Winning the Channel

The Problem

How to identify, reach and engage with potential SaaS partners that can bundle Sonian’s archiving and analytics solutions with adjacent offerings to create non-linear growth opportunities.

In early 2015, Sonian’s executive team decided it needed to intensify its business development efforts in order to expand its strategic partner channels to sell its cloud-based archiving solutions. They first needed to identify the highest potential adjacent product groups and vendors across backup and recovery, data protection, security, IaaS, email hosting and migration, eDiscovery and other complementary areas. For such a large ecosystem of products, channels and players, it was imperative to understand where to focus their efforts for maximum effect. Then, Sonian needed access to the right players. The challenge — as is the case with most high-growth, expansion stage businesses — was that time and bandwidth were at a premium; Sonian lacked a full-time business development resource as well as the appropriate contacts at many of their strategic targets. Without assistance, the burden would fall on Sonian’s executives who had their own day jobs and limited time to get organized, form outreach tactics, craft messaging and navigate to the right target decision-makers.

The Solution

Sonian engaged OpenView’s Market Insights and Corporate Development professionals to distill the adjacent product universe into a set of complementary focal areas, and then develop a strategy for reaching the highest-priority partner targets and foster meaningful conversations.

Sonian’s management team quickly identified a number of different go-to-market angles via partnerships, but with in-house resources in short supply, they needed assistance identifying the most relevant targets. Sonian knew they needed to find proven paths to success in the market in order to avoid the skunkworks-type opportunities that drain business development resources. Tim McKinnon, CEO of Sonian, reached-out to Brandon Hickie, Market Strategy Manager at OpenView, for assistance in identifying the most common types of services competitors bundle with email archiving. Hickie deconstructed the product and services offering pages from 20 players in the space to better understand exactly which types of product offerings were being bundled with email archiving and then analyze whether or not these companies were OEM’ing these services. OpenView’s research quickly revealed a number of proven potential partnership angles that were attractive based on Sonian’s requirements. To operationalize these insights, Hickie built a framework to understand, categorize and prioritize potential channel partnership opportunities in the space. His model also served as a framework for Sonian to position its solutions to prospects, enabling the company to more efficiently scale its business development efforts.

Armed with a deeper understanding of the ecosystem and a more focused approach, Sonian worked with OpenView’s Director of Business & Corporate Development, John McCullough, to begin generating dialogue with potential SaaS partners. In concert with Sonian’s founder and CTO Greg Arnette, McCullough took steps to launch a business development campaign, including:

  • Learning the Sonian product set and value proposition
  • Developing target-specific messaging and tactics
  • Leading executive-level introductory discussions
  • Coordinating and facilitating second-round discussions involving Sonian

Monthly check-in calls were also used to report on the status of various dialogues, iterate on approach and messaging, and maintain transparency for the broader Sonian management team.

The Results

OpenView’s impact was immediate and measurable, yielding 11 new strategic connections, including several ongoing partnership-focused dialogues.

“OpenView’s John McCullough has been invaluable in helping me establish strategic business development relationships for Sonian.” says founder and CTO Greg Arnette.

Since Sonian goes to market primarily through OEM and channel relationships, forming strategic alliances is the key to growth, and OpenView is committed to assisting portfolio companies in this novel way.

Sonian’s CEO Tim McKinnon agreed. “Brandon and his team did a terrific job cutting through the noise in the market, helping us identify where our services would fit like a glove with these companies’ other offerings. The right partnerships to pursue became obvious very quickly after that.” said McKinnon. “OpenView recognizes the same opportunity we do in the market and wants to help us overcome impediments to success.”

The most notable early outcome from the Sonian and OpenView collaboration was a formal arrangement between Sonian and a leading provider of SaaS solutions. Under the agreement, this new partner will sell Sonian’s cloud archiving solutions to enhance its Office 365 offerings, with a focus on small-and-mid-sized business customers. The dialogue began when McCullough pitched the idea to the partner’s corporate development group, who then helped coordinate a detailed discussion with the appropriate product personnel. From there, Sonian took over to lead product demos, training and negotiation and ultimately secured what will be a very successful partnership with a major player in the market.