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Build and Scale Your SaaS Partner Program | Webinar Transcript

Partner programs are the go-to channel for SaaS businesses to drive revenue. But partnership sales require the right strategy and insights from those who have done it before.

In this webinar, Eric Chan, Head of Global Partnerships at Chargebee, shares how he developed and polished the partner program at Chargebee. 


You learn how to:

  • Scale revenue with channel partnerships.
  • Set up your team for success with smart targets.
  • Apply key metrics to track partner growth. 
  • Optimize your partner programs.

KEY TAKEAWAYS 

Chargebee’s Partner Programs

Chargebee started over 11 years ago. Based on customer demand, the product and sales teams decided which integrations to build. Most were technical, like Stripe, HubSpot, Salesforce, QuickBooks, and many others. The goal of the formalized partnership department was to create something more commercially viable from disparate integrations and connectivity points.

Specifically, they focused on leveraging partners in order to expand SAM (serviceable addressable market) or, in other cases, enter a particular market. They formed partnerships with regionally oriented companies to offer businesses a complete solution because those are the tools these companies would utilize in conjunction with Chargebee. 

Measuring the Success of Partner Program

When partners refer Chargebee deals, they also have to reciprocate. For example,  if we refer millions in the pipeline to a partner, the closing of the deal is determined by:

A, how strong the partnership is.

B, what their ICP is; 

It enables Chargebee to give partners better-qualified leads that close at a higher percentage than their inbound or outbound campaigns depending on how an organization is structured.

Chargebee acts as another channel for said partner's sales and marketing organization. Success is often based on metrics to see which channel performs better to help the sales and marketing team.

Defining Partner Program Goals and Targets

Defining partner programs' goals and targets depend on the partner's role. For example, if you look at Chargebee’s partner program, they have partner account managers who are essentially sales reps managing Salesforce, Hubspot, or Quickbooks.

They also have a concept of partner success. That person's role is to get partners excited about Chargebee’s product, so they talk about it. They also have a partner marketing role responsible for creating marketing resources to drive campaigns both to the partners and through the partners. Hence, based on the partner role, the goals and targets vary.

Partner Acquisition - Quantity vs. Quality

If you look at who Chargebee sells to and who is typically using Chargebee, it's someone who is using or is making a decision around the accounting and BRD software. The other category is CRM software. 

If they look at those two spaces, the universe is small. It's probably no more than 50 different CRMs globally because there are a lot of global players like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Microsoft. But some local players have a regional focus because of language or heritage. 

Chargebee also has a different program based on solution partners. Solution partners are defined as anybody who has a consulting business. And a consulting business could be anything from an accounting firm, advisory services, or a marketing agency. 

The law of large numbers is applicable here, meaning one can recruit thousands, if not tens of thousands of partners in that space. It is because solution partners follow a similar cadence when engaging with companies like Chargebee. And so, in that instance, having a lower touch engagement is a way to also see if you can drive the pipeline. 

Metrics to Measure Partner Success

Measuring the success of the partner program depends on the reporting structure. Chargebee's partnerships team reports to the chief revenue officer(CRO), so success is mainly defined by the revenue generated. But it is also fairly common for the partnership teams to report to the CEO, the CPO, or the CMO.

For a CPO, the defining metric could be the number of integrations, connectivity, and possibly how active is your API flow. For a CMO, the number of integrations is an important metric to track, along with the number of leads generated.

Importance of Sales Enablement for Partners

You cannot underestimate the value of sales enablement for your partners, their sales and marketing, their executives, and also internally in your company. Chargebee calls this a full team sport where they make everyone participate, explaining what they’re doing, why they’re making it, and its impact.

For example, you might have a professional services organization. When trying to scale, it does not make sense to keep hiring consultants to help implement your software and your service. So why not go look for other solution partners, system integrators, and the like and try to recruit them? And why don't you create some enablement for them? It will enable them to become a force multiplier and not bottlenecked by the number of employees or resources you have to enable to hopefully hundreds if not thousands of customers that are going to be clamoring for your product.

This is a great example of- it might not be obvious how partnerships can impact the business unit and the day-to-day processes. But it has these compelling capabilities to get better at their job and ultimately provide a good service to their customer. 

Right Time to Start Looking for Partnerships

If you are an early founder and your primary concern is having a market-fit product, then it is the right time to start exploring partnerships and marketing to better articulate your product and services. It will also help to drive the pipeline and create channels to acquire new customers. You can inherently start thinking about creating partnerships and sales channel strategies.  Sales channel strategy can be indirect, where they can sign up themselves as well as a direct channel strategy for reselling.

Incentivizing Partners to Keep Them Aligned

Incentivizing partners is crucial. It can be as simple as offering SPIFs, contests, or any joint campaign. You have to figure out the right behavior that is within the guidelines of that partner. 

Chargebee works with many payment partners like Paypal, Stripe, etc., where they are not allowed to stiff the partners. That is why they show their appreciation for top performers by giving them a nice dinner. Another example could be a contest. So again, you can reward the top-performing partner salesperson or someone like that with a trip somewhere for bringing the most deals in a given quarter.

Last but not least, there's also the concept of partner appreciation. You allocate a certain budget for partnerships when they’ve achieved certain milestones. If the partner smashes their quarter by hitting all numbers and exceeding them. That's a great time for you to think about how to reward your partner.

TRANSCRIPT

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

All right. Let's get started now, then. So, first of all, everyone, thank you for joining today. This is the first of many conversations we will have with partnership leaders worldwide, bringing you tactical and actionable takeaways from successful partner programs and people who've been there, like Eric today. 

You might already know of Zomentum. For the uninitiated, we are a revenue platform for SaaS partnership teams and their partners to collaborate and drive revenue together. So if you resonate with something like your partners not adopting a partner portal, if you have no idea of what your partners are working on or any kind of visibility into their deal pipelines, or if you have a long tail of non-transacting partners who you're not able to engage, maybe we should have a conversation. So drop us a line in chat. And we can connect besides this session. 

But for now, pretty exciting chat up ahead with Eric Chan. He's the global head of partnerships at Chargebee. So I'm a big fan of Chargebee. They were incubated in Chennai, my hometown in the south of India. But more importantly, they've also been disrupting the space of subscription billing and revenue management like nobody's business. And the growth story of Chargebee, I think, is fairly well documented in the public domain. So we'll probably not go too much into it. 

But what we want to focus on today is the incredible success story of their partner program. And we figured who else but the man who's been there from conception to where it stands today, contributing to over $100 million in revenue pertaining to the revenue machine that Chargebee is. So firstly, thank you so much for joining us today and giving us your time. Do you want to say a quick hi to everyone on board today? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Yeah. Hi, everyone. My name's Eric Chan. And I started the partnerships team at Chargebee almost three years ago. And I've been with Chargebee for almost four years. And I'm happy to discuss today what we've accomplished in a short time. And if there are questions along the way, happy to answer them on how you can start your partnership program. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Awesome. Thanks for that, Eric. And I'll probably just add a little bit more introduction for Eric. For those uninitiated about Eric, he has over 20 years of experience building digital products and leading business growth, is a three-time entrepreneur, and has two successful exits. And he's been a leader and mentor for the partnership community for a long time. So we're delighted to have his expertise on board today. 

So we can get started without much further ado, Eric. Firstly, at Chargebee, as global head of partnership tasked with an opportunity to lead partnerships at Chargebee, how did you get started? 

I know you've mentioned a couple of times that you didn't quite start from scratch. You had an unorganized handful of partners doing different things for Chargebee. Could you walk me through the journey there and how we are here today? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Sure. So Chargebee started over 11 years ago. And in that time, based on customer demand as well as what we could see what the product needed– our product organization, with the help of sales, decided on which integrations to build. Most of them were technical. So, in this case, integrating with solutions like Stripe, HubSpot, Salesforce, QuickBooks, and many others. 

And so, when it was time to look at having a more formalized partnership department, I was asked by Krish, one of our founders, to look at this a little bit more seriously. And the focus was, as Raghav had mentioned, to turn all of this disparate connectivity and integrations and users that we had on the system into something that could be more commercially viable. And when I say commercially viable, it's looking at the lens of partners to drive your commercial success. 

Now, that can have many different flavors. In our case, having a strong partner ecosystem is a driver for not only partner-led or partner-sourced pipelines. So they're generating leads and, in some cases, deals given to us. We also have a metric around revenue. So in some cases, the commercial arrangement we've structured has a financial component. 

And then third, thinking about how we can leverage partners to expand the SAM or the serviceable addressable market and, in other cases, potentially go into a particular geographic market. So a good example is our recent launch into India, where we started go-to-market with certain regionally focused partners to have a complete solution that a company would be interested in because those are the software tools they would use in conjunction with Chargebee.

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Awesome. And given that you work with different kinds of regional partners or the array of partners that Chargebee is involved with, how do you measure success initially when setting up your partner program? What are you trying to measure in terms of how successful it is? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Yeah. So this depends on who you report to in the reporting structure. So for a partnerships team, we report to the chief revenue officer. It's also fairly common for the partnerships team to report to the CEO, the CPO, or the CMO. 

And as you can imagine, having reporting into the CPO versus the CRO, you will have very different metrics. I can imagine that with the CPO, it would be the number of integrations, the number of connectivity, and possibly how active is your API flow and how that could be. If it was the CMO, it also could be the number of integrations. But it might also be the number of leads you can generate. So in our case, again, it's revenue and source pipeline to help the sales team. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Got it. And as an extension of that, in terms of setting up your team to be able to achieve those kinds of success metrics, how do you go about defining targets for these different teams that are involved? Is it usually revenue-based? How do cross-functional teams come together with different kinds of targets? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Yeah. So a little bit about how our team is constructed. So if you think about the sales pod model, you typically have an SDR tied to an AD. Then you might have someone from customer success when the deal is considered or consummated. And then you hand it off to them to do the ongoing account management, if not upgrades and upsell. 

So if you take that same analogy and you transpose that to partnerships, we have a similar model. So the partner account manager, sometimes also called a channel account manager, is essentially the sales rep. Or they're managing an account like Salesforce or QuickBooks, or HubSpot. 

We also have the concept of partner success. That person or that role is focused on enablement and excitement. And what we mean by enablement and excitement is how do we get the partner to talk intelligently about you when you're not in the room? How do we motivate the partner to want to refer a deal over to you? And last, is there some kind of financial incentive for actually helping to close the deal that you referred to a partner? 

Some other role that we have that helps us is partner marketing. So we have a dedicated partner marketing resource to drive campaigns both to the partner for keeping them motivated and through the partner as a way to drive leads, deals, revenue, etc. 

And then a couple of other components for that pod. In our case, we were able to advocate for a dedicated partner BDR. And the partner BDR is this new hybrid role that's starting to emerge. In our case, this partner BDR is really focused on recruiting more net new partners, filtering them, and finding a good cadence for us to engage. Some partner BDRs are focused on helping to drive go-to-market activities, legion, and pipeline gen through the partner. And so that's some of the roles we've given partner managers instead of the BDR. But the BDR has been known to have some of those roles. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Got it. And how does it extend to the partner universe as well, Eric, in terms of alignment? We've spoken about internal teams being aligned to have different metrics and how they're measured on success. How about the partners themselves? Are they typically measured purely on revenue? Are there other metrics that you typically use to measure partner success? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Yeah. So as much as we would like lots of partners to refer us to deals, we also have to reciprocate. And so understanding what the partner's goal is-- so again, partner sourced from us to them. And in some cases, it's even more sophisticated about the closed one ratio. So if we, let's say, refer a million in the pipeline to a partner, how much of that closes is also a determination of 

  1.  how strong the partnership is. 
  2.  If we talk about enablement, how intelligent are we to understand their ICP?

So that we're giving them better-qualified leads that close at a higher percentage than perhaps your inbound campaigns. And maybe even your outbound campaigns depending on how your organization is structured. We are another channel for the sales and marketing organization of that partner. And in a lot of cases, we're judged based on those metrics to see which channel performs better to help your sales and marketing team. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Got it. And one of the things that I want to talk about as an extension of that is the growth in the partner channel itself. I often think it's pretty synonymously understood that more partners are one of the metrics that teams go after. Is that how you look at it as well? Is it one of the major indicators that you work with more partners in terms of partner acquisition to invest? 

Or is there a way to manage that expectation to say, hey, you know what? We have a handful of partners. We want to do justice to them. We want to make them succeed before we grow too fast. Is there such a thing as growing too fast from a partner acquisition point of view? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Sure. So I'll give you different examples of two different types of programs that we have at Chargebee. 

One of them is focused on technology partners. Or sometimes they're called ISVs, independent software vendors. And in that vein, there are a lot of software companies out there. But if we take a look at who we have the greatest impact and density, they only fall into two categories within that software. 

Now, that isn't to say that everyone on this webinar or everyone who's making a software company couldn't find a way to partner. But if you look at who we sell to and who is typically the person who would use Chargebee, it's someone who is also using or making a decision around the accounting and BRD software. And then the other category is CRM software. So if we look at those two spaces, the universe is small. It's probably no more than 50 different CRMs globally because there are a lot of global players like Salesforce, HubSpot, and Microsoft. But there are local players with a regional focus either because of language or heritage. 

If we look at a different program that we run, we also have one focused on solution partners. Solution partners for us are defined as anybody who has a consulting business. And a consulting business could be anything from an accounting firm, advisory services, or even a marketing agency. 

In that case, that is the law of large numbers. And what I mean by that is you can go recruit thousands, if not maybe tens of thousands of partners in just that space because there is a very similar rhythm in a cadence that a solution partner follows to engage with a company like us. And so, in that instance, having a high velocity, potentially lower-touch engagement is a way to also see if you can drive the pipeline up. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Got it. Got it. And for all of these different kinds of partners-- and, of course, you work with very different kinds of partners today(technology partners, system integrators, resellers, and all of the other channels), how do you enable and support all of these different partners for success? What do partners typically expect from a vendor for them to go to market and be able to drive revenue and make it a complete win-win for both partners and yourselves? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Yeah. So the first couple of meetings is usually pretty straightforward. We're mutually interested. There's a hope that your customer base, our customer base, can be cross-pollinated. Or there's a whole set of customers where there's a joint value proposition when we go to market together. So in some cases, combining your forces with an accounting platform makes a whole lot of sense in our case. 

Once that's done, the hard work of being a little more prescriptive to put together a simple business plan doesn't have to be the typical 10-page or 20-page thing. It could just be a couple of pages that talk about the business, each other's customer type, and what's possible from a marketing and sales capability. 

This starts to uncover, let's say, where you could regionally focus on or maybe a specific vertical or even within all of a specific niche within the vertical that you picked that you're both comfortable with-- let's say, starting and the whole analogy of crawl, walk, run. So you're going to crawl by picking a niche within a particular region that both companies are comfortable having. And then, based on that, how can we double down and expand that or scale that across to all the geographies that you may be interested in or where that company can explore? 

Then, after all of that's said and done, how do we handle the commercial aspects, meaning is there a referral agreement? Is there a reseller arrangement? Is there a bundling that can happen? 

And then, last but not least, what are some monetary considerations? So, Raghav, if I refer you to a deal, are you expected to be paid a flat rate like, let's say, $100? Or is it going to be based on a percentage of the contract value? In some cases, this is a nuanced thing. But it's important for what we're going after. 

For example, some accounting firms have an audit function and are not allowed to accept any form of compensation for the referral. So in that case, there could be other creative ways where the money that we would have given to that firm could be used in other means such as maybe driving another marketing campaign of any sort or other sort of incentives or things that are not seen as directly compensating a customer or a partner for a customer. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

And when you expand it to all of these different regions with the growing partner base, I think there's one other, I think, a common theme. So we did reach out to our social audience to understand if they had any questions for you. And one of the common themes was around internal stakeholder management. 

And, of course, it's not just the partnership teams and partners going to market. There are, of course, the direct sales teams and the internal stakeholders that need to be aligned to make it a win for the organization as a larger outcome as well. So how does that typically happen in an organization like Chargebee? How are internal stakeholders, partnership teams, and partners aligned toward one common business vision

ERIC CHAN: 

So I'll share one thing first. And it'll give people on the webinar here some context. So when you're in partnerships, you have to think about what you can control and what you own and manage. And you have to realize that we don't own the product. So these integrations I spoke about earlier are owned by a product and engineering team. 

I don't control how we engage with customers. That's a sales department's issue. Or sometimes if they're a customer, customer success because you're handling renewals, upgrades, and things like that. So at the end of the day, the partnership team owns relationships with the right stakeholders at the other company. Now, those relationships are important because we're either trying to drive influence, we're trying to drive revenue, or we're trying to drive a lot of branding and marketing at that other company. 

Going back to what Raghav was saying, we have to spend a large portion of our time convincing internal teams. And this is across the entire organization. It's not just people in customer success or sales. But we even have to spend quite a bit of time getting executives aligned and making them understand why their participation or why they need to also believe in this partner program or set of partners is going to enhance the business. And also know how to articulate that if we're also talking about thought leadership, and arguably even when you're going for your next round of finance, how valuable is your partner ecosystem, and how is that impacting your growth trajectory? 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

And through the course of all of this, Eric, I'm pretty sure I followed the Chargebee growth journey quite closely from about $0 million, three more product/market fit a company that does more than $120 million annual revenue. What are your learnings personally? From a Chargebee perspective in terms of partnerships, what could you have done differently? What works incredibly well for Chargebee? 

ERIC CHAN: 

Yeah. So one of the things that I think is a constant-- and I will always shout this from the rooftops-- is you cannot underestimate how much enablement you have to do not only for your partners, their sales and marketing, and their executives but also internally. And so we call this a full team sport where we need everybody to participate. We need everybody to understand what we're doing, why we're doing it, and how it impacts you. 

I'll give you two specific examples. If you think about the customer success role, their job is to ensure they're keeping the customer happy and finding new opportunities to grow the accounts. And last but not least, what are some ways that they can impact the business by making good suggestions? 

Now, making good suggestions and impacting growth could be introducing a partner. Their job is to solve problems. For example, if the customer is having a problem, the company you're at, like at Chargebee, we don't have something to solve it. Hey, but we do have an integration to this other product that helps with that particular problem. That is a perfectly good example of how customer success impacts their NRR (Net Revenue Retention) or maybe their CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) score, or their NPS (Net Promoter Score) score by introducing a partner. 

A second example is you might have a professional services organization. And when you're trying to scale that because you have lots of customers, it's just not possible to keep hiring consultants to help implement your software and your service. So why not look for other solution partners, system integrators, and the like and try to recruit them? And why don't you create some enablement for them? It will enable them to become a force multiplier and not bottlenecked by the number of employees or resources you have to enable to hopefully hundreds if not thousands of customers that are going to be clamoring for your product.

So those are two great examples of - it might not be obvious how partnerships can impact their business unit and their day-to-day processes. But it has these compelling capabilities for them to get better and better at their job and ultimately provide a good service for their customer. 

Questions and Answers

  1. What is a good time for business leaders and founders to look at partnerships as a go-to-market strategy? 

It's never too early to contemplate a partner strategy. You would first think about having the right product to sell. But even before that, you’d have to have lots of salespeople. There has to be some process along the way where marketing has to figure out how to articulate it. Marketing and partnership's role is to help drive pipeline or create channels so that you can acquire customers. 

You must also think about partnerships and a sales channel strategy. A sales channel strategy could be an indirect one where you're bringing traffic to your site and signing up themselves, an outbound one where you hire a large sales team to do that or a channel strategy where you're using resellers. But all along the way, how can those things be enhanced by reducing friction or increasing the quantity? 

The Salesforce AppExchange is a perfect example of a partner strategy. It is something where I believe I'm going to get more distribution by having my presence in someone else's marketplace. So, it's never too early. It's a matter of how much you can dedicate and focus on driving that strategy. 

  1. How do you incentivize your partners to ensure they're aligned with your larger business vision? How do you make it a win-win situation for you as a vendor and partners on the same journey?

Some of it is based on how you can incentivize their team and yours to hopefully do the right thing. It can be as simple as offering SPIFs, contests, or any kind of joint campaign. But when you're looking at it, what you're trying to do is ultimately figure out the right behavior that is within the guidelines of that partner. 

There's also the concept of partner appreciation. This is part of your budget when you think about partnerships where you've achieved certain milestones. You've been able to get through smashing your quarter by hitting all your numbers and exceeding them. There are all kinds of creative ways to incentivize and motivate that behavior. Trying to create these incentives, these experiences, and ways for both organizations to connect at different levels is a way to influence and enhance and try to have that behavior where people are motivated and excited to want to work with the partner. 

  1. In terms of the low-touch partners, how often should we contact partners to maintain a close relationship? Should phone calls or direct messaging be available? Or is an email just about sufficient?

Think about your network for a minute. For some of them, you have this natural affinity to want to engage. I don't think there's necessarily a specific answer that solves it all. Just think about what your partners are looking for. Think about it as follows, are they looking for news? Are they looking for product updates, maybe new partners? 

So there are a lot of different ways and paths you can engage. Don't necessarily ignore the low touch because maybe that low touch partner just needs to be motivated and show they can do it. They might end up becoming somebody who's maybe your most strategic partner. 

  1. What are your opinions around partner fees and collecting revenue through partner fees? 

This is a very hotly debated question about paying an admission fee to be part of a partner program. If you're trying to filter out and be very selective about who your partner is, I think that's where those partner fees come into play. 

Sometimes a longer-term issue about that is if I'm a partner, and I'm paying $5,000 or $10,000 a year, at some point, I'm going to get questioned on whether they are sending us deals. Am I being highlighted or featured as part of one of their preferred or premier partners? Does it give me certain levels of access to their executive staff or maybe even a larger partner ecosystem? 

In this case, the pay-to-play model, as they call it, could have a negative effect where the higher the price points are, the more the expectations become very, very large. And if you don't have the resources to facilitate the expectations, that promise becomes hard to keep. 

What we like to see is more performance and engagement-based. You want to work with us on campaigns. You want to engage with us. You want to have executive sessions, maybe some dedicated time to think about direct campaigns or working on events. That there already shows your motivation to want to be successful with us. 

Some of the results may vary, but the intent is there. Hopefully, that intent leads to action, and the action leads to outcomes and results. It is a much better way to try to figure out who are going to be your most strategic partners or who are going to be partners that are good for maybe one or two things during the year.

And then that low touch, high velocity in terms of the number of partners are going to be relegated to maybe the self-service tier. That way, you can keep it simple. But also know that you can evolve it over time. So it's very typical to see this three- or four-tiered program that's typically based on performance, engagement, and outcomes and hopefully a lot less on the partner fees.

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN:

Awesome. Thank you for taking that question, Eric. I thought that was a tricky question regarding where the world stands on partner fees. And it's quite a divided world. But thank you for taking that question as well. I think that we'll wrap that up with that question. 

And then, of course, thank you for being the first guest in a series of webinars that we'll host at Zomentum. 

Get in touch with Eric Chan 

Everyone who attends today's session, if you'd like to have a more detailed discussion about putting your partners first, and if you'd like to learn more about Zomentum's revenue platform, which helps you work closely on the same platform and puts partners at the center of your partner strategy, please let us know.

I'm going to share a quick link where you can set up some time with the team to learn more about how Zomentum is helping SaaS partnership teams and partners come together and drive more revenue. You caneven gain visibility into each other's pipeline, sharing opportunities, and working as a team instead of as two standalone disparate parties. 

But always, thank you so much for joining in today. We will, of course, follow up with responses to some of the questions we haven't been able to take up on this call. And otherwise, follow us on LinkedIn. And we will be in touch with more webinars and conversations around partnerships from folks like Eric. Thank you so much for joining in. Thanks, Eric. Appreciate your time today. 

Raghav’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/raghav-viswanathan/
Eric’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cirechan/

ERIC CHAN: 

Great. Thanks, everyone. 

RAGHAV VISWANATHAN: 

Appreciate it.