GTM Navigator: Accelerating Growth Through Partnerships 
GTM Navigator

GTM Navigator: Accelerating Growth Through Partnerships 

GTM Navigator is our ongoing series where we break down the essential components of nailing the right go-to-market strategy.  

In this episode, Luke Kornack, Principal on our growth-team at Fin Capital, speaks with Shayne Mullen, Team Lead, Alliance Partnerships, North America, at Adyen. In this discussion, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to effectively structure and leverage partnerships to accelerate business growth, tailor strategies according to market segments, and align partnership goals with overarching business objectives. We’re grateful to Shayne for sharing his insights and hope this episode of GTM Navigator empowers you to leverage partnerships effectively in your business strategy. 

Key Highlights 

What are Partnerships and How Can You Create an Effective Partnership Strategy? [1:07] 

Partnerships vary greatly depending on the end customer and the goals of the partnership. The nature and objectives of partnerships can dramatically influence the approach, whether it’s driving customer acquisition or developing new revenue streams. Identifying clear goals and understanding the customer are pivotal in crafting effective partnership strategies.  

When to Implement a Partnership Model? [3:16] 

The timing for implementing a partnership model depends on the company’s stage and goals. Shayne discusses that partnerships are typically formed to accelerate growth, especially when direct sales and marketing efforts are resource-intensive. For companies targeting enterprises, partnerships are crucial from the early stages to scale effectively and penetrate large accounts. 

Incentives in Partnerships [7:05] 

Effective partnerships are based on mutual benefits. Incentives can range from lead generation and revenue sharing to providing best-in-class solutions without direct monetary exchange. Understanding and aligning on what each party seeks to gain is essential for a fruitful relationship. 

Integrating Partnerships Within the Organization [11:06] 

Shayne emphasizes that partnerships should be integrated within the commercial engine of a company, alongside sales, marketing, and SDR functions. This integration ensures alignment in strategy and goals, preventing silos that can lead to inefficiencies and misaligned objectives. 

Challenges in Partnerships [14:49] 

Misalignments and unclear expectations often break partnerships. Regular alignment, prioritizing effective partners, and being willing to deprioritize less-effective engagements are key to maintaining healthy partnerships. Data-driven decision-making is crucial to avoid overstretched resources and focus on high-impact activities. 

Impact of Fintech Evolution on Partnerships [17:52] 

The evolution of the Fintech sector influences partnership strategies significantly. As Fintech grows and matures, the incorporation of experienced professionals from established tech ecosystems is transforming how partnerships are strategized and executed, bringing more sophisticated and structured approaches to the sector. 

Starting a Career in Partnerships [20:26] 

For those interested in a career in partnerships, starting in sales to build foundational skills in relationship management and understanding of business models is key. This foundation enables effective management of partnerships that extend beyond simple transactional relationships to strategic alliances that drive substantial business value. 

Key show notes (edited for clarity): 

Luke (00:12): Today we’re diving into all things partnerships with Shayne Mullen. Shayne, great to have you on. I’m excited to dig into partnerships and hear what you have to say. I think for us here at Fin, we get the question a lot about how to effectively build a partnership strategy. That varies by end market, product, size, who you’re selling to. Maybe without breaking through the complexity right away, we can discuss what partnerships are and what they mean to you. 

Shayne (01:07): Absolutely, and thank you, Luke, for having me. Excited to join you here and chat about partnerships. I’ve been in the partnership space, business development, and a bit of sales for the last 10 years, specifically focused on the Fintech vertical. I’ve spent time in the lending ecosystem, the payments ecosystem, the crypto ecosystem, and have established long-term and strategic partnerships across different verticals.  

Partnerships, to me, is a loaded term. It can mean a lot of things to different people, and it depends on a few factors. First, who’s your customer, who’s the end customer you’re targeting? If it’s a consumer, small business, or enterprise, there are going to be different partner motions to achieve results for those partners. Second, what is the end goal of the partnership? Is it to accelerate the growth curve of the organization by driving more customers to the sales funnel or customer acquisition funnel? Or is it to monetize and create new revenue streams by working with new or third-party relationship providers to drive efficiencies within your existing stack of tools? It really depends. Once you identify those things, who are the customers and what are the goals of the partnership, then you can start to hone in on strategies, motions, and workstreams to actually get those results over the finish line. 

Luke (02:54): One thing that’s always top of mind for us when we’re making an investment at the early stage as well as at the growth stage is trying to figure out when is the right time. So for you, you’ve been at various different companies from series A all the way up to now public, when is the right time to implement a partnership model? 

Shayne (03:16): I’ve been in organizations where partner models were built and implemented at Series A, Seed stage, early on. I’ve also been at organizations that are late stage and have relatively robust partner programs. The answer, again, depends. If you think about why partnerships exist, we like to say here at Adyen, “it exists to accelerate the growth curve”. A lot of organizations find hiring salespeople expensive. It takes a long time to train them up, requires a lot of resources, a lot of capital, and may not be the direct or the first approach that some organizations take at the early stage to start acquiring customers. The beauty of partnerships is that it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of lift to establish a channel. You do have to have the basics in place, but if you establish a channel with the right incentives and you have the right aligned strategy, you can derive a network effect or an ecosystem effect from partnering or establishing these relationships early on. Again, it really depends on the type of organization you are and the goals you’re trying to accomplish for that organization. If you’re trying to scale out a particular program without having to take a tremendous amount of upfront investment with a sales pipeline or a sales team, it’s a phenomenal decision to have. 

Luke (06:40): I think you made a good point there on access and distribution, but what’s the beginning link or the beginning bridge of building that partnership? How do you guys think through incentives? Obviously with any good partnership, it’s a give and a take, right? So what are some typical models that you implement to get that partner aligned, pre rollout and pre tech integration? 

Shayne (07:05): It’s going to depend on the partner type and some of the goals of the organization. I can focus it maybe a little bit more on enterprise and some of the work that we do here at Adyen. Like you said, partnerships, they’re two-way streets. It’s bilateral value. Very few times have I established strong performing partnerships that we were the only ones receiving value and the partner was not receiving anything at all. To your point about incentives, I think it’s very important to understand what does the partner, or what is the partner looking for out of this relationship. It’s important to establish that in the conversation’s beginning. Having a very open dialogue with your partner or with that prospect about what it is that they want or that they’re looking to accomplish out of this relationship has always benefited us in every conversation we’ve ever had. What does that look like? Well, I’ve had partners who are looking for lead generation. I have partners that are looking for revenue opportunities to drive, increase their revenue in their book. I have partners that are looking for referral incentives, and then I have partners honestly who are completely agnostic to who they want to bring into a particular conversation. This is more in the consulting universe, but they want the best-in-class solution and they want someone who can support them and be on a phone call or respond to their email immediately or within a day so they don’t have to worry about any sort of delay or latency within the relationship. That’s value in my opinion. It might not be monetary value, but that’s value in my world.  

I manage the GSI channels at Adyen. That’s what we call alliances. GSIs for those who may not know are large global system integrators. Some examples of those are Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte, Cognizant. We classify EY in the GSI category as well. And those institutions and organizations, they care about service revenue. So what does that mean? That means how can they generate more billable hours or more service revenue on a strategy or technology consulting perspective by introducing your product to their customer.  

We have other organizations in our program that we classify as regional partners that fall into the channel bucket who may not care as much about getting service revenue or service implementation revenue, but they do care about referral revenue or rev share. And therefore, we have structured unique agreements to create an income stream for those organizations. They’re smaller by nature, but they are always involved in very unique opportunities across the board, and we want to be able to provide value back to them in any way that we can, and we try to make our referral and our revenue share healthy enough out of our margins. We are a relatively high margin business to make sure that everyone is able to put the resources and the time to work to continue these partnerships on a go forward basis. Those are two examples, but I think it does vary depending on how we shape out what type of partner type you’re building or you’re thinking about. 

Luke (11:06): And when I think about your role, and I think about broader partnership roles, especially at larger companies, if it’s growth or public, I honestly envision Atlas holding up the globe. It’s holding up the rest of the team in a way. How do you work within your organizational structure? So you have sales, you have product, you have engineering. What is a good partnership model both in the org and outside look like? 

Shayne (11:31): The way that we have typically built it here at Adyen that we think and I think is the right way to approach it, honestly, whether you’re just building out your commercial team or you’re already the size of someone like an Adyen or bigger is really a pillar within a commercial engine. So, what is a commercial engine? Well, for us, the commercial engine really is sales marketing, SDR and partnerships. We are all working together to drive new revenue and new business to our organization focused on a particular industry segment or a particular pillar. But we are all aligned in that mission and that is a unified strategy across the entire commercial engine globally, and we all work towards that same goal.  

I think the problem you see with a lot of these organizations that are early on is they have siloed parts of their organization that don’t necessarily talk to one another in a unified function or may or may not roll up to the same leadership, which can cause a bit of dislocation or siloed approaches in different goal setting. So if you have a marketing team that manages partnerships and you have a revenue team that manages sales and the marketing team’s KPIs or OKRs are similar to sales but not necessarily aligned, you may have different incentives for that partnerships team to work on specific things and it may not drive the outcomes that you’re looking to drive. So I wouldn’t say maybe commercial engine is not for every company.  

I think there’s a lot of consumer facing businesses. I’ve worked at one, BlockFi, we were a large crypto financial services platform where to be honest, we were not looking to sell SaaS products or payment products to SMBs or enterprises. We were looking to acquire consumers. And that motion was more like a marketing motion than a sales or business development motion. And we didn’t have a sales or real business development team at BlockFi.  So we did sit on the marketing org and that worked really well. But I think if you’re selling an enterprise solution that’s either a SaaS model or a transaction-based model, you need to work with marketing SDR and sales in the same unified strategy with the same unified OKRs, the same unified target account lists the entire end-to-end opportunity, or you may come across some situations that are difficult. 

Luke (14:22): It sounds like a bunch of people rowing a boat together. So that makes sense. I would like to touch on also some of the negative components maybe. What have you seen in your roles where there’s breakage, like that dislocation that you mentioned? What are some of the challenges that you have seen either on the partnership side or the integration and work between those teams that you just mentioned? What could go wrong and why does it go wrong? 

Shayne (14:49): There are a couple things. Number one, back to the earlier point that I had mentioned around just aligning expectations with your partner, that is critical. So, if you don’t do that or at least don’t have a joint business plan or some sort of joint agreement, doesn’t need to be binding or anything along those lines, but an agreement in nature where you both understand what you’re trying to accomplish, you’re going to struggle along the way. And if you establish that early on, you absolutely should continue to establish that in a go forward basis as well. It’s not a one-time thing. So I would say alignment of expectations or misalignment of expectations over a longer term period can actually lead to some issues.  

The other thing I would say, just generally speaking is as you start to scale out these programs, there’s a lot you can do. As I said earlier, partnerships is an incredibly loaded topic. There are so many different avenues that you can take, so many different approaches that you can handle depending on the size and style and type of your business. I think prioritization is extremely important. So, double down on the things that work well. If you have five partners that are doing 50% or 60% of your goal, keep working with them, double down on them, spend more time with them, maybe get some more partners similar to them, but really understand why they’re doing so well and then try to emulate that versus trying to test a lot of things and spending your resources quite thin and not necessarily having successes as you would.  

The biggest problems I’ve had in my career with partner creation is not doubling down on the winners and the ones that are doing well for me fast enough and prioritizing in that regard. And then what that also alludes to as well in a prioritization perspective is being okay with deprioritizing things that feel like you should be spending time on them. Really, partnerships is a relationship gain and it’s absolutely people pleasing and just being a good people person and being a good relationship person is the number one thing to care about. But data is number two. And if the data is not telling you the answers you want to see and you’re doing everything you can to build out that program, then you must be okay with deprioritizing it. And that’s difficult. It’s challenging for partner leaders and partner managers. 

Luke (17:25): Without a doubt. And I know we were touching on this before we hopped on to film, but the Fintech landscape has started to change. I think you and I discussed that we went from a phase of unbundling that everybody had their own point solution to now somewhat of a rebundling. How has that affected partnership roles and partnership within Fintech? 

Shayne (17:52): I think as I evolved in the Fintech ecosystem from, I really started my career at Bloomberg, but my real first foray was at Orchard platform. I worked for Matt Burton’s company who we really were, I would say one of the first involved in the marketplace lending space. I don’t think partnerships were really defined quite well in our organization or we didn’t really understand some of the goals that we wanted to accomplish because we didn’t even really understand what we were meant to solve for quite yet. Everything was so new.  

So I think as the space has evolved, there have been a lot of organizations in the Fintech space hiring folks who have done the partner motions at more legacy or larger ecosystems, think like cloud or healthcare or retail. These organizations, Salesforce, Adobe, Microsoft, these are some of the smartest partner people on the planet. They’ve been doing this for 30 plus years of real true enterprise partner or even mid-market partnership experience. And the Fintech industry, I would say over the last five years, or maybe even longer 10 years, has really started to acquire some of those folks into the space and it’s transformed the way that we operate and think about partner motions. And I would say that Adyen is no different. We have folks here from Shopify, Adobe, Salesforce, Oracle. Folks who understand how those motions operate because those organizations have dominated the enterprise space for so long. It’s exciting to see. And hopefully as Fintech gets larger and there’s more companies that get to the size and scale that we are more publicly traded companies come to market next year, we will start seeing more talent emerge in the partner ecosystem and the partnerships teams and start to see some more unique motions and frameworks being built. 

Luke (20:07): And so if someone was leaving college right now and they really wanted to grow into that partnership role, where should they start? And I know not everybody can jump in and be the head of partnerships here in the US, but if they were going to leave college and they wanted to pursue this as a career, where should they start? 

Shayne (20:26): I think there are two paths. One is at the core of what I do, relationship management, people management data. That all sits on top of being a seller. You can’t be good at partnerships either without having some sales knowledge or at least understanding how to sell. You are an extension of the sales team. You’re not necessarily responsible for a sales quota perse, but you need to understand how to pitch, how to sell, how to build those skill sets. So I would say number one, the angle would be to enter a sales organization at a Fintech or a larger company. You could do that as an SDR or an account executive. The other route is if you can find a partner manager role, there are programs at some larger organizations, some of the ones that I mentioned in this call who do have some of those types of program structures. Now, they’re not very popular or prevalent, let’s say. I haven’t seen many of them, but they exist. But my advice would be to start in sales, see if you like that, learn the foundation, and then a transition to partnerships is relatively straightforward. 

Luke (21:51): Got it. That’s fantastic. I know we touched on a lot of good stuff here and I know we’re coming up on time. So maybe a fun last little segment we can do with you. Given your time and experience in Fintech, what is one area, one sub-sector in Fintech that you are excited about right now? 

Shayne (22:11): Personally, outside of Adyen, I worked in the crypto space for a long time. I worked at BlockFi, we all know how that went down. So I’m a little bit cautious on the consumer financial engineering construct of crypto. That is, I’m a little concerned about and DAOs and the trading and all that stuff. But I do think crypto infrastructure and blockchain infrastructure is here to stay. I don’t think we’ve seen a good application of it to disintermediate the existing ways that systems and databases have been built in some of these larger enterprise organizations. But I do think there is hope and there is potential for that in a world where every organization is looking to reduce costs right now to streamline operations, to reduce FTEs to increase speed, increase data capacity, blockchain’s a place that has all of those things, for the most part solved for. So I’m excited to see that.  

And then I think just generally from an Adyen perspective, we went the route of acquiring a banking license in EMEA about five years ago. We now have a US branch license and we have UK branch license as well. What that means is that we are a bank, we operate as a bank, but we are a technology company at our core. So, we can do things that are unique on the banking side at the house, as well as the financial product side of the house in the form of capital cards, bank accounts, and other products that’ll be coming. So I’m excited to see what a true technology company with a banking license is able to accomplish in the Fintech landscape over the next five to 10 years. We’re seeing many unique customers coming to us with some interesting use cases. And I think you guys will be quite excited to learn more about some of the things that we’ll be developing in the next 12 to 18 months. 

Luke (24:30): I know we’re up on time, but really appreciate it, Shayne. And I know that all of our portfolio companies and our broader network is going to dive in here and will be helpful for them to build out their partnerships programs as well as implement new strategies and existing partnership models.