Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales & Partnerships Podcast

33 - Gen AI & How You Can Add Digital Workers to Your Partnerships Team with Alden Hultgren

March 21, 2024 Magentrix Season 1 Episode 33
Partner Relationship Management (PRM): The Ultimate Channel Sales & Partnerships Podcast
33 - Gen AI & How You Can Add Digital Workers to Your Partnerships Team with Alden Hultgren
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

How does one begin to integrate AI into their partner programs? Alden Hultgren provides practical advice, from mapping out automation opportunities to designing partner experiences that are not just functional but delightful. 

She envisions a future where digital workers become integral to partnership teams, streamlining processes and freeing up human talent to focus on strategic initiatives. Her mantra? Dream big — the technology is ready for you.

(00:32) Guest intro: Alden Hultgren
(03:27) Alden on growing a $1MM partnerships practice to $25MM
(05:16) Strategies Alden used at Salesforce to grow their partnerships beyond $100 MM
(07:21) Alden's tools for partner management
(09:29) GenAI: Reshaping traditional channel partnership roles
(11:36) Strategic approach to gen AI for partnership professionals + skills do you believe will help partnerships professionals survive & thrive within the gen AI landscape
(13:06) Gen AI's affect on longevity in a career in partnerships
(13:56) Conversational AI Orchestration Platform & its role in partnerships
(15:58) Gen AI digital workers' role in partnerships
(18:22)  Designing digital workers in partnerships & optimizing the experience for partners
(20:11)  Digital workers: who's done it well
(22:01)  Strategies for integrating gen AI into partner programs to create value-added services
(24:05)  Challenges related to the rapid evolution of Gen AI technology
(25:03)  Can Gen AI help with the partner experience?
(27:05)  Alden on most significant achievement with gen AI in partnerships
(28:25)  What vendors need to keep in mind as they leverage Gen AI for partnerships in the near future

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Magentrix is a pioneer in platforms for partner ecosystem management and partner relationship management 🤝

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Podcast Credits:
Host: Paul Bird
Executive Producer: Fereshta Nouri
Content & Research: Fereshta Nouri
Graphics & Branding: Fereshta Nouri

Paul Bird: Our guest today has been in the partnership space for more than 15 years. Her expertise include strategic partnerships, generative AI, conversational AI, and building and managing global ecosystems of consulting partners, technology partners, as well as cloud solution providers. At Twilio, she grew the consulting reseller partner ecosystem to over 500 global partnerships, consistently delivering 100% year over year growth in partner influenced opportunities. At Salesforce, she led a team that owned the strategic ISV and agency relationships worth more than $100 million. And most recently, she worked as VP of partnerships at Onereach AI. Today she's with us to talk about Gen AI, how you can add digital workers to your partnership team. Please welcome Alden Hultgren. Welcome to the show, Alden. It's great to have you here.

Alden Hultgren: Thanks Paul. Thanks for having me.

Paul Bird: So tell us a little bit about some of the highlights of your career in the channel so far. Covered a lot of it, but I know there is much more. So what else should we know about you?

Alden Hultgren: Honestly, the highlight has just been, I think, having a variety of experiences across a variety of partner types at amazing companies like Salesforce and Twilio and Onereach. I look at my career as a huge learning opportunity. And so being able to get in early at Salesforce and work there for almost ten years across all of the various partners, helping partners grow from inception to over 25 million to 100 million dollar practices and being on that ride with them is really exciting. So I've loved every aspect of my career thus far.

Paul Bird: So what about your various experience with AI? can you give us kind of a highlight reel there?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah. So I joined Onereach AI about three months after chat GPT took off, and from there it was really diving deep into Gen AI and conversational AI and starting to understand just how impactful it was going to be to every company, to every person's job going forward. In the eight months that I was at onereach, I watched so much innovation happen, so many amazing technologies and companies coming together where the issue wasn't, is the tech ready? The issue is, are the people ready to actually embrace the tech? Because it can rapidly change any job out there. And so I was a team of one when I started and I was ready to start scaling and I immediately had to start thinking, well, how can I actually use AI to help me automate and grow in lieu of being able to grow a team at that time?

Paul Bird: So tell us a little bit about what you're doing now, then?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah, I'm actually looking for my next role. You'll hear today I'm deeply passionate about AI, and I hope to stay in that space and looking for new opportunity.

Paul Bird: Fantastic. Best of luck for you. So can you share us a little bit about how you managed to grow numerous partnerships from that kind of 1 million to plus 25 million practices? Are there any key takeaways on how you approached and achieved that?

Alden Hultgren: I would say that the most important thing that you can do is really write it down, orient around a plan, making sure that the shared goals align to really, the companies that you're working with, aligning to their growth goals and their focus areas, and making sure that the expectations of everybody involved are aligned and written down. And you just go off of that plan and you execute and you hold every person accountable to making sure that we're moving in the right direction. And if something doesn't work, I always say, fail fast and regroup. And when you work for fast growing companies and when you're in the space, especially right now, I feel like everything's moving lightning fast with AI. It's worth it to go and try some things and see what works and really just making sure that you're spending your time orienting around the things that really end up moving the needle. But I'm a huge fan of, I think, documenting the plan and using that as a way to really create focus. There's a million things that you can go and do to drive revenue, but collectively deciding on the handful, I love three. What are the three things we're going to do over the next six months that we think are going to move the needle, and that plan just becomes the thing that you can always point back to, to hold people accountable to that.

Paul Bird: It still surprises me. People that undertake a partnership initiative and don't have a plan, right, they just want to go, off what's worked in the past, no revisiting or kind of strategic approach that they take. So what strategies did you employ at Salesforce to manage and grow the ISV and agency relationships beyond $100 million? I mean, that's just remarkable.

Alden Hultgren: Yeah, it was an exciting time to join from the ISV side. It was the launch of the app exchange. And so at that point, marketplaces are commonplace now, but, it was kind of the first SaaS marketplace out there at scale. And I helped when I first joined that team. I started as a partner manager, and my territory was west of the Mississippi with me and one other. So you know, a lot of what I had to do was figure out where and how to spend my time and making sure that I was focusing on the right partners. At the time there was a mix of wanting to create quantity and make sure we had a vibrant marketplace, but at the same time focusing my efforts on generating revenue with the partners that I knew we would have the most success with. So being very selective about my time and what actually ended up happening is there wasn't a whole lot of process and operations really on that team. It was brand new. So I started creating it for myself. I started creating my reports and dashboards and customizing the way that I kind of tracked and managed my business. And the leader of the team actually asked, hey, can you take a year and step back and do this for the whole organization? Can you help us actually build out some of those ops and processes? And so I think that as a partner manager, as a partner leader, making sure that you are freeing up your people to spend their time doing the highest value activities through the automation and operationalizing some of those things that just take a lot of time.

That is, I think one of the keys to how we were able to grow that business, spending the right time with the right partners on the right activities. And that's why I think when we think about Gen AI and where all of this is going next, that automation piece now can be supercharged to even give your team more time back to spend time on the right activities with their partners for sure.

Paul Bird: Now, were there any tools that you can share with us that played a significant role in your strategy and how did you leverage those tools for partner management?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah, I mean, at that point, obviously working at Salesforce, Salesforce was the only company out there doing, there wasn't a whole lot of partner tech yet. Right. They had their portal technology which I know has evolved since then. But to me I was really methodical about how I used Salesforce and in fact I was responsible for building out kind of the PRM M function of how the partner managers were managing their business in Salesforce. I know it's gotten much easier today because there's actual PRM software, there's thought given to how partner business needs to be tracked in CRM and portals and all of the different technologies that exist. But at the time I was just super diligent about figuring out how I could customize Salesforce to meet the needs of a partner person and was also a huge data and analytics fan. So I actually built out at the time it was Einstein. I know, it's tableau now, all of the dashboards and reports that I felt like I needed to have the visibility into my business to know who to spend time with. I did that for me and then ended up rolling that out globally as well. So those became the dashboards that we use cross functionally to be able to have that visibility that we needed. Those were the two main things I would say at Twilio. It evolved crossbeam M, some of the automation of account mapping and all of that became so helpful. And then obviously some of the newer technologies around PRM and a lot of the comarketing and partner marketing software as well has gotten a lot better.

Paul Bird: Absolutely. I was an early adopter of Salesforce. I think I stood my first instance up in 2002 or 2003. It was a game changer. It doubled our sales within one year. And we were managing a partner network at that point and had no issues whatsoever. We didn't have a portal for it, we didn't have a PRM, but it gave us insight that we never had before. So, really interesting on the tools that you use. So let's switch over to the gen AI side. Let's start with the basics. How do you think Gen AI, could reshape traditional channel partnership roles?

Alden Hultgren: I think it will impact every role, and I think there's kind of three ways. If I think about it, obviously it's going to impact the partner experience, it's going to impact the employee experience, and then what I would call organizational experience. So how cross functionally, the partner team will interact with the sales team and the finance team and all of the different teams that we work with both internally as well as externally. So there's a variety of partner teams that you're interacting with on a day to day basis as well. I actually was reading in fortune, actually, no, sorry, it was Forbes. They said that they believe that 60% of all occupations have at least 30% automatable activities.

Paul Bird: Wow.

Alden Hultgren: So just imagine, again, going back to the like, if I want my people to be spending their time doing the most high value activities, taking 30% of the work off of their plate and automating, it would be incredibly powerful. And so I think zeroing in on the parts of their day and parts of the partner experience that should be automated, that doesn't necessarily need a human touch, those things that you do over and over again, and the process really doesn't change. And it's kind of that annoying thing that maybe you have to do every week or every month or every quarter. It's a great place to start. And what Genai really did was it put a human face to automation. So rather than it just being this process that you're building, you're actually able to kind of have a human touch and have some of that reasoning, or the ability to update systems and data, just like a human does in a way that we haven't been able to before. So there's no aspect, when I think of the partner lifecycle, there's no aspect of the lifecycle that you couldn't start to think about. How could I automate this using Gen AI?

Paul Bird: Do you think partner professionals will need to approach things more strategically now? And what kind of skills do you think you're going to need to be partnership, professionals to kind of survive and thrive in this landscape?

Alden Hultgren: That's a really good point, because I think for a long time, when I think of the partner managers and the people that I looked after by various teams, it was always this mix of, there's a lot of redundant processes and things that you have to do. You have to do account mapping and you got to do your partner updates. And there's a lot of things that were just kind of, they took a lot of time. They weren't as high value as really diving in more strategically with your partners, understanding their business, making sure they understand your business, so that you're coming up with compelling partnership offers together that are going to actually drive results and revenue. And so if we're talking about that more redundant activities going away, I would say I'm going to start looking for those people who can drive those strategic conversations. If you're somebody who's more entry level and maybe you're finding yourself doing some of those tasks, I would say really understanding what are the more seasoned partner managers, what are those strategic activities with partners look like for the people that are driving the most revenue and success, what are they doing day to day and really familiarizing yourself with that, because that's going to be the future of.

Paul Bird: The role for sure. So how do you think this will have an impact on the longevity of somebody's partnership career? As far as conversational and Gen AI? Will they affect their careers long term?

Alden Hultgren: I think absolutely. I think to my point, when I started, the conversation about this is going to affect every company everywhere. The way we partner, the way that the technology landscape changes altogether means that to me, it's super exciting for partnerships. If we can streamline a lot of the day to day things that take away from us being able to be more strategic, to me, it makes that role much more exciting, not to mention the landscape of opportunities and new companies and new processes and new offerings that you can start to spin up with your partners because of AI.

Paul Bird: So how does that differ when we look at what is kind of conversational AI orchestration and tell us how that plays its role in partnerships?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah. So if you think about Gen AI and what it's enabled, it's really enabled the idea of companies being able to create a digital workforce. So digital workers, Gen AI is just a component of something that you need to build a digital worker. So if you think about a digital worker, they have to be able to communicate and they have to be able to reason, right? You're giving it cognition, essentially, and that's really where LLMs come in. There's other cognitive services that they might need. They might need translation services, they might need computer vision, they might need empathy or sentiment analysis. Right. So there's a lot of different ways that you can kind of build these workers based on the skills that they need.

On top of that, you have the communications channels. Are they able to communicate on email or voice or WhatsApp or slack. Right. And so if you think about all of that, there's a huge amount of orchestration that you need to be able to build this worker and deploy the worker, and then also make sure that you're updating and iterating based on what you learn as they are deployed and how you might want to make changes. And so when people talk about conversational AI, it's really more around the platforms to help orchestrate the deployment and building of those digital workers.

Now, every company out there, large tech company, whether that's Salesforce or ServiceNow, they're all coming out with their own digital workers. Salesforce, you have Einstein, right? Microsoft, you have copilots. And so there's also the orchestration of how these workers will work together, which will be interesting to see how that unfolds. But there's various tools and a lot of different platforms out there that you can start to explore based on kind of where you want to start and what systems you're going to be using.

Paul Bird: How do you envision these digital workers playing a role in partnerships?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah, let's start with the partner experience. I think that that, to me was always the most important thing as I started to think about how I could operationalize and improve, it's how easy is it to do business with you? Because if you make it really hard, they're just going to go somewhere else, right? And so the most complaints that I ever received from partners were often about redundant and cumbersome processes.

And so when I think about those things that partners are having to do over and over again, deal registration, getting deal updates, who do I reach out to for what support tickets, just simple FAQs about where do I go if I want to submit an MDF request. All of these things I think could easily be improved with conversational AI and Gen AI. And I think that there's a lot of low hanging fruit. I mean, just FAQs, alone, support tickets alone, deal registration or deal updates alone, that's actually really not that hard to deploy. So I think from the partner experience that can be drastically improved. And I don't think partners are expecting or needing that human interaction and touch. They really just want to get to the bottom of the information that they're looking for or easily submit the deal that they're looking to register or easily receive an update. They don't necessarily need that human touch that we all offer now because there really isn't an alternative for sure.

Paul Bird: Actually, it was the first thing that Magentrix did when Chat GPT became available is we basically took the deal registration process, integrated it with OpenAI, and now they just email the portal and it extracts all the information from a conversational style email and just register it on their behalf. They don't have to log in at all.

Alden Hultgren: And that's a great point actually, which is my number one tip for people who are like, where do I start? Is look at the technology that you have in place right now. So your portal, your PRM, your CRM, all of it, and get to know the roadmap around what those individual companies are building currently with AI and what's to come as well, because I think that there's a lot of ways to immediately take advantage of Gen AI and a lot of the innovations that those companies are already doing it without feeling like you have to go to market and do a bunch of research to figure out how to put this all together.

Paul Bird: So how do you design the workers in that experience as kind of a different worker that would handle something like FAQs and support tickets as opposed to deal management? Is there any kind of thoughts you have into the design of that experience?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah, I think there could be some shared skills across the workers of what they would need to do and an example of a skill would be update salesforce. Right? They m might need to update Salesforce and so a lot of the platforms make the orchestration of that through kind of drag and drop. If you think about kind of building a flow, which is like somebody comes to the website and they ask for this and kind of building out that process, it should really be oriented around what outcome are you trying to drive more so than worrying about how you're going to do it from the technology perspective. So I would say the most successful deployments that I saw around conversational AI, it was all about design first. It was not about, I need an FAQ bot. Why do you need an FAQ bot? Like really being like, I want to deflect the 50 emails that my partner managers receive a month because that's going to free them up to do this. What are those subjects of those emails? What are the most common questions so that you're really orienting the design around that goal that you have? So, yeah, it tends to just be, yes, perhaps there's some shared skills, but I like to think of a bot, I guess, or a worker as a specific use case.

Paul Bird: And I guarantee you that you got every channel account manager, every partner account manager's attention. When you said update Salesforce, boy, that's something that I'm told to do every day and never do it. So if we've got a digital worker to update Salesforce, sign me up. I guarantee you that will be the next killer app. So do you have any other examples on people that have done this really well?

Alden Hultgren: I think that the people that do it really well, they focus on a couple of aspects as to where to start. And so I think my recommendation is you sort of map out some ideas or the things that you think you would like to automate. And I like to plot it on almost like a little magic quadrant, which is what is going to have the biggest impact, but also how much effort will go into building that. What's the feasibility of that? Right. And what you can find is you can immediately map some high value but low barrier to entry use cases. I think FAQ is like an easy one for a partner portal, right? To be able to literally set this up where it ingests your program guide. And now all of a sudden you have a, way for partners to ask questions about, most likely the questions you receive most often from the partner program, the portal training, whatever it is, it's not that hard to get something like that up and running and it can save a huge amount of time. So really zeroing in on the two or three use cases, get used to the technology, find the right technology that works and then start to create that backlog of opportunities and use cases. For automation and build on the skills and all of the learning along the way so that once you build it once, you don't have to do it again. So if you're building this bot that can update Salesforce, the next one that you build that needs to update Salesforce, being able to share in that logic and a lot of that goes back to the platform that you select and making sure that that's something that it can do. But yeah, reusing those skills across the digital workers I think is something that is really important.

Paul Bird: So I'm thinking about the effects this is going to have on partnerships and partnership teams. Can you share any insights on successful strategies for integrating Gen AI into partner programs to create value added services for the partner network?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah, I mean, I think we talked a lot about the partner experience, the employee experience too, and their ability to create and do more, I think is also a big aspect of this. So if I think about the employee experience, right again, the redundant processes or ensuring people are spending time in the highest value activities, I think about one of the ways that I immediately started to use Gen AI was in training and enablement.

And there are some amazing tools out there where you literally submit text and it creates these AI powered videos with an avatar who's speaking your text as if it's a real person delivering training content, that alone. And when I think about how much time that took to do make it look like it's in the studio, the recording of the sound, getting that person every time to record the videos, the fact that I in like ten minutes, can just go and do that and have a video and it's going to be consistent and it's going to look the same and it's going to sound the same.

Think about how much time and money that saves for just that team alone to free them up to go create even more curriculum content creation, when I think about being a partner manager or in partner marketing, creating white papers and blog posts and the emails that go out and my updates and all of my decks and all of these things, it's pretty remarkable how much time it could free up again to be able to go and do more with the partners.

And so when you ask about value add, to me, the value is having that time to really structure things that I think are going to be generating more success, more joint success, more revenue, more value.

Paul Bird: Have you had to address challenges related to kind of the rapid evolution of Gen AI?

Alden Hultgren: Absolutely. I think that a lot of companies are a little bit nervous to deploy it and I don't blame them. And so I think one of the things that I saw a lot of companies do is think about ways to deploy them for their employees or internal use cases first. And so I talked about a few, right. Essentially the companies that I worked with that wanted to be a little bit more conservative about Gen AI. They started with HR, Intranet, FAQ, they started with it help desk. And then you go to the external or partner facing or customer facing use cases. And so I think that there's a lot of ways to deploy it, to play with it, to test it out where it is lower risk.

Paul Bird: Do you think GenAI can help with partner experience? Like from the whole PX perspective, any best practices that you can recommend for engaging and supporting partners adopting these Genii tools and solutions?

Alden Hultgren: Yeah. So when you're designing an experience that is partner facing, I think one of the most important things you can do is put yourself into the seat of the partner. Don't worry about the technology and just go, man. The best possible experience that I could have, if I'm registering a deal, if I'm submitting a request, would look like this. I would be able to do it on Slack because I'm on Slack all day and I don't want to have to go to a portal and I don't want to have to email. I'm just making this up, right? I want to go on Slack and I want to slack the bot and the deals registered and then it updates me continuously. So dream up the best possible experience that you can from that partner's perspective and then go create it. The tech is ready. I'm telling you it's ready. It's really us feeling like we aren't dreaming big enough as it pertains to the experiences that we can provide our partners. And then I think the partners will use it. If the value is there, if you do it right and you execute it correctly, then they're going to use the technology. They're going to really enjoy working with you to the point of making it easier to do business with you.

So, that's what I would recommend is dream big, think big. And also the other thing that I saw that was really important is not to treat these like just an implementation project. I'm building a bot, they are a worker, and you have to continue to invest in making them better. The tech is changing so quickly that there might be some really cool ways to continue to innovate around what you've already built. So it's not like this one and done. Okay. We've deployed the FAQ bot. It's done. How can we continue to make it better?

Paul Bird: for sure. Invest in your employees, whether they're digital or not. So as we start to wrap up, what's the most significant Gen AI thing that has helped you achieve in your partnership career so far?

Alden Hultgren: Honestly, I have to say it is that speed of creating the content. So at my last role, where I was able to actually use it was I was creating everything from the ground up. The partner program, the guides, the decks, the messaging, the contracts, the marketing messages, you name it, right? For me, thus far it has been around that content creation where I hope it goes. I can see it becoming where we all have our own assistants and I'm able to wake up in the morning and I think conversation is probably the new UI. I don't even want to log into my system. I just want to go, hey, what do I need to know about my day today? Which partner should I call? Can you send a report of all of the financial services deals in the east to that sales leader that's expecting it this morning? That is, to me, the future. Having these assistants that are doing all this work and able to interface, across teams and partners without me even necessarily even having to put my fingers on the keyboard.

Paul Bird: Absolutely. Is there one thing that you'd want vendors to keep in mind when it comes to leveraging gen AI partnerships in the immediate future, like things they can do today?

Alden Hultgren: I would say it's very fast changing. The most important thing that I think you can do as a tech company is make sure that your platform and R T team are involved in these partnership discussions. So we all know there's a lot of companies popping up every day that do AI. There's a lot of great marketing. You don't always know what's under the hood. So as these companies are evaluating who they might want to partner with if they're looking to build out those capabilities or partnerships, if you can identify somebody from the tech team to be able to dive in with your partner team, to be able to have those discussions and kind of decode what's underneath all of that marketing to actually get to the nuts and bolts of, what has been built, I think that's really important in making sure that you're partnering with the right companies that are out there.

Paul Bird: Fantastic. All right, Alden, thank you so much for being a guest on our show today. It's been a pleasure to have you here.

Alden Hultgren: Thank you. I appreciate you.

Guest intro: Alden Hultgren
Alden on growing a $1MM partnerships practice to $25MM
Strategies Alden used at Salesforce to grow their partnerships beyond $100 MM
Alden's tools for partner management
GenAI: Reshaping traditional channel partnership roles
Strategic approach to gen AI for partnership professionals + skills do you believe will help partnerships professionals survive & thrive within the gen AI landscape
Gen AI's affect on longevity in a career in partnerships
Conversational AI Orchestration Platform & its role in partnerships
Gen AI digital workers' role in partnerships
Designing digital workers in partnerships & optimizing the experience for partners
Digital workers: who's done it well
Strategies for integrating gen AI into partner programs to create value-added services
Challenges related to the rapid evolution of Gen AI technology
Can Gen AI help with the partner experience?
Alden on most significant achievement with gen AI in partnerships
What vendors need to keep in mind as they leverage Gen AI for partnerships in the near future