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Ecosystem Leaders

Episode 100

April 8, 2020

#100 Nina Harding: Google’s Customer-Focused Partner Advantage Program

Nina Harding, Chief of Global Partner Strategy and Programs at Google, joins Chip Rodgers on this Ecosystem Aces episode.

How should you approach building a partner program from scratch?

Should you focus on naming, process, incentives, partner levels, certifications, enablement, or something completely different?

Well, if you want to succeed like Google, you need to start with first principles -- focus on customers and focus on what partners need to help customers be successful.

That’s how our guest today, Nina Harding, Chief of Global Partner Strategy and Programs at Google, tackled building Google’s Partner Advantage program from the ground up. 

I’ve known Nina for a long time — we used to be part of the same team at SAP — and I am absolutely thrilled to see her growth and progression at Google. And I’m even more excited about the opportunity to learn more about the principles that guided her success.

In this episode, Nina goes over:

  • The challenges and rewards to building Google’s Partner Advantage program from scratch
  • Why a customer-focused approach is so beneficial
  • Why partner capabilities are far more important than defining partner types or tiers.

Building Google’s Partner Advantage Program from scratch 

Google launched its Partner Advantage program in July of last year. There is a ton of excitement around the project, its momentum and its unique approach to the partner program.

What’s so unique about it?

Well, Nina and her team set out to ensure that the Partner Advantage program was really built not just for partners, but with them. 

But, in order to do that, they had to find the best way to designed to accelerate their partners and, ultimately, make sure that the program still lands with customers in the best way possible. 

Nina and her team achieved this collaboration by conducting focus groups with partners, genuinely listening to the community and constructive dialogue sessions that facilitated two-way communication back and forth between Google and its partners.

Nina says, fortunately, the tremendous legacy behind how Google has worked with partners in the past smoothed out many of the challenges one might expect to face. But, of course, communicating and collaborating with partners and customers on the program design was top priority in order to get this fresh start right. 

The importance of a customer-focused program

Another way Google’s Partner Advantage program differentiates itself is its laser-focus on the customer.

For Nina, this customer-centric approach has been key to the success of the program and she thinks it’s sometimes something that other companies forget to incorporate into their programs. 

But building a deep, meaningful ecosystem that is all about value to the customer is paramount for Google. And that means, really making sure every alliance partner Google has is able to deliver — whether that means services, selling or building a new solution in a way that meets the customer’s needs and demands. 

Still, Google knows that a customer-focus must be married to a focus on alliances. 

And Google achieves this by offering a fantastic Partner Advantage portal that helps partners get any information they need. They have also implemented a support portal so partners can get any questions they have answered. And they have a concierge service to help onboard partners as quickly as possible. 

But the area they are most focused on is their implementation of partner advisors. A named contact is associated with each partner — a real, live person — to engage and ask about building their business and their practices with Google. 

One of the key areas Google has focused on in its customer-centric approach is to hone in on partner capabilities — rather than levels — to help a customer navigate the vast population of alliances within the ecosystem. 

Why partner capabilities are more important than tiers

While Google still does have levels — your Diamonds, Golds, etc. — when it comes to enabling the customer to navigate the available solutions, these are less important than partner capabilities. 

And that’s what the customer actually wants to know — What does Google think this partner’s specialties are?

So, Google has really worked to focus on offering alliance certification in around 13 different specializations. And over 70 partners have recently established new certifications. This is like getting a Google Ph.D. in a specific area of expertise. 

Now, when a customer comes to the partner directory, instead of just searching for partners who can do implementations on a certain product in a certain region, they can also read the success a partner has had with its customers. 

There is nothing better for a customer to know these alliances have solved a real-world problem they might have with another customer. And this makes an instant connection with that particular partner. 

The leveling, then, is really a tool to enable the ongoing dialogue between Google and its alliance partners. It sets Google’s expectations and, in turn, what alliances can expect as far as Google’s investment in them.

To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to the Ecosystem Aces Podcast, or visit our dedicated Ecosystem Aces page.

To contact the host, Chip Rodgers, with topic ideas, suggest a guest, or join the conversation about alliances, he can be reached by: