Episode 4: Rory Blanton, Industry Relations Manager, Qualia

Rory talks about how Qualia defines & identifies partners, creating OKRs to drive co-selling efforts and using co-marketing efforts to drive sales leads.


Rory Blanton (Industry Relations Manager at Qualia) joins us on The CoSell Show!

 

Topics Covered:

    1. How Qualia defines and identifies partners to drive revenue

    2. Thoughts on creating OKRs to drive co-selling efforts

    3. Using Co-marketing efforts (i.e. webinars) to drive new business sales leads

Brought to you by our host: Taylor Baker for CoSell.io

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Follow Along With The Podcast Transcript

Taylor Baker:
Hello listeners and welcome back to The CoSell Show. I'm your host Taylor Baker and today's topic is driving partner revenue for your startup through co-selling. Our guest today is Rory Blanton of Qualia. Welcome, Rory.

Rory Blanton:
Thank you, Taylor. Happy to be on.

Taylor Baker:
To get us started off, could you please tell our listeners a bit more about your role at Qualia and the path that led you there?

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, sure. At Qualia, I run a team called the industry relations team, and what the industry relations team is tasked with is really to identify key strategic partners in our market and partner with those individuals to increase adoption of our product influence, pipeline generation, and really help us sort of speed up the sales cycle as we go to market. My path to get here is I guess a little bit unconventional. I was part of a sports organization before joining Qualia and really was in charge of our marketing, as well as a lot of our strategic partnerships and brand sponsorships with companies like Nike and Gatorade, things like that. Really came to Qualia through a connection I had through my previous company who was Scott Leese. Scott Leese is our senior vice president of sales at Qualia. He's I guess a pretty well-known guy in the sales industry. We just had sort of a conversation about openings at Qualia. Said I was a good fit for the sort of like partnership and co-selling role and the rest is history as they say.

Taylor Baker:
One of our favorite questions we like to ask here at The CoSell show is what is a fun fact about you that we can not find on your LinkedIn profile?

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, sure. I was looking at your guys' blog the other day and I saw your podcast with Matt Fox. He's talking about his Dad Bods Band.

Taylor Baker:
Yes.

Rory Blanton:
It's super interesting. I got to get to know Matt a little bit more because that sounds like a cool venture. I don't know if I have anything as exciting or engaging as that. I did grow up overseas. I moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in first grade and then spent five years there, and then five years in Casablanca, Morocco throughout middle school, and then moved back to the US around the start of high school.

Taylor Baker:
Were you a child of like the military or did your family just work there or are you just from there in general?

Rory Blanton:
My parents are teachers and they taught at international schools abroad and brought my sister and I along for the ride.

Taylor Baker:
I think that is on par with dad bods, you know? I mean, you grew up in the namesake of one of the most famous movies ever made.

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, it was a good experience. A good childhood for sure.

Taylor Baker:
Thank you so much for sharing that, Rory. Back on the co-selling train, I would love to know how you personally define co-selling.

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, it's a great question. Quite simply, it sort of can easily be defined as a mutually beneficial relationship, and it's a partnership. But if executed correctly, it really can be sort of your Salesforce on steroids. I think as the sort of world changes and the market changes and we start to see changing business models with SaaS companies and the shift of buyers from IT to sort of more business unit buyers, you kind of see this increasingly multichannel environment that's emerged. Really the play is to make sure that you're aligned with all these different partners that are in the ecosystem to help you move your own company's goals forward. Yeah, I mean, it's quite simply a partnership.

Taylor Baker:
With that in mind, how do you normally determine who you're actually going to partner with?

Rory Blanton:
I think you have to start with identifying your ideal customer. When you do that and you start speaking to them, I think you'll get a little bit more of a understanding of who are the influencers and partners in their worlds and who's important in their business. Qualia operates in the real estate industry. We're a tech company in real estate, so we have a sort of defined subset of partners. You have title companies and underwriters, realtors, lenders, obviously the buyer and the seller. All of these people play some type of role in influencing our sales efforts, our go-to market efforts. If we can identify who those people are that sort of surround our customer, we can really sort of align efforts and align our value prop to ensure that you're not only meeting our customer's needs, benefiting the sort of ecosystem as a whole.

Taylor Baker:
Once you actually do find them, what does it look like when you start the conversation about actually partnering?

Rory Blanton:
With any partnership, once we've identified who these people are that we want to align efforts with or work with, we have to engage them in a conversation about what's important to them. We really need to identify what those things are so that we can ensure that we have the solutions that are also going to meet the needs of not only their business, but our mutual client's business. Then we have to support them finally along the way. We have to sort of nurture that relationship and that partnership over time and hopefully foster a relationship that will grow and expand into more opportunities.

Taylor Baker:
That actually perfectly flows into our next question. How do you normally structure a co-selling partnership to ensure that everyone is engaged and driven to help each other?

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, sure. The partnerships have to be based on trust, on the relationship, and we have to make sure that the partnership is equally fruitful. How we keep that sort of engaging and keep our partners driven to help us as well as vice versa, we have to have a regular cadence of check-Instagram with some of our most important partners. We need to have QBRs or quarterly business reviews. We have to make sure that our goals and values are aligned in the things that we're doing.We have to structure these partnerships in a way that obviously leads to benefit both in the short term, but also we have to make sure that we're nurturing these relationships so that we have that sort of sustainable partnership over time.

Taylor Baker:
In that vein, do you have any examples of a partnership not going the way you wanted it to and how did you course correct?

Rory Blanton:
This is a tough one. I mean, I think sometimes the way that partnerships can go wrong is that you've taken an incorrect strategy to sort of maximizing impact with that partnership. One partnership comes to mind. We had developed sort of in person event and these lunch and learns. When we started hosting these events, no one was showing up and that was sort of troubling because we've put a lot of effort and money toward making it work. But really the biggest sort of barrier to that working was the clients that we were interested in speaking to didn't want to take the day off to travel to the seminars. They didn't want to take the day off work or spend time in the car during rush hour to make our morning meeting.

Rory Blanton:
Really we just had to pivot the strategy and go into a more easily accessible model, so we just created a webinar series based off some of the topics we were going to bring up in our lunch and learns and whatnot. That reaped many more rewards than the in person sort of strategy. Again, I think it's really just making sure you have a good understanding of your market, knowing how to reach them, and really reducing the friction for you and your partner to execute on the goals that you've agreed upon.

Taylor Baker:
Wow. That's a really great example of working with your partner to swiftly adjust to the needs of the market. Especially when you're planning an in person event, sometimes little things like they have traffic or weather come out of nowhere.

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, and I think obviously you have to deploy some empathy for the prospect you're trying to attract and kind of put yourself in their shoes at some level. But also it kind of goes back to ensuring that you've aligned with the right partners. I think when you, when you've done that, the willingness to sort of pivot on strategy or the willingness to engage in maybe a different method of acquiring customers is really crucial to the partnership being successful. Having that agility or that, that willingness to shift focus is really important because things change all the time. The market changes, business changes, and so aligning with a partner that is on the same page as you makes the process much easier.

Taylor Baker:
In that respect, what tactics and measures do you usually use to determine whether or not your partnership is successful?

Rory Blanton:
We have to really look internally at our activity with these partners and make sure they align with the different revenue goals that we've set forth. I mean, obviously revenue would be number one to see if the success of your partnership is flourishing or not. We sort of look at revenue in a few different ways with these partners. We look at it from a generation standpoint. Are our partners bringing new business to the table? Are they introducing us or are they a referral to prospects that we are wanting to speak to? Are we setting new appointments or new meetings with those with those individuals? We also look at it from a sales cycle acceleration standpoint. Our current sales cycle is probably a 45 to 50-60 day sales cycle. Pretty long.

Rory Blanton:
When we introduced these partners and we used them to sell alongside with, we reduced our sales cycle 30 to 50%. It's a pretty impactful means to acquiring business. Then lastly, we look at it from sort of a "resurrection" standpoint. Any deal that might've gone cold or the deal has just stalled in some way, sometimes we can use our partners to resurrect that deal and get it back in the pipeline and start a conversation again.

Those are sort of the ways we track revenue. But I think one of the more impactful ways that we're coming to see with as we sort of grow and learn what we're doing with this team is looking at just general market penetration. Using these partners who mostly are industry veterans or they're industry influencers, thought leaders in this space, these individuals have really helped us identify product gaps that we've maybe overlooked or haven't seen. A lot of the industry we're in is very regionalized, so there's a lot of differences and nuances state to state and region to region. Having someone that has that market intelligence and that sort of business intelligence to help guide our product decision or marketing efforts or sales effort has been really impactful. We've utilized these partners again to identify product gaps, but also help us navigate through different regionalization or regulatory blockers and really get us into those markets much, much quicker than we would on our own devices.

Then I think lastly, we look at how do we utilize these partners and measure the impact of these partners through our retention rates, as well as cross sell and upsell opportunities. Really it's a sort of ambiguous space. We kind of live in a gray area in the partner world because there's so many avenues you can go down with the right strategic partner. But I would say those are the ways that we've defined it right now is revenue and sort of market penetration and then how are we also utilizing these partners after the sale has been made.

Taylor Baker:
Wow. It sounds like you've really found a lot of interesting ways to utilize partnerships to your advantage. I am especially a fan of the resurrection strategy. I have not heard it put that way. I think sometimes it's better to take a look back at the people you already know instead of trying to make a new introduction. It's interesting that a partner can be the gateway to that.

Rory Blanton:
Absolutely.

Taylor Baker:
What has your biggest success been in co-selling?

Rory Blanton:
I think it kind of goes back to the point you just made. The introduction is so vital to the sales process, especially if that's an introduction from a trusted partner of the prospect you're trying to work with. It can completely change the game for you. Like with many SaaS companies, we have some target accounts, strategic accounts, however you want to label it. We aligned with a partner, an individual that works in the industry that was able to facilitate sort of a co-hosted dinner that brought 10 of those top 20 accounts to the table and allowed us to get in conversation with those individuals and start to initiate that conversation. That was hugely impactful.

I mean, I don't want to put out revenue numbers or pipeline numbers of what that would be, but those are again the 10 of the top 20 accounts that exists in our industry. A really huge win for us overall just getting in conversations. Then I think there's other examples where we've really found good partners to align with that we've used unique strategies like a webinar or something like that. In one of our most recent webinars, one of our integrated vendors I think brought close to 1,200, 1,500 prospects to the webinar, which made our sales team very happy to have that type of inbound response. But I would say those are, those are two of the biggest wins from our team. But, you know, there's countless others that have really driven the sort of company and market share forward.

Taylor Baker:
Wow. So it sounds like you really would recommend co-selling to others.

Rory Blanton:
Yeah, I mean, it's too big of an opportunity to be missed really. Everywhere you look there are partners and influencers speaking to the clients that you're working with. If you're not engaging with those people, if you're not aligning efforts and working towards the common goal, then I think you're really missing out.

Taylor Baker:
Oh, absolutely. I happen to totally agree with. In closing, if there was a new company and they wanted to start a partnership ecosystem, what kinds of advice would you give to them?

Rory Blanton:
I guess I have a little bit of a problem with starting a partner ecosystem. I mean, I think the partner ecosystem already exists and that's I think across any market or vertical. I think you just have to go out and identify it. You have to speak with your customers or speak with your prospects and understand who they're working with, who's important to them, what matters to them, just like any sales organization is doing already. But then once you identify it, you have to engage with them. You have to equip them. You have to support them and give them the tools to be successful, and then, of course, nurture those relationships and those partnerships over time.

Yeah, I mean, I think I would just spend some time sort of auditing your industry, auditing your client base, auditing the ecosystem that's around your particular industry and go after it, you know? Get after it.

Taylor Baker:
Thank you so very much worry. I think our listeners are really going to appreciate all of your wisdom and insight. You really brought some interesting points to the table.

Rory Blanton:
Thank you. It was fun. Appreciate the opportunity.

Taylor Baker:
To all of our listeners out there, thank you for listening and be sure to tune in next week for even more exciting co-selling content. Now go get your partnership on.

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