Ep13: Rick Treleaven, Partnerships at Northpass

This week on The CoSell Show we are ecstatic to have Rick Treleaven of Northpass.

Topics Covered:

2. Why Co-Selling is a great vehicle to expand a partnership into a reseller relationship

3. How to wisely select markets for global business expansion

Have more questions for Rick? Find him on:

Email Rick!

Brought to you by our host: Taylor Baker (Podcast Producer and Head of Content at CoSell.io)

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Follow along with the podcast transcript is below:

Hello listeners and welcome back to The CoSell Show. I’m your host, Taylor Baker. Today, we have with us Rick Treleaven of Northpass. In this episode, we discuss how to set and manage expectations before and during the maturity of a partnership, why co-selling is a great vehicle to expand a partnership into a reseller relationship, and how to wisely select markets for global expansion. Welcome, Rick.

Rick Treleaven:

Hey, Taylor. Thanks for having me on today.

Taylor Baker :

Oh, it’s our pleasure. To kick things off, can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and your current role at Northpass?

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah, absolutely. The best way to describe my background, pretty much the ultimate channel sales and partnership generalist. What I mean by that is I’ve held every single position that anyone in this space has held it in particular in software as a service channel, sales or partnership. I’ve been that person that has cold-called and tried to broker individual channel sales partnerships. I’ve been on the alliance side of things. I’ve project managed ISV integrations. I have set up the operation side of things. I’ve been on the consulting side of it and on the strategy side. I’ve done a little bit of everything and that’s what really led me to be at Northpass. They’re really looking for someone to lead all BD and partnership efforts.

It’s a really exciting time at Northpass. They had built out some really good, but passive partnerships with a couple of different platforms, Bamboo HR, Fountain, and they really needed someone to come in and start looking at, okay, let’s start further nurturing these relationships and let’s see what the next wave of partnerships that we can develop. Over the last four or five months that I’ve been there, we actually just entered the Salesforce App Exchange. We’ve launched there. What’s exciting is that we have some really good brand names at Northpass where we’re actually getting a chance to see, okay, how can we further nurture and develop that Salesforce partnership and further build out integration to work with some of our big customers like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and Shopify.

Rick Treleaven:

Make it a really fruitful partnership not just for them, but then further into that ecosystem. Overall, really exciting time for at Northpass.

Taylor Baker :

Definitely. It sounds like it. Just so all of our listeners are up to speed, can you maybe talk a little more about what Northpass as a company is and what you guys do there?

Rick Treleaven:

That’s a great question. Northpass is a learning management system or for short an LMS. There are dozens and actually probably hundreds of LMSs that are out there. What Northpass really focuses on are a couple of key areas. The first one is employee onboarding and education. Let’s say you start at company ABC. Well, you might have to go through some sort of onboarding education where you’re learning about that company’s product or service offering. You might have to go through some sort of compliance training, whether it’s sexual harassment or diversity and inclusion training. Well, there’s going to be a backend system that that company has used to actually build and manage that curriculum. That’s what a learning management system does.

Northpass focuses on employee onboarding and education. We also do really well with gig economy companies, so like Uber, Lyft, Line, Airbnb. We’re actually baking Northpass into those apps. Let’s say you’re a driver with Uber or Lyft. You’re actually going through an onboarding path that’s built and supported by Northpass that’s actually baked into Uber’s platform. Actually, the next frontier that we’re really exploring is customer education and product training. We actually built out Shopify’s Academy. If you’re on their eCommerce platform, you’re actually going through an education curriculum that is actually built by Northpass.

Taylor Baker :

That is amazing. I love how you guys are building directly into platforms like Uber because I’ve actually… Having worked in entertainment naturally at one point when I lived in Los Angeles, I did drive for Uber and there is-

Rick Treleaven:

Oh, very cool.

Taylor Baker :

…a learning curve when it comes to the training and the ins and outs of all the things you have to do. Actually, what I’ve heard from a lot of my guests overall when it comes to partnerships specifically, one of the bigger setbacks in a partnership is the integration and like sort of the sales training and getting everyone up to speed. It’s really cool that Northpass sort of helps streamline that.

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah, absolutely. The onboarding is different worldwide for a company like Uber or Lyft. For example, if you’re in London, you actually have to go through a different onboarding and training program than someone here in the US does. There’s actually a test that you have to do if you’re a cab driver or an Uber driver where you actually have to map out the best routes, the most optimal route, using a very nondescript map of London. That’s one of the interesting challenges is actually incorporating that exam that’s administered by the City of London and building that into the Northpass curriculum and building that into the app.

Taylor Baker :

Is the number one training tool in London drive on the wrong side of the road?

Rick Treleaven:

No doubt.

Taylor Baker :

Wonderful. Well, I did want to go all over the world and talk about Northpass and what you do there, but I want to kind of reel it back and ask one of the favorite questions we have here at The CoSell Show, which is what is something fun about you that our listeners cannot find on your LinkedIn profile?

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I actually took a look at my LinkedIn profile before we hopped on, and I realized one thing that you would never be able to find out about me is I was really fortunate enough. A number of years ago, I took a little bit of time off of life and adulting and actually went over to Italy and worked on an organic winery for three and a half months. Yeah, it was really exciting. Just a really fortunate opportunity that I got to experience. This would have been 2013–2014. It’s one of those things where… Yeah, actually my mom is originally from Italy and it’s something I had always wanted to experience. I literally just went online and found this one winery through a program called WWOOFing.

I literally just reached out to the guy who ran a winery and said, “Hey, listen, I’m interested in helping out. Do you need anyone at the moment?” He said, “Yeah. This is actually peak harvest season coming up. Yeah, you can live here on the winery and I’ll pay for any incident you have along the way.” I ended up being over there for about three and a half months, and it was quite the experience. I have a lot of respect for people who are in agriculture and who produce wine in particular. I’m not a big wino per se, but I just have a lot of respect and appreciation for the process.

Taylor Baker :

What an experience. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing that. Definitely, I have so many more questions about that and I am in the back of my head planning my trip working on a winery.

Rick Treleaven:

No doubt.

Taylor Baker :

Envisioning it. Totally just being like Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy stepping on grapes, but I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than that, but we will sashay back over to the partnership space. But I wanted to start off by asking you how you typically go about initiating a partnership.

Rick Treleaven:

I think it really depends on the space that you’re in. Here in SaaS, I think the biggest thing is looking at your existing customer base. Here in Northpass for example, when I went in and said, “What are the other tools that our users are using that are relevant to learning and relevant to their current use case with Northpass? Are there any trends that we’re seeing?” For example, we have a fleet of customers who are using us for customer education. Okay, so what are maybe the customer support tools there that they’re using? Are they using Zendesk? Are they using Intercom? Are they using Salesforce as a support platform? In looking at and doing an analysis of the tools that our customers are using, is it worthwhile for us to start exploring partnerships with those platforms?

I think there’s a lot of discovery that you do. In the midst of doing that discovery, I think you can find out a lot just in terms of what’s already going on within your existing customer base. It’s a great opportunity if you do see those trends to build up those business cases to then approach those companies.

Taylor Baker :

Once those partnerships do get started, how do you normally structure these co-selling relationships to ensure that everyone is engaged and driven to help each other throughout the maturity of the partnership?

Rick Treleaven:

That’s another really good question. I think expectations are everything, and there are two parts to that. There needs to be expected in terms of what do you want to get out of this partnership. Is this a partnership that you’re going to be driving leads back and forth to one another, in which case, there’s going to be a massive… There’s going to be a co-selling element to the partnership, but there also might be elements where one partner might be looking at a partnership where, hey, this is an opportunity for us to increase lifetime customer value. This is an opportunity for us to reduce churn. Those are more of an emphasis on this partnership rather than driving leads.

Setting expectations early on are really, really critical just in terms of setting up the partnership. The next thing is setting up proper operations and setting up expectations with your respective teams. In the event that, hey, we’re dealing with a technical issue, or hey, we do have someone that is interested in the partner’s platform. What’s the line of communication? Are we connecting individual sales reps? How are we communicating any type of customer technical issue? I think setting up proper communication channels, that is another great way to just set up and initiate a really successful partnership.

Taylor Baker :

Oh, definitely. I’ve actually talked to a lot of my guests about a similar notion where partnerships now, especially with more research coming out to support how much growth companies are gleaning from partnerships. There was that Forrester study that came out this year and I think it was saying that of 450 companies surveyed, that 20% of their total revenue they attributed fully to partnerships. We’re getting statistics and all of these great things that are coming out and so people are like yes, partnerships, but they go and being like take, take, take. They don’t expect to bring anything to the table and then it just crumbles. Definitely, you have to set expectations beforehand.

Rick Treleaven:

No doubt. I think the biggest thing is when expectations are not properly established on day one and not consistently reiterated, then there’s a huge opportunity for the partnership to crumble. There’s also nothing worse than you set up a partnership and you have one side is way more enthusiastic about the partnership than the other. It only breeds resentments.

Taylor Baker :

Yeah. Sort of in that respect, in building these partnerships and managing these expectations and whatnot, what would you say has been the biggest surprise, maybe a challenge, that you’ve come across in building a channel partner ecosystem

Rick Treleaven:

I think the biggest surprise is when setting up a channel partnership is that you have to constantly… You can’t take anything for granted. Once you’ve closed one deal with a partner, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be predictable revenue. You always have to work to keep that partner engaged. For example, okay, great, we have just closed this deal. All right. We need to capitalize on this deal that we have just closed. Is there an opportunity for us to get a case study out of this deal? I think the biggest thing that I learned really early on in my career is don’t take anything for granted. Don’t take your foot off the gas.

Keep building on the success that you have with an individual partner because, A, it will potentially lead to the next deal and it will help keep that partnership in a very engaged setting.

Taylor Baker :

Here at The CoSell Show, a lot of our guests we’ve talked about, there’s different types partnerships. There’s definitely no one size fits all approach. Some of the big heavy hitters are co-selling, reselling, and co-marketing. In your experience in Northpass specifically, has there been a particular type of partnership that has worked best for you?

Rick Treleaven:

The best partnerships for Northpass so far had been on the co-selling and co-marketing level. We are still really in the infancy and building on a number of these partnerships. Before we can get to a point where we’re at a reselling level, we really want to make sure that we’re really getting to know our partners and our partners are really getting to know us, starting simple with co-selling activity, co-marketing activities. That’s going to allow our partners down the road to be able to resell us. There’s no magic switch on day one that a partnership will be able to start at a reselling level. There’s just too much work that has to go into place to allow for a full reselling model to start.

Taylor Baker :

That’s a really interesting approach, using an original partnership of co-selling or co-marketing sort of as a vehicle to get to graduating that relationship into reselling. I haven’t heard that before, so that’s really cool.

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s probably one of the biggest mistakes or biggest assumptions that a lot of companies going in seem to think, okay, let’s go ahead and start or company A is going to want to resell us. Well, okay. Well, why would they want to resell us? Then B, do we actually have the bandwidth to actually support someone else reselling our product? Hey, it took our own sales reps three months to really learn how to sell our product. Okay. It’s going to take probably six months for another entity to learn how to sell our product. It’s a really big assumption and big mistake that a lot of companies make when scoping out their partnership program. They assume that, A, everyone’s going to want to resell their product, and B, it’s going to be really easy to set up.

Taylor Baker :

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a really unique perspective and I’m happy to hear you guys have kind of cracked the code and are working toward making that work for you.

Rick Treleaven:

It took a lot of work and just years of experience and a lot of lessons learned to really hone in on that conclusion.

Taylor Baker :

I know that feeling being like hindsights 2020, but hey, you live in new learn.

Rick Treleaven:

No doubt.

Taylor Baker :

Maybe I still have wine on my mind or all of our like fun talk of Italy, but I do know that on LinkedIn you do have a lot of experience working with global partnerships specifically. What advice can you give our listeners about expanding their companies on a global scale?

Rick Treleaven:

That’s a great question. Going global and developing global partnerships is a great way to get into markets that you don’t have any feet on the ground. What a great outlet in building a partnership with an entity where, hey, they have experience selling to a particular market. I think the best thing to do is start small. Let’s say that you’re a SaaS platform and you’re in the Salesforce ecosystem, or you’re in the HubSpot ecosystem. Find those partners within those ecosystems that have a presence in those geographical markets. For example, there are HubSpot agencies all over the world. There are Zoho agencies and resellers all over the world.

If you’re connected to those ecosystems, reach out to those resellers, reach out to those agencies, reach out to those consultants. Present your product. You’re not going to set up everything on day one, but develop that dialogue, develop that relationship. It’s a great way to start penetrating those markets. Again, start off small. Create that template so you could then take that success to that next reseller or that next consultant in that same geographical market. Sometimes setting up things like exclusivity with a particular consultant or reseller is a potential outlet for quick penetration or developing a quick partnership.

Taylor Baker :

Sort of in that vein, how is it that companies choose what market they want to expand into? I mean, it’s easy to be like, yes, Italy is amazing. There’s so much wine, but that’s obviously a place you maybe want to build a summer home, that maybe you want to pitch a tent for your business. Is there a metric or something that specifically helps hone companies into where exactly they want to expand globally?

Rick Treleaven:

Sure. I think the biggest thing is to start off with the basics. Can you support multiple languages at this point? If your product is really only built for a native English speaker, you’re based here in the US, okay, well, let’s start with the UK market. Let’s start looking at the Australian market. Your platform is built to work with that language base. Look at the basics. Also, look at, hey, what are your support outlets? Can you support working at a time zone that’s eight hours away? I think those are look at the basics of what you’re able to do now. Again, basic things like language and support. Those are probably the two best things to take a look at. Then, hey, are you gaining traction in a particular market?

Are you noticing you’re having an influx of leads from a particular market? Are you actually closing those opportunities? Let’s say that you’re a US based company, but you’re getting really good traction let’s say in India. You’re closing X number of dollars on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual basis in that market. Okay. Maybe it might justify hiring a sales rep there or having a customer support rep there. A couple of different variables, but I would always start with the basics.

Taylor Baker :

You’ve given us a lot of really great advice so far, but I know that you’ve worked as an advisor and a consultant to a number of startups over the past six years. In addition to some of the things you’ve already said, what are some of the biggest mistakes you have seen young startups make?

Rick Treleaven:

Probably the biggest mistake a lot of young companies tend to make is that they’re not operationally set up to support partnerships. Maybe it’s a technical challenge. Their API is not mature enough to then integrate with another product. Perhaps it’s on a support level where they do not have the proper documentation that is set up to then put in the hands of a partner. Perhaps they’re still learning, hey, who is our own customer? There’s too many assumptions that it’s an easy thing to get started on.

Taylor Baker :

On the flip side, on the more positive side of that, what are some of the best decisions, maybe even the risks, best practices that you have seen from some of your startup mentees?

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah, it’s a great question. The best thing I’ve seen is actually discipline. Hey, something looks really good on paper, but hey, we’re out of spot right now where we can’t move forward with the partnership because we have to focus on our own product right now. For us to get to a point where we need to be successful, if we were to invest in a particular partnership, we could potentially end up moving away from our own roadmap. I think being disciplined is probably the best thing that I’ve seen from some of the startups that I’ve been working with.

Taylor Baker :

Oh yeah. I mean, a startup is just a giant practice in plate spinning and sometimes you have to choose which plates you’re going to let it drop and which ones you want to keep in the air. You really have to focus on prioritizing those things.

Rick Treleaven:

Oh, totally. The biggest thing is triage. You have to pick and choose your battles. I think it’s something that a lot of startups they might see, oh wow, if we set up this partnership, this is, hey, four or 500, 300, 600K that’s right through the door. But okay, if we close this deal, okay, wait a second, what does this do to our support agents? Do we actually have the bandwidth to actually make this a successful partnership? Is it going to derail us from the things we actually need to do?

Taylor Baker :

Sure, sure. Definitely good things to keep in mind. Sort of wrapping up this wonderful conversation, do you have anything exciting coming up with Northpass or in general in your life that you want to share?

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah, absolutely. On the North path side, again as I alluded to earlier, we’re on the Salesforce App Exchange now. It’s a really exciting time. We get a chance to see, hey, what are the directions that we can take the partnership with Salesforce? It’s such a massive ecosystem and we’re getting some really good feedback from our existing customers. A lot of really exciting things coming down on the pipe. Then on a personal note, I actually am going to be a first time uncle at the end of November. My sister and my brother in law are expecting. A very exciting time for the Treleavens and the Moore households.

Taylor Baker :

Do you know if it’s going to be a boy or a girl?

Rick Treleaven:

They are waiting until the birth to find out.

Taylor Baker :

Ooh, big reveal.

Rick Treleaven:

Big reveal. Fortunately, no gender reveal mishaps happened.

Taylor Baker :

No cakes or confetti or canons.

Rick Treleaven:

No cakes. No cakes. No canons. No bombs. We’re doing it the old fashioned way.

Taylor Baker :

Oh, I’m really happy to hear that. That’s really exciting. I guess one final to do, you’ve said so many wonderful things. I’m sure our listeners are going to have some more questions for you. How could they maybe reach you, ask you a few more questions, get in touch?

Rick Treleaven:

Yeah. Probably the two easiest ways are just emailing me directly. My email is rtreleav@gmail.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. That’s another really good way to reach out to me.

Taylor Baker :

Listeners worry not. There’s going to be no spelling bee for Rick’s name. I got you. I’ll put it in the description here. Thank you so much, Rick, for taking the time. It’s been a genuine pleasure having you. I know you had some really good insights and our listeners are going to be really jazzed to hear them.

Rick Treleaven:

Thanks, Taylor. Thank you again for having me on and look forward to the next visit.

Taylor Baker :

To all of our listeners out there, thank you for listening and be sure to tune in next week for even more exciting co-selling content. Now go get your partnership on.

Sell more, together.