Make Friends First and Pretend You're Switzerland: 7 Tips for a Successful Business Partnership
Striking up strategic partnerships is a proven and powerful way to tap new markets, leverage an organization's presence and ability to scale, and build a brand and bottom line.
That is, if you plan, pick and partner with the right organizations in pursuit of a mutually beneficial relationship. At DocuSign, that's meant setting the salesman's hat aside and truly making friends with people respected in their industries. The goal should always be to over-deliver in order to build a long-term, trusted partnership.
It's a rather simple playbook, one borne of an ethos of collaboration and shared benefit. Done well, organizations can align finance and equity needs, maximize go-to-market strategy, strengthen sales initiatives, foster technology integration and even cross-capitalize mutual enterprise-wide customers.
The following seven core principles have served DocuSign well as its partnerships have flourished with such global giants as Microsoft, Google, SAP, Visa, Deutsche Telecom, Intel, NTT, Dell, Salesforce, Mitsui, Comcast, Samsung, National Association of Realtors and FedEx. These strategic relationships incorporate equity investment, technology integration, joint go-to-market and enterprise customer into a multidimensional partnership -- all critical to the success of DocuSign's growth.
1. Make friends first.
As the saying goes, people like doing business with people they like. And networks of friends are built on trust. The objective should not be how to make someone an investor or partner, but how to make this person a friend, who you can then invite to become part of your advisory board, or leadership committee, or other counselor position. This invites a deeper dive into the organization, which then may create interest in a partnership.
2. Friends first, partners soon, customers eventually
Some strategic partnerships possess an obvious sales benefit, but only if you convinced them to sign up, subscribe or buy your product or service. Don't. Partnerships may lead to sales, but they shouldn't start there. Become friends, then partners. Smart executives in strong partnerships have a way of eventually ferreting out obvious opportunities. Let time run its course.
3. When it comes to assembling multiple partners, be neutral.
Play Switzerland. Some believe partnerships require exclusivity. Hardly. Make friends with everybody, and partner with all who make sense. Smart companies thrive in a heterogeneous environment; I would wager that even those you believe may wish for exclusivity are seeking a robust stable of partners on their own -- maybe even with your competitors. It's highly advantageous to have multiple players in your partner ecosystem.
4. Look beyond the obvious.
Prospective partners who target shared audiences might appear likely candidates for alignment. Be counterintuitive. Years ago, when FedEx made its living overnighting huge or original signed documents, DocuSign reached out regarding a strategic partnership. Some thought it was an invitation to disrupt FedEx. Instead, by tapping the trust of an existing C-level relationship, FedEx realized a partnership would take the company -- to paraphrase hockey great Wayne Gretzky -- not where the industry (or puck) is, but where it would be. Such forward thinking initiatives, both domestically and internationally, can keep product innovation ahead of or at least more adaptive to regulatory changes.
5. Build your team to help make your case.
Better still, let them make the case of their own. Smart startup CEOs are sufficiently self-aware to know their own limitations and set out to build teams that possess strengths -- ancillary relationships, nuanced product or industry knowledge -- he or she may not possess. Together they see blind spots, seek out partners to fill them and put the pieces together to make partnerships more strategic. In this way, partnership development is not additive, it's multiplicative. It's not five plus five. It's five to the fifth power.
6. Build 60-60 partnerships.
This simply means both parties get the best part of the deal. Good relationships deliver 100 percent for each partner. Why not over-deliver? In order to have a built-to -last partnership, both sides require great results. Measure your success by your partner's success, which means look at their metrics. Chances are they won't be exactly the same as yours. If you seek to improve your partner's returns, yours grow in mind. The results can be 100-X your reach and power.
7. What's next?
Partnerships mature. Original terms are met. Peer beyond the horizon to uncover new opportunities with your partners. Be active. Stay involved. Focus on the long-term. Constantly be on the look out for new opportunities. Be the role model. Create a cadence with strategic partners so you're both on the hunt for the next next thing. Whether you're in the C-suite or below, fall back on those personal friendships to keep dialogs open, active and fruitful.
At their core, strategic partnerships, like friendships, provide more to the other than you seek yourself. Are you ready to over-deliver for your next alliance?
Related Video: Make Sure Your Partner Is as Invested as You Are