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How to find the perfect partner as a SaaS startup, part 3 of 3

In my final article in this series, let's talk about metrics. Measuring your channel performance is status quo. Some metrics you need now, and some you need later.

With our initial steps completed to get your alliance up and running, let’s advance the timeline. This early in the relationship, the tangible benefits are still a couple of faithful leaps forward. However, there are a few metrics you can start putting down to check if the partnership is meeting your original goals. Here are three data points I like to establish early.

1. What financial benefits are you getting from the partnership?

You and your partner are presumably for-profit companies. This means keeping the bottom line in mind. Here are three standard metrics many professional business development managers use.

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Sell-With

 

As a startup, you may need a partner to jump-start your business development pipeline. In sell-with, you are jointly working the lead-to-deal lifecycle as a married pair. This means collateral creation, event participation, collective pitch decks. It also means you both enjoy sales success. Allow me to quote the famous NBA all-star Michael Jordan, "Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."

How I look at this is, in the end, being able to answer, "What dollar amount of subscriptions am I contributing to Sales through my partner relationship?" Of course, this question does not need to be one-sided. Having a high EQ, you could also be asking about the reciprocal revenue contribution to your partner's bottom line. The right ratio of sell-with to other revenue methods depends on your industry and what type of partner it is. In my enterprise B2B market and as a startup, I prefer to have a 2:3 ratio of sell-with to sell-through pipeline. You will not have an extensive direct sales team, so where you gain economies of scale are with partners. For example, finding a credible system integrator specializing in DevOps enhances their services with our automation platform.

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Sell-Through

 

In some partnerships, the opportunity for your partner to sell your product without much effort on your part is very attractive. A couple of ways to get to this point are:

  • Effectively investing time and resources on enablement, both sales and technical
  • Eruditely becoming embedded in their services or platform offerings.

In either case, I am a proponent of establishing the metric early yet not being too eager to see a short-sighted payout. Getting to well oiled Sell-Through takes time. For example, one of our investors is also a potential channel partner. Our investor has a behemoth sales organization that we know we need to tap. So our CRO and I make the constant and consistent effort to educate their teams on the Kubernetes market, infrastructure orchestration, and DevOps. At last count, we've been at it for four months now.

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Buy-From

 

Likely the smallest of the numbers, you would expect that if you have a great product, your partner is going to buy it. This is definitely true for technology companies. However, it does not have to be a significant dollar amount to be a justifiable revenue method — especially if you are successful at sell-with and sell-through.

2. Does the partnership help your NPS?

In Part 1, I talked about creating a value-based relationship with your customer. However, value isn't merely about your relationship with the partner. Customers are a huge part of the value. Great partners will be a boon to your NPS because they are delivering your product with exceptional customer service. For example, SIs should be adding a fantastic customer experience at every turn of project delivery. Unfortunately, the perception of your product is tied to how well SIs partners deliver the project even if it is a sell-through.

As the alliance lead, you don't have to badger your partners on every project detail to get NPS. However, do inquire under polite curiosity of customer success being a key trait of your company. Also, a couple of indirect metrics I like to keep are the rate of new tickets logged by the customer and their willingness to do a customer success story.

3. Are they actually using your technology?

For startups partnering with established companies, adoption of your technology may be more important than deal revenue. Training employees or using your services are an important sign that the partner believes in your company. It also shows that the partner is committed to helping you succeed. What I like to see is the preparedness of my trained partners to deliver top-notch service to customers.

Keep a tally of the number of enablement sessions you run for your partner. Also, if you already haven't considered it - create an award system. This does not have to be a full-blown certification process. Instead, please keep it simple with some accolades for enabled partner employees. This metric is an early win to your Leadership that this alliance is getting off on the right footing.

In larger and mature organizations, there is a balanced scorecard with many more metrics. At this stage of your startup, a balanced scorecard may be overkill. Also, consider the overhead burden of carrying too many metrics. Don't scare away your partners too early because you over measure. The benefit of partnering is to scale your startup faster and greater than you would by yourself. So have speed in mind with a cautionary eye on performance at all times.

You both want increased revenue, access to better technology, and an improved reputation. I look for partners that will track these metrics from their end as well. I want them to work with me to ensure the partnership is working for both parties.

 

Wrapping it up

Thank you for trekking with me on this blog series. I had fun writing about what I've learned running business development for Agile Stacks. Because we are in the infrastructure automation, machine learning, and DevOps ecosystem, there are numerous channels my team and I can take to help grow the company. Every week we review and analyze the nine questions against new and old partners alike. In a startup, it is easy to course correct when you have a structure. For your next partner, think about your structure as:

  • Do your partner services compliment your platform, thus creating customer value?
  • Do you have the appropriate buy-in towards mutual success?
  • Does your partner value the same metrics you do to grow the relationship?

Then take my nine questions as details to finding your way through the seemingly unending maze of partnering requests.

Partnering and alliances are an amazing way to grow your startup. Let's be honest, we make some excellent choices and we make a few bad ones (hopefully, more good than bad). Whether you have good outcomes or bad, please share your stories because it makes us all the richer in a field of work that is tough enough to do alone.

Topics: Partners, Infrastructure Automation, Business Development, Strategic Alliances

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