Welcome to The Partnered Podcast Episode 002 with Eric Stein, Head of Partnerships at Branch.io (previously EVP at Epsilon, Director at Google, EIR at Bessemer Ventures, & GM at Doubleclick). Enjoy!
Join host Adam Michalski as he interviews Eric Stein, Head of Partnerships at Branch.io. Eric offers some great insights given his background at Epsilon, Google, Bessemer, and Doubleclick.
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Welcome to the Partnered Podcast, the podcast where we interview C-level enterprise partnership leaders from the world's best SaaS companies. The goal is to give you an inside view on how leading organizations drive the most partner sourced and influenced revenue out of channel sales partnerships and alliances.
The Partnered Podcast is brought to you by Partnership Leaders, the community where the best in partnerships, channel, and ecosystems come together to share knowledge, network, and grow their programs. Apply to join the conversation at partnershipleaders.com.
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[00:01:07]Adam Michalski: Super excited to kick off today's episode of the Partnered Podcast. And today, we have Eric Stein, Head of Partnerships at Branch. Eric, I know you've had a great amount of experience, not only in the mobile ecosystem, but, more broadly. so I guess, in order to kick things off, can you provide, us a little bit about your background, and, and how you gotinto partnerships, to begin with?
[00:01:26]Eric Stein: [00:01:26] Sure. the history can be a little bit of a long one, and I'll try to give you the pertinent points. But I've been doing partnerships in the internet marketing, internet advertising space since early days of DoubleClick where we built out partnerships, you know, really across the board. DoubleClick, not many people actually remember this, but DoubleClick was a media business before it was a technology business.
[00:01:55] We use the technology to represent websites and then DoubleClick sold the advertising for those websites, actually, on an exclusive basis, in the early days. So partnerships at DoubleClick was an area that I was focused on, both from partnering with the websites. And we worked with some, you know, big brand name websites, like Disney, for example. So, drove some of those partnership discussions where we were representing Disney, you know, around the globe. I think we represented Disney's websites, early days, in 14 different countries.
[00:02:25]So it was those types of partnerships. It was also partnerships at the JV level, really, because some of our presences around the world, at that time, were JVs with other companies. So, we were negotiating joint venture partnerships with entrepreneurs in Scandinavia, and large telcos in Spain, Japan and, you know, a mix of everybody in between, to set up DoubleClick in those countries.
[00:02:52]So, from those kinda early days, of the internet, those kinda early days in my career, I've been involved with partnerships and sales, you know, from DoubleClick, then a, a startup, where it was more sales, not so much partnerships, in the investment research space. Then at Google, I ran, th-the local markets team, which was a series of partnerships with companies that had local sales teams. Like Yellow Page companies is the best example.
[00:03:18]And we would work with them to get them to sell Google search inventory, which is all that Google did at the time, was search. And we would, help train those teams, help them understand how to sell search. And they would sell search to local businesses, lawyers, spas, all of that kind of stuff. From Google, I r-, I ran the sales team and the, the, online services division at Epsilon, as we built up a whole programmatic business, we then acquired Conversant.
[00:03:49]There wasn't as much partnerships in that, in that role, although there was some. We partnered with a couple of DSPs to actually start and run our business. and I guess acquisition, like the acquisition we did of Conversant is the ultimate form of partnership. So, you can, you can think about that. And then came and joined Branch, a little bit over four years ago. And have been, you know, running partnerships, and channel sales, and a lot of those activities, since four years ago. And it's been a, a, a great, great experience throughout. And leveraged a lot of some of those early lessons in, in what I've done at Branch.
[00:04:25]Adam Michalski: [00:04:25] That's great. And I d-, I definitely want to, eh, loop back to some of the, you know, historical experience as well. But staying focused on the topic of Branch here, could you let me know a little bit about... You know, obviously, you've been around for quite some time at Branch's, you know, like trajectory. And how did you start at Branch? And w-... I mean, what, what... How did you think about the evolution of partnerships, just at Branch being a marketingtechnology player?
[00:04:48]Eric Stein: [00:04:48] Sure. well, I think o-, if there's one key thing for partnerships, it's understanding, first of all, where your company is going, and how partners can help and knowing the joint value proposition that you're gonna have with partners. When I joined Branch, it was early days, as you said, and we... I think we pretty well understood where we wanted to go. but we hadn't really gotten too far yet.
[00:05:11] We had some great adoption, mostly from developers. This, again, remember, it's over four years ago. We had some great adoption from app companies, developers who understood how to use Branch. But as the market was developing then, and certainly has developed since, it was gonna be a lot more enterprise players, a lot more of a cross channel capability. And Branch, at its core, is a linking platform.
[00:05:42] Now, not too many companies out there then, or even now have linking platform on their wishlist of things that they need. But they do need the capabilities that Branch has, and they need them built in to their tech stack. Because engaging consumers, which is essentially what a linking platform helps you do is only gonna be valuable if you're built into some of the technology providers that are already being used by these enterprise customers.
[00:06:11] So, that, obviously, started to speak to what we needed to do, from a partnership's perspective. Which was build into leading technology players that our prospective clients, or existing clients were already using. The first area that we thought was gonna be valuable was gonna be email. And so, we started building into email.
[00:06:33]And from there, we've expanded and continued to, you know, build the technology and product level partnerships that have really helped make Branch as effective and as, valuable as it is today, when it comes to cross channel acquisition, cross channel engagement, all the things that today's marketers are looking to do. And mobile is at the center of all of those activities.
[00:06:59]Adam Michalski: [00:06:59] Got it. And, I mean, how did you think, specifically, about like, you know, of e-, the, the different evolutions of actually structuring the partnership team at Branch? From the beginning days, up until now, and even in, even future looking as, Branch continues to evolve in the marketplace.
[00:07:14]Eric Stein: [00:07:14] Yeah, I would say, you know, the early days, as I just sort of alluded to, it was very focused on enhancing Branch's product capabilities. So, w-we built out a partnership team that looked across the technology landscape, and built technology into, or built our technology i-into integrations with email service providers with, you know, CDPs, with data platforms, analytics platforms.
[00:07:45] And then, as, as you'll remember, a lot of clients came to us and said, "Hey, I get great results using Branch links. I need or want to use Branch links in my ad campaigns as well." And that was not a space... It's a more complicated ecosystem, the ad space. And that wasn't a s-, a p-... a space that we had built out yet. Based on client demand, which is always a key driver, we evaluated and then built out the partnerships, and all the product, and everything else necessary to enter the ads space.
[00:08:19] We officially did that on Valentine's Day, in 2018, when we announced our Facebook partnership. And that really speaks to the importance of partnerships in the ad space. You can't be in the ad space without critical partnerships like the one we have with Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Snap, a bunch of others who, you know, are very important in that space. But we've built out partnerships and relationships with a whole ecosystem of players in the ad space.
[00:08:46] And w-when we started to do that, that's when we started to, you know, build up a, a bigger partnership team. There's obviously a lot of players in the ad space. And we specified, or specialized, I guess, a little bit, insofar as thinking about tech partners, like email, or CDPs, that have sort of a different value proposition than the ads space. And we built up partnerships team that represented that. So, we had folks on the, on the tech side of things, and folks on the ads side of things.
[00:09:17]As we continued and ads sort of pushed us here, the market also, obviously, continued to develop. Where mobile was becoming more and more central to a larger and larger group of enterprise marketers, who, they, themselves, rely on an ecosystem of agencies, consultancies, et cetera, to help bolster their own capabilities. And so, as we got into the ad space, obviously, we started working more and more with agencies. And wanted to make sure they understood the value that Branch could provide to them in driving better performance, than they've seen from sort of legacy, MMP players.
[00:09:58] And as we continued to build out our footprint, gain more and more clients, agencies needed to have some basic training. And so, only recently did we launch a certification program for media agencies at Branch. But that's something that we'd envisioned doing from way back when. I'll tell you a funny anecdote about DoubleClick, in a second. But from my earliest days at, at Branch, you know, we en-envisioned building out a certification program. How that would come into play. When it would come into play, we didn't really know. But, that has now come in to pass.
[00:10:34]Not only did we launch a certified solution, partners program, which was geared towards media agencies, but we also launched, a certified integration partner program to help clients integrate Branch. It's a more in-depth training. It's a more, a robust program, insofar as, you know, Branch has these capabilities across all channels. And these integration partners are getting trained in helping clients integrate Branch to do all the things that they might wanna do, from a cross channel marketing perspective.
[00:11:06]So, those two programs, like I said, were something that we envisioned from way back when, and now have their own corresponding folks at Branch, who are responsible for building out those, those areas. And have done a great job doing it, with the launches that we've recently had.
[00:11:22]Adam Michalski: [00:11:22] Nice. And congratulations on that front.
[00:11:24]Eric Stein: [00:11:24] Thank you.
[00:11:24]Adam Michalski: [00:11:24] And you alluded towards it earlier, but, because Branch is sitting at like a very interesting position in the marketplace, as, as the actual linking layer, you know, you had to build out a variety of different tech partnerships. At this point, I think those range, you know, over, over 1,000, if not, you know, greatly more than that.
[00:11:40]When you think about more of like the co-selling and just co-marketing aspect of, of those partnerships, obviously, there's the technical integration of going ahead and, you know, the benefits there.
[00:11:50]But flipping it more towards the co-selling and co-marketing, how do you think about prioritizing those relationships, going to market with each one of those different vendors? And really, just tactically, you know, best utilizing them to drive more business for Branch?
[00:12:02]Eric Stein: [00:12:02] Yeah, sure. You know, you reminded me, one part of the team that we built out as well was the integrations team. Like, the, the integrations can be more or less complicated, depending on the channel, depending on the technologies that, our clients are using. And so, we've built up an, an integrations team, as you know, within the partnership group, that really helps make sure that those integrations that we have functioned the way that they ought to, and deliver the value to our end clients the way that they expect them to work.
[00:12:29]With regards to how we thought about building out these partnerships from a, from a, a revenue perspective, how do we prioritize these partnerships? I think it's evolved, over time, as it... probably as you'd expect. You know, I mentioned that the early days of Branch, these partnerships were really prioritized based on channels where we felt we were gonna add a lot of value. And then, so, for email, for example, we looked, and we said, you know, "Who are the biggest email service providers in the market?"
[00:12:59]Four years ago, it was, you know, perhaps a little bit different than it is today, but you still have some big traditional players there. And we started building into building integrations with those players so that clients who wanted and needed the mobile capabilities that those players did not offer could get them from Branch seamlessly, without changing a lot of their workflow. So, those are some important key value propositions that we focused on at the time. Again, not, you know, providing the benefits of Branch without having to change your, your workflow, was, you know, very important.
[00:13:32] We didn't have the opportunity, at that time, to really co-sell or co-market with some of those big players. Some of the more startup players, at the time, it was Appboy, for example, now Braze. You know, we had a great joint value proposition. They were very mobile centric. We're obviously very mobile-centric. Players like them, that we built out the integrations with, started to really hum. Today, we have close to 100 clients that utilize Branch with Braze together.
[00:14:03]So, as those things started to gain hold, as you gained a footprint in email, or on ads, or in any other area, then you're pushed in two ways. You're pushed to enhance the integrations that you have, and there are ways to enhance them. And you're pushed to, you know, continue to co-market and co-sell together, in ways that benefit not just Branch, as you asked, but also, you know, we obviously think about our partners as well. Eh, and the end clients, and how they might benefit. And, with regards to that, it's the joint value proposition.
[00:14:37] And so, what clients are you working with? What clients are we working with? Who do we think would be open to those types of conversations? And prioritizing that way. The... And the other area that we're, that we're pushed is, you know, enhancing the, the product itself. And we continually look at opportunities to do that. And have greatly enhanced s-some of our integrations today, so that the more sophisticated nuanced use cases that have become more prevalent in the market can be addressed by Branch's joint solution with some of the players that we're already partnered with.
[00:15:13]Adam Michalski: [00:15:13] Got it. Got it. That's awesome. There's a lot to unpack there. I guess, I mean, one of the, the follow-up questions that I have is just regarding, you know, for... in the early days, setting up those initial tech integrations. Like, I mean, how did you think about what was... or, or frankly prioritize, you know, which integrations would drive the most meaningful values of the business? Was that just, you know, based solely on customer demand, or other variables that you thought about, to make sure that you're building the proper integrations?
[00:15:39]Eric Stein: [00:15:39] Yeah. So, m-, I mean, again, we prioritized mostly on where we felt the joint v-, or the joint value proposition would have the most value to clients. So, we, we started to look, and we said, "Hey, you know, clients who have apps, are gonna try and engage the consumers, or engage their existing customers to use those apps.
[00:16:01] "What channels are they gonna use? They're gonna use their own mobile websites." And we built out a tool for that. There wasn't a lot of partnerships in there. They're gonna use email to drive the... that focus. And that was a critical area for us. And we prioritized, again, based on verticals, and based on the ESPs that had the most clients in those verticals. And where we had the strongest joint value proposition.
[00:16:28]Adam Michalski: [00:16:28] Perfect. Okay. And sticking, I guess, one level further, on prioritization, I guess, I mean, how do you broadly think about, ROI, and just, you know, overall attribution for partnership activity, in relation to actually like closed one business, at Branch, or even in previous lives?
[00:16:45]Eric Stein: [00:16:45] Sure. B-... So, at Branch, you know, first of all, again, the partnerships need to be a, a two way street. And something that we have, you know, broad alignment on with our partners, is that we want to help expedite the sales process. endorsement and recommendations from partners, and endorsements and recommendations that we can provide helps do that. and that provides an ROI, if you have an expedited sales process.
[00:17:12] And we generally put those types of opportunities into a bucket that we call Assists. Where has a partner assisted in the Branch sales cycle? There's another big bucket which is Sourced. And that bucket, as it... the name sort of speaks to, is our opportunities that have been brought to us by partners.
[00:17:36]And so, we think of both o-... we think about both of those, with regards to ROI. We think about both of those with regards to, what is the optimal level of closed won accounts on a quarterly basis, that ought to have been touched by partners? And what's the right mix of sourced and assisted opportunities?
[00:17:56]So that's, generally, at a high level, how we think about sort of the ROI. and then there's all sorts of activities that we, engage in to promote both sourced and assisted opportunities with partners.
[00:18:08]Adam Michalski: [00:18:08] Got it. Got it. And so, it sounds like, I mean, the two major ones are partner sourced, parser... partner assisted, or partner influence, in that sense. and more tactically, like, how do you think about actually tracking those, whether it be in Salesforce, or, you know, another like sales attribution type tool, so that you're ge-, actually getting like the, the best quality data on that front?
[00:18:28]Eric Stein: [00:18:28] Yeah. So, that's a great question. And, as you know, Partnered has helped us do that. But let me tell you how we sort of got to Partnered. And, you know, I know you and I have been involved in some of those early discussions, which have been really helpful. We started, really, just tracking in Salesforce. Tracking against opportunities, and trying to help, as those opportunities move down the s-, funnel, and, you know, progress through the sales cycle at Branch.
[00:18:54]But we were finding that there was a lot of activity that we were engaged in, prior to an opportunity being created. And we weren't really tracking any of that. And that, in some ways, is where a lot of the value from partnerships can be delivered, i-insofar as you're getting some of that early intel. You're finding out, "Hey, who's the right person? Who might be the most receptive to a, a cold call?" If it's the SDR team, or if it's a big account, and you're trying to just get an early conversation going.
[00:19:28] Maybe it's some client intel that will really help. Maybe it's, an intro, if that's, if that's a possibility. Those early, activities up in the funnel before an opportunity is even created, was something we hadn't been tracking. And that was where we were delivering a lot of ROI. Where if we were creating a sourced opportunity, for example, that was very valuable for Branch. So we wanted to track those activities as well. and now we can. those activities, were not things that we tracked in Salesforce.
[00:19:59] So, we started to use Partnered, to track those activities. And are integrating more deeply to make sure we can track, from those early activities way up in the funnel, way early in the sales cycle, all the way through to, you know, close won. Which i-, which is still in Salesforce, and the opportunity created. And as it moves in stages, you know, seeing everything in the funnel. and we have targets around that. And, just this quarter, are now compensating ourselves, as the partnership team, with regards to all those types of activities up and down the funnel.
[00:20:32]Adam Michalski: [00:20:32] Thank you. And I, I just wanna say, for our viewers, that that was not scripted. So, [laughs], I appreciate the, the, the kind words there. But I guess, so, I mean, one of the things that I'd, I'd love to understand a little bit better is, I mean, given your... You know, you've seen kind of the evolution of, you know, cloud SaaS, and, the effect that partnerships has, has driven across the ecosystem.
[00:20:51] Where do you see, like, the future of partnerships and just ecosystems, or alliances, or, just more broadly, where do you, where do you see the future going for partnerships? Do you think that there's something that's gonna be, you know, more tightly aligned for, for co-selling, moving forward? Or just more broadly, I mean, like, like, is this something that's... would be interesting, more from a, like a co-marketing perspective? I guess, those are some of the things we would love to get your input on.
[00:21:12]Eric Stein: [00:21:12] Yeah, there's a, there's a l-... Wow, there's a lot in that. I think the, the case for partnerships has never been stronger, frankly. The ecosystems that exist today, that didn't exist, you know, certainly, when I started, but are continuing to evolve, and continuing to get broader and broader. I think, clients have the opportunity... First of all, digital marketing, is all marketing today.
[00:21:42] You know, it used to be, there was a digital marketing team, and there was the regular marketing team, [laughs]. Now, it's just the marketing team, which is something that I think a lot of people foresaw happening. And it has happened. And so, you need to, build the capabilities for, digital marketing. And in order to do that, you're gonna wanna leverage best-in-class players.
[00:22:06] Best-in-class players are often independent companies. And so, there's a risk in doing that, insofar as you create data silos. And those data silos are hindrances to your team operating cohesively. Today, partnerships between those companies can function, not just as like co-selling and co-marketing opportunities, but can function, as we were talking about before, as real product value to the end client.
[00:22:39] And so, that product value enhances co-selling, co-marketing activities w-, as we've been talking about, and enhances the case for partnerships, overall. And the-there's something that I haven't mentioned, but it's obviously underpinning all of this, is sort of that API level. That API infrastructure level that so, that so many companies have embraced.
[00:22:58] So many companies like Branch have embraced. You know, we have open APIs for lots of clients, and lots of partners to utilize, to enhance the value that they get from Branch. And we build out our integrations and partnerships, in part, based on that infrastructure that enhances our joint value proposition with our partners.
[00:23:15]Adam Michalski: [00:23:15] In the API economy, I mean, that's certainly been the case, over the past like five to 10 years. Where, you know, obviously, interoperability with multiple different products has... it's been a prime focus. I guess, you know, when you think over the next five to 10 years, do you view that, you know, like just continuing, or increasing? What are your overall viewpoints on that front?
[00:23:33]Eric Stein: [00:23:33] Yeah. I mean, I think it, it will continue to, to increase. I see it, in so many of the partnerships we have today. You know, some younger companies that were startups not that long ago, I mentioned Braze, again, before, you know, that's a great o-... that's a, that's a, a good example. They were built with those APIs, and that open ecosystem sort of in mind.
[00:23:54]And then, you know, older, more traditional companies... You know, we have a strong partnership with Adobe, for example, they have progressively opened up, progressively built the products, but progressively, and they also built the infrastructure and the teams. And the incentives in their own organization to drive the partnerships, and to be able to respond to client needs as they want to use Adobe, but they want to use Adobe in conjunction with other players.
[00:24:22] So, something that you've seen recently from Adobe is they launched, the Adobe Experience Platform. That will transform Adobe, into a much more, partner oriented company. That doesn't happen overnight at a company like Adobe, but that is undoubtedly the direction. And you can see them not just making those, strategic decisions from a product perspective, but also making those, decisions from a, a partnership perspective, as well with the effort that they're putting into things like the exchange program that we participate in.
[00:24:57]Adam Michalski: [00:24:57] I love it. And if I recall, I think, Branch actually just recently got some good accolades from, Adobe, as well, right?
[00:25:02]Eric Stein: [00:25:02] Yeah. Thank you for that. Yeah, we won the, the, Enterprise Exchange Partner of the Year Award. Which, I think, you know, i-it speaks to those, those things that we were just talking about. More and more clients, clients who are clearly on Adobe's radar, as well as ours, have embraced the joint value proposition that we have with Adobe.
[00:25:20]They were already using Adobe technology, and we could integrate into their existing technology stack. And that was great. And so, you know, there are dozens and dozens of clients who have embraced that joint value proposition. Brought Branch into their technology stack, along with the Adobe technology that they had in there, and are utilizing those integrations.
[00:25:45] And, and that's what kinda got us the award. But it's been, it's been a, you know, great partnership. And getting Adobe field sales organization, you know, everybody from sales reps, to CSMs, to solution engineers, to understand the joint value proposition is something that we've been geared towards. We've been pushing.
[00:26:05] But you also see Adobe making changes within their own organization to facilitate that kinda, partnership, and that kind of information exchange so that we can present a coordinated and a consistent story that meets the client's expectations, and what they're looking to do with the... our two companies.
[00:26:25]Adam Michalski: [00:26:25] Got it. And you've... I mean, you make a great point there. That, at the end of the day, like, I mean, partnerships are not something that you can just set up and just, you know, take a step back and hope that our... hope for the best. It's something that you need to actively in-invest in.
[00:26:36]I guess, I mean, the, the final two questions that I have here, too, are, from, you know, the, the future of Branch, specifically, I mean, where do you view the, the partnership organization at, at Branch going, in the future?
[00:26:47]Eric Stein: [00:26:47] Mm-hmm [affirmative].
[00:26:47]Adam Michalski: [00:26:47] and for anybody who wants to potentially partner with Branch, where would they go?
[00:26:52]Eric Stein: [00:26:52] Sure. Well, so, lemme just speak to one thing that you j-, that you just mentioned. You know, the, the need to invest in partnerships, because of what we were talking about with the... with APIs, and because of the, the product level capabilities that companies have today, has increased. You know, 20 years ago, you would have partnerships with companies that really didn't have a product level, a product focus.
[00:27:21] It was, "Hey, you have some great clients, we have some great clients. Let's see what we can do together to enhance our s-, our sales capabilities, enhance, enhance our co-marketing capabilities." But the product level capabilities were not very prevalent, if existing at all. Today, as we've just been saying they do, that requires an increased investment in partnerships. that, as we said, will continue into the future.
[00:27:45]So when you th-, asked, you know, where do I see the, the partnership team grow... going and growing at Branch? You know, I think you've seen some of that recently, with regards to the certified, certification programs that we launched. The cer-certified solution partners, and certified integration partners, programs that we just talked about. Those are at the beginning, for Branch.
[00:28:06]When I look at major established software companies, Adobe, Salesforce, those types of folks, they have big partner ecosystems that can provide, solu-... services and solutions to joint clients. It's an amazing opportunity for us to create that. And there are some huge opportunities to do that, at Branch, especially as mobile becomes a more and more important part of the focus for enterprise marketers.
[00:28:38] I mean, you know, with this terrible crisis that we're all going through right now, mobile has become more and more of the focus. That was already happening, I think there's an increase in digitization, overall. I think the increase in digitization, is more and more mobile centric. And so, you know, Branch has the opportunity to build out an ecosystem of partners that can help clients that are responding to those needs.
[00:29:03]Adam Michalski: [00:29:03] I love it. And, I mean, Eric, I could talk with you for hours, about this. So, we will probably need to have you on again, at some point. But, for now, I wanna be respectful of your time. But tha-thank you so much for, for joining us. And, yeah, I sincerely appreciate it.
[00:29:15]Eric Stein: [00:29:15] Yeah, my pleasure. My pleasure. Good to talk to you too, as always. Hope to see you, in person, sometime, in the not too distant future.
[00:29:21]Adam Michalski: [00:29:21] [laughs], looking forward to it. Thank you, Eric.
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