Welcome to the second interview on ‘The Flex Playmaker’ series. In this edition, I interviewed an entire team working on laying the foundation for onboarding a curated and trusted set of integrated partner solutions.
This Interview was conducted on December 10th, 2020.
Questions (in bold) are from Vishnu Ravi. Other folks who participated are highlighted in headings.
Meet the Partner Ecosystem Team
Senior Director, Business Development & Partnerships
Elliot, let me begin with you. As the DRI for this program, can you give us a 30K-foot view on the charter for this program, how it began and where the team is today?
Thanks, Vish. Our mission is really straightforward; we want to help accelerate time to value for our Flex customers.
From my perspective, there are two things that really excite me about this effort. The first of which is the team. We’ve assembled an amazing cross-functional team of stakeholders that are armed with perspectives from product, engineering, sales, marketing and business development. All of us are aligned to collectively tackle this challenge in the spirit of supporting our customers.
The second is that while the ecosystem has made significant progress in the past year, we’re just getting started. The customers that we’ve talked to throughout this journey are incredibly innovative and constantly searching for new and unique ways to engage with their customers. In the past year, a number of great partners have joined the Flex Ecosystem, but we’re just scratching the surface. Our vision is to provide our customers with a robust group of trusted and forward-thinking partners that are poised to help deliver value and there are a ton of great companies that we’re talking to and excited to be rolling out.
I see the charter having a direct impact on influencing Flex deals. Was this intentional?
Absolutely....but again, to us it's all about solving problems for our customers. Even before the pandemic hit earlier this year we were starting to see this massive wave of migration to the cloud for enterprise contact centers. We understood that the topology of our customers' contact centers was vast and complex. With our ecosystem, we knew we wanted to make it fast and easy to recreate, or enhance the way they do business with their best of breed vendors, our partners. With this in mind we started diving in with partners that offer critical functionality, such as workforce optimization and dialing capabilities. These partners have played a critical role in Flex’s growth this year.
Flex, as a product, is relatively new to the market. Is there a particular set of integrated partner solutions that better fit this charter than others? Are you seeing a lot of partner solutions in automation, AI/ML and Self-serv space?
Flex is both new, and unique. No other contact center provides the level of programmability and control that we do. I’m a firm believer that the programmability of Flex lends itself particularly well to a robust ecosystem of partners. The interest (and curiosity) of building on Flex is growing like crazy right now and we’re seeing it across all the key categories. We have great partners such as Calabrio and Acqueon that augment Flex around key contact center requirements as well as innovative companies like GridSpace and Glance that are delivering innovative integrated solutions through Flex Plug-ins. I’m extremely excited to see the level of innovation that we deliver on over the next few years.
That’s great, looks like there is a lot of momentum! Obviously, this seems to be a very cross-functional effort. Before I turn to other members of the team, are there any open positions you’re looking to fill?
2021 will be an exciting year for the Flex Ecosystem. Our goal will be to continue to expand our breadth as well further activate our existing partners. Along with that we’ll have the opportunity to grow the team, check back soon!
Manager, Business Development
So it seems like you’re launching a new integrated partner solution every few weeks, is there a standard playbook the team follows for these launches?
2020 has been a growth year in a number of areas but specifically in terms of the number of new partners onboarded. At least, that’s the most visible metric. We’ve seen strong demand from our customers and partners to do more together. We focused on accelerating time to value for customers through partner integrations.
To do this we created a standard playbook for partners to know exactly what is expected of them from a go-to-market and technical validation standpoint. Our team works arm-in-arm with the partners to complete the onboarding playbook as quickly as possible while maintaining Twilio’s high standards for trust, reliability, and security. The more transparent we can be with our partners on expectations the better the experience is for the customer.
That seems simple enough! I am sure our partners appreciate that we have minimized the burden of going-to-market with their products/solutions. What is a typical timeline for a potential partnership to run through this process?
It really depends on the complexity of the integration and customer demand for it. At Twilio, we like to wear our customers shoes so if the integration is mission critical for our customers it’s mission critical for Twilio. On average, the entire onboarding process is 2-3 months but we are making process improvements to reduce that with the goal to accelerate our customers time to value with Flex.
Even with a much simpler process than some of our competitors, I am sure there are some partners wondering if they should invest in this journey with us, what would you highlight as the compelling reason for them to work with us?
Wayne Gretzky isn’t the greatest hockey player of all-time because he always had the puck, he knew where it was going. Flex is where the future of contact centers are heading. The days of buying from a vendor where you only use 5% of the solution are numbered. With Flex, a company can build a contact center to meet their specific needs and not be tied to the roadmap of the vendor. We’re going to empower our customers to be distributors and build their future and our partners will play a key role in it.
So what are your priorities for the remaining weeks of the year and into next year?
The end of the year is always a fun time. We’re focused on aligning resources to help our field organization. Looking ahead to next year it’s about doubling down on our partner ecosystem. How can we create more value for our customer through partnerships and in turn, create more value for our partners. Expanding this flywheel is the key to making the entire ecosystem successful.
Principal, Product Manager
Yolanda, as a Sr. Product Manager tagged to this team, you probably have the most visibility into the roadmap for the product. What can you share with our partners on focus areas for partnership in the short term and long term?
Our focus areas for the short term and long term are fully weaved with the key shifts in the contact center market towards digital first and acceleration of cloud migration to support work from home. Our goal is to equip our contact center customers with solutions to allow them to focus on involving the right agents in the right conversations at the right point in time.
We will be looking to augment and expand Flex value with innovative partners’ solutions to optimize and enrich the end-to-end conversational customer journey with omnichannel capabilities. This includes tools that can help identify the next best action for a conversation, give the agents (human or bot) more context so they can be more understanding to demonstrate empathy and understanding--even if that means slightly longer call handle times--rather than just brute force approaches to reducing handle time.
Traditionally, Contact Center vendors seem to have a larger Services footprint. Customers make a purchase, and then earmark the next year in just building out the product, via Services. However, our products have this ‘decide your own roadmap’, ‘build’ mentality. Do partners embrace this aspect of our culture?
Partners love this aspect of our culture. Right from the very first discovery session, they quickly realize the value of having all Flex core capabilities accessible through open and well documented APIs. No “walled garden interfaces!” Flex Plugins framework is another important building block available to our partners. It allows the Flex UI customization with access to all frontend APIs to build a custom user experience.
Our products architecture, tools, and mentality empower our partners to invent and imagine solutions on our customers behalf. It enables them to build solutions that are tailored to each customer's business needs with less cost and complexity, are a natural extension of Flex, and dramatically shorten the amount of time to value.
We have by far the most flexible Cloud Contact Center product in the industry. That enables partners, be it - Enterprise grade or startups, to truly build some remarkable products on our platform. Can you highlight a few such partnerships and what we have brought to market together?
Sure - we just completed some integrations with very exciting partners solutions augmenting the Flex functionality offered to our customers, just to name a few:
Acqueon Engagement, is natively integrated into Flex to enhance outbound operations. It adds campaign management and predictive dialing components to the platform. Developers can now easily add proactive engagement and multichannel campaigns to the solutions they’re building.
Glance co-browsing enables Flex agents to join the customer in the app or website, see the customer’s screen, answer questions, guide their navigation, and help them complete transactions. Glance is integrated within Twilio Flex Web Chat, CRM systems, or any user intearction channel.
Calabrio entire suite of Workforce Engagement solutions. Flex integration with Calabrio’s products unveils deep insights into the customer's journey to improve contact center operations and make informed business decisions. These solutions are crucial for managing contact centers and a requirement for enterprise customers.
Lehel, you’re essentially validating the partner solution (internally) to make sure it functions as advertised and in the process does not compromise any of our other APIs. That’s a tall order! Can you talk about any framework that you have developed to support this process?
Our approach to the validation process is very structured. We try to understand how the partner solution integrates with Flex, what are the touchpoints, which APIs they call, which events they listen to, etc. We really want to understand how their solution works. We also make sure that the integration is designed in a scalable way. Sure, it works in a lab environment with just a handful of interactions flowing through the system, but what will happen when a large customer places a large load with several thousand concurrent interactions? We also ask, is there a better way to accomplish this? We also want to make sure that the partner treats customer data with proper care and follows guidelines, such as GDPR. We make sure that the partner has done sufficient testing of the integration. Lastly, we make sure that there is an implementation guide which is technically accurate.
The growth we have experienced with Flex is incredible. I am sure you are already thinking about how to introduce more automation to self-serv some of these steps. Can you provide any tips/pointers to potential partners who want to come prepared for this validation?
Those are valuable pointers, I also like how we proactively take steps to ensure there is supporting documentation such as architecture diagrams and implementation guides. Our customers have stated our API documentation is the best in the industry, and makes their jobs much easier. I like how we are extending that same high bar to our partner solutions as well.
Product Marketing Manager
Philip, I have heard from a lot of your colleagues here about all the hard work that is going into building this ecosystem of curated partners. I see you as having one of the most important jobs of showcasing this rich ecosystem to the rest of the world. How do you go about doing this?
It’s a fun job to say the least, and definitely a collaborative effort with great Partner Marketers. Each Ecosystem Partner integration provides differentiated value to Twilio Flex. Our focus is on showcasing how these partner solutions can enhance the customer experience and contact centers Twilio Flex customers can build. Twilio Flex provides a unique opportunity for customers to customize their contact center environment with partner solutions and we are really excited to showcase these possibilities through thought leadership, events, and webinars coming in 2021.
Interesting that we not only do a whole bunch of outbound marketing, but domestic/in-house marketing via web portals and highspot.
Simplifying discovery and enablement is a top priority for our team. We want to make sure customers and internal Twilio stakeholders understand the benefit that Ecosystem Partner solutions provide. To do this, we use a wide variety of external and internal tools to expand awareness of Ecosystem Partner solutions. We want to educate customers on what is possible, so that they are empowered to customize their contact center with integrations that enhance their end-to-end customer experience.
Flex as a product, is used by so many verticals and pretty much every market segment has big logos using Flex. Must be a marketers dream?!
It is! Twilio Flex has amazing customers that are building really innovative customer experiences. It’s an incredible experience working with these innovative companies to showcase the solutions they are building.
For Partners wanting to build solutions on top of Flex, do we offer discounts/credits to help them get started quickly?
We do, and the benefits do not stop there. Ecosystem Partners have access to premier support and co-marketing throughout their partnership with Twilio Flex.
I am sure Signal is a huge platform to showcase some of these partnerships. What can you share about similar events that partners can get excited about?
SIGNAL 2020 was an amazing event and we were really excited to showcase solutions from Calabrio, Google AI, and Acqueon. While I do not want to give too much away, in 2021, you can expect us to expand the presence of Ecosystem Partners at events and webinars, to expand awareness of what is possible with Twilio Flex.
Excellent! I am really excited for SIGNAL 2021 as well, and can't wait to showcase more of our products and hear some amazing customer stories. Thank you all for making time to chat with me today, would love to circle back next year this time to see how much progress the Team has made.
The Flex Playmaker – covering the leading Customer Engagement platform
The Flex Playmaker series of short read interviews traces the journey of Flex from inception to fruition, and it’s continued evolution to become the leading Customer Engagement platform.