This talk was given by Billy Robins, Director, Tech Alliances of Zendesk at SaaS Connect 2018 in San Francisco, May 1-2, 2018. Get the slides

SaaS is complex, so many people turn to metaphor to understand it.

For example, Billy Robins at Zendesk used a sports metaphor to explain to the audience at SaaS Connect how partnerships can help add value to SaaS businesses.

Within this framework, here’s how partnerships can help build a strong defense for SaaS companies using dark arts.

What are these dark arts?

From a soccer perspective, “dark arts” are when the defense prevents the other team’s offense from doing what they want to do.

This might seem like a strange metaphor to use for SaaS, which is so direct (or “offensive”). But using resellers and referral partners as a “defense” allows businesses to grow opportunities and revenue.

However, these methods are often less direct and difficult to quantify. This makes them hard to understand for people not in the know. But when used correctly, the dark arts can improve every area of a business.

How can partnerships help businesses understand their customers better?

Customer technology stacks are getting more and more complicated. Businesses are struggling to understand what exactly they need.

This is why many SaaS providers are partnering with sales engineers and emphasizing customer service. It helps them get to the root of what their customers actually want and deliver in a tangible, meaningful way.

Why is there a SaaS generation gap?

Old SaaS solutions are proprietary and expensive. They’re often on-premises, with limited access.

New SaaS products are open, with free or utility-based pricing. They’re easy to scale, useful to everyone and leverage data to make themselves smarter.

But, back to the dark arts now, with this power comes great responsibility. Partners can help lighten the load and sell more product in this new, exciting environment.

What must you understand about your partners?

Start by asking the following questions:

  • What is the team’s motivations?
  • Do they have revenue goals?
  • What KPIs will they use to measure the partnership’s effectiveness?
  • How many customers are using the app?

From there, it’s easier to build a mutually beneficial partnership.

How do you bring customers together?

Customer success stories are an unexpected “dark art.” Customer success is something that can be turned into a blog post or showcased internally to sales teams.

But these stories are often difficult to find. This is where partners come in. As they’re more directly in contact with your clients, they’ll have an easier time getting them to put in a good word for you.

In turn, this also turns customers into “partners” who spread the good word about your business.

What shouldn’t you do when pursuing a partnership?

Taking advantage of partnership dark arts can be incredibly beneficial for companies. But in order to do this, they need to get partnerships in the first place. And along the way, many businesses make mistakes.

Here are the four main don’ts for pursuing partners.

  1. Don’t stalk them … too aggressively. The occasional followup is fine, but don’t harass them.
  2. Don’t act like a used car salesman. Be respectful of your potential partner’s time, and definitely don’t try to bully them into a partnership.
  3. Don’t call the CEO. They are busy people whom you’ll only frustrate.
  4. Don’t chase launches. This leads to a lot of wasted time on all ends.