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Ecosystem Leaders

Episode 182

August 17, 2023

#182 Allison Munro: Transforming Ecosystems From Transactional to Integrated GTM

In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers, Chief Partner Officer, WorkSpan is joined by Chief Marketing and Ecosystem Officer, Vena Solutions.

In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers, CMO WorkSpan is joined by Allison Munro, Chief Marketing & Ecosystem Officer, Vena Solutions

Allison is a highly skilled marketing and communications leader with over 20 years of experience in building ecosystems that drive growth across diverse industries. She excels at translating complex business strategies into measurable actions across all CRM channels for both B2B and B2C customers. 

Allison's expertise is evident in her proven track record of establishing strong relationships with all levels of an organization and cross-functional partnerships, while effectively managing risk. She has lent her talents to a range of distinguished companies, including Vena Solutions, Put It Forward, Pavilion and many more.

Topics covered include:

  • Integrating value to the market - 8:50
  • How to drive execution of change management - 12:49
  • Marketing as the fabric of an organization - 17:06
  • Co-selling success through alignment, trust, and integration - 22:13
  • Advice for other partner leaders - 30:17

Chip Rodgers  00:07

Hey, welcome. Welcome back to another episode of Ecosystem Aces. I'm excited to be joined by Allison Munro. Allison, welcome.

Allison Munro  00:17

Thank you, Chip. Great to be here.

Chip Rodgers  00:20

I'm really looking forward to our conversation. Your role is very interesting So let me introduce Allison. Allison is Chief Marketing and Ecosystem Officer at Vena solutions. Your background is really interesting and unique for a partnership role. You have a long history. It really came up through marketing and sales roles for a number of startups and another company Oracle going back a few years.

I really am interested in this in your background and how it is the  right fit for you to lead the ecosystem for Vena. So with that, Allison, welcome. And maybe we could start with just let's talk a little bit about your current role and the things that your team are up to today.

Allison Munro  01:43

You're right, it's an interesting background for a partner professional, I think where the transformation happens from partner to ecosystem, is exactly what we're undergoing. And I think it really comes from this idea that when you do marketing, it's an integrated approach to building value and demand, capturing that demand in the market but also delivering against that promise, in your brand experience. 

When you think of the ecosystem, it's very similar. So over the last  three and a half years, we were very sales led organization that went through transformation, to drive our inbound strategy later to introduce ABE and drive this all bound motion, when I think of ecosystem and transforming partner from partner as a function, or as a sales ladder execution component of your business to really integrating them into your go to market. 

For us that's where the very natural fit of experience, I think motion strategy, and the ability to execute against that very big, ambitious goal of transforming partners from sales execution to integrate into your go to market strategy actually has a very natural fit for CMOs and market leaders, as Joe Raley likes to say, I think that's where they, pair really well, with experience, but you know, it is still very new and unknown territory. And as folks lead this initiative in this transformation, it's also a very exciting time.

Chip Rodgers  03:25

It is an exciting time because there's such a transformation in the industry. And I'm curious, Allison, to talk a little bit more about what that transformation has meant for Vena, what the journey has been?

Allison Munro  03:53

Partners have always been core to Vena over 11 years of operation. I think the transformation then becomes when the light bulb goes off, and you think about how you can create greater value in the market. So, for us partners have always been part of our service delivery, they've always been part of our referral program and some of the traditional functional areas where you think partners plug into your sales organization. 

When you think about your platform and as your platform grows and extensibility and being able to expand that and really think about integrating partners in an end to end capability write everything from that first point of referral right through, to a Co-sell motion and being able to deliver your product or service. 

In fact, it doesn't always have to be your part of the product or service. So for us, we've transformed over the last five or six years from an FP&A and a product to a complete planning platform. And with the innovation through our API's and further extensibility capabilities, it unlocks greater opportunities for our existing partners, but as well, future partners and technology partners to, be able to create that multiplier you talk so much about, which is really being able to bring more value, not only to current systems and partners that, our share prospects and customers are already working with, but really building that trust and extended value. 

And that has been the transformation as we think about how we used to work with partners, and how our product and platform has evolved. And what that means for our customers and working back from there, it means for our customers and the partners, they trust in the platforms and technology they trust, which is obviously not just Vena, it's then a plus all of the systems that surround that customer, in their ecosystem, and the way they work and for us as an organization is how do we really create that seamless frictionless experience from awareness to purchase and beyond into our shared customers growth journey, and thinking about how you work very closely with partners and how your strategy develops alongside your platform strategy, I think is a big driver for us in our transformation we're driving today.

Chip Rodgers  06:09

So partnering, the transformation from two if we think about it in simplistic terms, partnering was more sales lead, resell, kind of partnering, and services, to now much more integrated. Let's get our product teams together. Let's look at roadmaps, shared roadmaps and start to build technology and then go to market together. Am I describing that right?

Allison Munro  06:45

A simple version, I love the front tools, the way my brain thinks as well, it's, from sales execution to integrating a go to market. And yes, looking at how our product roadmaps align, but what's really exciting with the vendor platform is we're also working with our partners to Co-innovate with our platform, and therefore we can partner with and sell with, and market with, but also through our partners, giving that multiplier of value around our platform.

And that's been fairly new for us in the last year, but a really exciting initiative that we have, not only for our partners, and how they can unlock their expertise and our platform in specific industries or use cases within complete planning. But also, what they can do with our platform based on their expertise that they can bring to the market for our customers and our prospects, is really starting to increase significant value, all round which is really, where we're really excited about where we're going. And then our next level will be two additional technology partners when you think of a true reseller program. 

But we're working very closely with our current partners through our platform and our services because our brand is really important, to us in our experience, and we share that with our partners. And so that threads through everything from driving awareness, right through to how we engage, but also how we, deliver, deploy and help our customers grow with the Vena platform, but also connected to their existing ecosystem of finance, tech, of which we know there's over 80 pieces of technology. Our ideal customer profile is using, we also know, they're already working with seven partners, and they're a part of six or eight communities. 

So, a nod to Allan Adler and yourself Chip who talk about this a lot. You can't think of partners just as a single point of the customer journey or a single point of value. It's really about integrating your value and your partner's value and extending that to deliver more value to the market and ultimately to your customers.

Integrating value to the market

Chip Rodgers  08:50

I love that. Technologies like integration API partners where you're building solutions together that way, I'm curious, how much some of yours as you're talking about this, that some of your services partners are also creating IP of their own on your platform. It may not actually be technology, it might be like best practices or templates that are specific for certain industries, or is that accurate as well?

Allison Munro  09:30

That's exactly so when you think about that with our Excel interface. It's the canvas that will finance pros. And so absolutely, our partners in either particular industries or use cases, are able to develop templates and data models and connectors to source systems, where they have deep expertise to be able to help bring that value to market which is a real great extension of value for our services partners. 

It's not just about implementation, additional ongoing services, its true value based on their expertise. So combine the value of the vendor with a partner. And that's where you get a true fit.

Chip Rodgers  10:11

Some of the services partners that you've had for a while and you're in there, you're just starting to bring those capabilities to market and then go into market together? Are you also bringing in new partners that are developing some of those things?

Allison Munro  10:29

Both. We had a lot of great early interest from our partners, and the word pilot, but picking from a few of our top partners who had the deep knowledge and expertise had the trust and credibility, who understood our brand and our customer experience to think about their next level of how they Co-innovate with Vena and on on our platform. 

What we're unlocking now is how we go to market together and how, we're now starting to talk about as we mature, and our own ABM, and ABE  strategy is how do we start to do that with our partners around specific identified accounts. We're crossing over different ICP segments, we have the Co-innovation, this is where marketing and ecosystem fit very nicely, because you're starting from a market need and demand identifying the partner that has that expertise in those capabilities, pairing that with vendors, maturity and go to market as well as their expertise. 

And now we're teeing up to launch our ABM or ABE program, as we evolve to what will be our near bound in identifying those overlaps accounts and being able to really execute an end to end experience for our partners. But again, what that means for our customers and potential customers is they're really working with Vena and our partner throughout, the experience, but our partner is also enabled to go out and generate their own demand with their own customers with the support event, both from a product and services, as well as sales and marketing experience.

And so, right now, we're working with top partners, and we have great interest in existing. But there's a new value proposition when you go to market against your IPP on the criteria we're looking for, which fits into our go to market. So it changes the conversation when you're starting business development plans with partners on the value that you can co-create in the market and how that actually translates to revenue for our partner, and not just for the ISP or a platform partner.

Chip Rodgers  12:28

That's exciting.

Allison Munro  12:30

It is exciting. But I think as we've talked about before, it's not without its change management and how it really is transformational and how, you know, one idea to have a strategy and then to drive execution. Yeah, they bring that to market.

How to drive execution of change management 

Chip Rodgers  12:49

Venna has about 100 partners, how has that process gone? There's so many pieces to change management. You have to educate your internal teams, you have to educate the partners, bring them along, you're bringing on new partners, what has that process been like the change management process to get to where you're going?

Allison Munro  13:22

I think it's always tougher than you think no matter how experienced you are in change management. Again, I think from a marketing perspective, we gain a lot of experience in driving like change management around strategy. So marketers are notorious for running around using acronyms that people don't understand. What is inbound? 

And if you ask a group of marketers, part of the components of our strategy and why we're doing them what they will achieve, you'll have buy in, even then, as we transform from outbound inbound to ABE, I had to spend a lot of time educating not only the marketing team, but the rest of the business on why, what does this mean? Why are we doing this? 

And not from a point of view, maybe as an experienced expert on your strategy, but really breaking down the why and the components and what it means not only for the business, but what it means to individuals in sales and business development in our partner team. I think the same is true for ecosystems. You can and part of my learnings, there's one CMO. I wish I could remember her name, she published a book Diary of a new CMO. I wouldn't I wouldn't jump on that bandwagon. 

But if I think of Diary of a new ecosystem officer, it might be as clear to you and you're completely immersed in the community and amongst peers that are having these conversations. It's very difficult to forget execution to take the concept and the strategy and make sense for people that are not thinking about this every day. But also to think about what it means to change the way people work organization, how we incentivize different teams and how that changes what it means for workflow man judgment and process like just internally on the change that's required. 

They're also the best you have to make and what is your financial model of where revenues are coming from, and when based on the investments you're making, and making sure that those are the right caliber to grow. So there's a lot, but I would say, I probably got out of the gates this time last year, and was really excited about the opportunity and deck in hand and reason why, and probably a bit of a slower start initially, because the friction you run into is bringing people along and helping them understand what it means to them and what it means, for the short term and the long term. 

So there's a lot of learning in there, maybe we'll dive into one day or a year from now retrospect, but it's part of the job as well, it's a new concept, a new strategy. And it's not universally defined, if you look up the ecosystem, you're gonna find 12 different thought leadership perspectives, and probably one speaking about the ocean. So how do you build trust and credibility in the strategy and point to previous organizations that have done this and how it's going to work and what it means for you, there's a bit of a leap of faith and trust, you need to build an incremental, short term, near term long term goals that you need to set out and achieve, rather than the big reveal, or the big achievement in the end.

Chip Rodgers  16:21

You're so right, it's any kind of change management, but certainly when you're trying to make big changes like this to the organization, it's like, starting with the why, the Simon Sinek kind of thing, but it's like winning hearts and minds, on how do you get people there, so that you're not forcing people, but they're like, oh, this makes sense, not just to you and to the company, but also to my role and how it impacts me, and how can help with my goals?

Allison Munro  16:56

100% and that might mean, you slow down to speed up, as we've also heard. Yeah, it's definitely a necessary step.

Marketing as the fabric of an organization

Chip Rodgers  17:06

Allison, if you could share with us, having such a strong marketing background and being a longtime marketer, how has that helped you in the role? And where do you see sort of parallels? And also maybe where can other partner leaders learn from,marketing mind, as you're working with, as you're building this partner ecosystem around.

Allison Munro  17:43

Those are all big questions. We probably could do a couple of sessions on that, I'll try to approach it from a simple view, I think. And actually, I've always viewed marketing as the fabric of an organization. So we all as marketers went through a transformation with the advent of marketing automation to really attribute action and activity to impact and revenue. 

And that required alignment with sales and business development. And if you started to do that really well, it was to the full customer journey and experience tying into CS and services. And then bringing in your product connection of not only maybe informing what the product needs, and the product trends, and what's happening, but prioritizing a roadmap. 

It feels like a marketing structure. And a modern marketing or professional would be aligned to understanding not only what's in it for me in my function and Silo, but the why for you. So think about, the MQL conundrum, and I'm doing all these leads, and I'm throwing over to the fence and the BDR goes, so what, I think there's a parallel there are the sales team, I think there's a parallel there in product, being a single or partner, rather, being a single function and trying to drive change and influence across the business aligned to how you go to market and go to market is not one department. 

And so one of the phrases I love, I think, again, it's been Jill and Allen, who have come up with this idea. But if you think of marketing as the fabric of any organization, and threading partners throughout, that is sort of my best analogy of why this is a perfect pairing. But I do think, in other departments, what they can really learn is, what is what I'm doing, what impact is it driving, in my cross functional or in other department goals? Why does what I do matter to you think about the product roadmap? I'm sure we've all been in organizations where the product roadmap has been developed for every other reason other than revenue. 

I'm actually going to hold myself accountable to this revenue. And that's why we're going to invest in this product marketing, I'm going to invest in this activity to drive this pipeline, not just those early indicators. I think having that understanding in that practice of again, bringing people along but being able to tie to business impact and not departmental impact. is really the transformation I'm seeing a lot of partner leaders go through, which is not just about my partner acquisition targets, or my partner source revenue or my partner attached rate, it really becomes How are our partners helping us to drive the business forward? Both generate demand and value, but also additional experience. And brands bring our brand to life as part of our ecosystem and servicing our customer rather than a line item on a P&L.

Chip Rodgers  20:28

We had Greg Sarafin from EY at a recent EBS event and actually had an interview with him at Sapphire last week. And it's his, thesis he talks a lot about focus on delivering value, versus, let's get to a revenue number, like the revenue will follow but make sure that you're delivering value together as partners you're at, which is the whole process that you're talking about Co-creating, bringing it to market, and then delivering value for your shared customers.

Allison Munro  21:14

Yes, I think the difference in a big part of the transformation is removing yourself out of the center of the ecosystem and putting your customer in the center of that ecosystem. I can certainly talk about our technology ecosystem, but that's not what we're talking about. 

We're talking about our customer at the center, and how we create value to your point for that customer, as a better together approach, which means they have to do maybe with less people, they have to look at 45, less blogs, they don't have to do competitive analysis, like competitive evaluation across 75 solutions, if you just even think about what it takes to buy technology and services, I think part of eliminating that for our buyer, but also, being able to bring more value through your product and your partners and your services to that audience is really the transformation.

 It's not about Vena, it's about our customer, and the partners they currently work with, the technology they currently have with the communities they're a part of, and how we integrate our value into their ecosystem.

Co-selling success through alignment, trust, and integration

Chip Rodgers  22:13

Let's talk about the solutions created together, you're going to market together. Now ultimately, you're co selling with those with those partners. Talk a little bit about how that's working, how that is, part of the transformation as well, going from pure resell to Co-selling and aligning the sales teams and making sure that everybody knows what the value each other is bringing and enablement and all those things. Can you talk a little bit about how that process has gone? And how is it being received by your teams and by partners?

Allison Munro  22:55

In that process, I think it is always still going if you're doing it right. And, we're in the early stages of Co-innovation, which are going very well, but we've always had a Co-sell motion. I think the difference is instead of bringing in partners later in the stage, and as an additional needed basis, again, we're really thinking about it at the front. So how do we think about what our shared customer future needs? 

And how will they serve them together? As a marketer as an ecosystem as a partner? I think we're always focused on how we build trust outside the organization. I think we often overlook how we build trust inside the organization. And I think that means trust in your sales organization, trusting your partners, and vice versa. That takes a little more effort than most people realize. At a 1.0 level, it's being able to showcase your partners to your sales team. 

Let them know what value they build, and why they should care. When you go further, you can really start to map your partners in a systematic and operationalized way in your CRM and other tools to be able to start to say, this partner fits with this prospect. And it does that in an automatic way and why? So you can start to really think about how you're going to service and build value for that future customer at the beginning, versus I'm a sales rep that's halfway through sales cycle, and I have a gap and I need this person to come in and help me and that's a change in the number one thing.

It's marketing, it's internal marketing. It's driving awareness. It's building trust and building the operational systems to make it so that it's part of the way our teams are working and have the transparency and the information they need within the environments they work in, rather than having to recreate a different wheel and that goes back to my favorite word which is integrated. 

How do you integrate your partners into your systems, your people and your technology to deliver more value versus running a separate stream to drive this new initiative. And that's why I say I think there's a saying, echoed by Hunter, mainly our CEO, which is better, better never best. And we believe and live that.

We're optimizing. I think we have a number of great partners and a number of great sellers who really understand the value that our partners create for our shared future customers.There's always work to be done on how we can, again, optimize that by, relationships with people, process and technology.

Chip Rodgers  25:37

It does seem that, some AEs, some regions, some product teams will pick things up earlier and see a big win. And then you've got a feature: hey, this really works.

Allison Munro  25:56

Yeah, customer stories which are rich and win announcements, if, again, everything we're doing from a marketing perspective, think about a marketer who had to chase down the AE to get their contacts involved in the nurture, as in this, I can do it better on my own, I don't want anybody to talk to my prospect, I want to control the entire experience, I am a one person show, versus transforming that sales organization to understand how sales marketing business development products, services and partners, all actually create that force multiplier.

For our future customer. It's the same motion and the same transformation, that requires a lot of the same methodology to drive that transformation.

Chip Rodgers  26:44

How are you currently planning or thinking about measuring?

Allison Munro  26:53

I knew that was the question you are going to ask. One of the biggest things we had to and are doing as part of our ecosystem strategy is what are the KPIs? What we talked about a little earlier is I'm sure most partner professionals have a partner source revenue KPI, and that's what worked that back for revenue pipeline, how many leads? How many referrals? 

What is the partner doing for us? How do you change that to not only think about, everything from, of course, revenue generated with an end through the partner, and your attach rates, and your revenue KPIs, but, really looking more from an engagement lens of how we think about ramp time and onboarding? 

What do we think about partner productivity? How do we think about and measure how we're enabling our partners to generate revenue and achieve their goals against our partner business development plans, which is going from that single KPI that I think often accompanies a sales lead, go to market, whether it's marketing or partner or sales, and really thinking about, yes, your full funnel, but also your engagement, your experience, layering in all of those early and lagging indicators that demonstrate by going back to your point, the value we've created, not only for the market for our partners, how do we make sure that we're helping our partners deliver against their business goals, as well as them helping to achieve ours, and that we enabled them and supported them in the best way they can to achieve those goals. 

And again, those goals being not just revenue, but ramp time, their ability to be productive, their engagement rates, as we think about going near bound, and all bound? How are we helping them leverage our marketing content to actually resonate with the audience they're engaging with and how we help them improve, their business metrics is the list we're looking at. It's funny, we actually, Jennifer, who's recently joined as our senior director of ecosystem, that was one of the challenges she took on and our first KPI list was probably 35 metrics of all the things we wanted to measure. And so internally, we're going through the conversation. Okay, what are the top three, five, and 10? And how do we make sure it's anchored in enablement onboarding, satisfaction, and revenue? As we look at the full lifecycle and productivity of our partner ecosystem.

Chip Rodgers  29:18

It's fantastic. In other words, it's not easy. 

Allison Munro  29:26

No,  it's not even just the KPIs. Then you want to make sure that people's, the way they're compensated and incentivized and measured aligns to those KPIs. And I think that's where a lot of healthy tension and transformation also emerges. So it's not easy. It's not overnight, it requires passion and impatience, in executing the strategy. 

But it's been really great to see the transformation happening. As we're 10 to 11 months into our ecosystem, real commitment, with my role and at the executive level. Then at the board we have these conversations that are very much engaged, the entire business is excited by the strategy, what we're trying to do, and it's incredible to see all of the other functional leaders leaning in, and having that shared motion and our go to market.

Advice for other partner leaders

Chip Rodgers  30:17

That's fantastic.Congratulations, that's really exciting. And I think we could talk for another hour. We barely scratched the surface. But maybe maybe one other question, Allison, any advice that you would have based on your prior experience, what you've learned over the last 11 months, anything that you would want to share with other partner leaders that has really helped you along the way.

Allison Munro  30:55

We've talked about a few. I think outside of that one. I think it's really important to break down short term, near term and long term, and have that visibility both for yourself, as well as for the business, and really aligning with other business leaders, even if its partner leader to marketing, if it's starting to have those conversations with product is, going back to your point about the why what is short term success look like to give us,, near term and long term, because it's not an overnight transformation, if you're really going to do it right and set up, to actually operate and scale your business that way.

So, I've seen a number of partner leaders get discouraged, without having that immediate validation or buy in or success. Again, in the spirit of bringing people along, there is a path, it does drive more value for your partners and your customers and therefore the market and therefore, you and I think just aligning across the business and helping educate is really important to making sure you can continue with your your marathon of Sprint's because that's what they are. 

Chip Rodgers  32:06

So short, mid and long term projections, goals, measurement and the whole thing.

Allison Munro  32:16

Yeah, dependency measurement. What does good look like? What does okay look like? And what does great look like? I think the vision is really important in the short, near and long term, to be able to continue to educate, and bring people along and get them excited.

Chip Rodgers  32:29

Awesome. Thank you so much for taking some time and sharing your thoughts and journey. And I'd love to, let's do this again, later. I'd love to get an update on how things are progressing. 

Allison Munro  32:42

Thank you, Chip, I was saying earlier, I think you are the most calming podcast host I've ever had the privilege of speaking to you. So thank you for that. And of course, your expertise and your commitment to moving, not only partners but ecosystem forward.

Chip Rodgers  32:56

Fantastic, Allison, thank you. And thank you all for joining another episode of ecosystem aces. And with that, I will sign off and actually tomorrow morning, we have a pro panel with Mike Moore, Dana and Marc Monday, and I can't believe I'm forgetting Dana's last name. Anyway, Dana is going to be joining us as well from Eightfold and just a really exciting session tomorrow morning. Don't miss that and we'll talk to you next time. Thanks, Allison.

Allison Munro  33:40

Thank you, Chip. Thank you, everyone.

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