After 5+ years of experience with Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) software, I’ve learned that sales automation tools are only as good as the partner ecosystem they build around themselves. My CPQ background began in customer success, where it became obvious how important partners are when it comes to creating outstanding end results for customers.
There are two types of partners to consider in terms of how they add value beyond what any one software vendor can provide.
System integrator partners (SIs) specialize in implementations and initiate success efforts. As consultants, their relationships with clients have high levels of communication, understanding, and support.
Independent software vendor partners (ISVs) build and sell their own on-platform applications to integrate with and expand upon the functionality of existing tools. They help meet unique business requirements, beginning where a product ends. The beauty of ISV partners is that products integrate seamlessly with one another when they leverage standard platform functionality.
These partnerships build cohesive end-to-end solutions and maintainable implementations to help ensure long-term success for our customers.
Software companies need to tailor their offerings to ensure customers are getting the most out of their solutions in terms of flexibility and scalability. In order to do that correctly, it’s important to have partners engaged. When outside vendors are going beyond out of the box functionality, filling the gaps and creating long term solutions for customers, companies can focus on perfecting their core products.
As a customer, it’s better in the long term for any additional functionality and feature enhancements or developments that you want to be owned by companies, not developers. Ideally, you won’t require a lot of extra tweaks to the process automation tools that you use, especially with so many ISV partners working to extend existing products further than ever before—but it’s still reassuring to know that SI partners will be able to build any necessary custom solutions where there isn’t a productized answer.
At SteelBrick (now known as Salesforce Quote-to-Cash), we conceived a partnership role with a customer success lense: caring for partners the way we care for our customers. We knew that if our partners were successful, then our customers would be successful, and our company would be successful. Just like customer relationship management (CRM) software, Quote-to-Cash (QTC) software is not only a solution for sales automation, but also a platform that other applications can build upon to solve business problems.
We want our primary focus to be on the software we provide, but we know how essential professional services are to the implementation, maintenance, and management of that software. Scaling a services team properly takes a lot of focus away from product development. That’s why we partner with system integrators to bring our customers from purchase through go live and beyond. It’s important for software vendors to have their own professional services resources, but it’s even better if they supplement with an extension of specialists who have deep expertise in particular customer segments and verticals.
SIs bridge the gap between the limited services resources of a software company and the limited product experience of a customer. They learn the tools and business use cases so they can use their knowledge and point of view to help customers realize the full capabilities of the software they purchase, with the unique ability to drill into specific domains. Many of our partners are consultants that specialize in our products specifically, so they grow alongside us and are as invested in our customers as we are.
SI partners also offer customizable services, so customers can opt in or out of more training and engagement. They fill the role of an expert that lives between the product itself and the individual implementation. They also help decipher and deliver what the customer needs—all with a personal touch alongside their deep expertise.
Since most Quote-to-Cash customers are already Salesforce customers, oftentimes they will already have an SI partner that they’ve worked with in the past who has an intimate knowledge of their business: how they run their sales cycle, how they built out other Salesforce products, and what existing customizations they might have. These partners often have an edge to appropriately diagnose a QTC gap and tailor an implementation to work for that particular customer, due to such long term familiarity.
ISV partners work on building out unique repeatable use cases in the form of managed software packages, extending deep into requirements for unique customer sales processes. Salesforce Quote-to-Cash came from a Salesforce ISV partner known as SteelBrick; these relationships are important to Salesforce and to us because it’s where we came from. We want to open up opportunities for greater and fuller solutions so we can bring our customers complete business transformations.
Quote-to-Cash is just the beginning of a better sales cycle. There is so much more out there that we can bring to our customers as a layered platform offering, be it contract or commission management, or cost and price manipulation and optimization. All of these areas play an important role in what Quote-to-Cash does, but they aren’t where our focus lies. By taking niche areas of what we touch and expanding to fit what’s important to our customers, our ISV partners help us provide more nuanced solutions beyond our core competencies—while still providing the reliability of a managed software package with teams of developers, success managers and support agents ensuring success.
We build a lot of our own processes with our partners in mind. We provide every possible aspect of training and documentation to our partners for easy consumption so they can be external experts and better service each individual customer need. We focus on having the right systems in place to help our partners, so we never have someone engaged with a customer who is less than capable. Our partners are truly an extension of our team, and our success depends on them.
In order to build an open platform and host more than what you have in place, you need that wide ecosystem of experts to take what you create and find new ways to expand on it to deliver on the most unique use cases. This is especially important with Quote-to-Cash, since every business sells a little bit differently.
A healthy partner community is not just helpful to customers, but also to the product. Partners inform our processes and expose places that need more attention. They help us put the right amount of focus on different product use cases and they shine a light on what we can’t see internally. External expertise built up over time means that we always have a trusted source of feedback, with thousands of people helping us to become a better product and a better company.
By leveraging partners, we are able to continually improve ourselves and our product together with our customers. As customers, you get to benefit from this expanded ecosystem where Salesforce and our partners both want and need to be successful together. Tap into the full power of Salesforce and Quote-to-Cash by taking advantage of our partner ecosystem!
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