B2B Executive On Fortune 50 + Startup Partnership Development
Throughout the interview, we highlight key insights for:
- Selling to Fortune 50 Companies
- Building Your Partnership Programs
- Growing Your Partnership Programs
Interview With Doug Gould
Nudge: Tell us more about the various roles you’ve had so far.
DG: Throughout my career, I’ve mainly been selling to developers and technologists at enterprise level companies. With Cloudability it was selling to folks using cloud services, with Xamarin it was selling to mobile developers at consulting companies and digital agencies.
The two core focuses of my partnership development work were:
- Business development from a product standpoint – understanding product integrations and working with consultants to deliver these integrations to their clients.
- Go to market strategy – working with resellers and alliance partners to build out co-selling strategies that helped bring our products to market
From my experience, I see partnership programs as a great way to scale a startup. If you bring a couple partners in and align the incentives properly, they will help bring your product to market. That’s where a lot of my experience has been, defining early partner strategy and building out those programs which include overall strategic alliances.
Selling a Service that Proactively Prevents Problems
Nudge: Could you tell me more about the type of sale you’d go through with Cloudability?
DG: In the early days of cloud services creeping into large enterprise businesses we found developers were using a lot of these services and then expensing them back to the business. These companies spent millions on IT so at the beginning it wasn’t expensive enough to piss the finance people off, but over time it got to the point where it became a hot-button issue.
Since AWS and many cloud services bill on a variable basis, you don’t know what your bill is going to look like until it comes at the end of the month and there aren’t really ways that you can put controls in place to limit usage. Cloudability was a SaaS product that allowed companies to understand how much of those cloud services they were actually using, and also optimize the cost of that usage.
The challenge was that people didn’t understand they had a problem until something bad happened. We’d talk to somebody about the product and they’d go away, then months later they would come back after having problems with their finance department. In this way it was kind of like selling insurance.
Key Insight: 4 Steps to selling a service that proactively prevents problems
- Identify a customer persona for people/organizations that could potentially experience the problem you prevent.
- Reach out to these target customers to provide them with resources and tools that will help them become aware of this potential problem.
- Build a strong relationship with a champion in the target organization.
- If they don’t buy into your explanation of the problem, make it easy for them to get back in touch with you after they experience the problem.
Properly Selecting Target Partners and Aligning Incentives
Nudge: What size of company were you targeting?
DG: That’s an interesting question. When you look at the employee count of the company it doesn’t really matter, for us it was more-so about how much cloud service they could use. For example, Airbnb from a number of employees standpoint didn’t look like a huge opportunity, but considering the fact that their entire business was built off the back of AWS, it’s like holy crap, that’s a huge opportunity.
Another important thing Cloudability did really well was customer success. We were mutually aligned with AWS in the sense that our variable price model matched theirs, so we wanted to encourage people to spend their money smartly.
If somebody came in as a small customer we could actually grow that into a huge customer, versus this legacy idea of selling them a flat rate. Now, we are incentivized to ensure the customer is successful and end up making way more money down the line. That’s also something that investors really look for. So that kind of partnership development is a critical asset for long-term growth.
“Develop a pricing model that allows you to grow your customer’s recurring spend over time.”
How to “Land & Expand” Within a Partner Organization
Nudge: So how did these partnerships work?
DG: We were an official partner of AWS, but there were rules around how we could incentivize their team.Then on the flip side, there were limitations on their side of the relationship. They couldn’t directly show us any customer data So we just have to navigate that stuff.
That was a big part of my role. As a partnerships and alliance person, it was my job to find areas of alignment, build those relationships, and then use that success to foster new business relationships with a given partner. Once I found sales reps willing to work with us invested my time in making them be successful, my role was to simply to be a champion. I had a newsletter I would send to them saying “Hey here’s how we helped some of your colleagues. If you have customers that you think fit this profile and we could work with in a similar way, then let me know.”
Key Insight: 5 Steps to “Land & Expand” within a partner organization
- Identify a few key partner contacts that you think will be willing to work with you.
- Leverage your network and the network of your colleagues to get warm intros to these reps (but also don’t be afraid of targeted cold emails!)
- Ensure these initial partner contacts are successful and build a case study of that success.
- Champion the success of these partner contacts to a wider net of reps at the target company.
- Continue to nurture these relationships and move on to the next company on your target partnership list.
Getting Reps Bought-in to Your Partnership Program
Nudge: For finding those guys at Amazon, did you have a structured approach to getting them on board and building those relationships?
DG: Our number one thing was to be as active as possible inside Amazon’s ecosystem. An example of this was us being part of the AWS Activate platform, where early-stage startups can get free AWS credits. We had a deal there where companies could get our services for free as part of that program.
We would also sponsor and be present at a lot of their conferences, meetup groups, etc. I would focus on talking to reps about the success of past partners. I had a deck showing an anonymous example of someone’s spending patterns before joining Cloudability and then their spending patterns after Cloudability. Good partnership development is often about being data-driven to show how interests mutually align.
“It was all about using a data driven approach to show we actually knew what we were doing and that our partnership was successful.”
Another great strategy was reminding the reps that this was an uncomfortable conversation they didn’t want to have, and we’d have it for them.
But if the client uses Cloudability and we became a trusted advisor, then that awkward conversation became, “We have these reports from Cloudability and we know exactly why our bill is going to be 20K this month, and we’re okay with that.”
Key Insight: 5 Ways for strengthening your presence within a partner organization
- Sponsor internal corporate events.
- Be visible. Find and attend conferences alongside your key partner contacts.
- Get involved with any of their promotions or incentive programs that align with your objectives as a startup
- Find ways to make your partner’s job easier.
- Share content with your partner that displays how you add value to them.
Deal Planning for Complex Partnership Programs
Nudge: As you moved on throughout your career was it always a similar type of partnership development?
DG: With Xamarin and now Microsoft, the partnership program we have is focused on building relationships with consulting companies. I’d call these ‘strategic alliances’ and it’s a little different than what I did at Cloudability. They are companies taking our tools and offering services on top of them to their clients. My job in partnership development here is to do a couple of things:
- Evangelize the products we have and get the consultants excited.
- Do account mapping to figure out:
- Who are the consultant’s targets within a client?
- Who are our targets within the consultancy and the client?
- What approach are we going to take to get to these targets?
- How do we coordinate our approach so we can take this to market?
- Support the consultants. They use some of our services so I come in and provide resources to make sure they’re successful doing that.
It’s funny because I’m on the flip side as compared to before. At Cloudability I was a small fish in a huge pond, now I’m at the big company working with a variety of smaller companies.
I work with a variety of Microsoft partners, ranging from 100 employees up to north of 5,000. But at its core, it’s still figuring out where our incentives are aligned and then where that mutually drives business.
At the end of the day for my parents (who don’t understand what I do), I’m a salesperson. What I like about this alliance work is that I’m not hawking a product, rather I’m selling the dream of a relationship-driven business outcome. This is what I love about doing partnership development.
Key Insight: Deal planning for complex partnership programs
- Who are the relevant stakeholders within the partner and client organization?
- Identify the decision makers, signing authorities, influencers, champions, and detractors for both.
- What are everyone’s incentives? How can you make sure they align?
- Who in your organization is best suited to work with each of these stakeholders?
- What resources can you predict that you’ll need to commit to make this deal happen?
Structuring a Partnership Program
Nudge: Could you walk me through a typical deal working with these consultants.
DG: At a high level, here’s a breakdown of our process:
Start with demand generation:
- Giving them tools and resources to take our services to market
- Working with them to put together webinars or events
- “Training the trainer.” We guide them on how best to train their customers to use our services.
Once we identify some opportunities, we work with our own internal sales team to coordinate things.
- Share the background details of the deal: the accounts, the stage at which the deal is, the people that are relevant on the partner’s side, etc…
- Put together a proof of concept and start thinking about ways that we can fund some of this from the Microsoft side of things.
- Make sure our sales team and the partner’s sales team are working together to find the right person at the client to get final buy off and approval.
- Provide technical resources to make sure it’s successful and drives data points that show how our technology and our partner’s services combined are going to make the client successful.
These deals can range from a great mobile strategy, web app, AR application, AI strategy, pretty much any applications of these emerging technologies. Whatever the end product is, our goal is to ensure the client is happy and signs off on a widespread deal that uses Microsoft services on the back end. That’s how we do partnership development.
Benefits of a Sell-Through Enterprise Sales Strategy
Nudge: So it’s all about selling through. Working with them and leveraging their relationships.
DG: Yea exactly, the way I look at it is if you just had individual sales reps reaching out to prospects it would take forever, but when you find these trusted advisors and build partnerships it saves a lot of time and increases the likelihood of success in a deal. As a startup, this is something important to consider. How can a partnership strategy help enable your sales team?
When you’re working with AI and these emerging technologies, some older companies don’t know where to get started. If Microsoft were to come in and start pitching products to them, they’re probably not going to understand how to use them properly.
By working with some of our great partners like Deloitte or Accenture, Huge or SapientNitro, they’re able to see the possibilities of our technology. That’s why our partner synergy is really important and the reason why we can ultimately be our internal salespeople’s best friend. We can get them access to some bigger deals that otherwise would be very challenging to come across without the established trust of our partners.
“When you find these trusted advisors it saves a lot of time and increases the likelihood of success.”
Key Insight: Why you should explore setting up a sell-through strategy
- Partners had a good understanding of the client’s business and priorities already.
- Trust is already built between the partner and client, making it easier to get in the door.
- Opens an entirely new funnel of business from this partner’s other clients.
Managing Complex Enterprise Partner Deals and Partnership Development
Nudge: Sounds like there are a lot of moving parts. How many people would be involved in this type of deal?
DG: It really depends, but if you’re talking about big, Fortune 50 companies their Microsoft account teams are large. On the partner side, you could be north of 20 people working on a project and another 5-10 key stakeholders from the client side.
Overall, these are really big technology deals that you probably walk around and experience the result of every day. It could be a customer facing app for the biggest banks in the world or a kiosk for a fast food company that you go to all the time. There are many examples of partnership development.
Biggest Challenges with Partnership Programs
Nudge: From all of your experience throughout partnership development, what are some of the biggest challenges?
DG: The constant challenge is to make sure people’s interests are aligned and that things are communicated well to all the stakeholders. Going back to that last questions you asked about deal size, usually these things get very complicated because you have so many people at the table.
In terms of things going poorly, my role is always to make sure that I’m the partner’s champion. Internally at Microsoft part of my job is to make sure that everyone thinks highly of the partners I work with, and that the internal sales teams are comfortable working with our partners.
All this comes with a lot of challenges and sometimes taking a personal beating if things are miss-communicated.
“While creating and managing these deals can be inherently complex and time consuming, when everyone is bought in and a deal happens, it’s incredibly rewarding to celebrate with the client, the partner, and your co-workers.”
Nudge: Thanks Doug for talking to us about partnership development!