Recently I was catching up with an exec from a SaaS company well in excess of $100m ARR.  One of the key platforms their app integrates with has started to … slow down their access.  Slow down access to new features, to semi-documented APIs.  Slow down access to their team.  In fact, the partner’s sales team appears to have quietly dropped them entirely as a recommended app.

Why?  Well, they now sort of, a little bit, compete with the “open” platform company.  Not a lot.  But more than a year ago.  Enough to get the partner / platform’s attention.

That’s the way it goes.  Because turns out no matter how open a platform looks, there are always favorites.   As well as … folks out of favor.

It may look like Slack, Salesforce, Shopify, Twilio, etc. you name it, have no favorites, especially the largest and richest platforms.  But of course they do.  Because managing the platform are people, and they align with the companies and tools out there that make their jobs easier.  Those ones are the “favorites”.  They often don’t have a magic star for “Favored Partner” that you can see on the platform’s list of partners.  But it’s there, nonetheless.

The favorites generally are:

  • The partners that bring them business.  Most vendors can’t truly bring a big deal to a large partner and platform.  But some can.  If you bring a huge deal to a Top 25 tech company with a platform, you’ll be a favorite.  You bring a Big Co and their platform 3 huge deals?  You’ll be featured.
  • The partners that help them close deals. Other applications help Big Cos and their platforms win deals.  The application adds so much value to certain types of customers, that by going to market together, a Big Co can close big deals.  If you are one of these favorites, their sales team will start to bring you into deals proactively with them.
  • The partners that make their customers the happiest. There’s another category of a handful of favorites on each platform.  The ones folks love.  There are generally a handful of apps on each platform that make the core platform so magical for a lot of customers, that they make the platform itself richer.   Be one of those, you’ll get a lot of joint marketing opportunities.
  • The partners that fill the most critical feature gaps.  Finally, partners that solve critical feature gaps often become close platform partners.  This can certainly change over time as the platform evolves, but if you close a key gap in Salesforce – Shopify – Zendesk – ServiceNow – Workday – Whatver Big Co’s Platform — you’ll have strong alignment.

The meta point here is that even the mostly seemingly open of platforms have favorites.  You generally can’t will yourself into being one.  There are 1000s of applications on every leading platform.

But what you can do is double down if you see yourself even having a hint of being a favorite. If you start to get pulled into deals by a partner.  If you start sharing several key logos.  Then:

  • Hire a full time business development person to manage the relationship.  Don’t just handle it yourself as CEO for too long.  Open an office close to your partner and platform.  That way you can get to know everyone there.  Almost all of us wait too long here.
  • Build whatever they ask you to, within reason.  Be a great partner in terms of adding features and functionality that are especially important to your platform partner.
  • Don’t argue.  If a BigCo brings you into a deal, don’t argue about terms, pricing, whatever.  They are taking a risk bring a little start-up into a big deal.  You sort of have to go with the flow, for the most part.
  • Maybe take a small investment if offered, or at least consider it.  You’d be surprised how much a small corporate VC investment can bind you to a large partner.  Even if it’s really immaterial to them as their scale.  Because all the stakeholders there know about it, and respond to it.

And if a space seems locked up by a top partner?  Then be the #1 partner in a segment of that space.  Bring something new to the table that the top partner doesn’t bring.  More advice here on that topic from Salesforce itself:

Be a favorite.  Because the favorites get perks.

They get the nod from the platform’s team.  They get the joint marketing.  They get the joint promotion.  They get brought into the top deals.  They get recommended, at least quietly.

And the competition … doesn’t.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)

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