Today we go deeper into partnerships – if you haven’t listened to the first few segments on partnerships with Jay from Forrester.com, Bryn from Partnerstack.com and Sunir from the Cloud software association, check those out after you hear this episode… 

My guest today is Tyrone Lingley, the Director of Partnerships at Unbounce

Ty is responsible for driving revenue growth through product, brand, and distribution partnerships.

Prior to Unbounce, Ty had experience in e-commerce and B2C partnerships while he was responsible for the strategic development and leadership of retail activities, key partnerships, and community programming for Canada’s top-performing e-commerce company SHOES.com.

Ty is also a board member of the Cloud Software Association where he connects and educates partnership professionals in the B2B SaaS space. In a previous life, Ty has been around – at one time even working for the Olympic Games – living in several locations across Europe, Asia, and Australia.

We couldn’t ask for a better representative to discuss a better use case showing how best to plan and execute a partner program launch. 

Today Ty is going to answer the Hard questions founders and teams should ask themselves before you go-to-market with a Partner Program, and how Unbounce.com answered these questions while outlining one of the most well-executed partner program rollouts I’ve ever witnessed.

  • The risks of a partner program – like Channel conflict, Last click attribution with affiliates, Compliance Issues, Nexus taxation, Product alignment.
  • The stack – do you need a PRM (partner relations management software) on top of your CRM, and what that build looks like if you go that route.
  • Standard operating procedures for sales discussions with a partners’ referral
  • The 7 steps to a go-to-market journey for Unbounces partner program. 

I’d like to start this discussion at the beginning with the genesis, or the ‘why’ of partner programs.

Links

  1. SaaS Connect presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1zpxPbdC8b9nNBck4Nje25OUlAeGIun2YZwy3GYXQn90/edit?usp=sharing
  2. PartnerStack blog post: https://blog.partnerstack.com/post/how-unbounce-created-a-new-revenue-stream-without-building-more-products 

Show Notes

Alex: So, why a partner program in general for software providers? Articulate for us the ‘why’ with Unbounces B2B saas use case?

Ty: Unbounce achieved product-market fit pretty early after launching in 2009. But like a lot of SaaS companies, we hit a growth stall. We started to explore a lot of growth opportunities and creating a revenue share distribution channel seemed like a good fit for us. 

The revenue share distribution channel allowed us to tap into partners who sell, market, and provide customer support on our behalf on a performance basis. And these partners have a better reach than we ever could and more personal relationships with the end customer.

Alex: What type of programs (or program progression) did you settle on? 

Ty: We didn’t really start out to serve one specific channel, what we did is launch, iterate, and learn. In other words, we created a program knowing we would have lightweight customer referrals. We also knew there would be affiliates. Since 1/3 of our customers are agencies we also knew we would have agency partners who would want to become sellers.

We had to go to the market and learn as much as we could from developing relationships with partners. We ended up settling on Affiliate, Ambassadors, and Resellers. 

Alex: And what made it a good fit?

Ty: As I mentioned, we had achieved product-market fit early. There’s a clear demand for the ability to build and test custom landing pages without the need for IT or developers and Unbounce is a market leader meeting this demand. 

We’ve achieved a pretty significant ARR number with solid sales efficiencies, and with 90%+ of our business being self-serve we knew that our value proposition was clear and solved an obvious problem. It’s pretty hard to expect partners to succeed at selling your product if your own marketing or sales team can’t!

Alex: Ok, so you had the product-market fit, the sales efficiencies, and it sounds like you had some strong demand signals for this type of program, what were some of the other hard questions you asked yourselves during this phase of the build?

Ty: Good question, well first we really wanted to question the risk vs. the upside of the program.

There are risks associated with partner/channel programs (things like channel conflict with sales teams, last-click attribution with affiliates, compliance issues, Nexus taxation, product alignment etc.) So we really took the time to understand the known risks in this channel endeavor.

Channel conflict = Whenever there is a miscommunication about what’s going on between different channels. If there is a conflict between marketing and sales then it may not be clear who is generating or closing certain leads for example.

Last click attribution with affiliates =  Marketing teams can have issues with partners if the partner closes the deal after the marketing team drove the sale to the last click point.

We also understood the upside. And this was primarily looking at the impact on revenue, CAC, and LTV improvements.

The second hard question we asked ourselves was really around understanding the organizational commitment to set this program up to succeed. There was a substantial amount of work required from the product, customer success, marketing, sales, product marketing, finance; partner/channel programs are really a cross-departmental effort that requires a high degree of alignment and long-term organizational commitment. 

And the last question I posed to our executive team, after understanding the commitment required was getting their buy-in towards program’s success, which started with prioritization in our yearly planning and continues in our ongoing quarterly planning.   

Alex: Help us understand the genesis of the partnership stack – the software you decided on early on and how that progressed into the system and stack that you live on today?

Ty: Our experience was taking too long to launch a program like this. In terms of attribution, we had to solve the problem for the end-user and the partner. We knew we wanted to cater to lightweight customer referrals, affiliates, and agency resellers. By the time we had gone through all of the planning we arrived at understanding what we needed.

We used Partnerstack because it allowed 90 trackings on all links. So if you’re used to the affiliate model with links that really help. They also allow the submission of leads which is a major part of the partnership relationship.

The mentality of the partner in your program is usually attached to links. But when it comes to lead and deal submission agencies don’t want their client to have to do anything. So they can just add the lead to PartnerStack which prevents them from having to go through the client. 

Alex: Right, the client’s relationship with their fans is more valuable than you trying to get your 20% referral free. So you set-up a 3rd party system so the client does not have to give a link to that contact

Ty: Correct. The question is ultimately who is servicing the end customer and the answer is, they are. So when you implement different ways for the partners to interact with them, it enables a much healthier system

 

Alex: Can you explain the 3rd party PRM?  How does that sit on top of the CRM? Why don’t I just use SalesForce?

Ty: For us, it’s pretty much convenience. We wanted to be able to pay out affiliate partners, resellers, and customer referrals in a way that worked for them. For us, I wanted to create a program internally to be as autonomous as possible. We facilitate all of our program communications through the CRM and messaging function in partner stack. FalseForce helps us at the lead submission stage speak to our sales team.

Alex: What do you tell your salespeople and how does the SOP look? What, in particular, does Unbounce do in approach their approach to their referrals?

Ty: It would look similar to the deals that our AEs are working on. Most importantly they are divided into those who speak to marketers and those who speak to agencies. When an Agency AE is working the deal they can also look at the Partner. Basically, they can pre-plan how they treat the lead coming in, and having the Partner there gives us more credibility.

When someone comes through a referral lead we handle that in house. Our onboarding team knows exactly where this lead comes from so they have a bit more context. 

Alex: Do you have a specific SOP per partner or do you have an SOP for all partners?

Ty: Are SOPs are broken down into specific segments. Depending on what channel our referral comes through, we know will know who and how we are going to speak to them. More specifically our process is broken down into partner type, each has its own script that we have already decided on. 

Q: Alright, we’ve tackled getting the hard questions out of the way, let’s talk about the journey of how you guys went to market, pre and post-launch with your Partner Program.

Ty: This list is part of a larger presentation linked at the bottom of this post.

     1. Interviewing partner people

     2. Finding demand signals & exploring them

– We found that a lot of people were looking to make partnerships deals because they were referring Unbounce to their clients or others in the industry. 

– It became clear that there are people who can refer our service in different ways

      3. Segmenting our partners

– Affiliates, content producers and educators

– Marketers, usually our customers, making more lightweight referrals

– Agencies, the main referrals and are highly interested

     4. Creating informed projections

– How likely will this partner be to make a referral? 

– Using this question we were able to make some reasonably accurate predictions while providing insight into revenue per segment

     5. Finding the right platform partner

– Deep segmentation work aligned well with our platform partner. Having link tracking and lead intake worked well with what we already had in place. 

– Their platform was clean and allowed for easy communication and logistics handling

     6. Addressing risks

– All of the risks dealt with channel conflict or cannibalization of channels. PartnerStack helped us avoid these problems with a channel calculator they provide

– Nexus taxation was another issue. We limited anybody in the program based on the Nexus taxation in their state so by the time we went public we were able to open it up to everybody.

     7. Scoping the program

– This really came down to having a great product management team. Our team was instrumental in making sure the entire process unfolded smoothly. 

 

Links

  1. SaaS Connect presentation: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1zpxPbdC8b9nNBck4Nje25OUlAeGIun2YZwy3GYXQn90/edit?usp=sharing
  2. PartnerStack blog post: https://blog.partnerstack.com/post/how-unbounce-created-a-new-revenue-stream-without-building-more-products 

 

Ty’s Background: 

Director of Partnerships

Unbounce

Responsible for all aspects of partner relations from the recruitment and development of 

partners, to the internal product and infrastructure requirements to support a best in class 

partner program.

  • Drive sales pipeline and revenue by growing partnerships across product, brand, and

distribution partnerships

  • Collaborate with stakeholders company-wide to translate business and product strategies

into a partner strategy and revenue growth

  • Contribute strategic insights with the executive team and externally act as an

Unbounce ambassador in the SaaS ecosystem

  • Think strategically about new business models and product integrations to build and convey compelling value propositions and drive innovation through partners
  • Own sponsorship revenue for annual Call to Action Conference

Board Member
Cloud Software Association

The CSA brings cloud software partnership leaders together. We strive to build the market for distribution of cloud software. Our 2000+ members span the industry – they are SaaS vendors, platforms, API services, resellers, distributors, and investors. 

Director, Partnerships, and Retail

SHOES.COM

Responsible for the strategic development and leadership of retail activities, key partnerships, and community programming for Canada’s top-performing e-commerce company SHOES.com. Led a 20+ person team across two departments in three locations. Our organization achieved YoY sales growth of 150%, $200M+ in annual revenue, and employ 300 people across North America.