How sales and marketing can leverage partnerships

11 min read

Jason Shugars

Partnership is an invention of the devil – Russian Proverb

On the contrary, we have featured Jason Shugars to talk about how to use partnership as a strategy for rapid growth and expansion in business.

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A Quick Intro about Jason Shugars

  • Jason Shugars is currently the Senior Director of Global Partnerships at Blueshift.
  • He was the co-founder of Octavia Wellness.
  • He had partnered with Albertsons, Probmatic, Google.

With our Head of Marketing Nikhil Premanandan as the host and Jason Sugars as the speaker, we have the transcripted version from our Limitless Podcast. You can listen to the episode or continue reading to know more about what the expert had to say about partnerships as a strategy for rapid growth and expansion.

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Question: What is Blueshift? What is your role at Blueshift?

Jason: Blueshift is a customer data platform, and we’re in the marketing automation space. So what we do is, we work with customers first-party data to unify that data into a 360 view of one customer. More importantly, we help our customers activate against that data. 

So it’s a cross channel marketing automation play. So we allow customers to build journeys, to build segments, and then push the journeys to create whatever touchpoints they want across, whatever channel they want. I think that’s probably the most important part for us.

And the part that impacts my job the most is, enabling customers to send a message via SMS, via email, across the paid media, whatever channel they want, that’s really what we’re enabling them to do. And so that’s where my role comes in.

BUILDING PARTNERSHIPS

Question: How important is building partnerships? And at what stage of a company do you think you should focus on building strategic partnerships?

Jason: If you go back some years, it was possible for companies to survive on their own and potentially the strength of their product on the platform. I think nowadays, what we’ve seen in the market, is whether your product is strong or not, or your platform is the best solution, having alliances, having integrations and having that web ecosystem of partnerships, is invaluable and crucial.

So I really encourage, frankly, any company when they’re starting out to be thinking very closely about how to build that web, what that looks like. Maybe it’s not the first hire, maybe it’s not the 10th, but quickly as you’re gaining market share, it’s really important to be able to bring on someone who can manage that role and start building out that web. No matter how, you know, what your focus is.

THE THREE PILLARS OF PARTNERSHIP

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Question: As we see it at Hippo Video as well, partnerships as a way to enable discovery of our platform, our solutions, and values that our platform for ways. Now, an interesting thing that you mentioned was you have alliances, integrations. So what are the different types of partnerships, if you could actually run our business through that?

Jason:  I have what I call the three pillars of partnerships.

Number one, it’s technology partnerships. So it’s those partners, those friends you’re integrating with, potentially they’re directly plugging into your platform or you’re plugging into their platform. So that’s one.

Two, I think about sort of the agency or the reseller, sort of value-added services partner. So those are the partnerships where they’re going to effectively be an ambassador, be an expansion mode for your product and for your company. In some cases, they may even be selling your product, they may be bringing referrals to the table, whatever that looks like. So that’s the second pillar.

The third pillar is often overlooked, and that’s really sort of the ecosystem or what I call the friendlies. Having someone in the market that, maybe you don’t integrate with them, maybe not reselling or representing your product, but you’re friendlier with them and you’re speaking of the same clients and you maybe have a different, value add or value prop to the market, but you’re close. I think they’re really relationships. Partnerships is a relationship business. It’s very important to focus on that.

Question: When you look at these three pillars that you mentioned. Which one do you most focus on? Does it depend on the stage of the company? Or does it depend on the GDM that has clearly outlined? How do you take up that particular responsibility?

Jason: Yeah, I think it’s a great question. And honestly, I think it depends on what your particular focuses or what’s working for you at the company. So for Blueshift, one of the things that are absolutely crucial to our value prop, absolutely crucial to our go-to-market is really having those integrations with those channels that our clients are going to want to push their messages out to. 

So that’s really been our focus. Since I’ve started this, deepening those initial, expanding those integrations, the process of building out an app store. Just having that network, that network effect, being able to help our clients not push out. But you know, depending on your customer, depending on your client, your product, it may be different for you. You may find that it’s your platform does better if it’s being resold or there’s an agency involved but that’s not been our focus.

FRAMEWORK

Question: You’ve worked and consulted with many different companies on partnerships and scaled partnerships. So, how do you find the right partnerships? How do you find the right opportunities? And is there a framework that you go through?

Jason: Yeah, I think for me, the framework has been, especially when you’re coming into a role where you start to look and see kind of what’s there already.

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I mean, I’m not someone who believes that reinventing the wheel is always the best idea. In fact, I think the wheel works for a reason and everyone has one. 
So, when I started the Blueshift, I kind of did a level setting exercise where I looked at relationships we had in place already, the integrations we had in place already, and then started there. In many cases, if you haven’t had a dedicated partnerships person looking after those relationships, you do need to go back and give them some love and kind of reignite the relationship. So that’s sort of one of the first steps I would take.

Question: Do you have a framework that would actually tell your team, as you know, okay, these are the parameters that you look for when you are expanding into different geographies and when you’re searching for certain, let’s say for tech partners, do you have different frameworks? Can you tell our audience what those particular criteria could be?

Jason: I think frameworks are a great place to start. But often depending on sort of the maturity of the market or the maturity of the platform, you really have to take things where they stand. For example, when I was running a partnership with Probmatic with a very mature product and very mature client base in the US. But as I opened up business in Europe, and in Australia and some of these other markets, it required a different approach. We were in those markets with new products, we were not well known, the business model is not well known. So my role shifted from building technology integrations to frankly just building alliances.

Being an evangelist in the market and saying, hey, here’s who we are, here’s Probmatic does kind of really educate the market. So I think that framework is going to shift and really, in my opinion, is that a good partner manager, a good partnerships person, is flexible and understands exactly what’s needed by the market, by platform, by product and is able to kind of shift as things happen. Now, I imagine a bigger company where there’s a more sort of rigorous or kind of already formed way of approaching. That’s kind of what’s already the roadmap has been set down. I tend to stick to startups and I enjoy the startup life because it allows for the flexibility of building a business.

Acquisition

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Question: A Global Stats says that close to about 50% of strategic alliances actually fail. How do you actually make that alliance and your partners to success despite the challenges?

Jason: You have mentioned that 50%, I feel like it’s probably lower. I think that having strategic alliances is a very difficult thing because you’re essentially taking a sales team and a company that have a specific mandate. And you’re taking another sales team and a company to mandate and hoping that they’re in alignment to want to do business together. And from what I’ve seen, those are six, eight, nine months, year-long projects. I mean, I’ve got to line the sales team on my side to want to do work for another company that they might not get paid for. So I think that’s strategic alliances.

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My feeling is they really work best when there’s a, I’m scratching your back, you’re scratching my back, there’s a one plus one equals three sorts of thing happening. I know that if I integrate with this company, my clients will be happy, this company I’m integrating with will be happy because they’re getting business and that is we’re all kind of in this together. 

So, one of the things we’re doing now at Blueshift is we’re building out what we’re calling, we’re still working on the messaging around it. We’re building out this, like, what’s the perfect marketing tech stack look like? And we have some ideas around that. I think that’s what you’re going to see a lot from Blueshift in 2020. This way of looking at the market.

Because, as I’m sure you’re aware, if you’re out there in the marketing tech space, there is a lot of noise. Acronyms are flying fast and furiously. It’s very difficult to say, well, what is a CDI versus a CDP versus who knows? And if I’m buying seeds, and if I’m trying to go and find the right marketing tech stack, it’s a difficult place to be. So you need to educate your clients and kind of lead them and show them. Here’s what this means, here’s how it looks and make it simple. I mean, it has to be simple.

Question: The SDRs and the AEs who actually look for opportunities and close them. And after that, the account has been transferred to an account manager who actually translates into Customer Success managers. Is this the same way you look at partnerships as well?

Jason: Yeah, we’re still early days at Blueshift. So right now, I sit in the marketing and report to the CMO of the Blueshift to see the chief growth officer. In my kind of the things that I’m gold on and focused on is bringing referrals, bringing in new potential clients through the relationships I’m building. So that’s one half of my job. The other half of my job is going out and one of our existing client bases says, “Hey I want to have an integration with company x” is going and building out that relationship. That’s that tends to be a little bit easier, right? Because if you’re able to go to a partner and say, hey, I have a client that wants to buy your product, that’s an easy conversation to have. You know, you’re helping them be successful and your team is being successful. But those are typically two things I’m focused on.

CATEGORY CREATION

Question: You have mentioned that you’re actually reporting to your CMO. How do the CMOs, how can these CMOs actually leverage partnerships? Is there a way that this partner network can be leveraged by CMOs and for their group market or for product marketing or let’s say category creation? How can these partnerships actually help the CMO?

Jason: Yeah, I tend to push back on the category creation thing because it almost starts to feel like, as if I’m in the buying seat at the company, if I were at Albertans, and I’m trying to make a decision on what market product to buy. Having another sort of story and other narrative that’s out there, it can be very confusing. So I think with our particular Organisation having the CMO leverage what I’m doing, in a sense it is taking those relationships I’ve built. Whether they’re with agencies, resellers, whether they’re with technology, partnerships, whether the friendlies I mentioned and really kind of building out our story. So that if I’m partnered with them Particle or Meta Routers and these other companies, they know who we are, they know what we do. If I’m partnered with an ESP like Mailgun or Spark post, they know exactly what our what the goods and the bads of our platform are and they’re able to tell that story to their customers. So in a sense, it is I tend to think of partnerships, very purely, as a marketing play. I know some organization’s partnerships are just more the sales org. That’s definitely one way to do it. But I feel like, for me, at least, the vision of partnerships is being the voice of the company and talking about how our product works well with others and kind of telling that story again, and again and again and again in the marketplace.

Question: Very rightly said. Sometimes, if there are too many narratives in the marketplace itself, the end-user may get confused and the new story may not resonate. Given your extensive experience in building and scaling partnerships, can you walk us through some examples where this has worked really well? Were you able to get excellent partners and what worked well for the platform? And a few examples where that did not work?

Jason: Yeah, I think it’s a good question. I personally, I tend to learn a lot more from the mistakes and things that don’t go well than the things that do. I think one of the things I learned firsthand with expanding Probmatic’s partnership is that,

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networking into Europe and the rest of the world was I had to realize that the market was a couple of years behind, like the European market was a couple of years behind the US market. And so all the things that I had learned, all the ways we spoke about our product and the acronyms we use, were completely foreign or less well known.

And so I think having to be able to stop and shift gears and move into that education mode, that evangelist role was crucial. But I definitely spent a good six months to nine months frankly spinning my wheels. I would go in and I would talk to some of these partners that I wanted to build a relationship with, and they just flew over their heads. They didn’t understand why they would need a company like ours, what was the value we’re bringing, they didn’t have that in their market, it made no sense? Sure, it was maybe a useful platform in the US market, but it was not the case in the UK, in Germany, in Italy and I had to essentially, again, shift gears. But so I think about that time, that initial phase, that is what I would think of, it was less of a partnership didn’t work out, it was more of a re-envisioning and reimagining of how the partnership should be. 

I think right now at Blueshift, we’ve managed to essentially have heavily focused on technology partnerships and integrations that has been I think, really a success story. We’re really focused on bringing technology integrations to our customers that make sense. One of the channels that we focused on recently has been paid media.

So having integrations with companies like Criteo, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Verizon and whatever those paid media channels are, that’s a new thing for our client base. Because they’re wanting to build a segment and extend their reach. But unless there’s an integration, unless there’s a platform they can plug into, they can’t do it. So I’ve seen that building those relationships quickly and tightly has led to a lot of success, and I think we’ll continue to do so in 2020.

Question: Very rightly said. Sometimes other markets are behind you where you’re actually working. As I said, integrations actually play a very crucial role in providing those valuable inputs back to marketing. So that they actually focus on something that is important for that particular as well. So, Jason, before we let you go, I’m into the final question. What are the goals for 2020 for Blueshift? And what is your goal for 2020?

Jason: I’m personally still trying to work on some of my own personal goals. I believe it’s really important to try and learn something new every year.

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So I’m thinking about learning the ukulele or becoming a drone pilot. So that’s kind of my personal stuff. 

I think for Blueshift and partnerships, my focus really this year is going to be on that paid media sector. There’s a lot of thinking about our particular small niche of market, there’s an unmet need for marketers to be able to take segments, to take journeys of their first-party data and sync it with it whatever pay me to channel exists. Whether that’s Cora, Snap, LinkedIn, Pinterest, whatever’s out there, that’s incredibly valuable. I think some of that pressure is coming from things like the CCPA, the new privacy rules in California. Obviously, some of the stuff that’s already existing in Europe and so really having a solution ready for our clients is going to be invaluable, and that’s going to be my focus like 100% this year.

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