Earlier this year I joined Evergage as SVP of Partnerships and Corporate Development. After conducting significant research on the space, I recognized the Evergage platform as the market-leading solution. So it was no surprise to me when some of the leading research firms recognized this as well. Forrester included Evergage as a strong performer in “The Forrester Wave™: Digital Intelligence Platforms, Q2 2017,” and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) named Evergage the Best E-Commerce Solution at the CODiE Awards shortly after that. At the same time, the world’s leading brands continue to sign on to use Evergage, as they recognize the same thing I did. To service the world’s best brands, my task was to find the world’s best partners. So today, I am happy to announce new partnerships with a number of leading services companies, specifically Brooks Bell, Demand Spring, Harte Hanks, The Plum Tree Group, Sophelle, SFCG, WiderFunnel, and Yes Lifecycle Marketing. I have been working closely with these companies over the last several months, so I am excited to officially welcome these partners to the Evergage family.
But beyond simply announcing these new Evergage partners, in this post I want to provide some insight into how we select our partners. If you are a customer, potential customer, partner or a potential partner of ours, you may be interested in our approach. We set high standards for ourselves at Evergage, so we only work with partners that have similarly high standards — this can also be known as a “best of breed” strategy. I want to explain how we determine who meets those high standards — and who doesn’t — to be clear about what we actually mean when we say “best of breed.”
First, to level set, I’ve made my career in partnerships/alliances. It’s more than what I do; it’s who I am. So after my nearly two decades of experience cultivating partnerships for leading marketing technology (martech) solutions that are cloud/SaaS, e-commerce and customer engagement companies, I’m happy to share my framework and best practices for assessing what makes for a highly successful partnership:
1. Target Market Alignment
First and foremost, for a partnership to be successful, it’s critical that any potential partner services the same market as Evergage. This seems obvious, but it often requires getting on the same page with a potential partner. Many organizations refer to company size in terms of enterprise, mid-market, and SMB (as we do), but each typically defines these groups differently. A great example of this is from a program I ran long ago. I was approached by one of the largest software companies in the world. They were looking to partner for an SMB market — which was a good fit for the company I was working with at the time. However, when I asked this large company to define SMB, they said “an organization with about 15,000 employees.” I said, “Ok, good to know. However, we define SMB as 1-5 employees.” What started out as a good opportunity was not a good fit at all. I then politely explained the mismatch and how my company’s software would not be well suited for their clients, then recommended a few providers who could better service their target market. As an expert in that particular software category, it was best to point them in the right direction rather have both companies take the time, effort, and energy to operationalize a partnership that ultimately would not deliver value.
The lesson learned here was to ask and answer a few key questions with complete transparency. In addition to asking about the size of the companies each organization targets (e.g., enterprise, mid-market, SMB) and what that means (e.g., company revenues, number of employees), it’s important to inquire about the industries/verticals served. Knowing how many customers the organizations have in common is also essential. When there is a good customer match, it can create a win-win-win scenario and value for all — software vendor, service partner and, most importantly, our mutual customers. If there isn’t a good fit, then it doesn’t make sense to forge a partnership.
2. Complementary Product/Services
Equally important to a shared customer base is how the potential partner’s product or service compares to ours. Naturally, our partners should be complementary, rather than competitive, so I look to ensure that potential partners occupy different areas in the software value chain or offer professional services that complement our solution.
On the software partnership side, I prioritize partner categories that are “table stakes” software for our clients. To do this, I ask what the “must-have” software solution categories are for our clients. I also want to know what are the “nice-to-haves” and “sometimes-haves.” Having made my career in martech, I know from past experience and have partnered with companies across this spectrum. While this may sound simple, we live in a world of technology, and new categories can crop up quickly, and many may not stand the test of time. Considering time is a valuable commodity, how do I determine where to invest my company's time? I remind myself of the goal — service the highest number of customers.
For Evergage services partners, I look for those who have the expertise to help customers deliver the full value proposition that only the Evergage platform can deliver. These are providers who help the customer focus on their business strategy, leverage the Evergage platform for execution, or provide analytics and/or data science to understand business impact and take these learnings back to the business strategy to close the loop and continuously improve.
3. Demonstration of Value Proposition
After assessing that the company’s target market and business focus alignment with ours, I look to understand how they demonstrate their value proposition to prospects. This is critical because even if a potential partner meets the previous two criteria, the way that they describe their value proposition may not necessarily resonate with our customers or fit with the way we go to market. So for this criterion, I pay attention to the language they use and the way they position their business to assess fit.
4. Cultural Fit
At Evergage, our culture and our values are extremely important to us (we refer to our values using the acronym “EPPIC”). Any company we partner with must share our values — particularly our commitment to the customer. This is a must.
In this area, I look for the more subtle aspects of the relationship. I ask myself, does company “feel” like an extension of our company? Would we be comfortable with this company working with our customers and having their business reflect on us? If we don’t feel comfortable with their culture for any reason, our customers may feel the same way.
5. Existing Partner/Alliance Program
Finally, I try to determine whether the potential partner is serious about partnerships in general — not just a partnership with us. Do they have a program in place and an executive responsible for managing it? Do they have many existing partnerships?
I’ve found when a partner organization has a designated executive leading an established partnership program, then partnerships are a key strategic initiative to the company and our alliance can flourish. When there is no dedicated executive, the program becomes a distributed responsibility — typically to a salesperson or marketing team or other overworked executive, where managing alliances is just a small portion of their job scope. This has the potential to be an issue and an indication that the partnership may not be a fruitful one. Don’t get me wrong, we all wear many hats at work, so ultimately, I am looking to understand who has both the time and executive responsibility to prioritize joint efforts and make important decisions.
I’ve shared my perspectives on partnerships in this post to make it clear that we have carefully selected the partners we announced today and are confident they meet our high, “best of breed” standards. If your company provides complementary software or services and you’d like to discuss a potential partnership with Evergage, check out our Partners page for more information and to get in touch!