"Can you build a great company with a 100% partner-led approach?"
Before we go into much detail about that question from my friend Will, we should first ask ourselves the question; "What does partnerships-led mean?"
Is a webinar I do with another company partner-led? Or, is that just solid efficient thought-leadership content marketing?
Is an integration a partnership? At Partnerhub®, we have integrations with HubSpot, Salesforce, Slack, Sendgrid.... Does that mean they are our partners?
And when I set up an affiliate tracking funnel and payout system for my product... Does that mean those bloggers who signed up and shared my link are my partners?
The point I'm trying to make is:
We can't give partnerships the credit for every marketing or product initiative just because there was a third party involved.
Most of what we call "partnerships" strategy has been done by marketing teams for decades. We're only now naming it partnerships-led. Just because the partner team put on that webinar with a strategic alliance, does not mean it wasn't standard marketing 101 - pulling in others extends the reach and increases trust...
It's a race to the middle if we in the partnerships world try to rebrand everything that's been going on since the start of software marketing as "partnerships strategy."
That's my internal dialogue about this conversation.
But sainter heads prevail and let's pretend I didn't say all that...To Will's question "Can you build a great company with a 100% partner-led approach?"
To conclude this short intro rant, in my opinion, before teams call another company their "partner", these criteria should be in place:
The relationship should be reciprocal (i.e. both partners are putting up resources and time).
Both parties should be monitoring a KPI related to the relationship.
They have to also call you a "partner".
These rules would prevent the following scenarios from being called "partnerships":
The act of building an integration with another saas product.
Bringing someone onto a webinar.
An affiliate campaign in a marketplace like commission junction.
So, what you should be doing to ensure your marketing and product team also agree that the "partnership" you developed from what was originally a one-sided relationship with a third party.... is to get creative and make more out of those relationships so you can sincerely call them "partnerships", and show the other departments why it is so important they bring you in when any of those are being developed.
Back to Will's question...
A couple caveats before I read my response:
I didn't factor in timeframe.
This is related to SaaS-only. I'm not referring to every category or partnership type in this response.
I am going to remove integrations / tech partnerships from this context because I believe integrations are par for the course (so to speak) if you want to be a SaaS product in today's world. (Also, unless both companies are spending resources on the integration, it's not a "partnership." I spent 4 months of resources integrating Partnerhub® with CRMs and Slack... That doesn't mean I can claim HubSpot is now a partner of mine).
This ^ is the same for cloud Marketplaces. If you got a listing, you are either buying your listing, have built an integration and now you earned a listing, or you refuse to pay so you're buried at the bottom with the free listings... They aren't your partners.
And lastly, affiliate marketing is just that, marketing. Allowing bloggers or influencers to make money sharing your links is MARKETING, not partnerships. Regardless of whether it's B2B SaaS using Partnerstack or Referral SaaSquatch or whatever B2B affiliate tracking solution you use... Or ecommerce affiliate marketing tools like Tapfluence, Everflow, Impact, etc... Those campaigns should be developed and managed by a marketing department.
Here's my short response:"I would argue this instead 🤝Will Taylor - which of the “ ______-led growth” strategies could build the largest tech org, if done exclusively…
1. PLG - great to get to $10M
Think 90% of SaaS "apps" in the Shopify, HubSpot, and other ecosystems - they are founders and engineers mainly. CS hires after that... but most will never have a sales / marketing / partnerships team.
At a certain point you have too many users to safely keep the speed of deployments you once had - focus shifts to compliance, security, stability.
And you need to get more out of the current features - i.e. product marketing.
And the investors need to see more revenue growth - forces more up-market expansion, which requires direct sales.
2. Then most companies enter the world of sales/marketing-led, which can obviously go very far.
I believe Gong only recently launched their channel partner program. They hit Unicorn status ($100M ARR in 2020), but I had heard from a company rep that year that they were not spending any resources on channel partnerships.
Constraints on this model start occurring when (1) consultants start being necessary for the success of the SaaS implementation (think Salesforce), and (2) the simple fact that you cannot hire CS reps for 100's of thousands of customers. It's just not feasible. You have to turn to solutions partners to supplement customer needs.
Ok, so now companies like Gong are hitting those walls and realizing in order to make their investors happy, they have few other logical choices other than investing in partnerships.
But, in order to answer the question, we have to assume partnerships or product or sales/marketing-only.
For conversation sake, let's say the ceiling on product-led-only is $10M ARR.Sales/marketing-led only strategies (although expensive) can push companies through tough product times, and obviously scale revenue well... but get constrained when it comes to total users. Also remember the Gong example... no solutions partners until after $100M.
So, let's set the ceiling for sales/marketing-led to ~$100M
And again, Im not including integrations as a "partnership" strategy in this.
For partnerships-led only strategy, I believe it's necessary to surpass $100M ARR for the reasons I mentioned.So, although unlikely considering all the other growth needs early on... a partnerships-led only approach to growth would be the most scalable.
Hope this was helpful!
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