As HubSpot’s first Channel Account Manager (CAM), I quickly realized that creating alignment between our partner’s growth goals and ours was the first and perhaps the most critical step of creating a successful partnership. But, it was certainly not the only one.
As we determined what made a reseller successful, we refined the role further as we scaled the team to 100+ CAMs worldwide. Of course, we weren’t the first company to hire CAMs — often called Partner Relationship Managers or just Partnership Managers — and many companies afterwards have created the role too.
So, as expected, when my team at Databox teamed up with PartnerStack to ask 24 SaaS resellers and 10 SaaS channel leaders which activities are key to creating a win-win partnership, we got quite a few unique answers — 15 to be exact.
First, what is a Partnership Manager?
Partnership Managers at SaaS companies are typically responsible for recruiting and acquiring new resellers, training and supporting them, coordinating activities between the two companies and identifying and pursuing joint sales opportunities.
But, that’s just a high-level description. Here are the things the best Partner Relationship Managers do, according to people on the front line.
1. Guide a reseller’s high-level strategy
Of the 24 resellers who answered the question, “What support do you value the most from the partnership manager you work with?,” the most popular answer was, “Guides our high-level strategy.”
When we asked these same resellers to tell us who their favourite CAM is and why they love them, they often referred to the strategic advice and coaching they received that helps them run their business better and achieve their growth targets.
“HubSpot’s Bryan Mueller has been an extension of our team for all things lead gen, sales, and business. He's been a sounding board for our ideas, asking great questions and providing great feedback. Overall, he helps us stay on track to meet our growth goals” said Tyler Pigott from Lone Fir Creative.
2. Uncover their partner’s growth goals
To effectively guide a reseller’s high-level strategy, it’s critical to know what they want to accomplish.
For example Kathleen Booth at IMPACT told us she felt that Vidyard’s Rob Sale “truly cares about the health of their partner marketing relationship because he goes above and beyond for them, proactively making sure they have what they need to achieve their aggressive sales and marketing objectives.”
3. Adapt to their partner’s resource constraints
Greg Kelly, Manager of Partner Programs at Vidyard, commented “A successful Channel Account Manager is someone that understands both the opportunity and costs of a partnership for each side. The reality is that resource constraints are a day-to-day challenge on both sides of most partnerships. Understanding this is critical to building an honest relationship with each partner. I have found that it leads to more predictable revenue down the road.”
4. Answer questions quickly
The second most common answer to our multiple choice question, “What support do you value most from the partnership manager(s) you work with?” was, ‘Answering our questions.”
“John Serrantino, our HubSpot CAM, is so responsive that we've never felt like a sale was at risk because of a lack of response.” said Kenny Lange from The PHNX21creative Agency.
5. Help get the partnership up & running
I have found that the beginning of any partnership is the most critical part. If companies are partnering for the right reasons and put the right amount of resources into it, things go well. When they don’t, things don’t usually work out.
Resellers agreed, as “getting up and running” was the 3rd most popular activity they valued from their Partnership Managers.
Edward Emmett from JetRuby credited his HubSpot contacts, Alex Sherman and Nick Saltzman, for getting their partnership off on the right foot. “Alex and Nick have been integral in helping JetRuby form our partnership and marketing strategies. In fact, they even suggested we hold off on activating our HubSpot subscription until we we were ready to fully take advantage of it. We took their advice and overhauled our processes using information and content they shared with us before we even initiated the partnership. That has been invaluable and made our implementation go much more smoothly.”
6. Advocate for their partners when issues arise
Of course, not every partnership goes according to plan. A large percentage of the resellers we surveyed said, “Advocating for us internally when issues arise” was a CAM activity they valued very highly.
Drew Cohen from SmartBug Media said, “Guillaume Delloue at Hubspot always ensures they identify a clear path forward when issues arise. He does this by really understanding how both of our businesses work, so that we can maximize collaboration.”
“Be in the mindset that your partners are an extension of your team, ensuring they are embedded into company strategy and objectives. Have their back the same way you would an internal teammate” is great advice from Adrienne Coburn, Director of Partnerships at content personalization software company Uberflip.
7. Join sales calls when needed
In my experience, getting that initial sale is key to the long-term success of any reseller relationship. But, when a resellers starts reselling a new product, there is usually a pretty steep learning curve.
This is especially true when the reseller must learn a new sales process. At HubSpot, the most successful CAMs were sales reps that sold our product to direct customers first. They were always very comfortable jumping on a joint sales call with a reseller and their prospect.
Jill Fratianne, a HubSpot CAM, is a perfect example. Fratianne’s partner, Beverley Barnes from Media Junction shared, “Jill works tirelessly. She goes above and beyond. Every time we ask her for support, she steps up to the plate. From working directly with our sales team, to working with prospects alongside us, Jill has always been there.”
8. Provide sales training and coaching
In the beginning, as I suggested above, resellers often need their Partnership Managers to jump on sales calls with them.
But, in most SaaS companies, CAMs manage a large number of resellers. So, it isn’t feasible for them to jump on every call. Also, the sales process, when done well, allows resellers to establish their own credibility. Therefore, having someone do it for them is not ideal, especially if they are going to be the ones servicing the client on an ongoing basis.
The best CAMs invest time in training and coaching their resellers to be able to independently resell their software.
“Our CAM, Jose Martins at HubSpot, coached us to embrace the sales process. Martins has become a true mentor of ours as his coaching has helped us close many deals” said Ismail Aly from IDS Growth Agency.
Gabriel Marguglio from Nextiny shared how important Databox’s Brian Moseley has been in mentoring him and his team to become better salespeople. “Through years of weekly coaching during his time at HubSpot and Databox, he taught us how to sell to higher quality customers, how to hire A-players and ensure customer fit goes both ways.”
Likewise, Dan Sitton from WSOL highlighted Mark Greco at HubSpot’s help. “Mark helps us win opportunities. He's constantly available as a resource and is proactive about it. Besides joining calls, he also works with me on improving my ability to sell.”
9. Provide product training & support
I wasn’t surprised to see “Product training” at the high end of the CAM activities that resellers value.
While product knowledge is key to reselling products, it is often done by others besides Partner Relationship Managers. It can sometimes be done in workshops via specialized trainers or via another person in a separate role altogether. On-demand video has also played a bigger and bigger role in training resellers.
All that said, some Channel Account Managers provide quite a bit of product training, especially as it relates to implementing and selling the product.
Mailchimp is a great example given they offer a generous free version of the product that does not require a complicated sales process. Mike Schiemer from Bootstrap Business appreciated the product training and implementation support he received from his Mailchimp Partnership Manager Courtney Perry. “Her expertise has helped us to boost email marketing open rates, reduce spam, increase lead generation, and grow sales. Our CTR has also increased by 25% on average for all of our email marketing campaigns.”
Blair Beckwith, Director of Business Development at Shogun, reiterated the importance of technical skills when hiring Partnership Managers: “The exciting thing about working in partnerships is being able to sit at the intersection of so many parts of the business. You really do need to have a good understanding of so many disciplines. Sales, marketing and business development skills come in handy, of course. But, you also need to have a keen sense of the product to effectively show off the value and why someone should refer you business. As more and more companies release APIs for developers to integrate into their products, a certain level of technical knowledge becomes important too.”
Patrick Makridakas, Director of Sales at Klaviyo, agreed that training is key. “When we hire Channel Account Managers, we are looking for individuals that have a natural curiosity, but also a background or passion for training and development. We don’t want a program that is a one-sided transactional partnership based on partner commissions. We need our CAMs to be consultative, great at active listening and comfortable challenging our partners to think differently. For example, it is sometimes a struggle to convince our partners to stop using the batch and blast methods of email marketing they’ve been using for decades and adopt segmented and personalized marketing instead. So it’s crucial for our team to identify where our partners are on the marketing maturity curve and be able to create a tailored, yet repeatable, approach to improving their level of sophistication.”
10. Send leads to their partners
Although “reselling” infers that one party is selling the other’s product, business flows both ways in the best partnerships.
Some SaaS companies go so far as closing contracts and handing them off to their partners for implementation. Many sell deals jointly, closing their contracts at the same time. Many have directories of their partners so their customers can find help on their own. (We compiled a list of 18 companies who have marketing agency directories.)
For resellers who sell professional services — like marketing agencies, sales consultants and accountants — a few new clients can bring meaningful revenue. So, it’s no surprise to see that many of our respondents said that they value Partnership Managers who send them leads.
Pat Ahern of marketing agency Junto told us how SEMRush’s John Carsia does everything he can to help their team grow - even acting as a hybrid sales and account manager and making prospect introductions to help Junto grow.
Eric Pratt from Revenue River shared how he “appreciate[s] how Mike Donnelly at The Seventh Sense promotes our agency to his network and clients. Mike understands the value of partners and looks for new client opportunities for Revenue River.”
11. Deliver product training and updates
Once a partnership is up and running, and partners have a few sales wins under their belt, their success becomes contingent on the partnership.
This is when keeping up to date with changes in the software they are reselling and using is critical.
A number of resellers work with more complicated, ever evolving software programs — like HubSpot for example - and really lean on their CAM to help them navigate product changes and keep up with new capabilities and updates. For example, Jake Fisher from Bridges Strategies commented that his HubSpot CAM Katie Carlin is extremely helpful when it comes to staying on top of Hubspot: “Katie does an amazing job of keeping us up-to-date with HubSpot's myriad product updates. She helps us not only sell to new clients but also deliver the most recent and relevant service offerings. Our agency maintains high-quality service by growing at a deliberate and manageable rate. Katie understands that and delivers valuable guidance and resources to us without pressuring us to make decisions that run counter to the benefit of our clients and our agency.”
“On a more tactical level, a key activity is to set up regular communication with each partner. Setting a bi-weekly meeting with a standing agenda will keep training, enablement and projects on track. With so many objectives in a partnership, it can sometimes be difficult to stay on task without nagging. A standing meeting helps you to be patiently persistent. In these meetings, make sure to have multiple contacts from across the partner organization present so you see objectives beyond one stakeholder. Have a mixture of client services, marketing and executives involved in your communication. Also ensure you are doing this in reverse so your partners have exposure into your company and can build clout internally." is great advice from Adrienne Coburn of Uberflip.
12. Provide updates on changes to the reseller program
Products are not the only thing that change at SaaS companies. Given many SaaS companies are growing at a rapid rate, changes to things like organizational structures, pricing and packaging, and commission structures must be communicated too.
Michele Albanese, Partner Program Manager at Drift, reiterated the importance of this activity for their partners. “We are always thinking about ways to include the partner and make sure they are up to date on all things Drift. Partners are not employees and therefore, don’t see the day-to-day of the business. We have bi-weekly meetings with our partners. We also send out a weekly Show & Tell video to talk about all the changes happening at Drift and with our partner program.”
“Whenever there are changes, our CAM gives us tips on how to be more successful and supports us directly” said Romy Fuchs from BEE Inbound AG about HubSpot CAMs Daniel Garvey and Tatjana Stolzenberg.
13. Help them execute marketing campaigns
“Help executing marketing campaigns” was a bit lower on the list, but still appreciated by a majority of the resellers we surveyed.
Stuart Dixon from Provance praised Jamie Drysdale at Lead Forensics for helping them “discover high quality new client opportunities.”
Tanya Wigmore from Meticulosity told us, “Evan helped us with hands-on marketing campaign execution, even pointing out the marketing tactics that could help us do better as we plan for long-term growth.”
“We’ve grown 50% in 6 months and will soon be a Silver HubSpot Partner because our CAM, Chris Moore, helped us figure out how to best use HubSpot for our sales and marketing.” shared Robert Donnell of P5 Marketing.
14. Act as a true extension of their partner’s team
All Partnership Managers have a professional relationship with their partners. Where the best ones separate from the pack seems to be in taking it a step further and building a deeper relationship. This can involve simple things like remembering birthdays and sports teams, but more importantly, many partners reported their CAMs being there when needed like a team member in their own company would be.
Brian Serocke from Beacons Point appreciates that his Hubspot CAM Eric MacCarthy is not only a big reason why they've had huge growth this year, but he always gives him a hard time about being a California sports fan, “It's endearing and makes our relationship more than just work.”
Ryan Wright from ClearPivot talks about his HubSpot Partnership Manager Chris Moore: “He considers our long-term future. He gives us first dibs on special job opportunities that come his way where we are the best fit. And he remembers our birthdays.”
Then there are the Partnership Managers who just roll up their sleeves and become part of the team. That’s what Jonathan Aufray from Growth Hackers liked best about his HubSpot CAM, James Desmond. He said, “James was very helpful with integration, landing page optimization, copywriting, conversion rate optimization and email marketing. James set them up with a semi-automated marketing & sales process, which allowed us to generate more leads and sales from our increased traffic.”
Paul Higgins from Scale My Empire admired that Ken Shin at Copper joined their weekly meetings and really aligned his objectives with theirs. But he reported that Shin’s biggest contribution came from “thinking outside the box when looking for new market opportunities for them.”
Emma Sinai, Customer Success Team Lead at PartnerStack has observed the same thing in her many interactions with successful Partnership Managers. She and her team work with Partner Relationship Managers everyday, helping them leverage PartnerStack’s platform. This gives her unique visibility into what the best managers do: “We find the best Partnership Managers are invested in the success of their partners. They check all the normal boxes like being helpful, responsive and attentive, but their innate passion leads them to take on tasks outside of their job description. They get to know their partners and the companies they represent and personalize their approach to each partner and reseller.”
When interviewing CAMs, Blair Beckwith from Shogun evaluates whether they will act like an extension of the team by asking himself, “Would a partner hire this person for their team after working with them across the table?” when interviewing future CAMs.
15. Build an ecosystem, not just a set of partnerships
When we recently asked HubSpot resellers what the greatest benefit of partnering with HubSpot has been, many said that the “community of partners” was the most valuable resource for them.
A few of the channel leaders we interviewed recognized that some of the best help their partners can get is from other partners. Therefore, they prioritize hiring CAMs who can build big networks and foster connections within the network.
"The connections that the Partner Managers foster for the partner community extend well beyond the individual relationships they maintain. Many successful Partner Managers will go beyond their direct agency relationship and connect partners together where they can learn, grow, and often even scale their offerings through other agencies (whether through service offerings, global coverage, etc)." said Tara Robertson, Director of Marketing Strategy and Partner Programs at Sprout Social.
"A great partnership manager is never shy about seeking out new connections or asking for an introduction. They maintain a large network by getting to know the needs and strengths of a larger number of partners. Partnership managers should be able to sniff out valuable opportunities and act fast to foster new relationships. As they do, they should be making connections that deliver mutual value." shared Kimberly Anderson, Director of Strategic Partnerships at ScaleFactor.
Lee Gladish, Co-founder of Reply, shared a similar insight. “Great partnership managers share industry insights and trends. They stay ahead of the curve. They need to be the industry experts, being a resource for knowledge and connections.”
Lee continued, “The ecosystem of partners is crowded. The CAMs that stand out are the ones who bring people together, which drives a bigger ecosystem for the partner, company and its community.”
Checklist for a great partnership manager
As the checklist below shows, there are a large number of activities a successful Partner Relationship Manager must master.
The most critical activities include:
- Building great relationships by being a proactive, responsive, strategic resource.
- Being knowledgeable in their partners’ product, company and industry.
- Being a great salesperson and sales coach.
- Helping to create demand and refer leads.
- Being an advocate for their partners when issues arise.
- Getting partnerships off on the right foot, and integrating all their partners into a community.
The role was also summarized well by one of my proteges and the current VP Global Partner Programs at HubSpot, Katie Ng-Mak. "The best channel account managers at HubSpot have expertise in the following: product knowledge, strong sales skills, business acumen, and goal-setting with partners. Most importantly, the best CAMs have a coaching mindset and a partner-first mentality that allow them to establish a high-trust relationship with partners."
The truth is, though, I’ve never hired or employed a CAM that does all this extremely well. The best, like Jill Fratianne, Mark Greco and Brian Moseley (all mentioned above) do 3/4 of it well.
So, this list should be aspirational for any single partner manager. In the same vein, channel leaders and resellers should not expect all of these things from one person.
Instead, channel leaders aspiring to build a great partner marketing program should have multiple roles on their team and programs that cover all of the 15 bases above.