Category Creation and Partnerships in GTM - with Jill Rowley

In the 18th episode of the Leaders of Growth podcast, Arthur Nobel discusses category creation and partnerships for go-to-market with our guest, Jill Rowley, one of the first 100 employees in Salesforce, and the 13th employee at Eloqua, where she helped the company grow to its IPO and exit to Oracle.


Jill has over 22 years in B2B SaaS. After learning about social networking, digital selling, and social selling in practice, Jill spent many years evangelizing and professionally speaking on social selling. Lately, she has been an advisor for the CEO of Marketo and is currently a GTM advisor at Guild Education and Fund Advisor and LP at Stage 2 Capital.



Below, are some of the questions covered in the podcast.


What’s your definition of go-to-market?


Historically, go-to-market was defined mainly as sales. This is absolutely inaccurate today. Go-to-market starts with the problem you are solving for your ideal customer profile (ICP). It’s important to assess the product, what you’ve built to solve that problem, and what will make people willing to pay money for it.

Then you need to ask yourself how you go to market and capture revenue and customer advocacy. You get there by orchestrating your product development and product team with your marketing and sales team. The way you message the product, and the solution is key to generating demand and sales. Here’s where the direct and indirect sales organization, partnering channels, and ecosystem landscape come into play. Finally, you have customer success because, as we know, retention is the new growth for subscription businesses. You can’t be losing customers and only filling the top with new logos.

My focus today is on how to bring all of these elements together to get a single set of data and processes across that entire go-to-market. The analytics and metrics that founders should be measuring, as well as the technology required to support their revenue operations, are key. It’s ultimately about how everything fits together, combined with the issue of timing, to know what’s the best time to fire on the go-to-market.


The leader of Go-to-market should be the CEO. Period. A CRO, for example, doesn’t own HR neither Finance, Legal, or IT. Those functions are closely correlated to your GTM, and it’s the job of the CEO to orchestrate all the functions and do it profitably. The CRO is the one who pulls it all together.



What are some of the dos and don'ts related to scaling?


Don’t scale too soon is my number one advice. You need to find product-market fit before hiring a full-on sales team. I’ve been an advisor to an early-stage company that hired a lot of SDRs before getting Product-Market Fit. That’s a huge mistake. Regarding don’ts related to partnerships: Don’t wait. In the past, partnerships were postponed. However, we’re entering the decade of ecosystems, communities, and partnerships and moving to the marketplace model. If you’re not thinking about how your company and your solution fit into a bigger ecosystem and how your product can integrate from a data perspective and an automation perspective, you’re building what I call a “feature” instead of a product.

No founder wants to build a feature. Nowadays, founders don’t even want to build products. They want to build platforms. Keeping all of that in mind, I would bring in that partnership lens way earlier than traditionally done.



The number of companies that succeed in becoming a platform is minimal. Why is this the case?


Salesforce is one of the best examples of a true platform, and it took them over 20 years to get there and build a moat. It would be hard for an early-stage company to compete against such big players. That’s why I encourage founders to analyze the existing platforms that they can plug into and earn the attention of existing platform providers and build powerful partnerships and alliances.



Is there a particular growth stage in a company when you need to start thinking about partnerships?


From day one, founders need to understand what partnerships mean and where they can take them, as well as think early on about M&A.


Think of what your customers are saying they need that you don’t have. If you start hearing about a particular vendor, you know it’s time to partner with them. Depending on your stage, you will decide if you’re going to build it, acquire or partner.


Your Head of Partnerships will need to be very entrepreneurial early on. This person needs to look across Product, Marketing, Sales, and Customer Success in the early days of creating your partner strategy, so it should be someone who can think about all of this from a business lens.



What do you think is the best way to activate a channel and incentivize salespeople from large channel partner companies?


It’s very hard. We’re all competing for the attention of partner companies, potential buyers, customers, investors, etc. To get the attention of a potential partner, you need to focus on how you’re going to help them generate revenue. You need to think about how the puzzle fits together. That is product integration, co-building, co-marketing, and co-selling. You have to look at it from a mutual value and the culture of the organization.


You need to think like a salesperson. Why would I as a salesperson work with a partner if I don’t get quota relief? Partners have massive influence over your buyers. If the partner is engaged it’s going to influence the buyer.

There’s still a hot debate around commissions and incentive plans, but it all comes about how you’re going to get more conversations with potential buyers and win more deals. If they only think about quotas and commissions, rather than thinking more broadly, their salespeople are bound to be more transactional.


Bad partnerships are something to avoid. For example, when there’s no overlap of your ICP or no fit, your salespeople lose trust in the organization. You need to show salespeople how they’re going to make more money, introduce them to new potential customers, and increase velocity.



To wrap up, do you have any content recommendations?

There are a lot of early-stage and go-to-market resources in SaaStr. I also love the podcast Grit, with Joubin Mirzadegan. From a partnership perspective, PartnerUp podcast is amazing.

There are communities too. I would recommend Partnership Leaders and SaaS Ecosystem Alliance. I also recommend following Jay McBain. He has created the first partner tech landscape diagram.


Think about surrounding yourself with the best of the best in the area you want to learn, and consume the best resources.



Click here to listen to the full interview and visit the Leaders of Growth podcast.