Partners in our world have to enable outcomes for our customers. Together, we must get shit done.

Examples: Bizible and Drift

One of the most common problems we solve for our customers is visibility into marketing performance. The common MarTech issue of not providing ROI is an absolute killer for the vendors we support and we’re in an all-out battle to destroy the MarTech issue of buying tech and then being unable to quote revenue lift from the implementation of that tech.

To solve for this, we started a partnership years ago with Bizible. Bizible (recently acquired by Marketo, Marketo recently acquired by Adobe) provides a solution to create this visibility consistently on top of core platforms the majority of our customers leverage, making them a natural partner for us.

Likewise, Drift understands the need for revenue recognition and created a calculator (check it out here) for their clients to understand what type of return they can look forward to in both time savings and beginning the conversation earlier in the consideration phase.

Better than Yesterday Tip*

Make a simple bullet list of the top 3-5 most common pains you solve for your customers. Then use those to pro-actively look for potential companies that can help solve those problems for your customers. Let’s say you’re Marketo (or is it Adobeto now!?!) one of the most common pains you solve is creating a central repository of data for the Marketer. Well, that requires well-structured and clean data to be really effective. Your partner evaluation would start with companies like Lead Genius, DiscoverOrg or ZoomInfo.

How will you drive success for your partner?

The second component is based on knowing how to give before you get. If the first criteria of a partnership is met, then there should be no problem referring them business. That’s why they want to partner with you; they want access to your customers. If you skip the first qualification, the rest is a moot point. But, if you’ve qualified well, then your next objective is understanding how to get the partner solution in front of your customers.

Example: LeadMD

Using LeadMD as the example, I know that in order for our partners to get referrals from us consistently, we must achieve buy in from our delivery team. Our delivery folks are in the trenches with our customers day in and day out. If they believe a partner solution will make life easier for the customer, referrals will flow.

It’s up to me, as the leader of partnership, to arm our delivery team with the ammo they need to understand and validate the problem. This is often easier said than done. Executing on this requires persistence and diligence. It requires eavesdropping on calls and keeping partner solutions top of mind. In case you haven’t seen, there are thousands of MarTech vendors. Keeping our preferred ones straight requires a consorted effort.

Once my team understands the problem and solution, it’s also my job to ensure the referral process is easy. If our partners make referring deals hard, it can sour the relationship unnecessarily.

Better than Yesterday Tip*

Think about what group in your organization has the most to gain by making a referral. Hint: it’s probably not the sales team. The sales team has an incentive compensation plan to sell your product, it’s hard enough to sell your own product or service much less someone else’s. Look at your Success Team or Professional Services team who is responsible for the long term relationship and making the customer sticky. Maybe you even have a customer marketing team!

Most partner referral programs have rev share or referral spiffs attached to them. Share them with the team members who make referrals. The extra cash (even if it’s small) can be a big deal to folks who don’t have variable comp plans.

Partnerships: What’s in it for ME?!

The answer is referrals, right?

Possibly, but referrals aren’t the only answer. Let’s not beat around the bush, your success is likely tied to revenue, which is likely tied to your compensation.

I’m not one to refuse a referral, but if you think of this as qualification criteria, you need to know specifically how to get right fit referrals.

Example: LeadMD (again)

Using LeadMD as an example, I don’t start with the referral, I start with the ability to create services around the partner. If the partner solution has a natural services lift attached to it, there is a far better fit for us as a service-based business. The ability to create service offerings around the partner solution opens a ton of doors for me to generate revenue beyond the original referral.

This all sounds so kumbaya, right? But, listen, partnerships aren’t always easy. I know that software sales reps traditionally don’t like to co-sell with service partners. “It’ll slow down my deal!” they claim. And so, just like I suggested for my second point, try to identify who in the organization is going to be the friendliest, because of pain in their day-to-day. I always start by asking for access to the partner Customer Success team as the entry point. From there I can get some early traction with my message and work my way into the sales organization.

Better than Yesterday Tip*

How will you measure success in your role? Chances are your compensation plan is tied to something that is important to your organization. Referrals aren’t the only way to make your number. What can you get from the partnership that will move the needle? Maybe it’s a rev share, the ability to create a new offering as a white label or maybe a flood of qualified referrals does the trick. Look at your comp and align how you pick your partners based on if they can help you meet your goals.

Conclusion: Partnership Qualification

Ten years and three kids later I’d say I’ve learned a thing or two about raising my kids; I may even offer a bit of advice to a friend now and then. Five years with LeadMD and a ton of partner trial and error has helped me formulate this set of qualification criteria which ultimately saves me time for the kiddos.

I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned growing your partner program. Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jwags16

*Better Than Yesterday is a core value of the way LeadMD does business and how we conduct ourselves. We ain’t perfect, but today, we’re better than yesterday and tomorrow we’ll be better yet. We push each other, because the status quo is our competition. ‘Good enough’ is our enemy. We believe small improvements result in BIG impacts

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