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How to get Customer Success to include partners in their operations

This article will show you why and how to get your Customer Success team to include partners in their operations.

Partnerships as a company-wide mandate is a brand new thing.

Companies wanting to make partnerships a priority have a tough hill to climb.

The problem's are;

  1. In order for partnerships to really take off and become the main revenue-driver, like Microsoft or HubSpot, it has to endemic - meaning incorporated into all parts of the organization.
  2. And, most customer success, sales, marketing and product teams (we'll let engineering and HR off the hook in this strategy) were not trained by current or previous employers how to involve partners in their operations.

But, if platforms want to be successful in partnerships, they have to make partnerships a part of their culture.

What we're all trying to accomplish (I'm assuming because you are reading this article) is a company-wide execution of partnerships-led growth which companies like:

Atlassian

Databox

Webflow

Gorgias

…all have.

What's the answer? Let's discuss...

Let's start with an easy one - including partners in sales and support functions

Easy? Nope... Connecting sales and CS to partners is a major challenge for teams.

The reason we believe those two teams [especially] should be connecting customers to partners is because: 

  1. No one knows what the customers should be doing with your product like expert solutions partners.
  2. Bringing partners into deals and CS will increase retention (i.e. revenue).
  3. NPS, reviews, referrals... all those will go up the more partners you connect with customers.
  4. Not to mention pipeline speed, and speed to customer up-tier and average deal size will all go up.

We ran a small, but telling poll to see where everyone is at: 

50% of teams responding (I know... it's not a lot of responses. But let's work with it) say their sales and CS teams do not point customers to their partners.

This is a challenge because, as Alin's comment points out below - partners are seen as "Outsiders" to the org. They are not obligated by the same rules as employees of the org, nor a they trained on the internal operations like sales and CS were.

Here's what Alin from Storyblok had to say: 

The importance of partnerships is being acknowledged more and more by companies. It would be foolish, in my opinion, to have the expectation for other teams to quickly embrace or to be prepared to position an outsider in their conversations, increasing the risk of jeopardizing their relationship with a customer or a prospect. Your role as a PM is to educate your internal teams on how they can win together with a partner, how that other solution compliments your business, and how can they make your product more desirable.
I firmly believe that having the buy-in of sales or customer success is not a given, it must be earned and a PM must be in the driver's seat for that to happen."

- Alin Tanase, Technology Partner Manager at Storyblok

So, while Alin agrees change is coming, he points out the sobering reality of trying to include partners in more aspects of the business. Our 50% of respondents to the poll would probably agree - in their understanding - including partners risks their relationship to the customer.

Let's here from Ivan at Integrate:

"Alex 🇺🇦 Glenn Yes, both our Sales and CS teams here at Integrate.io support our partnerships, we also include our salespeople when needed. As a team we are mapping out operational flows between each department as is relates to our partnerships. Our partnerships are aimed at supporting mutual growth, but, they can also positively impact engagement throughout the customers lifecycle."
- Ivan Silva, Head of Partnerships at Integrate.

I love what Ivan said about partners "also positively impact engagement throughout the customer lifecycle."

E.g. This just happened to me while trying to migrate from Zendesk to Jira...

I am in the process of migrating our help desk from Zendesk to Jira. It's not a painful task, but it is going to involve their support team.

So, I sent a support ticket.

While filling out a half page typical support ticket form, there was a question:

Q: "Are you currently working with a certified expert?"

A: YES | NO | I AM A PARTNER

Then, when I clicked "No", because I am not a partner or connected with one.

What happened next is the best practice; the form started to ask me a series of follow-up questions about my needs, company size, and budget for the migration.

This most definitely went to their partner team who can match me with a certified partner, or the CS workflow can offer me a directory of partners while I await their internal support...

I honestly haven't experienced a question about whether or not I work with a certified expert like that in a support ticket form. So this was wonderful to see.

Challenges we can overcome by including partners in multiple business functions: 

Localization: Your CS team cannot be supportive in all the languages your product may be used in. Or, at least, the language of the countries your product is used. Further, this is great for SEO - Inbound links from localized sites (service providers linking to your help documentation) will increase your search results in those countries.

Solving support tickets: Partners can answer questions your CS team cannot. Difficult scenario questions related to the funnel, implementation, integrations... Bring your partners into the help center and Slack so they can answer those difficult questions for your customers your CS team cannot.

Product adoption speed: It's well known that customers with an expert in your product as a service agency will tier up faster and retain longer.

Integrations: All your CS team knows about an integration is in the help docs. But, what about when that integration partner fails in some way? They should be finding and bringing in partners who know that side of the integration to support.

 

How to get other departments to include partners in their operations

Ok so I hope you are of the opinion that at least sales, marketing a support should involve partners.

The how =

  1. Have the right meetings to discuss
  2. Create a smaller group of power partners to bring in first
  3. Increase their incentives so they are willing to come in and be more supportive
  4. Train your CS team on the SOPs with this group
  5. Increase the size of that expert group of partners
  6. Bake it into the funnel similar to the Jira example above to drive leads back to these partners
  7. Formalize that as a tier to your program

Then, it will slowly become just how you do it :) 

I hope this was helpful!

Keywords:
Enablement
Program setup

Alex Glenn

CEO

Founder and CEO of Partnerhub. Proud father. And proud of what our team has built!