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Need to Fill Your Pipeline? It’s Time to Reconsider Your Partner Ecosystem

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In May 2020, Facebook announced it was buying the gif search engine, Giphy, for $400 million — primarily for its Instagram product. At first, you may be taken aback. Nearly half a billion dollars for a searchable library of funny animated memes?

But look closer and you’ll see Giphy is yet another beneficiary of the Era of the Ecosystem — this paradigm in SaaS where the ability to integrate your technology into other products is just as important as your product itself. Smart companies, and sales professionals, are leveraging their integration ecosystems to create more sales deals and attract higher valuations.

In a recent conversation, Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta told us he’s turning his attention to his partner ecosystem as the market tightens, “Partnerships have the lowest customer acquisition costs out there,” he said. “Those that manage partnerships are in a good position.”

By understanding this macro trend you can set yourself, and your company, up for amazing long-term outcomes.

I would know. I’ve made the mistake of ignoring it.

We’re in the Era of the Ecosystem

On its own, Giphy has limited utility. You can search their site for, say, “Jersey Shore” and get lots of regrettable animated gifs. But where Giphy really shines is how integrated it is into some of the most popular communication platforms, like Slack:

 

And iMessage:

 

If you remove Giphy from Slack, Slack becomes less fun to use. (See more fun Slack integrations here.)

This makes a gif search engine extremely valuable to the most-used products of our time. Like its acquirer, Facebook, and its many products including Instagram. Notice this part of the Axios article:

“The two companies first began talking prior to the pandemic, although that was more about a partnership than an acquisition.”

And while Giphy is a timely B2C example, the good news for SaaS sales professionals is that all these effects are amplified even more in a B2B context. In B2B, so much more of what’s important overlaps with what the ecosystem brings to the table: scalable lead generation, stickier products, higher conversion rates, and measurable outcomes.

A partner ecosystem lays the groundwork for more serious and profitable business-to-business relationships. Look no further than tech growth stories like Looker, Slack, Snowflake, Calendly, and Zoom for story after story of partnership-driven expansion that only gets amplified with scale.

If your company isn’t leveraging partnerships to drive sales — or if you could be doing more — it’s time to act.

Partnerships create very low marginal CAC, and they scale brilliantly — two properties that are rising in demand given current market conditions. And thanks to the maturing API economy and our modern era of data portability, there has never been more partnerships to pursue.

Have a look at this network map of the e-commerce partner ecosystem.

Explore the entire ecosystem map here.

Unsurprisingly, the largest nodes are the horizontal platform players in the space, and the mesh of connectivity between the rest represents a potential wellspring of leads, intel, and revenue for the companies inside.

Every vertical in SaaS looks just as large and exciting as this one. Ignoring the benefits of your partner ecosystem as a sales professional is to ignore one of your best opportunities to scale.

RELATED: Moving to Enterprise Sales (Part 2): 5 Go-to-Market Prerequisites You Need to Succeed

Shaking the Partner Money Tree

Let’s be blunt: I know many of you have actively avoided leaning on your partnership org for help with pipeline and deals. I know because I’m constantly speaking to SDRs and AEs who are surprised at what’s possible with the new generation of tools and techniques on the market.

Chances are you look at the partner channel as something that just adds deal complexity and mpacts your direct line to getting a deal closed. But three things have changed:

  1. There are new sets of tools such as partner ecosystem platforms that automate the co-selling and cross-selling process.
  2. Current market conditions have removed traditional techniques like live events from the fold, driving up interest in new channels.
  3. Tech integrations make for a very natural narrative about why and how solutions should be co-sold together or cross-sold into each other’s customer bases. Customers value the ability to build their own solution stack, and they routinely look to their existing vendors for help.

As a sales professional, building and co-selling with your ecosystem can help you shake loose new revenue. And your colleagues on the partnerships team will be eager to work with you.

Our State of the Partner Ecosystem survey revealed that 75.2% of partnership professionals are measured by partner-generated revenue, and 61.6% are measured by partner-influenced revenue. Meanwhile, 73% have compensation tied to a KPI.

 

Let’s compare your company’s sales funnel against the data that your partners have in their toolbelt to understand where and how partnerships can play a role. We can visualize this matrix of “my data” and “their data” to identify opportunities.

Let’s walk through three common sales motions from this matrix.

Top of funnel: Stop cold calling, get a referral

As events and other traditional lead sources have dried up this spring, you’re probably getting pressure to drum up new business. If you’re like many salespeople I know, you may have even dusted off your rolodex and resorted to cold outbound tactics.

Instead, why not shake the partner money tree?

Generate new activity by asking your counterparts at your partner companies for introductions or guidance. Return the favor by doing the same for them.

74.7% of partner managers report that exchanging warm introductions with partners is part of their go-to-market strategy. Make sure you get a piece of that lead flow by volunteering for service.

I’ve met countless sales professionals who hold recurring meetings with reps from partner companies who cover the same territory. At each meeting, they compare notes on their targets and customers, decide where an organic intro would be appropriate, and then swap warm intros back and forth — even writing the intro emails live on Zoom.

In this environment, that personal touch is everything. Cold outreach heads straight to the archive bin, but warm referrals get in the door and get you that crucial first demo. This conversion rate improvement can make a huge difference as you stack up your pipeline for when budgets start to thaw.

Middle of the funnel: warm your cold deals

By early Q2 this year, many of our friends in sales roles told us that in-progress deals had ground to halt as prospects reassessed their software spending. At most companies, huge chunks of the sales pipeline simply went cold and quiet.

Your partners may have the context you need to get those deals back on track, or at least set more realistic expectations about if and when they may come back to life.

Maybe there was a reorg? A spending freeze? Priority shifts? A change in the procurement process?

The key to breaking the wall of silence is tailoring your outreach to provide empathy, context, and helpful solutions that line up with their current pain points.

RELATED: Empathy: The Most Underrated Sales Skill & How To Build It Fast

Hey, I wanted to check in on this” is not as good as “I understand that you’re pushing any new data infrastructure spend to Q3, so I’ve adjusted our payments terms to let you lock in our deal now but still pay on the timeline that works for your company.

Your partner ecosystem has this information, and the partnership professionals at your company would love to work with you to uncover it. 81% of partner professionals tell us they have trouble getting more headcount or resources to execute on partnerships, so offering even a small amount of your time to help create a partnership win may earn you a long-term internal ally.

Bottom of the funnel: Accelerating active opportunities.

This is the cousin of the above strategy. For opportunities already in motion, you may be experiencing some friction as companies tighten their software spend.

The best way to ensure you understand their unique pain points and situations is additional context and information. And, say it with me, you can get that from your partner ecosystem.

Share your active conversation lists with your partner managers, and ask them to pull any partners who count them as customers. They’ll be able to share information like budget changes, technology stack, unique workflows, and more. And you can use that to customize your materials and outreach.

Bottom Line

Each organization and partner ecosystem is different. I suggest booking a coffee chat with your partner manager (who, if you’re not familiar, probably has a title that includes the words “partnerships” or “alliances”).

Offer to work with your partners as an opportunity to build new pipeline and drive existing deals to close.

Even if you spend two hours a week on your partner ecosystem that you would have normally spent preparing for live events, you’ll start to see the fruits of your labor.

With an economic climate that is changing everyone’s playbooks and ushering in a new understanding of best practices, there has never been a better time to focus on partner-centric strategies for growth.

The era of the ecosystem is indeed upon us, and the opportunities it brings are enormous.

 

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