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AiThority Interview with Matt Simmonds, Chief Product Officer at Partnerize

AiThority Interview with Matt Simmonds, Chief Product Officer at Partnerize
Tell us about your journey into Affiliate and Partner Marketing? What made you join Partnerize?

Partnerize is my first foray into affiliate and partner marketing. Prior to Partnerize, I led product management teams for a broad range of companies including Oracle, GroupM, Yahoo and the BBC. What intrigued me about this role is the opportunity to lead product development for a company that’s trying to fundamentally change how partnerships are conducted, and to apply the principles of data-driven marketing to one of the fastest growing categories of marketing investment.

So much about the partnership is ripe for disruption. Much of the “solutions” in the space are service providers rather than technologies, and those tech platforms that do exist are often focused on a single sector of partnership. Our goal is to be the one platform from which companies form and manage all of their partnerships, be they influencers, channel partners, loyalty communities, other brands, or digital affiliates.

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Tell us specifically about the AI products at Partnerize?

We’re the pioneers of AI in our space – we have always set out to use AI to solve real business problems for our brands, not just to have AI for the sake of it. We recognized early on that AI and machine-learning can help drive automation and help our brands optimize their partner marketing programs. We want our brands to make wiser choices, and do so faster, with access to real-time data and insights coupled with powerful AI-driven tools to help sift through all the signals and find the right courses of action.

Our first AI-powered offerings were launched in 2017. Specifically, we created a toolset designed to predict future purchase, revenue and commission results for our brands’ partner programs. This enables better forecasting and helps our brands understand where they can optimize their partner strategies.

At that time we also launched AI-powered “smart alerts” that tell brands when changes in their data warrant attention. That may sound like a little thing but in our industry small errors can lead to large revenue shortfalls. Something like a tagging error or a competitor action can have an immediate impact on sales and profitability. By constantly monitoring a client’s data, we can use AI to point out when data anomalies signal that something has happened and needs focus. That means clients can make real-time changes to their partner programs without putting hours or days of revenue at risk.

Our most recent AI-powered offering is called Intelligent Partner Discovery as our brands and partners were telling us that a priority for them was to find and form new relationships to grow revenue. The thing is, not all partners are the right fit for that bran or are capable of delivering the scale necessary to warrant the effort. Our technology uses machine learning to identify the “best next” partners for a brand based on a host of data on their effectiveness, vertical relevance, and ability to launch and scale new partnerships effectively.

All three of these AI-powered offerings are about providing very practical solutions to real business problems or opportunities that can really move the needle for a client’s business.

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How do you differentiate Partnerize from other service providers in the same landscape?

We like to say that Partnerize helps drive more truly incremental revenue for brands, and in more ways. As a SaaS software platform, we are very different from network service providers, where the focus is on execution versus actionable insights.

Versus other software tools, we differentiate by being “all-in” on partnership and is specifically designed to leverage every possible opportunity the partnership space has to offer. As well as our focus on data-driven partner marketing we also focus heavily on usability and user experience – this is critical for any SaaS product – we want to make the most complex tasks simple to learn and do.

Our other differentiators include:

  • We help clients drive more sales from existing partners and affiliates by providing more actionable data, direct partner relationships, and the industry’s most versatile commissioning suite, so clients can perfectly align partner revenue with their own KPIs. We help clients get far more sophisticated with commissioning, by enabling programs that reward new customer acquisition, increased LTV, higher AOV, and more. We even help them increase profitability by enabling variable commissions based on category gross margins. Of course, our smart alerts also enable them to capitalize on revenue opportunities more quickly as well.
  • We help clients find their best next partners through Intelligent Partner Discovery. This helps them focus on partners with the greatest likelihood of delivering strong revenue and profitability.
  • We help them capitalize on all types of partnership. There are a variety of different segments to the partnership industry, and our technology offers the versatility and features needed to track and manage conversions in all of them.
  • We offer the industry’s most robust international footprint, so clients can capitalize on sales opportunities and make payments to partners almost anywhere in the world. That means more incremental revenue from new markets.
  • Finally, we offer a variety of tools and capabilities designed to help clients keep more of the revenue they drive. Anti-fraud solutions, streamlined payments systems, and mobile app measurement so they can credit every sale driven by partnerships.

It’s a lot. But our clients need a lot if they are going to extract every dollar of incremental revenue from this important channel.

How do you see the raging trend of including ‘AI in everything’ impacting businesses?

I am sure there were times when people questioned the need for computers in things like ovens and refrigerators. And now our ranges have more computing power than what was used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon.

For me, it’s about utility. “Workaday” AI costs are dropping and it will certainly be incorporated into many things. Ultimately it will be about the extent to which AI can help deliver greater utility to people and business in each use case.

Marketers and other brand leaders need to think about every use case and whether it is worthwhile for that circumstance. In partner marketing, we foresee many additional use cases, with the ultimate goal being a self-optimizing platform. That will eliminate many of the drudgery tasks and enable brand leaders to spend virtually all of their time leading their brands strategically.

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What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for Affiliate and Partner Marketing companies in dealing with rising technology prices?

I’d say that the biggest issue and opportunity in a partnership are that many companies are unaware that there are cost-effective tech solutions available for partner management. Many companies are still trying to manage partnerships with Excel. In our industry, management technology is quite affordable, particularly when you see the sales driven with respect to those costs. It’s also possible to now buy our technology on a SaaS basis, rather than a variable performance basis, giving companies more certainty on their costs.

And AI is delivering unprecedented financial benefits to our industry. Take Intelligent Partner Discovery, the partner recommendations tech I mentioned earlier. There are literally more than a million companies anxious to partner with most leading brands. The key is to focus your time and resources cultivating and managing partnerships that can deliver real scale. AI and machine learning are helping us unearth the best opportunities so people spend their time and money wisely.

How do you consume information on Artificial Intelligence related topics?

I have been interested in AI since studying it during my Computer Science degree many years ago! AI is not new, but has only recently gained prominence and thus is still a little misunderstood. What I am most interested in is machine learning and it’s application to marketing – in particular how it can help automate what once were manual tasks. There are so many sources of information now on this subject and I am always interested in learning about practical applications of AI. Interestingly, I am also party to lots of discussions with clients, partners and investors about AI and how it can be applied to our industry. Those are also fascinating because there are so many different avenues into practical applications.

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What makes deploying Artificial Intelligence capabilities so hard?

For me, the main issue is that AI in marketing, in particular, is often not focused on solving real problems, and therefore often fails to meet expectations or prove ROI. There is also often a lack of trust in what customers see as the ‘AI black box’ – how can they be sure that whatever algorithm is being used is truly beneficial to them. This is why I think it can be important to mix human interaction with the methods of machine learning – there is no doubt that if you give your users levers and controls over the black box, they gain more confidence and understanding of its value.

Where do you see AI/Machine learning and other smart technologies heading beyond 2025?

2025? Really? That’s a long way out. Broadly, I think AI and machine learning will transform work so that we are freed from the mundane and can focus on the human potential on things people can do best.

What is your opinion on “Weaponization of AI”?

I assume you are talking about autonomous weapons systems (AWS) and the idea that we would build weapons that, once activated, would decide to attack targets autonomously. Without getting too philosophical, any tech as powerful as AI can be applied ethically or unethically.

People have been talking about artificial intelligence in a military context for decades. Think about “Hal” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s certainly no surprise that the military would want a piece of AI. I hope that there will always be some sort of human failsafe layer to AWS.

For better or for worse, I suppose having an opinion about AI weapons depends on who has them and how they use them. Humankind depends on ethics and responsibility, AI or no AI.

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What start-ups and labs are you keenly following?

Lots, I am really interested in autonomous driving – for example, I know the founder of Nexar , a really interesting company that uses Big Data and AI to promote safer driving. In marketing, I follow keenly several companies using machine learning for real-time personalization, for example, dynamicyield – who interestingly have just been bought by McDonald’s. This highlights how major bricks and mortar brands are looking to use AI to provide a more personalized experience for their customers. This is something we will be looking to invest in at Partnerize so that our brands can personalize their creatives to individual users on the partner website to optimize conversions.

What technologies within AI and computing are you interested in?

In computing, I am interested in IoT and its application to areas such as Smart Cities. In AI, NLP is an interesting area as it has so many potential uses and applications for B2C and B2B, especially in marketing – a company that is pushing the boundaries with NLP is persado– they use it to determine and automatically generate the best marketing messages for a brand, those that are most likely to engage their customers.

A piece of professional advice that changed your life?

I think the most complimentary thing ever said about me is that I am an active listener and it was one of the earliest lessons taught to me when I started in business. And it’s so central to partnerships and partner marketing. By better understanding one another and sharing a common goal, we can do amazing things.

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Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read.

Scott Belsky, Chief Product Officer at Adobe

Thank you, Matt! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.

Matt Simmonds leads the product strategy, management and execution for the Partnerize platform. Prior to Partnerize, he was the Vice President of Product Management, Oracle Marketing Cloud, focusing on real-time optimization and personalization.

Partnerize helps the world’s leading brands build powerful business partnerships that drive extraordinary business growth. The Partnerize Partner Management Platform (PMP) is an end-to-end, SaaS-based solution for forming, managing, analyzing, and predicting the future results of partner marketing programs using artificial intelligence (AI). Hundreds of the world’s largest brands leverage the company’s real-time technology to drive and manage more than $7B in sales across 214 countries and territories worldwide.

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