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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the WOMEN IN SALES Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales and hosted by Gina Stracuzzi on December 15, 2020. It featured partner execs Karen Cantwell from UiPath and Bethann Pepoli from Splunk.]
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EPISODE 311: Women in Sales: UiPath and Splunk Sales Leaders Share Why Partnerships Are the Way to Go
KAREN’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Determine what your comfort level is in terms of speed and pace. What’s typically called channel or VAR sales is much faster than alliances or with systems integrators. If you’re one who is more inclined to the quick hit, it can be very voluminous and active, the speed could be really exciting for you. If you’re more into the strategy with how to leverage the partnership for a multi-million dollar deal, then alliances with larger integrators would be the way to go.
BETHANN’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: ” Follow your passion. If you don’t wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “I can’t wait to go to work” or solve a challenge or truly enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t be satisfied, it won’t be a fulfilling career. Always follow your passion and don’t be afraid of the career pivot. It gives you a different lens on the business. So if you aren’t in channel sales yet, come on over, the water’s warm!”
Gina Stracuzzi: Today we have a really special webcast for you because one, we’ve got two guests on today rather than the usual one and we’re going to be talking about careers in partnerships. If you’ve ever thought about going into that kind of role, this is your opportunity to ask whatever questions you might like. We have two fabulous women, Bethann Pepoli and Karen Cantwell, and they’re going to talk to us about how they got into these roles and what you need to take your career there. Bethann, why don’t you go first? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Bethann Pepoli: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here today. I’m currently the AVP for Partners and Alliances as well as business development for public sector at Splunk. I’m actually new to partner sales leadership, just been in my role for about two years now, most of my background is in technology operations. I spent most of my career working for the government running a data center and was a deputy CIO for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts before leaving government service to join the private industry. Most of my comments today will be to encourage you all to continue to take career pivots and if you’re not in partner sales today, there’s always an opportunity around the corner.
Gina Stracuzzi: You wouldn’t be the first one to make those kind of career moves from private sector into government sales and back, people go across the board. Karen, please tell us about yourself.
Karen Cantwell: Thanks very much, Gina, I really appreciate the opportunity to join this forum to share a little bit about partner sales, alliance sales, that indirect model. A little bit about me, I currently work for UiPath, we’re the global leader in robotics process automation and I’ve been in indirect sales for 30 years. I started my career in direct technology sales in the private sector and then moved over into the public sector about halfway through my career. It’s been an exciting journey and I look forward to this discussion.
Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk about the difference between channel sales, partner sales and alliance sales. Karen, do you want to go first with this? Then we’ll get Bethann’s answer on it too.
Karen Cantwell: For the folks who are either new or early in their career in tech sales, the model that you might think of first is what is known as direct sales, meaning that a salesperson is directly talking to a customer, to a client, takes an order, etcetera. Indirect sales is through a third party, I think you can call it – whether it’s called partner sales, channel sales or alliance sale – all in the bucket of indirect. In other words, you’re leveraging the skills and investments as well as the resources, the feet on the street of the third party. There can be a couple of different motions whether it’s channel, we’ll talk about that, or alliance, or partner and those roles can be somewhat different but they really fall into the bucket of indirect sales leveraging a third party.
Gina Stracuzzi: Bethann, do you want to add anything to that?
Bethann Pepoli: At Splunk we have for public sector a fully indirect model but I think the corporate strategy is also to set up a route to market and what we refer to as how the transaction is going to flow and what relationships we need to have within our ecosystem to be successful and guide the customer in the right way. We have a cloud route to market, an ISB route to market, distribution and channel as well as systems integrator and man services provider. My org is set up by route to market and we’re focused on relationships and growing the ecosystem in that manner.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s interesting the way different companies set up things. Are there any kind of credentials needed to be in indirect sales or is there a way, if somebody’s coming into this career, that one might establish the wrong personal brand?
Karen Cantwell: I’ll comment on that. I don’t think that there’s a specific credential needed or absolutely required to move into indirect sales. I think that opens it up for anyone who wants to pursue that type of career working with third parties. I will say for alliances – which is a much more broader and strategic approach – there is an association called ASAP which is the Association for Strategic Alliance Professionals. There’s other associations as well, but this is the one I’m most familiar with and they do have a certification process, a certification program for strategic alliance professionals. Everything from the go-to-market to how to craft deals together, what is an alliance and how to leverage each other’s strengths so that one plus one equals three. That’s the one that comes to mind but it’s not required. Bethann, maybe you have a comment on that.
Bethann Pepoli: I would totally agree, it’s absolutely not required. Sometimes it seems a little bit basic but if you are focused on solving the customer problem and you are good at bringing people together to solve a problem, a good mediator sometimes is the #1 skill of this job. Trying to understand what the sales objectives are and who within the partner community can best help us solve that customer problem. A lot of times getting people on the same page working together towards that common goal is the toughest challenge and being a good communicator and being able to bring people together is a skill in and of itself [laughs]. More humanizing the skill than technical skill.
Gina Stracuzzi: Did you have something you wanted to add, Karen?
Karen Cantwell: I just want to concur with Bethann. I think a person in this role, it’s important to have a high emotional intelligence because you’re constantly doing consensus building and putting yourself in the other party’s shoes. What are their drivers? It’s a third party, you may not have the intimate knowledge of the workings of that third party, what their metrics are, it’s a good thing to ask, “What are your metrics to achieve success working with my company?” It’s important to be able to discern and relate, be open-minded to other perspectives. I would say a high emotional intelligence is a good thing to have.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a great skill anyway, it helps in sales and it clearly would help in a position such as that. Bethann, let me jump back over to you. I know you’ve only been in this role for two years, how do you think your background plays a role in your success?
Bethann Pepoli: I certainly don’t have a long history of managing partners but I do have a lot of experience working as a customer and being in a position where I had to make positions about who we were going to bring in to advise us and consult us on our strategic plan and roadmap and how we were going to solve problems. I try to maintain a customer lens in my role and try to think about, “What would I have wanted as a customer and a partner?” and try to make sure we have the right relationships to bring back to the sales team to address their goals. It compensates for my lack of experience running partner teams, customer success continues to be Splunk’s #1 priority and just try to focus on that.
Gina Stracuzzi: Being able to know what it feels like to be in a person’s shoes gives you so much information and can really help you craft that experience that is your #1 priority. Karen, do you have anything to add to that?
Karen Cantwell: I haven’t been on the customer side but I’ve been in direct sales and that’s something that would be good to touch on. It’s a parallel motion with the direct sales organization normally or in many companies, I would expect so it’s not an entirely different department over here. At the end of the day you’re driving toward success with the sales and revenue generating side of the business so it’s good to be able to see other’s perspective and be able to leverage that in this role. I haven’t been a customer but I have been in direct sales and I think that helps me in the partner sales capacity as well.
Gina Stracuzzi: Between the two of you, you’ve been on both sides of the equation. Let’s talk about maintaining partner relationships, keeping people happy is a skill unto itself. We actually had a woman in the forum that just ended last week, her whole job at her company is to handle irate customers who want to get their money back or trample the name or whatever the cases is and she is just phenomenal at smoothing over situations and hanging onto contracts. It’s a skill, it’s an art form, really. Let’s hear how you all handle that. Bethann, do you want to go first?
Bethann Pepoli: I think that first and foremost, a joint accountability plan with the partner is critical to make sure we’re both going to be successful, and continuous communication and transparency. At the end of the day, I want my partners to feel like I’m always going to do the right thing and the right thing may not be always in their best interest or they may not always win, but if we’re continuing the focus on the customer and making sure it’s a win-together and they feel that they can trust me that I’ll always do the right thing, we can build that trust. A foundation of trust will go a long way and knowing someone’s going to be fair to get to the right answer.
Gina Stracuzzi: Trust is everything so if you’ve got that foundation of trust it’s probably easier to handle these kinds of situations. Karen, what about you?
Karen Cantwell: I think it’s a best practice to have an executive sponsor for the relationship just so that if there comes a point where one party is coming off the rails as to what is really the purpose of this partnership, what’s the win-win, obviously we all want the customer to win. But if something starts to come off the rails, I think it’s great to have an executive sponsor who really understands the vision and the value of the relationship. As an example, if you are working on one project and that’s really falling apart or one party is not contributing what the other party expected, there tends to be emotions associated with that one project and they can become very invested.
The executive sponsor can come at it from a much less specific perspective and really get back to why this partnership is working. Not to mention at the end of the day they might have some authority to get an extra discount or overcome some obstacle that perhaps the partner salesperson or channel salesperson might not have that authority. I think it’s a good practice to have an executive sponsor for the relationship, it really doesn’t even require a lot of work, it’s just to have that person there.
Gina Stracuzzi: How would you identify this person or how would you come to build that relationship?
Karen Cantwell: There’d be an executive sponsor on both sides and it typically would be at a VP level and the VP has a vested interest in the success of the partnership. In my case it might be our AVP for all of federal sales or it might be our AVP for America’s channels, somebody who has a vested interest. I’m in the federal public sector partner group so in either one of those cases, that executive would have a vested interest. It’s really about governance, you’d have governance in terms of this relationship. What are the go-to-market activities we’re going to have? What are our metrics? Are we going to have a quarterly business review? What’s the cadence for that, what’s the cadence for a pipeline? Then over here from an executive level I think it would be great to identify the executive sponsor for the relationship.
Gina Stracuzzi: It seems like it would make things easier if you had one point of contact that you could go to for those times when you might need mediation or somebody to referee the whole thing, that makes sense. We have a question from Trisa, Trisa wants to know, “What do you like best and least about your positions?”
Bethann Pepoli: I’m going to start with what I like least [laughs] and it is the constant reminder to the sales teams about what the partner value is. A lot of times in this job you’re consistently trying to prove yourself, there are a lot of sales reps that say, “I don’t think this partner is bringing any value, I’m not going to pay them.” That’s where a lot of the refereeing and executive sponsorship comes into place and you’re fighting about, “Let’s go back a year and remember they ran a workshop, they invested in training for the customer, they did all of these things along the way to help get this deal to the finish line which is where you are today.” Once you walk through that, usually they say, “I forgot about all those things, sorry.” You find yourself in a situation where you’re back on your heels and fighting back for the partner. That can be a frustrating part of the job but the wins always supersede that.
When you can build a solution with a partner that they’re taking to market and you’re bringing pipeline to the organization, the partner grounds and the sales is doing less work or they’re able to pick up the ball where the partner left off. It’s really just providing more leverage and scale to the organization, we’re always looking for ways to reduce the friction with our partners to make sure our partners are focused on selling into business units that our sales reps aren’t and focused on the full solution to drive pipeline. That is definitely very rewarding.
Karen Cantwell: I too will start with my least favorite. My least favorite is when the partner is all in with our technology and wants to go to market with us but just has decided not to invest on a partner manager on their side. They might have a practice person but not a person who understands go-to-market, pipeline development and quarterly business reviews. Quarterly business reviews and pipeline management are table stakes, these are the foundation of indirect partnering or channel sales but when the company that you’re working with hasn’t assigned anybody, it’s almost like throwing a football and nobody’s there to catch it on the other side. There’s a lot of extra leg work and extra relationship building when you don’t have a counterpart at that partner organization.
As Beth says, the most fulfilling I find is the big wins. Especially when you’ve leveraged a core competency of the partners or in the public sector space a special contract vehicle that we as a technology company never would have been able to succeed without either the contract vehicle or the relationships already established by that partner. When the glue comes together, it can really come together big and I find that very fulfilling as well.
Gina Stracuzzi: Jen wants to know, “If you’re in indirect sales right now and you’re thinking about a new career in partner sales, what would you recommend someone do to move over?”
Karen Cantwell: Jennifer, if you’re already in indirect sales working with partners or alliances or channels then you’re already there. I think that you’d have to look in your own company or in other companies if it’s not a fulfilling role, then maybe there’s a more fulfilling role with go-to-market, solution building, if those things are of interest to you. I hope that answers the question but I think if she’s already in indirect sales, it should be relatively easy to go into partner sales or alliance sales or channel sales.
Gina Stracuzzi: Bethann, do you have anything to add to that?
Bethann Pepoli: I would just say if there’s a particular partner or alliance area you’re particularly passionate about, maybe you like to be on the bleeding edge and to cloud or other bleeding edge technologies, you might want to look for roles with those types of partners that are most exciting to you and managing those partner relationships.
Gina Stracuzzi: That makes me wonder too, how many different aspects of this position are there in terms of potential roles? As you say, there’s the bleeding edge, where else might people look?
Bethann Pepoli: There’s different nuances to each type, for us, we’re what one calls a route to market. Working with systems integrators requires you to be able to play the long game, focus on that consultative-led approach making sure that the systems integrator is going to recommend your technology and architecture or build a solution they’re going to take to market but they are very moved in a calculated way in a very large organization. It requires you to invest a lot of time to make sure that you’re moving the ball forward in every step of the way. Sometimes working with the cloud alliances – AWS, Google – there are some smaller tech companies on integrations, those tend to be faster-paced and more quarter to quarter from a sales alignment perspective. It’s all in where you get more joy, do you like the quick wins? Do you like the long game? Do you like to be more strategic?
Gina Stracuzzi: Karen, did you want to add anything?
Karen Cantwell: I agree. I would say, back to the time frame, the systems integrators are the long game, the consultative approach. If you have the appetite for that as for a career and hopefully your company that you work for has an appetite for the long game, that’s a good spot. If you’re more interested in a short term or a more tactical route to market, those would be the VARs, Value Added Resellers typically, there are some cloud providers who are probably in the middle. From a time perspective those are some options and then there’s also the option if you’re more technically inclined, there might be a role where you can develop or co-develop a solution.
You bring your technology to that systems integrator, the systems integrator builds a managed service so that their offering is a full, as an example, automation as a service. We sell licenses to some systems integrators who develop automations as a service so they just roll that out to the end companies or end agencies and the agencies just sign the contract with the systems integrator, they don’t buy the licenses separately. There’s a couple of those motions which means opportunity for a career path.
Gina Stracuzzi: It seems like there’s a lot of ways to slice this. Jennifer had a follow-up question, “What do you all look for on a resume when you’re hiring in this area?” Bethann, do you want to take a crack at that?
Bethann Pepoli: Being the non-conventional person, you don’t always have to have experience managing partners but what you do need to bring to the table is having another lens, having been in direct sales, in an inside sales role. I’ve promoted a lot of folks within my organization that were in inside sales to the partner channel team, they know a lot about the products, the sales motion and really have proven themselves to be great assets to wanting transactions. Or you have more of a tech background working at a customer or with a systems integrator, again depending on the type of role but I’ve hired a lot of folks that come from systems integrators to go back and work with them, they understand the customer and long term strategy.
Karen Cantwell: I would look for experience with customers or with people, maybe I shouldn’t even say customers. Does he or she have a lot of experience engaging with people whether it’s customer service, inside sales or direct sales? Because that would demonstrate a comfort level of working with people. I would encourage those who want to get into this type of work if they’re not already working with people a good amount to build up to that, if they’re working heads-down in an isolated way, I would promote to look for a position to get yourself out there with people. I think that’s a great stepping stone into this type of career path.
Gina Stracuzzi: This makes me think about one of the areas that we really hit on a lot with the guests on the program, the idea of constant learning. Be continually learning, trying new things, reading, watching webinars, whatever the case is. Can you share with us indirect thought leaders or blogs that you like to read, books or anything that you use to stay current?
Karen Cantwell: I belong to several LinkedIn groups, there are some LinkedIn groups, Alliances and Channels, Federal Partnerships, there’s quite a number if you just search in the group section for either alliances, channels, partners. I would broaden it not just in the DC area, I used to go to LinkedIn groups that were in DC but now with everything being remote it’s just easy to get on board with some very interesting topics that might be specific to, say, the healthcare partnerships or partnerships focused on the government. You can really slice it and dice it as you might.
There are also some organizations on sales enablement or partner enablement because at least my role is to help enable my partner to understand UiPath technology. That’s also a critical component of this type of relationship whether it’s you, the partner, manager who’s leading that effort or your company, it’s hard for that third party to be a force multiplier for your technology if they don’t know your technology. That’s important and that’s where partner enablement comes from. Generally I get involved in the Association for Strategic Alliance Professionals as well as some LinkedIn groups.
Gina Stracuzzi: Bethann, do you have any favorite go-to’s?
Bethann Pepoli: I’m keeping in touch with the industry in groups, as Karen pointed out, where our customers and our partners are all intersecting to really understand how we can come together as a trifecta. Also just trying to keep up with my own learning within my own company, there are a lot of learning requirements internally to make sure that we understand all of the new aspects about Splunk technology and keeping up with that. Again, just industry groups and also women’s leadership groups, contributing back to women’s leadership community and helping develop up and coming female leaders is important to me.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s important to me too. One of the things that I always wonder about is how you stay really engaged in your role and I like to ask this of any women that I talk to because things can be draining, they can be tiring especially in the new world order that we’re in. You’re constantly on screen and little human interaction, how do you stay engaged? Is there something on a personal note that keeps you going, that keeps you wanting to put on something nice to be in front of the camera? What is it that helps you stay part of the game?
Bethann Pepoli: A couple things, pretending you’re getting ready to actually go to work [laughs] do your hair. I can’t say that I do that every day but I do always feel better and try to stay focused, keep focused on what my normal day would be like and try to interact in similar ways to stay engaged. Also, I really look to my team and to my peers to keep myself uplifted. I may have said to many people I work with, “Please hold me accountable for turning on my camera or doing the right thing, doing what I’m supposed to do and I’ll do the same thing in return” just trying to build a support group within your own organization to try and hold each other accountable. To keep things interesting and challenge each other’s brain, my sister says I have COVID brain, I forget everything, I don’t know what’s going on but the more we can stay mentally challenged, the more engaged we can be.
Gina Stracuzzi: It’s nice to know that other people have COVID brain because honestly, there are days when I feel like I think I’ve gone insane [laughs]. We’re going to be walking around the streets like, “Wow, what is this new thing? Oh, it’s a building.” Karen, would you like to add anything? How do you stay engaged?
Karen Cantwell: At UiPath I really feel like I’m part of the business, that I’m not on my partner team that’s often left field, we are a contributing part of the business. At least in the public sector our route to market is 95% through partners so we are definitely part of the business and part of the internal sales strategy, the sales calls, that’s rewarding. Then my VP for Channel Partnerships of the Americas, he holds a biweekly happy hour for just us on the partner family. It’s an hour every other week and it’s a little bit of banter, a little bit of work, it’s really just to discuss the best practices. The VP will have heard about something that so-and-so did and that person will present it so then you get stimulation from new ideas and you can apply that to your own work. That helps me to be engaged, to really absorb the best practices and then roll those out into my own market.
Gina Stracuzzi: I think everybody’s in the same boat so the more accepting that we are and the more we share like, “I’ve got COVID brain too”, we’re all suffering a little bit so I think those things really help.
Bethann Pepoli: [Laughs] anything goes, right?
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s right. Is there one piece of advice that you can each give to somebody who either wants to advance in this arena or step into it? Is there one piece of advice you can leave them with? Karen, do you want to go first?
Karen Cantwell: We were earlier talking about your comfort level with the long game or the short game. What’s typically called channel sales or say, with VARs is much faster than alliances or with systems integrators. If you’re one who is more inclined to the quick hit, it can be very voluminous and active, the speed could be really exciting for you. If you’re more into the strategy with how to leverage the partnership for a multi-million dollar deal, my advice would be determine what your comfort level is in terms of speed and pace. It’s a different animal depending on who your partner is.
Gina Stracuzzi: That’s good advice. Bethann?
Bethann Pepoli: Follow your passion. You don’t wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “I can’t wait to go to work” or solve a challenge or truly enjoy what you’re doing, you won’t be satisfied, it won’t be a fulfilling career. Always follow your passion and if I could add one more, I would say don’t be afraid of the career pivot. That’s something I learned from a mentor of mine here at Splunk, she had made many career pivots, it just continues to give you a different lens on the business. So if you aren’t in channel sales yet, come on over, the water’s warm [laughs].
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo