“When looking at PRM software, we mostly saw heavy, more antiquated systems. When we discovered PartnerStack, what we saw was an up-and-comer in the space — and I always like to align myself with the up-and-comer.”
Workplace productivity platform Formstack seems like a company that’s a perfect fit for partnerships. Its modular product suite for data collection, document automation, and digital signature integrates with top B2B tech like Salesforce, HubSpot, Quickbase, Airtable and more — all products that are also likely to have a partner involved in some step of the sales or implementation process. By working with partners, Formstack can get involved with more B2B customers at the very start of the conversation.
Well, Formstack is a perfect fit for partnerships. Formstack’s referral and reseller programs drove 50% of Q4 2021 revenue for its midmarket and enterprise sales teams, working with a very valuable audience segment.
But partnerships weren't always a core part of Formstack’s customer acquisition strategy. “Going back years ago — Formstack had previously been doing what I like to call random acts of partnerships,” said Zak Pines, VP of Partnerships at Formstack. “The company had tried a bunch of things, but not in a strategic way. As a result, partnerships as an opportunity didn’t have the best reputation at Formstack when we first got started. But we knew that when done right, partnerships would provide a massive growth lever for our sales and marketing teams.”
Zak Pines had joined Formstack in December 2018 as a Director of Sales and Marketing for Formstack’s Sync product, after his previous company, Bedrock Data, was acquired by Formstack. In 2019, he became Formstack’s VP of Partnerships and joined forces with Gabe Caldwell, Formstack’s Director of Technology Partnerships, to form Formstack’s first partnerships team.
We talked to Zak to learn how Formstack has grown partnerships into one of its top customer acquisition channels, including the tools and team-building that went into making it happen.
One of the first things Zak and Gabe had to do after taking the reins of partnerships at Formstack was find partner management software. But they weren’t entirely impressed with what they could find, with Zak saying: “When looking at partner relationship management (PRM) software, what we mostly saw were heavy, more antiquated systems, sometimes cobbled together from a few different products.”
That changed when they found PartnerStack. “When we discovered PartnerStack, what we saw was an up-and-comer in the space — and I always like to align myself with the up-and-comer.”
What convinced Zak and his team on PartnerStack was its functionality around automatically attributing conversions to partners and sharing revenue with them. “From a product standpoint, the referral program and the mechanics of paying out partners were a key part of what we wanted to build. We’ve been impressed by that throughout with PartnerStack, and it’s an area where I think PartnerStack is strongest. Many of our partners aren’t interested in the referral fee component, but for the ones that are, we wanted to have an easy way for us and them to manage the process.”
What Zak means by “the mechanics of paying out partners” is how PartnerStack automatically tracks every conversion a partner drives through any channel and pays them automatically based on their set commission rate.
For example, a partner in Formstack’s Silver tier — meaning they drive $2,500 to $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue — earns a 20% cut of the revenue for any customer that they refer to Formstack. PartnerStack will automatically calculate and pay partners the right amount based on the transactions their referred customers make.
“When we were still new to Formstack, getting support from our key stakeholders took time,” says Zak. “PartnerStack was helpful every step of the way, took input from myself and our team, and was patient with us when we needed them to be.”
While choosing a partnerships platform was an important step, technology alone wouldn’t make Formstack’s partner program a success. For that to happen, Formstack would have to focus on helping its partners see success too.
“One of the themes in how we run partnerships is enablement first. We enable our partners to be successful with our product,” says Zak.
“Whenever we meet a potential partner for the first time, we have a lunch and learn session with them. We don’t ask them for anything; it’s a chance for them to ask us questions about different verticals, use cases, competitors, anything. That session becomes the entry point of working with a partner.”
Because every member of the Formstack partnerships team is an expert in using Formstack, they’re prepared to answer any questions potential partners might have. In fact, everyone at Formstack has some real hands-on experience with the product, since Zak tells us that “as part of our interview process, every Formstack candidate has to build a functional Formstack project.”
Formstack takes a similar real-world approach to its partner certification. Rather than focusing on completing courses and consuming information, partners have to build a Formstack project of their own to prove that they understand the product and what it can do for customers. “We center our partner certification around the idea of building out your first Formstack project. It’s your first customer project, building out a demo to show a customer what’s possible. It’s certification in something tangible.”
With this focus on partner enablement and product expertise, it’s no surprise that Zak and Gabe’s first hire within their new partnerships team was a Partner Enablement Manager, Justin Jackson. Justin is responsible for hosting partner lunch-and-learns, partner training and certification, and supporting partners during implementation.
They’ve continued to add new people to the team to support partners since then, including:
Shakil Kamran, Salesforce Growth Manager
Responsible for: leading Salesforce partnership, including collaboration and programs with Salesforce account executives, sales engineers, and industry teams
Amanda Nielsen, Partner Onboarding Manager
Responsible for: attracting and onboarding new partners to the Formstack partner community
Bryce DeHart, Team Lead for Partner Growth
Responsible for: consulting partner relationships, including joint growth activities and white glove collaboration
Kris Casariego, Partner Marketing Manager
Responsible for: overseeing partner marketing, including feeding partners into Formstack corporate marketing programs and enablement of partner co-marketing
Josh Needler, Partner Solution Engineer
Responsible for: providing expert guidance and solutioning for partners both in early stages of partner development and partner implementations
“Partners are looking for expertise,” said Zak. “It’s not about having the biggest team, but about having a team that: #1 are experts and #2 are accessible and responsive. By following those principles, we’re at a few hundred active and growing partners, and it’s proving to scale very nicely.”
Formstack runs both referral and reseller programs. The vast majority of Formstack partners are referral partners who work with the Formstack sales team to recommend the right products for the customer.
Formstack’s ideal partner profile is a Salesforce system integrator (SI) or Salesforce-focused consultant, because as Zak puts it, “Formstack wraps around Salesforce in a really beautiful way. It’s an audience and an ecosystem we’ve had a lot of success with.” Zak wrote about the many reasons why Formstack works well with Salesforce in his article, “15 Reasons Formstack Is Lighting Up the AppExchange”.
About half of Formstack’s referrals from partners are submitted directly through their PartnerStack partner portal; from there, any conversions or purchases a referral makes will be automatically attributed to that partner. Formstack gives partners options on how partners would like them to follow up with submitted referrals:
In all cases, the Formstack partner or sales team pre-meet with the partner before working with the customer. They aim to give a “white glove” experience to all customers referred by partners.
Partners can also share their unique referral link provided in their partner portal to send to customers to sign up or use it to create an account on their customer’s behalf. From that point on, every action the customer takes gets synced back to PartnerStack and attributed to the partner.
“Determining the partner’s impact on everything matters,” says Zak. “Measuring the impact of our partner program is what helps us to continue to invest in partners as we go forward.”
One example Zak gives of when attribution can be tricky is when prospects, after speaking with a partner, decide to sign up for the product on their own. “We started seeing situations where a partner would recommend us to a prospect, who would then come to our website and sign up — and we’d only find out about this afterwards from the partner. So we started asking prospects in live chat on our site whether they’d been referred by a partner. We also ask users in-app, too.”
In situations where partners don’t submit a referral themselves, PartnerStack makes it simple to create customers or transactions and retroactively attribute them to a partner, keeping records up to date and ensuring partners get paid.
Zak told us that partners are most likely to become top-performers when Formstack moves from being a service or add-on they sell separately, to becoming embedded into their entire service offering. “Once we’re part of every customer engagement with a partner, we know we’re on a good trajectory together.”
Those outcomes are only possible because Formstack commits so much to helping their partners provide value to their own customers with Formstack and helping them generate value for themselves in return. And of course, that generates more value for Formstack, too.
By automating what traditionally are the most time-consuming and tedious parts of managing partnerships — like attribution and payments — PartnerStack helps the Formstack team stay focused on recruiting and enabling partners.