We’re kicking of our Ecosystem Pioneer series in 2022 with Scott Singerman, VP of Global Partnerships at Mixpanel. Scott explains how a mentality of “collaboration over competition” led him to where he is today, establishing relationships with GSIs and helping partners grow.
Welcome, Scott! Can you take us through your career journey?
I’m currently VP of Global Partnerships at Mixpanel, having built the partner program and ecosystem from the ground up over these past 2.5 years. Prior to Mixpanel, I spent 4 years at Anaplan, an enterprise performance management platform. I joined when they were a fairly small, 300-person startup and stayed until they were about a 1,600 person public company, so I got to see the whole journey. And before that, I was an accountant by trade, doing international tax and transfer pricing consulting for PwC. I was based in the Silicon Valley office working with large technology companies like LinkedIn, Apple, and Facebook.
I’ve moved around quite a bit too. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and went to college at The Ohio State University. Within 5 days of graduating, I moved to Beijing, China for a year. After getting back from China, my now wife and I packed all our belongings into a car and drove west to San Francisco. That’s where I got into the technology space, which then led me to Singapore, New York City, and now Miami. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing tennis, hanging out at the beach, traveling, and spending time with my wife and Kaya, our Bernadoodle puppy.
How did you end up in Partnerships?
In retrospect, it goes all the way back to college when I started a small event production company that did local music and DJ events. When I started that, I noticed that there were a number of people in town hosting their own parties. Because they would schedule events on the same night, only 30 or 40 people would show up to each event. So, I gathered the five major players together and suggested we all combine forces and start working with each other rather than against each other. That way we’d 5-10X the total number of attendees. I’d always repeat the line: “collaboration over competition”. And it worked. Thinking about it now, this was really my first foray into partnerships.
More directly within the technology world, when I started at Anaplan, I was on the Customer Success side of the business. While I was working in Southeast Asia as a Customer Success Director, the new sales leader for Asia-Pacific thought that the most important thing that was missing in the region was alliances and partnerships with large systems integrator (SI) companies. He knew about my background at PwC and my understanding of these SI organizations, how they were structured, and how they operated, so he asked me if I would consider a Partnerships role. My first response was “no thank you.” I was truly invested in our Customer Success team and my customers. However, the more conversations we had about it, the more it seemed like a unique opportunity and something that I would not only enjoy doing, but also be good at.
When I started in the role, I spent most of my time focusing on our relationship with Deloitte, Accenture, PwC, and other large SIs in Southeast Asia. The scope of the role quickly expanded to cover all partnerships across Asia-Pacific. This was an exciting time because I was learning so much – not just about working with different types of partners, but also doing business with different cultures. Eventually, when I moved New York just before the Anaplan IPO, I started leading what they called the Partner Sales Go-to-Market function, developing strategy and serving as the primary point of contact for the entire partner ecosystem for our East Coast sales org. At the time, we were doing $20M+ of business a year through partners just in that sub-region.
After a fulfilling 4 years at Anaplan, I joined Mixpanel with a mandate to build out the global Partner program.
For those who aren't familiar, what is Mixpanel?
Mixpanel helps companies build better products and more personalized experiences through data. Playing in the emerging category of product analytics, Mixpanel allows teams to analyze how and why users are converted, engaged, and retained.
"My favorite part is being an advisor to partners. I help them understand where the opportunity lies and how to craft and shape their services to be able to capitalize on the market opportunity."
What is your favorite part of working with partners?
My favorite part is being an advisor to partners. When I talk to partners, I try to never make the relationship purely transactional. I help them understand where the opportunity lies and how to craft and shape their services to be able to capitalize on the market opportunity. The most gratifying thing is to see a partner grow their business. I have a responsibility to our customers, to Mixpanel, and to our partners. When our partners do great work for our customers, that not only benefits Mixpanel, but it also provides valuable revenue for the partners. Many times, the partner then decides to reinvest that revenue back into their business and grow their Mixpanel practice.
Over time, you have the opportunity to see partners grow, create more jobs, and make a big impact on people's lives. While at Anaplan, I got to see small consultancies grow from 10 to 200 people and eventually sell their business to Accenture or other large SIs. I’m seeing the same thing at Mixpanel now. I have a number of partners that started out as 2-3 person shops, and now they’ve grown to employ 20-30 people just focused on Mixpanel. I love being a part of that growth story.
What else do I enjoy? Diplomacy – which I think is arguably the most important skill for somebody in partnerships. You have different people and organizations that aren't necessarily totally aligned in terms of incentives, and you have to try to create commonality and shared outcomes. It's not always an easy thing to do, but I enjoy the challenge that comes with it.
Finally, I like that I get to touch basically every part of the business. Partnerships is a full funnel team – we’re responsible for top of funnel, demand generation, and pipeline, but we're also responsible for deal acceleration, improving sales productivity, and helping our team win deals and grow deals and improve our win rates and close rates. We’re also involved with the post-sales aspect and customer retention, making sure our customers are onboarded properly and that we retain them over time. It’s exciting to be part of the entire customer journey.
Are there any big challenges that you've tackled in your role as Ecosystem Pioneer?
The biggest challenge is shifting the culture of a company. When I joined Mixpanel, it was not a partner-friendly company. We didn't have the right incentives in place to work with partners. Our go-to-market was very broad and we had ancillary products that competed with our technology partners’, which didn't create the right dynamics for a strong relationship. On the agency/certified partner side, our Sales Reps were compensated on selling our internal professional services, so there was actually a disincentive to bring in partners. Plus, we were in the early stages of partner relationship building, without a program or an ecosystem or deep relationships at that point. It was very rare for partners to be involved with deals, with only 6% of all our seller-based bookings having a partner involved in some capacity.
If we fast forward 2 years to where we are today, it’s a much different story. There was a lot of work that went into changing the culture of the Sales, Customer Success, and Product teams. Partners are now involved in more than 50% of our revenue. This spans technology partners that we co-sell with, those reselling our solution internationally, and agencies that support customer onboarding. Right now, the majority of our customer onboardings are delivered by partners. Getting the entire company to buy into this partner-first mindset has been one of the more significant challenges I’ve faced.
"Diplomacy is arguably the most important skill for somebody in partnerships. You have different people and organizations that aren't necessarily totally aligned in terms of incentives, and you have to try to create commonality and shared outcomes."
Do you have any advice for those trying to establish international partnerships for the first time?
If you are not in the region yourself, hire well. It’s difficult to sit in the U.S. and establish meaningful relationships with those in Asia or Europe without someone there on the ground. Trust is still primarily built with in-person interactions. You also need to adapt the way you approach partnerships based on the region and country, conscious of cultural nuances. You can’t replicate the same business practices universally – companies in Indonesia operate and do business differently than companies in the Philippines or Thailand, for example.
My first few hires were in London and France, who have since built our partner ecosystem from the ground up in Europe. For Asia-Pacific, I’ve hired a fantastic person, Edward, from HubSpot to drive relationship growth there. Self-starter mentalities and trust are key.
Another tip is to set up a framework with the rest of the organization on how to approach specific markets. Spend time upfront defining new markets, emerging markets, and mature markets. Once you can easily classify markets or countries, you can decide how do you want to serve those markets. What’s the right go-to-market motion? You might decide to take a partner-first approach to new markets, setting up a reseller on the ground to help with local marketing and business development, and to grow the groundswell until it becomes an emerging market. At that point, you start layering on more resources from the company. Soon it becomes an established market using a direct sales-led approach with partner support. Having a common understanding of markets and your plans for serving them help mitigate channel conflict and friction.
"Spend time upfront defining new markets, emerging markets, and mature markets. Once you can easily classify markets or countries, you can decide how do you want to serve those markets."
What are some ways to measure the impact of partnerships, especially regarding pipeline?
As I alluded to earlier, partnerships is a full funnel team, so it does have an impact beyond revenue. Demand generation and pipeline is still a very important component, but you need a more holistic metric to capture the full impact. The primary metric that we use is something that I call “partner bookings,” which is an aggregation of three different sub-metrics:
- Partner-sourced bookings: top of the funnel, pipeline metric where a partner a partner brings you a deal that you didn't previously have before
- Partner-influenced bookings: mid-funnel metric where a partner makes some material impact on the sales cycle that helped us win the deal. We already have a deal that's in our funnel that we generated, but a partner supports that deal through something like a customer workshop, POC, or an introduction to a stakeholder they knew
- Partner-attached bookings: bottom of the funnel metric where we drove a majority of the sales cycle ourselves but we brought a partner in to support the customer onboarding and implementation
If you sum up the partner-sourced, partner-influenced, and partner-attached metrics, you get partner bookings, the primary metric we rely on.
You’ve worked closely with some of the largest tech companies and consultancies. What advice do you have for those forging GSI partnerships?
First of all, these are really complex, highly matrixed organizations. There are verticals of different practices which may be aligned by industries, and there are horizontals which are aligned by competency. Before going into conversations, you need to understand how these organizations are structured and who you're talking to, because you could wind up wasting a lot of time talking to someone who can’t help you drive things forward. You need to understand what is motivating them and what their group is focused on and responsible for within the broader context of the organization.
The second thing is a lot of people want to go top-down in these organizations and find the most senior partner that they can within a certain practice area, build the relationship there, and get it pushed down. If you are Adobe, Salesforce, Microsoft, Amazon or somebody with a huge established practice and you're already doing $100 million worth of business with this partner, that works. But if you are a startup company or a scale-up company that is competing with Adobe or Microsoft or Amazon, you're going to have a hard time doing that and winning a partner’s allegiance no matter how innovative your solution is.
What is more interesting and successful is finding an ambitious Senior Manager or Director within the organization that needs a path to make Partner over the next few years. They’re close enough to the field, the actual work, and the technology that they're going to understand your differentiators over incumbent technology. I witnessed this work firsthand while at Anaplan and it’s a play I expect us to also run at Mixpanel.
What are some superpowers you’ve seen in other Ecosystem leaders that make them very effective?
Diplomacy, as well as communication. People want to feel like you are not just hearing them, but you're listening to them on every side of the partnership equation. I’m also impressed by those who can take very complex concepts and distill them down and communicate them in a clear, succinct way.
"People want to feel like you are not just hearing them, but you're listening to them on every side of the partnership equation."
What changes do you expect to see in partner ecosystems in 2022?
The ecosystem orchestration shift that Pronto has been talking about is interesting and directionally where I think the world is heading. In addition, I expect we’ll see vendors getting closer and closer and finding new and innovative ways to reduce as much friction as possible in both the buying process and in the customer experience.
Are there any business-related podcasts, books, communities, or shows you enjoy that you would recommend?
The Partnership Leaders Slack channel has created a great community of practitioners. I also like the Churn.fm podcast, which focuses on retention strategies for SaaS companies. Making customers happier is near and dear to my heart, so I was glad to be featured on the show recently to discuss the role partnerships can play in helping companies improve customer retention
What’s a surprising fact about you that people might not know?
I'm a black belt in taekwondo. Also, I used to be a DJ, but not the cool type of DJ that's getting people to put their hands up in the club, but the DJ that was at a wedding or a bar mitzvah doing an electric slide with your 50-year-old aunt.