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In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers, CMO WorkSpan is joined by Susan Tommy, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Vena Solutions.
Susan is a highly experienced Ecosystem and Alliances leader with over 15 years of cross-functional SaaS expertise. Her specialty lies in driving business growth through strategic partnerships and alliances. Susan has a proven track record of building and managing executive relationships, creating go-to-market strategies, securing market development funds, and designing partner initiatives.
Susan is a skilled team leader with excellent management, solution selling, go-to-market strategy, and sales skills.
Topics covered include:
Microsoft’s role in the partnership with Vena - 5:39
How the world of integrations has changed in the last 10 years - 19:07
Role of service partners in delivering value to Vena's customers - 21:41
How to keep things aligned when working with partners - 24:28
Advice for a successful career in partnering - 27:08
Chip Rodgers 00:06
Hey, welcome. Welcome everyone back to another episode of ecosystem aces. I'm Chip Rodgers CMO at WorkSpan and I am really excited to have Susan Tommy joining us today. Susan, welcome.
Susan Tommy 00:19
Thank you, Chip. Really excited to be here.
Chip Rodgers 00:23
Susan, we've been interacting for two or three years.I I had on the podcast, your former boss, Kristin Duda at Intelex two or three years ago, I think she was your boss. I'm not exactly sure. Just watched your career and really excited to have you on and here we'll talk about partnering.
Susan Tommy 01:01
I think we met because of your podcast and some of the great content you put out. And it's been fun getting to know you and WorkSpan over the years.
Chip Rodgers 01:12
Thank you likewise. So customers and your career have a sort of interesting career path. You started and by the way, coming to us from, Ontario region and Canada and your career actually started in healthcare with Baxter. And then in University Health Care Network Ontario, telemedicine, medical field and then made the switch to technology with Intelex and and then banana tag and now Vena. Tell us a little bit about that, about that career progression and what attracted you to technology partnering.
Susan Tommy 02:07
I always, like you described, think of my career as two phases. In the first phase I studied sciences, I did healthcare sector strategy, and that's when I went into healthcare. I worked at pharma companies and medical device companies. And, like you said, that University Health Network is a big hospital here in Toronto, and telemedicine. So I got into the IT side of healthcare, which led me to start my career path into the SAS, the SAS space. So joining some really fun and exciting Canadian scale up companies at that exciting time when they're growing.
And my career path has been a self proclaimed generalist, like a lot of partnership people. So I've been lucky that I've worked in pre sales engineering, I've done product marketing roles, I've done product roles. That's what's really attracted me to a profession and in ecosystems and alliances, because it gives you a broad understanding of a lot of different functional areas. The three companies that I spent some time with recently, have all been platform companies Intelex is a health and safety platform company.
And what I was doing there was really building out their strategic alliance program you mentioned with Kristen. They had some integrations that were born out of the product organization, but how do we build an actual partnership in a go to market plan with these complementary solutions? And then I joined Banana tag,which is an internal communications company. They're all about building really beautiful communications, disseminating them to employees and tracking the results for employee engagement. And it was really owning the end to end strategy for them for the ecosystem, building the program, implementing the program, finding partners, so that was really interesting and fun.
And now I met Vena, so I manage our strategic partnerships. I work with Microsoft here, as we continue our partnership journey and ecosystem strategy here.
Chip Rodgers 04:27
It's really interesting that you focused on being a generalist, in partnering, you have to know, kind of every part of the business is when you're partnering you have to connect with everything from even going back to strategy. So strategy to product to go to market and services and all of those pieces because the partnership typically covers all of those.
Susan Tommy 05:07
I mentioned some of my roles, and they've all been new roles. There's something about me that is attracted to taking something from concept to putting some structure into executing. And so I feel very lucky that I've been able to do roles like that at these companies. And I think partnerships and alliances align really well with that saying, Okay, let's build a partnership. What do you need to do? And then how do you make it successful?
Microsoft’s role in the partnership with Vena
Chip Rodgers 05:39
Tell us about what's happening at Vena, what are you and your team up to? You've talked about, focusing on Microsoft, what's happening with Microsoft and Vena ,let's talk about all partnering as well.
Susan Tommy 06:02
Vena is another Canadian SAS based company, we're based here in Toronto, we are a planning platform. So what I mean by that it's really any sort of planning scenario, whether it's demand planning or sales planning, that you can use our platform for. But the core use case that we see is usually around finance, and operations. So financial planning and analysis.
So we sell typically to finance leaders, CFOs, directors of finance. And what our software allows you to do is pull in all your core data from your source systems, whether it's your ERP, your HRAS, or your CRM data into a centralized place, our workflow engine allows you to easily streamline processes and collaborate with others in the organization.
And, lastly, analyze that information. So finance leaders, like all of us, have really had to flex and change the last couple of years, and they're really being called on by their companies to be agile, and react to situations that we haven't seen before.
Having a tool like Vena with that flexibility to pull in all your data and react quickly is really a fun time to deliver value to these types of customers. The Microsoft piece, how it comes in, and I was really brought in to kind of add a little bit more formalization. Our products have always leveraged Microsoft technology.
From a front end user experience, most finance professionals use Excel. We're an Excel based solution. It makes it easy for collaboration and use. And we also leveraged Power BI embedded in our solution. It just makes it easier again, for getting more to that prescriptive and predictive analytics that you want to do, again, as you're forecasting and planning across your organization. Lastly, we're building connectors within the dynamics, product lines, business, Central and finance. ERP data is usually the force, the first set of data that a finance professional will need to pull in for this type of planning.
So that's the role with Microsoft overall, then it has a really growing and successful partner program, we work with a lot of service partners, and a lot of solution partners currently. But as I said, we're kind of reacting like everyone else to this changing landscape and looking at how we can grow our ecosystem and partner with you, and other interesting companies.
Chip Rodgers 08:55
It's interesting connecting into Excel and with Microsoft having a lot of technologies Power BI and dynamics. I suspect that Vena is connecting all of those, sort of bringing all those together into a presentation layer for your customers but everything is presented through Excel. So there's a lot of sounds like a lot of integrations that have to take place.
Susan Tommy 09:32
I can't not talk about all the innovation that's coming out of Microsoft, and it's always changing, but there are a lot of alignments on how we think about building collaboration and integrating across all these different product lines. And really, at the end of the day, it's, you know, to improve working and productivity and make people happier at work really.
Chip Rodgers 09:55
Your focus is on Microsoft. Tell us a little bit about that partnership and the relationship? What aspects of that relationship are you personally involved with in helping to grow? How does that work?
Susan Tommy 10:18
If you look at Microsoft's sort of three pillars that build the Co market with and sell with, I own that end to end relationship. So I work closely with Microsoft Canada, understanding the technologies and things we want to do as we build more within their modern work or Office Productivity Suite.
And as we looked at they were talking about co-pilot the other day, and how there's more integration between the dynamics of business applications, cloud business, and modern work, and looking at how we can align and how we can support customers, a lot of our customers are Microsoft users. So how did they get the most out of their investment by using a solution like, Vena.That's very Microsoft centric. My role is really from the product and understanding the integrations that we want to build and how we aligned to Microsoft goals and strategies as well as the commercial execution.
Chip Rodgers 11:29
You mentioned copilot, so some AI capabilities being are those the things that you're working on with Microsoft? And how does that come out to the end user?
Susan Tommy 11:48
We use Power BI embedded right now. And that's our data visualization platform. And we're starting to look at how we can leverage ML in our solution to help. Like I was saying finance professionals, on their transformation journey as it goes from sort of that reactive back office to this need for being agile and flexible in today's market to get into that predictive stage. So it's really exciting to see how we can help support finance leaders with technology and innovation.
Chip Rodgers 12:31
How does Vena think of that process of working with partners and deciding which partners to work with? Where are the market opportunities? How do you figure out your whitespace versus their whitespace, and how to map how you want to work together, and then take us through that journey of deciding where there might be opportunities with partners, and then going through that process of building something and bringing it to market?
Susan Tommy 13:13
That's a really good question. This approach that we're using is making sure like you're saying we're targeting and aligning with the right types of partners, not to partner for partner sake. So one of the first things I always do when I join an organization, or when I'm working on a strategic partnership, is really have a good look at your current state. What are you doing today? And an honest conversation and I interviewed, we talked about generalists and working cross functionally. So really looking at it from all areas of the business, whether it's your commercial teams, your sales, customer success teams, product, etc. Like, where are you today, as a company, I mentioned, a lot of my experience has been in these high growth companies, so it can change very rapidly.
But where are you today? And like I said, doing that current state analysis, and from that, it's really like your vision and your future state. So of course, partnerships and ecosystem strategies have to align with the corporate objectives, like what are you trying to do or what are you trying to do? And I think it's always you need to ground it in, what's the value you're creating for your customer? What is the problem you're trying to solve? Like I said, in our case, we're, we're trying to help finance professionals plan for anything in these uncertain times, and plan to grow their business.
So that's really core to what we try to focus on with Vena. So that's the second thing: your current state, your future state where you're going, and then I like to look at our product roadmap. I mentioned my background is in alliances So really, that classic build by partner scenario, saying, again here's what we're planning, here's where we want to focus, or here's where we differentiate. And it helps to identify those gaps that could be filled with a partner. So I think that's really important to look at your roadmap and work very collaboratively with your product organization to see how we can accelerate growth? Or how can we leverage technology like big investments by Microsoft to accelerate our growth.
So that's the third thing that I think is really important is looking at your product capabilities and your product roadmap. And that could span I mentioned, at Vena, we focus on finance. So the overall Office of Finance, we work with other ISVs like fluids who specialize in clothes management, for example. So again, is it easier to partner than trying to build the solution yourself. And I think that really leads to the fourth step of trying to figure out, Okay, here's our ecosystem,here's what we're trying to do. And looking at it from, again, that customer lens of who's already talking to our customer who's already in their space.
And that's always important as a way to kind of connect these dots. And then like I said, the last step is no recruiting or starting to develop these relationships with different partners. But for me walking through that internal analysis makes it really clear that this is what we're trying to do. And this is the value we're creating for our customers. And here's how we think we can work together when you're approaching partners.
Chip Rodgers 16:45
So you're working again, going back to the generalist, you're talking to the product teams, you're talking to sales to understand what's happening with customers, where customers are already using something, is that a natural feedback that happens? Do you do outreach to the sales into customers to understand some of those potential partnering opportunities? How does that work Vena?
Susan Tommy 17:14
I mentioned we're evolving as a 12 year old company, and our ecosystem strategy is growing. And I think, from my experience, alignment at the ELT level is really critical. So we're really lucky here that our CEO and our ELT members understand the importance of partnering and partnerships and ecosystems. So we have lots of different ways. For me personally, again, as a partner I like to talk so I like to meet, it's harder now that we're all virtual. But making those connections, whether it's at a working group level or an executive level, but making sure that people understand, I call them foundations. But getting back to the basics of why are we doing this? How is this creating value for our customers?
When you talk about generalists, and going to different people, your messaging is going to change depending on the functional area. For example, if you're working with sales executives, this is how this is going to do partnering with Microsoft, this is how it's going to increase your conversion. This is how it's going to give you more access to other stakeholders in the account to build your reputation as a trusted adviser. So the importance of the overall partnership, but then tailoring your message with it internally within the organization is really important.
Chip Rodgers 18:49
Interesting. You're going to help with the retirement quota.
Susan Tommy 18:57
At the end of the day, you know that that's the goal. But like I said, making it relevant to who you're speaking to.
How the world of integrations has changed in the last 10 years
Chip Rodgers 19:07
We talked about that at a higher level with technology partners and working together. We've touched on a little bit about integrations but the world has changed so dramatically with the integration that's constantly coming around and around API technology. So how does that affect the work that Vena is doing?
Susan Tommy 19:42
We do have a product team that's responsible for all our integrations, but I would say even in my career,in less than 10 years, it's changed, like you said so dramatically. So it was, I would say, almost like a nice to have another way to integrate your data too. It's very imperative and almost key. And what I've seen is, it's coming from the customers, I mentioned, a lot of the companies, I work with our platform solutions that are highly configurable. So back in the day it was like, Oh, I gotta go to it too, you know, get them to fix my software solution.
But now it's being democratized across organizations where business unit users are interested in wanting to understand how API's work. So I think that shift has made it really important for companies to have an API strategy both for their customers, and then partners are expecting that too. Like I said, Vena has invested and continues to invest in API strategy. But it's really interesting, I think, again, it's, it's being driven by the customer.
Chip Rodgers 21:00
So it makes those partnerships, the opportunity to do partnerships with certainly with other ISVs easier and more flexible, based on customer demand.
Susan Tommy 21:14
I was talking about the product roadmap, and when you're sitting down and thinking of the use cases and what you're trying to accomplish,having, different tools in your toolkit, so to speak, of how you can integrate the solutions really helps to kind of come up with creative solutions and bring product teams together and alignment again, on innovative ways of doing things.
Role of service partners in delivering value to Vena's customers
Chip Rodgers 21:41
How about service partners? We've been talking a lot about technology partners, solutions, other ISVs? How do service partners play into what Vena is delivering to customers?
Susan Tommy 21:57
I mentioned, we work with a lot of service partners that specialize in our space. It's sometimes called CPM or corporate performance management, and FPN. A. And I also mentioned ERP, and other source systems as being sort of Keystone ecosystems that we want to play in. So the same approach as I was talking about technology partners, bringing on the right, targeted partners we want to work with, we're looking at service partners the same way.
We're looking at vertical solutions. So we are a plot breadth of platform finding with finance solution, but looking at industry specific use cases, and how do we find dynamics partners, for example, that specialize in manufacturing, as an example, who can who can align and drive value for our customers with that industry expertise, which, as you know, is also a strategy that Microsoft is doing, looking at how they they're getting deeper in their in their industries? A similar approach is looking at, what's our ideal partner that we want to work with? And that same approach of coming together with here's our value, here's their value, and how can we work together?
Chip Rodgers 23:21
It's really true that the service partners, a lot of the time, just have a very deep experience in the use cases and industry expertise that can help. So if you've got service partners that are in the finance industry, then they could bring a lot of value to the table for Vena.
Susan Tommy 23:49
Yeah, and I think it's also, you know, where you are in, like I mentioned, where are your customers at? Are you the lead or the attach in that situation? So sometimes, like I mentioned, an ERP vendor, we might attach the value add to their ERP implementation. So really, like I said, looking at it holistically from what is the customer trying to do? And how can we help our service partners as well, with the service work they're trying to do? Or solve the problem? I've mentioned a couple times it's about centralizing the data, how can a tool like then help them address their customer challenges?
How to keep things aligned when working with partners
Chip Rodgers 24:32
So Susan, how do you when you're working with partners, one of the challenges is just you've got your organization Vena. Vena has the company goals and your personal goals as a partner leader, and your partners have their own goals and priorities and culture and things like that. So how do you keep things aligned? What have you found, I think that's one of the big challenges with partnering.
Susan Tommy 25:03
Of course, we've talked a lot about cross functional work and cross functional alignment from, you know, all levels of the organization, and doing that stakeholder alignment and matching with your partner that you're trying to work with especially large, hyper scalars, like Microsoft understanding, who do you talk to? And how do you build those relationships with a large partner like Microsoft?
I read somewhere, I heard something recently, on a podcast or something like it's not real unless it's written down. So getting back to that joint business plan, and it really drives that accountability. And, we talked about joint value, what are we both trying to do? And how, how are we measuring that? You talked about, we're all here to close quota. But so is tracking those metrics.
And I think, once you have those tools in place, the stakeholder alignment, the documented plan, the metrics that you're trying to drive, it helps with the communication, and having those honest conversations with your partner counterpart about, okay, this is working, this isn't working, what do we need to adjust? So having it something to reference versus not having something to base it on, I guess, where the partnership is breaking down? Or where you may encounter issues in a partnership.
Chip Rodgers 26:37
Like setting expectations between both organizations
Susan Tommy 26:43
That constant communication, and building that trust, and being able to say this is working, this isn't working. This went really well. How can we do more of this and just that iterative approach to how you can partner and how you can build a better working relationship.
Advice for a successful career in partnering
Chip Rodgers 27:08
Susan, this has been fantastic. Maybe one last question. You've had a terrific and successful career in partnering, any things that you picked up along the way that you would want to share with our audience, the things that have worked for you, some advice that you got along the way. Maybe something that Kristin shared with you? What's worked for you? What would you like to share with the audience?
Susan Tommy 27:43
I do feel very lucky that I've had a chance to meet a lot of great leaders and partnership experts like yourself and, and others over the years. For me, personally, I try to embody a growth mindset. And what that means for me is actively listening. Like I was saying, the good and the bad that you get from feedback cross functionally, internally and externally.
In religious being curious, in trying to understand, we know, partnerships and ecosystems have gone through this rapid growth in the last couple of years. So, you're not going to know all the answers and try to connect with people who can help. So I would say, that's the second tip, or thing that that I really tried to do is make time to connect, I tried to put in an hour of time in my calendar, to listen to a podcast to, rewatch a pre recorded webinar, and reach out to people and connect with people. In my experience, there's a lot of people who are willing to help.
In partnership, people by nature want to help others. Trying to build your network. And then lastly, pay it forward. I'm very grateful for a lot of leaders who have shared the time with me, and I tried to do the same when I can.
Chip Rodgers 29:14
It's great advice. There are so many opportunities, The partner partnerships and partnering has has really just exploded, recently and there's always been partnering out there, but there's groundswell these days and a lot of great opportunities to connect through communities like partnership leaders and and just everything the the activity that's happening on LinkedIn is is pretty amazing. Following some folks that are thought leaders and helping others .Great content.
Susan Tommy 29:59
I agree with partnership leaders. Catalyst says Connect. There's lots of great ways and like I said, if you're not able to attend, there's lots of virtual events and great podcasts like,ecosystem aces, Ultimate Guide to partnerships, I think and like I said, reach out. I'm always grateful when people give me time. And I find if you just say thank you. People are willing to chat with you a little bit more if there's something that really intrigued you about what they were talking about.
Chip Rodgers 30:35
A couple of great shout outs. Susan says Kinect is coming up on April 8, some are mid April. And then catalyst in Denver and in mid August. And so a lot of great opportunities to connect with and partner with people and learn. So great advice.
Susan Tommy 30:58
Thank you, Chip. I'm so glad we had a chance to do this. Thank you again for having me on your show.
Chip Rodgers 31:04
Likewise, and this has been fantastic, Susan, I really appreciate you taking the time and sharing your experiences and this has been fantastic. Really, appreciate it.
Susan Tommy 31:17
Thank you, Chip. And Happy St. Patrick's Day again.
Chip Rodgers 31:22
Be safe. We stayed with everybody. And, for Susan Tommy. I'm Chip Rodgers. Thank you all for joining us for another episode of ecosystem aces. And we'll see you next time. I think we got one scheduled next week. So I'll see you next week. And thank you again, Susan.
To contact the host, Chip Rodgers, with topic ideas, suggest a guest, or join the conversation about modern partnering, he can be reached on Twitter, LinkedIn, or send Chip an email at: email@example.com