E53 💡 Take a deep dive into Growth of the Partnership Category and transitioning From Selling Alone to Partnering to Win in our insightful conversation with Jill Rowley, a pivotal player in the evolution of MarTech and marketing operations.
As an early team member at Salesforce (first 100) and Eloqua (#13), Jill has been a witness and contributor to the growth of marketing into a significant category boasting over 11,000+ products today. Now she believes that partnerships are embarking on a journey similar to the one marketing went through years ago.
0:00 - Intro
2:10 - Revolutionizing Marketing with B2B SaaS - Jill's insights from her unique experiences in the early days at Salesforce and Eloqua
6:30 - The Rise of Partnerships: An Echo of Marketing's Evolution
8:20 - Redefining Partnerships: The Role of Early Adopters and Community in Paving the Future
12:10 - Leveraging Partnerships in the early days of building B2B marketing SaaS
17:10 - The Transformative Impact of Service Partners
20:10 - Building an Ecosystem of Influence & Social Selling
24:45 - Mastering Relationship Building in the Partnership Space
33:30 - Choosing the Winning Strategy: Going Direct vs Partnerships
R: Hi Jill, great to have you. I think you are one of the people, a lot of partnership people look up to. You have this superpower in terms of selling through social, you have great experience and career in marketing, you are go-to-market advisor in a bunch of great companies. I'm really excited to have this conversation with you to talk about how the evolution of partnerships is different with evolution of marketing, how partnerships are evolving as a function, what are the best practices different companies use to add partnerships to increase go to market efficiency. But before that, I would love to get a little bit of sense about your experience. Obviously, I know that you've been in Salesforce, you've been in Eloqua, you've been in Marketo, amazing companies, you've made a lot of sales contributions at scale, but tell us a little bit more about your experience in the B2B SaaS space.
I've been in B2B SaaS for 23 plus years. I was one of the early employees at Salesforce, and at Salesforce, it wasn't as if Salesforce created CRM, or Salesforce Automation as a category, that had already existed with Siebel Systems as probably the most familiar, but the difference between Salesforce and Siebel was the delivery model. And back then, software as a service, this is 1999, 2000, software as a service or SaaS didn't exist, right? Accessing software via web browser wasn't a capability that existed. And so it was really the disruptive nature of Salesforce was the delivery model via online and digital and the web. I was there for two years, and in fact, Eloqua was one of my customers at Salesforce. And I was using Eloqua to send emails, and this is before email was ruined by products like Eloqua, and subsequent ones that came after that now put the power of automating a series sequence cadence of emails in the hands of salespeople. So I was using Eloqua at Salesforce and knew that the two needed to be integrated, that you needed to have your marketing database, which is really a bigger set of names and contacts and companies and so forth than what was in your Salesforce Automation system. So integration was something that was top of mind for me in the beginning of my career. And then at Eloqua, we created a category which was really around marketing automation. Marketing automation didn't really exist. And Eloqua was founded about the same time as Salesforce, also software as a service, as a delivery model. And part of now for B2B companies, leveraging the power of data, leveraging the power of digital, leveraging the power of automation and workflow and process, things like nurturing and scoring of leads, that didn't exist in marketing. And on top of that, there wasn't a function within marketing. Marketing was all about brand back then, not demand. And demand generation as a function didn't exist. Marketing operations as a function didn't exist. So it was really something as the category evolved, there were things that were necessary, new functions, new titles, new job descriptions, new skills, new competencies, new technology, new language, new analysts, new consulting organizations, new benchmarks and maturity curves, new best practices. All of this was something that needed to be developed over time as marketing matured from analog to digital, from manual to automated, from difficult to measure, to increasingly more measurable, from lead top of the funnel focus to opportunity in the pipeline. And also then being able to impact win rates and be able to impact onboarding of customers and be able to impact customer marketing to sell more products. So I've been through category creation and it requires a whole lot of people and companies involved to get the maturity and adoption that we now see in marketing operations, in marketing automation, in marketing technology, in demand generation, in account-based marketing. And I could go on and on and on.
R: I remember part of that journey, when marketing wasn't really measurable and it was difficult to explain what marketing is. And actually it was a question like, what do you mean marketing ? The very logical question, especially because you are very much involved in the evolution of partnership as a function. Do you feel that partnership is going through the same journey? If yes, then why?
J: Absolutely. I think we're gonna see partnerships go through a very similar journey as marketing automation, MarTech, marketing operations. The level of sophistication in partnerships is really early in terms of systematic and orchestrated, measurable, bringing in people who really can look across an organization and understand where partners can add value to your product roadmap, add value to your marketing programs, add value to shoulder to shoulder in the field, sales reps collaborating on joint opportunities, and really add value to how do we keep our customers by ensuring that we're delivering real value to them? And then how do we grow our customers? How do we help them use more of our tech stack? But also how do we help them be much more mature in the way that they organize and execute campaigns, build programs, drive pipeline and revenue? We're gonna see a very similar journey and maybe one that even goes faster than marketing automation, MarTech, and marketing operations.
R: I'm with you, I believe that the partnership is going through the same journey. But when you're in the midst of the journey, it's not as obvious compared with when this journey is behind you, right? This is like a big difference really. And I'm really curious, what is your response when people think about partnerships and they say, hey, like each partnership is so unique. It's sort of person-to-person relationship, I should say. It has nothing to do with this technology. And I'm sure that you went through the same process in marketing. What are the sort of insights that you got there?
J: We added the concept of early adopters. And I really believe that the early adopters will help bring clarity to what looks, what great looks like, right? They're the ones who are going to go out there and say, we know that the tech stack doesn't exist. We know that the data is difficult to wrangle. We know that there isn't enough thought leadership. There aren't enough companies actually who have really brought partnerships from a separate function operating independently to one that is actually a seat at the revenue table, one that is integrated and orchestrated across go-to market, one that has KPIs that align with the business objectives, one that has academy, like partnership academy, that there's learning journeys, that there's career paths, that one that has analysts that are specifically focused on partnerships, one that has industry icons that help pave the way, one that has agencies, consultants, systems integrators that really help with the real maturity of the function. And then I would also say community. And that's, I think, where we are today. We're at a different starting point than what I experienced in MarTech and marketing operations and demand generation. The partnership, what we're seeing formed really first is community of partner people to come together and help build what the future can look like, to help do and fund the research on what is best practice, what is industry standard, to help define how do we make the transition from selling alone to partnering to win and understanding that the better together story is the one that the customer actually needs.
Completely agree with you. I think that the only thing that I would probably add to what you said is that there seems to be a pretty big generation of channel people. And then because of transformation, how technology operates, these channel people are sort of folded into new type of partnership people. And then this is a new partnership function as a result is emerging. But yeah, like completely with you, what you said. I think what also struck me in one piece of your writing was about the fact that you partnered with the right people at the right time. And then what I absolutely loved is that your customers don't want to tell you about the business. They want you to know about the business, right? And partners are the best people to help you understand that business and bring you into your customer business. Can you talk a little bit more about how you, in your selling and marketing career, how you interacted with these partners?
So there's two kinds of partners that I interacted with in my marketing and sales career. Those are tech partners and also services partners. And I think initially because there wasn't a tech stack, there wasn't an ecosystem of 8,000 plus point products that marketers could bring into, B2B marketers could bring into their organizations. Initially, really the most critical partners for Eloqua were the services partners. Those who could actually help transform the organization from that lead centric to that demand centric. From that badge scans at trade shows to using content, educational content, that then multiple pieces of, maybe it's a content, a webinar, and other things that then would better educate the buyer and produce a more qualified conversation for sales to have, rather than trade shows, scan the badge, toss it over. So services partners, how do you set up a demand to end function? Services partners who could focus on that and help marketing understand that having a website was one thing, but having a website that was a corporate brochure, that wasn't a website that would engage a buyer. It wasn't a website that would give something of value to the buyer. And so these agencies were really part of helping marketing leaders, marketing professionals, mature. The understanding of how to leverage data. How do you, first party data, how do you build a newsletter list, right? How do you create a sequence of content that aligns to the buyer's journey? Buyer journey wasn't a term, a concept that B2B was familiar with at that time. How do you use data to identify who your ideal customer profile is? How do you use data and content to inform your buyer personas? How do you use content to help the buyer educate and go further through their purchase process? So the point is that marketing didn't have this discipline. They didn't have the people with the experience and systems and technology. This was new to marketing in B2B. And so it wasn't just that, get them to buy the software. And back then the software was an empty database. There were no templates. There was no pre-population of dashboards. It was an empty database. And so how do I configure the database? How do I get the database to talk to my Salesforce, my CRM? How do I get it to work with my website? How do I build forms and landing pages? All of these things were not things that marketing had in its toolkit. And so services partners, they knew how to configure and tailor the software to in the context of the customer. They knew how to run programs and campaigns. The services were so important because the domain expertise did not exist. I feel very similar in partnerships that people don't have budget for software. Partner people have been working off of Excel spreadsheets for a very long time. Partner people don't have, what is an ideal partner profile, right? And IPP, how do we actually figure out who the ideal partners are for us to co-build our products, to co-market and sell? So there's a lot of like unknown out there and a lack of real sophistication around these things because they have to be built.
Do you feel like bringing sort of services partners and tech partners, which I assume sort of integrations, right, in Eloqua, do you feel that was sort of a transformational experience in terms of, did it unlock like sales, for example? Did it unlock like growth or was it incremental experience in general?
The partners had a role in awareness, right? So making future customers aware that this technology and this new discipline existed. I would bring services partners specifically into early opportunities because they brought credibility, they brought experience, they brought knowledge, they brought a network of customers that they had worked with to help them be successful with the technology, help them build new campaigns and programs. And I would bring partners in as well in terms of how do we expand our footprint within an account, meaning a customer might be using the software to do email newsletters or nurturing and scoring, but they weren't actually using the software to do more advanced things like account-based-centric approach or integrating social data into their other campaign data. So partners would be really valuable in terms of expanding the use of the software. One of the things I think beyond credibility and helping earn the trust and help the buyer understand that they weren't alone on the journey, but also in terms of really helping articulate how to onboard more quickly. Fast time to value is critical. The learning curve is often steep in terms of bringing new technology into an organization with people who are gonna use the technology that have not used it before, right? You can't go hire someone who has done this before because there's a very small set of people who actually have the experience. And so partners can augment that and then help you find the talent that is needed to bring in-house to actually be able to run things on their own.
I love what you said about shortening time to value and I agree that you can sort of outsource it or like argument it like you said to partners. So I would love us to shift gears a little bit and then talk about sort of building ecosystem of influence, right? And I think your superpower is social selling and building awareness and building and kind of selling through that. Can you talk a little bit more about how do you think about leveraging partners for building this ecosystem of influence on social and maybe outside of social as well?
The concept of your network is your network is a real starting point. The network that you build and have, you can learn from your network. So for example, Roman, you have taught me the content that you have shared on LinkedIn in a social network around the breakdowns that you do of really large companies who have built really robust partner ecosystems. and how that partner ecosystem ties into the business objective of the company. And from a numbers perspective, the impact that those partners have on customer acquisition cost, on customer lifetime value, on stickiness of the customer, on what kinds of partners actually drive pipeline, but then also what kinds of partners actually are more on the delivery side. So I think that if I was a partner tech company, I would want to partner with you to leverage the knowledge, the insights that you have on the category itself, but then specifically on the companies that you have this deep knowledge of. Not only just the knowledge, but also then the network inside that organization. I've used actually your content, you've got a great breakdown of Box and their ecosystem. I have within Box identified who runs their partner programs. And not only the partner program, but the chief revenue officer at Box and share your content with them. So you're showing a great story of Box's success. And for me to get the attention of Box, I'm going to share the content that you develop with them to show them that I know them, right? It helps me to, I get better informed and you just happen to publish the content online. Imagine us then having a conversation about the people that you know within the organization, the partners that they've actually worked with who are the most successful partners and gathering that Intel so that when I actually have the conversation with Box, I go in with a point of view. I go in with an understanding of their current state of maturity. And this is where partners can add a ton of value in terms of not even just going making the intros or shoulder to shoulder in the selling, but from a research, right? The customer doesn't want to have to tell me everything that I can find out about them on my own with my independent research. Partners are a source of insight. They can navigate. They can help you understand the challenges that the organization has in executing legal documents. In getting, you know, do they need an ROI justification to put in front of the CFO? What's the purchasing process look like? Is purchasing going to come in and they're measured on the percent discount that they get off of your list price? There's all sorts of things that partners can bring in terms of intelligence around how that company makes purchase decisions. What are the roadblocks to getting things done and on and on and on and on.
I really appreciate you've mentioned the kind words about our content. Really glad that you found it sort of useful. And I agree with your point. So you not only had personally delivered huge quotas in some of your previous companies, right? But you also amassed just crazy number of followers on LinkedIn. I think it's 250,000 people. Applying this to a partnership, and I know that you've been mentoring a bunch of people in partnership community. What do you think people should take as a learning from you, maybe from all of this experience, when they want to kind of build their partnerships? And this is like super relevant because partnership managers inherently are relationship builders and community builders. So what did you learn that would be open to share?
I've never been in the partnerships function. I have never been a partner manager, a partner leader. I have worked really well with an internal partnerships team, but also externally with the ecosystem of partners that we had at Salesforce, that we had at Eloqua, that we had at Marketo. And even when I was evangelizing social selling, that was I started evangelizing social selling back in 2010, 2011. I no longer get on the stage and talk about social selling. I don't produce any content around social selling anymore. I feel like that if, you know, I'm an early adopter. I like to work with those who are willing to see things from a different lens, willing to take the measured and calculated risk to do something different. And so once everybody starts doing it, it no longer becomes the competitive differentiation. Once it becomes the best practice, it no longer is the best practice. It's like, what is the new thing that when everyone's going left, that we go right. And you can look at when things become noisy and more accessible to more people, they become less effective. And so I tell you all of this when I started to understand that and see that ecosystem. And when I talk about ecosystem, I talk about the customer's ecosystem, right? As a software company or as a services partner, my ecosystem should actually be based on what the customer's ecosystem is. So when I put the customer in the center and I build out and understand what their ecosystem is, what their points of influence are, right? Who do they trust? Who do they learn from? Where do they learn? What companies do they already work with? So I think of the customers at the center, I need to understand a customer's ecosystem. And in that ecosystem, they're working with either my existing partners in the same tech stack, in the same vertical, in the same industry, in the same geography or whatever it may be. They already have existing companies that they work with. I think about where do they learn? Who do they trust? And that's communities. And so for me, I don't necessarily want to just stand up my own community. If I'm a tech provider, I want to actually go in the communities where my customers already live. And so when I think about ecosystem, and for me, I think I'm more of a student. Yes, I'm a student of marketing. Yes, I'm a student of sales. Yes, I'm a student of customer success. Yes, I'm a student of all things go to market, whether that be a PLG motion, whether it be a PLG sales assist, whether it be a media like company. What I'm really most interested in is being an expert on buyers, being an expert on understanding the psychology, understanding how buyers make decisions, how they learn. And so that isn't just from us anymore. They don't need us to teach them like they used to. They have that information available to them. They have people that have already gone down the path that they're going to go down. And so from an influence perspective, if I can be closer and better connected and better aligned from a messaging perspective, as my potential partners, my existing partners, the communities, then I get closer to the actual customer. So from a partnerships perspective, when I was really digging in and trying to understand who's who in the partnership zoo, like who are the people who are the early adopters? What are they doing? What companies do they work at? I listen to tons of podcasts of partner people being interviewed. And when I would hear someone being interviewed, I would then reach out via LinkedIn, and I would send a very highly personalized invite to connect. And I would reference the podcast that they were on. And I would share and point out a key learning from their podcast. And it didn't actually always have to be about partnerships. It could be something more personal. Maybe it was a mom who was juggling the life of a mom, a wife, and a professional. So it's this learning and then connecting and then engaging with that person's content, liking it, sharing, commenting, maybe making an introduction of that person to someone else who could have them on their podcast, maybe joining a community that they're part of. Another thing I would do is, okay, if they're sharing content, who else is engaging with their content? I will spend a considerable amount of time seeing who is commenting on that content. And that takes me kind of like the rabbit hole of if there are other partner people commenting and engaging and liking, those are probably people that I also want to connect with. Because what I'm trying to do is expand my network across the partner ecosystem. And by being connected to and close to the people who are actually winning awards, demonstrating value, showing success, adopting the new technology. The more I get connected to them, the more I learn and the more social capital I earn in this partner ecosystem world.
Thank you for sharing your tactics. These are great advice and I totally agree with you. I know people who actually watched our YouTube channel and they connected with a bunch of people who I interviewed, which is great. I'm reaching out to all these people saying, hey, I just watched an interview with Roman. And then to your point about commenting, I've had a really funny way to engage with VC. Famous VC posted something, not enough likes, and you would say, yeah, that's so great. So I found that funny. In one of your previous comments, you mentioned that when best practice becomes ubiquitous, it's not best practice anymore, right? When things become sort of noisy, it's not you need to just move forward and innovate. What do you see partnerships like observing from outside? What do you see partnership as sort of becoming noisy? Where they sort of lack innovation? Or maybe like, what are the sort of innovations that you've seen in partnerships, if any?
Do you subscribe to CB Insights? So when you look at their content and you see the landscape diagram of like AI, when you look at their FinTech landscape diagram, as a partner person, if I was in FinTech, I would be looking at that landscape diagram. And I would say, where do we fit in that ecosystem of FinTech? And where do we sit alongside other areas within that FinTech landscape? And I would actually say, where does the putting the two or three together make more sense for the customer? I would encourage partner people to look beyond just the partner within their four walls, but look at examples of other industries, like FinTech, like AI, like EdTech, and start to put the pieces of the puzzle together themselves. Leveraging these market maps that more of the research, the analysts folks have actually done all of the heavy lifting, right? A lot of that heavy lifting has already been done and mapping out what the ecosystem looks like. And then building that kind of like vision story that they can then take to internally the executive leadership team and say, look at this, look at this explosion of technology that now our buyer, that the complication of our buyer's world, how do they know where all of these pieces of the puzzle fit within their organization? And looking at how the world is changing and looking to be that internal educator, business acumen, and business value, being able to speak the language that their peers actually understand. So I think that one understanding sort of how things are working at the 10,000 foot view, translating that into how that works within your organization and the ecosystem that they work in, and then being able to quantify with more business outcome value, rather than we can get leads from XYZ. We can do a lead swap with ABC company, but how do we actually drive more business value given the world in which our customer lives has become so complicated? How do we actually simplify things for the customer, what it is they're up against?
It's very good insight, actually. And this is like one of the reasons why I started partnering inside because I wanted to like sort of bring this data driven insights, how different companies across different industries, I mean, we've sort of focused on B2B SaaS mostly, but we still bring like different different industries, how they do partnerships, what does it mean ecosystem, how they build ecosystem and so on. And I think what you said is extremely valuable. So you need to push forward, not necessarily just like look in front of your feet, you know, like metaphorically speaking. Obviously, we are here like a group of which is big proponents of partnerships, but we are currently in a reasonably difficult environment for tech and for economy is session and layoffs and then a bunch of different things going on at the same time. So if you were a CEO of a technology company, sort of growth stage, and you had a chance to double down on direct and kind of maybe reduce your partnership function, or you had a chance to double down on partnership function in this current station, kind of keep direct motion, sort of intact. Like how would you think about sort of partnership versus direct today?
First off, I would look at our customers and really understand, do our customers that are our advocates, right, our best advocates, are those customers working with our partners? And what partners are they working with? And I would look at, can we correlate customer success and advocacy, customer value and expansion to the correlation of they're actually working with our partners, I would understand what that joint value proposition is as it relates to us plus our partner ecosystem. So I would do that analysis before ever doubling down on anything. I would also encourage CEOs to look at the research that shows that putting more money into ad spend, sending more email campaigns, hiring more SDRs and BDRs to hit the phones, pound the emails, send more emails, pound the emails, send generic LinkedIn connections, hiring more enterprise AEs that aren't properly enabled and trained. I would encourage them to look at how expensive, how effective are our direct channels to earning the attention of potential buyers, to converting that to qualified conversations, to getting customers to trust that the fear of messing up by selecting us is reduced by what else we can bring to the table in terms of services or tighter integration. You do that analysis of where are our best customers, what are they doing differently from the customers that aren't renewing, the customers that aren't buying more from us. And if in fact the data shows that when we work with partners, our customers are renewing and buying more and singing the praises more, then I would double down in the partner strategy. That's how I would make that decision. to get there. I would love us to continue this conversation and I hope that next time you'll talk a little bit more about partner marketing and how to use partners to double down because I think, and amplify my marketing because I think there's a lot of opportunities there. But to drop up for today, I would love to ask you the questions. One of them is like, what are you excited about? Looking forward in this year, partnership ecosystem maybe beyond and then how people can connect with you. I'm excited about partner communities and that there are events where partner people can come together and learn, right? Through the content at the event, learn through meeting new people, through community. I'm excited about new career passing and new areas to learn about specific things like partner marketing. I'm excited about research that proves the value of partnerships and provides frameworks and models from a maturity perspective to actually be successful in this area. And I'm excited about really this category formation, this category design. It is, you've got a couple big vendors, tech providers like Reveal and Crossbeam as the foundation of account mapping. Account mapping at the beginning to understand where you have the overlap in joint customers and where you can identify opportunities to make introductions where one company has a customer, the other, it fits their ideal customer profile. I'm excited about the new language, right? We're redefining channel being the point of sale ecosystem being the point of value. There's just an incredible amount of energy around helping educate, not just partner people but the other go-to-market leaders on why partnerships, it can be a more efficient way to grow through the power of the network. It is the ability to really be a growth accelerant but not without doing the upfront work on learning how the best have been successful and modeling what the best have done to be successful in this new approach.
This is like amazing way to wrap our conversation up and I agree with you, there's so many people now getting better and better in partnerships. They share the insights, which is great all those communities you've been writing partner hacker, right? And in other places as well. So I really love that. And to drop this up for today, thank you so much for sharing your insights and I hope that we will continue. What is the best way for people to connect with you? LinkedIn is my primary place where I hang out. I don't hang out in my email inbox. LinkedIn is where I spend the majority of my time and I would not send a generic invite to connect to me or to anyone, right? You're putting the onus on me to understand who you are first. So if I have to go to your profile to see who you are and make a guess on why you wanna connect, you're putting the onus on me rather than helping me understand through the personalized invite to connect why it makes sense for both of us to be in each other's network.
And a good micro masterclass right there. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Jill. Thanks, Raman. I will continue to consume your content. It is fantastic.