How to Win Partner’s Hearts & Minds
This article is 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 had the pleasure of speaking with Shawn Li, Vice President of Partnerships at Flip CX, a technology company that helps businesses transform phone support with Alexa-like voice automation for customer service.
The foundation behind Flip's partner program was a growing ecosystem of partnerships and pre-built integrations in the e-commerce space. This approach enabled both large and small brands to quickly connect their existing systems with Flip and get up and running in under an hour for easy implementation.
"We think of Flip's partner program as a day-one program, which is traditionally not common."
Flip's commitment to e-commerce led them to realize that forming external partnerships would be more successful if there were internal partnerships in place first. This starts with the CEO fostering cross-functional collaborations from the beginning to build a strong foundation for success.
To accelerate their growth, navigating complex situations from different perspectives, knowing different types of partners, and, of course, nailing value and quick wins in partner pitches are all essential for success.
But let's hear more about it from Shawn. Read the following interview to discover and take advantage of the advice coming from Shawn himself.
Segmenting Your Pitch Strategies by Partner Type
Having an effective pitch strategy that caters to different partner types is a key element in developing successful partnerships. It's particularly important to be aware of the differences, as differentiating the appropriate segments can maximize potential business opportunities.
Shawn emphasizes the importance and difference between channel and tech partnerships.
"For a tech partner, they need both the integration and partnership to work effectively. Therefore, they approach the relationship in a more repeatable and standardized fashion."
The secret of approaching a tech partnership program is that the element of attention doesn't have to be difficult. If the partner understands the concept of how one plus one can equal three, they can be presented with relevant information.
It is because tech partners often act as a system of record (like a Salesforce of customer interactions) or system of action, so all you need to do in your pitch is educate them on talent, customers, prospects, and everything else that makes sense for an integration.
That will avoid overwhelming the results with too much data, and it is critical to have conversations about it beforehand in order to maximize activation and create value for both parties involved in the partnership.
When Shawn thinks of channel partners, a specific example comes to mind from his days at Conversica.
"At Conversica, the team had a large channel partner. In this case, their attention was always sought after; they were seen as the "king of the hill" and the market leaderin their vertical. To get their attention, Conversica focused on creating the highest-quality strategy they could to attach to their base and ensure that they understood what they were doing."
The team focused on maximizing the partner's attention by creating enablement tracks for their separate internal teams, emphasizing ease of sale, quick path to revenue, and minimal friction as key drivers for customers to sign on.
One thing the team noticed was that when the partner had already conducted their research on the company and product, they were much quicker to sign up as a reseller
It meant they were already eager to sell your product, but two things were still required for this pitch to be a success.
A "champion" is needed to articulate how the investment in channel partners can bring success, whether that be through increased retention, larger net revenue retention (NRR), or measurable bottom-line improvements.
“A champion should be able to provide evidence of the immediate impact this partner can have on your business and suggest strategies to increase success.”
Multi-threading is beneficial when working with a large number of partners. These deals require less standardization and are akin to an enterprise deal, costing millions or tens of millions.
As the deal lead, you must assemble a team, identify value bearers, and determine how they complement one another to equip your designated "champion" throughout the process of the pitch meeting. It could be, for example, the VP, a product person, CFO, PNL (Profit & Loss) owner, and maybe even the business owner.
“This way, our champion is not left alone to convince his executive vice president, CFO, and head of product on why they should sign up for this reseller partnership."
Segmenting Your Pitch Strategies by Partner Size
This moves us into segmenting by partner size.
Remember, sometimes you will have to adjust your resources and strategies based on how big or small your partner is, which means that the content of your pitch will always vary depending on the partner you are pitching to.
For large partners, a one-pager may be helpful, but it is certainly not enough. In this case, attention, activation, and channel partner enablement need to be multi-threaded for a more effective approach, and of course, partner loyalty.
"The challenge is when we think enablement materials can do the job of engaging and winning hearts and minds. I don't believe so. I believe there is always a human element there."
It means your partner pitch need not be solely document or paper-based or, to put it another way, lacking in human persona or quality. After all, you are speaking to people.
So, here are some ways to pitch to large partners effectively:
Win Hearts & Minds
The "heart" of customer/partner success is edutainment, a blend of education and entertainment that fuels the "why" of the pitch by captivating partners with an exceptional experience and giving them the information they need to understand why they should care about the good or service offered.
The remaining 40%, or "the mind aspect," as Shawn puts it, should be devoted to explaining how your company's goods or services can benefit their growth and/or business.
"So, if they can take action, you know that you have sown the seeds the right way. So, 60% is sales kick-off and winning hearts, and then I think 40% is a bit of the mental aspect of it, which is to say, 'How can I help you?"
Given that it is not always immediately obvious to those involved why this partnership exists and what it means for them, Shawn uses Simon Sinek's teachings about partnerships as an example.
“The goal is for partners to feel engaged like they know and understand who I am, why they are doing this, and how they can take action.”
Make Them See Themselves in the Work
The next big thing is to help them see a pathway in the pitch that will give them knowledge and comprehension of what they are doing, why they are doing it, and the steps to take to achieve it.
Doing this will help the partner transition from a passive position of observation to an active position of participation.
"The focus should not be on you; it should be on helping others succeed. If, after the session, someone says, 'Wow, Shawn (or whoever presented) did a great job! Awesome presenter!' that might provide temporary encouragement, but it doesn't help the salesperson or CSM realize that they can succeed on their own."
When they are eager to act, you can be sure that your pitch has affected them on a deeper level than just their minds and understanding. This is when you can be sure it has also touched their hearts. After all, action is what counts.
Side Note: Shawn suggests reading a book called The SB Framework to help you focus on the partners you are pitching to rather than on yourself.
The next question then applies: does the 60/40 rule work for all partner sizes or only large partners?
And to answer this question in Shawn's words, "This is more of an art than a science." Working with smaller partners allows us to play and bend these percentages a bit more. Here’s how:
Be Their Guide
"When we think about being a guide, it is easier at an individual level."
Most companies in the early stages of growth appreciate having more attention and "champions" in their network. It can be a real game-changer, propelling success even faster than anticipated. Addressing these factors can be a turning point in your pitch.
With smaller partnerships, it's easier to simplify and cut to the chase quicker; however, it's still just as crucial to provide an easy-to-understand overview of how partnering up would be mutually beneficial.
In simple words, act as a guide; this will give you the best chance of success in securing these valuable partnerships and helping celebrate early successes.
Take an Interest in Your Contact
"With specific partner leaders, I honestly believe that if you help make them successful, they will go the extra mile to try and make the partnership successful."
With that said, it is important to take a genuine interest in your partner's needs.
- What are their partnership or SMART goals?
- What do they hope to get out of the partnership?
Then, move on to finding out how you can help them through leads, referrals, and technical aspects that will help them succeed.
Remember that sometimes what they may be looking for is not explicitly stated; for instance, they could be hoping to double the partnership or increase ARR by 50%, receive mentorship, gain guidance, and/or expand their expertise in a field.
For larger groups, take a tailored approach that considers the characteristics of the group.
Connect with a lead on the prospective partner's team who can assist you in communicating with them in their language.
"I once worked with a partner leader. He was able to explain to me how they think. They were extremely deal-focused and opportunity-oriented, with a focus on closing deals quickly and with high velocity and speed. Understanding their mindset allowed me to position my message in a specific way.”
Your partner lead should either manage a team or work independently; however, these two figures will approach things differently. When working as an individual, the emphasis is on efficiency and getting the job done for themselves, whereas when managing a team, the emphasis shifts to processes and repeatability.
Although they may have procedures and be well organized, their customer success and sales teams likely operate in different ways, so figuring this out will also help you understand how to activate some of those units.
Will your partner help you? Or will they be more focused on the program, leaving the task of fire-starting to you?
Find the Quick Wins
Finding quick wins is key to creating an atmosphere of motivation and excitement. It is the "unspoken" genius tactic of fusing psychology and peer influence to inspire people to strive toward their own wins and adapt their plans to achieve success more quickly.
It also helps to establish a good reputation and get people excited about achieving their goals.
"Ideas begin to come to people. People begin to wonder, ‘How can I do the same?’ and 'How can I modify my own business to produce those successes too?’"
The best way to do this is by putting successful stories in front of potential partners, so they can recognize opportunities, learn from the example of others, and start to brainstorm ideas on how they can replicate the successes themselves.
Presenting Your Value
When it comes to nailing partner pitching, value is the name of the game, no matter the size or type of partner.
Partner pitching goes beyond simply spouting off different styles and techniques.
It's about forming a partnership that can solve consumer-related problems while simultaneously envisioning and understanding what value will be gained, not just in terms of monetary compensation or benefits, but through a partnership that benefits both parties in equal measure.
Benefits vs. Commission
It is clear that in the channel partner space, there is a shared language that enables partners to grow their businesses. Although this may seem transactional and commission-only based, it is more than that.
"It's not just about commissions and sounding transactional; it's just quicker and translates well into what they are trying to achieve. They want to bring deals, sell with you or through you; money is the closest proxy, but it is not necessarily the only thing."
So, when you are presenting the value proposition and potential partners ask what they stand to gain, keep in mind that there are two levels to consider: the company level and the individual contact level.
At the company level, the commission is a quick conclusion, but keep in mind that they will base their decision on data from the previous year before making any decisions. At the individual level, are the goals or non-monetary benefits that they are attempting to gain?
How does one know this? Test it out.
"Here's a more fun, lighthearted way of looking at it: experiment. You may not know what works or motivates your partner until you try it. Trying could mean two things. Firstly, attempt something and fail - but failure is not really a failure. It's learning that a thing you thought would matter doesn't resonate with your partner."
Consider Ownership as a Benefit
Co-ownership of the product can be a greater benefit than commission. When a sales team has power and confidence in its own product, they can explain and show how a partnership can broaden their scope of capabilities. With this collaborative effort, they bring even more value to the table.
"It's those moments at night when I sit and think about it that I realize just how many deals this partner is chasing. We'd be a perfect complement; if they said they have voice and voice automation to include in the deals, there would be no hesitation on my part. We would just work."
For example, a customer might want to buy a customer relationship management (CRM) system that can come with added value, such as voice automation, or other features that could be gained through a partnership with another company. For example, the CRM and PRM Integration between HubSpot and Kiflo.
It allows customers to see beyond just one CRM, recognizing the added value and expertise available as a result of this extended partnership. This conversation helps them understand the complete package that is available to them and encourages them to invest more confidently in what they are purchasing or partnering with.
The Reward of Nurturing and Clarity
Finally, after signing the partnership and cementing the relationship, there must be a level of TLC to ensure that it is within certain bounds; otherwise, it can quickly become unbalanced and unpredictable.
It is often in those nurturing moments that we find much-needed clarity and you get a little more perspective of the partnership.
"Clarity comes in the quiet sometimes. Like in moments of newfound confidence, believing that your products and services will be a good fit for the partner you've been talking to, and knowing that your team and product can fully support them in all their deals, especially after weeks of discussion and negotiations."
It will take some time. It may take one successful transaction to persuade them. For example, you could provide a full license to your services to demonstrate how much your team can accomplish for them.
However, there is a satisfying moment when you present your suggestions or ideas, and the partner sees the potential of the partnership and comes to their own conclusion without any additional sales-y influence.
That is the point at which everything comes together. Where everything you've worked so hard for finally pays off.
Key Takeaways: Shawn’s Advice to Scaling Your Partner Program
“Don't just try to be faster or even try to win. Try to be different.”
“When you think about the pitch, start with why. Start with the partnerships and the value they can gain from working together. Value could be solving a problem they didn't know existed or differently and uniquely positioning themselves so that they are more than just faster. So this analogy is good – don't just try to be better or even win; be different in the way you help your partner achieve that so it becomes clear. Explain the problem they might be facing and how you can help or articulate a better future that you can offer by working together.”
"Think of your value bearers."
“When considering value, we should not only think about the why; we should also think about the value bearers, your contacts and multiple touch points as you build a bridge between them. It may sound strange, but there are two components in a coalition of support: there are those who are part of the coalition and those in partnership with it. Consider your value bearers, and how to get them excited both emotionally (sales kick-offs) and intellectually (training)”
"Learn when to transition from educator to guide."
“But value realization is the part where you can now hold them and be a guide, with a framework to transition and show first success, early success, and repeatable success that everybody else can mirror. So you move on from the pitch and the 'why' to be the bearer of showing how, and then maybe even stepping back and saying 'I have been the coach; I have given you strategy, vision, and the 'why'. Now I'm going to be the guide and help those I have guided celebrate as they reach the peak.'"
Make it Happen for You: How to Grow Your Partner Program like Flip
If you want to grow a partner program like Flip, 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