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People power great partnerships at Cin7

by Doug LaBahn
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Today I’m talking to Michelle Calkins, Cin7’s incredible Head of Partnerships for the US. Michelle’s been working in partnerships for 8 years, and she’s got an incredible ability to connect with people from all walks of life. She’s been instrumental in getting our partnerships to where they are now, but she knows that there’s so much more to accomplish.

So Michelle, how long ago was it that you joined Cin7?

I joined Cin7 in February. I was the third hire in our US expansion and interviewed with Frank who leads our sales team in the US. I got to hear about what the plans were for the US, which made me super excited about the potential to bring the company here. We set up a really fantastic culture in Denver and I’m just closing out my six months with the company.

You have a great energy about partners, which must've started before you joined Cin7. Where did you first get interested in working with partners?

I started my career in the TV side of tech. I guess at the time, it wasn't really tech, it was very traditional television and started with partner marketing. We launched HBO On Demand as my intern project, when I was at Dish. We're talking pre-Game of Thrones days, and it was really exciting because The Sopranos was released on demand for the first time ever. This was the first time that someone who hadn't grown up with it, or watched it when it came out, could go back and watch the entire series. 

Part of partner marketing that really resonated with me was the people and how we created joint value from working together, building brands together. Dish, with 14 million customers at the time, was certainly more powerful with HBO.. So that's how I got my start. After that, I got into working on the Sling partnerships team with Amazon, Google,Microsoft and some of the largest names that you'll see on any business list.

What really enthuses you about working in the tech world?

Tech truly has been a landing ground, a soft place to land for people who have marketing backgrounds and art backgrounds. How do we bring that value while still maintaining our humanity in highly technical fields, in that we're all trying to deliver better outcomes together for customers than we could deliver on our own. That's really the core of who I am, why I love partnerships and what I'm trying to bring into how we work and collaborate at Cin7.

How would you describe the difference between doing your role as a partner leader versus being a sales leader? In a few words what do you think the difference between those two things are?

I think to me, it comes down to the level of trust. You have to have your partner completely bought in — they need to know that if they put their name on your brand, on your product, that their customers are not only going to get the best in the industry, but they're also going to be taken care of both with the partner and with yourself. 

When I was interviewing, I kept hearing that we had really great partners, we just hadn't figured out how to do partnerships.That's, I think every company at some point, because everybody thinks, "Oh, wonderful, we'll set up a partner program and it'll be great and everybody will love it." And the reality is that it challenges some of the structures of the business. It shines a light into areas that may need to be worked on. And to me that couldn't be more exciting. The US market expansion means Cin7 thinks differently about how we do customer care, how we do marketing. How do we take Cin7 from what has been a fantastic company, started in New Zealand, growing throughout Australia with a wonderful and strong customer base, and really take it very, very pointedly into the US? It was a chance to say, "If we really start to reach out to these partners, if we really start to lean in, give them time, give them resources, can they flourish?" 

What’s one thing that’s been really satisfying since you joined Cin7?

Hands down, the fact that we hit our largest partner sales record for the month of June ever coming off of a very crazy spring - being hit by COVID, having the entire New Zealand team going remote for the first time. Every business faced challenges, we were not unique in that, but going through that, watching the team rally together and watching our partners bring in and close with us a record volume of revenue in a time where everyone was struggling? We closed the most bookings in company history. Fantastic. What more can you ask for?

So where do we go from here?

Firstly, the co-branding opportunity that we have to sit next to the best and the brightest — the Amazons, the Nordstroms — these interactions that, on a software level, bring new sales channels to our customers in a way that truly nobody else in our space does. So our first question is: how do we really shine that light? How do we tell that story and how do we co-brand and bring to our customers the knowledge that sales channel expansion is just sitting, waiting for them?

Secondly, how do we scale? How do we start to allow our partners to scale with us? We're talking marketing collateral, partner portals, sales support, sales flow, training, onboardings. Those are the things that fall very quickly in line next, and will allow us to scale meaningfully, because we can't scale purely by people. We have to scale our processes as well. And that's where we will be spending the next six months. Our partners will be getting very regular outreaches for me to make sure that their needs are being met. And we won't stop pushing until that's done.