An Interview with Partnerships Expert Will Taylor: From Partnerships Novice to Seasoned Pro
Will Taylor has only been involved with partnerships since 2020, but he’s already got his black belt. This is the story of Will’s rapid rise in the industry.
Though Will Taylor has only been involved with the partnerships industry for a few years, he’s already made quite a name for himself. His first partnerships role was at Vidyard, where he managed over 120 partner accounts and boosted partner retention by 70%. A year later, he entered a new position at Mailshake, where he built a successful partnerships program from the ground up. On the strength of his success, Will is the Head of Partnerships for the well-known industry leader Nearbound.com
But as recently as 2020, Will had no intention of being involved in partnerships. This is the story of how Will went from Average Joe to partnerships pro in record time (and the lessons he learned along the way).
Sarah: How did you enter the partnerships industry?
Will: I grew up wanting to be a therapist—I wanted to help people with their challenges and guide them to solutions to these issues.
I’ve always been really interested in people, which definitely helps in the partnerships field.
As time went on, my life naturally led me to business and a job in tech sales. It was fine, but I was let go from when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Around that time, a friend of mine who worked at a tech company called Vidyard told me about an exciting partner enablement opportunity there.
When I got hired at Vidyard, I thought it would give me a chance to focus on enablement, which I’ve always been passionate about. However, I soon learned that the partnerships side of my role was also fascinating. It created a lot of value for all parties involved, and it was an excellent business driver for all facets of revenue generation and retention.
At Vidyard, I learned the basics of partnerships and worked towards enabling both our company and its partners. When I started there, the company’s partnerships program didn’t focus on enablement; it was built around acquiring as many partners as possible and getting leads from them, but there wasn’t a lot of structure. I was able to turn the program on its head, to the point where a majority of our partners started playing an active role in their partnerships.
Thanks to the success of this program, I was featured in an article that got the attention of other people in the industry. That post helped me get a position at Mailshake, where I was responsible for building a new partnerships program.
Sarah: How did your job duties at Mailshake differ from your role at Vidyard?
Will: I was able to get most of Vidyard’s partners to take action because the company’s partnerships program was relatively mature. They already had relationships in place, and they had tested different co-selling and co-marketing programs. But when I joined Mailshake, I needed to create their partnerships strategy from scratch.
We didn’t already have a process for how we could execute with our partners because they didn’t have a partnerships program.
I needed to go deeper and nurture a few meaningful relationships. That helped me learn more about partnerships and develop something that was tailored specifically to their needs.
Sarah: What was your next career move?
Will: For much of my time at Mailshake, I leaned into co-marketing and brand partnerships. When I joined the company, it also had a net new outbound team that eventually grew to six business development representatives doing cold outreach. Even though I was effectively a one-person operation, I was generating more revenue than the entire outbound team combined!
About ten months into my new role, the economy entered a downturn. We started seeing more layoffs, and I ended up losing my job as a result. But during that time, I had also been creating content about partnerships. While the partnerships industry was becoming increasingly popular, few people were talking about it in accessible formats.
Fortunately, my content helped me get on the radar of partnerships professionals like Jared Fuller of Nearbound.com (formerly PartnerHacker). Jared offered me a job as Nearbound.com’s Head of Partnerships, and I’ve been there since April 2022. Along the way, I’m learning from everyone I speak to and applying that knowledge to my role at Nearbound.com and the content I create there.
Nearbound.com doesn’t have a solution to sell, so we focus on bringing attention to our partners via co-marketing. These are influence-based partnerships, but we’re more than just an affiliate. Instead, we effectively serve as a content arm for the companies we partner with.
Sarah: Would you say Nearbound.com’s influence-based partnerships are harder or easier to manage than referral-based partnerships?
Will: Right now, they’re a bit harder to work on because it’s trickier to attribute revenue from influence-based partnerships. The good news is that we have a model we’re rolling out this year to track partnership influence over time. With that, we’ll be able to capture our influence and attribute appropriately.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t say influenced-based partnerships are inherently more challenging to handle than referral-based partnerships. In a referral process, you’re introducing someone to another person, and that can’t move forward without one-to-one conversation and interaction. Meanwhile, we’re focusing on one-to-many conversations, which can have a “spreading” effect.
Thus, referral-based partnerships are actually easier in some ways because we can influence multiple people through what’s technically one referral for our partners. Still, attribution is undeniably a challenge for these partnerships.
Sarah: If you could go back and fix one mistake in your partnerships career, what would it be?
Will: The biggest one is trying to work with partners as if they were in my business. If you assume your partners make money or derive value from your partnership in the same way you do, your partnership will fall flat. You’ll end up focusing solely on yourself, and you probably won’t understand your partner’s business model or goals. But the more you focus on learning what “winning” means for them and finding ways to align with that, the more successful your partnership will be.
Sarah: What are the biggest hurdles for people entering the partnerships industry today, and how can they overcome these obstacles?
Will: In my conversations with other partnerships people, one of the biggest challenges I hear about is having trouble knowing what to prioritize.
It’s like boiling the ocean. Every potential partnership sounds like a good idea, but you can’t do everything.
What you need is something to focus on, like a specific group of partners or a specific ecosystem. Using your time efficiently and knowing what to pay attention to is the best thing you can do for both yourself and your partners. If you can drive attention (and, by extension, trust) with your partners, you can create deep strategic relationships with them. So instead of attempting to do it all, choose one partnership or a handful of partnerships to work on and get the ball rolling.
Kickstart Your Partnerships Career
Will got his start in the partnerships industry without truly planning to enter the field, and he’s far from the only partnerships pro in this situation. If you’re in the same boat, you might be wondering how to move forward. Making matters worse, your employer might not give you the support and guidance you need while you adjust to your new role.
Firneo’s Mastering Partnerships Strategy is a four-week course that shows you how to diagnose and solve your partner program’s biggest challenges. Led by some of the industry’s leading experts, the program is specifically for partnerships people searching for a rock-solid industry playbook.
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