The Power of Putting Partner Community First

My travels in recent weeks have taken me to two conferences hosted by undeniable success stories in the SMB channel.

Veeam, which held its latest VeeamON event in Miami last month, has more than 400,000 customers, backs up data for over 15 million Microsoft 365 users, and was valued at some $5 billion when it sold to private equity investor Insight Partners early in 2020. And Pax8, which drew a remarkable 1,100 MSPs to its first-ever Beyond event in Denver last week, has nearly 30,000 partners worldwide and landed over $185 million in funding from SoftBank a year ago.

On the surface, the two companies have little in common. Veeam is a leading name in data protection software. Pax8 distributes cloud solutions. Beneath the surface, however, they share a trait worth noting by anyone hoping to turn their company into the channel’s next big success story.

Tony Liau of Object First (a backup storage startup founded by Ratmir Timashev and Andrei Baronov, who also co-founded Veeam) put his finger on it right away when we spoke at VeeamON. Veeam’s first move after its founding was creating a great product that solved a meaningful problem for MSPs and their customers.

“Then they made sure that they built a community around that—not to go sell themselves, but to provide best practices,” said Liau, Object First’s vice president of product marketing.

Before they constructed a high-velocity sales and marketing machine, that is, Veeam transformed what would otherwise be a collection of mere users into a community of fans.

This was no accident, either. “Community is absolutely, critically important to the success of Veeam,” says Danny Allan, Veeam’s CTO. “It has been since our inception.”

The same goes for Pax8. “Our community of enablement is our brand,” says Nick Heddy, Pax8’s chief commerce officer.

Three Keys to Community

Both companies, moreover, bring their community to life in similar, instructive ways that revolve around three key words:

Enablement. Heddy didn’t say community is Pax8’s brand. He highlighted a “community of enablement.” And indeed, Pax8 invests heavily in partner education. Its Pax8 Academy arm has over 30 full-time staff churning out training materials, hosting peer groups, and providing one-to-one business consulting. It’s not cheap, but it goes a long way toward earning the gratitude of people who would otherwise go through the stress of learning how to run a managed services practice on their own.

“I’ve heard many times something along the lines of, ‘I thought we were signing up for coaching. I didn’t realize it was going to change the quality of my life,’” says Rex Frank, Pax8’s vice president of academy.

Veeam, similarly, offers free scripts, apps, and best practices through its VeeamHub on GitHub. According to Dave Russell, Veeam’s vice president of enterprise strategy, the site is one of many resources “really aimed at how you create this notion of you’re not alone, you’re not in it by yourself.”

Relationship. Doing business with someone is one thing. Taking the time to forge a relationship with them is another, and MSPs know the difference.

“When I would sit down and work with my Pax8 account manager, I felt like they understood fully what my business was and what I was trying to accomplish,” recalls Brian Kane, a former Pax8 partner who is now director of global MSP programs at Malwarebytes.

Veeam delivers the same message by making a point of soliciting—and acting on—partner input. “We listen to them,” says Larissa Crandall, Veeam’s worldwide channel chief. “That’s a big piece for me is to listen to them and execute based on what’s needed.”

Trust. MSPs keep faith with vendors that keep faith with them. Yet too many companies say all the right things when recruiting partners but then do the wrong things later by taking business direct, diluting margins, and slashing support resources.

“That trust factor is really, really critical,” says Rob Rae, Pax8’s corporate vice president of community and ecosystems.

It’s hard to put partner community first to the degree Veeam and Pax8 did, especially when interest rates are high, banks are lending cautiously, and venture capital isn’t easy to come by. It’s worth doing anyway if you you’d someday like to have a “passionate green army” of partners (to borrow Allan’s words, in a reference to Veeam’s logo color) of your own.

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