Speakers: Star Hofer, Chief Customer Officer, Partnerstack, and Carlos Quezada, Head of Digital Services Strategy & Customer Success, Aruba
|Companies large and small are recognizing the power of Partner Success to enable their channel partners in delivering a consistent customer experience to their shared end users, and it is quickly becoming the way of the future.
During this session, Star and Carlos shared their own real-life experiences on what worked and answered some intriguing questions from the audience that we’ve recapped below.
Q: Carlos, could you elaborate more on the pilot program you ran with your partner network? What did that look like and how did it work? How do you thoughtfully take your organization to the next level?
Carlos Quezada (CQ): Yeah, absolutely. So, let me just kind of set the groundwork of where we were when we launched the partner program. Right as we started having a discussion about building up this partner program, we had already established some maturity around what I would call our “tech ecosystem,” so we had a Customer Success automation tool in place. We had the ability to monitor customers through the progression of the journey, we were able to have a concept of customer health score and were firing off digital engagements that were contextual and timely based on where the customer was, so that had already been established. And so now the question is, how can we go in and share some of that information? How can we scale it?
Some context – we started with digital first. We’re managing a portfolio of over 13,000 customers globally and we don’t have dedicated CSMs. So, we have a swarm CSM model, and we have eight CSMs managing that install base of 13,000 customers. We do a lot of things very, very digital heavy, so, with that in mind, how can we go and extend some of those capabilities to the partner? What we did is picked friendly partners who already had the right level of thought process and discipline around Customer Success. We reached out to partners who understood the concept of Customer Success, in some cases they did, or they didn’t have a Customer Success automation platform already. And so, what we did is we picked, initially, I think it was five, and then by the end the pilot we had about 13 partners. And similarly to how you would on board a customer, we onboarded partners. So, one of the first things that we did as part of the onboarding was a Customer Success one-on-one training where we walked them through what Customer Success is as we recognize it. And we walked them through what we do today from a customer lifecycle management perspective. And through that, we learned [from partners] that said, “hey well we’re actually doing this, we call it something different.” And so, it was really understanding what the current partner model was and evolving it to line up into this. In some of the cases, partners did not have a dedicated resource to act as the CSM, so some existing resources had been repurposed and were already doing CSM-like activities, but they really weren’t mapped to what I would call the ‘art’ of Customer Success. And so, what that pilot looked like is we actually onboarded the partners on to our Customer Success automation platform. We gave them their own view of their customers and we assigned them a Partner Success Manager who acted as their coach.
As part of the training, we walked them through what we expect a customer to go through in the first 30 days and if a customer goes from on track, to off track, to at risk, what is it that we would normally do. Now that’s going to be done by the partner. And so, a lot of the workflow rules and automation in the tool were now being redirected at the partner as opposed to our CSMs. And so obviously it was a lot of learning and evolution throughout that year. [There are] things as a CS leader that you walk into when you start going into this world of partners and channel that you probably don’t have a lot of context on, like the partner comp model and this whole thing of how do you measure [partner] performance and those types of things. Those are things that you’ll have to kind of uncover and figure out how you solve for [as you go]. We felt like we actually created a pretty good rinse and repeat model [in that first year]. So, we kept it at 13 partners globally, and right now, those 13 partners represent over 400 accounts globally. Now what we’ve done is we actually created kind of a triage, where partners can fill out an online maturity assessment and based on the output of the maturity assessment, we can gauge whether or not they’re ready to participate in the program or not.
Q: Partners are often associated with “implementations and projects,” are there different models and specific strategies and programs for post-implementation Partner Success models?
Star Hofer (SH): When I think of partners that are doing implementation and projects, that could be anything from agencies, it could be third party companies that are in place. When we think about models and strategies, I’m not sure if we’re talking about ‘how do we engage with them,’ or ‘how do we bring them on the journey.’ There are multiple different ways I think this [question] can be interpreted but I’m going to go down the road of ‘how do we take them on the journey?’
So, from my point of view, with a services background, this is really something that excites me, and I haven’t done this yet at Partner Stack and I’m very excited to do it at some point. In implementations and projects where you’re using a third party or some type of agency, you do need to figure out what that experience looks like for them. How do you get them on board and activated because, essentially, they are an extension of you. And so, to start that, are you ready for it? There are lots of checklists and stuff that you need before you can bring them in and making sure you bring them in at the optimal time [is critical]. And does your revenue model actually support bringing these types of partners in?
But let’s assume all of that is a ‘yes.’ Then, from specific modeling and strategies, I would map out who are the types of partners that you are wanting to bring in, and what type of implementation projects are they doing? What does the expectation from the customer look like? Then align those and do journey mapping or customer experience mapping. What is the optimal experience to get those partners activated as fast as you can but also delivering on your vision as well, without compromising that company’s mission too? Because that’s the hardest part – because they are their own entity and they’re going to have their own pieces of values and integrity that they’re wanting to hold to, and you also have yours. Making sure there’s some harmony between the two, and that experience is somewhat lined up, so at the end of the day, the customer is getting what they need, the partner is getting what they need, and you as the provider are getting what you need.
Peter Armaly (PA): Before you answer too Carlos, I just want to comment – it’s true [in some cases] a lot of partners are focused on implementations and very specific projects with the clients now. A lot of those partners are massive global entities and so, I guess the challenge is how do we ensure the partner stays engaged? And understands the broader context and what we want to achieve [when it comes to] driving outcomes with your brand, beyond just the implementation and specific project? So, Carlos I just wanted to throw that out for a little more color.
CQ: Yeah, so I think that’s a great toss up and I run the risk of actually kind of blowing this up a little bit bigger. So, to give you some context – I’m also part of the Services organization, and so we take a look at the different opportunities for this. We do have Professional Services, and we have folks that will go out there and do rack and stack and they actually do some of the deployment piece.
When I think about Customer Success, and when I take a look at the way that we orchestrate it, to me Customer Successes is an umbrella over the Services organization. And in some of the work that happens in Professional Services, onboarding, training, CSMs, tech support, renewals, all those functions or those silos or verticals are actually tied together by this Customer Success capability, which is building out those journey maps and making sure that people understand how they’re accountable to the team to the right and what would they expect from the team on the left.
And so, with that in mind, this actually made me realize something. Although we built out this Partner Success program, where partners are scaling and helping us deliver CS engagements on our behalf for our SaaS products, in the Services organization what we’ve also contributed is we’ve built out those journey maps. And we’ve identified, you know, the ratio of who’s working with the customer when, to create that seamless experience. And so, in that model what we do is we identify, I think we call them Customer Engagement Managers, and they’re the ones that are actually managing the partner ecosystem through the delivery. And so, at that point it’s not expected that the partners have to have this whole concept of what Customer Success looks like and what they have to do, it’s actually orchestrated by the CEM. [That way,] the capabilities and the KPIs of on-time delivery and all that stuff still lie on our shoulders, through the CEM. But the partners that are brought in to deliver are actually identified as part of that PS engagement. We call it a helicopter CSM, like helicopter parent, where you have a CSM who’s managing that throughout. Because I think that ecosystem is so big, to your point Peter, we have a similar thing, where you may have to do an installation somewhere in Malaysia, and trying to find that partner, it’s just not going to happen. And time is of the essence. So, we actually bring that CS capability back in house [in that scenario,] but manage that a little bit broader than just a Professional Services Project Manager, because it does go beyond installation once its installed. We also offer, for example, a managed services component, so once it’s installed, we actually manage and own the network on behalf of the customer so, it’s that handoff between [the two]. So, that’s how we would normally do it, bring it back in and manage on the inside.
Watch the recording of this webinar to catch up on the full conversation!