This talk was given by Kyle Jenke, Global Platform & Partnerships of Intuit at SaaS Connect 2019 in San Francisco, March 26-27, 2019. Get the slides

Sometimes, partner programs simply don’t generate the customers. But the reasons behind it can often be solved if you know what to look for.

At SaaS Connect 2019, Kyle Jenke, Global Partnerships Leader at Intuit, explained some lessons he learned about building a partner ecosystem that actually generates results, using their TSheets product as an example.

Why TSheets’ first growth strategies didn’t work

TSheets ran into two major stumbling blocks before finding a growth strategy that worked.

Their first strategy was to hire a field sales team to go and sell products. They’d knock on doors and spend money on lead lists to reach by telephone. This cold call approach didn’t just fail. It almost killed the company.

Next, they poured massive amounts of resources into a partnership. They would announce partnerships with a lot of fanfare, but ultimately those partnerships didn’t lead to desired results. The partnerships were not generating the customers and revenue that they needed to justify the spend.

These failures almost bankrupted the company. Clearly, something needed to change.

How one book turned TSheets’ partnerships around

The change in how they approached partnerships actually came from a book, “The Lean Startup.” The company required every employee read it.

This helped foster a culture-oriented in the mindset of testing things before attempting them. This is the mindset that has allowed SaaS businesses to thrive.

It’s also how Intuit has thrived with their partnerships. They are no longer just trying things to see what works. Instead, they are taking practical steps to strengthen these partnerships and making sure that they will actually serve the business.

How to drive new customers from partnerships

With a partnership strategy informed by “The Lean Startup” methodology, TSheets was able to bring in more customers and drive revenue growth.

From this journey, Kyle has three rules to keep in mind when bringing on partners.

  1. Partnerships are a company mindset. Creating a culture of partnership is critical for a program’s success. It’s not enough for just a sales team or a marketing team to be involved. Everyone should know how the partner program works and have a part in it.
  2. Discover what matters most to your partner. This will allow you to better anticipate and meet their needs. You can also make sure your program is more memorable to them by appealing to them on their level.
  3. Avoid hiring generalists. Instead, hire partnership managers who actually specialize in what your partners are looking for. “We actually look at the problem we’re trying to solve in partnerships, and we hire people who are tailored to that problem,” Kyle says.