It’s been nearly a year since Yext rolled out its “Answers” solution for the world of search. Many of us no doubt remember Yext CEO Howard Lerman on stage at Onward 2019 in New York City sharing with the jam-packed ballroom at the Marriott Times Square the vision behind “Answers”. Back then we’d hardly have imagined that by early 2020, Yext would be working with government agencies to provide the most robust and accurate answers regarding Covid-19 and related issues.
With nearly 12 months of learnings under its belt since last year’s launch, the company is now upping the stakes in making Answers available to a broader set of customers and stakeholders through a new program called Hitchhikers. Yext’s objective appears to be to build a network of “Hitchhikers” in and around brands and agencies.
A De Facto Partner Program
One way to think of Hitchhikers is as Yext’s answer to the Microsoft Partner Network or Google’s partner program. Both of these programs have been hugely successful at driving customer acquisition at scale. A partner program could help penetrate Answers into brands, agencies, and other companies that do not have enough current “spend” to justify applying sales or service resources. Yext, it now appears, is hitching at least a portion of its growth to a community of digital marketers, SEO specialists, and IT professionals, among others.
We’d imagine that in the course of the last 11 months since Answers launched the company has been putting in the time, resources, and skills necessary to build a committed, global network of company-branded Hitchhikers. The easier, though not easy, partners to engage will be the digital agencies and SEO specialists. These would-be partners are used to working with companies in a partnership fashion. Presumably many are already part of the Google network.
The Cloud Has Changed the Game
The more challenging space is the world of IT professionals. This vast community includes thousands of “mom and pop” shops to large-scaled private equity funded companies. We’d imagine at the large end of the IT market, Yext will continue with a direct approach. But there are literally thousands of IT professionals. Their business model is to find 30 to 50 customers for whom they can provide an assortment of technology solutions. Most of these around functionality tied to storage, security, and networks.
These were once the local IT guy who would come to the dental office and set up a LAN or WAN, fix hardware. Think towers and installing the lasted desktop software. Think Microsoft Vista. In their early days, they relied on fixing broken hardware and software on-premise. It was called break/fix. Now that so much has moved to the cloud, they’re shifting their models to on-going solutions. And Yext Answers fits that bill nicely.
IT Channel: A Three-Pointer, not a Layup
The IT professional community, while vast, has never been terribly good at moving out of its comfort zone. I have investigated this market a couple of times for some large clients. It’s a three-point shot. Definitely not a layup. Convincing the local IT services shop to learn the nuances of the Yext Answers platform will take time and money. And plenty of both. We’re excited to watch where this goes. We will be curious how quickly Hitchhikers can add meaningful revenue to Yext’s topline.
Ever the space enthusiast, CEO Howard Lerman is pulling a page from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. No one can forget ONWARD 2017 when Luke Skywalker (aka Mark Hamill) addressed the Yext annual event and he and Howard had a lightsaber duel. To get the IT world to engage will take more than Yoda’s wisdom or Han Solo’s flying skills. It will take discipline and patience. And plenty of both.