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Building a channel: How Smartsheet is partnering to expand their business internationally

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Smartsheet, an ISV operating out of Bellevue, Washington, has found tremendous success over their 10 years of doing business. Leveraging the success and continued development of their suite of collaboration products, Smartsheet has expanded to 550 employees and expects to grow to as many as 750 employees by the end of the year. Their product has broad appeal and functions as a 100 percent cloud platform available to companies of any size that effectively enables companies to manage and automate collaborative work.

Smartsheet helps businesses collaborate on and coordinate major projects, enabling individuals within customers’ businesses as well as independent vendors working together on major projects. When asked how Smartsheet might work for a customer, Smartsheet’s Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Rakesh Mahajan used the example of how the product can enable a customer opening a new brick and mortar store or business franchise:

“Our software would help a customer coordinate between the different departments who need to work in tandem to ensure the opening is successful—coordinating with the team responsible for negotiating the lease, alerting the marketing department to prepare promotional material as needed, and automatically informing the HR Manager of hiring requirements to ensure employees are in place to man the store. There is not a friendlier or more easy-to-use tool for collaborative work management and Smartsheet can be used broadly across almost any industry.”

The ubiquitous success of Smartsheet’s products in the marketplace is highlighted by their platform’s involvement with a number of high-profile customers, brands and events. Recently, Smartsheet’s platform was leveraged by the company responsible for organizing Super Bowl LI. During the event, Smartsheet’s platform was used to successfully coordinate actions between hundreds of disparate vendors to ensure their success in executing one of the largest and most visible events in the United States.

All-told, Smartsheet currently works with 69,000 distinct brands, enabling over 10 million users spanning across over 190 different countries. As a result, Smartsheet has grown to take in USD75 million in annual revenue—a number that continues to grow 75 percent year over year.

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[…] There is not a friendlier or more easy to use tool for collaborative work and Smartsheet can be used broadly across almost any industry.

- Rakesh Mahajan, Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Smartsheet

Sales strategy—going viral in large organizations

Smartsheet’s growth has been aided by a combination of direct sales and impressive viral references, particularly within large enterprise organizations. Leveraging the strength of their platform, Smartsheet has seen success by making their solution readily available for a trial period and relying on the strength of the product as a collaborative tool to grow users via viral transition.

The collaborative nature of the solution lends itself well to this sort of viral expansion—a single, large vendor using the platform when collaborating with a number of different organizations not only realizes the benefits of Smartsheet’s solution themselves, they also demonstrate and evangelize the solution to those with whom they are collaborating. This happens both across organizations and across departments within larger companies.

“We have experienced a lot of success with our direct sales model as well,” says Mahajan.

Developing a partner channel

In order to sustain the tremendous growth Smartsheet has experienced over their first 10 years, Smartsheet in now expanding beyond their direct sales model by onboarding a number of channel partners to help them sell and position their product in international markets. By developing a channel of elite reseller partners in Europe, Smartsheet looked to double down on this accidental success with a sustainable and scalable strategy.

“About two years ago, we began developing our partner channel. With roughly two-thirds of our business in the US, our intention was to use channel partners to scale into international markets. Additionally, we knew that there was a large segment of business customers with their own trusted partners who would never come into contact with our solution if we did not have our own channel in place. By funneling our solution through those trusted IT advisors, we hoped to expand our reach into untapped markets.” – Rakesh Mahajan, Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Smartsheet

Since the beginning, Smartsheet had a clear profile for how they wanted to scale their channel business. Their goal was not to quickly onboard a large number of partners but rather, to work closely with a few trusted partners to ensure that the partners themselves were committed to the product and a good fit for Smartsheet’s business.

“Our objective was never to add thousands of channel partners but rather, to select a few channel partners to whom Smartsheet would be complementary to their businesses. We were also selective regarding the size and commitment of the partner—we wanted to work with partners who were not too big and were willing to lean in with us and help build a better business together.” – Rakesh Mahajan, Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Smartsheet

Smartsheet’s newfound commitment to developing a channel carries echoes of the Microsoft Partner Network and is bolstered by the support they have found from the Microsoft corporate account teams as well as the Office 365 team.

“We were rated as the top Office 365 application in 2015, and were a finalist again in 2016. Our product integrates incredibly well with Office 365. We really believe in the Microsoft story, we believe in the cloud journey. Our two companies are aligned strategically and ideologically and we try to work as closely with Microsoft as we can.” – Rakesh Mahajan, Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Smartsheet

The value of Inspire

At WPC 2016, Rakesh Mahajan had the opportunity to attend the CA cocktail hour. A chance meeting with another attendee from the UK proved fruitful, as the attendee turned out to be the new COO of SoftwareOne UK.

From that meeting, the two built a relationship that they have since turned into a valuable partnership. The two companies have been in planning conversations since, with Smartsheet working to onboard hundreds of SoftwareOne’s sellers throughout the world. SoftwareOne is incentivizing their sales teams on the sale of Smartsheet’s product, giving Smartsheet a valuable, strategic channel partner with an international reach who is ideally positioned to help promote Smartsheet’s product in new markets.

For Mahajan, Smartsheet, and SoftwareOne, this partnership is the realization of the promise of Microsoft Inspire.

“We are thrilled with our partnership with SoftwareOne so far. Microsoft’s team has been great at facilitating this partnership beyond that initial meeting, helping with introductions whenever we get stuck along the way. Microsoft’s collaborative spirit and their level of engagement throughout the process has been a great help to our partnership.

“As Microsoft’s P2P story continues to evolve, we hope that our partnership with SoftwareOne can be a guiding light to other partners looking to find success in P2P relationships. There is a lot of elbow grease involved—every month I meet with SoftwareOne in Europe to drive engagement. There is work involved in any successful partnership from both sides, but having Microsoft’s endorsement, their introductions at the right levels, and the understanding by all parties that we are going to be experimenting a little bit, has helped get us to where we are today.” – Rakesh Mahajan, Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Smartsheet

SoftwareOne was similarly complimentary regarding the value of the event in spurring the two partners’ collaboration.

“The Microsoft partner event is where our eventual partnership with Smartsheet began in earnest. Building a new partnership to generate results doesn’t come quickly, but the Microsoft event accelerated Smartsheet and SoftwareOne working together.” – Giri Fox, Chief Commercial Officer, SoftwareOne

We really believe in the Microsoft story; we believe in the cloud journey. Our two companies are aligned strategically and ideologically and we try to work as closely with Microsoft as we can.

- Rakesh Mahajan, Senior Director of Global Partner Sales, Smartsheet

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