Career Advice
Ecosystem Pioneer: Cathleen Nelson

We're excited to spotlight Cathleen Nelson, Global Director of Strategic Cloud Alliances at JFrog at the time of our interview. Recognizing the potential of cloud partnerships well before they took off, Cathleen has figured out how to expertly leverage these alliances and marketplaces for growth.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into Business Development / Partnerships?

I started my career in sales, working for companies like ADP and Gartner. I have a lot of experience with enterprise selling and I absolutely love it. But I'm even more passionate about helping others become successful. When I worked for Gartner, we didn't have channels or alliances-we had to pick up the phone to create our own destiny.

I realized I wanted to know who was having margaritas with who, who was in a golf league with who. I wanted to establish great relationships with accounts and have a strong understanding of their long-term business objectives and strategies. So I ended up naturally working with partners, even though there was no official partnership motion that we had. After I got into channels, I started recognizing the value in long-term and cloud partnerships. At Commvault, I actually established a Cloud Alliance Manager job for the Americas that ended up growing exponentially. Today I run the gamut across 3 clouds with co-build, co-GTM and co-selling initiatives, helping JFrog get scale out of the partnerships.

What's really interesting about JFrog is their mission. In a post-COVID world, your competitive differentiation is speed to innovation. DevOps drives that, and JFrog's platform helps develop, secure, and release binaries (or software) much faster.

What does JFrog do?

JFrog is a public software company that aims to power the world's software updates, driven by a "Liquid Software" vision to allow the seamless, secure, fearless flow of binaries from developers to the edge.

How has this job function changed over the past decade? Where do you see it heading in the next 5 years?

It has evolved a lot. Today there's an element of digital commerce that's changing the way we engage customers. Everyone is competing for wallet share. Enterprise agreements are getting bigger and bigger, often in the hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, how do you:

  • Effectively track your spend on IT initiatives?
  • Enable your software development teams to innovate quickly by accessing tools easily?
  • Consolidate your billing?
  • Get singular visibility into what your spending patterns are?

Those are all elements that you can get with digital commerce. Many companies try to build it themselves or attach themselves to some of these bigger organizations who have marketplaces.

We're seeing marketplaces pop up everywhere. You've got the AWS marketplace, the Microsoft marketplace, Red Hat, and many more. Companies need to move very fast. The route to market motions have evolved beyond co-selling and companies need to adapt to capture that wallet share. A lot of ISVs aren't equipped to handle 1 marketplace. How do you then get to 4 or 5 marketplaces? It's a lot of work to get to that level.

"Today there’s an element of digital commerce that’s changing the way we engage customers. Everyone is competing for wallet share."

What's your favorite part of working with partners?

The best part is recognizing the importance of partner success. A good example of that is 4 or 5 years ago, AWS was not a partner-friendly company. If you wanted to do business, you had to fit into their box. They drove the market and decided how you managed the partnership.

What's really been interesting is that as AWS has seen success with their partnering motions, they've quickly adapted, embraced, and developed more programs that support their ISV partnerships. They're providing ISVs with thought leadership and best practices. And it allows them to move faster and succeed more easily. Today AWS has an amazing partner program and I really enjoyed watching the evolution.

What's a common misconception you hear about Partnerships?

"What has my partner done for me lately? What value does the partnership bring?" I've been hearing this for years. It's that tip of the iceberg concept where people only see a small part of what business development does, and they don't notice the cross-functional work that you do. We're working across products, engineering, sales, and marketing. People only see what you do within their domains, not the entire picture. The misconceptions are out there, they're real. So it is a constant state of education.

What's one of the biggest challenges you've tackled as an Ecosystem Pioneer?

The toughest challenge is getting alignment with leadership. Most companies will agree that they need some sort of route to market through channels or alliances, but there are misconceptions around what this means. This goes back to the education piece above-you're constantly setting expectations of what is realistic from a partnership.

One good example is people often think that if they put something in a marketplace, then they're going to get a bunch of opportunities and deals coming through there. The reality is this is a tool that's part of a bigger program. The tool itself is not the strategy, it enables a strategy. If expectations for partnerships aren't established or articulated well, executives will be disillusioned. You need to communicate how much effort needs to go into partnerships to capitalize on their potential.

"People often think that if they put something in a marketplace, then they’re going to get a bunch of opportunities and deals coming through there. The reality is this is a tool, and the tool itself is not the strategy – it enables a strategy."

What advice do you have for aligning well with Sales organizations?

One thing I have to do is look at the maturity level of the company to understand their appetite. Different companies are at different phases of their partnership journey. I came from a company that had 85% of their business go through some sort of channel. But then I came to work for a company where we were starting at 10% of the business.

At JFrog, we grew up on inbound sales motions, which is fantastic. How great is it to be part of a company where it's product-led? But as you start to make that shift into sales, it's important to set the right expectations with Sales upfront, because at some point, everybody wants to be numbers driven. You might have to pull back and say, "You know what? We're not going to do that quite yet because we have foundational work that we have to tackle." Sometimes you need to develop that partnership muscle first, and that's not an overnight process.

Developing this muscle is the second phase after the foundational work has been set, which is what I've done here at JFrog. I built a program that incentivized people to have conversations with their partners without setting revenue expectations and then highlighted and vocalized those wins. The next phase of it was establishing the benefits of working with marketplaces. Again, not focusing on the number just yet. Finally, after the partnering and marketplace muscles have been built, we now need to make sure we're capitalizing on them. Are you trying to sell high, wide, or supersize deals? What's the best way to use partners and marketplaces to achieve that? From there, you can start being accountable with metrics and planning with Sales how partners will contribute to the number.

"Here at JFrog, I built a program that incentivized people to have conversations with their partners without setting revenue expectations and then highlighted and vocalized those wins."

What tips do you have for measuring the value that partners contribute, whether it's revenue, new logos, or faster deal cycles?

Gathering metrics is really hard. Throughout the years I've seen this big debate on tagging: how do you tag, at what point do you attribute, what qualifies as influence, what qualifies as a partner brought, that sort of thing. Sometimes you're not going to get 100% alignment on what metrics you should be tracking.

Secondly, you've got to build out your CRM fields for data capture and then get people to start recording properly. What I've done to establish metrics is the painstaking effort of tracking a variety of metrics manually just to get a baseline. It's hard to sell someone on the idea of tracking the right, meaningful metrics unless you can explain why we do it and give examples of the metrics that we can capture and how they can affect the right outcomes. Once they see it brings value, you can make a case for getting the alignment, processes, and resources needed to help you track metrics.

"It’s hard to sell someone on the idea of tracking the right, meaningful metrics unless you can explain why we do it and give examples of the metrics that we can capture and how they can affect the right outcomes."

What advice do you have for those seeking mentors? How have you found support as you've advanced your own career in Partnerships?

Mentorship is very interesting. I've been part of a lot of Women in Technology groups. I actually founded one of these groups at a former company that I worked with. One thing that I'm very adamant about is that it's one thing to get assigned a mentor but getting assigned a mentor may not be 100% what you're looking for.

When you really look around, you'll often find that you have a lot of mentors in your life or in your career or in your network that you may not be aware of. I've had both formal and informal mentors. Sometimes they knew they were my mentor and sometimes they didn't. You have to consider different people and what you want to learn and not be afraid to ask for advice whether it's a formal mentorship or not. If you wait around for someone to come along and do that for you, you're probably not going to get the results that you're looking for.

What superpowers have you seen in other ecosystem leaders that make them particularly effective?

I love the superpower question as it is truly a reflection of what you believe you bring to the table. The superpower I believe is the most important from my observation of other successful ecosystem leaders is the power to influence. Managing Channels, Alliances, ISV or any other partnerships can sometimes feel a lot like herding cats and you can spin a lot of cycles. The power to influence external and internal stakeholders to build alignment is the superpower that I look to improve on, and I look to learn from others who do it well.

Are there any business podcasts or books you enjoy that you would recommend?

I really enjoy podcasts and books because I can find multiple sources of inspiration. I'm currently reading the book Own the Room by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins as it hits home on leadership presence and influence. However, my current favorite leadership book that I often refer back to is Extreme Ownership by Jocko Wilink. Everyone on my team has this book and we often have ad hoc discussions on many of the principles it outlines. Managing ecosystem partnerships can present many challenges due to multiple stakeholders and many things we may feel aren't in our control. At the end of the day we are responsible for delivering on our initiatives and we ultimately own it-no excuses.

What's a surprising or fun fact about you that we can't find on Google?

I love to remodel houses. I do much of the work myself but also manage my own sub-contractors when necessary. The last project I worked on was transforming a 2bdr/1ba duplex to a 2400 5bdr/3ba sq foot home. This required stripping everything to the studs, replacing everything, plumbing, electric, windows, walls, stairs... everything. I worked on this with my son and his college fraternity brothers and completed the work in exactly 6 months, working nights and weekends.

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