The Partnered Podcast

057: Removing Anti-Partner Culture with Norma Watenpaugh

Episode Summary

Welcome to The Partnered Podcast Episode 057 with Norma Watenpaugh, CEO and Founding Principal of Phoenix Consulting Group. Enjoy!

Episode Notes

Join host Adam Michalski as he interviews Norma Watenpaugh, CEO and Founding Principal of Phoenix Consulting Group.

Norma and Adam discuss going from an anti-partner culture to a partner focused culture. Norma also shares her experience from working with companies like Adobe, Amazon, Cisco, Dell, Intel, IBM + more on what works and what doesn't in building your partner ecosystem. 

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Episode Transcription

Welcome to The Partnered Podcast, the podcast where we interview c-level enterprise partnership leaders from the world's best SaaS companies. The goal is to give you an inside view on how leading organizations drive the most partner sourced and influenced revenue out of channel sales, partnerships, and alliances 

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Adam Michalski: Welcome back to The Partnered Podcast, extremely excited to have Norma Watenpaugh on today, CEO of Phoenix Consulting Group. And Norma, just to kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about your professional background and how you got started in partnerships? 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:01:14] Sure. And thank you for inviting me out to your podcast, Adam.

I got started in partnerships way back when, as a product manager for you. Computer platform and it was a voicemail system. So we needed other applications to kind of round out and create more value for customers. And that's how we got started in recruiting ISV that we could add to the platform and increase value to our customers and having more communications functions on that plan.

And from there, I went to sun Microsystems, also a Unix platform, one of the early ones, one of the most successful ones and their business model was partner oriented as well. A blank operating system on a blank piece of hardware. Doesn't give much value. You had to have application providers, ISV that provided the actual value that customers were buying and, and, you know, the size to deliver end to end systems and then a channel so that you could deliver downloads.

So, you know, that's been kind of, my start is actually working more from the product side and understanding how to build a product, a momentum by leveraging partners. And the same was true when I went to Bea, which is another, you know, company that had stellar early growth. And a lot of that was because our CEO firmly believed that we needed a strong partner community to scale, to gain market share.

On top of the heap of a middleware providers at that time web web internet applications. And they made a big commitment to partners and building the program to, to make sure we could get out the market and cover them. Early on. So that's kind of my start. I started consulting after the top dot bomb in that I had to make a decision whether I was unemployed or self-employed.

So that's when I started consulting with Phoenix consulting. I love 

Adam Michalski: [00:03:02] it. And you have no shortage of awesome experience working at, you know, some of the most you know, well-recognized brands out there and building amazing partner programs. So I'm particularly excited for this episode. And I guess, I mean, let's touch base on that, you know, that second point that you had just mentioned for those who aren't familiar, can you share a little bit about what Phoenix consulting is and like what specifically you help your clients?

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:03:22] Absolutely. In one sense, we are very niche and in another aspect, very broad, all we do is partnering. We focus on partners and partner ecosystems of all sorts. So technology partners, strategic partners, channels MSPs, but I think what's unique in our approach is that we look at. Not in just different siloed partner programs, but as an ecosystem is truly an integrated community of partners that, you know, all have to come together to serve customers solutions and customer needs.

And, you know, customers don't buy a bag of parts. Most of the more complex solutions today. Digital transformation or customer experience. They require multiple vendors and partners and services to deliver. So it's important that you understand how, how all those different parts of your partner communities come together.

To deliver those kinds of, of 

Adam Michalski: [00:04:14] solutions. Yeah. And I think you might even be being a little bit modest. I think, I mean, some of the clients that you work with are some of the largest brands out there, you know, take a look at your website, you know, including Adobe B bay, Cisco, Dell, Intel, IBM, HP. And if I would be remissed to not mention, I mean, you, you recently also just got some accolades from Forbes as well, is that correct?

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:04:36] Yes. And that was quite a surprise. You know, we had talked earlier, I'm a small shop, but we do one thing and I can say without too much, you know, braggadocio that I do work with some really great associates. You, my teammates are some of the best at what they do. So I'm very honored and humbled that a small company like mine got noticed by Forbes.

I'm very pleased to be on their list of the best management consulting companies in America, 

Adam Michalski: [00:05:06] graduations. I think it's well-deserved and yeah, I mean, I'm, I'm super excited to dive in here cause I think I have some really good questions that that, I mean, I would love to get your feedback on. So I think the first one I think let's start with company culture.

A lot of, you know, folks that I speak with regularly are basically dealing with this, where they have, you know, a very anti partner culture. And how do you recommend, you know, dealing with all the clients that you've worked with, like in, into your experience, how do you go from an anti partner culture to more of like a partner focused 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:05:36] culture?

Yeah. It's not an easy transition and I've been through it twice. You know, some of the companies I mentioned earlier that I was. Sun and Bea were actually known as pretty good partnering companies, but they weren't. At the beginning, they both had very aggressive and very successful, direct sales force who, who had to be culturated into working with partners.

And it was, it was a long struggle. I think one of the elements you absolutely have to have in place is. You have to have a strong executive sponsor or strong CEO who, who understands that direction that understands that you can't don't scale without a partner organization and a very efficient one.

And that was particularly the case. When I worked at Bea, the CEO there, bill Coleman at the time was very dedicated to building out the partner program, made sure the resources were there, made sure the people was there and was just over and over and evangelizing and ensuring is. CX staff understood that even though they had a very strong and very successful direct sales force, that we needed to be able to partner up, to be able to scale the business.

At the time there were like 30 different web application platforms. And in order to come out on top, we needed the partner organization to help gain the market share when the business more than our fair share. And that happened through a strong partner program. But more than that, We had to address that culture change and, you know, address it head on, I mean, culture change is not for sissies.

It's hard stuff. But what we did is that we found those strong, visible, early successes leveraged them as proof points. One was an example in which. The customer was bank of America on this and the sales team, direct sales team really wanted to bring the deal in, in the quarter because they had, you know, quotas and bonuses and those sorts of things riding on it.

And they weren't getting where they needed to be. And they talked to our partner in the account. Accenture and Accenture of course had much stronger strategic relationships with senior leaders within the account and had been there for many. They pulled a few strings and they pulled the deal in. And that was the sort of success story that just ran through the holes, direct Salesforce and, you know, leaving others.

Some of the direct sales people scratching their heads going. Hmm. How can I get a partner like that? So, you know, it's, it's not just one incident though. It's gotta be a constant rinse and repeat, but finding those, you know, Early successes and making them very visible. 

Adam Michalski: [00:08:11] That's such a great point that you make there.

I mean, it really does start, you know, top down. But then that last point I want to dig in a little bit further on specifically around like I think, and you, and I may have even spoken about this before, but direct teams, you know, they really understand the direct motion and how to go to market and you know, all the kind of science behind how to actually sell into these accounts.

But indirect, oftentimes, you know, Not, not every sales person, but a large percentage of them are in a lot of ways intimidated by it, or just scared of understanding, you know, of inter like, you know, introducing somebody else into the, like their sales process in toll. They really see, you know, like that Accenture example that you provided where they're like, oh, wow.

It was really good, helped me, you know pull a deal over the finish line at the end of the quarter, or it can help me break into an account or it can help me, you know increase the probability of my closing accounts. So I think, you know, you spoke a little bit tool the more management side of it or the executive side of it.

But any best practices that you have for actually like, you know, educating the direct team on like, Getting them over that initial hump so that they can actually start to see, you know the value that partners can be provide sooner and really be more willing to cross that chasm, if you will. One of the ways 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:09:24] is that when you start getting your partner engine going, the partner's just starting to bring you opportunities.

And sales always loves that, you know, when they didn't have to dig up from the ground, start one that the partner is nurturing and building, and they're kind of, they're kind of there. Watching the process aiding the process, making sure they're inserting themselves where the, where the expertise on your products and offerings.

But I think after a while, they, they begin to figure out that a lot of times the partner's doing all the heavy lifting and they can leverage a lot more sales working through partners and they can without, after a while, what you see is that your biggest performers in Salesforce are those who figured out how to work with partners.

I can recall one guy who was working with the large telco and he had, he had attained like six times quota and it's because he'd cracked code on partners. He had a lot of different partners working the account, getting a lot more. I mean, there's only so many sales calls. The one person can make only so many meetings.

They can take only so many proposals they can do. But if you've got you know, your own portfolio of partners that you've worked within an account, they're taking all of that work off you and you're, you're working at building a relationship with the company and, you know, doing advanced that, you know, your, your product and your value proposition versus a lot of the other writing proposals is probably not anyone's best experience or most fun thing to do.

Adam Michalski: [00:10:43] That's for sure. That's for sure. And I think I mean, I love this topic so much because I think you're a hundred percent, right? Like usually when you go around and you find the best performing reps at most organizations, you know, and I'll even say B2B more broadly as they figure it out, how to actually utilize the partner ecosystem and effectively use it as like, like a, a cheat code, you know or a way to basically, you know, just as fast track their deals, find new opportunities and.

There's so much interesting stuff that we can cover on that, but I do want to make sure that we make the most of our time here. So I'm going to sorry, go ahead. 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:11:19] Yeah, that I've seen a few companies were pretty rigorous about tracking the deal metrics with partners. Sure. Alone. And they pretty consistently show some of the things you mentioned that the deals get bigger, they close faster, their probability rate of close gets better.

And their top reps are the ones who are leveraging leveraging partners. 

Adam Michalski: [00:11:39] Yeah. And that's, what's awesome. Exactly. And I think the attribution there is difficult, but that's also something that I've seen as well is if you can, you know, actually accurately. Measure that have seen it consistently as well, where, you know, at the end of the day, it's going to lead to better business outcomes, pretty much universally across the board.

But yeah, the attribution is a, is a whole another discussion. Let's let's, I mean, let's run with with that topic, I think in general, like, I mean, like I mentioned earlier, I mean, you've worked with an assortment of amazing clients like Adobe, Amazon, you know, Cisco, Dell, Intel, IBM. Unique insights.

Do you have on, you know, what works in partnerships and what doesn't? Well, I think 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:12:18] one of the mistakes that a lot of partner managers and partner organizations do is they kind of approach the partner with what are you going to do for me? What leads you? You're bringing me, how much of my stuff are you going to sell?

And they kind of skip over the part where the partner is a business alter their own, and they don't ask what are customers buying? What is the partner selling? And. I was in a business planning engagement with a major client a couple of years ago. And that was kind of the, the aha moment for them when they realized, oh, we need to be asking the partners, what are they selling?

What are customers buying? And what they heard was things like customer experience, digital transformation, digital healthcare, which in the past year has had an amazing sprint of nuisance. And it changed their thinking, but it also changed their partner's attitude and partnering. And this is a big company partnering with big companies.

They had a very large telecommunications company come back to them, said, you know, if you're going to go to market the way we go to market and you're going to help promote our solutions, we're going to train all 4,500 sales reps to lead with you. And that was like a big aha and a huge one. But there were other instances like that too.

And other companies that they were approaching this as, oh, well, if you're going to do that, we'll build a practice around you. We'll invest a million dollars to train people and build out our professional services around your, your platform. So it can have really incredible impact if you realize that, you know, you're the chocolate chip and the cookie and the partners are selling the cookies.

Right. And not just approaching it from what are you going to do for them? Yeah, that's, 

Adam Michalski: [00:13:52] that's super interesting. And I think the, the one question that I have there, like follow-up on that point is I think it, I mean, it makes sense, conceptually, you know and I oftentimes find that like, just from like a pure bandwidth perspective it's difficult for the reps, you know, to even understand their own products you know, and how quickly things are evolving and the market's evolving.

Like pushback that I often hear is, you know, how am I supposed to get them to understand, you know, every other piece of the ecosystem and how that all plays together. In addition to like, you know, the fast moving, like sector that we're already playing with and our own product offerings. So any best practices that you have on, you know, how to actually go about not only educating them.

From the beginning and kind of, you know, providing that initial enablement, but then also being able to ensure that like, as you know, your partner ecosystem or your partner is offering is continuing to evolve. And as you know, the, like the broader ecosystem continues to change, how do you keep, you know, the, the, like your own sales team understanding of, of all of that in addition to what's already on there?

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:14:58] Well, I think that maybe you don't, I think maybe what you do is you focus. Instead of trying to, you know, I see this so often, particularly with smaller companies, they want to be all things to all people because they don't want to miss out on a single opportunity, but their best bet is to focus on, you know, one or two or three things that they do really well.

And I think that's true with say partner managers is that, you know, you can't, you can't do this kind of really. Collaborative business planning and go to market with every partner, but you probably have a few that are high potential that you really want to put that effort into and really focus and target, you know, what the, to market plays are and make your big bets in your investments there versus, you know, peanut buttering it all over, you know partners that you're only going to have marginal success with.

That's a great 

Adam Michalski: [00:15:43] point. Yeah. And I think at the end of the day, exactly, it's lack of focus that ultimately can lead you astray in almost any aspect of business. So I think that's, that's a really good point is, you know, ultimately limiting down that list and making sure that for the subset of partners that are really gonna move the needle you make sure that the sales team really understands what they're offering.

It's a great point. 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:16:03] The company I did the business planning with, they didn't try to do 10,000 partners. They went deep with about 250. 

Adam Michalski: [00:16:09] Yep. Yeah. And that exactly, you got to cut it down to something that's actually more manageable. Totally. Makes sense. One question that I think you, yeah, interesting that you and I discussed before that I really want to focus a couple of minutes here on is you've done a lot of work with ASAP or, you know, the association of strategic Alliance professionals.

And we've had some folks on the podcast before who've spoken about this. But I don't think that we've really done. Enough justice about all the work that's gone into, you know, ASAP. So can you share a little bit about ASAP from a high level? And then let's get into like the work that you've specifically done and then also, you know, where people can actually find all these awesome resources that are already out there today?

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:16:46] Absolutely. Well ASAP the association of strategic Alliance professionals, it's a professional membership organization for partner managers and we take. Broad view of Alliance managers. It's not just the big boy, big strategic alliances. It's, it's actually the art of managing a collaborative business relationship.

And the mission of the organization is to provide partner managers with what they need to succeed, you know, best practices, education, professional development, community, and an ability to connect with each other. I think one of the more frustrating things I've had is. Partner manager myself is that no one really knew what I did or how I did it.

My mom didn't know what I do for a living. So one of my goals and in having been with ASAP and I've been with it since 2002, and I started the local Silicon valley chapter. And I've been on the advisory boards since then was I really wanted to elevate partner management into a recognized profession.

And I've been working. A number of very talented comrades in arms Alliance managers from across the world and across many professions in, in helping to achieve that. I was the original best practices chair, and I work to curate best practices from the committee. I helped revitalize the Alliance manager's handbook through a crowdsourcing process.

We had some 30 certified Alliance managers, partner managers contribute to that, ensuring that we're reflecting, you know, the best of the modern practices. And I also led the organization in developing professional certifications. So known as. Certificate of achievement for Alliance management and the certified Alliance professionals, and at least certain certifications, Renae we're unique in that we worked with a company that does certifications for the health profession, like emergency room nurses.

And the benefit of that is that they had developed a methodology where they really tested for competence and skills. Not just whether you could recall what you read in a book, but whether or not, if you could analyze the situation and use the right judgment. The best decision. And so that was the methodology that we followed.

And while partner management might not be a life and death profession, like emergency room nurses we did feel, we ended up with certification that really tests for whether you're skilled and competent at the job. And. Last, but not least it's been a busy 19 years. They've represented the U S delegation to the international standards organization.

The same organization that gives you ISO 9,000, the quality standard we developed a 44,001 collaborative business relationship management standards. So now there is a standard that provides a common framework and vocabulary. For managing business relationships. And we were able to insert a lot of the ASAP.

Thinking and frameworks and competencies models into that standard so that people who adopt the ASAP standards and practices will be in a good position to compliance certified to the ISO standard. If that's something that makes sense. So, how do you get ahold of all these resources? How do you learn more?

Adam Michalski: [00:19:50] I was going to say, I mean, this is, cause I think it's super fascinating at the end of the day. And we had drew Quinlan on who spoke a little bit about all the resources out there, but it wasn't until like I really started digging in that I realized like it's truly a treasure trove of information. So I personally, you know I mean for our listeners, we'll go ahead and we'll link out to these resources, but I mean, normal, like what, where can they go ahead and find all this information and how can they.

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:20:13] Well, the website is the best place to start. It's strategic hyphen, and many of the resources, newsletters. I think you can even subscribe to the strategic Alliance journal and you don't have to be a member, but. You know, given the freemium model, there's a lot more value. If you are a member, a lot more behind the the password protection on the website, if you really want a lot of the, you know, the secret sauce, a lot of the good stuff.

So I'd encourage him to check it out and join. 

Adam Michalski: [00:20:42] Awesome. Yeah. And what we'll do is we'll link out to that specifically in in, in the show notes. So for all of our listeners, I mean, you can go ahead, I'd highly encourage you to check it out. You know, Norma, as well as a handful of other professionals, I've really put a lot of time into that.

So so yeah, I'm super pumped about that. And I think the one of the last two questions that I had for you was where do you see, you know, like the future. B to B partnerships heading. And how are you going about like preparing your 

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:21:08] clients talk these days about ecosystems and, you know, we've been talking about partner ecosystems for some time, but what we're really looking at were hub and spoke relationships and we had different silos of parts.

Programs, depending upon their business model, you know, we had the ISV silo in the strategic partners silo with the service. We had the channel Sidel, but I think where it's heading is that those silos are breaking down. Partners have multiple business models. They don't sticks neatly and. Assigned silo.

You know, you're saying that partners who resell probably don't even make their most profit in resale, they make it in services or they make it in IP that they can bring into an engagement. And I think that's where the real power of the ecosystems are. The interconnections, the collaborations, the connections that are made between the partners.

I love a quote that George Bernard Shaw has, and he's, he was a playwright that wrote Pygmalion or my fair lady. And it goes if you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, well, we all still have one. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange ideas, then we each have two ideas.

And then think about it. Think about the math. If you have five in your ecosystems, 10 in your ecosystem, a hundred and your ecosystems, what is the exchange of ideas? In those kinds of networks? Well, it generates an exponential explosion of innovation and that's where I think we're heading is breaking down the silo walls in gendering, more connections between partners and then harnessing.

That explosion of great ideas and innovation that, that the partner community can create. And we frankly saw quite a bit of that this past year, right? In that we saw business challenges we never saw before and partners had to come together and figure out how to solve them. In fact, your prior guests that you mentioned.

Quinland from RingCentral told me that at the beginning of the pandemic, they were in a, in a bad way in that a lot of their systems are used in call centers. Well, all the call center operators callers had to go home and they weren't initially prepared to deal with that, but they had partners within their ecosystem who had the right solutions and they were able to pull that together very quickly and got these people working again, creating call centers from home.


Adam Michalski: [00:23:34] such a great example of. I think that's, what's really unique about partnerships and just the broader ecosystem is that it's not just revenue, it's not just marketing, you know? It really is like a, an ecosystem that you can rely on in a number of different ways. And I think. As more and more folks, you know, get attuned to how important these ecosystems can be.

And frankly, all the best practices that surround, you know, how how to really operate, you know, a proper partner ecosystem, not only just getting it started, but really, you know, maximizing the potential of it. I think it's only just going to continue to expand out from here. And what's, I mean, what's interesting is that, you know, because there's so many different ways of partnering it really makes, you know, folks such as yourself great folks to tap into for knowledge.

So one, thank you for joining the podcast, but also for a lot of our listeners, you know, being able to work with industry experts such as yourself is really a huge, you know, value add. So for anybody who's listening, if they would like to partner or work with Phoenix consulting how do they get into.

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:24:39] Well, they're welcome to send me an email directly. Norma or go to my website  dot com. And you can contact me through the website. And of course I'm on social media. I'm on LinkedIn and Twitter. So, you know, look me up, contact me. I'm happy to have a conversation. 

Adam Michalski: [00:24:56] Awesome. And for our listeners, we'll go ahead and we'll link out to all of, you know, not only Phoenix consulting, but Norma social profiles as well.

Definitely feel free to get in touch, but Norma, thank you so much for taking the time. This was incredibly insightful. And at the very minimum you've given me a couple ideas. So yeah, we won't be exchanging apples, but at this point I have more, more than more than two ideas in my mind, man. So thank you so much for taking the time.

Norma Watenpaugh: [00:25:23] I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Adam Michalski: [00:25:23] All right, we'll talk to you soon.

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