How BigCommerce Wins Business Through Partnerships
This article is a part of a compelling series that will give you practical tips on how to grow a successful partner program. By leveraging the advice of the greatest minds in partnerships, you will learn how to effectively create, structure, and build a partner program that scales revenue. If you are a startup or SMB in the B2B tech industry, this series is for you.
For this article, we interviewed Lauryn Spence, BigCommerce’s Senior Manager of Agency Partnerships. Founded in 2009 and headquartered in Texas, BigCommerce is a leading open SaaS e-commerce platform for businesses of all types and sizes. With several built-in tools and innovative solutions, it empowers B2B and B2C merchants and brands across the globe to build, innovate, and grow their businesses and reach their fullest potential. The NASDAQ-listed company serves tens of thousands of merchants in 150+ countries. Some of their most notable clients include Skullcandy, Solo Stove, Burrow, Bliss, Black Diamond, and Ben & Jerry’s.
Lauryn Spence has been with BigCommerce for nearly eight years. She started her journey as a Sales Development Representative and moved up to become a Sr. Manager of Agency Partnerships. Currently, she manages their agency partnerships team in North America and oversees various aspects of the program, including partner growth, enablement, engagement, training, go-to market, and more. Lauryn and her team are in charge of cultivating a strong network of agency partners to support BigCommerce merchants and expanding into new markets.
Read the following interview to discover how BigCommerce has built and expanded a thriving partner program. Take advantage of the advice coming from Lauryn Spence herself:
Why BigCommerce Started Their Partner Program
Companies that start partner programs often have diverse objectives—while some do it to increase leads or source deals, others focus on enhancing their customer experience. The story of BigCommerce shows us how one can achieve all this and more through partnerships. Being an e-commerce solution provider, BigCommerce has a partnership model that helps agencies grow, generates leads for both parties, adds value through free certification and marketing support, and creates meaningful customer experiences.
The primary offering of BigCommerce is a state-of-the-art e-commerce platform. The company, however, does not provide in-house design, marketing, integration solutions, or services that their customers often require. So naturally, when they started building partnerships, they focused on partnering with agencies that would offer support solutions to their customers in these areas and get sourced deals in return. As Lauryn notes:
“Our program is centered around cultivating relationships, transparency, and helping agencies grow their BigCommerce practice. At the same time, it is also about enabling and training agencies to offer meaningful customer experiences to our existing clients on the platform. They also support our ecosystem and help build extensions on the platform, and influence our product roadmap. While the program creates opportunities for partners to earn incentives like commissions, marketing funds, and rewards, it also helps create a reciprocal deal flow from our existing customer base.”
BigCommerce fulfills two objectives through the partner program:
- They help their merchants grow. Agencies provide design, development, SEO, and other marketing services to ultimately help BigCommerce customers sell more. BigCommerce caters to these requirements of their clients through agency partnerships.
- Business continuity and innovation. Agencies are the trusted advisors for e-commerce platform recommendations. By providing the right kind of education and enablement about BigCommerce, it creates a network of experts recommending their solutions based on client needs. Agencies also help build extensions and create more functionality that the ecosystem can use.
Because BigCommerce supports merchants at all stages of growth, they have partnered with thousands of agencies, from freelancers and SMB agencies to enterprise organizations and global SIs, all of which provide a wide range of support solutions to their existing clients. In addition to agency partnerships, they also run a technology partner program that brings together powerful enterprise integrations and e-commerce apps.
What Qualities Does BigCommerce Look for in a Partner?
Like any other SaaS company, BigCommerce looks for partners that show the willingness to invest in training and enablement for their solution, and eagerness to grow their practice. The company pays attention to two specific attributes in their partners:
Level of Activity
A good partner, according to BigCommerce, is someone that is active. Whether a partner is active or not, in turn, is measured in a number of different ways including active site launches, engagement, and attendance with their town halls and community events, as well as the number of leads they generate per quarter or year. As Lauryn explains:
“In addition to these items, their investment in terms of co-marketing and being engaged with our sales and support team is equally as important. Last but not least, having positive NPS scores from our customers is absolutely essential.”
Investment in Training and Certification
The second characteristic BigCommerce pays attention to is whether a partner is willing to invest in partner training and certification. Lauryn notes that it is a critical criterion for their program—only a partner who invests in training and certification can deliver great quality work.
How Does BigCommerce Attract, Motivate, and Engage Partners?
BigCommerce has a mature partner program with over 8,000 partners across the globe. While their state-of-the-art, partner-friendly platform serves as the main driver, the company also uses a combination of benefit-based strategies to sweeten the deal.
Here’s a quick overview of how BigCommerce motivates and engages partners:
BigCommerce heavily invests in the platform to make it flexible, partner-friendly, extensible, and customizable. In other words, they ensure that the platform has everything to make it what partners would want to share with their customers. Having a well-developed and feature-rich platform acts as a driver for them to attract and retain partners.
Another way BigCommerce boosts partner engagement is through helping agencies grow their BigCommerce book of business. Whether that’s through co-branded campaigns, webinars, events, as well as tailored client introductions that align with the agency’s ideal customer profile.
BigCommerce has also introduced a few monetary incentives to motivate and engage partners. Their Marketing Development Fund (MDF) Program is a case in point. The program offers funds to a few select partners every quarter to support their marketing or other business development activities, thus helping offset certain development or marketing costs. In return, they require the partners who receive the fund to send a certain number of leads within a chosen time frame.
In addition to these benefits, the company offers traditional bounties to solidify their partner relationships. It includes cash rewards where they give out a few hundred dollars or cash coupons to partners for every new enterprise deal or demo schedule. Though a less strategic method, such traditional bounties help attract partners who otherwise would have referred to another platform.
A defining feature of BigCommerce’s partner program is that it is relationship-based. They promote their partners on social media platforms, offer executive sponsorship support for deals and for client escalations, and even their CEO takes a vested interest in meeting partners, for example.
Lauryn explains that such a combination of methods works well for a company like BigCommerce with agency partners of all types and sizes.
How Does BigCommerce Onboard and Enable Partners?
BigCommerce follows an onboarding process depending on the profile of partners. While they require all partners to undergo a series of standardized self-paced training modules, they also run specialized enablement sessions for strategic partners. Here’s a quick overview of how BigCommerce enables and manages partners:
Self-Paced Training Sessions
All partners, big or small, go through a series of self-paced, self-service training sessions, including sales and technical training offerings. These free sessions, available to everyone joining the platform, are the baseline requirement to be a certified partner with BigCommerce. This is a huge differentiator as many platforms require a paid certification.
In addition to this self-paced training, BigCommerce conducts one-on-one enablement sessions for partners on a variety of topics. For instance, they conduct tailored sessions for the developers of such partners, live Q&A sessions, and discussions to dive deep into specific platform topics. Such sessions address the questions and concerns partners don’t get answers to during self-paced training sessions.
Paid Certifications (Big Dev Bootcamp)
BigCommerce also conducts a paid instructor-led certification program called the BigDev Bootcamp. It is a level-up certification for those who have done the baseline free sessions to become certified partners. While this technical certification doubles as a badge that agencies can showcase to advertise their qualification, Lauryn says it also serves the interests of BigCommerce:
“For us, it is in our best interests to get partners to go through the certification because it is one of the best ways to foolproof the quality of the end customers’ websites. Once partners have gone through that certification, they tend to have way smoother builds and launches. Websites launches are smooth with no major hiccups, and are more likely to be on time and within the client’s initial budget. Additionally, it empowers partners to extend the platform in ways they never knew were possible”
How Does BigCommerce Manage Such a Large Partner Program?
BigCommerce has Channel Account Managers (CAMs) in various regions to handle partnerships. While some of these partnerships are managed on a one-on-one basis, others are managed long-tail enablement.
Moreover, BigCommerce has a tiered program, with meaningful benefits at each tier. All partners joining the program are ranked and classified into various levels, such as Enrolled, Partner, Preferred, and Elite. This is done based on their certifications, investment into BigCommerce, leads and deals, and other criteria. Their positions/ranks increase based on three pillars: investment, execution, and business development.
“Our prioritization is not just money-driven; it is also investment-driven. Partners who are willing to invest in educating their teams on development and sales best practices are partners we want to work with at the end of the day. If you’re doing all the right things, highly communicative, investing in co-marketing, then the deal flow for both parties will come. The tiering system best reflects that investment.”
Key Takeaways: Lauryn’s Advice to Startups on Building and Growing a Partner Program
“Invest in enablement and establish several touch points with your partners.”
“Investing in partner enablement is one of the best ways to grow your partner base. Whether it is baseline partner training sessions, advanced one-on-one enablement, or personalized sessions on co-selling, and marketing, make sure to create several touch points with partners. You must create a long enablement roadmap where you have multiple touch points and opportunities to communicate and work with partners, even if you don’t have a deal together yet. Keep working together on several fronts and continue enabling your partners — deals will happen.”
“While doing partner enablement, ensure that you are adding value.”
"There is no denying that enablement is key to running a successful partner program. That said, just having lots of enablement sessions is not enough. So, don’t do enablement just for the sake of it. You must ensure that it adds value to them and the program. Your interests should be genuine, you must be helping your partners in one way or another, and you should be adding value for the long term. Prescribe the next step that’s needed for onboarding, don’t just try and check boxes with your partners."
“Once you have stabilized your partnerships, start scaling your program.”
"At the beginning of a partner program, you might have to do a lot of hand-holding and one-on-one enablement. However, once you have an established program, it’s important to scale and automate your processes. Make sure you have a partner platform so share resources with your partners and collaborate in an automated manner."
Make it Happen for You: How to Grow a Partner Program like BigCommerce
If you want to grow a partner program like BigCommerce, it is essential that you have the proper tools to structure, automate, and scale your program.
A Partner Relation Management (PRM) platform allows you to:
- Organize your program with tiers
- Coordinate training, onboarding, and certification processes
- Trace leads
- Build a knowledge base to provide instant answers
- Collaborate with partners on a shared pipeline
- Get full visibility over partner activity
- Measure partner performance
- Track commission and payouts