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How did the modern partnership economy develop and what has it meant for businesses that fully embrace the channel? Ivy Podcast host Jahn Karsybaev interviewed Impact CMO Scott Brazina about how businesses are growing through partnership, marketing under COVID-19, good reads, and more in this Ivy podcast. 

Listen now or read the edited transcript below.

Karsybaev and Brazina cover topics such as:

  • The evolution of partnerships and the diverse types of partnerships now flourishing
  • COVID-driven marketing trends, account-based marketing, and the state of the trade show
  • Why automation has become a necessity and how it makes mature partnership programs possible
  • Innovative partnerships like Harry’s and American Express

[IVY PODCAST TRANSCRIPT]

You are listening to the Ivy podcast, learn from the thought leaders in areas of strategy, innovation, negotiation, and all things leadership. We interview the Ivy league fortune 100 and top startups. Now here’s your host, Jahn Karsybaev.

Jahn Karsybaev:

In this episode, I welcome Scott Brazina, Chief Marketing Officer at Impact and veteran technology marketing executive. Scott joined Impact in November 2017 and brings 18 years of business development and marketing leadership for enterprise SaaS companies in the product development and martech space. I hope you enjoy this episode, and please welcome Scott.

Share with us a little bit in terms of what products and services Impact offers and your role within the organization.

Scott Brazina:

So maybe first my role: Scott Brazina, CMO and head of marketing and I have been with the company for a little over two and a half years now, with traditional CMO responsibilities. I’m responsible for the company’s overall go-to-market strategy and positioning; demand gen and awareness building and thought leadership.

We do a lot of primary research on the value and the growth offered through partnerships. And we do that with firms like Forrester Research. The last couple of years, we’ve sponsored a couple of global surveys and studies that have shown the value partnerships offer companies and how fast they are growing — the ones that are doing it well.

And then this year we’re focused on another wave of global research that dives down into how are they doing it — how are the best in the world growing so fast through partnerships.

So again, I’m CMO head of marketing, and our primary offering is called the Impact Partnership Cloud, which is a SaaS solution. We are a software company. And our solution automates the range of partnerships, the discovery, onboarding, and contracting measurement for success, global payments, and then analysis and optimization of those partnership relationships worldwide. And being a SAAS platform, brands, big brands, and midsize firms use it to offer transparency to their partners around the world.

So take Harry’s, which is a client of ours, and American Express, their partner. Harry’s partnership team works with American Express to create a partnership relationship. This is an example linked to a loyalty program Amex offers to high-level loyalty customers which unlocks certain gifts or special offers to loyal customers of Amex. In this case it offers a six-month Harry’s subscription. That would be a program that both companies created, and then they’re both viewing it through our SaaS platform. And so they have full transparency from both sides into the results and the performance and then work together to optimize their partnership program.

Jahn Karsybaev:

That definitely sounds like a lot of exciting products and a lot of very cool services that you guys are offering.

Through the past two months, as I talked to a lot of executives through different organizations, there’s one thing that I like to ask in terms of what practical recommendations can you provide to other executives, something that has worked well for you, or maybe it has not, as you lead the marketing division of an enterprise technology organization during COVID. What were some of the valuable lessons learned during this period?

Scott Brazina:

So, specific to the last couple of months with COVID, I think there are lots of great examples out there. How we are approaching it as a company, first and foremost, was the health and welfare of our employees and the security of those people working for the company.

We’re fortunate to be a SaaS company. So a lot of our work is able to easily be done remotely, but we immediately started to shift towards a work-from-home approach globally. And so our first concern was immediate security and health of our employees, understanding local conditions, and learning from them.

We’re a global firm with over 500 employees across the United States, Europe, and APAC. So we were sharing a lot of information among our offices and quickly started to get ahead of this. We immediately went to a work-from-home program with lots of communication with our team about the condition of our business and what our next steps were.

So a lot of transparency.  And then as we now shift into a couple of months of work from home, and everybody’s starting to talk about cabin fever, we have a lot of discussions around self care and maintaining good mental health and still being safe. We’ve now shifted to weekly global huddles, a quick five minute to one hour all-hands around the world.

And it’s fun. We share tips and tricks — ideas for what’s working for each other. And we have Slack channels on those types of things. But then we also talk about the business and keep everybody up to date on how things are going and celebrate a lot of successes. We’re still hiring, and we welcome the new people.

We have also made a dedicated effort to reach out to our customers whose businesses are being affected potentially negatively by COVID. Being a SaaS business, we can see usage patterns and things. So our customer support team is involved regularly with their clients.

We’re fortunate in a sense that a lot of our customer sectors, being online businesses, have surged through this period. Like home food delivery, all types of online services are seeing really unprecedented volumes. We have a mix of course, but we have some that are doing really well. That allows us to potentially be flexible or be a good partner with our customers that are trying to get through hard times. So we’re doing what we can to work with customers on both sides.

Jahn Karsybaev:

On the same topic of COVID, as you lead the marketing division of your organization, what do you think will be kind of the new marketing trends that will emerge as a result of COVID times? Are there any particular trends that you’re currently researching that you look to implement within the organization?

Scott Brazina:

Yeah. I think we’re already seeing accelerating in the adoption of online approaches. Some that are unarguable, you know, industry events, right? Major association or industry events or a company’s own private events that are face-to-face, ours included. We have a large annual gathering every year, and the last couple of years it’s been in New York. We had already signed the venue for it and it would have been this June with 800 attendees. And we had to shift that from a face-to-face event to virtual, just like many other firms.

So I think the types of marketing approaches that companies are using, B2B and B2C, are arguably  getting shifted even faster towards online and digital. Then we’re trying to figure out how to make those as effective as possible for both the client prospect or customer and the company.

So the big point is: Any company that was slow to digital marketing and advertising, they’re speeding up now. They have no choice, right? And then I think those that had already embraced it, ourselves included as our marketing mix is heavily digital, we’re just getting more sophisticated.

So there’s a lot of techniques and technology offerings out there that are emerging literally every quarter that are allowing you to get more targeted. So we’re exploring and buying and testing new approaches that allow us to get much more targeted.

I think there’s also been a big movement in the last couple of years, about five or six years, towards account-based marketing and selling, instead of just broad awareness and demand gen. Specifically marketing and sales are getting together and saying: What are our market segments? And then stepping to the right and saying, okay, what’s an ideal account profile look like? Oh, it kind of looks like this company. Okay, great, so let’s go find 500 to a thousand of those companies. And then stepping to the right and saying: Hey, for any company in that market, what is the problem that we solve for them, what are their key problems, and who are the key decision makers?

Typically it’s not a purchase committee of one person, and it’s not a purchase committee of 20. It tends to be five to 15 key people and job titles, and you go and get those individuals and then have an orchestrated professional discussion with those five to 15 key people per those 1,000 accounts.

It completely changes the approach right now, instead of the whole United States or the whole world, you have 15,000 individuals to whom you’re focused on driving awareness and purchase consideration. It’s a much more effective use of resources, both the sales people and your marketing resources. So any kind of technologies that help do that are taking off.

Jahn Karsybaev:

At the beginning of  our conversation, we briefly touched upon the whole concept of the partnership economy or partnership approach. So from your standpoint, how would this type of business function drive not only authenticity with customers, which is more important right now than ever, but also the growth beyond traditional sales and marketing campaigns. I mean, you deal with that, you implement those strategies on a daily basis within your organization. Can you share with us a little more insight in terms of what the concept is all about and how can perhaps other companies leverage this concept as they look to drive sales, brand awareness, and so forth?

Scott Brazina:

Yeah. Great question. The partnership economy is the world of growth and commerce through partnership. And every organization is a participant in the partnership economy on some level, right? Because partnerships have been around for centuries and every organization has some type of partnership, whether it’s completely ad hoc and spurious, or it’s on the other end of the spectrum and really mature and you have people, process, and technologies dedicated to it.

You have companies that have ecosystems of partners, whether referrals or affiliates or supply partners or value-added resellers. The partnerships are complex and there are many types, but collectively they are the partnership economy. And once things start to get big and varied and complex, that’s where the automation comes in. World-class partnerships, they’re using automation. And we call that partnership automation. And that’s the category of software that we’re in. That is the Impact Partnership Cloud.

So why now? Why this big drive towards partnership and growth through partnership? It gets back to an issue of trust. From the buyer side, whether it’s an individual consumer trying to make a B2C purchase or it’s a B2B buyer making a strategic, career-critical decision — there’s a trust factor in where we as buyers are looking for our information these days. It has shifted away from the traditional, and there’s a lot of distrust towards traditional sales channels and marketing channels. There are many studies out there that show that.

So then where do people naturally gravitate? Towards trusted relationships.

There’s this natural evolution going across B2C and B2B buyer behavior towards getting information and making purchase decisions with information they get from trusted sources. And those are what we call partnerships.

So when you think back to companies that are methodical and strategic in their development of partnerships, you start to map out your partnership ecosystem, and you start to think about the types of partners and partnerships that would really benefit your business. There’s a whole range of partners, and many of these partnership types have existed for years. Affiliate relationships are a classic one that is strong and growing. And then there are referral partnerships. And there are app-to-app partnerships where a company may have a mobile app, and they want to partner with another company’s mobile solution.

Then there are direct B2B relationships that are being developed into partnerships. So like that example that I gave earlier with Harry’s and American Express, there’s a range of partnership types that are developing. And companies use partnerships for top of funnel like awareness development, or mid-funnel where there’s already some level of understanding of their offering, and then they’re using a different partner type for that type of engagement. Then maybe the back end of the funnel where the prospect is really starting to get comfortable with their offering. Then there’s a different type of partner that may work well in that space. So you start to see that it gets complex.

And so how do you find these types of partners? How do you communicate with them? How do  you onboard them and strike up a relationship? What are the terms of those relationships? Now you’re into the partnership contract. How do you define success for both you and the partner, and then when success is achieved, how do you measure it and how do you pay it? Then lastly, how do you optimize it? And then do that globally?

When you get into complex partnership programs both because of the number of partners and the number of partnership types, and then also global— when you introduce those three dimensions, things start to get very complicated. Imagine doing world-class CRM without salesforce.com, right? You know, the way that we used to do it 20 years ago, where you had a spreadsheet and an email account, right? So the world of professional partnership development, growth, and management has now gotten very sophisticated. And that’s what partnership automation solves, and that’s what the Impact Partnership Cloud is a leader in.

Jahn Karsybaev:

That makes sense. Seems like something that’s an effective strategy, not only to build a trusted relationship, but as it leads towards the business development and sales and marketing and so forth. So thank you for providing those examples.

Scott Brazina:

You also  asked about performance and results, and this gets back to some of the primary research that we’ve recently sponsored with Forrester, and others are doing as well, and we’re seeing similar conclusions from their studies. Just to give you some numbers: Last year, a global Forrester study that was done across 450 companies around the world, a third from APAC, a third from EMEA and a little less than a third from United States showed that companies that were partnership-mature were generating upwards of 30% or more of total company revenue through partnerships.

And they were growing that partnership revenue an average of 28% compared to the laggards. They did a comparison of partnership-mature companies to partnership-immature, and instead of 30% of revenue, the immature ones tended to be more like 15%. The point was companies that are sophisticated and dedicated towards their partnership programs are seeing real success in the marketplace, right? 30% of total revenue being generated through their collection of partnership types.

That moves the needle for any business. And so the world of partnerships and growth through partnerships is now a C-level issue. When you can say: Hey, our collective partnership program­— whether it be affiliates, referrals,  traditional biz dev team influencers, or B2B deals—when you put them all together and optimize them as a group it generates 30% or more revenue, that gets the attention of the C-suite.

You even see firms creating new roles like chief partnerships officer. We’re starting to see that emerge across some of our more sophisticated companies. That’s a role reporting directly to the CEO and they’re coordinating work from the biz dev team and from the affiliate team and from the influencer team. And maybe the mobile app group. And that chief partnerships officer is helping manage all that strategy across those different approaches that traditionally were more siloed.

Jahn Karsybaev:

Right. Those are some pretty impressive statistics that you’re providing in terms of the results that companies derive through this particular approach.

To shift gears a little bit from that topic. With so many companies going through downsizing, furloughs, layoffs, what has worked well for you guys? So for your division, when it comes to employee motivation and keeping performance levels up.

It’s hard not to pay attention to a lot of things that are going on with other organizations, so what are you currently doing as the leader of the organization to keep the motivation up?

Scott Brazina:

To be honest, communication. And this has not changed; it’s just our culture. We’re fortunate it has always been one of transparency across our teams and open, accountable trust. So I think we are fortunate to have that DNA and that approach already wired in, but we definitely shifted it to another level. I think with COVID, we even got more specific about it, openly discussing these challenges.

On whether or not we shift towards a period of greater partnership domestically and globally or less, I believe the genie’s out of the bottle and partnerships are just the way humanity is wired first and foremost, and the benefits to partnership socially and economically far outweigh isolationism. Who could not use a productive partnership, Right? Ask that question the next meeting you’re in, whether it’s just a group of friends or in business. Raise your hand if you don’t want a productive partnership there, nobody raises their hand, flip it around, who would be interested in a productive partnership, all hands go up.

So we’re very optimistic around the world of partnerships on all levels. Whether they be reseller type partnerships or what we call modern partnerships, the referral partnership types of affiliates and influencers and BD deals and media deals directly with the brand, those types are being powered at scale globally through the internet and digital solutions like partnership automation. We’re very bullish on that.

Jahn Karsybaev:

Yeah, absolutely. And some of the examples that you’re providing I can definitely relate to. 

Last but not least. I see quite a few books on your shelves there on the right behind you. I’m curious, what are you currently reading and what is one book that you always recommend to others and why?

Scott Brazina:

Oh, wow. So what I’m currently reading is Performance Partnerships by Robert Glazer. He and his firm are a great partner with Impact: Acceleration Partners. They’re a services agency that focuses on strategy and execution of performance partnerships and affiliate relationships. I highly recommend it or anybody that’s interested in understanding what we’ve been talking about here.

And then, one I go back to often is the one that’s behind me by John Doerr: Measure What Matters. I just think it’s a great timeless approach to revisit to make sure that you are focused on the right things individually and as a company.

Impact as a company uses a management approach to stay focused called the OKR method, or Operating Key Results. It’s got me in that mode right now.

Jahn Karsybaev:

For our listeners, we’ll make the titles of these books available in the episode notes. Thank you for the recommendation, Scott. Anything you want to add in closure? Anything that we haven’t touched upon?

Scott Brazina:

Thank you, John. It’s been great getting to know you through this call and once the cloud passes I’m really looking forward to meeting you and others at Ivy in person.

Jahn Karsybaev:

Thank you for listening to the Ivy Podcast. Be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed on ivypodcast.com and all major podcasting platforms like Spotify and iTunes. As always, if you enjoyed this podcast, please give us a rating on iTunes.

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