Limitless Podcasts – Ep 2: How sales and marketing can leverage partnerships Ft. Jason Shugars

13 min read

Jason Shugars

Jason Shugars is the Senior Director of Global Partnerships at Blueshift. He’s featured on our Limitless Podcasts to give insights on comprehensive understanding of partnerships and strategic alliance and when, how and what type of companies can leverage partnerships (especially in Software/ SaaS industry)

Listen to the Podcast Here:

Here is the transcript version of the podcast. Continue reading to know what the expert had to say about how to leverage partnerships for sales and marketing.

Topic – How sales and marketing can leverage partnerships?

Speaker: Jason Shugars (J.S)

Host: Nikhil Premanandan (N.P)

N.P: Hello, everyone, welcome to our weekly episode of Limitless Podcast. A place where we bring together the global leaders in sales and marketing. My name is Nikhil and I’m the host of limitless podcast. Today, we bring in our very first guest. Today, we have Jason Shugars with us.

Jason is currently the Senior Director of global partnerships at Blue shift. He does a bunch of consulting projects too. Once his project was with Albertson’s, where he was the senior product manager. He also was the senior director of international partnerships at Probmatic, a role, which he played for close to about three years. And he’s also worked with Google on global compliance. A little known fact about Jason is that he was the co-founder of Octavia Wellness as well. So Jason, welcome to Limitless Podcast.

J.S: Thank you, Nikhil. It’s great to be here.

N.P: Yeah, this is a very long resume. And clearly you are, you know, the gold standard when it comes to, you know, managing and scaling partnerships. So, tell us a little bit more about Blue Shift. And you know, what is Blue Shift? And you know, what is your role at Blue Shift?

J.S: Yeah, sure thing. So Blue Shift 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. And then 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 touch points they want across, you know, 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, you know, 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.

N.P: Awesome, awesome. So, you know, how important is building partnerships? And at what stage of a company do you think, you know, you should focus on building, you know, strategic partnerships?

J.S: Yeah, I think previously, I think, you know, if you go back some years, it was possible for companies to survive on their own and potentially the strength of their product of 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 you know, that web an ecosystem of partnerships, is invaluable and crucial. So I really encourage, frankly, any company when they’re starting out to be thinking very, you know, 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.

N.P: I understand, I understand. So, as we see it at Hippo video, as well, we see, you know, partnerships as a way to, you know, enable discovery of, you know, our platform, our solutions, and you know, our values that, you know, 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, that would be great?

J.S: Yeah, sure. So in my head, I have what I call the three pillars of partnerships. Number one, it’s technology partnerships. So it’s those partners those, you know, 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 a you know, expansion mode for your product and for your company. In some cases, they may even be selling your product, they may be, you know, bringing referrals to the table, whatever that looks like. So that’s the second pillar. I think 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 friendly with them and you’re speaking of the same clients and you maybe have a different, you know, 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.

N.P: Awesome, awesome. So when you look at, you know, these three pillars that you mentioned. You know, the tech, the ISP, the resellers and the friendlies, you know, the friendly partnerships that you have. So which one do you most focus on? Does it depend on the stage of the company? Or does it, you know, depend on the GDM, that, you know, that has clearly outlined? How do you, you know, take up that particular responsibility?

J.S: 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 Blue Shift, one of the things that is absolutely crucial to our value prop, absolutely crucial to our go to market, is really having those, you know, integrations with those channels that our clients are going to want to push their messaging out to. So that’s really been my focus, since I’ve started is, deepening those initial, expanding those integrations, you know, the process of building out an app store. Just having that, you know, 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.

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

J.S: Yeah, I think for me, the framework is been, especially when you’re coming into a role is you start to you look and see kind of what’s there already. 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 you know, when I started the Blue Shift, 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, you know, those relationships, you do need to go back and you know, give them some love and kind of reignite the relationship. So that’s sort of the one of the first steps I would take.

N.P: Awesome. So do you have a framework that you would actually, you know, tell your team, as you know, okay, these are the parameters that you look for when you are expanding into, you know, different geographies, and when you’re searching for certain, let’s say, tech partners? So let’s say for resellers or for tech, do you have different frameworks? So obviously you would have different frameworks, but can you actually, you know, run our audience to what, you know, those particular criteria could be?

J.S: That’s a good question. I think, you know, frameworks are a great place to start. But often, you know, depending on sort of the maturity of the market or the maturity of the platform, you know, you really have to take things where they stand. So, for example, when I was running partnership with Probmatic with a very, 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. So, you know, 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, you know, building technology integrations to frankly, just building alliances, being an evangelist in market and saying, hey, here’s who we are, here’s Probmatic does, and says and kind of really educating the market. So I think, you know, that framework is going to shift and really, you know, in my opinion is that a good partner manager, a good partnerships person, is flexible and understands exactly what’s needed by market, by platform, by product, and is able to kind of shift as things happen. Now, I imagine at a bigger company where there’s a more sort of rigorous or kind of formed, already formed, way of approaching, you know, that’s, you kind of do 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. But yeah, I think that’s sort of the way I think about it.

N.P: Got it. So, the reason why I was asking that is because this would lead into my next question. So, globally, the stats say that close to about 50% of strategic alliances, they actually fail. Alright, so as I see it, you know, you can look at partnerships as another acquisition channel, but it has its own challenges. So you need to have, you know, an acquisition engine or discovery and acquisition engine. And after that, you have to work on, you know, making that alliance a success. So how do you actually do that? So first thing, we just spoke about, you know, acquiring new partners. Now, how do you take these partners to success? How do you make them successful to achieve your targets as well?

J.S: Yeah, I mean, you mentioned that 50% number. 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 you know, from what I’ve seen, those are six, eight, nine months, a year long projects. I mean, I’ve got a 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, you know, strategic alliances… 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 sort 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, you know, one of the things we’re doing now at Blue Shift is we’re building out what we’re calling, you know, 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, you know, you’re going to see a lot of that from Blue Shift 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? You know, and if I’m in the buying seeds, and if I’m trying to go and find a 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.

N.P: Exactly. So as I understand it again, so it has to be looked at, as you know, every other sales process as looked at. So you have the SDRs and the AE’s who actually look for opportunities and close them. And after that the account after closing the account is actually transferred to an account manager who actually translates into Customer Success managers. So is this the same way you look at partnerships as well? Do you also have a set, you know, have these goals separated as to how many partners you acquire, and then it goes to a partnership manager where his goal is to you know, make the partner successful and in turn be successful as well?

J.S: Yeah, it’s a good question. We’re still early days at Blue Shift. So right now, so I sit in the marketing and report to the CMO Blue Shift 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 through our, you know, one of our existing client base says, hey, I want to have an integration with company x, is going and building out that 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.

N.P: So now that you mentioned that you’re actually reporting to your CMO. So how do the CMOs, how can these CMOs actually leverage partnerships? So is there a way that this awesome partner network can be leveraged by CMOs and, you know, for their guru market or for product marketing or for you know, let’s say category creation, you know, that is the new buzzword in, you know, the valley. So in that case, how can these partnerships actually help the CMO?

J.S: Yeah, I mean, I tend to push back on the category creation thing because it almost starts to feel like, again, if I’m in the buying seat at the company, if I were at Albertans, and I’m trying to make a decision on, you know, what martech product by. Having another sort of story and other narrative that’s out there, it can be very confusing. So I think, you know, with our particular Oregon in, you know, having the CMO leverage, you know, 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, you know. 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 organizations’ partnerships are just more the sales org. You know, 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.

N.P: Got it. Exactly. So 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. So given your, you know, extensive experience in building and scaling partnerships. Can you walk us through, you know, some examples where, you know, this has worked really well? So you were able to get, you know, excellent partners and what worked well for the platform? And you know, a few examples where this did not work? Like a partner you brought, and that did not work. So we just want to know, you know, we want to understand what is good, what is bad?

J.S: Yeah, no, I think it’s a good question. You know, I personally, I tend to learn a lot more from the mistakes and things that don’t go well than the things that do. You know, I think one of the things I learned firsthand with expanding Probmatic’s partnership that, you know, networking into Europe and 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, you know, that education mode, that evangelist role was crucial. But I definitely spent, you know, a good six months, you know, to nine months, frankly, spinning my wheels. You know, I would go in and I would talk to some of these partners that I wanted to build a relationship with, and they, it 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, you know, 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 partnership should be. You know, I think right now, you know, at Blue Shift, we’ve managed to essentially have a heavily focused on technology partnerships and integrations that has been I think, really a success story. You know, 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, obviously, you know, LinkedIn, Verizon, 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.
Nikhil: Got it. Yeah, very rightly said. You know, sometimes other markets are behind, you know, where you’re actually working. You know, 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. You know, what are the goals for 2020 for Blue Shift? And, you know, what is your goal for 2020?
Jason: That’s a great question. 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. So I’m, you know, personally, I’m thinking about learning the ukulele or becoming a drone pilot. So that’s kind of my personal stuff. I think for Blue Shift and partnerships, my focus really this year is going to be on that paid media sector. There’s a lot of thinking our particular small niche of martech, there’s this really, there’s this me 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, you know, the new privacy rules in California. Obviously, some of the stuff that’s already existing in Europe and so really, you know, having a solution ready for, you know, for our clients is going to be invaluable, and that’s going to be my focus like 100% this year.
Nikhil: Awesome. Awesome. Great goes there. Jason, thanks a lot for, you know, joining us on this amazing episode. The framework, the three pillars that you mentioned, were incredible, very insightful. We wish you a lot of luck and you know, hope to you know, listen to some tunes that you you know, hash out on your ukulele.
Jason: Thanks so much, Nikhil. Great, great talking with you and I appreciate the questions and have a great 2020.

N.P: Yeah, you too, and our very best to you and Blue Shift as well. Thanks a lot, Jason. Bye, bye.

J.S: Thanks.

N.P: Thank you, everyone for listening. Stay tuned to our weekly upcoming episodes with more sales and marketing leaders from around the globe. We are on Apple, Spotify and Google. Just type Limitless Podcast and we’ll show up. And yes, if you’re there, don’t forget to subscribe. Until next… Bye, bye.

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