Unlocking Customer Success with Channel and Ecosystem Partners Image

Unlocking Customer Success with Channel and Ecosystem Partners

By Scott Salkin, SVP & GM, Gainsight CS and Asher Mathew, Co-Founder & CEO, Partnership Leaders

In today’s world of shifting economic conditions, plummeting market valuations, and a drastically changed venture and capital landscape, investors and CEOs are tightly aligned on a very important fact: The cheap-money era of “growth at all costs” has reset and transitioned to one of efficiency, durability, and dare we say it…profitability. The result? Well, when we surveyed SaaS CEOs, we found that CEOs and their go-to-market teams have become laser-focused on aligning their priorities with strategies and actions that can help them do more with less:

In other words, today’s companies are more focused than ever on building and executing strategies that are proven to help reduce costs while also continuing to drive growth. And as you can tell by the chart, the runaway winners in the minds of most executives are:

  1. Expansion and Cross-sell: Want to reduce customer acquisition cost (CAC)? Sell to your existing customer.
  2. Partnerships: Looking to scale efficiently? Replace 10 AEs with 1 Partner / Channel Manager. And, seamlessly include partners in your customer success motions to build trust with your common customers post-sale. 
  3. Automating Customer Success (CS): Can’t add more Customer Success Managers ( CSMs)? Make your team more effective with automation.

The beauty of each of these three strategies? None of them are groundbreaking! 

In fact, each one of them is based on tried and true principles that have been proven over and over again by businesses of all shapes, sizes, and verticals. B2B and B2C. All over the world. 

And what’s more—the potential impact of each can be compounded when leveraged in unison. In other words, when you can automate CS motions to drive renewals, expansions, and cross-sells through channel and ecosystem partners…the impact on your business can be exponential. 

Of course, a convergence of these strategies won’t happen overnight, but there is no better time than the present to initiate “Through-Partner Customer Success.” And, we’ve got suggestions to follow a crawl-walk-run approach to creating durable, scalable businesses through partnerships. 

Crawl: Partner-Aware Customer Success

Partnerships have been part of Big Tech for decades. Hyperscalers  like Google, Amazon and Microsoft have long been admired for their partner programs, which have become the standard in how to co-sell and scale growth through partnerships. You don’t have to look long to understand why. The symbiotic relationship between providers and partners can pay dividends. Recent Microsoft data from IDC reveals  that for every $1.00 Microsoft makes, its software-led partners make $7.86! 

While more companies are making partner channels a key growth strategy, they need to start thinking beyond  co-marketing and co-selling to determine how, um…“co-customer successing” and Through-Partner Customer Success is part of their revenue engine. Whether you’ve got a mature ecosystem or you’re just starting one, getting partners to take the wheel on your customer success motions at the onset might be too tall an order. 

Initially, the post-sale efforts will be yours to own. But, you can take steps to start the education process as part of your partner onboarding and orientation. Give them visibility into what the post-sales process looks like. Teach them about onboarding and key milestones you see along the customer journey. Equip them with resources that highlight customer success value delivery that they can share with leads and active prospects. You’ll want to work to get your partnerships team thinking about customer satisfaction and retention as a metric; today, only 19.3% of teams are evaluated on it, according to research by Partnership Leaders

Building partner familiarity with your CS approach will help set the stage for a more involved partner role down the line. Your first step will be collaboration with your internal partner, which is your channel or ecosystem team. Because of the impact partner programs can make on business growth, your internal partnership peers have become a more influential voice in the C-suite of your organization, and can help determine the best path forward to get your partners involved in your CS strategy. They’ll also be supportive of creating new ways to fuel partner sales beyond when co-customers sign an initial contract. 

Walk: Partner-Integrated Customer Success

With a strong understanding of how your organization leverages customer success, it’s time for your partners to start playing a role in these motions. They are no longer just observers—they’re riding shotgun on the road to expansion revenue. But how do you get them involved? Baby steps. And this is where your investment in automation will pay off. 

Just as you can configure CS technology to trigger CTAs and playbooks for several different cross-functional team members, it’s time to include your partners as part of the team: 

  • Seeing some red flags during implementation? Loop in the partner contact who led the deal.  
  • Low adoption of a product feature that was a big priority for the customer? Have your team connect with the partner for insight on whether priorities have changed for the customer. 
  • Time for an executive business review (EBR)? Let your partner’s trusted voice play a role in the session. 
  • Contract up for renewal? Trigger a call to action (CTA) to the partner well in advance of your first renewal reminder to take a temperature check from the customer on their perceived value of your product. 

Having the ability to leverage technology such as Through-Partner Customer Success in Gainsight CS, will allow you to automate visibility into relevant data and dashboards that can help your partners raise flags based on their perspective on that customer’s business. 

Run: Partner-Enabled Customer Success

Now comes the challenge of evolving your Customer Success function alongside the growth and evolution of your partner ecosystem. Is it easy? No. Will it pay off? Yes. 

At this stage, you’re probably tiering your partner channel or ecosystem where you apply different strategies to each tier or type of partner. Some may just need a partner-aware approach. Others may be more integrated. Your most strategic, most-embedded partners have likely fully embraced customer success just like you. Those kindred spirits want some autonomy to run with the customer success motions on their own. They see the opportunity for upsell and cross-sell and have built their relationship with you so that they gain commission and services revenue for every dollar they send your way (remember the Microsoft example?). 

Enabling your partners to directly deliver customer success means they are truly an extension of the team. Just as partners have Marketing and Sales resources you need to enable, they will have their own team of CSMs that need to be onboarded, trained, and even certified on how to blend your customer success best practices into their business. This means you need to have a detailed understanding of who does what, you’ll need to build a dedicated track in your learning management system (LMS), and you’ll need to support data exchanges between your systems and theirs.

If you’re shifting to a more verticalized growth strategy for your SaaS business, another way to enable partners is to involve them in community groups that are dedicated to user segments relevant to their vertical (e.g. Partnership Leaders focuses on the growth of customer-centric partner professionals). Their expertise can help facilitate engagement that enables you to more effectively surface the needs of that segment. 

When it comes to embracing durable business strategies through a combination of customer success, automation, and partners, there’s still a lot to learn. It’s an essential step, though, especially if you’re expecting your partner-originated revenue to grow over the next year. Gainsight’s platform is uniquely positioned to connect the dots between all three, and we can’t wait to partner with you on the journey! 

Put Through-Partner Customer Success Into Practice with Gainsight CS. Join our upcoming webinar or view it on-demand