The Keys Toward A Successful Glocal Partner Marketing Program

Oct 05, 2021

In Conversation with Ankesh Sagar, Head of Marketing, APJ at Workato

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Marketing in APAC is difficult! Because it is a region that is made up of so many different countries with different languages and cultures. Often times, people make the mistake of seeing this region as a whole and don't realise the amount of localisation that needs to be done. 

To truly go from global to local, a partner marketing program is a popular tactic companies would take to attack the different countries in the region. But identifying the right partners is always a challenge. This time, we have got Ankesh Sagar, Head of Marketing, APJ at Workato sharing with us his filtering and selection process when it comes to partner marketing. And talked about how he started the partner marketing initiative and scaled it across the region to achieve great success. 

Check it out!


Can you share with us a little bit about your marketer’s journey? 

So I graduated from my MBA college in the year of 2009 which was also the year where the recession was on peak. My majors were marketing and I always wanted to be part of the marketing and advertising world. But the market was crashing and since I was also a Six Sigma green and black belt, I got into a role which was more like marketing and operation together with a stronger focus on the latter field. 

But I was lucky enough that I was able to build up my network and got a better opportunity at Wipro. If I did not have that network, then I would have stuck in that operation role. So I think it’s very important for people to make a good network and also have the guts to make that leap instead of getting stuck in a role that was sort of comfortable.  

When I was at Wipro, it was a fantastic journey for me. But then I realized that I had touched the peak there in terms of my own ambition. And I wanted to make a move to a product company. So I decided to take a chance on life. I started from zero and jumped into the product marketing side of a startup. 

And the learning I got was tremendous. Because at a startup, you have to do everything and you are not just a specialist in one specific area of marketing. You got a small team and people expect you to be a Jack of all trades and accomplish what you are supposed to deliver. 


How was it different doing marketing at a startup vs at an enterprise company? 

 I think the biggest challenge comes for anyone who is making a shift from a large enterprise to a startup is that you need to unlearn and learn. 

You have to unlearn all those things that you have seen in the big companies. Because they tend to have a lot of budget, systematic processes and different teams to support you for your campaigns. But in a small company, you need to do everything on your own. 

You have to make sure that whatever the budget you're spending, you get ROI from that.  You have to make sure that all the holes are plugged in the entire campaign. Because there's no one else who is actually handling different parts of the campaigns for you. 

The last thing is about culture. Because the large companies' culture is more set up. While startups are all about agility and time to market. You have to make sure that in a short period of time, how do you communicate the values of your product to the customers and generate ROI. 

Switching from working at a company which has a heritage of almost 50 years to a 4 year old startup, all these things matter a lot to me. It was a huge change for me from process, budget to culture. 

It doesn't matter if you are a manager, Head of Marketing or a junior person, you need to do whatever needs to be done and ship things out. And this was my experience at Automation Anywhere because I was the first marketer they hired for India. So I started from scratch and had to prove myself first before I could build my own team and expand my responsibilities across Asia. 


What were some of your top priorities being the first marketing hire for India? 

So at that point of time, my top priority was to set up the demand generation engine. And make sure that engine matches with the sales expectations. As a marketer, I have two stakeholders, the end customers and the sales guys. 

If I am not able to help my sales guys in achieving their KPIs, then I think marketing is not doing a good enough job in that sense. So the very basic thing was to set up the pipe so we are getting enough opportunities and deals coming through. 

Simultaneously, because we were a startup, our brand awareness was not there. People didn’t understand automation. I remember people were asking us where are our robots when our product is actually focused on software automation. 

So it was very important to actually educate people about your product and industry to help raise market awareness at that time. A lot of education was put into place and at the same time, I had to help generate the pipeline back to the company. So these were the two main top priorities that we had. 


What were the steps you then took to tackle these two priorities? 

First of all, you should know who's your target market. You cannot target the entire market. You need to know which personas and verticals you want to target. Let’s say from day one, you want to target banks. Obviously, banks will not show enough interest because you are a startup. They don’t trust you directly. 

So instead, you have to attack the low hanging fruit first. Get the boost and small wins that the company needs. And these small wins will teach you a lot about the customer personas and the vertical. Then you can plan to go for bigger hunting. 

For the demand generation engine, target accounts planning, target pesonas planning and the messaging are very much required from day one. 

And for the awareness side, obviously you would not be able to get into the tier 1 media on day one. So you have to start with tier 2, tier 3 but you should have enough messaging so people want to listen. That’s why you have to spend a lot of time with industry analysts, sales, customers and partners who are in the market all the time. See what people want to hear. But a lot of the time, companies go wrong because they have their own agenda in terms of what they want to push instead of what the customers want to hear. 

After we had done that, we went on to align our thoughts with some industry body which governed all IT initiatives in India. That was why we made a huge partnership with NASSCOM in India. They were the industry body that had connections with all the companies in India starting from startups to large enterprises. 

So we partnered with them to educate the leaders of the industry about automation with not just one webinar. But with an entire package that covered multiple areas or cities that they operate in. From workshops, digital initiatives to content syndication or masterclasses, we worked with them to make sure our voice was reaching the right audience when we had no database. 

We wanted to provide value and educate them about the power of automation and the different benefits they can potentially get. Very value driven. And I believed that when you sell the values first, your product will automatically get sold when they understand. With that initiative, we were able to crack a lot of deals. 


With 14 years of marketing experience, what were some of your most proud of marketing campaigns or initiatives? 

So I would say it would be the work that I have done to set up our partner marketing. How can you make sure that your partners open up and help sell your products in multiple countries with a local approach? 

So we ran campaigns across different countries where we have localized content for the partners. We ran educational workshops for them so they fully understood the product values. They knew the product very well and how to start the conversation. They should become your extended sales. 

And that plan worked very well because when you go to a country like Vietnam, Taiwan or Japan, you have to behave like a local person. You have to go with a glocal approach so that people understand and love you because you understand their culture. 

So phase 1 was all about making sure the partners knew the product, knew what values we provide, personas and industries that we are targeting. Phase 2 was launching marketing campaigns with them to host multiple rounds of webinars, roundtables to help them educate their customers. 

It was a large initiative that we ran across APAC that worked very well for us leveraging partners and their network as our extended sales arms. 


Where were some of the challenges you faced when looking for the right partners to work with? 

So the partner should also have the interest and the capabilities to sell your product in the market. And at the end of the day, it is a win-win situation for both of us.

So I always believe in start small then scale fast. You can’t go with 10,20 partners in one country. You have to choose the top one, two or three partners first. And bucket your partners into different categories. 

For example, who are your boutique partners? Like who can sign the exclusivity with you? Who will just sell you a product? And another type of partner is who are the big giants like Accenture, IBM, EY, Deloitte or KPMG. Then who are your partners that got good IT and implementation experiences? 

So bucket your partners into the different categories. Then pick up that partner with whom you are comfortable to be working with. Because at the end of the day, they should be able to dedicate some sales guys to sell your product. And it should not happen that they have already tons of products and they are not able to sell. So you need to validate their credentials also. So there is a lot of due diligence that is required. 

In the initial discussions, you need to understand the level of maturity and the level of intelligence they have. Are they asking the right questions? Make sure they are really hungry for business and those guys have to be go-getters.


Where are some of the major B2B marketing changes that you see happening or we will see more? 

I can see that there's a thin line now between B2C and B2B. Because personalization has become very important in marketing now.

And that's why, if you look at any marketing campaign, they're very much focused on a particular persona or vertical. I should be able to talk that language in that sense. Look at platforms like Sendoso as a gifting platform. 

There's so much personalization here. So starting from your marketing strategy and sales strategy, it is important for you to think about how you are attacking that one person? Do I know what they like? Do I know what websites they go to? What were their interests? What articles have they read recently? 

So I have to do that research before I approach. And when I pitch, it has to be like that I have done enough research about the person. Makes him feel like I know him. Know exactly what their challenges are. He knows what are my challenges instead of just blasting out a mass email. 

I think that personalization is most important, whether you are targeting large or small enterprises. Make them feel they are actually talking to a human instead of a robot. 

Second thing is the span of time. People don't have enough time nowadays to listen to your pitch or read your whole presentation and content. The large case studies and videos do not work anymore. You need to use snackable content and that’s why you see people trying video emails or one page case studies. 

So personalization and snackable content are the trends that I am seeing right now. 


Connect with Ankesh Sagar on LinkedIn: 

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