Thursday, October 05, 2006

Howdy, Pardner: Partnerships that Work

I’ve yet to work for or with a technology firm that wasn’t interested in partnerships. artnerships are, after all, a great way to gain that all important “leverage.” In a lot of the places I worked, however, we forgot the most fundamental attributes of successful partnerships: there is true (not faux) complementarity between the products and services of the partner companies, and there’s something of equal or near equal value in it for both partners.

If the products or services aren’t truly complementary, if there’s no synergy between them, if they should be - but aren’t - integrated in any meaningful way (i.e., they’re integrated on paper, but you need a forklift to move data between them), your partnerships will remain partnerships in name only. The partnership list on your web site may at first glance seem impressive, but it may represent nothing more than “link and logo” arrangements. Despite this, how often do we grasp at partnership straws with companies that are in the same vague space? If you can’t see how your products really work together, if your customers aren’t clamoring for a joint offer, or if you don’t have the will or the way to create an offering that really works: forget about it.

Keeping the value equation in balance is also essential. It’s easy for most of us to figure out what’s in it for our company. For small companies in particular, the notion of partnering can put $$$ in your eyes: Co-marketing money! Leads! Stickers to slap on! Surely all that good stuff will yield market success. And then there are those who view partnering as the miracle cure for whatever ails them. This is usually wishful thinking, which I’ve seen occur most often when you think you’ve got a partner that’s going to sell your product better than you can. Guess what? If your own sales guys can’t figure out how to sell what you’ve got, a bunch of complete strangers might not be able to, either.

With any partnership, you need to figure out how each side benefits, and if it looks like it’s tilting precipitously in one direction or another, watch out. Don’t be a partnership victim!

There’s a third element to successful partnerships and that’s hard work. Even if you’re dealing with a proven, respected partnership program (think Microsoft or Intel), without sounding too preachy, you’ll only get out of it what you put into it. If you can’t dedicate resources to focus on partnership success – people who can train the partners, support partners on an ongoing basis, take advantage of marketing programs – DO NOT BOTHER. The hard work of partnerships doesn't end with the signed agreement, it begins there.

There’s a lot more to be said about partnering, and different types and levels of partnering relationships. But the bottom line is that a meaningful partnership can only occur when it makes sense and provides mutual value – AND when the partners make a real commitment to making it work.

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