10 Steps to Forming Long-Lasting Strategic Partnerships
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Growth Hacking, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
From small-company owners to enterprise executives, partnerships are a delicate yet necessary part of any successful business strategy.
The most important thing to know about partnerships is that they are not easy, nor do they always work out. That is why it is critical to vet out the potential partner as much as possible during the discovery period as the overarching goal is to produce a mutually beneficial relationship, while fulfilling the objectives and missions of each organization involved.
During the initial talks with a potential partner, there must be three opportunities available: leverage, scalability and incremental revenue. First, the partner must have a strategic market presence, brand or product that you can leverage from. Next, the engagement must be repeatable and able to be rolled out across sales forces. Finally, an opportunity to increase revenue must be present. Without the presence of all three, simply move on.
If the above requirements are met, then the partnership can begin to develop.
Here are 10 guidelines that all successful alliances that drive meaningful revenue must meet over the course of the collaboration.
1. Business alignment
Define a strategic mutual vision of success for the parties involved. Once the partners agree on what success looks like for both sides and how each can leverage the strengths of the other then the foundation is established.
2. Agreement and contracts
It is important to document, often contractually, many of the details, such as the type of relationship, responsibilities, mutual risks, rewards, payments, service level agreements, branding guidelines, rules of engagement,and more. Of course the extent and kind of details depend on the type of partnership (e.g. joint marketing, product development, reseller, referral, etc.).
3. Business planning
Each party must collaborate to create a business plan. At set time intervals, make sure this strategy remains relevant and in line with the endgame. The business plan should clearly state missions, objectives and revenue goals.
4. Executive engagement
Senior executives are the main influencers, and it is imperative they are on board with the partnership vision. They must be well connected to their counterparts and regularly communicate the overall alliance goals.
Related: How Looking at Obstacles as Opportunities Improved My Partnership
5. Technical interoperability and/or integration
Both parties must ensure and communicate (in time) that both products and/or services work seamlessly together. Clients should feel confident about the commitment of both companies behind their joint solution.
The world needs to know about the partnership, and strategic, consistent communications, internally and externally, need to be conveyed throughout the alliance. The partnership creates a joint-value proposition unique to customers, and it needs to be conveyed through marketing content and leads.
7. Field readiness
The sales teams -- whether direct, channel, agents or other -- of all partnered companies must be well-versed on the collaboration with a consistent message. Each salesperson should be equipped with the necessary tools to effectively verbalize and demonstrate the partnership.
Will sales professionals, partner managers and executives be financially rewarded if the partnership is successful? Each party involved will need to determine who gets rewarded and how they get compensated.
9. Sales engagement
From field representatives to managers, make sure the sales teams are on the same page. Some questions to ask: Are they collaborating? Is there a target list actively being worked? If so, which party is working it? Is there a pipeline review?
You will have to decide how often the success of the partnership will be put under review. Will these reviews be a regular occurrence? If so, how will these review meetings take place? You can opt for weekly meetings or calls with partner managers, quarterly meetings with vice presidents and so on.
This is an ongoing, living process, and it does take time to reach full maturity, so do not expect all the pieces to fall into place on the first day. The best partnerships can take weeks, months or even years to cultivate into its maximum potential. Although it does take time, a truly great partnership is worth the effort. Remember, you are partnering for a reason, together you are better than alone. Leverage this, grow it and drive new business opportunities!