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Strategic Sales and the Power of Partnerships, with Christine Li [Episode 1157]

On the latest podcast episode, hosts Howard Brown and Alastair Woolcock feature Christine Li, VP of Global Partnerships at G2, to share her expert insights on the evolving sales landscape. From the impact of AI on buyer behavior to the strategic importance of partnerships in achieving sales success, Christine discusses the new paradigms shaping the future of sales. Drawing on her experiences from LinkedIn and G2, she provides valuable insights into the necessity of adapting to buyer expectations, as well as how partnerships are becoming a cornerstone for growth and success in the sales ecosystem.


Podcast Transcript:



Welcome back everybody in this week’s Sales Strategy and Enablement podcast. I’m Alastair Woolcock, joined by my infamous co-host Howard Brown, pioneering leader in behavioral change and revenue science, Howard, how are you doing today? I’m doing great. Thanks Alastair. How are you? Hi, Christine. 



Hi, Howard. Hi Alastair. We are super excited to have Christine Li with us today, Vice President of Global Partnerships at G2, also formerly with LinkedIn and some other outfits, Christine, you’re a wealth of knowledge in partnerships, trends that are happening in the partner ecosystem space. Very thrilled to be talking with you today. Excited to be here. 



Now, Christine, we love to always kick off with some usually a little bit of news around the topic. And today we want to dive into, when you think of partners, you think of indirect sales, we think of all the changes going on. No doubt AI is playing an influence in that as well.

And Christine, TechTarget just released as of last month, a new report. That the fastest growing partners in the world were aligned to AWS, Microsoft, and Snowflake this past year. But when you look at the totality of the top 30, there’s also nine companies that are new in terms of emerging partnerships and ecosystems.

You have NVIDIA, OpenAI DataIQ is another good one as an example there. At G2 you’re in the front driver’s seat at the changes that are happening in the market. And for so many companies, the importance of driving indirect sales and awareness and efficacy and all of those things in the market is arguably more important than ever. What changes are you seeing? Like this is almost like a new guard coming. 



Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think the role of partnerships is not necessarily new. What has changed is the buyer expectation and looking at what the sales dynamic is and how companies go to market what buyers expect when they actually speak to a sales rep, those expectations are what’s driving the trend for why partnerships has become such a big growth area. So I’ll give you a few examples. And by the way, I’ve been in sales and marketing for my entire career. It’s what I love. I started in marketing at a B2B tech company in Toronto. And then I joined LinkedIn and I went over to the dark side and went into sales and I sold to marketers.

So always continue to circle around that landscape and really have seen how the sales and marketing functions have evolved over time, along with how consumers and buyers expect those roles to change. You mentioned AI and I think that the rise of AI has really made it possible for buyers to become a lot more educated in their purchasing decision.

Whether it is that self-research and I remember Google published some report like ages ago Forrester has done it too, 80 90 percent of the buyer journey is completed without ever reaching out to a sales rep. I think that’s still true and maybe it’s 91, it’s 92, but without getting into the semantics of how much of that buyer journey is completed, AI just amps that up even more because now they can trust technology to have a very neutral perspective of their research for their purchase.

And you and I probably all have experiences and we’re in our day to day consumer shopping where I would do anything I can to find information without talking to a real human . I would like, I would go to the depth of my cell phone to, to try and find the information myself. And it’s because I wanna be really educated with making a purchase, and I don’t wanna be swayed by a lovely voice or some emotional element in there.

I think that trend has carried over into B2B as well in where, one of my, the first learnings I had in going into sales was. Nobody wants to have dinner with you. I thought going to sales, I, I didn’t have much of a entertainment budget when I was a marketer. So when I went to a sales, I’m like, I’m going to spoil my customers.I’m going to take them out. I’m going to wine and dine. And when my first early clients being in marketing where you have an over representation of female leaders. They’re busy moms, they do their work and then they go home and then they have their second job, right? They don’t want to go out for dinner with you.

What they want is a value exchange. They want something that you’re going to tell them that’s going to help them become more productive and more successful in their professional life. They want an edge. And so your greatest power as a sales rep is the knowledge and that edge that you can make your customers be more competitive, be more successful in what they do.

And when the buyer journey when buyers are more educated, they are, they’re already getting that edge. So the expectation for the sales rep becomes increasingly high in that they need to provide something that is unique, something that is contrarian. Something that is broader than what they are just selling, but really looking at their business in its totality.

This is the role that partners play, partners are not just there to make introductions or, send you referral leads. All that’s great, but what it really comes down to is helping each other understand the wider picture, the bigger picture of what is going on with that customer so that you can come in as a strategic consultant.

And advise them on their whole business versus just one piece that you’re trying to sell it to. And we know this is important because from a systems thinking lens. It all needs to connect, right? We’ve seen this in our tech stack, in where integration is the number one consideration when purchasing any new tech. I’m not going to rip out my existing tech stacks just so I can use your tech, right? It needs to plug in, it needs to have a seamless workflow in where the data is going to all the right places that I’ve already invested in. We need to minimize the change management of new processes, new tools.

So we need to meet our end users wherever they are in that journey. And when a rep can apply that lens to how they sell, then they’re much more successful. They also take the onus off the customer in trying to think through and how to connect the dots. And this is where their partners can come in and give them that lens because their partners are probably talking to another line of business. Someone that they’re not meeting with, getting a different perspective. Helping connect where those dots may not be connected



That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about it necessarily that way of how partners add value. It sounds like very much later in the sales cycle than most people are thinking about a typical partner. Can you give examples of how partners get involved in a later stage deal or how they get more involved once somebody is already in involved with a sales rep or even further down the process? 



Yeah, absolutely And there are some really cool tech platforms that have surfaced like cross beam, reveal, to really make this a lot more efficient and scalable for organizations and so I’ll give you an example. We actually just had a call with a customer that had churned and is now coming back. And we wanted to really understand why they churned, right? Because we’re getting one lens of what we were shared of why they churned, but we really wanted to understand was that all, and, what else can we go back with?

We use Crossbeam. And so we’re able to map out this account with the we have over 52 partners. Now, we don’t go into this level of depth with every 52 partners. But we’ll go into it with some strategic partners and see, okay, they’re also plugged in with. Success. They’re also plugged in with Salesforce. I’m going to reach out to those account teams and understand a little bit more about how they’re using their technology. What are they hearing? How are they understanding, like what’s going on? We find out, wow, this organization is actually undergoing a tremendous restructure.

They have a whole new executive team that was just hired like a week ago. They’re moving BDRs under marketing where it was completely different. They are restructuring their go to market strategy to focus on outbound, whereas before it’s 100 percent inbound. And so through that process, G2 kind of got lost in that shuffle.

So what we needed to do is really recreate what that use case is, and we do it with our partners because they’re already in. They’re already lived it, right? And so we already have the context there. We just need to broaden and expand those conversations to be inclusive of the reality that’s happening across the organization versus, a very very small kind of portion that we were plugged in.



Alastair, you look like you’re chomping at the bit. I want to ask one more question because I’m really interested. We know today that so many People, so many organizations are looking to cut costs. And I wonder if sometimes when you reach out to those partners, if they’re worried that there’s only so much capital to invest in these solutions and it doesn’t become somewhat competitive because they may not want to share that information with you because if more budget goes to you guys, are they afraid it’s going to go away from them? Have you run into that sort of thing? 



All the time. Absolutely. And I think internally too, right? It’s not unique to one company or another. It is a mindset That’s changing and it’s great to see it as reps see more wins with partners. They start believing it and they start, reciprocating and their mindset shifts. So I do think that we’re in this paradigm right now where it’s evolving. I would say that the biggest learning I’ve had since reflecting on my marketing days and where I would take hundreds of sales calls.

That wallet that you’re competing for is much bigger than you think. That’s the first thing is, you, that, that wallet is actually much larger than, what you think you’re fighting for. The second is that if you become a strategic, uh, partner to your customers and you’re solving a true business objective or a business need. They will make budget for it. 

They will create the budget to support it. It really comes down to, my example of my early days in sales and having that value exchange versus meeting and building relationships on a surface level. If you have the value to change a business trajectory. They will make the budget for it. It’s almost like a game of risk, right? And where you’re building allies and you’re going in together with a full, fully baked solution versus a part of the tactic. 



You do realize in the game of risk though, there’s only one winner. Ultimately in the end, right? But I think, the fun is how we get there. Yeah, point taken. It’s just getting partners to understand that the concept that you brought forward, which is there’s more budget than you think, because I think everybody is worried that their existing customers churning and, unfortunately, this is a tougher economic time. And there are realities. There are people who are absolutely slashing uh, their tech spend. It just, it’s a reality. 

I think that brings even more reason why you need to work with your partners in order to come to them with that full solution, because you’re right. There’s tech consolidation, and that’s where they’re looking at. The first tech that’s going to get cut are the ones that are in silos that are not plugged in to a core tech stack. So you either make yourself that mission critical core tech stack. Or you attach yourself to one and really show how you can improve the efficiency and outcome and return on that core tech stack with your partnership.



It’s such an interesting perspective because Christine and Howard, what you just outlined there, I’m reminiscing on and I’m reminiscing because, the market condition I, Howard just framed up where there are a lot of people are going, Oh, but there’s reduction in spend. There’s. More people in my category than ever before.

I’m worried about my wallet share, worried about my churn, all of those things. It’s very true, but I reminisce because as an analogy, think of the biggest SIs in the world. Think of a Tata Consulting, Wipro, Accenture, Gemini. These are companies that have figured out how to thrive with large enterprises and market conditions where those compressions happen.

They signed some of their biggest deals to tens of millions of dollars in those scenarios. And I think a lot of it often is well we go how do they do it? Yes, okay, they’re doing maybe big outsourcing or application development initiatives and all of those things. But what that industry has always figured out so well, Is that they’re less concerned about the compression in the company.

They’re going, yes, absolutely. In fact, I will provide you X stack for even less money than you’re paying today. Like their playbook is literally to start by coming in and saying you’re going to spend less. Like they shrink the TAM deliberately. But in shrinking the TAM, they increase the wallet share. So if they were only doing, say, help desk at a company, they will go say, but if I also had your infrastructure, your application development, your ERP, your CRM, I can actually deliver that for 20 percent then less than what you can do today.

And then they’ll say, but I don’t even do all of it. But here’s the two other three partners that I have that I would deliver under my paper. And they go win massive multi year huge deals. I did this literally the playbook of that industry. And they’ve been doing it for 20 years. I guess it’s hard. That’s not new.

Anybody that works there will be, hardly a revelation. I’m saying, as I step back, I think for a lot of companies and, Christine, I think of G2, these are often companies really trying to scale, really trying to get traction, trying to go. And the focus becomes myopic on the, Oh, but I can’t lose my dollar.

Like my dollar is it’s so important. I’m like, yes, but if you actually reduced your dollar by the 75 cents, you realize you and partnered, you could get 30 to 40 cents from all of these other things, you’re solving a broader solution for the company and companies love vendors. That increased the scope because it’s hard to manage a bunch of companies. It’s hard to manage a bunch of stacks. And so what I’m taking away from you both is how do we enable and how do we actually help, really anybody under a billion dollars in revenue, right? How do you go to your customers and actually create co partnerships and co sell opportunities to. Actually, ironically, it might reduce your TAM, but it will increase your spend. 



Yeah. So when we think about small, actually, a partner of ours called GTM partners had published a recent study in where they surveyed it’s called their GTM benchmark report. And they surveyed thousands of companies around their partner programs, but what they found was that partner source opportunities have 46 percent higher win rate.

Influence opportunities have a 99 percent higher win rate and then overall partner source opportunities show at 11 percent shorter time to close. All of those are really important metrics to take into consideration when building out a partnership program and changing that, that mindset of reps, right? Because ultimately if we can help these reps through our partners demonstrate a higher win rate for themselves. And shorter, they can be pumping out more deals, which also means that they’re much closer to meeting their goals in growing their business.

I think, but I think what’s more important is creating the partnership infrastructure that allows these type of results to happen. And starting with if you’re a smaller organization. Understanding, like, where do you sit in that larger product ecosystem? Ultimately, we’re all here to drive value and returns for our customers. Unfortunately, not a lot of sales reps think this way. We got to get out of our own way. We are not the center of the universe. We do not solve all of our customers’ problems. We are one piece of the puzzle that is the full solution.

Taking a step back and looking at the world through that lens will help you understand who are the partners that you need to bring in to fit that solution. And then from that, building out the actual partnerships making sure that they’re mutually beneficial, looking at your market overlap understanding what the terms and conditions are like, what’s in it for your partner? 

You see that universe. Do they see it the same way? I often have partners who reference us as their strategic partner, which is amazing. For us, the impact is not so high. And I’m sure that the situation happens vice versa too, right? So we need to figure out how do we support each other, but at the same time, be realistic around how much resources we can actually invest in, in prioritize.



Yeah, I love your comment about not being the center of the universe because it ties into what you said at the outset of the conversation, which is you as a purchaser, as a consumer, you do all the research that’s possible to get your knowledge level up. And so that you become an expert and it raises the bar again for the sales rep. So it’s all about delivering that value to the customer, helping them make buying decisions, helping them perform better in their unique job or role within their organization. Which ultimately will help the organization as well. We always tend to forget that we actually sell to human beings. We have to add value to human beings.

We’re not just selling to the business. And there are multiple people that are involved in every buying decision. So we have to add value to a variety of different roles within that organization. I think it’s an important mantra for all of us to keep. And I think today, just going back to, the role of AI.

At least today, the distinction between, where, what AI can solve for and where we actually need people like sales rep to be engaged in is in that layer of complexity and proactiveness, right? The emotional intelligence to really read and understand what is the question behind your customer’s question.

To solve for a bigger problem that they’re trying to work out or even proactively bringing them ideas which they haven’t thought of or, seeing around the corners for them. AI can’t do that today. Someday it will. But right now it, it’s responding to the buyer’s cues.



We’re going to run up against time, Christine and Howard, and I can go on a lot on this, but I want to actually ask you both a final question. And Christine, we got a little bit of trivia for you after that. I got the final question. We said at the beginning, and you both really encapsulated well, again, just now, this idea of value exchange.

I’m going to ask you just give two tips each around you. You are now advising a partner on how you could work better together. And, we say things like value exchange, but what would be the top two tips? That you would give to that partner that isn’t just about the customer, but is like literally about how can we create something better together?



I think when we look at that the better together story, we first start with what is our mission? What’s our purpose, right? Whether it is for. The customer or for the market or just why we exist and then think through, what could amp that mission up? How do we get to that mission or that vision faster and better, stronger, right? And working together with the partner and figuring out what that looks like on the commercial side. I would say it’s looking at things like how can I help you retain customers or grow your customer that then becomes a future pipeline for me or retention gain for my business.

Figuring out like how we do that together, I’ll give you a great example. One of the partners we’re working with, we’re looking at doing some type of offer where it strengthens their new business sale. And then at the same time. Creates a future pipeline for us to prospect into that’s a game on both ways, right? And then we also have the reverse of that set up with with a couple of our other partners. How do we demo their product in our in G2 where it benefits and adds value to our customers? And at the same time, create a future pipeline for them. 



I think the most important thing that you can do with your partner is collaborate and be honest with one another and transparent. Do you both understand the problem that the customer is trying to solve for? And does your combined solution. In fact help the customer more than a single solution. So is there a synergistic effect that you will gain exponential results from the two combined solutions together that will help the customer solve their actual problems?

And that only happens by being. As transparent as possible with your partner and outlining what you’ve heard the question behind the question. The problem. Do we truly understand what they’re trying to solve for? And if the answer is yes. That’s when the creativity starts. That’s when you can truly work together to try and solve those problems and present that joint solution and hopefully get advocates for what you’re trying to provide.So that’d be my last word. 



Howard, Christine, I love all the insights. I love the idea of the value exchange transparency between two partners. I think it was so important on that side. But we do have to call the bull here and land the plane, as they say. So Christine, we always have to finish up with a little bit of trivia.

So I got a basic question for you. You ready? All right. I’m gonna give you a multiple choice answer. What percentage of companies are leveraging indirect selling programs? i.e. partner led growth today. Is it A) 20% B) 35% C 50% or D 66%? I’m representing partnerships, so I got to go high. I got to go with 66%. 



That is a fantastic guess. You are absolutely right. 66 percent of companies today in technology are now leveraging indirect selling programs as a key aspect to generating their revenue that has increased year on year.

We expect to see it even more this year as cited by GT Monday. And what a time, what a great time it is to be in the channel space. Christine Li, vice president of global partnerships at G2. Fantastic to have you with us and appreciate all your advice here today. 



Thank you for having me. For everybody listening in, please remember to like and subscribe.

Send your questions into Howard and I, and we will always do our best to attempt to get them into a future episode or a theme or a guest that maps us up. So reach out, let us know your thoughts. We will see you next episode.