The Shopify ecosystem is truly just that; an ecosystem. Millions of the world's most successful brands trust Shopify to sell, ship, and process payments anywhere, but no one can operate siloed. Meaningful and strategic relationships keep brands thriving and the ecosystem flowing in and out of the digital space.
No brand can succeed on its own. Relationships are what make the ecosystem the success that it is.
Behind each brand is not just a business. Brands are built on partnerships, partnerships between businesses and apps, developers and creatives, CEOs and founders. It’s not enough to have a brand; you need a community behind you.
2022 Is The Year of Community
Communities help individuals reach their full potential. Behind every brand is a team of people that have fostered genuine, interdependent relationships. The Shopify ecosystem may operate within the digital landscape, but it mimics the real world. We know that we’re all more successful when we work together, helping each other reach our individual and shared goals.
As a brand grows, more people become involved in shaping its success. Growth is exciting, but it can also be daunting. Letting go of complete control and learning to turn to others is challenging. There’s never a one-size-fits-all approach to partnership building, however, time and time again it’s shown that allowing for authentic learning and sharing creates a strong foundation.
Cultivating and fostering relationships is an art form that business owners and leaders must perfect over time, and the process is never the same. From introductions to continuous growth, everyone’s partnerships will develop differently.
This year, Electriq, a DRINKS company, has fundamentally changed how we approach partnerships with clients and tech partners. We’ve been able to work with great minds that continue to innovate and have even allowed us to be part of their processes. We continue to be amazed by the power of cultivating and building relationships and how it can lead to massive growth for both agencies and tech partners, especially in the e-commerce space.
We’re advocates for working within the ecosystem and building off each other’s successes. The people within our network of partnerships want to give others the tools we wish we had when we began to branch out. Why not share our tips? It only strengthens the ecosystem we share.
From starting to maintaining and growing our partnerships, we’ve learned valuable lessons about building a network. Here’s what some of the partners within the Electriq network have to share about their experiences navigating partnership building from introductions to continuous growth.
Attentive® is the most comprehensive text message marketing solution, driving 20.5% of total online revenue for businesses by creating thoughtful SMS experiences. Using real-time behavioral data, Attentive makes it possible for businesses to automatically send engaging text messages to each subscriber.
Manager of Partnerships Community & Insights at Attentive
I've always taken a community approach to partnerships. There's a great saying that, "without a community you're just a commodity", and so I believe as you think about starting a partner ecosystem you should from day one be thinking about the community that is going to support it. Talk about the problem your community solves and not your product or partner program - you need to unbrand everything and focus on the common "problem" or thing that brings together your partner community. If you can identify this early... you've just created a massive growth lever and differentiator on your partner program.
Invest in your partner community through community programs and engagement/co-marketing opportunities. Your partners ARE your thought leaders and voice of your community so empower them in a meaningful way to amplify your community "message". This can come in a variety of ways depending on your partner program/industry but the key to maintaining it is identifying thought leaders, supporting them, and giving them the stage to be the experts.
Invest in your community programs and create so much value that your partners feel like they should be paying for it. This can be in the form of informational events, experiential outings, partner advisory boards, etc... it will vary greatly but the key is you need programs that support your existing community and create an aspirational effect that attracts new prospective partners to go, "I want to be a part of that". This doesn't happen overnight and you will have growing pains but a steady and consistent approach to supporting community programs I believe will be the way in which the best partner ecosystems grow and thrive in the 2020s.
Awesome OS has developed a unique results-driven approach to customer service, based on 12 years of partnering with over 90 high-growth startups and mid-size companies.
Chief Growth Officer of Awesome OS
I believe it is critical to the long-term success of a mutually beneficial partnership to find companies that are aligned with their core values. To put it simple, find a partner that has a similar culture and way of working as you do. One of the best ways to see if you are a good fit is to start small. Find a couple accounts to work together on and see how successful you are together. Once you get your first win together, it is easier to replicate and bring both companies on board going forward.
A good partner is in lockstep with your desired business outcome. This means a regular cadence of communication and a set of mutually agreed upon goals that keep you aligned during your journey.
I have seen the best results come from smaller, more intimate events. This allows for more networking and more time to discuss mutually success.
Chief Executive Officer of Awesome OS
“Law of Reciprocity” – you need to give before you get. You need to start a partnership with your initial thinking about how the relationship will benefit them, not you. Too many times organizations come at it the other way around and wonder why it doesn’t get any traction beyond the initial discussion. Come up with something that is compelling for them, and that will be the foundation for a relationship that will mutually benefit both organizations over time.
Win the war in the trenches – Focus your effort on the people in the field that are making things happen – win their trust and build connections with them. Too often organizations focus on the corporate/executive level (PR announcements, handshakes, etc) and the relationship loses steam. Once you have won over the people in the trenches and they understand the value you bring, they begin to trust you with their clients, and understand the power of the partnership. Now you are well on your way.
Innovation & Solutions – Once you have established a solid partnership, you now have the opportunity to harvest learnings, best practices, insights, to innovate and/or build solutions that the market will value. This is where things really get interesting and the investment in the partnership pays off in spades. This was a big part of the magic for the successful partnerships we developed at Accenture in both vertical industries and horizontal cross-industry solutions.
Daasity centralizes a brand’s data into a working data model to easily analyze and push their data to their key marketing channels to get more from their data.
VP of Partnerships of Daasity
One of the most essential things in partnerships is understanding who your ideal customer profile is. It may seem odd to think about that, but understanding this will help define your ideal partner profile. With this info, you will be able to align yourself with potential partners that match your ICP.
Make sure you are providing value to your partners and customers. Today partnerships are about helping a partner solve a problem or making their day more efficient. It could also be about helping the partner build new revenue lines for their business. Regardless of the partner relationship, whatever your product is must deliver value to the shared customer.
Help each other grow as I mentioned above. Think about helping partners streamline their days. Find new ways to win together. Share leads and intel with one another. Provide incredible customer service to shared customers to reduce support issues down the road.
EcoCart utilizes a global network of reputable suppliers to sequester, reduce, and offset carbon emissions. By installing Eco-Cart’s Shopify App, your customers will have the option to offset the environmental impact of their orders with a single click.
Co-Founder & CEO of Eco-Cart
Understand your customer and the needs of your customer by researching companies that have similar ICPs and ones that you can create a mutual story and value proposition that will resonate with customers. TAM is a valuable metric to prioritize partners—you don’t always need to work with the whale partner programs to find your value fast, you can work your way there.
Ensure you’re working to build a mutually beneficial long term relationship - One that goes both ways will increase the will to work together, and maintain it through constant contact, monthly calls, understanding each other’s needs and priorities to continue to deliver value.
Reflection is key; ask yourself what’s worked and what hasn’t? Are our partners investing as much time in us as we are with them? Are there new needs from our customers that we should seek out new partners/integrations?
Electriq is the first and only Retention-as-a-Service (RAAS) e-commerce marketing agency. Electriq helps e-commerce brands improve retention and increase LTV with thoughtfully tailored lifecycle strategies, email/SMS marketing, and web design and development. Electriq is a leader in the Shopify ecosystem.
Head of Growth & Partnerships at Electriq
Getting a good grasp of the partner ecosystem in the digital marketing world can be challenging. At Electriq, we figured out what relationships to establish by understanding who provides value to our merchants, helps merchant continue innovating, and most importantly how they integrate with other partners and the Shopify eco-system. Once we knew the use cases for each type of partner and how it fit in with our clients, it became an easy decision of who we needed to work with.
Maintaining a good relationship with our tech partners happens in two main areas: first is, of course, making sure that there's a mutual benefit through referring quality clients back and forth that truly need each others' services, secondly; keeping a healthy channel of communication through in-person and online meetings, hosting and joining events, and always working on new initiatives.
Growing a relationship with a strategic tech partner usually happens fairly organically since it makes sense to continue something that's mutually beneficial. Ideating new initiatives to strengthen the bond can help in this greatly. It's helpful to figure out what each party is good at and capitalize on that. If a partner is really good at adding functionality to their platform and building out their service for the end-user, we like to help implement that platform for new clients and weave it into their customer journey.
EnquireLabs brings speed & scale to zero-party data so Ecommerce brands can build sustainable customer relationships and growth models.
Head of Partnerships at EnquireLabs
Prospective partners should bring expertise & tribal knowledge, not just the promise of growth. Walk into the opportunity with a goal of educating them on what you've seen and what they should be aware of. Make them smarter.
Often the KPIs for growth partner success are just around deal flow & revenues, not the health & happiness of the relationship. Filter your customer engagement & NPS metrics by partner on a regular basis, and you'll start seeing trends reveal a need for partner re-training or better materials & processes.
Strong partner growth is an investment in your team. Having a committed cross-functional relationship between Partnerships, CS, and Product rules the day, and it usually takes some formal training & documentation to achieve that. The ROI on such a commitment doesn't show up immediately, but it's a huge long-term advantage.
Gorgias builds a multi-channel helpdesk integrated with e-commerce merchants' back-office. It allows merchants to manage all their support from one place. Gorgias connects all business apps and all communication channels to provide support agents a unified view of their customers. It sets auto-responses to common customer requests. Gorgias helps merchants leverage support as a way to increase sales.
Strategic Partner Manager at Gorgias
Value out, value out, value out. We're in the business of value creation for our partners. Indeed, I view myself as an extension of a partner's team. How do I kickstart a partnership? I ask the partner, "What can I do to help you grow this quarter?"
Aligning on a clear roadmap for success - that's the secret really. What initiatives should we prioritize this quarter and next, and what are the goals? These can be pretty soft goals to be honest, but it's critical to be aligned - and to track progress towards those goals on a monthly basis"
Good business relationships are built on trust. Can your partner rely on you when things get sticky with a mutual client? Can they rely on your to influence a deal when they need you, and help grow their business? This is how long-term relationships and partnerships are built.
Director of partnerships at Gorgias
Starting a brand new partnership can be hard, especially if it’s a new product or service the other party might not have heard of. The most important things you can do to start a new partnership are:
- Discovery - Take the time to understand who you are talking to, and what their KPIs are from a partnership to help them achieve their goals
- Value first - You should never kick off a partnership by discussing what you want out of it. Start by showing them the value you can provide
- Product first - If you have a product, make sure it is 100% clear the value of your product for their clients. If the product is good, they will want their clients to use it
The best way to maintain a partnership is to focus on the relationship. If you and your partner are friends then it becomes easy to collaborate together, ask for things, and set up monthly cadences. You should also set targets for the partnership and discuss them on a monthly and quarterly basis. Numbers don’t lie.
It can be tough to continually grow a partnership you’ve established for 1+ year. The most important thing is to be creative and always find new ways to add value to the partnership. Don’t get comfortable with how things are even if they are good.
Inveterate is reinventing customer loyalty by giving sellers the power to deploy paid memberships on their storefronts. We’ve built an unrivaled engine that drives a membership-driven, experience-based loyalty program that's turnkey to implement.
Director Of Partnerships at Inveterate
When starting, it’s vital that you spend time defining what a partnership means to you and your company. Next, ensure you and the company are aligned on purpose, outcomes, and tools needed to get there. Once you have this defined, reach out to as many prospective partners as possible and allow those who share the same vision and alignment to reveal themselves in their actions.
Once you feel like you have people or companies who fit the bill, creating a good partnership is predicated on your ability to define and align on what makes a good partnership jointly and the outcomes that you each desire, and finally, measurement of success.
My opinion on growth is that if all of the previous steps are going well, it happens organically, and you find partners that you want to see succeed so much that you can’t help but think of creative solutions of how you can help and that is reciprocated.
Klaviyo™ is a unified customer platform that gives online brands direct ownership of their consumer data and interactions, empowering them to turn transactions with customers into long-term relationships—at scale.
Senior Partner Manager at Klaviyo
The best way to kick off a partnership is to find small wins with new partners that you can quickly start stacking up to build momentum. When we chat with new partners we like to make shared goals that are feasible for both parties. They can be small but should add value to each party's overarching goals. We have found that this is a great way to establish commitment and trust early on with new partnerships and it sets the stage for a healthy long-term relationship.
Consistency with partners is key. Monthly status calls, personalized newsletters and lunch n learns are all great ways to stay in front of your partners to make sure they are updated on all the new happenings at your company. Helping partners find efficiencies and optimize their clients' strategy should be a consistent theme across all your communications to partners at this stage.
As a Partner Manager at Klaviyo, my #1 goal is to help our partners grow their business by offering our platform as a service. We truly see our partners as an extension of our team and their process should resemble a microcosm of your Sales, Support, & Success orgs. To grow a partnership, work closely with your partners on account mapping and co-selling to find opportunities. The end goal in mind is to help each party land new clients while continuing to offer an exceptional service.
Malomo helps ecommerce brands generate more revenue by turning their shipment tracking experience into a marketing channel.
Director of Partnerships at Malomo
When thinking about the beginning stages of a partnership, the first thing I think about is ICP match. This applies for both agency and tech partners. For example, at Malomo we serve e-commerce merchants on Shopify and focus on those sending email from Klaviyo. There may be times where we opportunistically look into partnerships that don’t serve the exact same market, but those are rare. For the most part, we spend almost all of our time with partners who serve our ICP. Account mapping tools like Crossbeam have made it easier than ever to quickly identify true ICP overlap (based on overlapping clients/prospects). This can also be helpful when assessing new partners that compete with one another. Quickly being able to see account overlap can be a great indication of which partner to focus on - at least in the short term.
Maintaining partnerships is all about creating an equitable alliance and having a clear understanding of what each party needs to consider the partnership a success. An easy way to do this is to think about giving before getting. Whenever possible, I like to think of ways in which an ask I have for a partner could benefit them. For example, we are gearing up for a big product announcement and asked some of our closest partners to help us promote it. Rather than leaving it at that, we committed to highlighting each partner that agrees to our request in our announcement. This way we all get positive exposure rather than it just being Malomo who reaps the benefits. The same goes for sourcing new opportunities from partners; Anything you can do to help your partners win deals will go a long way in having deal flow come back around to you (assuming expectations for what makes the partnership a success have been laid out up front).
I believe the key to growing a successful partnership is iterating on your joint value prop until you have one that is virtually seamless to your joint customers. If this is a tech+agency partnership, you might think of ways the agency can package services centered around extracting maximum value from the technology. At a high level, this creates an integrated experience for joint customers, an easy and mutually beneficial way to refer deals back and forth, an additional revenue stream for the agency, and less costly services work for the tech company - a win, win, win, win! Similarly, when you’re looking to take tech+tech partnerships to the next level, integrating more closely and getting alignment from the top down of each org goes a long way in delivering more value to joint clients, and ultimately more value through the partnership.
Partnerhub is the first platform where SaaS and digital agencies can find each other, partner, and grow together. Partnerhub is where digital agencies and tech solutions come together to find, vet, deploy and enable as many partnerships as you can handle.
Founder of Partnerhub
Regardless of customer overlap and alignment, most partnerships fail from day 1 because one of the partners is "passive" and does not have a clear goal or objective for the new partnership. This is why we always recommend agencies (a) learn what they can do with partners, and (b) get the what / how / why of the partnership in writing as soon as the team has decided to begin the partnership with a new tech or other agency. Do this using what we call a "Partner Memorandum" [here's a template] wherein you both align and agree on things like your target persona's, management solution, referral process, whether or not market development funds will be used, who the point of contact is, what key accounts you are going after, if you are going to co-sell, if so, what solution you will be using to map accounts... Basically a written agreement for what your partnership is purposed for that you can refer back to every quarter with your partner and team. This will dramatically increase the success of new partnerships.
Partnerships is a process with stages, and there are projects within the process. If you do not have a good process showing what partners are in what stages with what POC's, you will get lost in email threads and slack messages to the point where the partnership will be reduced to either you chasing them or them chasing you - an obligation rather than a strategic initiative.
So, project manage your partnerships. Keep them all in one place. I'm biased of course, but Partnerhub is a free option for finding and managing both tech and agency partnerships.
My favorite part - growth on the backs of partnerships. The fastest growing agencies on the planet are doing so with partnerships.
How it's done can involve multiple levers. But, a few actionable strategies are:
- Create things together that get you in front of each others' audiences. Courses, expert highlights, micro-podcasts, events...
- Prior to releasing any large co-marketing campaigns, map accounts in a tool like Reveal, check current account overlap, then check again after the promotions... IF you see more overlap, that means the co-marketing was successful (i.e., attribution). IF not, you can still go into Reveal and start a co-selling routine by strategizing how you can get into those key accounts your partner has that you do not have.
- When you have your partners picked out, productize services on top of those solutions. As in, have an actual landing page that talks to what specific services you can offer on top of ____ product. Then, get that landing page link to your partners customer success and sales team.
- On that note, set LinkedIn Sales Navigator alerts to go off when a new salesperson joins your partners team. Then, reach out to that person asking for an intro call. Either way, get them a copy of your memorandum so they (a) know you, (b) know what you are doing for their ICP, and (c) can easily make the right intro. Also, offer to spiff them $200 per referral.
This last point is because partnerships is a two-way street - you have to be active or they will forget you exist, and therefore not remember to send anyone your way.
Recharge empowers seamless subscription commerce. Since 2014, Recharge has helped over 15,000 merchants launch and scale their subscription business. Be it a curated monthly box, recurring necessities or access to exclusive perks, Recharge powers billions of dollars in annual processing for 50 million consumers.
Partner Manager at Recharge
Starting a partnership is often the hardest part because there are often requirements to get the motion off the ground before the fun parts. I always recommend at least a biweekly call to align on not only company goals but also to get to know the people you work with on a personal level. What are they good at, what are their personal goals, what do you have in common? Once we can align on how we can help each other in and out of the partnership, we move to understanding how we measure success, identifying which challenges we're trying to solve, and creating a constant state of curiosity and exploration for future goals.
Once the regular checkpoints and account mapping are completed, then it's absolutely necessary to stay aligned on the ultimate goals of the partnership and continue driving value to both parties. Additionally, maintaining effective communication in regards to those goals is of paramount importance. Finally, there will always be opportunities to explore deeper areas where both parties can work together.
The growth phase of partnerships is just a function of consistently doing the things from the 'start' and 'maintain' phases. There are absolutely places to optimize the partnership such as creating deeper roots in the ecosystem, building out more go-to-market functions, and keeping an open dialogue for feedback. However, once the foundations of the partnership are developed, keeping a foot on the gas is the most important part.
Superfiliate is a social buying platform for ecommerce merchants.
Co-founder of Superfiliate
Get out there and talk to people! The ecommerce community has really come together over the last few years across Twitter, Slack, etc and no one is afraid of a cold DM or LinkedIn message. You never know where a conversation will lead, and there is almost always a way to help someone. Figure out how you can help someone and keep doing that. Eventually they'll notice.
Get your teams involved. Partnerships run far deeper than just Founders of Heads of Partnership. Get a slack channel with engineers, marketing, and other functions and watch the ideas start flowing. This also builds trust amongst everyone which is absolutely critical because bad things will happen along the way, and trust is the only way to work through those together.
Also - take advantage of the tools out there! Things like Partnerstack take a ton of the heavy lifting out of partnerships, and can enable you to automate the tasks that aren't solving problems for customers which is where you want to be spending your time!
Make sure that you and your partners don't only know where you are, but also where you're going. If you can start to plan together and build roadmaps with collaboration in mind, you can really take partnership to the next level and truly create some differentiated use cases that set you apart from the crowd.
Wonderment is the leading order tracking app for Shopify & Shopify Plus stores. Wonderment helps you deliver delightful, post-purchase experiences, prevent "where is my order" calls before they happen, and increase customer delight with proactive, branded shipping notifications.
Head of Agency Partnerships at Wonderment
The best partnerships are built on alignment, reliability, and reciprocity. Look for partners who want to go beyond transactional lead sharing but instead take time to understand your vision and the ins and outs of your company.
When evaluating partnerships, aim to go deep with a few select partners. You’ll have more exposure to their full team, get to know them on a personal level, and have more productive conversations, all while having fun. Less is more!
To maintain strong partnerships, you need good communication and execution from both parties:
Connecting with various key stakeholders within your partners’ organization while also finding ways to connect them to stakeholders in yours. This way your relationship goes beyond partnerships, into C-level executives, Sales/CS, marketing, product, new hires, etc.
Making sure both parties are accountable so you’re not repeating yourselves on each monthly status call. You need to have clear action items/due dates following these calls so you can make progress towards your overarching partner goals.
Understanding what is going on with each others’ businesses. Is there something else that takes priority? Are they hiring a new Marketing Director so they can no longer execute the webinar we had planned this month? Be transparent and overcommunicate.
In order to ensure that a partnership flourishes, it’s important think through the following:
Do we have the necessary resources allocated to growing the partnership? (How much MDF can we contribute? Do we need an additional partner marketer to execute properly? Does our timeframe allow for X, Y and Z activities?) If only one side is pulling their weight, the partnership will not be set up for the long run.
How will we internalize the partnership to make sure all new hires are aware of the partnership? Will we incorporate it into our new-hire onboarding program? If the people involved in the partnership don’t change while both teams evolve, your goals won’t necessarily trickle down to frontline teams. From client-facing team members to internal dev’s - get in front of them, build rapport and understand how you can support one another. The more you can meet in person, the better!
Align on how you will measure the success of your partnership and share all of your wins both internally and externally!
Find Your Community
You’ll succeed most when your network of partnerships is tailored to your needs. Above are the people who’ve supported Electriq and allowed us to become a leader within the Shopify ecosystem. Your network will look different as it is tailored to your unique growth journey!
Whether you’re just starting on Shopify or you already have a team of partners around you, there’s more to learn from those who have been in your position before.
E-commerce and brand-building are not about short-term solutions and instant gratification. Success is built on healthy partnerships, and genuine relationships take time to build. Invest your time into finding the right partners, maintaining relationships, and growing together.