It’s that time of year again – Strictly Come Dancing has again graced our television screens and the public is gripped by another round of celebrity hopefuls, all working their way to becoming the next best dancing partners.
I’m not much into the dancing, or the celebrities, but it did get me thinking about the world of partnerships and the synergies between those partnerships that succeed and those that don’t. Why do so many partnerships and alliances fail to win that all coveted “strictly trophy”?
From my experience, many partnerships fail to ‘dance to the same rhythm’ due to the changing priorities of management, lack of investment and/or poor alliance management. Just imagine if a celebrity dancer were told a minute before they performed that priorities had changed – they’d have to dance the Rumba and not the Waltz. They’d have spent no time practising/investing in their dance, and clearly hadn’t aligned and communicated with their partner properly. The likelihood is they’d be taking the next bus home (without their partners!)
Partnerships are often seen for their strategic importance, but a well-developed and managed partnership also helps to drive sales and revenue. Additionally, creating an ecosystem of tech partners helps define a software product (and hence a company’s) market position and integration capabilities for customers and integrators.
Look around your own organisation; the savviest sales guys are working their network of friendly partner sales contacts to build their knowledge of key accounts and form an alliance of supporters that can make all the difference in deals; intelligent engineers are swapping notes on best practise and industry knowledge with their counterparts whilst they cooperate to define and build integrations; and many marketers leverage low-cost joint marketing opportunities to access target accounts at a fraction of the cost of doing it themselves.
So, if we take it that partnerships can be productive, how do you make them work?
Here are my six top tips to maximise the chances of partnership success:
- Launch impetus
So much energy goes into getting any partnership agreement over the line, that partnership managers frequently launch partnerships poorly with not much more than a press release. It’s really important to think through the value for the main stakeholders on each side (i.e. be ready to answer the question – “what’s in it for me?”) and create collateral and assets for the sales teams to help sell the relationship and share its importance. Get your marketing team engaged early and have a plan running alongside your partner contract negotiations.
- The first deal
Lack of a first deal is probably the single biggest reason partnerships fail, as both sides begin to lose faith. In practice, launching with a small pipeline of deals in-flight can increase the chances of closing one quickly and building momentum post-launch will be far higher.
- Manage the execs
Senior execs like meeting with other senior execs. That said, managing your management’s expectations and getting an exec sponsor for your partnership is very important. Be careful to manage expectations and aspirations on both sides carefully, as promises not fulfilled or actions/relationships not followed up (i.e. by a travelling exec who was looking for a meeting but not serious about engaging) can cause a lot of damage.
Get them engaged and keep focused on getting the message out. Large system integrators, for example, are huge organisations, so it takes time and a lot of repetition to get your message understood and top of mind. Building a pipeline takes time and effort, so get as much help as you can from sales and marketing in both your and partner organisations.
- Be patient and keep talking, even when it gets rough
Regular cadence calls and governance meetings are essential to maintaining and deepening relationships. Make sure you keep the relationship fresh by bringing other stakeholders/departments into your regular partner meetings. Address bad situations head-on and don’t shy away. Getting through the difficult times, like when a deal is taken direct (it happens!) is when an Alliance manager really earns their salary.
- Keep your eyes out for shifting sands
Get and keep aligned with corporate priorities on both sides. Company’s priorities change frequently and can undermine the original intent of the partnership but this does not have to kill it. The strongest partnerships evolve over time. This is where help from your exec sponsor is important.
I believe it makes sense for organisations to invest in partnerships, but if you do too, please ensure you create and maintain a long-term vision and strategy, otherwise, you’ll be dancing to your own tune!
By Peter Simpson, head of partnerships, Trustpilot