In today’s episode, we’re bringing on a world-renowned professional who has been a long-standing expert in the partnerships industry, to discuss the most recent trends in partner ecosystems practices, as well as predictions for 2023, and a general forecast of what we should expect in the evolution of the partnerships space with regards to ecosystems.
Today's guest is Jay McBain. Jay is the chief analyst of “channels, partnerships & ecosystem” at Canalys – a market analyst firm with a distinct channel focus.
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Host: Paul Bird
Executive Producer: Fereshta Nouri
Content & Research: Fereshta Nouri
Graphics & Branding: Fereshta Nouri
Paul Bird: Welcome to the show, Jay, it's an absolute pleasure to have you here.
Jay McBain: Well, thank you so much for having me looking forward to this.
Paul Bird: Well, let's start with the basics.
Can you essentially define what a partnership ecosystem means in the context of today's discussion?
Jay McBain: Yeah, I mean, we've been talking for close to 40 years about channels.
We know that today in every industry, 75% of world trade goes through channels. It goes through retailers or resellers distributors. It goes through brokers or agents.
Every industry has their own dealerships or their own type of channels of distribution, and that's what channels is short for, is how your product gets to market.
It is basically people who collect the customer's money on your behalf. And all of the programs, and the people and everything wrapped around that, go to market action, is the broader channel. And there's about 10 million people today in that channel around the world.
If you look on LinkedIn, the ecosystem is, very simply, just to disconnect that point of sale.
We know that partners help customers through the first 28 moments on average in a considered purchase before they make vendor selection. We know that partners assist the point of transaction, even if they don't collect the money.
Today, in marketplaces, for example – direct marketplaces – partners click the buy button 24% of the time. So they didn't collect the money, but they literally had their finger on the mouse, making the purchase, and then, obviously, in today's economy, a subscription consumption economy.
That purchase is only the first 30 days with the customer.
Now, you need to renew and retain that customer.
You need to upsell and cross sell and enrich them, every 30 days forever, in a customer journey.
Now, that never ends. And we know the partners are involved every 30 days forever.
The average customer today has seven partners that they trust. One or less of those partners might ever collect their money.
So we're talking about the value that partners bring, more so, and maybe adjacent to the point of sale.
And those two things added together become the broader ecosystems.
Paul Bird: Interesting, and what do you think some of the misconceptions are about partner ecosystems.
Jay McBain: Well, one of the misconceptions is just this idea, well, they've been around forever, and this is just the way the world works, and it's synonymous with channel – but it's really not.
The proper – if you're an ecosystem executive, which 20 of the biggest companies now in the last 12 months, have added what's called a Chief Partner Officer.
And this is different because the channel chief of the past, more times than not – almost two thirds of the cases, reports into sales, the CRO or into marketing, or some other line of business as a go-to-market or a routes-to-market strategy.
The Chief Partner Officer sits in the boardroom, reporting to the CEO, and they're responsible, and if you look at their KPIs, it looks very different, than revenue and profit, and customer set – what you'd expect it to.
It's things like:
These are kind of the new stories.
Driving technology alliances, as every company in every industry becomes a tech company.
You saw that at CBS last week in cars and bulldozers, and basically every industry is showing off their wares as technology companies living with others.
You see that at a company like IBM, which yesterday announced that for the first time in 30 years, they didn't win the patent race.
They did that on purpose.
For 29 years, they've been the most innovative company in the world in patents, but most of us would never think of IBM as the most innovative, at least for the last 10 or 20 years. But in the patent race, they were missing that conception, what they call open innovation today.
Then, it's not about the patent race, it's about working together and sharing IP and sharing some of that data where you can bring all the best minds to the table and innovate based on particular customers and things.
So, they're not interested anymore in that novelty metric, they're interested now in investing into this open innovation space.
So that's an example of where you're seeing changes in people.
You're seeing changes in business strategy, you're seeing surveys done by big companies like McKinsey and Accenture and others that show 70% + of CEOs think that ecosystems are their future.
It's not about product strategy, It's not about the market fit and segmentation, and all the other hundreds of things that they're worried about.
It's literally working with others, and becoming those tech companies, changing their models, and everything else.
Paul Bird: So that concept of co-innovation, people that I've spoken to, some of them embrace it, and others have noticed that they're having challenges with it in order to kind of establish those relationships within their ecosystem.
Do you have any insight or predictions on the types of things people can do to kind of bridge that gap and to better collaborate, and better innovate together?
Jay McBain: Yeah, I mean, there's a number of things.
So, the first thing is, culture.
Many companies, almost every company starts direct.
They grow up in a very:
By the way, you get no help as a startup, so that's what you have to do.
You have to go get market fit for your product. You have to go and build a sales and marketing engine that's repeatable and scalable.
And at that point, at some point, in the history of the channel, we'd always talk about franchising.
Once you've built the perfect hamburger, the perfect cup of coffee or donut, now the idea is, How do I get a restaurant on every street corner in the world to distribute those things with the biggest scale?
That startup, once they get product fit, once they get customers renewing, once they get something that's working, it's: How and when should we start to acquire resellers and distributors and dealers and agents or whoever else, and how can we go and build this franchise around the world to get us on every street corner?
But in channels today, ecosystems, it's not about that point of franchising, which is still there. It's at that point of partnering, which actually starts day one.
If you're one of the 200,000 SaaS companies today, you're literally a partnering company from day one, because you're living on rented land.
You've built your product with AWS, or Google, or Microsoft, you built your product with a Salesforce, HubSpot, ServiceNow, Workday, Marketo, NetSuite.
You're building in a community, and you're building on using tools that put you in an ecosystem from day one.
Your ability to be successful, building with AWS or building with a big SaaS company, is your community work, and your ability to go and work with partners from the very beginning, to be part of a seven-layer solution.
Which is now the average buy for anybody purchasing AWS, or anybody purchasing Salesforce or HubSpot or anything. It's seven layers of the stack, so you're competing, not to displace the platform but to become one of the six other things that the customer buys.
Involves partners from the day you incorporate your company.
Paul Bird: Interesting.
Now earlier, you also mentioned as part of the kind of relationship and now the adoption and embracing of marketplaces.
Do you think that we will see a higher level of importance placed on marketplaces in the future, and what do you think that has on the overall effect of the channel ecosystem or the partner ecosystem?
Jay McBain: So marketplaces are growing phenomenally and there's a bunch of reasons that we could get into but, companies like McKinsey has forecasted B2B marketplaces, cross-industry B2B will be $17 trillion by the end of the decade, 2030.
If you think of 17 trillion, that's a lot of trillions.
Today's global GDP, in other words, the total global economy today is 94 trillion, and that involves a lot of B2C, and a lot of other interchange of capital.
When you just think B2B, that is a massive, massive number.
So we at Canalys, we're thinking cloud marketplaces to take an element of that, will be 45 billion in a couple of years.
That's a pretty good chunk, and it's a growth of 85% every year, compounded at least for the next few years, then probably for the next decade.
So, you could be facing a technology industry today, which is 73.3% resold, through others, for the hardware, software, and services attached to maybe industry, that's a third, a third, a third:
So, that's different, and it doesn't mean that resale is going down, it just means it's not going to grow.
If you look at the technology industry for example, it's a $4 trillion industry in terms of what businesses and governments spend on technology.
That's 73%, that trillions of dollars that go through resell today will stay put.
The growth as this industry doubles in size over the next decade will mostly be attributed to marketplace growth and direct will stay actually pretty close to the same as well.
So nobody's selling books here or magazines are trying to get clickbait, saying anything is dying.
It's just we want to see where the fastest growing is, and that's the focus on marketplaces.
If you're acquiring seven different things, instead of chasing a partner that has to go make seven relationships, get seven special pricing scenarios done, you wait three months to get a quote, it's better to go do that in one place.
You can cash in enterprise credits, which float above all seven of those companies or the tens, or hundreds of thousands and sit on those marketplaces, and you can get extra discounts.
So the partner value may not be at the point of sale, collecting the customer's money, because the marketplace does that.
But, again, the partner working before and after that point of sale, the partner working and innovating with you.
You can move your gross-to-net margins in a different way to multi partner offers, and private offers to a marketplace, so that everyone is whole.
In this case, you're running a go to market strategy with just the marketplace collecting the customer's money instead of some type of reseller distributor relationship.
Paul Bird: Interesting, as we start to look at trends that you're seeing, or that you think we'll see in 2023, where do you think we'll see the kinda key area, or major area of focus on partner ecosystems this year?
Do you think there'll be any one specific area that we'll start seeing organizations put cycles into?
Jay McBain: We're seeing that actually, in four areas, we're seeing a lot of changes in people.
If you've grown up for decades in your career, and all you've done is run a transactional channel, that's a key element of an ecosystem, and that's a career path in a job linear path there that has great riches at the end if you reach the highest levels
But we're now seeing 20 new Chief Partner Officers, and they're hiring new executives.
Now, that executive of channel marketing is not just to go and run through channel marketing, gain leads, and close deals.
That person is probably deploying their team into the direct marketing, and that embedded team is going to work on those first 28 moments, 24 or more of those moments owned by partners.
That team's going to work as an indirect-direct marketing house trying to win all 28 moments before vendor selection.
You're gonna deploy a secondary executive as a sales leader, not closing deals with distributors and resellers, but embedding them into your direct and marketplace departments, so that they're recognizing partners. So, seven trusted partners in every deal. They're recognizing them, working with them so they're not providing friction, they're actually providing support to close that direct or marketplace deal.
They don't see it as channel conflict, because they're not interested or they never have been interested in collecting the customer's money.
You deploy them in customer success, which is your third executive. A partner-customer success executive that works with managed service providers (MSPs), works with system integrators (SIs), works with everyone that's out there, that's with your customer every 30 days forever, and making sure that your:
All these different metrics are quantified and your customer success team is working both as a partner and direct organization
So partnering is no longer a department, it's now deployed across the organization. You've got partnering executives in your product team.
Because you're building out a tech company, you gotta be API first. You gotta think about it, and doesn't matter if you're in finance, insurance, pharmaceuticals, manufacture, it doesn't matter where you are, your product has to interoperate.
79% of people will not buy a new car unless it has Apple car-play, so if you're starting out, designing a new electric car, no, I gotta have somebody focused on that apple relationship.
It doesn't matter how good the range is, or how good the looks of the car are,or how safe it is.
Literally I'm going to lose four fifths of my audience if it doesn't have a feature.
Paul Bird: Absolutely.
Jay McBain: These are the types of things that are now driving product innovation.
And when I talk about co innovation, it's, “wouldn't that car be better if you integrate it with transportation as a service”, you leap all the self driving and all these new models of getting from Point A to Point B, that for our grandkids, may not involve ever buying a car.
But having one readily available within a few minutes, and it knows when you're going to Home Depot to send you a F 150 lightning, it knows if you're going on a date to send you a little convertible, maybe even a stick shift, know if you're going to the airport, it's gonna send you a little cube van with a lazy boy recliner and all the technology and big screen TV depending on what you need, to be the best experience to get from point A to point B, that's what's going to show up five minutes before you need it.
You're gonna subscribe to transportation, you're not gonna buy transportation if I'm building my product with that in mind, that's different, and that doesn't come after the fact.
After I built a widget and try to get it to market, it comes from the very early days of design and architecture.
So those are the people reporting into new ecosystem leaders, these chief partner officers, that would never have worked in a transactional channel before.
Paul Bird: That really goes to talking about culture, right?
The change in culture to support ecosystems, that's very much what it would take to get this level of evolution.
Jay McBain: Yeah, and if your boss is sitting in the boardroom, and the CEO is one of those, 76% of CEOs think that ecosystems are their future.
For the first time in partnerships, we're getting top-down support.
We've always kind of been the Rodney Dangerfield, we've been the people that don't get respected.
You know, it's been that thing that no one understands and now it's becoming core to the business, which is great for everyone.
We can talk about a raft of program changes, Microsoft went to a big point system last year, IBM on Friday changed their system and Octus changed their system, and smart sheets changed their system and VMware changed their system.
You're gonna see 35,000 vendors go through this change, instead of paying at the point of sale or recognizing partner value by the point of sale, they're going to recognize partner value, at that point of value, before, during, or after the transaction, in those points of technology, strategic, or business alliances, in those points of co innovation, and network effects and value creation.
So, all these points systems are doing is lifting the gross-to-nets, the money, the margins, and spreading it more equally across all of those seven partners that are trusted at every one of your customer prospects, and paying them for the value they're providing back to your organization.
So, those program changes are going to be huge, and you're going to see weekly announcements through 2023 of companies, and I know the next dozen that are going to come up with these announcements very shortly.
They're going to drive new ways to be educated and develop partners and build out competencies.
All of the incentive structures that have been built for 40 years around that point of sale or changing how marketing and marketing dollars work, and all that's going to work to partners that would never even sell a nickel, might be some of your best partners.
Then, down the road to how you co-sell and how you co-market and do all these other things, it's pretty radically shifting.
You've got new people driving these new methods and that leads to the technology.
We're seeing an explosion of innovation, we're seeing Wall Street start to get interested with over $3 billion of equity investments last year, and you're seeing new islands of innovation pop up.
And the channel stack almost looks like the sales or marketing or other stacks today where hundreds of companies now are there. And maybe it's a seven layer stack to solve for all of these executives and all their KPIs, and all the measurements and monitoring and managing they need to do.
No media gets solved with one end-to-end platform.
Paul Bird: And that's interesting, because do you think that 2023 will be kind of a breakthrough year for some of these emerging technologies like machine learning and AI that have been around for a long time?
Do you think that it's going to have an impact on the partner ecosystem this year?
Jay McBain: Obviously it's in the headlines and magazines and newspapers today is obviously about chat AI, and we're questioning the future of journalism and our kids who are writing book reports at school and things like that.
I'm gonna say it's gonna spend most of 2023 in the consumer space.
AI and machine learning is critical within the toolset of the channel stack.
There's a ton of data.
With that data, there's no humans that could possibly correlate and pull that data out of the data lake to make it actionable.
So it's a critical layer.
If you're saying, though, Is that a headline, is it going to take over the world? I don't think so.
I think that there's something that's more important than that, which is automation, and the average ecosystem.
So if you take a mature channel inside a mature company and this could be in any industry.
It could be a mature channel, one that has a thousand partners or 10000 partners, where in some cases, as with tech, you know, 100,000 or more partners.
The ecosystem is almost 10 times the size.
So AWS, which has 120,000 partners today, has about a million people out there that have some level of influence.
They're one of those seven partners that are in and trusted by that customer.
So, the AWS channel is about 120,000, but the broader ecosystem, if they touch and eliminated that friction completely, we'd be closer to one million.
At every company in every industry, it's almost the same 10 time multiple.
Now, you've got 500 dealerships today selling your lawn tractors. Well, if you look in those first 28 moments before I buy a John Deere and look at everything I read, everything I listen to, every place I go, all the super connectors I listened to and trust.
If you dissect those 28 moments before my lawn tractor purchase, you start to recognize that there are 5000, not 500 dealers, but 5000 additional points of influence.
So my ecosystem in lawn tractors involves:
It involves other distributors and vendors and adjacent types of industry.
So there's a map of 14 spheres of influence, it's not just about the dealership organization who trains dealers and pays dealers and incense them and does all the work in that transactional channel.
The marketing, the sales, customer success, and product groups have to start looking expensively across the 5000, many of them in our ISVs.
They connect with the Internet of Things and connect with AI and machine learning and maybe you don't actually have to sit on that tractor anymore.
It mows the lawn once a week for you, and you can set it and forget.
And John Deere isn't building self driving technology, but there's hundreds of companies that are.
So that's the thing, John Deere might acquire one of these companies.
John Deere is better off today at partnering because when I sit on my tractor, if I choose to do that, I actually want an Apple dashboard, kinda like buying a car.
I want an Apple cart, I don't want to stare at their speedometer, I want to stare at Apple’s speedometer.
I want to get on and I want to have access to all of my life, on that tractor.
If I'm going to be sitting around for a couple of hours, I gotta make that time useful.
I could be listening to this podcast, I could be getting educated, I could be getting entertained, I could be working out, throw a little ab machine on it or something, whatever it is.
It moves John Deere to find the 5000 adjacent companies, many of them at CES last week that are rethinking mowing the grass.
Paul Bird: For sure, What about challenges, do you foresee any challenges that organizations could face in building and managing their ecosystems in this coming year?
Jay McBain: Yeah, there's a, there's a ton of them.
If I go back to technology, you're talking about something 10x larger and most people can't manage what they have:
If you ask them to do 10x more and obviously we're going through a recessionary period and light layoffs and all that stuff, teams are probably going to be less than the investments their company or making into their department is going to be less.
It seems to be divergent in terms of having to grow 10X with less resources and less people.
And so, back to automation, it behooves many of the companies on the tech stack, as well as the consultants and thought leaders in this industry, is to put forward a vision of software/hardware services, and other things that can help with that challenge.
And I don't think that's going away anytime in the next 18 months.
The most successful partnership leaders are going to be the ones that, look at these people, and program, process, automation and technology challenges, and have the best approach to balance all four.
Paul Bird: Interesting, what about the relevant metrics that people should be looking at?
Is there some kind of success-tracking metrics that you've seen people use in today's current climate?
Jay McBain: Now, the interesting thing is, the best way to break down metrics is to go down the line of business.
If you go talk about marketing ops, there's 9932 companies on the MarTech stack, they're all driving out data.
There's a whole list of thousands of marketing ops, you just need to put the word partner in front of every single metric.
Because up until now, we're measuring a lot of very direct things, which is a very minor part of those 28 moments.
If you add in all of the different moving parts, you add in technologies like attribution, you add in technologies like data sharing and account mapping types of services.
If you add in other technologies, you can start to measure and monitor many of these early moments which add to those marketing type metrics that get reported up to the organization.
They shouldn't be a separate set of metrics, same thing for sales, same thing for customer success, same thing for product.
All the metrics and every line of business, operations, finance, need to be augmented with partner KPIs.
For every one of those sales Ops, marketing ops, thin ops, ops, HR ops, they should be augmented with embedded teams that are enriching those KPIs with partner data, and we're very much on the early stages of that.
We're maybe in the first or second inning of where marketing ops might be in the 8th inning, and sales ops might be in the early 9th inning.
You know, we're still early in the decade of really furnishing the complete story, and that can only be done from within.
Paul Bird: Do you have any kind of examples of people that have gotten it right?
They've been extraordinarily successful in kicking off their ecosystem, maybe somebody that is specifically in the B2B space?
Jay McBain: I can talk about several companies.
Look at the very top, the biggest company in the world in the channel is Microsoft.
They have a daunting challenge to rework their business out of the windows and office, and kind of legacy client server business that they're in, get into cloud and they had a formidable AWS which had a multi-year head start and they use the channel to their advantage.
They have 470,000 partners, and over the course of five or more years, they're able to convince about 30% of them to become cloud aware and cloud friendly.
But they also went on a massive recruiting campaign where today they're up to 400 new partners joining every single day.
They leveraged that enterprise army of partnerships and they've outgrown AWS now 12 straight quarters during a pandemic.
Most would argue that in that space, Microsoft doesn't have the product portfolio as wide and deep
They don't have the legacy as deep and long, maybe even the brand.
But when they have more of those seven trusted people at every customer, providing less friction and maybe steering the customer during those moments, they found a way to success using an ecosystem, and be able to transfer part of their transactional ecosystem or channel that they've had in the past, which has been very robust, but take on hundreds of thousands of new partners, that are wired into the cloud, and wired into this new way of doing business, and created success there.
So that's an example in the cloud world.
We've had successfulls, like a HubSpot, that came out of almost nowhere and became a $47 billion company.
You wonder, they were a great inbound marketing company at the beginning, and they kinda broke new ground in how to do marketing.
But about midway through the marketing decade, they were behind Marketo and Eloqua, all companies have gotten acquired by Oracle, and Salesforce, and Adobe, and they were kind of the last remaining, non acquired company.
But they invested, the owner of that martech stack, the 9932, they brought him in as an Ecosystem Chief, Scott Brinker.
They've hired successfully the last couple of years, really ecosystem friendly people.
Out of that 200,000 digital agencies that serve a CMO, 78% of them now report that they're tech services companies, and the majority would report HubSpot as the ticket to get over to that really rich service.
And so, they’ve looked at partners and they've looked at a CMO that spends more money on technology than the CIO at many companies, the channel that's already trusted, and built out that partnerships, they built out the tech alliances, they built out all the layers of the stack that have now made HubSpot a leader, and obviously a market winner, in this space, by using ecosystem, as opposed to creating new feature function by doing inbound marketing better, by hiring better salespeople, it hasn't been a traditional strategy.
It's been a “we're going to be a platform and we're going to be the most friendly company in this space, most integrated, company in this space”.
Paul Bird: Do you think that there are any kind of, you're talking about HubSpot and yes, I mean, they came out of nowhere it seems, but is there any kind of underrated or maybe underused technologies that people can better make use of to manage their ecosystems?
Jay McBain: I mean the main one is when you start to think of a point system and go back to that point of value that we talked about.
You know it could be an early stage partner that wrote a blog or recorded a podcast.
It could be a later stage partner, a perspective partner that you know built a CPQ configure price quote tool.
It could be some sort of analysis website, I mean, whatever it is across those 28 moments, it gets to the point where, how do we monitor and measure that stuff?
So, making a partnership is one thing that's non-transactional, but the other thing is there funding available for if they wrote an e-book that happens to cash in twice as many customers if they read that e-book in our favor?
Could we get them to write five more e-books?
Is there an automated way that I can recognize their value, quantify their value, then go back and know that the next dollar I'm going to spend ought to go there for the best projected return on investment.
That's a little bit of AI, but that's a little bit of human capability, to program that AI, to recognize that.
And it's also a lot of partnerships to be able to go and get access to that data, and be able to share in that data.
And there's companies that do through Channel Marketing really, really well
I can think of one here, and building out those capabilities, and it could be using the tool itself, or it could be using adjacent marketing tools
But the most information is going to win the future.The bigger the data lake, and the better processing of that data lake, to be predictive and prescriptive.
And so your next best dollar just doesn't go to distribution, it just doesn't go to the old places.
Hiring a new sales rep, there's a new competition for that next dollar, and it's up to partner professionals to go and work every single angle at every single moment, before, during, and after the transaction, work every moment and co-innovation to figure out where that next dollar should go.
Paul Bird: So as we start to wrap things up, do you have any advice that you could share with organizations that want to get the most out of their partner ecosystem this year, knowing that it may be a challenging year for some?
Any advice on things that they can do to get the most out of that initiative?
Jay McBain: Yeah, I mean, the one thing that I see almost a 100% failure rate of, is organizations taking an ecosystem or channel approach that is only top-down.
All of us learned in college that let's take the top three things and hit a homerun.
I have to remind people every day that winning in the channel, winning an ecosystem which is 10 times larger, is a game of Moneyball.
We have to get people on base, we have to hit singles, and rather than going to the biggest event and spending the most money and put in 50 people around a 50 by 50 booth, dissecting that and going to 20 or 30 events instead. Showing up, coming into grassroots, the bottom-up strategy in parallel.
You're gonna hit the biggest sellers, you're going to hit the biggest distributors, and the top-down strategy is an enterprise strategy.
It's based on account based marketing and everything else.
Almost everyone is a black belt in this, especially at larger companies.
The thing that they're all missing is this idea that I can go one to many.
Most partners, the average partner, by the way, size is eight people, and the average partner, 50% of them don't make money consistently.
This is cross industry:
You’re dealing with a different demographic, you're dealing with people that you have to handle through community, and whether they:
There's 14 spheres of influence in every single industry.
Every single opportunity, whether you sell security, whether you sell lawn tractors, there's a law of a few.
Almost every industry I've ever looked at across the board comes down to about a thousand watering holes.
It comes down to about 100 superconductors.
These are the people that are onstage that sit on the Board of the Association that are on this podcast as a guest of yours, that are just out there, that are omnipresent on social media.
So these are the hundred most important people to the future of the organization, and here's the thousand places where they're trusted.
And they confirm the platform they've earned the milk box to stand on.
And every company, 99.9% of the companies I talked to, don't know the thousand watering holes.
They don't know who the hundred people are, and they just go back to spending more money at their biggest partner, which doesn't have the same return.
Paul Bird: Very, very insightful.
All right. Well, thank you so much for being a guest on the show today, Jay. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and having you here.