How Box Built and Scaled Their Partner Program
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 Dan O'Leary, Box’s Director of Partnerships. Headquartered in California and having offices across the US, Europe, and Asia, Box, Inc. offers subscription-based cloud content management solutions. They provide more than 1500 app integrations, enabling businesses to manage their content lifecycle, securely share files, simplify workflows, and collaborate from anywhere. The company has a client base of over 97,000 companies, including leading global organizations like AstraZeneca, Morgan Stanley, and JLL.
As the Director of Partnerships at Box, Dan plays a crucial role in the growth and success of the partner program. Once a Box partner himself, he currently looks after the go-to-market side of the company's System Integration Partners and Independent Software Vendor/Tech Partners. He is in charge of forming and fostering strategic partnerships with system integrators, technology partners, service partners, developers, and other players in the ecosystem.
Read the following interview to discover how Box built and grew such a successful partner program. Take advantage of the advice coming from Dan O'Leary himself:
Why did Box Start the Partner Program?
As one of the global leaders in cloud content management, Box has always upheld and lived up to their greatest value—to go above and beyond for their customers in everything they do. Their vision, from the start, has been to help customers get the most value from their offerings, thus spearheading digital transformation.
The challenge ahead of Box, however, was expanding and deepening engagement with their target customer base. Since cloud content management is a solution companies in all industries and sectors need, they had a huge market to cover and millions of global customers to reach, and it was hard for them to be in every market and vertical.
The company addressed this challenge through partnerships—by aligning their customers with local channel and service partners and with technology partners. Box created a brigade of partners and resellers worldwide to offer customers technology and integration solutions, thus helping them achieve a great value chain. It, in turn, helped them increase their reach and revenue by leaps and bounds. As Dan rightly notes:
“We have had a clear idea of how partners can influence and impact key company level metrics. It is all about creating immense value for our customers and partners. When happy customers and partners start growing their business, it creates growth for us too.”
What are Box’s Key Criteria for Selecting Partners?
Being a large organization that has created remarkable success for customers and has a mature partner program, Box has numerous potential partners wanting to join them. The company, however, has two crucial criteria for partner selection—alignment of values and success in adjacent ecosystems.
Alignment of Values
As Box has a business model that involves subscription-based solutions, it is of supreme importance that they choose partners who can build trust, establish lasting relationships, and build business value for customers. A good partner, according to them, is someone who can continue to earn the trust of customers every day, week, and month. Hence the most crucial component of their partner selection criteria is values alignment.
The key question they ask while selecting partners is this—is this a person/organization they can put their trust in and connect to their most important customer? To ensure this, they evaluate the culture and values of potential partners, starting from their vision and mission to their commitment to diversity, environment, and more.
Once candidates are identified based on culture evaluation, the selection process is followed-through with interviews and related processes. However, the most critical criterion for Box in partner selection is, and will always remain, values. If there is value compatibility, everything else will fall in place. Says Dan:
“Who is the company? What is their mission? What are their values? What is their commitment to diversity, to the environment, and social governance? How are they looking at stakeholders in the community and the world? Do we care about the same things? If we do, then we can find competency, capacity, and commitment easily in my experience.”
Success in Adjacent Ecosystems
In addition to value alignment, Box also looks for partners who have achieved success in the adjacent ecosystems. The company’s cloud content solutions integrate with numerous corporate work/project management apps, including Salesforce, Slack, and Jira. Finding partners already strong in such related ecosystems is a great way to create synergy.
What is Box’s Approach to Onboarding and Engaging Partners?
Box has a mature partner program with thousands of partners, ranging from large, established businesses to start-ups and two-person organizations, each having a unique set of needs and requirements. To meet the needs of all partners, the company takes a two-fold approach to partner engagement—onboarding and ever-boarding.
When a new partner joins the program, they undergo an onboarding process that spans over 30, 60, or 90 days depending on the person and the role. Box has partners of varying sizes and maturity, and the needs of one partner differ from the other. To address these varying demands, the company adopts an onboarding method based on the role each partner is in, taking the unique needs of each partner into account.
When it comes to engaging partners, Box gives equal importance to “ever-boarding”—the process of partner enablement over the long term. Unlike onboarding, it is not a one-time process but an ongoing endeavor to ensure the engagement of partners and the efficacy of the partner program. It entails multiple activities, ranging from learning and development and professional development to partner management and deal management.
How Does Box Ensure a Hassle-free Partner Journey?
Box believes that automation is key to creating a fruitful and hassle-free partner journey. At the same time, they put heavy emphasis on forming personal connections with their partners. To enhance partner experience and manage them effectively, the company uses an approach that combines people and technology.
Forming Personal Connections
Box has a dedicated group of partner managers who work on creating a deep personal relationship with partners. The partner management team operates hand in hand with partners daily and understands their requirements. They interact with partners face-to-face and through tools like Zoom and Slack, getting involved in partner deals and in joint solutions.
Automating Processes Using Technology Solutions and Tools
Once partners are on board, the company aims to bring automation to various activities that constitute their enablement processes, such as training sessions, sales content, and learning management. The very objective of such technology and tools is to standardize the experience. To this end, Box uses a CRM and PRM, as well as other business and resource management solutions and technology-led platforms.
For instance, Box ensures that a salesperson working at their partner organization gets the same training and sales enablement content that they create for their internal sales team. They repurpose the content created for the internal sales team to train the sellers in their partner organizations. Besides standardizing the training, it helps reduce the content and resource duplication of creating sales enablement content.
Creating Categories for Partner Management
Understanding partners and their needs and impact is key to deciding how to spend resources on them and how many resources to spend on each partner. Box categorizes partners into three categories based on how they should be managed—active, reactive, and proactive.
Some partners should be managed proactively, while others can be managed actively or reactively. The company establishes goals, metrics, and joint success plans with each of these partner categories so that they know the requirements and expectations.
Scaling with Technology
When you have a mature program, you are in the transformation mode where you constantly change your existing processes and strategies and continue to optimize them regularly. Box uses tools and technology to provide scale. By automating processes using tech-led solutions, the company makes sure that the program is not entirely dependent on people and does not lose its momentum even in the absence of one or more persons.
Building a Strong Operational Rigor
Again, Box leverages technology to create, build, and foster enablement and connections, create operational rigor and generate ongoing value for partners. It includes everything from onboarding, signing contracts, and sharing materials to creating a knowledge base to make data and information searchable and readily available for partners.
Box's approach to partner enablement shows that success is not about having a “perfect” partner program. It is, on the other hand, about automating the processes using the right tools and technologies to capture the changing requirements of partners. As Dan observes:
“We do not need a perfect program. The question is, what tools do we have today that we can use? How can we start automating to create more consistent and repeatable processes? How can we start onboarding based on the user and their needs at that moment and over time so that they have all the things you need to start selling? Automation—to be more precise full automation—is the goal.”
Key Takeaways: Dan’s Advice to Build and Scale Successful Partner Programs
“Always remember—a partner program is about partners and their success.”
Often, companies make the mistake of focusing too much on the program—they think it is all about the program. However, a partner program is always about partners and their success. You should build programs that make your partners wildly successful, make them indispensable to your customers, and align your incentives with their incentives.
"You have to have a long-term vision of what you want to be working towards.”
Partnerships are a journey, and a long one at that. You should measure it in years, not in days, weeks, or months. It means you must have a long-term vision of what your partner program should be and work towards it. In partnerships, it is easy to pick the fruit before it's fully ripened. One must keep in mind that it takes time to create success—measure your partnerships in a longer duration and create short-term actions that work towards your long-term goals.
“Invest in technology if you want to scale your business.”
To run an effective business, you should have a structured technology stack in place. You wouldn’t have a sales team without a CRM or an engineering team without a code management system. Likewise, you shouldn’t be in the partner business without a PRM or related partner management tools. Without the right tools and technology, you cannot do business in a repeatable and scalable way.
Make it Happen for You: How to Grow a Partner Program Like Box
If you want to grow a partner program like Box, 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