Elev8 Episode 2.
Activating & Measuring Word of Mouth Referrals with Zak Pines of FormStack
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Speaker 1: (00:07)
Hello and welcome to Elevate, uh, by Aptitude Today. I am your host, Connor Jeffers. And today I'm really excited to have with us currently the Vice President of Partnerships at Formstack. And for those who do not know, Formstack is a secure workplace productivity platform. Built, built to produce engineer solutions to the everyday work that slows organizations down. Uh, thanks for coming. Zach
Speaker 2: (00:31)
Connor, thanks for the invite.
Speaker 1: (00:33)
I love talking to you, Zach. Uh, well, amazing. You know, I obviously know you decently well. We're a partner, we're huge fans of the product. Uh, but I think what would be awesome is give me, and I, I don't know this about you, uh, which is like the short bio coming up to, uh, what you sort of work on and where you're, where you're focused, right? Yeah,
Speaker 2: (00:53)
Man, Connor, um, been a bit too long. I'll go with over 20 years, you know, in the, in the SaaS space. Uh, worked for an early marketing automation firm, um, that was tied to the Omnicom group. So that gave me just deep, deep love and affection for, for the agency world. Um, at a later point was one of the first Marketo partners. So, uh, equal love for kind of the consulting and SI space. Um, fast forwarding a bit, um, I was part of, uh, bedrock Data, which is a partner that was working really across a whole bunch of different SaaS products. Uh, HubSpot being one of the prominent ones. And I then through an acquisition, joined Formstack about three years ago and just kind of bringing all those things together. Um, love for, for the consulting community, um, love for SAS products, and have now been, uh, heading up the partnerships team at Formstack for, uh, now entering your three doing that.
Speaker 1: (01:57)
What I'm hearing is that you, I can just call you whenever things are hard and , Zach be like, oh yeah, I've seen that. It's . I know how that one works. Uh, and to, given both SaaS and partnerships and marketing automation and everything else. I also did not realize that you were, uh, you came over in the Bedrock acquisition.
Speaker 2: (02:15)
Yes. Yeah. That's how I came to, to, to, to Formstack. And uh, at that point, you know, was, was, it's interesting cuz if you go back and just the last decade for me, you know, was deep in the Marketo ecosystem, deep in the HubSpot ecosystem, and then now with Formstack kind of spanning all of those, but, but probably deepest now in the Salesforce ecosystem. So, um, yeah, for sure. It's, it's, you know, it's been, it's been a lot of ecosystem work for me, but, um, Salesforce is probably our, our deepest, uh, technology partner these days at Formstack.
Speaker 1: (02:49)
Yeah. I, I'll I'll give one last plug product. I think Formstack for Salesforce is one of my favorites on what Salesforce, uh, the ability for someone who has a little bit of an operat. I think it's like the part of that big code, uh, movement that's sort of happening everywhere, which is that you, if you have an understanding of databases and sort of like a slight, uh, you can buy yourself, build very, very cool custom solutions that, you know, pre things like Formstack, uh, were giant Salesforce projects and, and pre-sales force, were like some database Oracle projects. ,
Speaker 2: (03:28)
That's, I think, yeah, one of the, i I, it's funny cuz when I joined Formstack, you know, I I mapped probably about seven different roles that I was doing at Bedrock into, you know, now Formstack functions. So I've, I've taken on like a almost a part-time, uh, enablement role for, for the sales team. And you know, one of my statements is like, Formstack for Salesforce, it's, it's one of a kind, like, there's no other product like this, you know, you're dragging and dropping off of your Salesforce data model, you know, building a form. So, you know, if I'm a new salesperson, I may not have that appreciation. I'm like, this is a one of a kind product. This is a, this is a great product. Like, you know, customers love this product part.
Speaker 1: (04:08)
Is it, what do I, what do I charge? Who do I sell to? Partner
Speaker 2: (04:13)
Part, you know, the, our partner community loves that product. ,
Speaker 1: (04:17)
I wanna, I actually, that I really am interested. So, um, partnerships, people are some of my fa I talked to a lot of partnerships people, but I actually, I think those roles that people ascribe to like, oh, this person's managing partnerships and like that can mean really anything. Uh, and so I'm super interested in where, where, where are you either, where have you spent your time, where do you spend the majority of your time? Like what, what's top of mind for, for you with Formstack and, and with the, uh, the VB partnerships role?
Speaker 2: (04:46)
Yeah, I think, um, I mean the first, the way broadly we look at partnerships and, and this part probably isn't, isn't rocket science, but two big buckets, uh, technology partners, partners who have integrations with Formstack, and we, we view those as ecosystems, you know, as I, as I was describing, because those are great, um, you know, companies for us to help their customers, uh, with a joint value proposition. And then consulting partners. Go ahead. Technology,
Speaker 1: (05:15)
Please. So when you guys are doing that, is that like, um, you guys are taking the forms, stack forms technology and they're wrapping it up inside of their product? Is it on extension? Like what's the primary way that they're working with you guys?
Speaker 2: (05:30)
Yeah, I think, I mean the general concept across the board is what Formstack does really well is wraparound, to use your term, right? You know, a CRM or a database, you know, Formstack helps you collect data into a CRM or a database or do things once you have that data, like collect more of that data with prefilled forms or generate documents or collect digital signatures. So, um, you know, we work great with, with CRM systems like Salesforce or HubSpot or Microsoft Dynamics with, you know, more pure databases like an Air, air table or a QuickBase. Um, so is it like ISV integration? ISVs? Yes. Uh, you could think of Form Stack. We, we would position ourselves as a Salesforce isv, correct. Uh, or an integration partner to those companies. Formstack for Salesforce is the most native of those offerings because you're managing a form within Salesforce or you're managing a document within Salesforce. Uh, in most other cases we have connectors whereby, you know, you're, you're setting up some integration and then you're using Formstack externally with those systems. So in all cases, strong value proposition, um, the Formstack for Salesforce product offering is the most natively managed, uh, of those.
Speaker 1: (06:52)
Cool. And then I, I started, I just started asking you more questions cause you're gonna tell me about the other side, which is more the, uh, the services provider
Speaker 2: (06:58)
Piece consulting partners, um, and you know, to ask you, you know, what, what we're up to. I mean, I think one neat thing about the Formstack partner team is really since the beginning, you know, Gabe Caldwell and I have, have teamed up to grow this team. Uh, Gabe also came to Formstack through an acquisition web merge to Formstack documents. Um, we've learned a ton from each other. I would say Gabe gravitates a bit more to the technology partners and I gravitate a bit more to the consulting community, but on a daily basis, we're helping each other and kind of bouncing ideas off of. So Gabe has helped us, you know, blossom a lot of these technology partnerships. Um, Salesforce has become a big growth driver for us. Um, our use cases with HubSpot get more and more interesting every day. Uh, QuickBase has been an emerging technology partner for us in recent months.
Speaker 2: (07:56)
My day-to-day work has mostly gravitated towards the consulting partner side and we've done some really neat things. We've developed some really key themes. Uh, community is a big theme for us. So one of my early themes was community, not a channel, like I don't think of, yeah. Consulting partners as a channel. You know, I think of it as a community where we're building a community of product experts who become advisors for customers and help them find success with our products. And our first and foremost job as a partner team is enabling that community of partners to be successful, uh, with, with their, with our customers, with their customers. And that's been sort of, that's driven, I think a lot of our decisions and, and and structure to the team. We've also wanted to do that, but but do that in a way that's connected to business results. So we've collaborated really closely with our sales team along the way to have the partner team focused on community and enablement, but then also aligning our partners with, you know, with with the sales team for, you know, developing opportunities, developing projects, and that that like one twoo punch of enablement first community first, but then closely aligning with AEs is just a formula that we've found to be just really effective.
Speaker 1: (09:26)
How, how do you guys, so I think the thing, and I think well, uh, having been sort of on that partner side, uh, managed, been been involved in a couple projects sort of with, with you guys. And I think it's really, as we've gotten deeper into Square and we've started launching little tiny apps and some of these other pieces, like it's becoming so evident to me how hard that is. Uh, because you think like, oh, we'll make something. People will ask us questions, we'll answer their support tickets, uh, and then the volume goes up and now you have people who are trying to build stuff on top of your solution. And like how do you guys think about or approach enablement from the sort of like, partner and, and that services provider side. But then I think also, and I don't know if you guys, if that's one and the same with how do you guys think about doing that? Well, uh, cuz I think it's something that's extremely challenging.
Speaker 2: (10:15)
I think, I think it's about, you know, having it be a proactive offering. Um, meaning we want to get out in front of doing those kind of enablement sessions with a partner consulting team or SI team, like just the time spent going through, you know, a demo and allowing teams to fire any use cases at you because there's so much expertise out there, you know, in the SI community, you know, there's, people have, they've, uh, you know, they know what questions they, they know what scenarios they face, they just need a forum to, uh, ask those questions. Sure. So getting out ahead of that, um, offering up, you know, lunch and learn sessions, which pretty much every consulting firm understands what we mean by that. Um, it, it, it, it allows for us to increase like the apt the aptitude of, of how, um, our products are understood and inevitably, you know, leads to potential projects, you know, coming from that. Um, the second thing is, once there is a project, once there is a project also getting out ahead of that because the natural for an SI may be like, we're gonna go off and do this ourselves. Yeah. And inevitably like there's that really
Speaker 1: (11:33)
Taught your software like go away.
Speaker 2: (11:35)
There's a really tough situation that they get into, you know, two months later and you don't want that to be a fire drill. So just having like, you know, even just like a 30 minute alignment session, you know, heading into the project, like goes, goes a long way. We, we do these every day and it's always like just this great kumbaya session where the partner comes across feeling great, they're supported, they know who to reach out to, we've got good visibility to what they're up to in case, you know, questions, uh, come, come down the road. So just little things like that have gone a massive way. And what we've found is that sis don't need a ton of time, it's more the quality of the resource. So with a relatively small partner team, you know, we're now managing like literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of, of these types of, of these types of partners effectively.
Speaker 1: (12:31)
There's one is I think, I think the quality piece is so huge. I think one of the things that's really hard, uh, speaking from sort of that
Speaker 1: (12:40)
Aspect and you're trying to get a question answered, and to your point, you're two months into the project, a bunch of stuff's on fire. Like I have to get this live next week and hopefully we didn't let it get to that point, but that you started get into situation and, and you start asking for help and for support and you're sort of getting routed through different channels and you're going. And I think being able to access and sort think about it internally is like the super tech support, but targeted people who are really able to help those issues is so much better than just check in with you regularly. But they don't really know what's going on with these components and being able to really solve those problems. Um, something else you touched on that I want to drill into a little bit just cuz I think it's really interesting is I think that this ties to your, it's a community and not a channel. Is that you, you divorce the partner enablement and sort of like, how do we focus on maximizing the abilities of our partners from how do we track and manage the influence and the downstream sort of opportunity value, but obviously those, those business metrics are super important. So how do you guys think about grabbing that information so that you can make sure that you can tie back to a business case on who drives the most value in addition to maybe who's the loudest?
Speaker 2: (13:47)
Yeah, so a few things there. Um, back to your comment on support. Our philosophy has been everyone on the partner team is a product expert because that's what partners need and that, that's been successful. Um, we've set up processes like priority partner support that, you know, routes to partner team solution engineer for, you know, white glove treatment. Uh, we've launched a partner Slack community, which has been successful. So we even now have partners helping other partners. That's been a, that's been a huge, huge breakthrough. Um, metrics. We, we have always had the philosophy that if we have these fundamentals like community enablement support, you know, the downstream impact is gonna come. And we are, we have lots of ways that partners can provide visibility to us. Um, we encourage partners to log those referrals. Sure. For partners interested in getting referral payouts, we offer that. It's not mandatory. Many consultants don't even want to think about that, but, but some do. We have that as an option. We have options for partners to set up trackable trial links. Uh, we encourage partners to just communicate with us. Like yeah,
Speaker 2: (15:16)
Um, send us an email, send us a LinkedIn message, send us a Slack message. Like all these ways, like, you don't have to be formal if you don't want to, but the more you can share with us, the better. And we, through our CRM will connect partners to those opportunities. Um, if it's sourced from a partner, we've got certain ways of logging that if it's a partners involved, we have certain ways of doing that. And essentially we've been able to, you know, so far, you know, knock on wood, just have those business metrics, you know, quarter on quarter where we're doing the things, you know, around partner enablement community and it is tying to business results. And we've been able to, to demonstrate that, you know, every single month, every single quarter going on three years now. So it's, uh, it's going well. It it's working. Yeah. Uh, we say like, Hey, it's working so we're gonna, we're gonna keep doing it cuz it's working.
Speaker 1: (16:05)
I something that I think is so interesting about that is that I feel like with, with customer support, right? There was this huge wave of everyone saying we need to do omnichannel and let's, let's respond to people's Facebooks and let's have them reach out on LinkedIn and we'll have email support and we'll have phone and we'll have chat. And there's this whole thing, and I feel like sometimes in partners is it's like, in order to register your deal, please send it by carrier pigeon to this address. Like, only white pigeons will be accepted, all other pigeons will be denied. And then like, I think it makes it really difficult for, and, and I I'm curious if you think that where, where that motivation comes from, but I think that there's also an element of, just like on the partner side, it, it's evident to me that companies that do that really, really well treat their partners with the same level of sort of access and respect on the customer side. Just like make it, let's make it easy to work with us.
Speaker 2: (16:52)
Yeah. I mean you need the, I mean, first and foremost, you know what I think me and Gabe and, and the rest of our partner team, like we, we, we, we advocate for partners and we advocate for the partner experience. So I could totally see why other companies would take missteps, you know, if you're, if you're not doing that, because it is really easy to say like, you know, we need partners to do this very specific thing, this specific way for this to count, right? Um, but we always are like, you know, let's, let's do things that make sense. Um, we, we laugh because in part because of Gabe's background with Web Merge, you know, we're still part of some other partner program mailing list and there's another partner software that, I won't mention their name, but they essentially, it's like two log a referral with us.
Speaker 2: (17:43)
You literally need to print and sign like a 20 page agreement . And we're like, okay, so, so let me get this straight in order for us to have the privilege for you to recommend us to another company. Like we have to sign. It's like, it's crazy. It's like, no, what do you need to do to collaborate with us? Anything you want, send me an email, send me a LinkedIn message, send me a Slack message like, we're here to help. We'd be honored to work with your customer Like that . Let's, let's, we'll, we'll, you know, we'll, we'll, we'll, we'll figure out, we'll figure out the rest later. But first and foremost, you know, we're here to help .
Speaker 1: (18:17)
How do you guys think about, so obviously on the flip end, right, and I think a lot of companies do that because I, they, whether they see partners as kind of a distraction or whether they sort of see them as, as kicking the tires or some of these other pieces. Like how do you guys manage against partners that, and I don't think that they necessarily, they're not seeking to extract value, but they come in, they consume a lot of resources, they want a lot of attention, but they either don't get things to the finish line or maybe their work product isn't as high quality. Like how do you guys think about managing situations where you can't give the benefit of the doubt the whole time and at some point it becomes taxing and may, maybe that's not how you guys think about it, but I'm sure that other people run into that problem.
Speaker 2: (18:56)
Yeah, I mean, I, again, like you said, benefit of the doubt. I mean, 90, I I think I, I, I'd answer that a couple of different ways. Um, I think we are almost intrinsically very sharp around our partner persona, meaning like we know the types of businesses that are incredibly successful with Formstack. And in some respect, our, our life is easy because, you know, it's working in these ecosystems like Salesforce sis, like HubSpot partners. So almost you're kind of pre-qualified, um, to be a successful partner with us just by having the right, the right persona. Um, we'll give people the benefit of the doubt. So I think anyone on the partner team's gonna spend 45 minutes with somebody. Um, there's, there, there is a natural onus on people from there to do some work. Meaning like to become a certified Formstack partner, like you have to show that you know, the product.
Speaker 2: (19:50)
So if you can't do that, hey, you're probably gonna fall out of our partner engagement. Yeah. So there, there is some, there is some work to be done here, um, to, but we're gonna, we're we're gonna give you the benefit of the doubt. We're gonna spend the time with you without, you know, pre-qualifying you, but there's also work on your side that you have to step up in order to, you know, to in turn become a partner. So we, by, by having those gates in place, I think it's made sure that you know the right, the right partners are the ones kind of stepping up to, to collaborate with us.
Speaker 1: (20:23)
Yeah, for sure. I think there's something, so we talked a little bit about kind of like the metrics management piece and the CRM piece and tying a lot of those together. But how do you guys think about, I think one of the things, especially when you make it easy, right? Like the, one of the big things is sign, sign my agreement that I have to send you, register your lead through the form that I give you and that will go into the crm, I'll connect it to your company, you have to do it from your login. Here's, here's your partner stat credentials, et cetera. Um, and if you guys are making it that easy for people to work with you guys, h how do you think about and manage partners who may say, oh, form stack's great. You should, you should go check them out if you guys buy them, we'd love to work with you. And really that word of mouth component
Speaker 2: (21:00)
Yeah, it's a, it's, it's a, it's a hot top of mind topic for me. So we've thought about that too. Like what are the other ways one could come into Formstack? Um, and you're right, we, we do see it all the time and it, and it's, it's to be expected. Like Connor, you know, you're an expert, you're on a meeting with a customer. Yes. The topic of, you know, document automation or data capture, uh, comes up and hey, you might mention Formstack, that's a good thing. We're not, we, we wanna applaud that. Um, so we have a BDR team, uh, that BDR team is manning the live chat on our website. Hey, they're using Drift. You know, I was one of the early, early Drift supporters and adopters. So, you know, we encourage that team to, hey, if you're in a conversation, ask, how did you find out about Formstack? Are you working with a Formstack partner? Um, they can't get that question at every time, but they often can. Um, we have other spots in app where, we'll, where we've gotten the product team to put in a question like, how'd you find out about Formstack? So not,
Speaker 1: (22:11)
I've never heard of that before. That's awesome.
Speaker 2: (22:12)
It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good. Also, um, you know, I will do things like, you know, review a daily report of new opportunities and you know, do some mining of the CRM for some keynote. And through that I will pick up a lot of these word of mouth recommendations. Now what do we do next? We will reach out to the partner. So I'll reach out to a partner and say, Hey, guess what? Our sales team had a conversation with this prospect. They mentioned your name. That's almost always a win-win because sometimes the partner will be surprised by that. They'll be like, oh, like that's great news. That means
Speaker 1: (22:55)
I was just talking to them. Maybe they actually wanna work with us .
Speaker 2: (22:58)
Yeah. It's like, oh yeah, we were talking about a project. You, you giving me that insight is now telling me that like they're interested in us and Formstack and we kind of close that loop together and Connor, you know, next time they're gonna tell us proactively when they make that word of mouth recommendation. So
Speaker 1: (23:16)
Right. Cuz you guys become a utility in moving that forward as opposed to, uh, and, and, oh, I gotta go through this extra step and I just, I didn't have the time and it, you, it becomes co-selling
Speaker 2: (23:26)
Bingo. We show the value of like, here's why you want to give us that heads up next time. And, you know, that's where the magic happens.
Speaker 1: (23:35)
That is awesome. I love the in-app piece. Obviously a lot of people do the how you hear about us, but I think it's so true. I mean, I, I especially for like, for for aptitude date, like we look at some of the, you know, the marketing analytics and everything else for ourselves and we'll compare it to customer accounts or anything else. And I think that we have so much and if you just look at the marketing analytics, it's all direct traffic or it's all just like branded keyword search and it's because that's what happens, right? You're in, you're in a software conversation, they say, oh, we have this partner, you should go check them out. They're aptitude eight. You can, you can look 'em up and people come through. And if we just looked at that outside of the, uh, who sent you to us, like which, which person was it?
Speaker 1: (24:10)
Do we need to build a better relationship there? I actually think we don't do as good of a job of that as we as we could. Uh, and I think that this has been insightful in that regard, but I do think that that's key where so much of the ways that U drive that core business isn't through a UTM tracking link and it isn't through something that you can grab and the more that you can build in that infrastructure to track it back, the more how do you, how do you think about that and balance those traditional marketing channels? Like do you guys throw it in as a source next BRI slice?
Speaker 2: (24:41)
Um, for the U t M piece or for No,
Speaker 1: (24:50)
No, I'm sorry. In general.
Speaker 2: (24:50)
Speaker 1: (24:51)
I'm, I'm thinking like if, if you're using sort of the, hey we have, how did you from, we're looking at that. Is that, are you looking at a, a different piece of information? Is it a permutation on the course source data? Mm-hmm. ,
Speaker 2: (25:07)
I think this part, and this is probably worth spinning out another conversation with Sure. Even our marketing OpStream, because I think the broader perspective of like the intersection between it is hard to, because word of mouth by definition is now tracking that a partner has referred this other customer and you're now trying to track that, that leap if you will, which doesn't necessarily jive with like the traditional marketing looking at like a customer acquisition funnel. Um, right. Cause you so
Speaker 1: (25:44)
Joins in between.
Speaker 2: (25:45)
Yeah. So I don't think we've mastered that part broadly. What we've done is we've sort of had the partner sourced bucket as like its own bucket that we're reporting on in parallel to like, to, to direct marketing efforts, if you will. But I think there's more we can do to kind of build that, that picture out more completely as we go forward.
Speaker 1: (26:09)
Awesome. In terms of folks, and like if you're just getting started, if you're thinking powerful, we don't manage it, we don't try. Um, how do you think, what is like the most actionable short-term thing that some,
Speaker 2: (26:25)
I mean I think we've talked about it here, but you know, whatever, however direct, you know, leads are coming into you, um, start asking that question. You know, if you've got live chat on your website, again, live chat is like a natural entry point for someone who's been word of mouth referred. You know, you can imagine I told you to go to a customer site. I'm now on the site, I wanna talk to somebody. So, um, if you've got live chat on your site asking how'd you hear about us? Did, are you working with a partner that could pick you up some low hanging fruit? But also, you know, follow the example we gave of don't just collect the data for the psych of collecting it, collect the data to add value to your partners and your sales team. That's when, that's when this is really gonna gonna work. Meaning if you can show that by collect this information, we're actually gonna close more deals because we have better joint co-selling activities, that's when you know, that's when you're gonna start building momentum for, for why you should be asking those questions.
Speaker 1: (27:32)
That's awesome. Uh, well thank you so much back for sharing, sharing your, your insights, your expertise, your journey. We really appreciate it. Uh, if folks, let's thank you. You'll follow you. What's the best place?
Speaker 2: (27:45)
Oh, Connor. Um, reach out on LinkedIn, uh, mention the A eight podcast. I will absolutely connect. We'll
Speaker 1: (27:51)
Add it into the crm. Um,
Speaker 2: (27:53)
also on Twitter. Um, it's a, it's an old, uh, old handle that I've stuck with, but it's, uh, moneyball mkt r.com, Moneyball marketer. I don't know if Twitter still has a character limit, but when I set up that handle, they definitely did. So I went with the Moneyball mk t r, um, for Moneyball marketer. Uh, was was a theme I was, uh, exploring. This is, this is going back almost 10 years as well, Connor.
Speaker 1: (28:22)
All right. I know Moneyball, that's awesome that I think that that has legs. Do you still do anything with that?
Speaker 2: (28:27)
I do, yeah. Um, I have my give it a, my personal blog that I have not been developing cuz I've been so focused on Formstack is moneyball marketer.com. But you'll see lots and lots of, uh, philosophies about marketing, uh, data, data-driven marketing going, also going back, uh, over the last decade or so.
Speaker 1: (28:48)
Amazing. We'll check out Zach on LinkedIn, also at Moneyball, marketer or M K T R for short on Twitter. Uh, and for anyone listening, thank you so much for being a part of this. Uh, if you have requests, recommendations, thanks for topics, guests, anything else, uh, reach out to us. We'd love to chat with you and stay tuned for future episodes and topics and you can find all of our episodes, uh, at aptitude eight.com under podcasts. Uh, thank you so much.
Speaker 2: (29:15)