Are partnerships on the brink of a robot takeover? This is the question we posed to experts in our recent webinar.
Automation has impacted many areas of business and society and has reared its head into partnerships as well. This wonderful invention helps companies better manage all aspects of the partnership lifecycle, including discovery, recruitment, onboarding, engagement, and optimization.
What does this mean for partner managers? Well, for one, fewer spreadsheets and less time spent on time-consuming, repetitive tasks.
Be that as it may, it is possible to go too far in the other direction.
Connections suffer when you automate everything because when things like communication are automatic, the personal element that makes for strong relationships is nonexistent.
So, where do we draw the line?
We recently hosted a webinar and invited some of the brightest minds in partnerships to how to find the balance between automation and strong, human partnerships. These are the highlights.
- 1. Losing Contact: Where Automation Fails With Will Taylor
- 2. Breaking the 80/20 Rule With Rick van den Bosch
- 2.1. Product usage = Partner engagement
- 2.2. The Customer Health Score = Partner Engagement Score
- 2.3. Customer Playbook Automation = Partner Playbook Automation
- 3. Self-Awareness in Partnerships with Jennifer Richey
- 4. Justin Zimmerman: Alliances and Strategic Automation
- 5. Using Tech to Foster Connections With Chris Samila
- 6. Conclusion
Table of contents
Given the complexity of human communication (verbal and nonverbal), it can be challenging to replicate that kind of social connection in an automated way.
This isn't to say that technology has completely eliminated the human ability to connect; it just means that our ability to connect digitally differs from our ability to connect analogously.
As Will explains in the above video, as partnerships grow, it's becoming increasingly difficult to communicate with partners on a large scale. To bridge this gap, he proposes the following to maintain the human element in your communications:
Try not to make it too serious.
Don’t just focus on yourself. Focus on the partner every step of the way.
Remove the formality. It’s ok sometimes to use hey, or even yo to greet your partners.
Use videos. It's a great way to stay personable. The best thing about videos is that they can be generic and much more engaging than any email you send.
You can also use memes and emojis in your communication, as long as it's in good taste. Think about how you message your friends. You want to have the same feeling as your partners.
Be ruthlessly clear in your messages and action will follow. That means being specific about why you're messaging. That will lead your recipients to act.
“Vendors that make partner engagement scalable are the ones that will win partner mindshare and revenue growth in a congested market.”
Rick, Founder & CEO at Channext, focused his discussion on how to make partner engagement scalable—and most importantly, how to break the 80/20 rule—by using the robots to organize and analyze both customer and partner data
According to him, the 80/20 Rule comes in three parts:
80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the partners.
80% of the partners are inactive in a partner channel.
80% of your outcomes result from 20% of your actions.
There are many reasons why this rule exists. From a vendor perspective, there's a lack of resources to manage medium to large partners. Therefore, they need to put their resources where they'll get the most value.
The second reason is that partners are preoccupied with their daily activities. Lastly, it is hard to keep partners engaged.
In his talk in the video above, Rick also emphasized that partnerships are booming. That means more vendors are entering the market and competing for the same partnerships. With this in mind, it’s good to ask yourself how partnerships can scale. He gave the following tips:
Recruit, activate, and integrate partners.
Training and enablement are very important in partnerships.
Engage partners in sales and marketing activities.
To make engagement scalable from the 80/20 perspective, you have to segment your partners, especially in the world of automation.
Segmentation is the process of classifying partners into groups based on specific criteria, such as size, specialization, revenue, verticals, and their languages with end users. The benefit of this is that you're able to provide them with their preferred marketing content.
This also helps you make data-informed decisions.
Lastly, Rick said that partnerships have to learn from other industries and find ways to translate customer success data into partner success data. He gave the following scenarios to make his point:
Customer success tracks product usage.
In partnerships, we track partner engagement on a broader scale to break the 80/20 rule. Having a helicopter view of all your partners helps you strategize on how you can help all your partners scale.
This is tracking the most important interactions with your partners and helps you measure the outcomes. With this information, you can map out strategies for future partners.
The data you gather can trigger the ability to reach out to the right partner, at the right time, with the right content. Automation plays an important role here as it can perform this task efficiently.
So, where does automation end?
According to Rick, you can use automation to track partner engagement, spot churn risks, and enable partners to scale.
Indeed, all these are necessary, but certain tasks need a human touch. Automation can’t reach out to partners in the same way that you can, it can’t build relationships and it certainly can’t help partners grow together.
“Building relationships through human interaction are the 20% of activities that generate 80% of your outcomes. Robots can never replace this.”
“If you think about it, you're connected to different people at different levels of the ecosystem. Every one of those interactions is an opportunity to be present.”
According to Jennifer, partnerships are all about human connection. The most effective partnerships are multi-faceted and intersectional, meaning that multiple people with multiple objectives, identities, titles, and backgrounds are coming together at any given point.
As Jennifer explains above, as partnership leaders, it is our job to be present and aware of those intersections. This is why doing work and research on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives—both at the company and individual levels—are integral to the success of that partnership.
Why? Because when partners see that the culture of your organization invites both you, your team, and the partner to show up as their authentic selves, stronger transparency, trust, and, ultimately, relationships can be built on all fronts.
Therefore, it's up to each individual to learn self-awareness and make a positive contribution to truly understanding and respecting the experiences of those around them.
According to Jennifer, here’s how to increase self-awareness:
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Proactively research resources to support your learning.
Be an ambassador and ally with partners, and don’t be shy. Ask about their pronouns and preferences and also share that with your team.
Be gentle with yourself and others.
“In today's world, there should be no reason to spend a lot of time on repetive tasks. Use the tech so that partner managers can have those important conversations with partners and increase engagement. When that's done, it leads to new signups.”
In his presentation, Justin focused on real automation use cases from a marketing perspective. According to him, robots and humans go hand in hand. Partner marketers should put robots to work to filter, sort, and start conversations with our partners.
Basically, the robots should break the ice so the humans can come in and do what they do best.
To illustrate his point, he used a webinar as an example. One of the challenges for partner managers is that they invest a lot of time preparing for the webinar, only for a few people to convert to a trial or demo.
He added that automation makes this process easier because, after the webinar, the software can extract data about your customers, their customers, and partners who signed up at the click of a button. This information makes it easier for you to reach the best leads who are likely to convert. Thus, allowing you to start the conversation.
Automation is necessary to give partner managers the time they need to actually have those important conversations with partners and increase engagement. When that's done, it leads to new signups.
Chris is the VP of Partnerships at Crossbeam. Though he couldn't attend the webinar in person due to Hurricane Ian, Chris sat down with our Head of Content, Shawnie Hamer, to address how technology and automation have changed partnerships.
To do so, Chris first looked at how technology has helped other industries versus partnerships. For example, in software development, a lot of energy was put into marketing automation, marketing efficiency, and attribution in the early 2000s. Sales have also benefited from this. As a result, there are many sales technologies on the market today, and customer success has seen a huge upswing.
However, in partnerships, there weren't as many of these technologies to help partner managers do their jobs better. Much of it's been more outward-facing, used to empower partners, certify and register deals.
Partner teams need to manage partners across this whole customer lifecycle. One person could be influenced at the beginning of the sale, another partner could be influencing services that get wrapped around the deal to help with retention.
And the bottom line is that we need robots to do it.
The key, however, is to not be too prescriptive based simply on the partner's type or tier. Spend time actually understanding what creates value for your partners, not just the commission amount.
“Increasingly a lot of partners in the services world don't care as much about the referral fee. They want those value-added services around your technology which could be orders of magnitude more value for them.”
Automation provides a great opportunity to find the balance between automation and customization. You can talk to others about how they automate different components of the partnership lifecycle, whether it's vetting new partners or helping them with content.
Despite the differing opinions, everyone agrees that automation shouldn't replace human interaction, but enhance it.
Automation is made to solve a particular problem effectively within the context of a very specific system or process. On the other hand, human ingenuity, perception, and contextual awareness are essential for successful partnerships.
To get more insights, access the full webinar here.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How to create connections with channel partners?
The best way to create connections with channel partners is by understanding and offering real value right away.
What is the best way to automate partnerships?
It's best to use a platform, such as a PRM, that allows you to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks.
Is it possible to automate too many aspects of partnerships?
Yes. Bad or generic automation, especially when it comes to communication, can damage your partnership in the long run.
Should channel managers worry about DEI training?
Absolutely. Partnerships is a people business. Channel managers should be self-aware and educated in how to navigate and respect diverse identities.
Does Kiflo help automate partnerships?
Yes! Kiflo's intuitive platform allows partnerships teams to automate and customize processes within the program, giving you the balance between efficiency and human connection.