For most vendors, partners are a handy addition to sales and marketing capacity or delivery capacity once their growth is on track, but this leaves significant money on the table. Your ecosystem can be the cause of, or at least a serious accelerant of, that growth.

Partners support growth

As major vendors mature in their growth planning, they will often seek partner-sold or partner-attached deals to represent 40, 50, 60, 70, even 80 percent of total revenues.

Crossbeam’s ‘2023 State of the Partner Ecosystem’ report showed that partner-influenced and partner-sourced revenue are common key performance indicators (KPIs) for companies, especially as they grow. (Crossbeam Insider).

And in its 2022 report, Crossbeam reports that 52% of partnership teams track partner-influenced revenue, which indicates how widespread and crucial these strategies are within partner programs (Crossbeam).

In his landmark books ‘Crossing the Chasm’ and ‘Inside the Tornado’, luminary Geoffrey Moore argued that vendors should largely do their own spade work in the early market while they prove out their solution concept and find their best-fit markets. The ‘chasm’ comes after that early market has been largely mopped up and you are yet to provide the early pragmatists with the confidence they need to move forward. Even these early pragmatists will likely still be more comfortable buying from the vendor themselves in many cases.

But once the market is in full flight, broad distribution is super important if for no other reason than the vendor will rarely have enough arms and legs to serve enough of the market.

But Bob Moore (no relation to Geoff as best I can tell), CEO of Crossbeam, has convinced me to think about channels differently. Very differently.

Partners drive growth

He argues that ‘partners’ represent very much more than additional resellers or additional service delivery resources. In his new book ‘Ecosystem-Led Growth’, Bob Moore builds a careful pitch for his own platform Crossbeam. I forgive him this sin, though, as he also argues a key point that would be lost without a mindset shift plus the use of a platform like Crossbeam.

Here’s the punchline:

A vendor should use the activity of its partners as signals for marketing- or sales-led pursuits, and those same partners should use the activity of their vendor partners as signals for their own efforts.

Clearly, that requires a trusted matching service to anonymise the large data sets on all sides and surface only the matches. And that’s where Crossbeam comes in. Later in this article, I am going to make a point about the fractal relationships that need to be plumbed.

But I am writing this article to make a different point than the case for their ecosystem-led-growth (ELG) platforms like theirs.

ELG needs data. Sure. But it also needs a plan.

Planned growth

If the data were to surface a significant opportunity for a marketing-led pursuit, what would be the plan for that campaign? And if the data surfaced a great sales-led play, for the vendor or for the partner, what would be the plan for that? Do we make it up on demand?

That’s why my company, align.me, has been working with major vendors to build either repeatable playbooks for their own pursuits or customised playbooks for each partner. I’ll come back to that later. Let me now, though, make a few more points drawn from insights as I read Moore’s book that will perhaps help to dimension the opportunity for you. It did for me.

A fractal mesh

In this context, a partner is any outside organisation with whom you win together. For a vendor, that could be resellers, ISVs, VARs (old term now), Systems Integrators (large or small), consultants, and distributors who mesh some of these together.

In our own case, we have well-known partnerships with SAP and with AWS. These major vendors have us build go-to-market plans for their partners. And so, we’d add those partners to the map: SAP, AWS, and their partners.

Each of SAP and AWS also use distributors to varying degrees. So, the distributors themselves are a part of the map. They, in turn, add additional layers like the many partners of those two vendors rely on the distributors to support. But also the many other vendors whom those distributors also serve. Those additional vendors, in turn, have other partners, other distributors and those other partners and distributors have other vendors and partners.

You get the idea. It’s highly fractal and is more like a mesh than a hub and spoke even for the major players.

align.me also has Funnel Coaches – independent consultants experienced in leading sales and marketing transformations – which, in turn, have their own vendor and partner relationships.

In Crossbeam’s ideal universe, all players in that mesh provide data on their customers and pursuits to Crossbeam, whom they choose to trust not to share their data with anyone other than to surface interconnects to each side in a highly configurable way.

Why?

At a simple level, if vendor A knows that partner B has an established relationship with customer C, then that partner might be up for brokering a joint pursuit with the vendor to that customer. Expand that to the whole mesh, quantify depth of relationship, aggregate at a market level, and you can see the power such data could provide. That was my existing understanding of the Crossbeam value proposition.

Moore takes this further in his book. When customer D buys products E, F & G from various partners, that is itself a signal for demand for vendor product A.

Here’s an example:

Imagine that a company had licenced an outbound email engine, then a social posting platform, decommissioned the email engine and added a LinkedIn automation platform, decommissioned their social listening platform, and licensed an intent data provider. They are either deliberately experimenting or bouncing around without a plan. Either way, align.me would see that as a company that would value a clear go-to-market plan that had buy-in across their business.

Leaving ourselves as the example, what if 100 partners out of the 1000 relied on by a particular vendor could see intent signals like opportunities or sales of related product? Should that vendor be helping to consolidate this in any way? Funding any of it? Harnessing any of it with partner-centric campaigns?

Vendors’ role in organising ecosystem-led growth alignment

Moore talks about what he calls the ‘Partnership paradox’: 81% of companies see partnerships as a driver of growth, yet 79% struggle to fund their partnership programs.

Moore himself confessed to having underfunded the partnership team due to:

  • Lack of attribution – he didn’t have the conviction that the partner team was actually making the impact they thought it was; and
  • Lack of scalable playbooks and systems – he didn’t believe that giving them more money would result in proportionately more results.

Disruptors and accelerators

A few worth noting specifically:

  • GenAI: The widespread availability of generative AI is negating the value of content marketing and the death of inbound. Search-optimised content generation is becoming super easy but now redundant because optimisation of content for ranking on the SERP (search engine results page) is being replaced by optimisation for AI-generated listings, references, and summaries.
  • Outbound in the form of Predictable Revenue (Aaron Ross) led to the role of sales development representatives (SDR’s) as outbound agent using tools like Outreach and Sales Loft. While AI offers personalisation at scale, it also offers a deluge that makes email even less effective and creates demand for tools that help us as consumers of content to filter out the noise.
  • Search ads are also under fire. Chris Walker positively rants on this topic arguing that most B2B search budgets should be slashed to 20% or less as search ads have become the lazy marketer’s go-to tactic.
  • Product-led growth (PLG) is a favourite go-to for SaaS vendors who have a low-end version of their enterprise solution. Freemium, free trials, and viral loops feature in PLG strategies. Another reference to Chris Walker here as he holds the view (and data to support) that it’s hard to straddle both this and enterprise sales. Moore lists failure after failure of PLG companies that enjoyed free money during the pandemic and are now struggling to generate a return.

Where does this leave us?

The case for deliberate interdependence between members of an ecosystem and for them to each lean into that interdependence is well established by Moore. That’s why I forgive his blatant pitch for Crossbeam in his book. Frankly, the pitch landed. I’m a renewed fan of Crossbeam and am now happy to recommend the book, too. My summary above does it no justice. The book is definitely worth a read. A few

Read the book, wire up the mesh, read the signals. Great.

But then what?

I’ve argued forever that one of the major challenges faced by vendors who lean into ecosystem-led growth is the lack of differentiation between those partners. This results in the vendor having to do all of the market education and demand creation, with most partners interested only in gaining their fair (or unfair) share of the market created by that vendor.

Partner-led demand generation needs a few extra pieces:

  • Robust go-to-market planning. Few partners are any good at it. Frankly, few vendors are good at it either. Between them, they need to plan the go-to-market plays well.
  • Deliberate divergence. Those go-to-market plans need to lean in to the uniqueness of each partnership. Vendor A plus partner B are together great at solving what problem for which market?
  • Constant optimisation. Not only are tactics evolving – see above – but so must strategies. Which market is proving a high yield for the partnership, and which ought to be abandoned? Which markets have not yet been pursued but should?
  • Insane alignment. We all love to talk about and write about alignment. Heck, we even named our company ‘align.me‘. But the alignment puzzle is bigger than getting Sales and Marketing to play nicely together. Sales, Marketing, Pre-sales, Product, Delivery, and Customer Success from both the vendor and the partner need to be aligned. And to what? Each other? I don’t think so. They need to be pointing not at each other, but together at the same things: the objectives, strategy, process and measures they will use together.

That – all of that – is why we created Funnel Plan™ (the tech) and Funnel Camp™ (the consulting-led workshops). An incredibly efficient way to help the vendor and their partners to create and hold to alignment and to do so at scale.