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Scaling partnerships globally & engaging remote teams.

Part 2 of our conversation with Rachel Astall, Head of Global Partnerships – SMB platforms at GoCardless. We discussed how to engage distributed teams and partners, how new rules of working will influence partnerships, and how GoCardless growth their partner ecosystem globally while collaborating with TransferWise.

Please find part 1 here

You've been running partnership teams which are distributed geographically and worked with multiple organizations across different geographies. Very interesting to ask what are your do's and don'ts, what are your best practices there?

It's a tricky one. This one I don't think anyone has completely nailed, global working timezones just will not bend to what you want them to. We run partnerships as a function globally. We have some local people based in particular markets, who have a partnership hat on for at least part of their role. So, it's part of our day to day working as a team. We also obviously work with global partners, and here are people all around the world. And part of our job is to work out how we can expand with those partners. So, it's definitely part of our day to day. I think if you bear in mind the same principles we have for partnerships, which is about being aligned on where you wanna go and aligned on who's going to do what to get you there. You can actually see a lot of the same similarities and kind of internal and external global working. Like align on your goals up front, so everybody knows what they're working towards. That is true, whether you are working with a Partner Manager at your partner in another country, or whether you're working with a colleague, who happens to be sitting in another office. Knowing where you're both going is really, really important. And the only way you're going to do that is if you're really open and transparent. And that means sharing a lot. And I think particularly when you're working globally, it's so important to almost overshare. You don't realize how much you pick up just by being in the same place with other people. So, to some extent, treat your internal colleagues who you happen to be sitting in another office similarly to how you would an external partner and you'll probably be giving them about the right amount of information. And then have really clear ways to collaborate and that means having some potentially difficult conversations up front about who owns an account, who owns a relationship, what the rules of engagement are. That's really important. Otherwise, you can end up with partners getting bombarded from different directions, but also confusion internally about who's doing what and who should be doing what. On the other side of that coin, don't be afraid to use each other. If there's an event in Germany, get the German team involved. It doesn't need to be really, really strict, it's just important to have those clear, like lines of command in place. And then I think probably the most important thing to be honest, is to be willing to share who has to take the call at an unsociable hour. Someone will always have to bend a little bit when you're working across lots of time zones. We have some calls where we've got Australia and New Zealand, New York and the UK all on the phone at one time. There is no single time of day that's good for everybody. So, share the loads, be willing to switch it up, and generally things get along quite nicely.

Brilliant, we are recording this on 17th of March, which is a time when a lot of people in Europe and in the US are starting to feel some pressure from recent events. What do you advise in terms of like a workflow or any other advice to other partnership people who are working across different geographies?

I imagine I'll probably give some different answers to this in a few weeks' time as we all get more used to things, but I think the same principles apply. So I think anyone who's working globally with partners needs to take the same approach to how they work with global stakeholders externally to how they do internally. So, some of the things we've been putting in place, GoCardless include more regular catch ups and cadences. Extending the length of some of those standing meetings so that you've got more time just to connect and talk, and not forgetting the social aspects. Anyone who works in partnerships knows that everything lives and dies on two things. One, the value that you're bringing to each other as organizations, and secondly, the relationships that you managed to build between those two organizations. And in order to keep those two things strong through a time when you can't have the same face to face interactions, we're going to need to communicate more. So, that's what our team is focused on. And it's what I'm sure a lot of other teams around Europe and other parts of the world are thinking about now.

This new environment will probably push people online more and more and make tech actually grow even faster, I think. How do you think this will reflect on partnership as a role in tech companies?

I think it will have an impact on how we run things. So, I think it'll have an impact on our day to day working. I think it will also help drive partnerships to be more and more important. I think businesses in particular are expecting that they can do more things online, that they can use cloud-enabled services for what they do, and that they can access best of breed solutions. I don't think businesses anymore go out and look for the one piece of software on a floppy disk that will do everything for them. And that means that businesses are increasingly looking to have lots of software providers that they can pick and mix to make sense for their business. And that means that the way those software's interact with each other and the way those businesses create new shared value between each other will be really, really important. So, I think it will push partnerships to be more important. I think it will push us all to be more creative about how we implement things, but it will probably mean a focus on the technical solution will become in front of most partnership teams.

Talking about more partnerships and a bright future. You guys recently launched a partnership with TransferWise, and it's a big one. Can you tell a little bit more about it?

Yeah, it's a really exciting time. So, we've launched borderless payments with TransferWise. So, TransferWise offers currency exchange. And by working together, what we're enabling businesses to do is to collect payments via direct debit in any of the countries in which GoCardless operates in, and then have those payments paid into their home bank account in their home currency. This is the first time anyone's ever done this and it's really really transformational. It means that you do not need to have multiple bank accounts, and multiple currencies, you don't need to think about all the different regulations in all the different countries in which you're operating. You can globalize your operations really, really seamlessly. And TransferWise is a really important partner for us to work with on that, because their core value is around fairness and transparency and knowing how much you're going to pay. And that's really important to us as well. So they're our partner in taking direct debit global and enabling payments to be that little bit less painful for businesses.

Right, and this, I would imagine will cause a new global strategy and a pretty significant acceleration. How do you think your partnership strategy will change?

Yes, it's a really good question. Partnerships in GoCardless and in a lot of places cuts across everything that we do. So, as the business changes and evolves, our own approach changes with them, sometimes before and sometimes after. I think the most important thing for our partnership strategy is that it stays very, very customer centric, as we expand all the offers that we have. It's led to a couple of immediate shifts in our focus. The first is actually around how we're set up and how we focus our energies. So, GoCardless now serves everyone from one man band window cleaner businesses, right the way through to major multinationals. And the partners we work with are a little bit different at different ends of the market. What we've done is restructure our teams to align to this. We've got a small business partnerships team and an enterprise partnerships team. And importantly, this isn't about the size of the partnership. This isn't about how much revenue we make through those individual partners, but it's about the type of customer that we serve through that partner. Small business partners like Xero and QuickBooks, they're really focused on having a great product offering and their marketing and helping educate their user base. Whereas our enterprise partners, like Salesforce and Zuora, they're much more focused on enabling their sales teams and on great customer success. So, we've set ourselves up to mirror the way that our partners behave, instead of thinking just about the kind of pure revenue that we get through those relationships. Now, that's really helped us focus our goal to market energies, but also improve the way that we develop our products, develop our partner offer. So, that's underpinning everything. And then I guess the second kind of strands is how we're thinking about scaling up. We're growing pretty fast and that comes with lots of opportunities, but lots of growing pains as well. And it means we're having to think a little bit differently about how we work. So, we've already talked about working globally and having diversified teams. But we also have exactly the same challenge with the number of partners that we have, and the sheer breadth of their offerings and where they're based. So, one of the things we've been focusing on for the last six months or so is building out a global partner program. And the intent there is to support and engage with that growing ecosystem of partners globally, so that being a GoCardless partner can feel really good no matter where you are in the world. So, that includes standardizing technical integrations and building a front end portal so that partners can engage with us without having to fish out someone's email address. But I think as we continue to grow, and particularly as we broaden what we work on as a company, that strategy will continue to evolve.

Exciting times. I hope you follow your success and obviously, we're all going through some challenges right now but I think with your exciting expansion, it's not going to prevent you from it. Let me ask you my last question, because a lot of partnership managers follow us. How do you educate yourself? What are the best practices that you follow, any blogs or any materials, any opinion leaders?

I actually think this is an area that needs a bit more attention. Partnerships at the moment, I think is tackled by breaking it down into its composite skills. So, we read a lot about sales, about marketing, about products, about relationship building all of the composite parts of being a good partnership person. But I don't actually think that there is currently a really good body of work or network around people who work in partnerships to learn from each other. So, that's something I'm really excited about starting to see as we get a bit more maturity in that space. I think the one thing that we always ask ourselves within the partnerships team is fundamentally why are we partnering with this company? Because that helps you work out where is the shared value and what should we be focusing on together and then everything else follows from there, including what you should be working on your own personal development.

Right, just to conclude, I think in the next half a year or a year, when we go into some changes in our environment, partnerships will become more and more important and actually, working closer together and supporting each other organizationally is really critical. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I really appreciate that.

It was really nice to chat with you.

Please find part 1 here


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