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Partner Programs Turn Competitors Into Collaborators Strategic cooperation could be the key to activate your business growth while improving your overall industry.

By Gene Hammett

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Many entrepreneurs fear sharing their growth strategies among peers. They hesitate to give their "secrets" to the competition and admit the challenges they've faced. Generally, companies prefer to battle it out alone. But collaborating with partner channels in your industry can yield killer benefits. When you embrace your competition, you learn, grow and expand your ability to achieve results for your clients.

To better understand how partner programs function, I went right to the source. That meant forgoing the CEO interviews and instead digging in with the primary person in charge of each partnerships. During our conversations, we clearly defined the potential benefits for owners -- from sharing new ideas to collaborating on emerging opportunities. We also talked about the nuances that enable each to better serve their partners (you and your fellow entrepreneurs).

Identifying top challenges.

Program leaders recognize they exist to serve their community of partners. That requires a keen understanding of top challenges and pain points. This list isn't likely to contain many surprises. Odds are, you've faced similar hurdles (or possibly are dealing with a few right now):

  • Improving sales processes to shorten sales cycles.
  • Acquiring new clients.
  • Growing teams with the right people.
  • Developing a culture to support growth.
  • Enhancing the customer experience to retain clients.

My strategic business-mentoring work with Leaders In the Trenches has taught me these issues are nearly universal. And they're particularly troublesome for hypergrowth companies or other businesses looking for accelerated reach or scale. My latest research uncovered six disciplines of hypergrowth.

Related: Want to Turn Heavy Competition Into an Advantage? Copy Your Competitors' Best Features.

ONTRAPORT's partner program helps serve its vendors by focusing on ways to make automated marketing simpler and highly effective. Partner Program Manager Valerie Amparan believes ONTRAPORT views the initiative more holistically than most of its peers.

"We want to know their goals beyond our relationship," she said. "We do what we can to help them achieve overall goals even if it has more to do with their strategy than our software. We help them with speaking at conferences or writing for guest blogs, as an example. That's what builds partnerships."

Serving partners.

Digital Marketer runs one of the most innovative partner programs I've seen. The world-class company develops training, strategies and tools to help digital marketers become pros. Marcus Murphy, Director of Sales and Monetization, credits the program's Partner Advisory Board as a powerful source of insight. This group's 14 members are hand-selected from organizations worldwide.

Bob Ruffolo, CEO of IMPACT Branding & Design, is one of them. He illustrates a key aspect that makes the Partner Advisory Board so valuable: diversity of agencies, from small shops to powerhouses. Ruffolo's specific expertise lies in helping fast-growing and emerging companies navigate the journey of building an effective, profitable digital agency. He's been there and done it -- and Murphy said that's precisely why Ruffolo sits on Digital Market's advisory board.

"The community wants to hear from the leaders who are "in the trenches' of the business," Murphy said.

Related: You're Failing If Your Marketing Strategy Is Slamming Other Entrepreneurs

Learning at peer conferences.

Each partner program that contributed to my research holds at least one conference each year. Digital Marketer's conference, Traffic & Conversion, is considered one of the biggest marketing conferences in the world. In 2017, the summit welcomed seasoned consultant Re Perez as a speaker. Perez founded BRANDING FOR THE PEOPLE, a full-service agency that helps entrepreneurs and expanding businesses achieve rapid growth.

"The phrase "crush the competition' is short-sighted and self-centered," Perez said. "Competition is critical for growth -- not just for an entrepreneur's brand but also for the industry in which the brand exists. Conferences that bring together thought leaders who are seemingly competitors are paving the way for creativity, innovation and growth."

These events' programming offers more than simply technical training. Mike Werner, Senior Director of Global Technology Ecosystems for Red Hat, described his company's conference this way: "The Red Hat Summit provides technical tracks and business tracks because their partners need both to grow."

Other partner programs such as Oracle's Netsuite have tracks to help partners grow their own businesses with expert sales and marketing strategies.

Related: What Business Leaders Can Learn From Gamers About Networking

Engaging outside experts.

Intuit, the makers of Quickbooks and other software for small businesses, runs one of the largest partner programs I've researched. With more than 200,000 members, Intuit pushes beyond typical training and resources. The company engages outside experts who serve as the partner program's professional advisors.

Joe Woodard of Woodard Company shared how he works closely with Intuit to better position partner members and help grow their businesses. He leverages his depth of experience with bookkeepers.

Related: How to Attract the Best Mentors, According to Tim Ferriss

Some always will want to go it alone. Keep in mind, though, that your peers might have insights on overcoming common challenges. Joining a partner program and becoming active to improve your industry overall could help you collaborate your way to hypergrowth.

Gene Hammett

Strategic Business Coach and Mentor

Gene Hammett is an author, speaker and experienced entrepreneur who is the founder of multiple multi-million dollar businesses. Now as a strategic business mentor, Hammett works with other entrepreneurs to help them master themselves and their business so they can do work that matters. Join him as he interviews industry leaders on his podcast as they share their path to success at LeadersintheTrenches.com

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