Small Business Spotlight: Build Your Brand With a Partner Ecosystem

By Jason Compton

Today’s enterprise platform ecosystems are a valuable tool for any software business looking to punch above its weight and quickly build a brand. Platform partners deliver more than top-notch technical underpinnings. The best platforms also create opportunities for rapid growth and limitless connections with like-minded development partners. “Platforms make it easier and cheaper than ever to build a new software business,” says Eric Wu, co-founder of Bracket Labs.

We asked three successful AppExchange partners to advise up-and-coming software entrepreneurs on how to get the best brand advantages from a partner ecosystem. Here’s what we learned:

Dream big and bold.

Any credible platform will take care of the table-stakes technology for you, from record creation to security and password management. That gives you the freedom to innovate. Build a team that can dream big and has the expertise to back it up. “On an open platform, customers are going after best-in-class capabilities, so you need to attract people who are absolute experts in their field of study,” says Scott Broomfield, CMO at Xactly.

Experiment with visionary customers.

Platform ecosystems don’t just accelerate development; they advance the pace of customer adoption as well. Use the rapid pace of development and improvement to your advantage. Rapid installation and sandbox capabilities are a perfect pairing for invite-only betas, which can get your innovations in front of high-value customers sooner. Those customers’ early successes will help you advance your cause with more clients down the road. “If I can get a six to nine month advantage over my competition with something in beta, that’s a huge advantage,” Broomfield says.

Invest in your own brand.

Platforms and exchanges solve the significant challenges of delivery, payment, and upgrades for you. Being a certified developer and published partner provides a meaningful brand halo. But the important work of building your own brand and selling your unique advantages is still an important responsibility for every entrepreneur.

It’s an easy mistake to overlook the need to promote even when your business is tightly linked to one or more platform partners. “In the early going, we were just submitting apps to integration partners, but not reaching out to marketing teams to work together,” says Danny Schreiber, marketer at Zapier.

Zapier quickly learned the valuable techniques of building a distinct brand position in the fast-growing market for cloud services. Co-marketing with platform providers and fellow developers is an excellent place to start. “It can be as simple as ‘If we tweet about you, will you tweet about us?’” Schreiber says. “Or you can go further and find room for cross-promotion within the platform and apps themselves.”

Nurturing relationships is important no matter how your services are delivered. Bracket Labs was two years old before the company realized that it had yet to sit down and truly map out an ideal marketing and sales flow. Thinking about how your customers relate to your solutions, and how their needs evolve over time, will help you maintain a market advantage. “You still need to think about building a sales process that’s right for your business and right for your customers,” Wu says.