This talk was given by Hana Mandapat, Senior Director of AppExchange Program Marketing, Salesforce at SaaS Connect 2019 in San Francisco, Mar 26-27, 2019. Get the slides

Hana Mandapat wasn’t always responsible for juggling partners at the Salesforce AppExchange, the world’s largest B2B SaaS app marketplace. She started in public relations; a background that perfectly suited her to manage and develop relationships with her partners.

After all, they both rely on great relationship marketing. At SaaS Connect 2019, she recounted her top 3 lessons from PR that she felt set her up for such incredible success in SaaS partnerships.

Lesson 1: Build and maintain good relationships

Reporters get tons of pitches every day from PR people. If you want to get a story placement, you need to have a relationship with the reporters you’re contacting, Mandapat says. Know their beats. Know how they like to be contacted. Know their personal and professional interests.

“By taking that extra effort to build a relationship instead of making it transactional and making it a one-off thing, [PR professionals have] been able to be very successful in their careers,” Mandapat says.

The same rules apply in partnerships. Understanding your partners — their needs, their goals — helps build strong foundations throughout the ecosystem. Those bonds are so strong, in fact, that people who exit the ecosystem often find their way back with new companies. That’s been Mandapat’s experience at AppExchange.

“They know how to navigate the sales org. They know who on the marketing team they need to contact if there’s a problem with their listing. … [T]hey don’t have to spend time going and building relationships. All they need to focus on is growing their company and building.”

Lesson 2: Understand your customers’ needs

One day, Mandapat’s boss, Leyla Seka, then an EVP at Salesforce, threw a curveball and demanded that, “We need to make AppExchange like Candy Crush.” While that was when Candy Crush was the most popular game on the planet, how that applied to the world’s largest B2B SaaS marketplace was … confusing.

Seka didn’t want to gamify AppExchange or anything like that. “All she wanted to do was simplify the conversation around enterprise app development. She wanted to take it from a concept up here that only developers know or tech-savvy people know and put it into terms that everybody can understand in something like Candy Crush.”

At first blush, Seka’s idea just sounded like off-the-cuff brainstorming. It would have been easy to dismiss. But pressing to understand helped reveal her drive to simplify something as complex as a B2B SaaS ecosystem in common terms to focus on empathizing with the customers.

Lesson 3: Lead with trust and transparency

PR people put their reputations and relationships at risk when they lie, or even when they conceal their true motives. The same is true in partnerships.

That’s the basis of an ecosystem like AppExchange, which works best when it’s open, competitive and transparent. Adhering to those constraints ensures that the customer is placed at the center of all activity.

Salesforce does this by maintaining the site, which provides real-time reporting on its systems’ performance and security. “The reason why we put so much effort into trust and transparency is because we know that without the trust of our customers, without the trust of our partners, we’re nothing,” Mandapat says.

Pitch partners with empathy

Fundamentally, it comes down to the core skills everyone knows in PR. You have to be out there and pitching, but pitch with empathy. Take time to understand people. Do that research yourself. Know what people want from you. Extend that to a whole ecosystem of partners by constantly asking for feedback, tracking your analytics, and getting out there on the event circuit.