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How to Leverage Partners to Win in Enterprise App Marketplaces, like Atlassian

Winning in Enterprise App Marketplaces like Atlassian, Salesforce or AWS, that have thousands of products, can seem like a daunting task. How do you break through the noise and become a key player? The secret may lie in the partner-first approach adopted by Appfire, the unicorn company building apps for the Atlassian ecosystem.

This week we delved into Appfire’s partnership strategy and marketplace insights with Colin Puckett, their SVP of Global Channel.

Keep reading for the key insights, or watch the video for the full discussion.

Appfire - 'Partner-First' unicorn built on top of Atlassian ecosystem

Appfire’s founding team was among early pioneers building in the Atlassian marketplace. The company has been in the Atlassian ecosystem for almost two decades and helped to craft its ecosystem.

In the Atlassian landscape, the term 'ecosystem' represents a dynamic network of app vendors, solution providers, and the platform itself. All these components come together to create customized solutions that tackle increasingly more complex business problems for customers.

Today Appfire is recognized as a significant marketplace partner, i.e. an app vendor that has hundreds of applications in the Atlassian marketplace. This growth, Colin explains, came not only from rigorous in-house product development but also from strategic acquisitions.

But Appfire's most compelling strategy, and perhaps the secret behind their impressive acceleration, is their commitment to being a 'partner-first' organization.

"We do not have a direct sales team," Colin emphasizes. "We operate a great deal of our revenue through our partners."

Marketplace Success through Strategic Partnerships: Learning from Appfire

Diving into Appfire's strategy, their emphasis on partners presents an interesting model. While the Atlassian marketplace is an open platform for high quality 3rd party apps to get traction via PLG (product-led-growth), Appfire underscores the importance of partners in growing revenue.

Solution partners can sell not just one app, but Appfire’s entire product catalog, allowing them to solve bigger business problems for customers. Additionally, Colin notes, “Partners are our best way to ensure that we're creating the best customer experience for the long term, which then creates the best opportunity for us to optimize our revenue, not just for this quarter, but for the next three years, five years, 10 years."

One of the most resonant insights from Colin is the value of empowering partners. Appfire made a strategic decision to forgo a direct sales team, instead opting to double down on partnerships.

The reason? Efficiency of scale. In Colin's words, "If I spend the same number of hours enabling a partner versus enabling a direct salesperson, that partner helps me achieve scale much faster." The reason is that partners already have their own books of business, thus, every investment in partner enablement can create a much more efficient scale through the partner network.

It's not about selling apps or products, but solving complex business problems

With the evolution of marketplaces like Atlassian and AWS, Colin sees a rising trend in customers opting to buy solutions and this is where partners are critical.

The concept of 'solution' is significant here, as it's not about selling apps or products, but solving complex business problems. And partners are exceptionally equipped to do that. Thus, positioning the business as part of the solution, not just the product seller, is a vital strategy.

On the question of the benefits of partnering, Colin also underscores scalability and financial advantages. Partners offer immediate access to established books of business, providing a scale that could take years to build with an internal sales team.

Also, partnering is very efficient financially - partners earn a commission but don't add to the internal headcount or costs associated with benefits and salaries. This approach helps to maintain profitability, an important consideration for fast-growing SaaS companies.

Key reasons to partner:

  1. Efficiency of Scale: Investing in partner enablement creates a much more efficient scale through the partner network (vs investing in direct sales).

  2. Focusing on Solutions: Positioning your business as part of the solution to complex business problems, rather than just a product seller, is crucial.

  3. Building Trust: Building trust with partners is just as important as building the bottom line.

  4. Scalability and Financial Benefits: Partnering offers immediate access to established books of business and avoids the financial burden of a large internal sales team.

To Scale in the Marketplace, Build Trust in the Community

Approaching scaling on the marketplace, Colin emphasizes that this isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.

"Trust doesn't happen overnight, you can't set a date and launch a trust program, right? Trust is something that you have to earn and establish over time."

But how do you build that trust? Colin encourages a balance between marketing investment and cultivating user communities.

"We're in the internet age, you can buy visibility. But at the core of these marketplace experiences, discoverability and visibility often come at the community level and at the user level," he explains.

While user reviews is something you can't buy, you can foster user engagement. Colin suggests turning to community events instead of traditional marketing efforts.

"Instead of buying Google ads, sponsor a user group. You'll get in front of people who are actually using your product and try to get the conversation going," he says.

Atlassian itself has very efficiently harnessed the power of local user communities where administrators meet to discuss problems and solutions. This type of peer-to-peer learning can often be more effective than any marketing campaign. This is a more direct way of impacting users of your products, who in turn engage in online communities, driving the review cycles and visibility you seek.

Partners and users share new product insights with each other. With the constant flood of new technology, both partners and users struggle to stay on top of it. When asked how they keep updated about new technologies, they often say,

"It's other users like me. I read the message boards, I participate in the discussions, I go to my local user groups."

These platforms provide trusted recommendations, sparing users the hassle of wading through thousands of products on the marketplace.

So establishing a presence on a marketplace is a long-term game that requires persistence. It's about engaging users in a meaningful way, creating conversations, and earning trust – these are the keys to building long-term, revenue-driving relationships with customers and partners.

How to Market to Partners to Accelerate Traction

To accelerate traction in the marketplace, Colin notes that smaller emerging app vendors need to understand how their technology fits into broader solutions. It's about understanding "how a partner makes money."

To do this, he suggests creating enablement materials that follow an "if this, then that" methodology. This approach means framing your product in terms of solutions, which better aligns with how partners sell.

He says, "Frame it in the form of solutions... rather than going at them with very technical feeds and speeds marketing."

Telling customer stories and producing case studies can also prove fruitful. But understanding the partner's business model is crucial.

Colin notes, "You got to immerse yourself in the partner's business model and understand the difference between selling through a partner to an end user and selling to a partner and explaining how you can drive value to their business."

He also emphasizes that many partners get excited about services, because services often yield higher revenue compared to SaaS. However, he adds, "every partner is going to have a slightly different business model." Understanding these differences is essential, as it influences how partners prefer to be enabled and empowered.

Key ideas on how to market to partners to accelerate your traction:

  1. Understand how your product fits into broader solutions, as partners sell solutions rather than individual products.

  2. Frame your product and enablement materials in a way that understands how a partner makes money.

  3. Understand the business model of your partners and tailor your approach accordingly.

  4. Different partners will have different focuses, so knowing where their money comes from can help you align with their goals better.

Embarking on the journey of marketplace success requires patience, persistence, and a deep understanding of both your product and your partners. As Colin Puckett of Appfire has shown us, the road to growth is not about just selling a product, but about solving complex business problems, fostering trust, and building enduring relationships within your ecosystem.


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