The Importance of Alliances for Salesforce ISV Partners

It seems Salesforce is everywhere these days. Even Matthew Mc Conaughey donned a space suit and piloted a hot air balloon on a Super Bowl commercial a few weeks ago to promote Salesforce’s #TeamEarth campaign. It was a clever jab at Branson, Bezos, Musk- the metaverse really, sharing the message that the real change on which humankind should be focused is right here on Earth.

As a self-admitted Reddit lover, I had to laugh at a post that recently graced my feed. The post made by u/ebbokroundup about a month ago read,

“I just have to ask… I keep hearing about Salesforce every now and then and I keep wondering, wtf is it?

The replies were even funnier (like this one… if you know, you know), by u/SnooStrawberries46 that read,

Slowly zips up Trailblazer hoodie… I have no idea…

As common a word as “Salesforce” is today, there’s quite a bit of confusion around the famous CRM platform and what it does. It can seem even more confusing when, as a prospective customer, you realise it’s not just Salesforce you need, but Salesforce + an Implementation Partner + ISV(s).

Salesforce, as those of us in the ecosystem know (unless you’re this woman..🤦🏽‍♀️) is a CRM, or “Customer Relationship Management” platform that is used to manage interactions with customers and potential customers.

I often explain it this way; Imagine iPhones came with all the fancy functionality turned off. Well, if Salesforce is the iPhone, the Implementation Partner is the Genius at the Apple Store, and ISVs are the apps. As a customer, you know that you need Salesforce, but it’s not the out-of-the-box platform that immediately addresses all your needs- It’s the customised of features and functionality that make it worth your investment.

The Genius ‘s job is to understand how you will use your new iphone. You explain that you want to keep all your contacts in one place, be able to text and make phone calls, maintain your calendar, and listen to music. The Genius (or “SI”), then turns on contact functionality, texting and calling, then installs calendar and music apps and configures them to your phone. On top of all this, they teach you how to use all the parts and pieces they implemented for you.

In this model, you can see that the partnership between genius and app (or SI and ISV) is impvcerative. In order for the SI to suggest your app to the customer, they must first know it exists, that they can trust it as a solution, understand what it does, know how to install it, and how it be supported once implemented. What about competitors? If you’re Spotify, how do you make sure the Genius is positioning you and not Spotify or SoundCloud? If they’re not suggesting your app, how will you position it so they do?

As an alliances person, I argue it all comes down to the strength of the partnership. Does your app do what you say it does? Is it easy to use? Affordable? Do SI partners like working with you? Are you incentivising SIs and Salesforce to promote your product? If not, investing in a well-built partner program with all necessary collateral, will afford you the proper terms of engagement, relationships, and trust in the ecosystem to get into the hands of more customers.

10 Things I Learned While Creating SI-Focused Partner Programs for Salesforce ISV Partners

My first role in the Salesforce ecosystem was running alliances for a rapidly growing ISV partner with no established partner program. I was tasked not only with learning the ins and outs of the Salesforce ecosystem, but also with building a successful partner program within it. I had zero contacts, zero Salesforce experience, and only the ISV’s reputation to lean on. It was a mammoth job.

Within two weeks I presented a full product demo (they had two products on the AppExchange) to my CEO, Director of Sales, and Director of Marketing. Within three weeks I gave the same demo to 50+ team members including the founder/CEO to our top Salesforce Implementation Partner.

A common phrase used by my colleagues to describe the first few weeks with this particular ISV was “drinking from a fire hose”. Assured it would soon pass, I took it all in and it was great fun. I felt I was truly building something extraordinary.

Within one year, I built a robust partner program, working closely with Implementation Partners and Salesforce in AMER, EMEA, UK/I, and APAC. I continuously hit between 100% – 237% of targets month-over-moth, generated over $2 million in partner-sourced pipeline, and closed over $1 million in partner-sourced deals for a $6 million ARR company.

Since that first partner program creation, I’ve helped a number of other ISVs with their alliances initiatives. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. ISVs, SIs, and Salesforce comprise a holy trinity, and it’s not the one you learned about in Sunday School. It’s a symbiotic relationship that only functions well when all entities’ needs are fulfilled. The best partnerships are tri-directional.

2. As a partner leader, you don’t just represent the company you’re working or contracting for. You’re representing every partner you add to your network- SIs and Salesforce contacts alike. Good relationships will follow you throughout your career. People partner with people, not companies.

3. Don’t tell partners how to partner with you. Ask them how you should partner with them. Follow their lead and your relationships will be unique and tailored to their organisation.

4. Be responsive. Make getting in touch easy and painless.

5. Don’t get caught in the Zoom loop. Go out for drinks. Take partners up on their offers to visit their offices or meet for lunch. Send personalised messages. When you think of partners as work friends, the day-to-day is more engaging and everyone benefits.

6. Advocate for your partners internally. Defend them if things get complicated. If you’re the camp counselor, your partners are your campers. It’s your job to shepherd them, guide them, and represent them.

7. Tailor sales and product training to their organisation. One size does not fit all. Recognise that you are at the mercy of your SI partners, not the other way around. Remain humble.

8. Most SI partners don’t want to resell your product. While it sounds great to enable countless foot-soldiers to resell your product, realise early that unless your product allows SI partners to sell more Cloud Services, they’re unlikely to want to spend the time to resell. Conversely, if partners want to resell, make the enablement process easy and as time conservative as possible. SI time is billable, and they’d rather spend those precious hours helping their customers- not learning your product. Invest in your partners and they’ll invest in you.

9. Initiate joint marketing initiatives that highlight the SI partner’s unique relationship with your product. While you’ll no doubt have lots of SI partners, each brings something special to the table, and you want to be sure and call those attributes out often. Did you win a customer together because along with your product, the SI provided custom configuration on top of your solution to provide a cool tailored experience? Shout it out! Get the customer involved. Share it on social!

10. Lastly, alliances can be exhausting. Ever go to dinner with a friend and have a great time, but leave feeling a bit drained? Imagine doing that 6-8 times during your work day. In order to provide the best experience possible for your partner contacts, you’ll need to be “on” at all times. Don’t forget to take time out for yourself. Book in lunch or an afternoon walk on your calendar. Put 10-15 min gaps between your meetings. Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others.

Interested in building your own partner program or learning more about the alliances realm? Schedule time with me here: Rebekah’s Calendar

The Alliances Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943, Abraham Maslow introduced the concept of a hierarchy of needs in his paper titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation” in order to better understand human beings. He proposed that our needs can be organised into a hierarchy. At the base of the hierarchy are physiological needs, while at the top are more psychological concepts such as self actualisation and fulfilment.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The Hierarchy is progressive, so you can’t move to the next level until you’ve completed the one below it. Attempting to progress prematurely typically results in feeling “stuck”.

The Alliances Hierarchy of Needs functions in the same way, with tiers of requirements that include basic human assets, collateral, and strategy, organised according to necessity.

Alliances Hierarchy of Needs

Through experience, I’ve concluded that in order for a partner program to be successful, you must establish alliances capital; a leader to run your partner program, stakeholder collateral, and a strategic plan.

Once necessary capital is established, you’ll need to align your organisation on your partner program goals and establish how internal and external resources will support your initiatives. Only then can you begin enabling partners and saturating the market. Too many times, ISVs try and establish these assets out of order, resulting in lacklustre first impressions with SIs and Salesforce, from which it is difficult to rebound.

It is only after establishing your base tiers that your alliances leader can properly carry out their day-to-day partner-building and lead-generation activities. They will also assess current processes and make appropriate adjustments.

The top tier of the Alliances Hierarchy is Growth. At this level, your partner program is a well-oiled machine. You’re exceeding your KPIs, maxing out your leader’s capacity, and feeling ready and motivated to expand your team and initiatives.

By following this hierarchy, I will guide your organisation to build your partner program and establish all necessary components in the correct order, with precision, so that you can focus on growing your business and make your customers happy.

Rebekah Raisor