How to be a Customer-Obsessed Partner Manager

How to be a Customer-Obsessed Partner Manager

Scott Hanford 16 min
By Scott Hanford

It’s a common axiom in the partnerships world that the best partnerships are the ones that benefit your customers. 

But what if you don’t have a clear idea of who your customers are and what they want? What if your Ideal Customer Profile is non-existent or outdated?

You’ll need to get crafty by using both qualitative and quantitative data without getting overwhelmed with all of the information. And you will need to be a scientist learning what to listen to, what to ignore, and what to double down on.

You know who else operates this way? Growth practitioners.

Growth professionals like myself have a lot to teach our colleagues working on partnerships. So, I’d like to share some tricks of the trade based on my eight years as a growth marketer. I have co-led research functions and run dozens of research and data gathering exercises intended to better understand our target market, including my recent time at InVision where we 3x’d ARR to reach nine figures. By applying growth principles rooted in customer research and data, you can improve your approach to partnership problems. You’ll be a customer-obsessed partner manager before you know it — and I’ll show you how.

In this post, we’ll cover:

  1. How to get in the mind of your customers
  2. How to use data and research to fill gaps in understanding
  3. Essential growth tools for partnership professionals
  4. How data and enrichment can make partner managers more successful
  5. Further reading for those interested in learning more

How to get in the mind of your customers

All success in business begins with an intimate understanding of your target customers. 

  • Need to make better product decisions? Know your customers’ pain points and wants. 
  • Need to find a new marketing channel? Know where your customers are and what they are searching for. 
  • Need to scale a partner program? Know your customers’ use cases and how they interact with your product and other products in the ecosystem. 

Many partner managers will tell you that everything they do needs to “benefit the customer”, but there is a reason why most businesses fail – using qualitative and quantitative information to build customer profiles is hard work. 

Start with creating a holistic understanding of your customers. Without this, you won’t know what data to look for. This can be done in a variety of ways:

Create customer personas or profiles

Using your best guess, build personas that help you understand your target audience. Give this your best shot – maybe you have lots of assumptions, but that doesn’t matter for now. Keep the number of personas manageable (fewer than five or six depending on your company maturity). When mapping out personas, focus on getting in their minds. Understand desires, fears, questions, and more. 

If you aren’t sure where to get started, this is a great resource from Nielsen that uses “empathy maps” to aid you when building personas.

Aside from getting in their minds, you should also bucket personas by key demographics. For example:

  • How tech savvy are they?
  • What is their age & gender?
  • In what type of environment do they live?

I am not a huge fan of very marketing-heavy personas that rely more on storytelling (i.e. “Mona is a 33-year-old urban transplant who….”). Above all, make these personas useful and understandable, and spend the minimal amount of time necessary on them. For more examples, InVision has a great overview of how to build customer profiles.

Create a customer journey

Now that you know who you’re targeting, try to understand how your target customers find you by building a customer journey. You must take your persona and outline how they move through your product.

This could be a journey map, an empathy map, a top-middle-bottom of funnel summary, a decision tree…you name it. There are many ways to go about this depending on your needs. Nielsen, again, has a great summary on the different types of “maps” that you can create.

What matters most is that you get into the minds of your customers while doing this exercise. At each step of the journey or in their discovery of your company or product, you should have an understanding of how they got there, what they are thinking at that moment, and why they may make their decision. 

One way to think about this is via a simple top, middle, and bottom of funnel summary. Outline that persona’s motivations, concerns, questions, and where they are at each stage of their journey. 

Asking yourself what questions and emotions they may have in that stage is a good way to get started. Again, the format matters less than the exercise. 

Here is an example of a super basic funnel that focuses more on the customer journey than the emotions and thoughts at each step. This can be useful to understand the way someone discovers your product and engages with it, which helps you unearth their questions, thoughts, and concerns along the way. It can also unearth how your product can fuel your growth.

If you need some tools to help, I would recommend whiteboard and brainstorm tools like Freehand, Miro, and Lucidchart. But again, it’s less about the tool, and more about the craftsman.

Identify your biggest assumptions

After you have developed a qualitative understanding of your target customers, you will have made a ton of assumptions — from what websites they visit, to the personas themselves. Are you right? Are you sure you understand their concerns and wants and how they fit into your go-to-market strategy? 

The answer is “yes”, “maybe”, “it depends”, and “no” depending on what step you are looking at. Figure out where your biggest assumptions lie. And this is where research and data come in – we need to validate those assumptions.

For example, in our map we have outlined our potential customer touchpoints, but I might not be very confident in that. Is our target customer actually on “life-hacker websites” or is that assumption wrong? I believe our target customer will be concerned about the sales team not wanting to adopt this product, but is that right? However, I am extremely confident that our target customer will be comparing us to competitor products at the consideration phase. So, some of these things I feel confident in, and others I do not. 

Looking at the sample flywheel, I am assuming that users of our product invite others to meetings, those people are intrigued by the product, and then they decide to sign up. Is that actually true? Can we validate that with data? How big of a discovery mechanism is that for our product vs. other inputs like press?

You might even have bigger assumptions earlier in this step, like the demographics or job titles of your target customers or partners. Validate the fundamentals first (like your target customers and their demographics) because if you get that wrong, this exercise of journey mapping will be useless – you will build the journey of someone who isn’t actually your customer. 

How to use data and research to fill gaps in understanding

After you have established a qualitative understanding of your users, or at least you think you have, then you should be focused on validating or invalidating this information.

Those assumptions could range from the competitors they are comparing you against, to the demographics of your users, to the value they derive from your product. For most, validating the use cases and core product value derived from your product are the biggest areas of focus. However, if you are at an earlier stage, there is likely more work to be done in refining your personas and Ideal Customer Profiles.

But before diving into things, let’s be clear on what we mean by “qualitative” and “quantitative” data. Qualitative data is unstructured information that can be gathered through user interviews and open ended responses – it is the hardest to analyze but by far the most valuable. Quantitative data is just that…numbers and data that you can analyze.

There are many ways you can gather and evaluate these different forms of data. As a growth practitioner, I am always looking for unique ways to learn about our target audience – countless tools and “hacks” exist to get this information. So, here are the major categories to consider.

When searching for quantitative data, look to:

  • Survey responses: aggregated response data, structured and tagged responses
  • Website data: pages visited, time on page, entry points, exit points, referrers
  • App or product data: feature usage, success metrics, behavior analytics, retention
  • CRM data: company data, team size, geographic data
  • Third party platforms: audience insight tools (e.g. Quantcast), Builtwith (to analyze technology trends)

When searching for qualitative data, look to:

  • 1:1 or panel interviews: the best way, but the most time consuming.
  • Support tickets: what questions do your customers and not-yet-customers have?
  • CRM: gather information from sales conversations
  • Heatmaps & session tracking: use a tool like Hotjar to watch user sessions and see how they interact with your product or website.
  • User tests: Present users with problems, products, or situations and see how they react. This is a great way to test new products, ideas, designs, and more.
  • Social media: what are people saying about you on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit?
  • Review websites: what do people think of you or your competitors on sites like G2 or Capterra?

There is no shortage of information, so the problem becomes how to assess this information quickly and accurately. You can establish systems and use tools to help with this, and that is what growth practitioners are good at! 

Essential growth tools for partnership professionals

When most people think of growth, they think about growth hacking. Fun fact, most growth people hate that 🙂. Sure, that’s part of the job sometimes, but that is not all growth marketers and growth product managers do. In fact, the world of growth has evolved quite a lot

Despite my aversion to the term “growth hacking,” approaching customer research with a growth hacking mindset is a great way to unearth insights about your customers in ways you did not realize were possible. Growth people are great at finding and testing new tools and strategies, and I have curated a list of things you can do to help find more information about your potential customers and partners.

The key here is to understand the landscape of tools available to you and understand how to apply new technology and process to your approach. Automate things, use third party platforms, supplement your data, and make your life easier.

Here are some tactics you start using today to get a deeper understanding of your audience. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it gets you started on the right foot.

Use social media tools to analyze audience demographics and interests

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow you to upload your audience data or assess your followers to analyze the demographics, interests, and technology trends of your audiences. The interest data is sometimes not as helpful, but the demographic data is great. 

Analyze competitor content to see what resonates with their target audience

You are obviously targeting similar customers to those of your competitors. Using tools like Buzzsumo, you can see what content resonates with the audiences of your competitors to know how to position your product and/or understand what is top-of-mind for them. For example if you see your competitor publishing articles on how to use their tool as a remote worker, you’ll know that is an ICP they are targeting.

Use Google Analytics to see how people are discovering you

There are two essential reports in Google Analytics that allow you to understand how users are discovering you: landing page reports and referral reports. Using a landing page report and filtering only to show organic traffic, you can see where people enter your site from Google. This gives you a sense for the topics they are interested in at different points of your funnel (you can also use the “search queries” reporting in Google Analytics to help with this). Referral reporting will show you which sites people are browsing before discovering your site, another great way to understand where to find your customers or partners on the web.

Use Google Search Console to see what topics people are searching for when discovering you

Want to know what people are searching before hitting your website? Well you can with Google Search Console. Analyze the top search queries by clicks and click through rate to understand what your target audience is looking for and hopes to solve with your product – AKA their pain points.

Analyze what your audience is saying about you and who is following your competitors with tools like Mention

Social analytics tools like Mention are great for getting a pulse on your brand among the social media ecosystem. What are people saying about you? You can also analyze competitor followers and follower interests in more depth with Mention, getting a sense for your target audience interests.

Analyze open-ended responses en masse with natural language processing tools

Problem: you have a plethora of responses to analyze from your support team or from a recent survey. Solution: upload your responses to a tool like Monkeylearn or Chattermill for more powerful natural language analyses. Don’t waste hours of your time.

Understand who is using your competitors and partners with tech monitoring tools

Use a tool like Builtwith to understand who is using competitor tools and what technologies your target companies are paring together (e.g. Clearbit + Segment). This may be one of the most valuable tools to utilize in the partner ecosystem.

Get traffic stats on potential partners or competitor websites

Tools like Similarweb are great for monitoring traffic (and therefore interest) among websites. If you are not sure how much demand there is for a potential partner, then this is a great way to assess that.

Scrape websites with the countless web scrapers out there

There are too many reasons to list why someone might want to scrape websites, but I will list a few: contact information, employees at companies, company information (e.g. from Crunchbase), etc. I use the Scraper Chrome extension, but here is an exhaustive list.

Automate your life with tools like Zapier.

If you do not know how to code, that does not mean you cannot automate or connect software to, for example, populate databases when certain activities occur. Zapier puts this power in your hands, but use it wisely.

I do not have all of the ideas – there are countless other things partner managers could do to better understand both customers and partners. But, by being on the lookout for tools, especially growth tools, thinking about integrations and automation, and being smart about ways to discover new information about your customers and potential partners, you may unearth new opportunities that you didn’t know existed.

How data and enrichment can make partner managers more successful

Not mentioned in any of the tactics above is one of the holy grails of growth: data and enrichment. Tools like Clearbit and Zoominfo are essential in helping you get better data on visitors to your website and contacts in your database. By supplementing your data, you can better understand the company and user profiles of known and unknown users, and you can filter this data in your CRM to better identify your top leads. 

With these data sources you can understand 100+ company and individual attributes like:

  • Role
  • Seniority
  • Location
  • Company size
  • Alexa rank

You can also trigger alerts in your CRM when certain accounts or leads visit your website, which allows you to know when to reach out to potential target.

And with Clearbit, you can analyze your anonymous visitors to understand their company size, geo, industry, and more. You can then use this information to better retarget individuals on ad platforms, trigger on-site chat messages, provide website-related offers, or segment your traffic analysis. 

Want to see how this can be done? Check out how Segment’s ex-VP of Growth, Guillaume Cabane, used a combination of G2, Madkudu, Drift, and Clearbit to better identify high value leads and personalize his approach to acquiring them. 

What you do with this data is up to you – use it to better understand your target audience or connect it to other tools to make them work better. Any B2B marketer that isn’t utilizing these tools to their full potential is leaving money on the table, and being an expert in them will make you even more impactful in your role.

Further reading for those interested in learning more

Believe it or not, we have barely scratched the surface here. There is so much you can do to better understand your target audience, their motivations, and how that can be applied to scaling your partner ecosystem. 

If you want to dig deeper into the nebulous world of growth, then follow some of these other leaders:

Getting to know your customers well can benefit your team’s growth dramatically. At InVision, understanding how different customer profiles were introduced to the product, how they interacted with our product, and what they cared about was key in driving millions of dollars in additional pipeline to the sales team. You can do the same.

Take a “growth minded” approach to your work and it may help you find new ways to build scalable systems to understand your users or partners.

Scott Hanford 16 min

How to be a Customer-Obsessed Partner Manager

Partner professionals lag behind their peers in customer research best practices. Let’s fix that.

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