Building anchor partnerships is key to building your business. When it comes to channel partners, finding the right people is always the goal. Build partnerships around the world to help spread your brand. Learn how to find anchor partnerships with Seann Gardiner. Seann is the Senior Vice President of ThoughtSpot, who handles all their partnerships globally. He joins host Rico Mallozzi to talk about the importance of partnerships. Learn his partner model and how building relationships is important for your platform. Find more business opportunities today.
Anchor Partnerships Around The World With Seann Gardiner
In this episode, I spoke to Seann Gardiner, who is the SVP of Business Development at ThoughtSpot. He is a long-time BD executive who’s built and led channel programs at DataRobot, Alteryx, Dell and Sophos. In this episode, we discussed the ins and the outs of partnerships and how to make BD a successful endeavor in your business. We’ll cover everything from big partners to the makeup of the team. He will share his extensive experience in all things business development.
Seann, thanks for joining us. Before we get started, can you provide the readers with some information on your background, what are your roles and the experiences that led you to ThoughtSpot?
Thanks for having me on the show. I started out several years ago in tech. I won’t take you down a long path on that. I was with a company called KACE, it was in the late 2000’s, KACE is a systems management software company. I was brought in to run BD for them. I ended up managing and kicking off a relationship with Dell. Dell had a lot of partners in that domain. They’d invested in some partnerships there so we had a lot of work on our hands. We ended up growing that relationship to about half of KACE’s revenue and Dell ended up acquiring us a few years in. We were one of the first software acquisitions by Dell. I was trying to figure out something interesting to do within Dell and they said, “Would you like to go and run Europe?” I had expressed interest in that before. We didn’t have a big footprint there. KACE wanted to grow the business. We had a few people in London and they said, “Would you be interested?” I said, “For sure, I’ll talk to my wife about it.” They said, “You can move to Dublin, to London, to Paris or to Montpellier in Southern France.”
As a Canadian living in Vancouver, my wife said, “We’re not moving anywhere rainier than Vancouver.” Paris sounds great. I didn’t speak French but we were growing the business in Western Europe and I figured you might as well throw yourself in. We moved to Paris for a few years. We had a great experience with Dell. We had a lot of sponsorship from Michael Dell down and learned a ton, building a team across Europe, Middle East and Africa. About three years in, we decided to come back to the West Coast and come back to the Bay Area. A number of KACE folks had got involved at Alteryx. At the time, Alteryx, this was about 2012 when I got involved, going 2013. Sapphire had invested in Series A. A very exciting vision for the company. It was a company that had been around since 1997 but they were amassing a great team and core product. They asked me if I wanted to run BD. I hadn’t had experience in the data analytics space but it was a growing space and a massive market.
I bet on the market and the team and joined Alteryx. I spent about four-plus years at Alteryx. One of the things, they were kicking off a relationship with Tableau. That became our anchor partnership with Alteryx. Not only working with Tableau but monetizing the ecosystem in and around Tableau and their channel partnerships, their SI partnerships and becoming synonymous with them. Upon IPO in 2017, about 40% plus of our new logos were coming through channel partners. About 70% of all new logos were coming through our channel partnerships and our tech partners like Tableau, too. Partners helped to fuel Alteryx’s growth, not only in the US but internationally.
After the IPO, I was intrigued by the ML and AI space and joined DataRobot. I led business development at DataRobot for 2.5 years. Being based in the Bay Area, traveling back to Boston quite frequently was pretty taxing. I decided I would look for something closer to home and left DataRobot before the pandemic. That travel may not have mattered after that time. I joined ThoughtSpot. I saw ThoughtSpot as the next generation of analytics being able to build data apps on top of cloud data platforms. I’ve been running BD there.
As with many of our guests, people should watch what you’re doing. You seem to be picking a lot of winners and I’m happy that you’ve stayed in the Sapphire family for so long. You mentioned you’re running BD at ThoughtSpot, you’ve clearly done a lot of BD. What is the general sense of BD at ThoughtSpot? What is your team lead?
It’s been relatively similar at a coarse grain level. We lead our channel partners and solution partners. The technology partner ecosystem is super important for us at this stage of the company, it was the same DataRobot when I was there. GSI partners leading our embedded analytics offerings/OEM partners as well. Leading our go-to-market with our cloud transformation has been an exciting time at ThoughtSpot. We’ve kicked off this relationship with Snowflake. That has also helped us transform the company into a cloud company. We’ve taken the ThoughtSpot application, put it into the cloud, we’ve got a fully managed cloud offering. It’s growing faster than any other product I’ve ever been involved with. We’re seeing significant adoption. What we’re seeing here is that as people move to the cloud with platforms like Snowflake, BigQuery and Databricks, they need to rethink the type of data apps and analytics they run on top of it and run it for a scale for the complexity of data that’s sitting in those platforms. We’ve seen pretty significant growth with those partnerships and with the business overall. It’s an exciting time to be at ThoughtSpot.
You mentioned something in your background. I hear the word channel a lot. For context, I came from Dropbox, we also use that word channel for our teams specifically separated from our partnerships BD team but it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. I’m curious to get your thoughts, what is the channel environment for an enterprise technology company looks like? What are people focusing on or what marketplaces should you be on? It’s an open-ended question but I’m curious what your initial thoughts are.
People think about channels traditionally as reseller partners. When I look at channel partners now, it’s not about reselling the technology. There’s the entire resell model especially with PLG-oriented companies and SaaS companies. The resell model is dying in North America. It can be useful internationally, but that model in general is going by the wayside. I’ll dig into that a little bit more in a bit. In general, I like the term solution partners because essentially what you want those regional SIs or partners doing is building on your platform. That’s how you become a platform. You have an ecosystem of partners that are building solutions on that platform and how do you get them to contribute to customer success. I see a big convergence these days between the success of customers and when partners are involved. We want multiple partners involved in our customer accounts as they expand. We see significantly better expansion when we get partners involved. That’s a species of partner we want to look at ThoughtSpot. In general, companies are moving that way.Every partnership can be a game-changer. Click To Tweet
The other thing we’re seeing is the rise of cloud marketplaces. If you look at AWS Marketplace, Azure Marketplace and Google Marketplace, all of those now are essential to be on. You may get some lift and awareness but it’s more about tapping into that cloud spend that’s going into these platforms and being able to leverage that to drive deals and grow the deals, ideally unlocking budget that might not have been there before. The last thing is you will have fulfillment partners. We still work with partners that we’ll put our technology on their paper. A lot of companies are still using those partners in the federal government, it becomes very important but that’s more of a procurement mechanism. We sign up for those types of partners, but in general, we’re looking for partners to go and build IP, differentiate our offering in the minds of customers and help to make them successful.
From my experience, a lot of the partners see a lot of value in the hours that they’re going to get in deploying your product. There’s a conversation about what your product’s pricing model looks like and that becomes a very big part of that partnership. Has the trend of usage-based pricing changed any of the strategies there or is it all part and parcel?
As partners are more focused on services and services hours, which most of them are, the usage-based pricing resonates super well with them. They don’t have to go and land a massive commitment from the customer, they can go and build use cases and drive usage. The feedback we’ve been getting from partners on our consumption-based pricing has been super positive. That’s going to resonate extremely well with partners, the usage-based pricing because they’re focused on hours. If the customers are only paying for the time they’re in the product and you can start to grow the use cases, that’s going to be a model that resonates with partners over time. It does take some time to get their heads around it but it started to happen en masse. The likes of Snowflake and Databricks and the cloud providers have made our lives easier as we move to more of a consumption model.
I live in the UK. I’m focused on Sapphire ventures in Europe and the international expansion that we have. You mentioned how at Alteryx, in the past, you ran partnerships as well, you grew the business, I know that you grew it internationally. Can you explain what you did with those partnerships? How did you structure them? Which partner types did you leverage? How did you use all that to move your product internationally before a large salesforce would have landed?
It was a great exercise. I was thankful for the Alteryx leadership team because they gave us a lot of latitude internationally with partners and they believed in the partner model. As we saw success, they continue to invest there. We were lucky. That’s important when you have a CEO, CRO and board and executive team who are bullish on partnerships. Internationally, what we saw is we had this partnership with Tableau. Tableau’s partners internationally, were doing significant business. As were Qlik’s at the time, which was another BI platform. When we thought about the Tableau salesforce, they were all hitting their numbers, Tableau was on fire at the time. Some of the reps would engage with Alteryx, some of them were indifferent but their partners all wanted something else to sell. They all wanted to go and solve the problem so their customers had around data prep. We ended up signing up all of the top Tableau partners internationally and making them successful. Within four years, many of them were doing more revenue in Alteryx revenue than they were in Tableau (revenue).
We did the partner model in the major countries and tried to focus on a core set of countries. Once we got to some critical mass (50 or 100 customers), we would put in a sales team to go and grow that business in the markets. We did that in Germany, France, Nordics, Benelux. I led Asia Pacific and Latin America myselffor Alteryx. In the build out there, we followed a similar blueprint. However we took it a step further and did someting inventive. Weended up having an advisor from Exactarget. They shared the the strategy that they took was in some of these big markets where you don’t want to put resources right away. The idea was to do a joint venture with a good partner of yours. License them your name. In our case, it was Alteryx Australia or Denmark . Once you’ve built some trust with that partner, give them an exclusive for that country, give them some big minimums to go and hit and work with them to spin up a team down there. And over time consider buying the entity back. You’re buying them back for less than you’re getting credit for on the street.
We did that in a number of markets, notably Australia where we partnered with one of the top Tableau partners down there. He carved out a team and we essentially badged that team up, it was essentially an Alteryx team. They had some minimums, they grew the business markedly over a three-year period. We ended up buying that business back. A lot of those people are still with Alteryx. We did it in some other markets, too. Now you don’t want to do that too early. You want to make sure that the partner’s proven, but the benefit is when Alteryx acquired them, they we had a team there. They also had hundreds of customers and a strong eight-figure ARR stream.and built out a partner ecosystem under them. We essentially turnkeyed that business after the acquisition. I had left and they acquired them shortly after but it’s been quite successful. I liked that model if you can find the right partner.
That’s unique, I hadn’t heard of that model before. That’s a good tidbit to take away. When we talk about regions and expansion in the broader sense, partnerships and strategy, it seems like when you’re at a startup every partnership could be a game-changer. Chances are if you’re going to get a knock on the door from any company that’s much larger than you, they are going to drop greater revenue quite a bit. How do you prioritize? How do you take 10 partners and say no to 9 and do the work with 1? Why Tableau? Are they the ones that said yes? Was it that you specifically were like, “That’s where the money is going to be?”
We’ll talk about tech partnerships first and talk about the channel partnerships because they are different in terms of what you look for. In tech partnerships, there’s a notion of anchor partnerships which is important. There are lots of examples of this. If you look at Marketo and Salesforce, Databricks and Azure, Alteryx and Tableau, there are a lot of these examples. ThoughtSpot and Snowflake have been a game changer for us. You’re going to find someone with a complementary technology with a strong reach into a lot of accounts, they’re selling to similar personas or getting into new buying centers. The way to think about it is how do you do a super thoughtful product integration that’s going to wow customers?
You start with the product and the customer experience then you tell the story. How do you go and market that? Once you start to get some customers, get customers and partners talking about it, then monetize that ecosystem of partners around it. Educate their field teams, make sure they know and then go in and double down and do it around the world, in the areas that they’re investing. That’s how we looked at an anchor partner. It’s important for an earlier stage or growth stage company to not go too early with the channel because, in many cases, if you haven’t figured out how to sell your platform, it’s going to be hard to go and educate a partner to go on and sell your platform.
Focus on integrating into the ecosystem so when you’re talking to customers, you can integrate into the surface area of their organization. All of a sudden, you can build credibility. “We have Snowflake and Matillion.” You can fit into that broader surface area. That’s the way we thought about it. It’s a lot of work and investment for those companies. You’ve got to invest in the product team and marketing. Ideally, have dedicated resources in that. The companies that have done that well and made that investment early have been able to monetize it. On the channel side, it’s similar once you find these channel partners. The mistake I see a lot of companies making is signing up partners and regions where they can’t support them or immature regions for their specific product, that’s hard. Focus on core regions to start, ideally early adopter regions. Don’t go too early internationally. It’s been lessons that we’ve learned over the years. That’s one to keep in mind.
To follow that up, what is a good indicator of an anchor partner? If I’m starting my company, we have a chance to go after a couple of, what are some key aspects that you would identify? I know it’s all pretty different but you mentioned spread and integration to the product. Is there an element of having that marketplace? Is it important that your partner has that marketplace? Does that matter less now or more now? What are a couple of other little bits of characteristics you think?
It’s important to understand the ecosystem and where it’s going. In BD, for everybody that I hire, I make sure they understand the product and the ecosystem. When we start to sign up partners, they fit into that broader vision. First and foremost, find somebody who’s making a dent in your ecosystem and somebody ideally that’s a little bit bigger than you and that has some momentum. You can slipstream into that momentum. The momentum is key and the willingness on their side to partner is key. There are some companies that aren’t partner-friendly. They don’t have APIs, it’s very hard to integrate with their platform and they’re trying to do everything themselves.
There are some partners who understand that to be a platform, you need any ecosystem. You need to look for those partners. Ideally, having relationships there helps. I wouldn’t go straight to the CEO. If you know him or her, that one thing, but some people try to do that too early. It’s about working with the product team, the go-to-market team and getting customer feedback that this is going to be something that resonates with them because at the end of the day it’s all about happy customers and customers that are going to help to further both the mission of your company and the partner company.
Every startup out there is desperate to partner with somebody big. They want to saddle up next to Snowflake, Google or Azure. That seems to be pretty difficult because these companies are so big and their BD teams are hundreds of people. What is a way to become a top priority? What was it about your product that Snowflake looked at and said, “Let’s do that?” Is it entirely product-based? Is it something about the team? What do you try to do as a BD person to help prioritize yourself underneath a larger platform?
I won’t speak for Snowflake but what we’ve done here and what I’ve done at other companies is you’ve got to make it happen. The partner is not going to pull you in. You’ve got to go and create the collateral, create the story, start to generate wins and momentum and give a lot to the partner and to the reps, whoever it is and ask for nothing. That’s the most important thing. You’re going to have to go and make it happen. You might get lucky and get some executive relationship that pulls you in. Some companies have done that but in general, as you build these relationships, it’s about building the momentum yourself. It’s about getting buy-in, “This is an important relationship, they have a rich customer base that we can go and sell into. They need our product, it’s going to help.” In our case, make companies more data-driven, get more value out of the data.
As you build that momentum, people start to pay attention and you can evangelize that. It’s not about evangelizing it directly to the partner, you can do it on LinkedIn, on webinars, through partners, all of those channels to market. In general, you’ve got to think about making it happen yourself and it’s a lot of work. In many cases, I’ve been the first BD person there to go and make it happen. You’ve got to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get on calls with Asia at 10:00 at night to train a partner and to talk to a customer. That’s the fun part. If I go back and look at the best times that I’ve had in technology companies, it’s about grinding it out and getting those wins. You’ll learn a lot on the way, a few losses, a little bit of scar tissue but in general, that’s the fun part.Don't go too early with the channel partner. Focus first on integrating into the ecosystem. Click To Tweet
I feel like everybody in partnerships and startups has a lot of scar tissue from a lot of exhausting experiences. In that realm, we mentioned over prioritizing, that classic phrase has been the lexicon has been boiling the ocean. Having been to BD myself, at some point, I know that there’s a huge swath of people to go after. It’s easy to overextend. Have you or anybody on the teams you’ve been on ever gotten that far where the team overextended itself to try to do too many things and something didn’t happen well? What were the results like? Have you had any experience with that?
Internationally, that’s where you can get pretty taxed, if you start to sign up partners and markets set expectations with them and not be able to come good on those expectations, not be able to train them. As a BD team, you don’t have access to all the resources. If you sign up a partner in Italy, as compelling as it is to go and train them in person, your team in Europe may not see this as their top priority at the time. Hyper prioritizing where you’re going to go internationally is important because it will create a ton of churn in your organization. They bring you into deals and if they’re not trained, they’re not qualified deals. That’s where I’ve seen it suck a lot of time and energy. These days, you don’t have that time even if you can do it virtually if you’re trying to go and sell internationally. That’s where you need to be careful to say, “I’m going to focus on the biggest markets.” Not just the biggest markets but the early adopter markets.
As an example, many of the companies I’ve been at, we’ve closed more new logos in the Netherlands than we have in the UK in our early days in Europe largely because it’s a curious culture, it’s an early adopter culture, it’s a tech-focused culture, they’re focused on precision. You go to places like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, they’re going to take a punt and they’re able to spend $50,000 ARR or $100,000 ARR. You get them out to events, you get 50, 60 people at an event in Amsterdam. They’re great markets for what aresmall countries. Those sorts of things double down on areas where you start to see some success. Don’t be afraid to say, “We’re not ready,” for places that are going to be slower adopters or markets that you’re not going to see success within the near term. Let your competitors go and burn calories on these markets and go in when your ready and perhaps after they have retrenched.
When we think of the partnering that has been successful in your career as well as a lot of other companies who do these great anchor partnerships, there’s this element of you make the partnership, you signed the paperwork, you go hard and you have the kickoff day and then after that, they’re unable to go sell your product and you should be waiting for order forms to come in. It never works that way as much as we all think it should. We always think, “Why are the A’s of XY said partner is not selling my product as much as we should because we did this great kickoff three months ago?” I realized it’s more nuanced in that. Can you explain what it takes to make those things successful?
You have to teach them to fish, essentially. You have to close their first few deals. With channel partners, it’s about them learning from you to go and close those initial deals. Compensation is key in that. How do you compensate your sales team when they work with channel partners? If you’re not doing a reseller relationship, that makes it a little easier but there still has to be some balance of trade where the partner is getting something out of it. One part of it is to make sure your sales team is focused on working with those partners. Sometimes it’s frustrating, you don’t want to bring a partner along but ideally, bringing a partner into a deal and closing it will unlock ten more deals for that rep and he or she is going to be pretty happy about that.
That’s one thing. Go and help them close the first few deals. That will help to build momentum. It’s not just about closing the deals, it’s about evangelizing it with other reps at that partner. On the tech partner side, it’s about figuring out what’s in it for those partners because when you have an anchor partnership, they’re not going to sell your product. Snowflake doesn’t sell ThoughtSpot nor do some of our other tech partners but we understand what’s going to make their customers successful. It’s all about the customers. We understand how their reps are compensated. If you can do that and frame it in a way that says, “Happier customers, we’re going to go and introduce you to new buying centers, potentially executives, that you don’t have access to.” That’s where we’ve seen significant value. I’ve seen significant value at a number of different companies. It takes time to build. Slack is a great thing. You can join Slack channels now with your partners and communicate with them in real-time. That’s how you can drive those partnerships. Start to get momentum where they’re starting to bring you in proactively, which is what you want.
What are the tenants of good partnership execution? A company that doesn’t yet have a BD team who might be reading who’s been doing some hodgepodge BD here and there, what should they consider when it comes to growing their partnerships team and making it successful?
First and foremost, know your ecosystem. Know how you fit into the ecosystem, know where you want to take the company in that ecosystem and who you want surrounding you. It’s going to be hard to be standalone. The companies who invest in the integrations around the ecosystem, that’s the first thing you should do. Your first hire may not be a BD go-to-market person, it could be somebody in your product management team who’s working on APIs or on integrations with these third-party platforms based on customer feedback and based on the vision for your platform. That’s where to think about it first and foremost. Once you have a hunch and customer adoption around certain partnerships or you see some partnership potential, that’s when to hire your first person on the ground. It shouldn’t be a leader.
Hire somebody who, one, gets the space and two, is willing to go and make 1 or 2 of these partnerships work and focus on that to start. I would start there. The other thing is that a lot of companies, we’re lucky now, we have access to so much data. You can go and figure out where the type of footprint, a certain technology has in enterprises or in your market based on data that you buy, based on some of these new marketing and sales automation technologies that are out there. Start to get smarter about where you target. It’s almost like a drone strike where you can figure out where these customers are and focus on them. With the data that you can buy between LinkedIn and user groups, you can start to piece together where the concentrations of customers are. As you do that in marketing and get smart about that, that’s the time to start to hire and build out your BD team. I would typically start with your technology partners, not with your channel partners. Start with building around the ecosystem then monetizing the partners in that ecosystem because that’s a way to get them familiar. When I see a customer that has these three technologies, I should go and position your technology.
What does that BD team then look like?
I was thinking of it like Ocean’s Eleven, you’ve got to have people who are versatile in BD especially in an early stage. If they can build relationships, they understand the ecosystem. You can be ambidextrous between channel partners and tech partners. Early on, I’ve gone for the athlete and found that he or she, depending on their drive and their attitude, are able to manage both. It’s hard to say, “I’m going to have just a channel person or just a tech partner person to start.” That tech partner person may do some channel partnerships in that ecosystem. I’ve seen that be successful especially in earlier stage. As you get to the later stage, having specialization and a team that does channels and SIs is important. Having a team that does tech partnerships is important. These strategic OEM partnerships that you might do as well, you might need a different type of person for that. The Ocean’s Eleven analogy is one that people should keep in mind. You need somebody who can pick the locks and somebody who can charm the doorman and finding that versatile resource is important.
It’s a testament to BD teams being a mix of various people from different parts of their career and them all having a different vision of what a partnership can look like because it is pretty rounded of a thing to do. The last question, it’s a weird one because we don’t often talk about this but what do you do when a partnership isn’t going well? What is your opinion of like, “We’ve put on these efforts in, we’ve invested quite a bit, we are not seeing the returns, we are not being successful, we have tried to retrain a couple of times, we have tried to re-engage and spent more capital doing that,” What do you think is the best way to turn that around for success? Do you have to learn when to know where to fold?Compensation is key to starting partnerships. Click To Tweet
Most partnerships aren’t going to go the way you want them to go. If you look at all of the channel partners and growth-stage companies, 20% of them are going to drive 80% of the revenue. The other ones, sometimes it’s a skills thing, market maturity or focused for them. You have to unpack, is it too early for you to go into the market. It doesn’t mean you have to terminate them, say, “If you come up with some opportunities, we’re happy to work with you on them. We see you’re not investing.” It doesn’t mean you have to go and clean the house. Regardless, focusing on the partners that are able to drive revenue, have reach, capability and commitment, those are things that you want to look for, is extremely important to double down. The same on the tech partner side. If you see a tech partnership working, put more people and resources into it. Note that as much as you can because that’s going to help you as a growth stage company get escape velocity. Once you get that escape velocity, other partnerships will emerge, your awareness will emerge and your top line is going to grow as well.
I appreciate that. It’s a very wise word for everybody who’s trying to endeavor to grow business via partners. Seann, that’s all I have. Thank you so much for the time. I appreciate it.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it. It was fun.