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We Built AppSumo’s Partner Experience Team from Scratch (Here’s How It Happened)

Hi, I’m Mel, the Partner Success Team Manager at AppSumo. AppSumo is the place to discover, buy, and sell the products you need to grow your business.

Our partners trust us to promote their products. We don’t only give them extra revenue, customers, and brand exposure. We arm them with marketing knowledge, product feedback, and so much more. Their success is our success.

In this post, I’ll share how the Partner Success department at AppSumo was born, why it’s important, and how you can apply our principles within your own business.

(Our Partner Experience team is growing! Join us: appsumo.com/careers)

From teaching to Partner Success

Today, Partner Experience at AppSumo is a 14-person team that focuses on two things: Launch Ops and Partner Success. But when I joined AppSumo in 2018, we didn’t have a Partner Experience team.

With only 12 people in the entire company, all of us wore many different hats. My first role with AppSumo was Customer Support Specialist—my first job after almost a decade of teaching elementary and middle school.

Teachers heroically endure low pay, obscene hours, and few paths for promotion. But watching a child defy odds and conquer challenges with your support? It’s incredibly rewarding, and the impact I made during my years in pedagogy fill me with pride and gratitude.

Little did I know it then, but those years were sharpening the skills that I’d need to design and an incredible experience for AppSumo partners today.

My early days at AppSumo

At the start of my time at AppSumo, I took ownership of setting deals up in our backend. It was a data-entry task that required me to decipher partner information that would make up important parts of product detail pages.

As I started digging into the operations of a launch, several questions kept coming up for me:

  • How did a partner go from first contact to going live with a campaign on our site?
  • What was the experience like for the SaaS companies that worked with us?
  • What were our partner outcomes?

As someone process-driven, I took it upon myself to document everything that was happening so we could find answers and improve in these areas. In this, I quickly found my true love—the partner experience.

Back in the day, Olo, our current Head of Revenue, and Jeff, our Head of Business Development, were the only members who had meaningful interactions with partners. They would find partners and craft incredible deals with them.

Deal setup looked like this:

  1. Jeff and Olo collected info from partners to pass to our creative team.
  2. Creative made all the videos, copy, emails, and ads that AppSumo is known for.
  3. I set up the deal on the backend: deal prices, features, and codes.
  4. Jeff and Olo prepared partners for go-live.
  5. Launch!
  6. Jeff and Olo maintained relationships with them beyond their campaigns on AppSumo.

For a team of two, they crushed it. However, the wide scope of the Biz Dev department didn’t allow them the bandwidth to optimize the partner playbook. As a result, there was often a ton of “back-and-forth” with our partners.

  • Resources needed from them were missing; deadlines were not honored.
  • The process and touch-points were inconsistent.
  • We got deals up and running, but OG Sumo-lings may recall puzzling product redemption, confusing feature lists, and unclear terms.

And worse, our partners didn’t have clear expectations, smooth onboarding, or dedication to help them meet their goals. They reported feeling unprepared when the deals went live.

We lovingly dub those times the “wild west'' because of the state of disorder we were somehow functioning in.

The question for me became: If we keep attracting more SaaS companies, how will we scale this without sacrificing the quality of our deals or the value we provide the companies who trust us?

Why Partner Experience is important

According to HubSpot, customer success is the “one of the most popular, emerging growth opportunities in business today.” HubSpot’s research shows the direct tie between business growth and customer success.

And it makes perfect sense. An organization can’t scale without happy, successful partners and customers—especially a marketplace that depends on both.

Partners who love working with us will continue to work with us. They will tell their friends about us. They will give us honest feedback.

We can’t be the leading digital marketplace for entrepreneurs, without true, healthy partnerships. That led us into building our Launch Ops & Partner Success teams.

Vanessa (current Head of PX) and I spearheaded a huge revamp in our partner playbook. We quickly identified the need for the Partner Experience (PX) department to be built on a foundation of customer success.

Today, Jeff and the rest of the growing Biz Dev team continue to work their magic as the curators of incredible deals. But once the contract is signed, they introduce partners to PX. I created a seamless onboarding experience for them. The first step of Partner Experience begins: Launch Ops.

Here’s a quick rundown of the essential elements that move partners from Launch Ops to Partner Success:

Partner playbook

Our partner playbook is the plan we execute with our partners. We hit “play” on these processes everytime we meet a new partner and set out to crush a marketing campaign with them. This repeatable action plan ensures that we effectively achieve our partners’ desired outcomes as well as achieve our goals.

Some of the components of our playbook are:

  • Goal and deadline setting
  • Detailed SOPs
  • Email and Slack templates
  • Contracts and forms
  • Meeting decks
  • Planned “hand-offs” across departments
  • Communication sequences
  • Supporting resources and content
  • Goal and project tracking

Our playbook guides our team and keeps us accountable. It’s a step by step guide that lives in Confluence. Our playbook gives us the best next steps in most scenarios. It creates consistent and amazing experiences for our partners and it’s absolutely essential to success. And of course—it’s something that we often reflect on and continually improve.

Onboarding

Onboarding is a key component of an extraordinary partner/customer experience. It sets the tone for the relationship. We want our AppSumo partners to feel secure and prepared. We set expectations and detail moving forward what the process will look like. We need to communicate our mutual goals and the action items we need from partners (completed forms, videos, codes, etc).

Our amazing repeat partner Leo, founder of Plutio: “I hereby with the power in me reward you with the title of “BEST ORGANIZED ACTIONS LIST MAKER”
Our amazing repeat partner Leo, founder of Plutio: “I hereby with the power in me reward you with the title of “BEST ORGANIZED ACTIONS LIST MAKER”

Partners receive examples of what others before them did to achieve what they want to do. They get access to creative resources and tutorials that help them meet their deadlines.

We make ourselves available for questions or concerns. There is no such thing as over-communicating when you are working toward success together. We make it a priority to be sure we are always on the same page, committed to the same goals.

Tools we can’t live without

  1. Freedcamp

Today, Freedcamp is the #1 tool we use for Launch Ops. Freedcamp is a former AppSumo partner tool, and we fell in love with it because it has Kanban-style project management and other fun features that help our partners clearly get ready to launch with us. When you start to scale and gain more customers or partners, look into tools that help you manage these relationships.

Quick peek into Freedcamp, our onboarding tool
Quick peek into Freedcamp, our onboarding tool

  1. MeisterTask

MeisterTask (another former AppSumo tool) is our go-to project management software. Nearly every department at AppSumo uses it in some form. Its Kanban workflow gives our team a bird's-eye view of the status of all of our deals from the moment they become our partners and well after each campaign. We love MeisterTask because of its productivity features: notifications, checklists, tags, automations, timers, and so much more. It integrates beautifully with many other tools we love as well.

This is just a small piece of the many boards and projects we manage here.
This is just a small piece of the many boards and projects we manage here.

Gathering feedback

Another pillar of partner success is proactively gathering feedback. The only way to know how your partners are feeling and thinking is to ask them. This is currently handled by our Partner Success team (the other part of our Partner Experience department).

We created several NPS surveys and continually ask partners for feedback, checking in pre-launch, during the campaign, and even after deals are sold out.

Some of the questions we ask:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how likely are you to recommend an AppSumo launch to a colleague or software company?
  • How was your experience with Freedcamp, our onboarding portal?
  • How has your product or company improved since you launched on AppSumo?
  • What is a tip or one piece of advice you would offer future AppSumo partners to help make their campaigns a success?

We take our learnings and continually improve our company’s processes. I knew we were on the right track when so many partners began asking to come back and run deals with us again.

Every partner needs something different

An important feature about the way we operate is that we understand the individuality of each partner’s needs. Not every partner comes to AppSumo for the same reason. Recognizing that and tailoring the experience to those unique goals has been amazing for our partnerships.

Whether they need a cash injection, user feedback, to reach a brand new market from overseas, or to rebrand a new and improved tool, we help them. I make sure to truly listen and innovate on what we offer them when they list with us.

No matter what stage they are in, I prepare solutions for them. Now my Partner Success team helps partners boost their support, develop product roadmaps, engage their audiences, increase their sales, and so much more. We don’t just invest in their deals—we invest in them as companies.

If your customers or partners know that their individual success is your priority, they will trust you and lean on you.

Top takeaways for your Partner Experience team

The partner (or customer) experience shouldn’t be an after-thought. It’s what will grow your business. Advocate for them and they will advocate for you.

  • Devote yourself to the success of those who partner with you or use your service.
  • Be proactive to solve their problems. Get creative in your solutions.
  • Create processes that you constantly go back and improve.
  • Build a detail-oriented and people-focused team.

And it can be simple if you think like a teacher. Teachers know you should get on the same page about goals and individualize the plan to get there.

Success doesn’t look the same for everyone, but it definitely feels great for all!

Originally published at https://blog.appsumo.com/building-a-partner-success-team/.

  1. 2

    Partner success is the backbone of royal sumo-Ling treatment for sellers and buyers.

    1. 1

      I totally agree! Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts, Falak!

  2. 2

    Thanks for sharing this Mel. Think it'll inspire a lot of other companies to do the same.

    1. 1

      Thanks, Noah! I definitely hope so. Any company that invests in their partners is going to keep them coming back and telling their networks about the experience! 💪🏻

  3. 1

    Thanks for this outline. We launched an LTD of our SaaS on AppSumo early last year, and can confirm that dealing with the AppSumo team was top notch. The level of care and responsiveness and attention to detail was really great over the 3 month lead up to our deal going live, and that support has continued even to this day when a customer queries a purchase well outside of the campaign period.

    One thing that I think will step it up a level would be to have AppSumo support crew in other regions to respond to issues like registration problems or fake reviews outside of Houston hours. Also maybe a skeleton after hours support channel for weekend issues. I believe most launches are on a Thursday (ours was), and if there was a problem on the Friday evening, it would be a 3 day wait to get things resolved.

    (In our case it was a 1 star review caused by the customer misunderstanding something in the app that wasn't a problem at all and which was resolved immediately, but the 1 star review stayed up over the first weekend of our promo which could have impacted early sales, before it was removed and the customer changed it to a 5 star review).

    1. 2

      Hey Devan! We had an amazing experience working with you and the HR Partner team!

      Thank you so much for this honest feedback. I totally feel you and I'm sorry about that incident. I'm going to bring this up to my team and see if we can think of a creative way to make sure partners who experience urgent needs over the weekend can get the help they deserve! As you know, we're always trying to improve, so it's great to hear your actionable tips.

      Appreciate you and your kind words. :)

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