What Makes Partner Ecosystems So Critical in Today’s Business Environment: A Conversation with Five9’s Thomas John

In this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast, I’m joined by Thomas John VP of Partner Sales International for Five9 for a conversation that’s increasingly popular today: Partner ecosystems.

Why is this such a hot topic these days? It’s pretty simple: in our current business environment, businesses rarely operate purely on their own. Today, we have tech partners, channel partners, integrators, collaborators, and many more players within a partner ecosystem who work together to deliver best-in-class customer experiences and equally best-in-class solutions for customers across the board.

So why are these partnerships, and the partner ecosystem as a whole so important? That’s exactly what Thomas and I covered in this conversation. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Thomas started off by giving us a description of Five9’s partner ecosystem in the EMEA region and a glimpse into some of Five9’s existing partner relationships.
  • We talked about why a partner ecosystem is so important today for an organization’s success.
  • We shared our thoughts on what makes a successful partner ecosystem.
  • We explored the challenges today’s contact centers face and how a vibrant partner ecosystem can help.
  • Thomas explained Five9’s partner ecosystem in detail and how they are able to deliver CCaaS in various industries across the European region.

We closed the show talking about what’s ahead for Five9 and Thomas and his team as it relates to partnerships they’re looking forward to in the coming year.

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Shelly Kramer: Hello and welcome to the Future and Tech Webcast. I’m Shelly Kramer, Principal Analyst here at Futurum Research, and today I’m joined by Thomas John, VP of Partner Sales International for Five9. And we are going to have a conversation about partner ecosystems. Welcome, Thomas. It’s great to have you.

Thomas John: Well, thanks Shelly, and thanks for having me. I’m looking forward to this.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. I will admit that I just recorded another video interview earlier this morning and one of the things that we talked about is the importance in today’s business world of strategic partnerships. And I think that there was a time when many of us, many organizations kind of went our own way. We felt like we could handle it all. We felt like we should handle it all. And I think that one of the things that navigating digital transformation has shown us collectively is that strategic partnerships are really, really smart. And in many ways they are what … They can shorten time to value. They can help you learn lessons from people who have been engaged in things you might not have been before and that sort of thing.

Shelly Kramer: I’m a big believer in the importance of strategic partnerships. And that can mean many things. It can mean tech partners, it can mean channel partners, it can mean integrators, it can mean collaborators, so many things. What I want to talk a little bit about today is your view, Thomas, on the importance and the value of strategic partnerships. Talk with us a little bit about that if you would.

Thomas John: Yeah, I will do, Shelly, great question. And you’ve given me a lot to ponder on even in that question there. But I’ve always thought of this as whatever realm you are in, be it from romance or religion, two is always better than one and there’s power in that. And particularly when it comes to technology and strategic approach, well, partners become a force multiplier effect. And any software company that has any aspirations outside of the US to be a global company, well, then they become a critical component in anybody’s go-to market strategy, Shelly.

Thomas John: The data points I point to is, well, in the US it’s a massive market and you can get away with being direct because, well, there’s one dollar and there’s one language. Pretty much. But you step outside to the other side of the pond, you are suddenly looking at, take for example, Europe, 184 different countries and their cultures, now add their regulations and stipulations, currencies. And you’ve got a problem unless you have to your point roots to market with strategic partners who are that force multiplier effect.

Shelly Kramer: 100%. Yes. I think that makes a huge difference. Laying that foundation, Thomas, if you would, talk with us a little bit about Five9’s partner ecosystem in the EMEA. Oh my god, I just messed up here because my brain is not firing. Perfect, perfect. I’m going to start over again. See, this is what we do when we flub, Thomas. We just start over. We just take a breath, we just get it right. Okay, that’s a terrific point and I agree with you completely. Now what I would love, Thomas, if you would give us kind of a snapshot of what Five9’s partner ecosystem looks like in the European region. What kind of existing partner relationships do you have? Share some more with us. I think that’s really an interesting part of this conversation.

Thomas John: Sure, and I think the whole purpose of our strategy was to be balanced. For a long time, you mentioned the term channel, to channel is resellers, and that’s almost a vanilla term because what type of reseller do you have? There’s many, and you can tier the resellers all on its own. But for the purpose of this conversation, channel is one route to market, which in Europe has been pretty much the majority for Five9, certainly over the last four years they’ve been bringing in most of the business because here in Europe, as I said to you in the previous answer, they add a lot of value. But in the states it’s actually the opposite. Something called technical solution brokers. Now what we’re seeing is a shift here because they are now here in Europe too, companies who are called technical solution brokers, and they have a lot of consultants who work as an umbrella, with their ears to the ground, bringing in opportunities, but they’re not there for a margin.

Thomas John: They’re there for a referral fee. Some would call it finder’s fees. We’ve already talked about two routes to market there. That’s channel, technical solution brokers. Then when you add in tech alliances, and what do I mean by that? That could be a CRM, a Salesforce or a Dynamics or a Service Now on Oracle. Well, these guys are also critical to our sales cycle and also want a partner from a perspective of the end user being their priority. That’s another route to market. Now we can add UC providers as well. Because Five9, we’re agnostic, right? The customer decides what UC tool they want to use.

Thomas John: If it’s Zoom, it’s Zoom, if it’s Teams, it’s Teams, but again, need to partner with Five9 and that’s another route to market. I would also add the GSI, which is all acronyms we are throwing at you, global system integrators like Deloitte and Accenture and Ernst & Young, and Slalom who are coming and actually seeing, “Wow, this market is on fire. We want a part of this. We don’t want to just recommend, we want to partner with someone like Five9 and really influence the sales cycle towards the contact center.” There without taking breath, I’ve named about six different route to market there.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and you’ve done a terrific job managing not to take a breath there. Very good job. Very good job. The one thing I think that is interesting here is that a couple of things. One is there’s such a benefit to being an organization that can be vendor agnostic. And I think that opens up a lot of opportunity. But I think that for us, when we talk about strategic partnerships and the importance of strategic partnerships, really all you have to do is look at the big players in the tech ecosystem, the Googles, the Microsofts, the Dells, the IBMs, all of that. And what we see on a regular basis is these gigantic tech organizations forming strategic partnerships to help better serve their customers, achieve better outcomes, all of that sort of thing, so that reinventing the wheel in every instance is not what we’re doing.

Shelly Kramer: For me, when we talk with our clients, I mean, when you can emulate what these big players are doing, it makes a lot of sense. And I think that’s what we’re seeing in the ecosystem as a whole with strategic partnerships. It really is how you propel your initiatives forward, how you shorten time to value, how you deliver better for your customers across the board. And I think that’s what everybody’s aiming for, right?

Thomas John: Yeah, I think you nailed it, Shelly. And somebody once said a proverb, I think it’s a Vietnamese proverb translated into English, which is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Now Cisco and EMC, Dell, they’ve all proven, in fact their migration was even more tougher. They’re moving from hardware to then they shifted to software and they realized, “Well, we can’t do this without a channel strategy.” And they’ve proved it by their billion dollar revenues over the years that this is a tried and tested strategy that works. You nailed it. It’s absolutely something that we’re embracing.

Shelly Kramer: Well, and I think too, for me, another value of working with partners within your ecosystem, whether it’s channel partners, whether it’s technology solution consultants, all of that sort of thing, what you get the benefit of here is that you get the benefit of anytime you work with a partner, what they bring to the equation is they bring their experiences with other customers. They bring what they’ve learned along the way. They bring the accidents, they bring the missteps, they bring all of the things that … And they also bring the great ideas. You’re able really to leverage their realm of experiences and expertise and again, use that to help propel your initiatives forward. I think it’s really super important. I clearly have definitive thoughts on the importance of a partner ecosystem. Tell me what you think, Thomas, the key ingredients for a successful partner ecosystem are.

Thomas John: Yeah, and a lot of what you said, I completely agree. You’ve nailed a lot of the points I would’ve answered in that question. I would add with some of our managed service partners who have for the past 20 years been selling legacy contact centers, they also come to add the list of what you said. They also come to the table with a huge database of clients that need to be moved to the cloud. And in order to move to the cloud, well, we need to put our arms around them and make it a true partnership. And what I’ve learned over the past is that blueprint, so Jake Butterbaugh is our Chief Global Head of Partners here, and he brought a blueprint, call it partner model or partner engagement. It’s a program. And that gives status and then also gives investment back to the partner because we’re in it together. We’re in the trenches side by side.

Thomas John: We want to educate. There’s things like Five9 University, online partner portal where you register leads, but also an enablement process that almost dare I say it, make disciples of our partners, enabling them to do everything that Five9 can do and more. The partner program is very key to that. Because it brings statuses that reward with marketing development funds and incentivizes partners to really go out there and make the most of this migration. In fact, I think it’s going to be beyond that now in our industry, I use a biblical term, this is an exodus from legacy to the cloud.

Shelly Kramer:

Absolutely, absolutely. I think that biblical term is an apt one. I feel like we’ve in many ways addressed this in different parts of this conversation. I know I feel very strongly about this and I have a feeling you do as well, but why is a partner ecosystem so critically important for an organization’s success?

Thomas John: It is, and I think the key here is it’s not even new. This acronym, Net Promoter Score’s been around for quite a while. NPS, it’s a scale that everyone says, “Look, after 70, that means there’s world class customer care.” One of the things that Five9 often speak about, and we actually enable our partners to do is what is that post sale like? In fact, most people say the stigma around sales is they say what’s needed to be done to get a contract signed? Well, what is post sale support? What is it like when it comes to deploying? And with our partners certified to do that deployment, but also to co-sell, co-develop and co-support like I’m saying, you suddenly have a formula which provides that customer support for the end users.

Thomas John: And in our business, that means their end users and their Net Promoter Scores are above 70. In fact, Five9s Net Promoter Score for our support is in the 90s, which is pretty unprecedented in our industry. It brings all of that value to the end users who are in a time right now where things are pretty competitive, by the way. There’s a generation out there who are not very loyal consumers. If I’m not getting my coffee done the right way in provider X, I’m moving to provider Y and you can insert the industry if you want. Therefore providing that customer care becomes a differentiator.

Shelly Kramer: I absolutely agree. And I would say that I don’t see this as a generational thing. I see this as a societal thing. I’m one of these consumers and I’m not in any way young, but I’m incredibly impatient and I know what I need, what I want, where to go to find it. And I know I can quickly tell if an organization in whatever it is that I’m trying to do, consume, get an answer to, solve a problem with or anything else, I know that it should be a relatively seamless process. And when it’s not, I am the first to say, “I’m out,” because I know I can find what it is you do, what it is you are offering, I can get that somewhere else.

I can get it somewhere else with a provider who appreciates and respects me and who wants my business and who’s passionate about providing a certain level of service, why would I stay without that? And I think that’s what we’re seeing in the mindset of customers across all generations. It’s like, what have you done for me lately? And please don’t make this difficult because I don’t really want to go somewhere else, but I will if you force me to. I will.

Thomas John: Yeah, no, I couldn’t agree more with you. And I think from, just to qualify the generational thing, you would be out back to your scenario, but what’s also empowered you is now customers don’t just come out. They’ll actually go to an aggregator and say, “Hey, by the way, don’t spend your money in X because X are just going to do this.” Now they blow up across the internet. That’s what’s empowered you, Shelly, is because suddenly a person could be either a brand ambassador if you do it right, or they could be a detractor if you do it wrong and they’re going to blast it across the world wide web. And secondly, to your point, this whole world has now seen we’ve developed, we have evolved in our technology. We’ve got AI, like we’re at a place now where in my personal life we’re using Siri and Alexa. The demand is why can’t that be in my contact center? Why aren’t you on the cutting edge? And those are the two ingredients that’s increased the expectations here.

Shelly Kramer: Right, absolutely. And I think that I’ve said this a lot in conversations. There is never ever a day when a human being wakes up and thinks, “I cannot wait to reach out to a contact center” and is excited about that, right? Generally speaking, when we have experiences with contact centers, it is because we have a problem that we need a solution for. We have something that we’re challenged by. And in so many instances, our experiences with contact centers have not been ideal. And even things like when you’re working with a contact center agent and you give them all of their information and then it’s inevitable that they can’t solve for your problems.

Then we’re passed on to somebody else and then we have to start all over again. And just all of those connecting the dots to the customer, to the data that we should have available in real time at our fingertips to serve these customers that sometimes we don’t. It is, I mean, making those experiences efficient and even enjoyable, I think make everyone’s lives different, not only from a customer standpoint, but also from a contact center agent standpoint. Because that’s a really hard job.

Thomas John: I was just about to say, because you raise a very valid psychological point there. Nobody gets up and says, “I want to call a contact center and I can’t wait to do it.”

Shelly Kramer: Never.

Thomas John: But the other side of the coin is, to your point, at the end of your statement, no agent is looking forward to going to an office and hearing complaints for eight hours in their ear. It’s like something that actually we studied over the pandemic, their mental health was affected because no longer, they’re now at home. They’re told to go away, put your headset down, and the rule 101 of humanity space that if their agent is switched off, they’re not going to deliver a good customer service. What we are Five9, we’re focused also on the agent experience. And I know everyone is aware of the acronym AI, but I suggest the A in I for us, is more relationable if we use the word augmented. That’s what it is doing. It’s enhancing the agent’s ability to bring resolution to that call and then turn the complaint center into a satisfied customer center.

Shelly Kramer: And you know what? There’s just no better feeling. There’s no better feeling. I mean, just having this conversation, I am immediately transported to the handful of amazing customer experiences that I have had where somebody’s helped me do something that I never realized was possible, or somebody has just been so friendly or so charming. So many different words there. But when you walk away as a customer from those experiences, and surprisingly enough, one of the ones, one of my top experiences that I had happened to be with my insurance carrier, which is kind of rare because I think a lot of consumers would say, “We don’t walk away from interactions with our insurance providers feeling incredibly positive.”

Shelly Kramer: But I remember just dealing with an agent that did such a terrific job and you walk away from those interactions feeling more committed to a brand, more committed to continuing that relationship. And also, like you say, at the end of the day, when you can have contact center agents, employees loving what they do, loving the ability to serve customers and to solve their problems in meaningful ways. I mean, that actually makes a job that could be a not so fun job, a really meaningful job. I think that that’s a really important part of this equation.

Thomas John: Yeah, it is. And if you ask any chief information officer, what is the single cost, biggest cost within your centers across the whole business? They would to this day answer by saying, it’s the human, it’s the agent, the salary, we invest in this person, three months later they disappeared. If you can somehow increase their time in the business, the ROI for the CIO is phenomenal. But also the experience for this person hearing complaints is radically turned around. And we’ve seen some ROIs to prove that.

Shelly Kramer: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. I would love to shift a little bit and talk about Five9’s partner ecosystem and how you are delivering content center as a service in a variety of industries across the European region.

Thomas John: Yeah, sure. Great question. And our certification process is very key to that. Like I said, predominantly we are still channel or resale would be the majority route to market, but we are equipping our partners to be certified network providers. What that means is they provide the minutes. We are certified implementation partners, they’re now certified to do the same quality deployment, install the software as us, certified sales engineers. They’re also certified now and empowered to do demonstrations of the product. Suddenly you’ve got a full managed service provider bringing those kind of levels across Europe. That would be how we’re equipping them.

Shelly Kramer: Sorry, I had to mute my mic because my dog was deciding that he wanted to talk and share his feelings. All right. That’s awesome. As we get to the tail end of this conversation, Thomas, I’d love to hear from you about the partnerships you might be looking forward to this year and in the coming year.

Thomas John: Yes, I would. I can’t mention names, but the service providers are waking up, Shelly. Huge global telcos who everyone would know, home-known brands who previously have been involved with the legacy providers are saying, “Hey, Thomas, Five9, look, we get it. This is an exodus and we want to be part of it. We want full managed service providers.” This year we’re going to be announcing, in fact, there could be a couple of announcements, but definitely one for sure of a global nature where they want to come in and they want to help out with this exodus that’s happening across to the cloud contact center. But I also, to my point earlier today, I’m seeing a little shift from channel to the TSB, an acronym, technical solution broker, companies who partner with us who are referrals and they have consultants.

Thomas John: And that shift is happening because, well, we look at history. Whenever a market becomes mature and the consumer has made the decision, in fact, I don’t evangelize cloud anymore. I’ve stopped doing that four years ago. They’ve made that decision. They’ve made that decision. It can come to almost a catalog type scenario where they’re like, “Right. Invite X, Y, Z vendor.” And the TSB really comes into his strength there. I’m looking forward to seeing how that wrestle goes on here in Europe. Some say it’ll stay as resellers being strong, but some of our biggest contact centers here, like a global logistical company, was actually registered by a TSB. We’re talking in excess of 12,000 agents and a $60 million contract registered as a referral. They’re the two things I’m excited to see happen this year.

Shelly Kramer: Well, that sounds amazing. And you know what, I look forward to hearing more on that front from you. With that Thomas John, VP of Partner Sales International for Five9, thank you so much for hanging out with me today and for sharing your thoughts on channel and partner ecosystems as well as a look at what’s ahead for Five9. It’s been a terrific conversation, and again, I look forward to revisiting that once you’ve got some news to share.

Thomas John: Well, it’s been a pleasure and an honor, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this conversation, Shelly. Thanks for your time.

Shelly Kramer: Absolutely. We’ll talk again soon.

Thomas John: You got it.


Author Information

Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”


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