The channel team at Wasabi , a cloud data storage provider, has been pretty busy for the past couple of years. At a pace of more than 400-plus new partners each month, the company has expanded it channel ecosystem from 3,500 partners at the end of 2020 to more than 10,000 today. As the company has expanded its global storage offering into international markets, many of those new partners have been recruited to represent the brand in Paris, Japan and London.
Earlier this month, Laurie Mitchell, Vice President of Partner & International Marketing at Wasabi, took a break to share with CMR best practices for scaling a partner program that can enable an expanding channel ecosystem to drive company growth.
CMR – It’s difficult to overstate how fast Wasabi’s partner ecosystem has grown since 2020. What’s attracted so many new partners to your program?
Laurie Mitchell — It’s phenomenal growth and exciting to watch. Some of the partners are big, some of them are small, and everywhere in between. The beauty of Wasabi is it’s a simple solution to add to — almost any channel partner can add it to their portfolio pretty easily and get going really fast.
CMR – As the Vice President of Partner & International Marketing, are your duties focused primarily on marketing activities?
Laurie Mitchell — They’re multifaceted. It’s everything to do with recruiting partners, activating partners, and then building demand through those partners. I work with the full partner network ecosystem, which includes two-tier distribution partners such as your traditional value-added distributors. It also includes large VARs, your traditional DMRs, as well as MSPs. And we also have OEMs, companies that can bundle Wasabi into their own private label solution. We also have a technology alliance program which supports a better-together initiative.
CMR – Initiating and then managing the growth of your channel ecosystem must have been a heavy lift these past couple of years. What’s been critical to your success?
Laurie Mitchell – I knew immediately that managing the sheer quantity of partners, especially with limited resources as a smaller company, required that I automate everything — absolutely everything that I can — and then complement that with people to build out the resources, or handhold some of the better partners where we see huge potential.
The very first thing we did was invest in an automated partner portal. We researched multiple tools and chose Allbound. It’s like everything Wasabi where we try to aim for simplicity and optimal user-experience. The portal has a great user experience with automated self-paced learning paths.
The onboarding path for marketing – especially those partners just starting off with marketing – takes them step-by-step through setting up their landing page and finding resources that will help them sell Wasabi — to foundationally, build out their web content. And then it brings them through activities such as the steps for running an email campaign about having signed up with Wasabi. If necessary, our partner marketing team can come in to walk a partner through the process.
CMR – Populating partner portals with content to meet the needs of an expanding and diverse ecosystem can be a challenge. How have you managed that?
Laurie Mitchell – The advice we were given is that you don’t need to start off with a ton of content, just the most relevant content. It’s almost like information overload if you put too much content all at once — nobody knows what to do or where to start. By limiting resources to the most relevant content, our portal guides partners along a path which says do this first, second, third, and fourth.
CMR – Getting partners to revisit a partner portal is not easy. What steps are you taking to keep them coming back?
Laurie Mitchell — Keeping the portal front and center in your communication strategy with partners is critical. When we start up with new partners, they immediately get an email that says, “Welcome to the partner network, go sign up for the portal.” If they don’t do after a month, they get another email that says, “Don’t forget, to go sign up in the portal.”
So we keep pushing them to the portal. And then once they’re in the portal, they get regular communications such as our newsletter with message like “Here’s all the relevant partner news in case you missed it. Here’s a new campaign in a box that just came out. Here’s a new press release that you might be interested in.”
Everything keeps driving them back to the portal, very much like you would do a digital marketing campaign driving people to just your website to convert on a lead.
CMR – We’re hearing that partners are more actively participating in the marketing programs their vendors offers. What’s your experience?
Laurie Mitchell — It’s hard to get them started sometimes. But the more deals they close, especially the larger VARs, the more attention they pay to you. All of a sudden, they’re interested in doing more marketing with you.
We tend to pre-invest in selected partners. Before the revenue is there, we look at which partners have potential. Our MDF program, for example, isn’t necessarily tied to how much revenue partners have already generated — it’s more like how much potential do we think they have as a channel.
We’ll proactively suggest sales trainings, campaigns or events or field marketing resources. As soon as you start to build the deals and the engagement with their sales team, then their marketing teams paying attention. At this point, we’re kind of a well-oiled machine with in-house marketing resources able to do that.
CMR – Many partners, especially smaller companies, do not have in-house marketing staff to take advantage of MDF or other activities you may support. As a result, channel marketers often have to engage their partners’ sale people to push out marketing messages. How have you been tackling that?
Laurie Mitchell – In their learning track, we tell partner sales staff that don’t have to initiate a big marketing email campaign to boost demand. Instead, we highlight sales templates that sales staff can use to tell their customers “We just started working with Wasabi.”
We use a number of formats to engage sales staff. We emphasize leveraging the portal by pushing them to a short video. “Watch it for five minutes and get an idea of what’s here.” It’s really just putting the right information in their hands.
CMR – Channel leaders are re-adjusting their expectations for how many partners they expect will actively engage in their programs and the return on their investments on program supporting solutions. What are your expectations?
Laurie Mitchell – I would estimate that about 15 to 20% or our partners are actually marketing with us. And a little more than half, I’d say, are in the portal. For me, the critical statistic is how many of them are actually selling and storing data.
For past programs I’ve worked with, the 80/20 rule applied to revenue, not just marketing activities. But currently, it’s like 80% of our partners are actually storing data using Wasabi, which is huge. I care more about revenue than I do about how many partners are doing the marketing.
But when it comes to our investment in our partner program and especially the solutions we use to support it, I have zero qualms about the ROI on the tool. It’s the foundation of everything we do.