HubSpot is a glaring example of the evolving channel.

Lynn Haber

February 26, 2020

4 Min Read

Since its founding in 2006, HubSpot has evolved from a marketing software company to a full customer experience platform. Its partner program has evolved as well.

The vendor recently launched the HubSpot Solutions Partner Program, the next iteration of its Agency Partner Program, which debuted 10 years ago.

Channel partners have been hearing a lot about new partner types invading what has comfortably been their terrain for many years. HubSpot, who has built its Agency Partner Program with thousands of partners in about 110 countries, exemplifies the changes taking place in the channel.


HubSpot’s Katie Ng-Mak

“The rebrand is really to capture the changing nature of our partner’s business as well as the market opportunity that’s represented to them from the fact that they’re now working with HubSpot, which has a full customer experience offer,” Katie Ng-Mak, vice president solutions partner program at HubSpot, told Channel Futures.

How muddy are the waters for channel partners? The answer — very. Here’s why HubSpot launched its Solutions Partner Program.

Today, within HubSpot’s solutions partner ecosystem, a large number of partners still call themselves agencies.

“But when you look at the services that they provide, you’ll see that many are heavy on marketing services but you’ll also find a lot of skill sets around building integrations; many partners are building systems integration practices, and some are thinking about sales-enablement services. So what we’re finding is that while many of our partners define themselves as marketing agencies, the services that they offer aren’t quite as pure as you’d imagine,” said Ng-Mak.

At the same time, over the past few years as HubSpot has expanded its product set, the company has been engaged by different types of businesses that want to partner with them.

“These businesses have nothing to do with marketing but are interested in us because their clients are interested in the fact that we have sales service and marketing products. They’re interested in the fact that we have a platform solution that can solve their go-to-market needs,” she said. “We’re starting to have other businesses come to us interested in partnership as well.”

Who are these partners knocking on HubSpot’s door? They’re service providers with skill sets in CRM implementations, and partners who identify as systems integrators and IT resellers.

“What’s interesting is that since we started having these conversations, we can have two service providers offering what sound like very similar services, but they [the partners] go by different names,” said Ng-Mak.

“HubSpot’s move is a recognition that multiple partner types are important over the buyer’s journey,” Jay McBain, principal analyst, channel partnerships and alliances at Forrester, told channel partners.

“The traditional ‘transactional channel’ doesn’t go away, McBain wrote recently. In fact, those partners that have spent years …

… on the ‘long-tail’ list may actually find a home somewhere else in the program that has, up till now, only pushed them to resell. Tweaking channel data management, automation, insights, onboarding, incentives, co-selling, and co-marketing will determine winners and losers here.

“Because almost every company in every industry is thinking about or actively converting to a recurring, subscription-based model, a new ‘retention channel’ is starting to take hold,” McBain scribed. “Knowing that the customer journey never ends in a subscription scenario and that brands will need to re-earn a customer’s business every 30 days, partners that can drive adoption, ongoing customer experience, and the ability to upsell and cross-sell become critically important. These partners appear as consultants, integrators, adjacent ISVs, accountants, digital agencies, etc. The prediction from a few years ago about millions of shadow channels entering the market came true. When looking through this trifurcated lens, more than 80% of these (potential) partners will show up before or after the sale, and channel leaders need to break the transactional channel mold.”

As HubSpot expanded, Ng-Mak recognized the changing needs of the company’s customers as being more diverse and sophisticated.

“That also made us realize that in order to serve our customers more successfully we needed to build a partner ecosystem that’s more diverse than digital agencies alone.” she said.

The more sophisticated and diverse skills in demand by HubSpot customers include integration skills around HubSpot and legacy ERP systems and integration with other SaaS solutions in order to access additional data sets.

HubSpot’s journey has taught Ng-Mak a thing or two about the channel.

“We’re learning that we can have partners with the right skill sets, but we also have to make sure that we can help customers find the right partner,” she said. “The more diverse the community, the bigger the challenge.”

This evolution in its channel has driven HubSpot to rethink how it invests in certifications in a way that reflects the process and service opportunities available to partners and allows them to differentiate based on their expertise.

HubSpot also relaunched its Agency Partner Directory to its Solution Partner Directory.

“This allows our partners show up and also provides a way for our customers to find them,” said Ng-Mak.

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About the Author(s)

Lynn Haber

Content Director Lynn Haber follows channel news from partners, vendors, distributors and industry watchers. If I miss some coverage, don’t hesitate to email me and pass it along. Always up for chatting with partners. Say hi if you see me at a conference!

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