On this week’s episode of the Investible Partnerships™ podcast, we talk to Luis "LG" Gamez from Okta about his 3 Pillars of successful partnerships. LG talks about how the right 'Partner Language' can make or break a relationship, why saying 'No' sets boundaries and is often a strategic move, and how understanding speed and setting the right Pace can optimise partnership outcomes.
00:00 - Introduction
00:45 - Lessons learned from LG's career in partnerships
03:11 - Partner Selection and investment strategies
07:00 - Understanding a partner's business before committing
09:48 - Growing partnerships with hyperscalers (Microsoft, AWS,Google) in APJ
12:39 - Approaching partnerships that aren't achieving goals
14:00 - Leveraging the power of “no” to avoid overpromising
18:58 - Partnerships, customer success and problem solving
24:55 - Partnership goals, trust, and communication
31:47 - Partnerships, growth, and operating with cultural nuances in the APJ region
35:46 - The Partnerships Fast Five
"I'm always translating, not only do I speak different languages, but I speak the partner language."
"I love to be that Ambassador inside of Okta, to speak and translate the partner language."
Hey, LG. So good to have you here on the investable partnerships, podcast. I really appreciate your time. I know we've had a conversation before this. And I'm super excited to be able to share a whole bunch of your experiences in your life as a partnership leader, and what you've been doing more recently at Okta . I'd love to start with you, why don't you jump in and give our audience a little bit of an understanding about your role, what you're focused on, and a little bit about your background.
Thanks, Des and thanks for having me. It's great to be here. I have been at Okta for over two years. And I look after cloud partners in APJ. And so typically shaping their go to market plans and strategy to set join goals and make sure that we can help our customers safely use technology and of course, powered by identity in this case, I've been in the partners phase for over a decade, and I've been fortunate enough to have worked for vendors, consulting partners and service providers across a variety of customer facing roles. And I started my career as an engineer in the services space in pre sales, and then move into partner development.
And what's your what would you say is one of the sort of lessons that you've learned being a partnership professional and now leading partnerships in AOJ at Okta, what's one of the lessons that you kind of felt over the last kind of your more formative years, as you were moving from both, you know, inside and outside of partnerships working for vendors working for consultancies, what is the one thing that kind of drew you towards partnerships from a career point of view.
So I, if you, if you look back at my career, as a services professional as a pre sales professional, I was already in partnership. So you could almost say that, over the 20 years that I've been in this industry, I've been working with pagans in any way, shape, or form. But it wasn't until 2011, when I formally got my, I guess, my first partner role, and there was a need that took us there. So I had an opportunity to join, what you would define as a start-up American vendor in the Australia, New Zealand market. And obviously, as a representative of a brand. In such a broad market, we realized very quickly how important was to partner to grow our business. And how important was for us to show to the potential partners that, hey, there's business here for us to be the owner and for us to win together.
Okay. And, you know, there's a lot of people that watch and listen to this podcast, in this APAC and APJ region. And there's a lot of partnership professionals that are probably in the same boat that you found yourself in 2011. Right, which is, North American company, come into this particular region? Hey, LG, we really want you to run this for us. And what was that experience? Were you really running the playbook from the North American market? Or were you building your own playbook locally?
So you we start with reusing anything that is existing, right, so they had a playbook in North America that was suited that particular market that had a specific message, a specific set of, let's call them KPIs or performance performance matrix, right. And what we did is we started there, but we quickly realized that anything that you do with partners have to be localized and, and you know, let's not just talk about a and set, let's talk about APJ. And the differences in cultures and languages and in approaches to businesses, right. And so, for me, the number one key to a partnership is communication. And I'll probably call it over communication. If you think you're communicating. It's not enough. Let's go the extra mile and if possible, speak the local language.
Okay, so I mean, that's a great thing that I want to double click on because, you know, you no doubt started your role. And yeah, we're going back to 2011. So hopefully you can remember, there were probably some KPIs that were landed on top of you in terms of revenue in terms of partner reach. And this partnership, this partner podcast is really all about what we call being an investable partner. And this is really about being able to maximize your relevance and your value in how you interact and how you build partnerships and how you grow partnerships as well.
So maybe it wasn't quite then that you kind of built an idea of what a, what an investable partnership actually looks like. But take your experience. Is there a framework that you use? Or is there something that you align to in terms of building and understanding the partnerships that you're working with today? You've got a new partnership in Okta, and now you're trying to build this into the Okta partner program? Do you have a framework? Or do you have some guidance for our audience around how you determine which partnership is investable or not? And importantly, do you know when to kind of say that not this isn't going to be aligned with where we're heading and I need to move away?
Oh, most definitely lots of learnings since 2011. But it all starts with the same principle, in my view, once you're very clear as a vendor where you want to grow, which markets you'd like to tackle. And then of course, what are your key goals, right, we typically measure in revenue, we are all in sales positions, right? The opportunity to sell indirectly through partners to help customers, once once that's very clear, then you can start looking at which partners are better aligned to the story. Because once you've got that partnership, then it's about investing, it's about going all in. But to me, how do we choose those partners? It starts with values.
You know, is there is there a value alignment here? Is there is there a customer first approach to both business ways, right. And so an example of the says, Hey, we do care of our customers, not only back in 2011, I've been fortunate enough to work for organizations that define that customer success as their key criteria. And looking for partners that have the same principle, hey, our customers come first. And we want to make sure that it's not just about, you know, the sale, it's not just about hitting a number or selling new features. It's about positioning business outcomes and solutions. So that's number one.
Once you get that, well, then the next level of requirements, if you will, for a successful partnership like that partner expertise? Are there specific industries that they tackle? What are those superpowers? How do we how do we as a vendor, inject value into that superpower mantra. So if a partner has, say, for example, they work in the health industry and some of their superpowers, they they're, they're allowing customers to serve their clients better in critical spaces, then it's all about making sure that we're reliable, that we're scalable, that you know, there's a backup plan for the solution that we provide, then do we have those matrix that we can align? So understanding that partner business before you make any decisions?
I love it. How do you do that? How do you understand you're a, you're a potter professional, you meet him with a new partner tomorrow? What does it feel like? What does it look like? What do you do to understand their business? more clearly, so you can articulate how investable they are around this value piece that you talk about?
So that's a good question. It's never it's never an easy task to go and meet a new partner and create a new relationship and ask the staff questions about, hey, tell me a little bit about your business. So you really have to be quite intentional about the set of questions that you're prepared to ask and even even go to the point that hey, you know, are you the right person to converse these particular details? Is there anybody else that has should be meeting I really want to get to know your business because the last thing we want here is to waste anybody's time, particularly that of the partner remember our forte for consulting partners before they've got multiple vendors to manage. I want to make sure that I'm adding value from day one.
From day one. Yeah, absolutely. And what's your thought on how good are partners at articulating the value back to you in terms of their value? Their value proposition, their core customer? I mean, how would one in a period to give it a one to 10? And one would be, Most partners don't really articulated well enough. 10 being that absolutely nailed it, and maybe five being in the middle, where would you say most of your partner conversations land, in terms of them being able to identify that for you?
Look, I've been lucky enough to have partners that are absolutely rock stars, right? And again, it goes back to are you talking to the right person in the partner, right, for perhaps for the definition of this partnership, the agreement of this partnership, and the evaluation, whether or not this is an investable partnership, perhaps it goes back to all my talking to the right person that can help me define those specifics.
And, you know, if you're lucky enough to hit that person, you're going to get the answers that you're looking for. And that typically goes to the head of sales, perhaps the CFO of the organization, the founder, or the CEO of the organization, that you know, the further up you can go, the better that you get a view and in my opinion, also talk to the rest of a business, talk to their engineering services business, their success business, to talk to the livery business and understand what's going on. Right.
Absolutely. So let's turn our attention to your role at Okta. There's been some phenomenal growth with Okta over the last couple of years, your partner programs growing tremendously, you probably have a extremely tight partnership with t the hyperscalars. The Big Three. We've got some people in the APJ region who really see the hyperscalars as a key lever when it comes to scaling their particular product or their particular offerings. How how do you deal with hyper scalars? When you are probably a small speckle of dust to start off with in terms of the opportunity that they can see with you? How do you kind of build and grow that to be something that is mutually beneficial? That is something that is investible on both sides? Any advice that you can give for how you have done this quite successfully with Okta?
Yeah, absolutely. So I guess the top three hyper scalars being obviously AWS, Google and Microsoft, they there are a lot larger than up that to start with. And so again, it goes back to understanding the partner, right, their size, their markets, their motivators, their drivers. And then from there, it's all about a aligning to our goals, but also be making sure that we're injecting value to the story and their goals.
And so, you know, I typically call this I'm always translating, not only do I speak different languages, but I speak the partner language. And I love to be that Ambassador inside of Okta, in this case are inside the company that I'm working for, to speak and translate the partner language. And so one of the things that we're doing really well with hyperscalers, these were leveraging their size, or leveraging their size to evangelize messages that help customers make better decisions. And, and one of the things that we're doing really, really well with hyper scalars is leveraging the power of many. And so it's not just hyperscalar, it's our technology alliances, it's our consulting partners, mutual consulting partners, and then creating solution offerings as opposed to a product offering. And that resonates really, really well.
Yeah, because I think from an Okta point of view, being a product that solves a particular problem or particular set of problems in between layers of security, that already there or layers of capability that are already there from the hyper scalars. You kind of taking this and stretching this out and looking at the hyperscalars as maybe the cornerstone, but the reality is, they've got 10s to hundreds of 1000s of partners that sit around that ecosystem that serve that serve that particular customer.
And it's something that, you know, we've talked about in the industry that they're, you know, the customers dealing with seven different partners when it comes to implementing a single piece of technology. So you've been able to expand that from the hyper scalar point of view to those partners and I love the fact that you talk about solution, because as soon as you step to customer, you talk a different language and you I love this partner language piece that you're talking about. So the solution partners, the solutions that you put together with them. How, important is it to kind of take that lens for the customer on outcome in your partnership, away from the technology capability that you that you may be addressed in terms of a gap in the hyperscalar?
There is a term that I love use by hyperscalars. And it's called a superpower whether it's a partner superpower, the customer superpower, what is it that they do that they do so well, the ability to simplify the superpower in a sentence in a paragraph or in a page of the most, it's critical to, to send this message and land this message accordingly and Translate this message to a business outcome.
So when it comes to how important is is to, for us to have a mutual goal that ultimately benefits the customer. Regardless of the number of players, you know, you've got GSI, you've got cloud providers, you've got technology alliances, you've got consulting partners, and delivery partners, that power of many have to be working in sync, have to be dancing to the same tune.
And so the moment that we simplify our message and our superpower, and how we work well with the power of X, it helps so many people go I get it, and even customers come to us at events and say I didn't know whether you guys work with X, Y,Z'd, and we're going absolutely right. Like that's, that's a that's a mission that we've got here. We do something really, really well. But we want to make sure that it's consumed by our customers in a matter that solve multiple, multiple areas of your business.
Yeah, I love that because you need something you need a superpower. Like if we take let's say Guardians of the Galaxy as a, as a format here, and Thor who's got a whole bunch of stuff, you know, he's strong, but you know, he's got the hammer. And the reality is that you might have a lot of superpowers. But the reality is, there's one thing that is unique that you want to use to open up the opportunity to then be afforded the time to talk about everything else that is great that you do.
And you know investible partners, we talk about this as having a specialized niche. And a specialized niche isn't about niching, down to your support a particular customer or particular segment . It's actually about answering this question. And this question is, How comfortable are you, for a customer to put you in a box?
Which is a really, really challenging question for people that come through our invisible partner program because they go, I'm not comfortable being put in a box because that means I can't do anything else. And that's the myth, the myth, what we want to be able to do from a partnership point of view the superpower is you want to be super clear on what that is. That gives you the opportunity to talk about all the great things you do.
Most of the time, I don't know if you see this, but most of the time, what I see is I kind of see a fire hose, and everyone's trying to shove the fire hose into either the customer or the vendor or the partners face going. This is everything we do. Here you go. It's really an uncomfortable position to be in. So what do you think that question? How comfortable are you being in a box so that you're unique to your customer?
So that and you know, I think I'll expand on that can we can we package Can we can we put together a box that helps that particular customer in that particular moment, because that again, it goes back to being comfortable by not just throwing everything we do. But just literally talking about how we can solve that particular problem. And we can solve it typically we can solve it with a subset of our products as opposed to the whole lot.
And then typically, we can solve that by leveraging our partners ecosystem, whether it's our professional services partners, our system integration partners, and of course, our cloud partners as well. That to me has been the key to success. I call it the more than marry and you know, to my sellers, everywhere I go, I try to tell them don't be afraid of strategically leveraging multiple partners in a particular opportunity because there is a space for many.
Yeah, absolutely. So how does it work at Okta? Is that is that a culture of the Customer at the Center, their outcome or the problem that we're trying to solve? And it's not about having one partner that, you know, I don't like the one throat to choke, because it makes no sense in a lot of times only when it only makes sense when things are not going well. And you're one to go, well, whose problem that is. But I think that's a fixed mindset. If we think about this more from an open mindset. Does Okta view it like like that? Do you view that the more the merrier? Where everyone has a unique value proposition that they can bring to the customer? Or is that more an experience kind of an experience thing rather than a culture of how to operate?
It's, it's definitely different across different markets. And again, it goes back to the typical the conversation we were having before about the countries and cultures and languages. But overall, it's a very partner friendly community I don't I see multiple partners repetitively in opportunities across different segments and different customer levels. I think there's a strong understanding that those specific superpowers and we've done a good job as well as translated internally, right, the extended partner team worldwide focuses on enablement and enablement being when people ask me, What do you do? One, I'm a translator. Number two, I'm actually an enabler. That's, that's my second role. And so we're constantly showing and showcasing the customer and the partner superpower, leveraging customer success stories, right? And that helps our sellers go, I can use these. I've got a customer that's stuck in this position, I can help them. And so yeah, it's very partner friendly.
Yeah. So when things aren't going well, in a partnership. No doubt impacting the customer or no doubt impact in your overall strategy. How would one approach that with a partner, because I think a lot of the time we probably spend a bit too much time trying to fix things and trying to push through. You know, we've invested a lot of time we've invested a lot of energy and resource. We've just got to get this done. How would you approach actually stepping away?
I mean, your experience leader, we've got a lot of individual contributors in this APAC region, a lot of partnership professionals who might want to be able to step away from a partnership today, because it's not giving them the results. How do you think about that? And what advice would you have for our listeners to be able to kind of think about what they should do to approach a situation like that?
That is a very good point. And it happens, it happens more often than not. So let's let's divide it into two approaches. One approach is you've you've you've validated that there is an investible partnership potential here, and you've both decided, let's get into a partnership and make this happen. And the tough conversation needs to happen for any reason, something went wrong with a customer.
Number one is, I always say run towards the storm, do not be afraid of having a tough conversation. That's what partnerships are for. And so let's make sure that we have an excellent channel that we can all open and say, Hey, here's what went wrong. Make sure that you can not only say Ben pointed out the things that went wrong, but add value, right, here's what I propose on how to solve it.
Now, the other part of the equation is hey, partnerships that are not working, how do we have those conversation? How do we go there? I find these happens a lot when you inherit a group of partners and you join an organization that have a group of partners and and you can evaluate, hey, the partners that are performing really well versus those that are not performing well. And typically, after diving deep, it all comes down to a mismatch. There is a mismatch in alignment and goals.
And again, it's about having the tough conversation. Hey, Mr. Partner, you know, we don't want to say goodbye. But how about we said some new goals and we create an experience outline. And realignment, exactly right. I mean, if in three months or six months, this is not working, then you know, we might as well call it and most most partners will be agreeable to something that you can measure. And you can really read an outcome and go it didn't work. And so by default, then the relationship it's better over it wasn't working anyways.
Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of like that relationship that you have put a bit of a Band-Aid on a few times. But the reality is that sometimes you can't step away from something. Just because there's, you know, there's it's not about you, you don't know how you can make that particular call. But I think I think having a, if we think about trust, trust, then early on, in our conversation, you spoke all about communication. I think communication and trust, are hand in hand.
And the reality is, if you can just realign and set those expectations. I think that can probably get through quite a few problems that are on the table, I think, from a sales environment, we call it cleaning the plate. Yeah, you've got to clean the plate. Just on that we often look at our partnerships, you know, we're going to yearly planning your calendar year or fiscal year, depending on which region you're in, you're going to partner planning you set goals, you set alarm, and you set expectations. What's a good cadence to review that? Is that every six months is that every month is that every quarter, what would you say you should be doing? So we don't get into this particular point where communication is broken, and there's trust that's probably eroded. So
Cadence was in terms of reviewing goals, it goes back to your your business, right? I mean, how do you measure your business? Are you measuring on a weekly or on a monthly or quarterly basis? And again, is there alignment on the other side? How do you mister partner, business partner measure your business, right? And so, and it's all about, hey, if we are both happy to have a monthly, a weekly or bi weekly cadence to measure the success of these goals, and let's do it, let's set them realistic.
I'll give you an example. If we're talking about our public sector partnership, I don't think there's be much point in reviewing on a weekly basis, right? These deals take a year to come to fruition, right. And so, perhaps you want to set goals and milestones for quarterly for a quarterly standpoint. But if you're in the emerging small business, startup space, perhaps you want that cadence to be a bit more frequent. And so it's about making sure that we've got alignment to the different segments. And then again, the goals. To me this goals need to be measurable. There is no point in setting, you know, V goals that we all dream about. If you can't measure if you can't consume them in small bites.
Yeah, let's think about that, because often get offering have that with those discussions with our customers. And that is this, there are two different speeds that partnerships run on the vendor speed and a partner speed, let's call it the partner speed.
So the vendor speed is very much as calendar year or fiscal, so fiscal year orientated goals, strategy, KPIs, and repair their back to quarter. And then we typically have a half an h1, or h2, and we realign, we set in partner world that don't all operate like that. Some don't have an operating rhythm like that some partners just don't have the capability in their business to be able to do that. So how do you align? there where you kind of see these two different speeds that partners are operating on?
You know, they probably thinking just this quarter, you thinking, one year ahead, they thinking in three years time, I wouldn't be here and you're going? Well, we need your business to be here in this quarter. How do you how do you realign? How do you have that conversation? What do you do when you see these different speeds? Operating? Do you think it's even? Is that something you see even?
Every day? I mean, you and I can try to set a new record and 100 meter sprains right, but we have to be realistic, right? I'm probably not going to be anywhere near the Olympians, or on my day one. And so, you know, once the expectation is to win the gold medal, the the reality is I need to start training somewhere. And so it's the same here. And you know, I love that you audit, you know, the speed of a partner, the speed of the vendor, I love to add to that the speed of a hyperscalers because, you know, when our partners say to us, Hey, here's what business realistically looks like, to me we go, we can triple that.
And when we say we can triple that the hyperscale goes we can multiply that times 10 And it's a scary thought to be in right to go I don't have the resources to drive at that speed. And so to me again, it goes back to alignment realistic expectations. Let's have the conversation. And one thing that I haven't mentioned in this conversation is that power of No, not not no for the sake of being negative, the power of no for for being very confident of what is it that you can and can't deliver.
I love it that is gold, that is gold, the power of know, you love it, because it happens all the time, right? You've been, you've been in the consulting world in and outside the channel inside vendor outside vendors. So have I own my own channel, partner business being in vendor world, and all of that. And the power of No, depends on which side you sit on, I always find because sometimes the power of no can be a step back that you just can't come back from rarely.
But here's the thing. If you're super clear about where you're heading, and what you need to be successful, the power of no can actually speed up where you want to be because you can stop spinning your wheels, with saying yes to things where you just know, oh, are you really going to do this this quarter? No, and a breaks trust, right? Like the that breaks trust. I don't know how you feel about that. But there's, you know, the trust that gets broken down when you have this. Like, it's almost like you've got this, this hot air balloon, and you've turned up the gas, and you're going up, up up, and then you're like, Whoa, this is really good. And all of a sudden, it starts to deflate, like, what's going on? Yeah, man. I thought we were going up, you know?
Absolutely. You just said it exactly how it happens in the field. Right? If you if you overcome it, if you just say yes, for the sake of trying to do the right thing for the partnership, because Because yes, and momentum creates great motivation. However you can be you can be very motivated and unable to deliver and and what's worse for our customers? Don't you know, shouldn't we just aim to deliver without? Again, I'm not saying let's be conservative. I'm saying let's be let's be honest and realistic as to what is it
Yeah. Love it. Love it. So you work across the APJ region, right? Countries like Japan, India, Korea, cultural differences, hyper local markets, different ways of doing business. You also work with hyperscalars as your key kind of unlock in your channel as well. Do you have some guidance for our audience who are dealing with hyper scalars? That, again, they go through each one of these markets, the same measurement, but their targets are completely different. The focus is completely different. They might be seeing a particular segment of the market that's that they lose in in in Australia that they need to get to you grow that they're absolutely killing it, let's say in in Singapore. So how do you when you're working with hyper scalars, where you've got this Octa strategy that you want to roll through? How do you deal with those nuances? And what should people think about when they are building these partnerships in these areas that are culturally different language difference, businesses done differently?
That is happening as we speak. And I've been I've enjoyed having played multiple roles across my my career in opening new markets in APJ. So this conversation is very fresh, that I can think of three things that are critical as a step before you choose to embark into a particular market. Number one is make sure that you've got a way to support a localized message that is whether you've got the resources to translate your your messages, your websites, your your your media, whether you've got the resources to suit pour in local language that's important.
And it might start with simply Hey, I've got someone here that can speak that particular language, or I'm going to leverage a local partner that can speak that language. That takes me to my second point, leveraging local partners, align yourself to the hyper scalars best partners on the ground. And so I usually go to hyper scalar and said, Who are your best partners in this particular country that have the superpowers and you get a list?
Hey, here are the partners and then we go back to the framework. Let's put together our framework to see is there mutual opportunity to win here. Nine out of 10 we find a partner and finding one partner is critical as opposed to 10 walk before you run. It's a new market. It's a new territory, you want to set yourself first, you want to help that partner be successful before you expand too aggressively. That's my territory.
Yeah, absolutely love it. I think one of my previous guests, Bassam from Go1. One was talking about, you find one, you build your process, you get success. And then you go find the next one. And you start to build from there.
So this has been fun. It's a fun podcast, I like to do things a little differently. So we're going to step into what I call the Partnerships Fast Five. So the fast five is, I'm just going to give you as a partnership professional. I'm going to give you five kind of we're going to go through five kinds of statements. And I just want you to shout out what comes to your mind straight away. There's no wrong or right answer here. It's that's why it's called the fast five, and I don't need you to explain it at all. You can use one or two words, but no, definitely not full sentences. You're ready to go?
Ready as I can be.
Okay, awesome. First one. Partnerships of thrive on...
Support and Success.
marriages: love, negotiation and growth.
Through partnerships you can...
Simplify broader business problems, and help your customers that way.
Change and innovation.
Partnerships succeed through ...
Love it. There you go. Partnerships Fast Five. There's no pass or fail. But there's always some awesome answers. LG, thank you so much for being on the Investible Partnerships podcas and coming to share with our audience, your journey from outside of partnerships into partnerships. I love what Okta is doing, your latest partnership program changes to me are absolutely one of the best that I've seen in terms of where you're investing. So for everyone listening, how can they get a hold of you, how should they reach out to you and learn more about how you been a driver partner impact.
LinkedIn is the best way you can find me there Luis LG Gamez and I'll be open to answer any questions, to connect to expand on the conversation. Thanks very much for having me. This has been super fun.
Excellent. Thank you so much LG. Catch you soon and take care