Who should your Channel or Partnerships team report to?

Who should your Channel or Partnerships team report to?

Who should your Channel or Partnerships team report to? A very difficult question that should only be answered by a process articulated in this article.

Let's note some of our (Partnerprograms.io) opinions on this matter before we share our views on this question: 

  1. Firstly, we believe Partnerships should NOT have a revenue quota or even a revenue KPI in year one.
  2. Second, we believe agencies and consultants who use your product are the BEST source of product feedback, content, sales leads and CX optimizations because they are speaking to your customers (their clients) every day AND their business depends on them knowing the best solution for their needs today and in the next 6 months.
  3. We also know that the partnership managers who exist as an extension of the sales team (both in training and under management) are the partner managers who bug the sh!t out of partners because every other email or call is a request for a referral and not a helpful conversation.

If all of these are agreed upon by you, or at least you see where we're coming from, then we can proceed to what shapes my personal biases on this topic: 

So, while it is difficult for me to relate to the politics of running a company with partnerships + sales + marketing teams... My experience has brought me to these findings: 

Many programs fail because Partnerships is rolled up under Sales too much too soon.

Meaning, their genesis is taking someone on the sales team (AE or BDR), giving them marching orders to "sell" ____ number of partners on this program and then "draw out" revenue from them to meet a $____ ARR quota by Q2 (notice how I didn't use the word "enable"). This typical rep has never worked in the type of business they now have to partner with. And this individual is usually around 25 years young.

Then this poor young salesperson now has to report their progress to an aggressive technology sales leader who ONLY sees the bottom line.

What inevitably happens is they push too hard to deaf ears, upset more agency-users then they bring in, and the program gets scrapped.

Let's look at the flip side: 

Many programs succeed because the demand for the product is so high and partner incentives are too good and too sticky for it to possibly fail.

And those who argue the point of "Well, HubSpot's partner program has always had a revenue quota and has salespeople as partner managers, and look what they've done..." 

Yes, HubSpot is a shining example. But they also put an ecosystem around their product and partner program (training mainly, but also paths to referrals) that made it so damn sticky, the HubSpot partners I speak to daily who tell me they are so annoyed by the end of month referral requests from their partner manager, will still stay on the program despite constantly being pushed to give up leads. The agencies who drank that coolaid early on have reached enormous success.

But, that success of the program to date, and affinity for the program, is due to the ecosystem - the product integrations ecosystem, the sales enablement training, and the support the partners receive from HubSpot for being in their program...

Hopefully you are still with me :) 

Now, let's assume you call yourselves a "Customer Centric" tech company. If you do, and you're serious about that, you want the most valuable feedback on how your product and customer success performs against your competition, and be aware that agency or consultants who also sell to your end users are the BEST source of product feedback on all sides. And in that reality: 

You do not want your partner team focused on selling as opposed to information gathering and finding "alignments"...

...at least in the early days. This is important because not only does it take 6-12 months for any new partner program to find it's groove, if you force revenue KPIs on your partner managers too soon, they'll burn what could have been excellent strategic alignments with people in the channel by annoying them with sales calls.

Further, being under sales creates a negative stigma for the partner manager with their prospective partners because no one likes to be sold anything. You don't know how many HubSpot agencies I speak to who ignore their partner managers requests for a call at the end of the quarter because they know that call is a request for pipeline.

So while your end goal from a partner program is revenue, incubating the partner team under sales is (in my opinion) the wrong choice.

Most of you will not agree with this. And those of you who do are probably on a sales team who have run intro frustrating attribution issues between salesperson and partner program.

What's the right place for your partner program in year 1? 

In tech companies who want to enable partners to sell their solution for them...

I sincerely believe the Founder / Co-Founder should move things off their plate and handle it themselves.

With the caveat of over 500 employee org's... at that scale, the CEO is too detached from the product itself to really be able to speak to savvy agencies about the use case.

So in larger org's, the partner team should report directly to the CEO.

That is the only way to prevent these pitfalls:

Hypothetically, you are with me still...

Now the strategy for those of you in this ballpark (under a few hundred employees, product-market fit, high NPS... ready for partnerships), is to first have your founder/co-founder start to reach out to agencies;

  1. Work with Partnerprograms.io to formalize an incentive structure and early-stage partner program.
  2. Form a list of current product users who are also agencies.
  3. Append their activity to that so you can prioritize them.
  4. Have the CEO reach out to a dozen with the humble request to get on a call to hear what they can do better.
  5. Use that time to present what the beta partner program would look like to those user-partners.
  6. Take that feedback to the team to start forming agency persona's and a tiered program.
  7. Create your landing pages.
  8. Reach back out to those power users who should be your first partners with an offer above what is listed on the partner page (this could be exclusivity over a region, fee's for managing current accounts, a dedicated support line...).
  9. [Still the CEO] onboard those first user-partners fully - get them assets to sell your tool, signed contracts, team alignment calls, training calls scheduled...
  10. Take those who have case studies and publish them (link in the partner landing page).
  11. Create a mini-directory to show off those agencies to your users.
  12. Then, create a marketing campaign to push messaging at a list you have enriched of ideal partners.
  13. Have an SDR use the CEO's email/profiles to do bulk outreach.
  14. Still direct the calls to the CEO's calendar link.
  15. Now, loop in department heads on those calls so everyone is aligned on the needs of the partners.

At this point, the team comes together and decides to hire or place from an internal team.

And because the CEO had all of those calls and knows what partners expect and need... my guess is the CEO will also agree partnerships needs to report directly to them with revenue quota for the first 6 months at least... to ensure the programs success.

Whether you agree or disagree, I'd love to discuss this with you: 

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