Ecosystems

Episode 6: Alexander Shyshko - Tips for Building a Partner Ecosystem

Alexander talks about when to build a Partner Ecosystem, keeping the customer at the center of your partnership and setting & managing partner expectations


This week on The CoSell Show we are lucky to have Alexander Shyshko, Partnerships Manager at On24.

 

Topics Covered:

    1. Knowing When your Startup is Ready to build a Partner Ecosystem

    2. How to Keep the Customer at the Center of Your Partnership

    3. Setting and Managing Expectations with Partners

Brought to you by our host: Taylor Baker forCoSell.io

 

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Follow Along With The Podcast Transcript

Taylor B.:
Hello listeners, and welcome back to The CoSell Show. I'm your host, Taylor Baker, and today we are going to discuss some top tips for building a partner ecosystem at your startup, and who better to talk to about this exciting topic than our guest today, Alexander Shyshko, of ON24. Welcome Alexander.

Alexander S.:
Pleasure to be here.

Taylor B.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and the path that led you to where you are today at ON24?

Alexander S.:
My path actually is very interesting. I graduated with a marketing degree that I have never actually used because I've never actually held a marketing position. I've been in commission-driven sales for the entirety of my career up until a few years back when I started my partnership task at Outreach.io. I joined Outreach as a sales guy, but it so happened that I found an interesting intersection between what I was doing and the company I was working with and I wanted to connect Outreach to the ecosystem that they already had built but had not really exposed to from integration perspective, from service partners, from business process operations folks. And I fell in love with the partnerships, to be honest with you. I felt really passionate about it, more passionate than I've ever been about sales.

From there, I continued to learn really on my own for the first year or two building our ecosystem and I've joined ON24 really to continue my personal growth in partnerships, but also to take some of the early blocks and foundations that I've solidified at Outreach and also brought to ON24 and continue growing ON24 ecosystem the same way under really great leadership that got ON24 to where it is today.

Taylor B.:
That's amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. I always love how sometimes you may start on one path and either find, you may not love that path as much or it actually leads you to the path that you end up being on, which is a lot more fun and well suited for you. So thank you for sharing that. So our favorite question to ask our guests is, what is something interesting about you that our listeners can not find on your LinkedIn profile?

Alexander S.:
Well, I'm an avid motorcycle rider. That's my hobby and that's what I love to be on the weekend.

Taylor B.:
Oh wow. That's so cool. Do you have a specific? Are you a Harley guy? That's the only thing I can think of off hand.

Alexander S.:
I've learned on Honda. Yeah, no, I'm a sport bike guy. I'm very privileged in my opinion to live in California where majority of the time, even during our winter, I'm able to find a weekend or two to get around really enjoying the hills and the roads of bay area really when possible.

Taylor B.:
Oh absolutely. And Mid Central. Northern California is such a beautiful area and the roads are just stunning. I have driven on the PCH from Los Angeles up to San Francisco once and it is a very beautiful ride and I was in a car so I imagine in a motorcycle, It's even better. So we're going to get started on the partnership questions now, so why should startups consider building a partnership ecosystem early?

Alexander S.:
And I actually want to take a step back and before anyone decides to build a partnership and that's partially because of my own personal experience and then because I got to expand my network and meet a lot of other partnership directors, managers, leaders, in the space. The first question to ask is are you ready for partnerships? And that is the first question you should ask because if your company decided to integrate with another software provider or you are using some service providers or have worked with couple of system integrators and I'm speaking in the subject up software as a service ecosystem for that matter. You need to understand if that was one off conversations or is this something that you can really build a baseline against and held each other accountable to drive both businesses forward. So I believe that as you look at partnerships, you should not look at it as a one off event or a good to have, but something that you are really willing to dedicate time, effort, bandwidth to and optimally have a person dedicated in owning that and driving that effort.

Taylor B.:
Oh, that's great advice. With the popularity of partnerships growing so rapidly, I think people rush into it not realizing the responsibility involved and that it is in fact a symbiotic relationship. So I think it's great to take a step back, like you said, and look if you're really ready and if you're ready to bring something to the table as well.

Alexander S.:
One more piece of my personal path through partnerships. It is something that a lot of people, as you mentioned may not necessarily have come through as the first job. And actually I think partnerships as a whole is is an evolving position. It might have existed in the past through the channel sales, but today, especially in software, again, I feel that position is evolving. It's starting to take a shape of its own and a person who owns the partnerships has to have a type of skills and in a type of drive and an experience that allows him or her to really overlay across the entire company. Meaning if you are a CSM or a salesperson or a marketer who ends up taking on a job of leading partnerships for your company, you now have to understand that you will have to work with your engineering team and sales operations team.

You have to see it on your executive boards for the next time in meeting you have to explain to your pre and post sales teams on how a particular partnership works. And so taking that, it is important to understand that if you're taking on the partnerships, again on a an objective of building that ecosystem for yourself, you want to make sure you also look at the people around you who do not have a quote unquote to close or events to run or the critical sales operations or customers to take care of. These are the people that need to ultimately evolve and really dedicate their time on driving partnership numbers and whatever KPIs to stand against to make out of it.

Taylor B.:
The business dictionary called and we are happy to answer. Here at CoSell, we cater to entrepreneurs at every stage, so we decided to create this micro segment where we demystify notable business vernacular. Today we have KPI, which stands for key performance indicator. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Alexander S.:
One of the ways to quickly fail in partnerships is to put it on someone who, for example, a VP of sales who needs to drive the quota in their obvious reps to close deals. But then all of a sudden I have to now deal with relationship management in orchestrating a go to market, which obviously may not directly and immediately affect the numbers that they are responsible for.

Taylor B.:
Yeah, I mean absolutely. It's a big responsibility and I think someone such as yourself definitely needs to be in charge of managing those relationships. So in that respect, for startups specifically, what types of partnerships have you found to be most beneficial regarding reselling, co-selling, co-marketing, or as you mentioned, channel sales?

Alexander S.:
Let me unpack that a little bit. So I think that for every business it will be different. I think that you should, as a business, really take a look at who will be your best friend and really break it down. I believe that some of the deals that we were able to fast track accelerate customers that we were able to retain and expand actually fell into just a handful of service partners and these were at that time independent consultants or small service agency. So we just knew our products so well that there were this invisible force that helped our sales teams to close the deal. Sometimes our direct sales team, we're not even aware of the work that was done in the background by the service agencies, but it was critical.

When you're looking at who should you partner first, you should really take a look at your company and understand who do you know in the space, who already right now understands your vision, understands your value, and are you putting your deals on the line if you're inviting them to the room to sell with you or to introduce you to their clients or vice versa, or is it an ally? Potentially even knowing more about your business benefits and the product advantages that some of your direct teams, which at times it happens, especially the partners become more and more involved in your product and services and the overall value proposition.

Taylor B.:
So sort of to flip that on its head, what types of partnerships should startups maybe avoid in the first couple of years?

Alexander S.:
They think that you have to try to know. I don't think there's a silver bullet per se. I think I will again, take my stand on the fact that you need to take a step back and look at what are you trying to do as a company. For example, if you are a smaller company trying to win big logos because your product as a fact can help enterprise businesses, then you may want to partner up. And what I mean by partnering up is connecting yourself with the larger companies that already have reputations and big brands they work with and see an opportunity to either integrate or working and pair to look at how both of you, your startup for example. And this established brand can bring a higher value to your customers. If you are a small company and another small company is looking to partner up with you to drive similar messaging. You may want to take a second look.

Because both of you are trying to drive new revenue, you're both trying to establish your fit in the market. And while it may look good on the paper, you'd do only have so much time in a year and you only have so much time to bring onboard, educate or enable your partners. So you have to look at those relationships and really see if it's what you're bringing to the table, may or may not be as useful for your partner and vice versa. So it's important for you to really take an understand of what are you trying to do as a business and then align yourselves with technology or service partners that can help you to get ahead and get to that point either by venture of marketing or co-marketing or co-selling.

Taylor B.:
So in that respect, what advice would you give to startups regarding actually initiating the conversation with some of these bigger companies and having a partnership with them?

Alexander S.:
I would actually like to introduce maybe a concept that I found myself. It's all about the user and the user is an acronym and that I've found to be very effective of positioning any partnership. So user stands for; unified, success, expansion revenue. And to break it down is that from the very beginning of our conversation, when I say unified, It needs to be unified internally to agree that partnership is the right move for you and everybody is onboard. Unified means that as you connect with a partner, you and that partner understand what each other brings to the table and you said they expectations. Success stands for the fact that this is why you should be starting partnerships. If you're want a great partnership, you should start thinking about how will it benefit my customers. So customer success I believe, that's your cornerstone of partnerships because while we all want to get more money and more revenue and expand our existing customer base, you should start thinking about your customer success as the baseline for why partner.

I believe that we move into expansions into e, expansions because if you have great customer success, it is natural for your customers to grow with your product, to adopt more of your partners services on product as well and both you and your product will strive and we'll also see higher retention and ultimately it all comes down to revenue, right. When you're looking at to partner somebody, how are you going to drive that net new revenue?

And again, I believe that it is about the new show approach to partnerships. Thinking about customer first, we're looking at how you can benefit them so they can buy more and take greater value out of you and out of your partners and that'll lead to the revenue. Your front line teams will understand the value of your partners. Its all force and solve and so on. And of course there's probably a whole other call that we can have about driving net new revenue. But that's basically my user analogy.

Taylor B.:
Thank you. I love a good acronym and I love it when our guests have created them themselves and then are using them actively in their own ventures. So thank you for sharing U.S.E.R With us. So do you have any examples of what has been your most successful partnership and conversely, horror stories and why?

Alexander S.:
It's an interesting question because I believe that as a sales rep, for example, before I got into partnership, some of my success stories follow my most challenging customers and some of my best customers, I ended up being friends with were some of my smaller deals. So back to partnerships, one of the most exciting things to see as this how our partners, we're introducing a completely new technology and idea really on how sales teams should operate and using outreach software and then introducing them to us to continue to cultivate and grow and see in their success to the next level. So that one was very exciting for me to see. And in those partnerships on a personal note, it makes you feel like you're part of something bigger than yourself because you're not just impacting your bottom line, which again, sometimes a lot of people look at partnerships and how can we increase our bottom line.But really this is how you are increasing your visible network and ecosystem that that will come and help you to win deals in the hearts and minds of people at times that are more critical.

I will jump in the horror story. I think I'm lucky. I don't think I have a horror story per se. I think that the only times that I probably got an extra couple of gray hairs on my head is when the expectations were not set properly. And I think that's the outcome that my user knowledge [inaudible 00:14:28]. came as effect from from those experiences. Keeping those expectations in the line I think is how you can avoid your horror stories.

Taylor B.:
Well thank you so much. That was some really solid advice. So to wrap things up, do you have any parting advice? If our listeners have any other questions for you, where can they maybe reach you? Do you have anything exciting coming up that you'd maybe like to share?

Alexander S.:
Oh, so much to share then. I'm fairly responsive on LinkedIn. I think that's how we connected in first place. I can also be reached. My email is first name dot last name @ON24.com. Thank you again for having me on the show. It's been a pleasure talking to you and sharing my journey in partnerships.

Taylor B.:
Well, thank you so much, Alexander. It's been a real pleasure. I appreciate all of your advice and insight and I'm sure our listeners will too. And 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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