When Tyler Calder from Partnerstack recently invited the Formstack partnerships team to speak at Partnerstack’s Partnership Power Summit, it was an opportune time to reflect on our partner program and what’s resonating with our partners.
It was also timely to review as we approach the one-year mark of Gabe Caldwell and I launching the Formstack partnerships team, and the six-month anniversary of unifying our partner program across the five different brands that have come together as Formstack.
So here we have it: the 12 steps Formstack has taken to build brand, community, and revenue with partnerships.
It’s worth noting that this entire list has evolved organically through testing different techniques with partners. We’ve doubled and tripled down on what has resonated and delivered results, while at the same time thinking about how we make partnerships a true win-win-win for partners, the teams at Formstack, and our joint customers.
#1 – Build a community, not a channel.
First and foremost, we’ve set out to build a community, not a channel. That speaks to how we want to engage partners and collaborate as part of a greater effort to deliver value for customers. The traditional partnership term “channel” is very impersonal and diminishes a partner to “what are you doing for me?”
In every step of our partner program, we’ve wanted to ensure there is a bi-directional relationship with partners, and the bar that we’ve set is that partners should be getting even more out of the relationship than Formstack.
Community says: “We are creating something together. And you’re a vital part of it.” Channel says: “Your job is to bring my product to market.” Which would you rather be part of?
#2 – Ask how partnerships can help every internal department.
As we work towards the goal of a bi-directional partnership, each step along the way we’ve asked the question “How can partnerships help every person at Formstack?” Our philosophy is that the partner team’s job is to drive cross-functional success and alignment—ultimately resulting in organization-wide growth.
This is not a comprehensive list, but here are some examples:
- Showing every sales team member at Formstack that partnerships can be a personal win for them (helping, not competing)
- Creating joint selling situations that are win-win for partners and Formstack
- Aligning partners who bring vertical and product expertise beyond “the walls of Formstack”
With Customer Experience:
- Learning how partner enablement can better train and enable partners to reduce support inquiries
- Identifying where partners can help our customers gain more value from our products
- Bringing forth partners as subject experts who can deliver insight, experience, and stories to feed into Formstack marketing programs and content
With Product and Engineering:
- Getting insight from partners who have day-to-day “on-the-ground” experience with all of our products and the specific use cases for how customers use the products and realize maximum value
- Minimizing manual work in supporting partners (maximizing automation)
- Learning from and collaborating with HR leaders at partner organizations who have similar cultures to Formstack
#3 – Diversify your team’s skills with partners in mind.
As we set out to build the right partnerships team, we saw a strong, growing sales infrastructure already in place—account executives and account managers for enterprise and commercial customers, training, and operations.
We knew we didn’t want to build a shadow organization (competing skills) because that would only serve to silo off our partner relationships, which was the exact opposite of what we wanted. So instead, we created roles focused on helping partners and honed a set of skills that are complementary to the rest of our teams. For example, our consulting partnerships are managed by the three-person team of Amanda Nielsen, Justin Jackson, and Bryce DeHart.
Amanda’s focus is around partner enrollment—meeting with partners, sharing all the available partner resources and program options, and setting them up for success with their partnership with Formstack. Amanda brings marketing agency and consulting experience, a marketing mindset, and social media flair to the position to set our new partners up for success.
Justin has pioneered a new role at Formstack—our partner certification and enablement program. Justin has learned our products from our best product experts and translated that into a program for new partners to help them learn key use cases and how to customize and configure products to deliver on those use cases. Our goal from Justin’s partner certification program is a partner who has built out a product use case they can deliver to a customer or use to demonstrate the use case to a customer to bring them on to Formstack. Justin has had so much positive feedback from partners and was recently promoted to Partner Enablement Manager.
Bryce is our Partner Growth Manager focused on helping partners to grow together. Bryce brings a technical consulting background to the role, so he knows the landscape our consulting partners are working in and how to best help them. One of Bryce’s objectives is making “deposits” in our partnerships—opportunities for Formstack to help partners every day. This includes offering up Lunch & Learns to ensure consulting firms have the latest knowledge around Formstack at their fingertips, supporting partner licenses so that consultants are able to build out proofs of concepts and demos, aligning partners with sales or customer teams at Formstack looking to recommend partner resources, and building co-marketing programs with partners.
#4 – Strive for something bigger.
The raison d’etre of the Formstack partner team is that we can achieve something even greater than ourselves with our partners. As a baseline, Formstack has great products that customers love. And Formstack is a great place to work.
We can amplify both the impact of our products and culture by combining that with partners to co-create products, solutions, and customer outcomes that exceed what we could on our own. The Formstack partnerships team’s mission is to help partners and the Formstack team reach that vision. We’ve found that to be incredibly motivating; it helps give our team the drive needed to execute in the ways described in this article—creating a community of grit and growth (a shared value we have with many partners, including the folks from Penrod).
I had this realization on my last business trip—just before the COVID-19 quarantine—to the Salesforce offices in Atlanta, where I saw Tom Hoffman, a Practice Director from Spark.Orange, present to around 40 Salesforce account executives. Tom shared a story of how he built a Salesforce and Formstack Documents project that helped transform a business process for a manufacturing customer. He created a far easier way for salespeople to build quote documents and, in doing so, also gave the business newfound visibility to demand for their SKUs to better manage their end-to-end production process. It was the most elegant Formstack Documents-Salesforce implementation I had ever seen. Tom built a solution that transcended what Formstack could have done on its own.
#5 – Know what matters to your partners.
When we engage partners, we look at it as a three-part process to ensure we’re a strong fit to help each other.
First, our products need to be relevant to that partner and their customers. Partners need to see value in productivity as a category—or more specifically, data capture, data-related business processes, document generation automation, and/or digital signature. Without products that will help our partner’s customers, there isn’t a lot the partner team can do. Thankfully for us, there are, quite literally, millions of businesses out there who can benefit from and solve problems using Formstack’s products.
Once we have that product-customer fit, we ask if providing or recommending or referring our products is going to help the partner. If they are a consulting business, will it help them deepen their relationship with their customers? Will it help them provide better solutions to customers? If they are a technology partner, will they be able to provide a more complete solution to customers?
And then the last pillar of our value proposition is supporting the partner’s growth. By way of the many collaborative initiatives discussed in this article, we welcome each partner into our community with the goal of mutual growth.
#6 – Bring your partners to life (tell their stories).
Last August, shortly after starting on our partnerships team, I attended Midwest Dreamin’ in Chicago and met Stevan Simich, CEO of Mogli, a Formstack partner. Stevan had amazing stories—from how he created Mogli’s SMS product initially to solve a problem for Kenyan farmers to his personal background to an amazing use case of how Formstack and Mogli together helped universities dramatically improve engagement of prospective students.
With each story Stevan told, the lightbulb went off for me. Our partners have great stories—from their backgrounds, to their business, to how we are working together. We just needed to create a forum for Formstack to share those stories and bring our partners to life. The next week, Stevan became our first Formstack partner interview. I talked to Gabe about it, and he gave me some other partners to connect with.
A few Zoom meetings later, and John Receveur taught me how our partner Coastal Cloud lives at the intersection of system and vertical expertise; Nancy Cooper and Leslie Buenz of Servio helped me see how Formstack is used to help schools and universities progressively capture more and more data on their students; and Kelly Whitfield taught me how Formstack is used by law firms in ways I had never imagined. In addition to being my crash course on Formstack, I realized that the partner interview series would be a way for me to bring partners to life across both Formstack and our entire partner community.
Fast forward to present day, and I have interviewed over 50 different Formstack partners (see our interview series here), including two of my favorites: in-person interviews with Tom Hoffman at the aforementioned Salesforce event in Atlanta and Penrod’s CEO Chris Widmayer at Penrod’s annual kickoff event, Penrodpalooza. We also had partners such as JoAnne King and Jim Stalder from Coastal Cloud, both former hospital executives, deliver precious insights to provide context for what hospitals have been dealing with around COVID-19, further demonstrating the unique expertise that our partners bring for our customers.
Kaylen Little, Abby Nieten, and Lindsay Adams have been instrumental in helping me build a scalable process to capture, package, and promote these partner interviews at scale. I’ve been repeatedly told by Formstack partners—from longtime partners to new—that they’ve gotten a lot out of the series and it’s helped them learn from other partners. That’s an amazing byproduct of the interview series that I had not anticipated.
#7 – Give before you get.
“Give before you get” is one of the mottos of the Formstack partner team. In a partnerships world that is often cluttered with noise, we want to be the ones that stand out with our actions.
A give is often needed to jumpstart a partnership. Justin’s role is about helping partners learn our products and co-create something—a joint use case/demo—that helps that partner demonstrate value to their customers.
One of my favorite “give before you get” stories happened organically when Tal Frankfurt, Cloud for Good’s CEO, reached out to me on LinkedIn after seeing one of my posts. I immediately realized Tal was a deep subject expert, not only around Salesforce, but around building consulting firms and the culture of a growing Salesforce consulting business. I featured Tal in our partner interview series, where he shared his expertise on these topics. Lindsay McGuire, who produces the podcast Ripple Effect, saw that interview, and soon after, Tal shared his expertise with our CEO Chris Byers on a Ripple Effect episode.
This was all organic, starting with nothing more than us finding a subject matter expert and co-creating together. But sure enough, this work together set the stage for more collaboration between our companies. Fast forward several months later, and we’ve extended the relationship to helping Cloud for Good customers in higher education and nonprofit create improved processes around Salesforce—for example, donation processes at scale.
This all started with a genuine give.
#8 – Create together.
I’ve mentioned this multiple times already, but an important theme to call out is the idea of creating together. If you look at the foundation of partnerships as co-creation, it changes the dynamic of how you think about it, doesn’t it?
Justin’s enablement work becomes about co-creating a use case with partners that they can use to bring the value of our products to life for their customers. Our go-to-market activities become about co-creating content that combines Formstack products with the expertise and products or services of our partners. Kaylen is a driving force in making this happen. And a partner reach-out for support (which we’ll talk more about shortly) has built-in urgency for both teams because we are striving for the best possible result together.
Each time a partner is certified, Justin shares out that certification on LinkedIn—like this recent announcement of our new certified consulting partner CRMNinjas or this post about Chris Camp of Insight Powered becoming certified across four Formstack products.
Justin also shares out new use cases created by partners across our team—for example, this recent project by our new partner Cliff Designs. Justin noted that this loan application example adapts to a user’s choices using Conditional Logic. It also does calculations in hidden fields to satisfy the loan officers on the receiving end who receive a completed PDF and required attachment files using documents and routing. The applicant receives an SMS to their mobile phone and, shortly after, an email with further details, personalized with information relative to their loan type (based on data feeding from Formstack to our partner ActiveCampaign).
Justin’s partner certification process models co-creation, as does our partner interview series, the co-selling from partner referrals, and our support of partners throughout their customer engagement.
#9 – Create a playbook to structure your partnerships.
Gabe and I often talk about how we are swimming in opportunity with partners. With so much opportunity, it’s important to structure how we manage our partnerships.
That’s especially true with technology partnerships that Gabe and JP Peek are managing. Maximizing the impact of a technology partnership takes a lot of work from both sides, and it’s important that we are aligned with partners where we want to take bigger swings at joint go-to-market and integration activities. Gabe and JP have created a playbook, so heading into a partnership we can review with each partner and have that conversation—“are you in?”—to confirm investment in time and resources from both sides.
This has created the structure for Gabe and JP to manage partnerships with Salesforce, Zoho, Hawksoft, and Airtable; kickoff partnerships with Zendesk, Microsoft, Box, and Vertafore; and enable more and more technology partners using our APIs or embedding our software, such as EZ Referral, AccuFund, The Sailor Group, BeaconInsight, InspireHUB, and many others. Airtable is fresh in my mind as a recent example with an April partnership launch. Some playbook elements included our press release announcing the Formstack Documents block on Airtable and multiple videocasts within the Airtable community—featured on the BuiltonAir series and by Gareth Provonost of GAP Consulting.
#10 – Build a trusted business relationship.
Partnerships are about building relationships. Universal truth. But in today’s digital-first world, the application of that has evolved. Relationships are no longer only about three-martini lunches (although that’s still fun for some, I’m sure!).
Our relationships with partners are about:
- Aligning on goals and expectations
- Openly communicating
- Working together to solve problems
- Proactively bringing ideas to partners
- Helping partners to grow their business
- Continually improving
Tied to the trusted partner relationship and creating together is responsiveness. As we start new partnerships, we are told again and again by partners how important this is.
You send an email to our partner team email address, you’ll get a thoughtful response within minutes.
We also want to have the right context so we can offer the most effective guidance. When a consulting partner is working with us, we’ll proactively schedule a project kickoff so our team has a good understanding of the project, approach, and timeframes. This way, if a question comes up later, we have the right context.
This also applies to sales support. We have Slack channels with several of our partners. Chris Widmayer and Ryan Banks from Penrod will reach out via Slack to get input when solutioning for customers.
And this spans the world as we support Formstack partners across the globe from Australian partners, such as Skie or Enrite Solutions and Agility Automation; Bahra and Devmark from the UAE; Zeidman and Konstructive from the UK; and Elixir Solutions and Parcours from Belgium. We also have partners in South Africa (CloudSmiths), France (Markentive), Germany (Meii.de GmbH), Hong Kong (Ceterna), New Zealand (Adept Group), Peru (Gestion y Venta), Curacao (nxttech), and other countries.
#11 – Celebrate victories big and small.
Partnerships are about making progress every single day. If you are building momentum, you are going to get a partnership to a point where it’s going to pay off for both our partner and Formstack.
We’ve built the Formstack partner team culture around celebrating victories big and small every day. Our #Partner-Team slack channel is a collection of day-to-day wins, including Hey Taco! to call out gratitude across the company for helping partners, and news on success with partners.
On a given day, I could be sharing out news that we held an enablement session for a team of Salesforce sales engineers or that one of our account executives was featured on a healthcare or higher education focused partner webinar. Or I could be sharing out new content co-created with partners—like Gabe’s video here on Formstack Documents and Salesforce or this webinar with our consulting partner Zenatta Consulting on Formstack Documents and Zoho.
#Partner-Team is a positive, vibrant environment, as well as a continuous record of these successes.
#12 – Invest and reinvest in partners.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve seen many examples of Formstack’s investment in partners. For many partners, the investment that matters most are the examples we’ve shared throughout—offering great products, executing on training and enablement, providing structure to the partnership, being focused on results together, providing great support, and co-marketing and co-creating.
The cherry on top is Formstack’s investment in partners through revenue share, which we also see as a form of continuous investment in partners. We’re in this for the long haul.
Why does this matter? We are proud of the progress we’ve made in launching the Formstack partnerships team over the past 6–12 months. Our partner-contributed revenue numbers show a significant impact for Formstack and our partners.
The part that matters the most, though, is seeing partners inspired by our approach. One of the most memorable moments for me was the surprise to see Derek Vargas, CEO of Spark.Orange, give us a totally unprompted ‘shout-out’ on LinkedIn based on partnership engagement.
What’s next? We’ll continue to double down on the partnerships we’ve built and expand with more partnerships. We’d love to partner with you if you are…
- A consulting business or agency looking to deliver great productivity solutions to customers (digital forms, document generation automation, digital signatures, etc.)
- A consulting business with a focus around ecosystems such as Salesforce, Zoho, Airtable, or other CRMs or data-rich environments
- A firm with vertical-specific expertise looking to build joint go-to-market around productivity and process solutions in specific sub-verticals
- A software company whose users would benefit from digital data collection, document generation, or digital signature automation
To the partners we’ve mentioned in this piece, and the ones we haven’t, and hopefully some new ones we’ve connected with here, we look forward to an even bigger year two ahead together.