Notes from Office Hours with Lisa Lawson

Recently, we welcomed Lisa Lawson to SaaS Office Hours to talk about building a channel go-to-market strategy for SaaS companies. Lisa built the channel at Optimizely, which accounted for a meaningful fraction of new business. I learned quite a bit from the sessions with the five companies who attended the one-on-one sessions. Here are my notes.

Where to Start The first place to start is to learn to sell your startup’s product well. To make a partnership successful, your startup will need to teach another sales team to sell your product. That means understanding your ideal customer profile, developing enablement materials to close those customers, and training new account executives to succeed in that effort consistently.

Internal Clarity Different roles in a company may have different goals for channel development. The CEO may want a partnership for brand association. The sales team asks for more leads. The customer success team would like help deploying the software to new customers. The head of BD must determine the right priorities for the company, socialize them, and develop a plan to achieve them.

Types of Partnerships After scaling sales enablement successfully, the next step is to understand where your customers are. Where do they buy? Who do they consult? Where do they convene? And what relationships are important in the buyer journey?

Depending on the answer, you’ll have to decide which types of partnerships are the best to engage them. There are four types of partnerships we discussed.

Technology partnerships: these are integrations with other products. Most of the time, customers suggest these integrations as part of their feedback to account management and customer support. Many times, these technology alliances improve each product’s appeal.

Channel partnerships: this means another company’s salesforce is selling your product. These sales teams go by many names: agencies, system integrators, value-added resellers. Partner enablement, educating the sales team, is important to succeeding with these types of relationships. In addition, agreeing to the right economic incentives is important. Quota retirement is arguably the most important one. This means the channel’s sales teams are paid commission for selling your product. The structure of these relationships is complicated and should be the subject of another post.

OEM partnerships: a bigger company integrates your product into theirs. For example, many companies bought Looker in an OEM model. By buying Looker, they could offer reporting and analytics to their customers without having to build or maintain the analytics software. OEM relationships can be a good way to get to market quickly. But, there’s a tradeoff. Your customers may not know that it’s your product under the hood, so while you may gain a bunch of revenue, your brand equity won’t appreciate.

Marketplaces: AWS marketplace, Heroku marketplace, Salesforce marketplace. These are more transactional channels where you pay a fee to be admitted, and then the marketplace takes a rake on the transaction. The more streamlined the customer onboarding, the more effective marketplaces will be for you. Typically, marketplace entries with a call us form are less effective.

We covered much more in the session but those are some of the key highlights. If you’d like to learn more about channel from Lisa, you can visit her website here and contact her here.