Partnerstack Senior Channel Partner Manager Negar Nikaeein shares her experiences helping B2B businesses, especially Software as a Service (SaaS) companies, to grow revenue through combining Partnerstack with HubSpot
PartnerStack helps you recruit, engage, and scale your entire ecosystem of partners — from affiliates to referral and reseller partners.
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Direct Transcription of Podcast
Pete: Greetings everyone. A very warm welcome to another edition of the HubDo podcast. We talk with software vendors, subject matter specialists, and end users who share real stories of how to do more on HubSpot. I'm your host, Pete Nicholls. I'm in Copenhagen in Denmark, and I'm joined today by Negar Nikaeein. Uh, very good day to you, Negar.
Where are you joining us from?
Negar: Hello, so happy to be here. I am actually in Toronto, so kind of similar weather-wise. Dark and, and gloomy.
Pete: Yeah. Yeah. But coming up to the like lovely Christmas lights and, uh, the, yeah, the nice time. Yes. For our listeners, Negar Nikaeein is the Senior Channel Partner Manager at PartnerStack, working with technology integration and agency partners, Negar, you have experience building new partner programs and scaling existing programs to drive more revenue. And if you're not talking about partnerships, probably talking about your dog who may actually give us a little cameo at some stage if we hear a bark, uh, or the workout you've just finished or the next adventure that you are planning.
You're a partner person. I'm a partner person. When we look at ecosystems, really, and I know everyone's talking ecosystems now, but if we go right back in my history on LinkedIn, not like it's partnering all the way, and uh, if I take you back Negar 2007. Looking back in history, your volunteer partnerships coordinator for sustainable youth in Canada.
Negar: Love that throwback. That is hilarious. Yeah, sometimes, um, I had a conversation with a friend the other day where, you know, the days are long, but the decades are short. And so when you look back, you know, it's insane to think that, uh, at that time I had no idea where my future was gonna take me. I still was interested in partnerships at that time, and then as your career kind of progresses, you come back to those things. I think it's those skills that you're naturally inclined towards. So relationship building, working with people, um, is definitely my bread and butter. And so it's so funny that you brought that up. I completely forgot about that.
Pete: Wait. It did not surprise me at all to see that because, uh, you know, partnership peeps, uh, partnership peeps, and, uh, yeah, that's, that's how we roll. So, uh, we're talking about partner stack today. So, you know, you own the right company, the right job for the partner. Negar, I'm delighted to include PartnerStack on HubDo Marketplace because that's how we help people do more on HubSpot. Our topic for today is how to do more revenue with PartnerStack and HubSpot.
So the question now is really, well, what types of companies does it suit? And if I look at HubDo's own business, right? We are an ecosystem. We have end users on HubSpot. We have agency partners who use HubSpot and other software and help their customers do the same. We have software vendors that add value to HubSpot. We have subject matter specialists that help everyone figure it all out. We are developing software that also fills gaps. So there's a lot of different people in all of that partnering going on. So the first question is what type of businesses are an ideal customer for PartnerStack and who maybe isn't a fit?
Negar: Yes, great question. So I'd say primarily we work in that B2B space. Um, if we were to get even more specific, B2B SaaS is definitely, um, you know, the majority of the clients that we serve, and our platform is really built purpose-built for B2B SaaS organizations. So when you think about historically, Where partnerships have reigned dominantly in, um, e-commerce or direct-to-consumer with affiliate programs and the way that that technology is built is definitely different than the way a, a B2B SaaS organization might want to prioritize um, how they're working with affiliates. And so when we think about subscriptions, for example, and being able to have, dynamic payments for the partners in our ecosystem, um, partner Stack truly is serviced for those, um, B2B SaaS organizations. I would also add on the flip side of that because we too have our own marketplace um, those organizations who fall into that, um, ICP of, uh, B2B SaaS. Have the best traction in our marketplace as well because the partners who join our marketplace and, you know, start to join different programs and drive revenue to those programs are also typically quite well-versed in the B2B space as well.
So there's definitely a fit both on, um, the actual platform piece, but then also within our market.
Pete: So B2B SaaS is really the ideal client profile and the ones who are doing a lot of partnering that partner Stack is, is built to facilitate that. When you look at, uh, companies that are trying to partner and, uh, they're interested in partner Stack, what are some of the commonly misunderstood things that they do or get wrong? Mistakes that they make. Negar, what's if the baby's ugly? How ugly is the baby sometimes?
Negar: It's a great question and I think especially in partnerships, there is this like chicken or the egg question and um, You know, I was speaking with an organization this week, this week as well as several months ago, um, and several months ago when we first chatted they are a UK based company and they're really just starting to explore partnerships, and they wanted to prioritize using UTM links rather than, um, investing in a platform to be able to actually access the deep linking that our affiliate link tracking can provide. Um, and then so when we reconnected this week, you know, and we talk about, alright, how's the traction coming? What's going on? There are still a lot of question marks. They, um, being able to attribute the right partners to the right traffic that's coming through is very difficult with a UTM. There's no deep link tracking really. It's just, Relying on an immediate conversion. And so when we had this conversation yesterday, um, there was still not a ton of proof points or ROI that, um, could be brought to the senior leadership team to say, okay, here's what our partners are doing. Here's the traffic they're driving to our website. Um, and being able then to actually properly pay their partners, get the partners, you know, more excited about the brand and into this space of theirs that they're starting to create. So, you know, this one, this one little strategy that they've decided to focus on, which is, you know, using UTM links and kind of um, not investing too much money in, in a platform right off the gate is actually now having multiple different issues. You know, six months down the line where they don't have proof points. Partners don't really wanna engage. Um, so I'd say these are some of the things that I see that can be kind of a mistake when you're really starting to invest in a program.
Pete: So the chicken and egg, they're kind of, they married themselves to a chicken and, uh, they don't really wanna let go of that. Um, and reading further into that UTM tracking issue, Negar, uh, it sounds like part of it is because they're using a UTM tracking on the URL, but people don't tend to rock up and just buy B2B software right on the first click. They're researching and looking around. That's one of the things that PartnerStack addresses, but they would need to maybe let go of that chicken and uh, try some other ideas, uh, to do that. The platform that we also associate this back to is HubSpot, but how far can HubSpot go at adding any value of doing this on its own instead of say adding PartnerStack?
How far can HubSpot go?
Negar: I'd say that HubSpot can, maybe lay a very small foundation for you to try to provide these proof points before you invest. So let's say with these UTM links, you really hit the nail on the head there with, um, you know, B2B SaaS buyers are probably not going to convert the first time they hit your link, but if you're a partner and you want to be attributed for the traffic that you've driven, and I come back one month later because of you and you're not getting rewarded for that um, that's a problem in the B2B space that needs to be solved. And so, yes, you can start to see, okay, which partners are driving these links? Um, how many clicks are coming from these partners? But you actually can't see which ones are converting because of your partner. So this is why I say maybe there's a little bit of a foundation. Um, separately from that, you know, you can start to use embedded forms for partner recruitment, creating those partner profiles. Um, I always say before you invest in, um, anything the lowest hanging fruit that you can do is, set up a partner page on your website, like how, what the little investment for something like this that can now start to capture inbound interest from someone who's just naturally coming to your website, sees that you have a partner program, it's not hidden, and then they can actually join and you can collect that information.
Who are they? What's the audience that they serve, and start to create these profiles without even really maybe having a fully fleshed out partner program? So, um, little things like that can be done through HubSpot. Now, once we wanna start tracking ROI, creating automation, um, and really being able to provide the partners with a solid partner experience, that's when investing in something like PartnerStack will come into play.
Pete: What do you see people doing then if they have HubSpot and they're trying to then attribute sales to the partners, what are the typical things that you see them doing then? What tools are they using if they're not using a partner relationship management tool, like partner state?
Negar: I'm sure anybody listening right now who doesn't have PartnerStack or any other similar tool will be saying "Preach" because spreadsheets are the way to go in this case.
You don't have a way to provide your partners with your CRM. Like there's, there's, you know, very little chance that we're gonna give them access and they can see everything that lives in our CRM, and so the problem that arises there is, you know, we'll have someone, and I was speaking to someone, um, not too long ago who was relying on spreadsheets exclusively. So what he tells me is, okay, now every single day I'm going into the spreadsheet. I'm cross-referencing with my partner, making sure that the opportunities that they're bringing don't already exist in my HubSpot instance. Um, then I'm going back to the spreadsheet and every so often I'm updating, making sure, okay, here's what the contract value looks like.
Um, here's where we're at in the deal stage. Um, and then they have to remember when to pay the partner. So typically it's this mix of, um, email. Spreadsheets and the CRM, which then really creates a ton of manual work. And so this, uh, particular individual was just like, okay, I can't scale my program anymore with these spreadsheets. Um, and so it was really a great case where we can say, okay, let's start to automate and create these checks and balances so that you're not constantly checking between opportunities that partners are bringing in and, um, whether or not they already exist in your CRM or, um, a salesperson is already working them for that like, any, uh, potential conflict that can arise in those cases with partners. So yes, typically it is like spreadsheets, emails, maybe, um, a little bit of HubSpot mixed in there.
Pete: Yeah, good old spreadsheets. Uh, I remember reading that, uh, even Airbnb was run on spreadsheets right at the very beginning, but, uh, not for very long. Um, do you have a rule of thumb Negar of, uh, like how many partners or deal volume, the sort of things as they look, this is now beyond the spreadsheet, you really need another tool? Like what are some of the indicators?
Negar: I would say, uh, it's difficult to say because maybe you have one partner and, and, um, you know, we always have this, uh, rule of thumb where there's, you know, 20% of your partners who are driving 80% of your volume, so you could have maybe one partner theoretically who is driving you a ton of business and managing all of that in one spreadsheet is too much. So it really comes down to. A few different key indicators. How many partners do you have? Um, how many leads are you typically getting per month or, um, yeah, uh, per month, and then, um, I would say, how big is your team? Are you a one-man team trying to manage these all on your own? Um, even at like five leads per. That can start to get complex. Are these large deals? Are they long sales cycles? How often am I communicating with the partner? Um, I think at scale, when you think about partner communication, there are certain things that you wanna be able to automate right off the get-go.
So if I'm an affiliate program for example, I might not be talking to all of my affiliates every single day, so when they join my program, let's make it really easy to send off communication so that I'm not providing them with, you know, the top five resources that they might need every single time someone joins.
Um, versus then over time, when I start to see someone who's really successful, that's when I can, you know, be a little bit more hands-on as a program manager and focus on that 20% rather than the full 100%. And it actually brings me to an interesting story, um, where I was speaking with another UK-based company, um, where she was the only one managing a program. Um, I believe that there were about a hundred partners in this program. Her team was laid off, so she became the only person, and wow. They had to cut the 80% of their partners. They just took them out of the program and she said, I'm gonna focus on these 15 because I cannot work with a hundred by myself. And so the question to her is, how do you scale a program like that when you're working out of spreadsheets, when you, you know, have no automation? It's very difficult.
Pete: So you lose the revenue even though that other 80 % they were producing no revenue, but it just wasn't economic to keep running it.
So on our title for today then on how to do more revenue with PartnerStack and HubSpot, what other stories come to mind from your experience, Negar, of ways that you've seen more revenue driven? What is it that drives more revenue?
Negar: That is a really great question and I think it kind of brings me back to the point, um, that I was just talking about where if you are only able to focus on these 10 to 15, but maybe these other 80, uh, partners that you had, were bringing in one or two here and there.
That's not 'No revenue', so we're still leaving money on the table by ignoring these other 80. And so as you start to scale and, and this is kind of the conversation that we were having together, how do we create these processes so that you can continue to nurture your 10 to 15 that you really care about, but now you're also creating a cadence for this other 80% that maybe are now becoming more enabled to um, to sell more, to understand your brand better, um, to create that kind of brand, um, loyalty.
And so there's a few, a few ways. One conversation that I was having not too long ago with an American-based company was the time that they would spend between, you know, updating contacts, checking, cross referencing their spreadsheet with HubSpot to see, okay, is this an existing opportunity? When was the last time we spoke to this person? Um, and so in this case we were able to create these checks and balances that say, you know, anytime this partner has registered this lead in partner stack, we're going to automatically check your HubSpot instance. Is this already a lead? Is this already a contact, where do they sit? And then from there let's create different rules. So if they don't exist, let's create a new lead. Let's assign that to a salesperson. And that salesperson can go and work the lead as normal. They don't need to learn a new tool. Um, and, and we can kind of continue working with the partner. We don't have to worry about engaging our sales team or if this is already a deal, okay? Do we wanna bring the partner into the conversation? We know that, um, once we start to attach more partners to deals, we can close more revenue. So let's get rid of that, you know, conflict that we might have seen prior. And let's start figuring out ways where we can start to attach partners to more deals. Close more revenue, and make it really easy for those partners, to drive us those new leads or new deals.
Pete: Bringing partners in on deals if the vendors have started their business primarily on a direct sales-led type approach, and then the partnering model is kind of added on, uh, after the fact, then have you seen e examples of where you can see an opportunity for greater revenue, but initially that, uh, if anything it was like paying tax to have to pay partners as well. Why not just close the deals themselves and keep all the commission?
Um, any examples of where you, you've seen them, the struggle of, uh, getting, getting past that direct sale hesitation about bringing a partner in?
Negar: I think it is a very common perspective to be weary of, you know, this, this, um, sometimes sep separation between a direct sales team and a partnerships team. Um, , whether it's viewed one way as maybe like, and, and I'm sure a lot of partnerships, people can resonate, like, is partnerships stealing deals from us? Or how, how, how can these organizations actually start to work together better? Um, and I think what's really interesting is it's the way in which you set up your organization. So there are a few things, is your partner team sitting under sales or is it sitting under marketing? If it's a channel, so we're talking more leads, and deals, it'll probably be under sales. And then rather than potentially having this segregation of partnerships only working these opportunities and sales is only allowed to work direct sales leads, how can you start to bring those teams together to create, you know, that synergy so that they know, hey, we have a partner who, or we have a deal who is really in need of these services, and do we have a partner that we might be able to bring into the conversation? Historically, I think when you have, um, these multiple proof points, so as well as another organization in one conversation with a prospect, there's more credibility and it builds that more trust because it's not just us now, it's someone else who's vouching for us as well.
Um, and so enabling sales teams to be able to bring those partners into a conversation and co-sell creates a better synergy. Synergy internally than with your direct sales team and your partnerships team. It's I'd say very difficult to do at first. There's this notion of like a centralized versus a decentralized partner team where you have more of your partnerships embedded throughout your organization.
Um, and I know this is getting a little bit more theoretical here, but I think, um, I think there's this like hybrid model that can exist, where, maybe you first start out and things are very centralized with your partner program, with your partnerships team. Um, and then over time, as you build the right processes, you can start to involve not only sales, but CS or product and, and different internal, uh, stakeholders so that they're more confident, engaging partners.
Pete: So kind of weaving the partnership organization throughout the company as opposed to it being a discreet, separate partner person. Have you seen situations where partner stack, with or without HubSpot has facilitated a transition like that?
Negar: You know what I would say, um, a great example of that is us at PartnerStack. So, um, you know, we are obviously a partnerships organization and we have a partnerships team. Um, and so when we first, um, started building out our own team, I think everything really was flowing through one to two individuals as they were building out the right process. identifying, you know, who is our ideal partner profile.
Um, and that's Nikita, and Nicolette, like they've done an amazing job building out partner stack's own partner program. And then over time, our team grew and so now as we look at all of the different types of partners that we're working with, whether they're agencies, consultants, Distributors app partners, we can create amazing processes that involve various internal stakeholders, depending on the type of partner that we're working with.
And, um, I think it's been really amazing to watch unfold. It's, um, always a work in process and, you know, nothing will ever be perfect, but it's been really great to have internal support from our, our leadership, our teams, to now start to be able to say, okay, we're building this App partnership, let's bring in sales to this conversation. Let's start enabling them to co-sell with, you know, these other apps' sales teams as well, and build those relationships. Um, so it's definitely been, uh, a very cool process, and obviously, throughout this process, we're using partner Stack to kind of fuel, um, all of these relationships with the, um, external partners that we have.
Pete: It's a great example if you can point to your own experience of, uh, overcoming the challenges there. Um, being in partnerships a long time myself as well of, uh, uh, you really get who is the, uh, the partner peeps and who are maybe less comfortable with, uh, Why do we need to partner on this? Uh, and how does that all work anyway?
So a partner stack really facilitates that. I think you've given us some, some really great examples, Negar of, uh, ways that this drives revenue really by empowering the whole organization to embrace partnering as what I hear, uh, when you jump off the spreadsheet and actually put in a proper tool that facilitates a good tracking, uh, associating the partner who has added value to the deal and all of those things.
Uh, is there a valuable tip or, or resource or anything that you'd like to mention that the listener could take away today? Uh, following our chat?
Negar: Yes, definitely. Um, so if this is your first time, you're curious about, you know, what a partner program might look like for your organization. Um, a few tips I would say. So what I mentioned earlier, throw a partner landing page on your website. It is such low-hanging fruit. Um, once you have that, you can start, start speaking to the value of your partner program and start collecting that data. Who's interested? what's their audience? Why are they interested? And now you've started to build a proof, a proof case that says, okay, there are people who are interested, they're asking us, let's pursue this.
Um, and then I'd say, start to think about, you know, where will this live in the organization and which strategy makes the most sense for us? Is it that we want this to be more of a marketing play that's driving, brand recognition and traffic to our website? Or is this something where we think we can create these really valuable one-to-one relationships with agencies and consultants? And I think once you start to figure out, you know, who that ideal partner profile is and where they might live in the organization, you can really start to flesh things out from there. And one last, one last plug. I would say, um, partner Stack is always hosting amazing webinars and putting out really great resources so if you just keep an eye, um, on our website or on our resources page, um, we just had Dor Winter from monday.com speaking about how they've. You know, exploded their referral program through PartnerStack. Um, we've had Apollo on there, so we've had so many different organizations come and they share their secrets all the time. We have case studies and, and guides, so it's a great place to look too for really great content as well.
Pete: That's a really good tip. So we'll put links to that in the show notes for people who are interested in, uh, following that up and, uh, and getting the extra tips. So Negar it's been an absolute pleasure talking with you today. Uh, what is the best way for people to connect with you?
Negar: Cool. Love it. I'm so glad to have been here. It was really fun. You can connect with me on LinkedIn. Um, I can share maybe a calendar link with you, um, that people can also directly book a time with me afterward, but I'd say, um, those are the best ways.
Pete: Fantastic. Look, Negar, thank you so much for your time.