We love bringing you new insights from our favorite podcasts, and PartnerUp The Partnerships Podcast is definitely a firm favorite around here. Episode 035, Elevating partner ecosystems to the boardroom, features a really great conversation with Avanish Sahai.

Sahai is no newbie to the partnerships world, having helped lead partner programs and ecosystems for the likes of SalesForce, ServiceNow, and Google Cloud, as well as currently sitting on HubSpot’s Board of Directors. Suffice to say that when Sahai talks about partner ecosystems, it pays to listen up.

Without further ado, here are our top takeaways from Sahai on how to elevate your partner ecosystem to the boardroom:

1. Partner ecosystems should be seen as a flywheel.

Traditionally, partner ecosystems didn’t operate in a truly integrated fashion. Sahai describes the ‘old’ model of partner ecosystems as something one can visualize as a group of ‘stovepipes’, where different classes of partners operated in silos, and each class was managed by different partner managers.

Today, however, Sahai says that ecosystems need to be seen as flywheels that have a ‘multiplier effect’. For example, “an SI could also be building a product on a platform, and they’re selling the product as a subscription, right? Or, again, an MSP is bringing different products together, stitching them together in a common offering, and bringing that to the market,” says Sahai. Essentially, partners need to work together in a fundamentally collaborative manner to create highly valuable solutions that solve customers’ problems in a comprehensive manner.

Of course, taking this collaborative approach to ecosystems has a range of implications for your strategy. Sahai points out that tech companies need to work out how to bring collaborative ecosystems into alignment with their traditional sales and distribution models and how to support the ecosystem on an ongoing basis, all the way from the product roadmap stage to customer support.

2. Partnership team skills and success metrics need to change.

As partner ecosystems become more collaborative, so the skills needed by partnership and ecosystem managers need to change. Instead of simply managing a range of resellers, partnership teams need to be able to think across traditional lines and barriers to spot new strategic opportunities, like spotting an opportunity for an existing partner to build a new collaborative product, for example. Of course, as partnership teams take on a more strategic, holistic role, partnership success metrics will also need to change to reflect this new approach to harnessing ecosystem value.

3. SaaS companies need to act as aggregators for their customers.

Customers today are overwhelmed with the sheer choice of solutions and providers competing for their attention. As a result, customers are now looking for more than just a tech vendor; they want a provider who can offer them a complete solution that actually helps their business grow. So, SaaS companies today need to play the role of aggregator, bringing various capabilities within their ecosystems together to provide a complete solution through a single client relationship.

4. Choose partners based on core capabilities that will benefit your customers.

As the orchestrator of the ecosystem, Sahai says the first step is to work out which core capabilities and offerings it makes sense to bring together. Instead of kicking off with a ‘come one, come all’ kind of attitude, he recommends only focusing on attracting partners that have capabilities or offerings that will actually help make your customers more successful.

Sahai also points out that strategic partnerships can bring different opportunities to the table: “Can they open new conversations with buying centers of decision-makers that we normally might not talk to? Do they bring something to the table that opens up a discussion with, you know, someone in the front office that may not be typically, you know, a traditional buyer of infrastructure, for example?”

Sahai goes on to explain that finding these promising collaborations requires a really proactive approach. It pays to constantly scan the market and keep tabs on new innovations and big investments.

5. The most successful companies are platforms.

Sahai uses the term ‘platform’ to mean any company that finds a way to expose core data and aggregate that data around useful insights around customer behavior, conversation AI, and so on. The more data a company can expose, the more they can plug things around that data, thereby driving more value to their customers and becoming more and more sticky.

6. A thriving ecosystem requires C-suite alignment and boardroom buy-in.

“I think the board imperative and the C-suite imperative around this is evolving,” says Sahai. He explains that as companies build out their business and product strategies, they often go from a single product, to multiple products, and eventually to a platform. Once you have a platform, you need to create an ecosystem around that platform. Ecosystems, as a result, require C-suite alignment.

“You have to work across the organization to make sure that everybody understands why you’re doing this, what the outcome is going to be, but also what are the expectations and dependencies that you have from the other parts of your organization. And that’s where the board and the C-suite have to both, one, get it, and two, sponsor it.”

partner ecosystem

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