How CloudTalk Designed a Multi-Tier 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 Kristýna Cardova, CloudTalk’s Partnerships Director. CloudTalk is a leading provider of contact center management solutions for businesses of all types and sizes. They offer powerful and intuitive cloud-based call center software that enables sales and support teams to deliver exceptional customer support. The company currently serves over 2,500 call centers and phone systems and boasts a prolific customer base that includes OYO, Fujitsu, Glovo, and Tech Mahindra, to name a few.
As the Director of Partnerships, Kristýna heads the partner program at CloudTalk. She is in charge of designing and strategizing the program and setting its future direction. She and her team have built a multi-tiered program that is user-friendly, flexible, and incorporates various partner types. After the past few months of preparation, CloudTalk is all set to announce the big launch.
Read the following interview to discover how CloudTalk built such a successful partner program and improved their strategy. Take advantage of the advice coming from Kristýna Cardova herself:
Why CloudTalk Decided to Start a Partner Program
As a provider of sales-boosting SaaS solutions, CloudTalk always recognized the role of partners in reaching out to their diverse customer demographic. Naturally, building a partner program has been central to their sales strategy from early on. A couple of years ago, they ran a pilot partner program to assess the feasibility and understand the traction. After receiving a good response, they decided to take the next step—build a well-structured program and open it to everyone.
Their primary objectives for starting the program weren’t different from other companies—revenue and reach. CloudTalk sought to diversify their revenue sources and cater to diverse industries. At the same time, they wanted to expand their footprint in territories their internal sales team could not reach due to cultural and language barriers. A channel partner program, they believed, was the best way to achieve both without having to hire internal teams.
How CloudTalk Structured Their Partner Program
CloudTalk’s partner program is structured with different types of partners, each having varying levels of involvement in the sales cycle. While some would merely represent the brand without any touch interaction with end customers, others would represent the brand, recommend the solution, and walk customers through the whole sales cycle.
CloudTalk achieved this feat by introducing multiple tiers and sub-levels in their partner program, each dedicated to a category of partners. Their current structure has four partner tiers—Affiliates, Solution Providers, Resellers, and Integration Partners, all managed and tracked on Kiflo.
1. Affiliates (Tier-I)
This is the marketing tier; partners in this tier are promoters, such as influencers, content producers, publishers, and the like. They endorse the brand and receive a fair and motivating commission for their promotional endeavors. Their role in the sales cycle is to make the first contact with customers and bring in leads, which are taken up and converted by internal sales teams.
2. Service Providers (Tier-II)
This tier is more about sales than marketing. Partners in this tier take care of customers from end to end, from bringing in the lead and converting it, to ensuring that customers have everything they need to grow and get the most out of the solution. They, however, do not handle billing and customer support—the in-house teams at CloudTalk handle these responsibilities.
Tier II further has two sub-levels based on the volume of activity:
- Level 1: It comprises small consultants and agencies—they have clients who need core solutions like CloudTalk but lack the structure to generate large volumes of leads. They do what a service provider typically does, but on a smaller scale, and their commission also differs from high-volume partners.
- Level 2: This level consists of companies and consultancies having the resources and structure to deal with a large number of clients. They bring in and convert more leads than their Level 1 counterparts, generate more revenue, and consequently, they get a higher commission.
3. Resellers (Tier-III)
The third and uppermost tier of channel partners are resellers who handle end-to-end operations, from lead generation to conversion to billing and support. They have a huge responsibility to handle as they represent the very identity of the brand—in a way, they are an extension of the company. Their commission is higher than the other two tiers, and channel sales managers maintain tight contact with them. Needless to say, it is a highly exclusive group of a handful of partners carefully selected from several hundreds of candidates.
4. Integration Partners (Tier-IV)
This tier is dedicated to Independent Software Vendors. Integration Partners are not directly involved in the customer lifecycle. CloudTalk’s main objective with these partnerships is to offer more value to their shared customers by combining tools. A Partner Manager from CloudTalk works closely with their partner’s product and marketing teams to maintain a close relationship.
What makes the partner program at CloudTalk different is that it is well-defined and flexible at the same time. In other words, it is defined enough to have a clear structure and scalability, and yet, flexible enough to capture and reflect the many different types of partnerships. As Kristýna explains:
“We needed a partner program that would have enough categories to reflect the needs of different core businesses. There are different levels depending on the volume of activity and level of engagement. We wanted to create a program that is flexible enough for that, and at the same time, has a clear structure.”
Moreover, the program is centered on a human-to-human philosophy, factoring in the specific needs and requirements of each group. At the same time, it is not too centered on any one group. The defined structure of the program ensures scalability at all levels.
How CloudTalk Finds Partners: Inbound to Outbound Acquisition Strategies
CloudTalk uses both inbound and outbound marketing methods to acquire partners. The company has a dedicated channel sales team that takes care of outbound partner acquisition, while the inbound acquisition is done by getting partners to sign up through the company website.
The outbound strategy used by CloudTalk has two defining features—a well-defined partner persona and high levels of flexibility.
The company has various partner personas that serve as a guiding criterion to identify potential partners. They help channel managers put themselves in the partners' shoes and understand their needs, requirements, challenges, and motivations. A clearly defined partner persona also comes in handy while deciding which partners fit which category.
CloudTalk does not have any hard and fast rules on who they should let in the partner program—it is the decision of channel sales managers. Though the structure of the partner program, the responsibilities of partners, and their MRR objectives are defined, channel managers enjoy high levels of flexibility.
Managers can decide on their strategy—whether they want to work with a few big partners or several small partners—provided they meet the MRR requirement. According to Kristýna, such a flexible model allows managers to make decisions with a personal touch, own the decisions they make, and be responsible for what they do.
“This is what we believe in at CloudTalk. We give a lot of personal liberty and space for each manager to decide things on their own, take responsibility for what they do, and own what they're doing. Each of them might have their personal touch and strategy, and how they want to work with partners is perfectly up to them.”
Strategies CloudTalk Uses to Keep Their Partners Engaged
When it comes to keeping partners engaged and interested in the program, CloudTalk uses a combination of methods, such as training, webinars, and community forums/platforms.
CloudTalk gives proper and periodic training to everyone joining the program. All partners have access to the company’s content library, ensuring that all required information is readily available. Moreover, there is a training platform for higher tiers where solution providers and resellers receive interactive and detailed video training. After each training session, partners are given certification to confirm that they have acquired all the knowledge.
Webinars are another way CloudTalk keeps channel partners engaged. The content of such webinars is created by the enablement team and various departments. It is a collaborative effort to keep partners engaged and updated on all aspects of the program.
While CloudTalk takes several measures to keep partners connected with their in-house teams, they also pay equal importance to communication between and among partners. To this end, they are planning to set up a community platform where partners can communicate and discuss various topics on a forum.
Measuring the Partner Program: The Key KPIs CloudTalk Measures
Measuring is integral to the partner program at CloudTalk. They use a combination of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess whether the program is heading in the right direction and yielding the right results.
MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue)
The Monthly Recurring Revenue partners bring in is the singular most valuable KPI that ClouldTalk uses. It is how they measure the success of their program. All other KPIs they use to help optimize activities; however, MRR is the primary way for them to assess the effectiveness of partners and the endeavors of their team.
Number of Partners
Since the new program is still in the early stages, CloudTalk uses another crucial KPI - partner acquisition rates. By measuring the number of partners in specific tiers, the company can forecast their MRR and see if they have enough numbers to generate the target MRR (higher tiers of partners commit to a certain sales target).
Quality of partnerships
Though CloudTalk measures volume, they do not let numbers sidetrack them from their commitment to quality and value. So, other critical KPIs they measure are how many partners are onboarded, trained, certified, and active, as well as how many have finalized their business and marketing plans.
Key Takeaways: Kristýna’s Advice to Improve Partner Program Strategy
1. “Make your people and departments collaborate.”
It is essential to create an ecosystem that brings together various players in the program, such as channel partners, integration partners, and sales, marketing, and product departments. Instead of focusing on one thing, you must broaden your view and facilitate collaboration between your people and departments. It is all about having a holistic approach where things are interdependent. The more you make space for things to happen and people to collaborate, the tighter your partner relations become.
2. “Invest in training. Invest in people.”
If you want to entrust partners with responsibilities, you must also give them the right tools to handle those responsibilities. Make sure to invest in training materials and training itself. While the human effort of partner managers is crucial, the tools you use equally matter. Choosing the right tools will make things easier for you.
3. “Take a human-to-human approach.”
Of course, data is critical in partner programs. However, when you are starting a new partnership, there are no numbers, data, or results to rely on in the beginning. So, how do you evaluate the partner potential when there is no data yet? Here is where the human-to-human approach becomes central. It is crucial to get close to people and understand them, their business, and their motivation to work with you. This is where the numbers will come from.
Make it happen for you: How to grow a partner program like CloudTalk
If you want to grow a partner program like CloudTalk, 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