Bridget talks about how partnerships enhance customer value & loyalty, setting expectations before starting a partnership & why you should get an MBA.
Episode 10: Alex Glenn - When It's NOT too Early to Start a Partner Program
Alex talks about the 3 things you need to start a partner program, the partnership roadmap to success, when to start every type of partnership and more.
This week on The CoSell Show Podcast, we are honored to have the founder of Partner Programs, Alex Glenn as our guest. We will be diving into the topic, When it is NOT Too Early to Start a Partner Program.
- The Three Things You Need to Start a Partner Program TODAY
- The Partnership Roadmap to Success - When to Start Every Type of Partnership
- How Building a Community is the Secret of a Successful Entreprenuer
Hello listeners and welcome back to The CoSell Show. I'm your host Taylor Baker. Today, we are discussing when it is not too early to start a partner program with our guests, Alex Glenn, of Partner Programs. Welcome, Alex.
Thank you for having me, Taylor.
To get us started off, can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and your current role at Partner Programs?
Yeah, of course. I was a marketer for most of my career. I Still market obviously day to day as a founder, but I started my career in SEO, learned a lot about content marketing. I founded my first agency way back in 2007-ish. Ran small projects, more demand generation type projects, for marketplaces, platforms, businesses. Then got into some software companies, some early stage startups doing marketing again, running marketing teams. Made my way up to VP of marketing for a couple prominent brands. Worked here in Chicago for some great companies. Learned a lot about the marketing side, which dovetail into marketing automation, which I saw a very large white space gap opportunity in the industry to facilitate some of the matchmaking and connecting between marketing teams and the software that they're going to use to execute on marketing activities.
A lot of that was marketing automation related. In my experience, and many of you listening that are on the marketing side or even the sales side probably understand this, but there is a very, very large amount of knowledge to be had and to be learned around marketing automation. I set out to create automated.af is the website. It's a platform that allows publishers to publish marketing automation, sales automations, business automations, operations automations in general, and it allows founders and teams to learn the appropriate use of marketing and sales automation. It's a great resource for everybody involved. We have a community, a Slack group. I have a podcast, the Marketing Automation Discussion, and that has been an education for me on a number of levels. It's tied me very close to agencies.
I was an agency operator obviously, but what I've learned through my experience matchmaking between software and agencies is there's a very, very big mismatch, a misalignment, whatever you want to call it, between agencies and software that they use and represent. The mismatch is around really the end all, be all value add to the agency. It's product first. Of course, the product has to solve the need, but the dilemma is bigger than that. I think we're going to talk a little bit about that in the show today.
Oh, what a colorful history you have marketing and all of the automation. Thank you so much for bringing all that expertise here at The CoSell Show. One of our favorite questions to ask here at The CoSell Show is what is something fun about you that cannot be found on your LinkedIn?
Oh, that's interesting. I would say my life is obviously grossly involved with work, so unfortunately I'm not as fun as I would hope. I've got a kind of great sense of humor. I'm a sarcastic guy. I'm fun, but lately work has just enveloped my life. What I can say about that is I do have a four year old, a toddler daughter, who's grown up watching me work from home. I have my actual team comes in and out of my home and they work here as well. She has gotten so used to hearing me say words like, "Honey, I'm about to start a recording. Can you be quiet for half an hour? Honey, I've got calls at 10:00 AM and 11:00 AM, but I have a gap between noon and 2:00."
She's gotten so used to listening to this that now the night before when we're getting ready for bed, she has started to develop a level of sarcasm, but it's become a little bit bigger than that where she actually tells me that she cannot play with me during certain times of the day because she have calls to take. She says it with a straight face. I honestly don't know if she's joking or not, but she starts to explain that to me. Then we obviously took that to another level, my operations guy, Zach and I, where we involve her in calls and we give her assignments. We have her sort of prep things. She loves it. It's been a lot of fun. But yeah, she's about to start kindergarten, so that won't be happening much more unfortunately, but it's been hilarious.
Yeah, definitely. She's probably going to find a way to run kindergarten or like be the class president. That's amazing. I'm really glad that you're able to incorporate sort of a work-life balance by working out at your home and being able to spend time with your daughter and make that something fun for the both of you. That's really awesome.
You got a CEO in the making.
As the founder of your own partnership company, what inspired you to build this platform?
Noticing that there are misalignments between incentivization really. I don't even know if that's a word, but the incentives that software partners believe are in place and aligned with the best interest of their resellers, their partners, et cetera. Working really closely as an agency founder with other agencies networking, obviously my work at automated matchmaking between automation software and agency resellers, matchmaking between business owners and the software providers, involving the partner agencies in those conversations, all of that gave me a really, really solid opportunity notice.
I started having conversations with some of the people that I trust in the industry on different sides of the industry and really sort of flushed out this notion of an intermediary between the software and the agencies. This is nothing new. There are actual consulting companies, agencies, agents, consultants out there that do this. They help facilitate and train and even build out the software partnership programs for the software providers. But what I did not find, and if it does exist and if there is a good use case for it, please share, but what I didn't find talking to the agencies and the software providers that I sort of bounce these ideas off of was a really good intermediary from the agency standpoint.
Someone and a team that's out there with the intent to develop agencies into the sort of reselling components of software that the best agencies out there are doing and also being sort of that mediator, that advocate for the agencies to show the software companies really what's happening on the day to day, the ground level, really give them that information from the agencies upwards of really what it is they need and they want and they have to have in place for your software program to exist in their ecosystem.
Absolutely. Wow. Thank you so much for filling that gap. Well, that perfectly leads into my next question. What is it that you would suggest that companies need to have in place before they start a partner program?
Okay. I'll start with the typical. What you'll hear as a software company owner or head of sales, head of marketing, when you're bouncing ideas for a partnership program off of either your leadership team or advisers or even other software companies with an established partnership program is product market fit, hundreds of happy customers, great reviews, obviously a sound product. Basically having the perfect scenario to launch a partnership program. They caution that this partnership program endeavor is extremely expensive and a huge risk and yada, yada, yada. That is something that you'll hear if you are out there sort of fielding this notion of creating a partnership program, but there are clues out there where a partnership program can and even should exist right here now in your organization.
We recently interviewed a number of partner program founders of successful partnership programs and we learned a few things. These are the clues of when you should start a partnership program now. Number one, your ICPs are going through a major adjustment. If your ICP are small business owners that are taking their business online, that is a major adjustment, right? That's taking your store and turning it into an eCommerce business, right? That's an example of a major adjustment. Number two, there's a lot at stake around the decision to implement you or a competitor. This is a big decision. Lots of financial risks in place typically, sometimes personnel, sometimes otherwise. A lot of risks in place when they are making the decision to implement your software.
Number three, your prospects are involved with an agency or a consultant to advise them on this transition. Because there's a lot at stake, because it's a big transition that they do not typically know much about, they consult with an agency, an advisor, whoever. Sometimes get on a very expensive retainer for that advice, but the point is there's another party involved in this decision. Finally, your tool should, not a must, but it helps a great deal, solve a material need, right? There's a lot of tools out there that are nice to have. That typically come in very late in the maturity of a company, like cultural enablement tools, right? A lot of like HR related tools, but a material need tool is a tool that if you rip it out, revenue would suffer that day.
Those factors, ICP is going through a major adjustment, there's a lot at stake, your prospects are involved with an agency, and your tool solves a material need. Those four factors, if you have those right now, chances are you can have a successful partner program.
Wonderful. For those of you out there that do have those four things in line, there are several different types of partnerships, and partnerships is a pretty broad thing to look at. There's co-marketing, co-selling, reselling relationships, et cetera. Is there a particular type of partnership that you find better when launched early, or does it just depend on each company individually?
Yeah. Oh, it definitely depends on each type of company, your situation. Everyone's different. You can have a mishmash. You can have a mix of everything. You can do everything. But yes, you're right. There's definitely dependencies there. But I'll start with the caveat here that we're talking to you, the start ups, that are very early on and they are software companies, right? We're not talking to product owners. We're not talking to food service provider. We're talking to software companies now and they're startups, right? So here are my recommended order. First and foremost, co-marketing, co-branding relationships. That's number one. You can do that today.
All you have to have is a good content marketer on your team, like yourself, Taylor, and you start collaborating with brands that have a great audience or great brand or a great product. Your goal is obviously to put your brand in front of their audience. All you need is either a great marketing team or a budget or both. Your offer to these co-marketing relationships is hey, we're launching soon. We'd love to work with you. Our offer to you is obviously maybe free stuff. Obviously we'll build in sort of a referral fee. Great. Maybe we'll pay you, but we'll do the content. We'll create the assets, all that of stuff. Co-marketing, co-branding, number one. Co-selling, number two. This is fairly early in my list because co-selling is something that you can do as soon as you have a working sales system and a database, right?
Co-selling it does require, in my opinion, it does require both sides to bring value to the table. If you're co-selling with another startup, you have maybe something that they don't in terms of the data, maybe you have a better product for their audience and it's easier for their audience to adopt your product and vice versa, right? You can start co-selling as soon as you have a working product and a sales team, and then you just look for obviously the account mapping type of software to put in place, and boom, you can start co-selling. There's no harm in trying it out. That co-selling relationship may not pan out successfully, but you'll learn so much in the process of just the account mapping stage of seeing the Venn diagram between what accounts they have being worked and what accounts your sales team has been worked, where the overlap is.
Also working with their sales leader, maybe they have a more progressed sales division than you have, sales team than you have. You can learn so much because they'd been selling into your ICP longer than you have. Co-selling definitely want to do that pretty early on. Now, integration or developer partnerships, the developer ecosystem, like Salesforce's app store for example, right? That is something that you can start early on if that is a direction that you choose. The caution there is obviously it's a big undertaking and it requires, a little bit of enablement for the developer side, a lot of enablement really for the developer side. Why would they develop on your ecosystem in your store?
For the integrators, there's a very, very strong need for a good technology ambassador internal at your organization, but if you have that, it's something where you should definitely consider. If it's a technology play in an industry that is highly tech savvy and there's an integration partner that you can go ahead and buy into or integrate with for mutual benefit, definitely take that route and try it out. Now, reselling is number I believe four at this point. Reselling deserves a lot more thought. This is where when you say partnerships, reselling is typically what the first thing that comes to mind for software companies.
It's essentially where the agency will provide the sales for you and sometimes the onboarding, sometimes even the support, sometimes even hold the account on behalf of the client where they have 20, 30, 50, whatever, accounts with you. They're all for different clients, but they hold them. They're being billed for those accounts and then they extend the fees onto their customers. There's a lot of different ways you can slice and dice reselling. The main component is the agencies or consultants or intermediaries there will sell your software. Now, that is lower on the list of when you can start a reselling program because it requires a whole lot in order to get that to be successful. Those are those four points above.
If you have all those in place, that's the caveat, you can move reselling up as far as when you can launch a reselling program. Now, the final one, I put affiliates and ambassadors at the very bottom of the list. This is last for me. That's probably counterintuitive for many people listening, but affiliates, ambassadors, influencer marketing, this is stuff that you can spend a ton of time getting a ton of affiliates in the door. It's not hard to get affiliates. All you do is you create a tracking link. It doesn't even have to be software backed. It could be a UTM on the end of a link that's just associated with that person and have them incentivized by a 20% recurring revenue, but this is one of those things where just getting an affiliate to put a link up somewhere isn't something that's going to drive successful selling of your product or service, right?
It may get some traffic to you. Maybe you'll be able to pay out some affiliates on an ongoing basis, but the affiliate relationship, it deserves a lot. It deserves a nice affinity to your brand, of your current customer base. It requires a lot of current customers to sing your praises in the form of reviews online. It requires those margins. It requires the tracking obviously. It requires you to continuously go back to the affiliates and and push them to put out more content links, et cetera. For software especially, it's just not something that incentivizes, at least in my world, agencies and consultants. The affiliate fee, your 20%, they don't care. That's meaningless to them. What they want is whatever's best for their clients, meaning best software, best ecosystem for them to get referrals from you, all of that.
I put affiliate down at the bottom. I honestly am bearish on the whole idea of affiliate relationships with software in general. I think this is something that people should forget all about. Agencies don't care about your affiliate fees.
Wow. Alex, I think that is probably the most thorough roadmap that our listeners have ever heard. Listeners, you have it. There's your tool kit. You have everything you need now to start your partner program step-by-step. I need to get working on an infographic of that because that was very helpful and a very guided way of seeing what assets you have as a company and what you can bring to the table. Then conversely, checking in on what goals you both have and how to enter a partnership. Wow. Thank you for that, Alex. You had mentioned earlier that you had done some interviews with successful partnership program leaders, and you actually had sent me the link to this great article that you had written to get us started.
You interviewed Peter Caputa at HubSpot and he says that the idea of starting up a partner program was not highly received by his executive board. However, his partner program has since yielded tremendous success despite the naysayers. In that respect, when and why should companies not be afraid to push past these negative these opinions?
Yeah, and I'll just add some context to that. If you don't know Peter, he's a luminary in the partnerships world. What he did for HubSpot's partnership program, not just pushing past a lot of people telling him not to do it, but doing that and making it as successful as he did. Many people credit HubSpot's not only their growth, their IPO, everything that they have today to Peter and this decision to push this a program. Credit to Peter and credit to Kevin for keeping it alive and growing it as far and wide as Kevin grows since he took over. I had this conversation with Peter a couple of weeks ago. He decided based on his real deep understanding of the sales process for HubSpot, and this goes into the difficulty a sales team was having not only articulating, but onboarding and retaining small businesses.
This was the audience at the time, small business owners who were not tech savvy, right? He knew that he needed a tech savvy intermediary assisting with the sale, I.E., marketing agency. Essentially, Peter saw the sticky high retention sales were coming from agencies that had a marketing agency basically running their HubSpot instance, right? If you don't know HubSpot well or you didn't know it back then, I mean, this is when HubSpot was very clunky obviously. They have their COS code base where you create landing pages that are just still to this day honestly terrible, but the whole system of HubSpot was really tough for Peter to sell.
Honestly, it was a hard code to get involved with. The point is he knew that an intermediary was helping with his high retention sales. His job at that point, his decision was I'm not getting the help that I need from the product team. I'm going to circumvent all of that, go directly to these agencies, build a program that they can really get excited about, and really help my agencies resell HubSpot. That's what he did.
Way to go, Peter. That's an amazing story. Thank you. You also have interviewed Joseph Fung, the CEO over at Kiite, and he was quoted saying, "The most productive partnerships are in response to partner pull signals as opposed to trying to push your product through a channel." Can you maybe talk a little bit more about using the pull approached partnerships?
Yeah. Pull, you know, it's not really an approach so much as a signal I would say. The pull signal from the users. Joseph, CEO of Kiite. That's KIITE.ai. What Joseph saw is better KPIs, higher KPIs, better KPIs, whatever you want to call it, when a consultant was in the mix, just like Peter. He started to see use cases where... Kiite was being implemented by a third party consultant and part of this was embedded in his strategy. You sort of knew it because Kiite is a very, very robust software, great technology, but very hard for a sales team to run with right out of the gate, which means slower ramp times, slower time to break even on that sale because a lot of hours were put into the implementation of it.
He said, okay, well, these are the cases and my product solves a very important need, back to our four sort of criteria that need to put in place. His sales teams were seeing that there's a big transition that needs to be in place for them to grow. That transition needs technology. There's a lot at stake on the revenue side of things. He saw that as a perfect opportunity to come in and sell through channel and his channel was consulting companies that work with sales teams to help them scale. If you're a sales leader, like a VP of sales or a CRO, and you know you need to ramp sales quickly to make use of maybe a new round of funding, something like that or a new product launch, Kiite comes in and streamlines a lot of your sales processes. He sells through consultants, and he's doing it very, very well and very early on in their lifecycle.
Happy to hear that. You also talked to Shaun Clark who is the co-founder of HighLevel. Shaun was quoted saying, "Agencies are what make the difference between a successful business and a failed one." How have you seen agencies grow business, and why is it a detriment to not utilize agencies?
Yeah. We'll trim that from business to software. In particular, HighLevel is a platform that sells exclusively through agencies. They offer sort of white label dashboards for their agencies to show off what's going on with a client account. White label in every essence of the term. What Shaun was referring to with software specifically is whether you choose to offer partnership benefits or not, an agent or consultant is going to be involved. It doesn't matter, right? If you're a software company and you plan on scaling your software business, you plan on getting into more businesses, at some point some agency, whether they referred you to that end all be all user or they represent another software, they're going to be involved in the picture.
The detriment in this case that he mentioned is slow growth because you are not only competing with software competitors, but you're competing with the agencies that represent your competitors, right? It is necessary as a software company for you to have an agency strategy. It doesn't necessarily have to be partnerships, but you have to have an agency strategy. You have to have something that gets you ahead of the game and gets you ready to compete with that agency, that consultant that's advising your end all be all users. We see this all day in the CRM space specifically. Referring back to HubSpot's case study, they had a lagging technology, still able to grow like crazy. To this day, it's honestly a lagging technology.
It's not ahead of the game, ahead of the curve with regards to CRM or marketing automation, but they do have one thing on their side and it's their reseller partners that are pushing their technology all day long and keeping it in the end user's stack. Same thing with Salesforce. It's a hyper expensive implementation. Salesforce can be anywhere at minimum 15 grand to really successfully build a Salesforce instance for your team. Hyper expensive to run Salesforce. You constantly need to go back to consultants and get them to customize Salesforce for you. When you're looking at it, it's like why do people use Salesforce? Well, they have the app ecosystem, and they have these agencies pushing it.
They have a tremendous network for the businesses to lean on to make Salesforce their integral part of their stack, right? They couldn't do this without partnerships.
Absolutely. I wanted to talk a little bit about being a business founder and running a startup yourself. As a business founder, what advice can you give your fellow entrepreneurs about starting their own business?
First and foremost, build a community. Start a community even if it's going to be small and super niche. That's actually preferred, but build a community that helps you understand what your end all be all either co-selling and reselling partners are going to want and need or your end all be all customers, depending on the purpose of the community. This is something that has been integral to my growth as a founder, my education as a founder, growth and determination of what businesses to get involved with versus others, what software to look at versus others, are the communities that I am a part of and built. Build a community. This is a community that you can lean on through the entire growth of your company, and this community doesn't need to be reflective of your product at this point.
This can be an affinity group that just talks about the pain points that your end all be all product will service, right? In my situation with automated, we have a community that is large and it is filled with agency owners. All we talk about are the proper execution and the strategies around marketing and sales automation, right? I started that before automated was automated. I started that with the purpose of just providing feedback and results and tests and questions, QA, all that kind of stuff, reflective of marketing sales automation. People enjoy it. They get a ton of value from it. It snowballed into a whole bunch of other things. Definitely if you have an hour a day, spend that time building a community around your affinity brand, as well as your audience.
Second thing, I'd say pay attention to the signals that are going on. These are signals from your advisors. Pay attention to the signals from the end all be all buyers of your competitor software. At times as a founder, it can be very, very difficult to like poke your head up and turn your head to the right signals at the right time because your head's down on your desk in your office banging out contracts, which is something you have to do. But during that process, you still have to be very, very aware of the signals that are going on in the macro ecosystem. Don't pass it off as, oh, that's a microcosm type thing. This helps you sort of get to a product market fit strategy quicker too. As a founder, it's very, very hard to take the idea that we have, that we're sold on internally and be realistic about product market fit.
Relating to partnerships, relating to co selling, relating to white labeling, these signals can tell you that it's time to launch a partnership program, like Joseph at Kiite, like Peter at HubSpot. These signals are things that they pay attention to. They realized early on and they started their partnership program before their advisers, "their executive board," were on board with it, right, where they were behind it. They did that by paying attention to the signals. Those are the two things. Create a community, pay close attention to the signals no matter how heads down you are.
That's really great advice all around. I particularly love what you say about creating a community because that's one of the things I love most about partnerships.
Yeah, and I'll say this, I mean, to the people listening because you're listening to this with partnerships in mind, the advice there is no that the people are your partners. That's our sort of mantra here at Partner programs. We developed that as a saying because it's something we see forgotten all day, every day when we work with software companies. We do build software partner programs, as well as work with the agency resellers day to day. We have large builds going on as we speak with some companies in the EU coming to the U.S. and we see this day in and day out. Their partner managers do not understand that they are dealing with people, not company to company, not my company is going to be partnered with your company.
It's people inside the organizations, inside that organization that you're partnered with, there are salespeople, there are customer success people, there are all sorts of people involved in the sale, and you need to be a partner of all of those people. This goes to the agencies as well. We work with agencies and we train them all day long on how to network their asses off with your software company so that they can be a better asset for you, but also so they can draw more referrals downstream from you and your team. They have to make sure that your customer success people, your salespeople know who they are, who thereafter as an agency reseller, what their ICP is, how much they charge, what the margins are in place, where the landing pages are, what a bad referral looks like.
All the agencies have to know that when they partner with you. But on the same token, you have to know really what that agency is about, what their incentive is in reselling you. The biggest hint there is it's not the immediate financial compensation in a referral fee. That's not their incentive.
I really love what you said about it's about the people because I've interviewed... I think you're probably my 10th interview I've had on the show and it does feel very much like people focus on the company or targeting specific companies that have certain assets. I haven't heard a lot of the conversation deal with, oh, but we need to make relationships with those specific people because that's how those things really come about. That's a great perspective. Thank you. Speaking of trainings, I know you told me a little earlier you have something exciting you wanted to share with our listeners.
Yeah. We have an academy called the Agency MRR Academy. The first course in that academy is coming live on the 15th and that is on Teachable. You can either search Agency MRR Academy in their course list, or you can look in the show notes and we'll have a link for you there. The first one is for agencies. If you're a software company, yeah, we'd love your money, buy the program, but it's really for your agency resellers. We take them through a I believe 13 class course on everything from developing your retainers, choosing the software partners to embed in those retainers, selling those retainers, onboarding/offboarding and managing the software relationship, the client under the software relationship, in that retainer.
Co-marketing. We have an amazing finale class on co-marketing with a software partner, and we have brought in the assistance of seven I believe agency owners. These are the top resellers in the U.S. And a couple in in the U.K. We have the top Zapier reseller, top Copper reseller, a top HubSpot reseller, diamond partner. We have a top Marketo reseller. We have some really content. We're excited about that one. The next one is for you in this audience listening. That one is how to develop a successful partner program early on and what to know and what steps to take. We even go into software review.
As CoSell gets their product underway, we're going to be including a review of the software involved in your partner stack in that course and that's myself and my colleague, which I'll announce shortly who's on our advisory board, teaching that course together.
No wonder you had such a well-rounded perfect answer to everything. You've literally written the course on when to start partnerships. Yes, listeners, we will be sure to link all of that exciting information in the show notes. One final part to note, if your course or this podcast maybe didn't answer any lingering questions, is there any way our listeners can maybe reach you if they have any final questions?
Yeah. We have a phone number at the top of our site, partnerprograms.io, that goes directly to myself and my colleague, depending on who's available. Alex@partnerprograms.io is the email. Alex@partnerprograms, and Partner Programs, plural at the end there, .io. If you want to email me any questions that you have related to either building a partnership program, choosing between co-selling, reselling affiliate, et cetera, I'll do my best to answer those. If you feel like you need our assistance, of course, we can jump on a call. Otherwise, definitely take a look at all the resources that we have between Teachable and the blog. Hopefully this was valuable for you.
Again, Alex, you have been an absolute pleasure and like I said, have offered so much really specific and well-thought out advice. We all really appreciate that here at The CoSell show. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, and I will see you in our Slack group.
To all of our listeners out there, thank you for listening. Be sure to tune in next week for even more exciting co-selling content. Now go get your partnership on.