I’ve written a lot about the power of building strong communities and networks to strengthen your organization’s connection to customers and partners and to build a brand that goes beyond just messaging in order to carry the weight of your customer’s voice. Over the summer I was fortunate to reconnect with a good friend and colleague from SAP, Amit Sinha, who updated me on what he’d been working on. When he shared what he was doing — Wow, I was blown away! Amit and two co-founders launched a startup called WorkSpan a couple of years ago that is based on those very principles — building a strong network and connecting customers and partners.
Over the course of the next couple of months, we talked about the company’s vision, the problems WorkSpan is solving for customers, and the nature of the organization itself. After our initial meeting, I was able to spend time getting to know the impressive leadership team. Last month I accepted an opportunity to join WorkSpan as VP of Marketing and I couldn’t be more excited to talk about it!
WorkSpan is a Marketing Network for marketing with partners. WorkSpan helps companies find new partnering opportunities, plan and execute joint marketing campaigns with partners, find marketing dollars or apply dollars to joint campaigns, and measure results across all those joint campaigns run with their ecosystem and their partner’s ecosystems. WorkSpan has some really amazing solutions. Despite the challenges that exists in this space, until now, I haven’t seen anyone else trying to solve this difficult problem before.
The Challenges of Marketing with Partners
In the early stages of my career at SAP, I led partner marketing for North America before moving into a global leadership role. I can tell you, marketing with partners is tough! We had our internal systems for managing marketing programs and our partners had their completely different systems for managing their own marketing programs. Getting everything together to work as a unit was complicated to say the least.
Here’s what it took to manage joint marketing campaigns:
- Executive agreement to go to market together. (This is when the press release goes out — and then the heavy lifting starts.)
- Partner and marketing teams get together for an in-person kick-off meeting to start the planning process and go into more detail about joint markets, cooperating on relevant vertical markets, creating joint solutions we’ll bring to market, budgets, staffing, timelines, and more.
- We’d create joint marketing plans in spreadsheets showing dates, activity types, owners, project team, activity budgets, MDF funding, expected results, etc…
- Everyone would go back to their respective teams and start to plan the details of programs with their company
- Partner marketers from each of the partner companies would work to rally their global marketing teams about how this is important, and field marketing to build those joint partner campaigns and solutions into their overall field marketing plans. Then add the PR teams, product marketing, sales teams, services, training… you get the picture — it’s a lot!
- The partner marketing teams would schedule regular joint checkpoint conference calls and in-person meetings to review, get status, pull information out of the separate systems to understand results, update spreadsheets, and so on.
- And of course… rinse and repeat for next month, next partner, next quarter, next campaign.
What’s amazing is that it’s no different today. Emails, conference calls, and phone calls still survive as the way to coordinate across company boundaries when managing joint go-to-market programs. Today, the work may be helped with tools like Slack, Dropbox, or Google Docs, but these are generic tools with no support for the process, for managing marketing activities, managing funding or approvals, managing appropriate access, or tracking goals and progress toward meeting your marketing objectives. We’ve talked to so many companies (and industry analysts) that say the process is still a huge mess. And it’s no wonder!
Fortunately, this doesn’t have to continue because WorkSpan has created solutions for making all of this happen in a collaborative, cloud-based, cross-company solution — allowing partners working together to manage secure joint processes, build joint solutions, create joint campaigns, approve and manage joint/MDF funding, and measure the results against goals across both partner companies. It’s frankly pretty amazing! That’s what we focus on and what our customers have told us is a HUGE pain point in their business.
Emerging Business Paradigms Will Only Require MORE Partnering
What’s interesting is that, while it’s currently so difficult to go to market with partners today, the world is changing in ways that actually make it even more critical to work effectively with partners. You hear every day about the ways business is constantly being transformed. With cloud as a competitive advantage for all sizes of business, companies are more agile, chunking up parts of their business for partners to take on, and growing stronger ties with partners to leverage their ecosystems and find new opportunities. This is the reality of business today — and if you’re not embracing it, your competitors are (and you’ll quickly be at risk.)
A recent article from McKinsey said it clearly:
“Within a decade, companies will define their business models not by how they play against traditional industry peers but by how effective they are in competing within rapidly emerging “ecosystems,” comprising a variety of businesses from dimensionally different sectors.”
McKinsey describes how, because of recent technology advances breaking down inter-company barriers, some long-standing assumptions about the nature of companies and the reason they exist as separate entities are changing and allowing much more fluid interactions and dynamic ecosystems. This is a sea-change in how businesses are run and interact. If companies are not able to effectively manage go-to-market interactions with their strategic partners effectively, they’re toast.
Needless to say, this is all incredibly exciting to me! At WorkSpan, we are bridge builders — solving big problems that help pave the way for business transformation and the future of business. There is nothing more exciting than that — and I’m thrilled to be part of it!
I’d love to hear what you think — please share your thoughts in the comments below!