What it Really Takes to Cultivate Long-Term Partnerships This Year

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You may have heard that partnerships can supercharge B2B organizations’ revenue and growth, but how do you begin? And how do you do it well, ensuring the time and resources you’ve invested into these relationships isn’t squandered? Here are a few secrets to creating a rewarding partnership that lasts for the long-term and benefits everyone involved. 

Dig Deep into Relationships

First, what does a good fit partner look like for you? If you can answer that question easily, you’re further along than many companies are when they start down the partnership road. If you’re not sure, that’s ok. Revisit your ideal customer profile (ICP). What defines that person? Where do they go for information and resources? Who do they trust? 

From there, you can start to hone in on the type of partner ecosystem that fits that mold. Sometimes, customers are just customers, only involved with a company enough to buy a widget from them. You want a partner who actually has relationships with their customers, not just one who takes their money in exchange for a product. 

Let’s say you’re with a software company. It’s a good idea to consider partnering with consulting and services businesses, because they tend to have really strong relationships with their customers. In this case, the product isn’t a product; it’s another person. It’s a relationship. This type of partnership can be a really great foundational one. 

A tier down from this is a platform leader in an ecosystem. Major players tend to be stickier than others, which means they also tend to have deeper relationships with their customers through their account teams. Of course, the downside of pursuing a partner like this is that they probably already have a robust partner ecosystem that might be hard for you to penetrate. But, that doesn’t preclude you from pursuing them. It just means you’ll need to be especially thoughtful in your approach. 

Execute Against Your Vision

When you’re ready to reach out to potential partners, make sure you’re properly prepared. If you start a conversation in order to achieve short-term goals, like closing deals quickly, you’ll almost certainly come off as transactional. You might even seem self-interested or give the impression that what you have to offer is low-value. This flies in the face of setting the stage for a long-term, rewarding relationship. 

Instead, come to a prospective partner with a point of view, particularly with ideas about how to activate core levers that will impact their business. Aim to paint a picture of how you see the partnership working. Even if you’re trying to join an established partner program, you can still differentiate yourself by saying what you believe works and doesn’t work. Clearly share the value you can provide, as well as communicating the value you’re looking for partners to provide.

The point is to illustrate what the end state could look like for your prospective partner, showing that the partnership will enable them to offer something they couldn’t before and have a new revenue line. Reinforce your specific area of expertise that you’ll be able to market on top of your core service offering to get them intrigued.

Even before you start a dialogue with an ideal partner, though, think through all the various elements of an engagement. How can you make the compensation aspect work for the long-term? Maybe it’s by providing a piece of software. From there, you can build a story around that joint customer to roll out to other customers, your internal team, the partner’s internal team and so forth. Then, you determine how to take the joint offering to market. Is there co-marketing and co-selling? How should you set up referrals? 

Make sure you’ve thought through all of these aspects so you can effectively express them to your prospective partner. Then, if you can get agreement on all of this from the start, you’ll be going a step further and laying a strong foundation for a lasting partnership. 

Avoid List Sharing & Account Mapping

Just as important as what you do to set up rewarding relationships for the long haul is what you need to avoid. One of the biggest ones is a purely transactional setup. For example, “I’ll give you my customer data if you give me yours.” This isn’t a partnership and it’s problematic for a number of reasons, including the fact that the other company clearly doesn’t have deep enough relationships with their customers to protect their data. They should care about the value you can offer to their customers before they agree to give you access to them. 

Furthermore, list sharing and account mapping are just crutches for pointless activity. Your counterpart at a partner organization rarely has the juice or the incentive to really make you successful as a partner. It’s going to be up to you. You’ll need to multi-thread within that organization in order to be successful. Oftentimes, this looks like getting really engaged at the field level, and finding a place in the field where you’re going to win. This could be within their customer success organization, their sales organization, or maybe their sales engineering team. It could be a lot of different places, but it will require you doing some work upfront and avoiding the easy way.

Do What it Takes

If you’re responsible for firing up partnerships, make sure you’re thinking like an entrepreneur. The best partnership programs are built like businesses within a business. As such, put together your budget based on your engagement strategy. If you’re extremely targeted, it might cost you a plane ticket per month, or something like that, but that’s really minimal in the scheme of things. When you’re thinking like an entrepreneur, you’re willing to make investments now for the long-term, greater good. 

Commit to getting a joint customer on board within 45-60 days, who will be successful and willing to tell their story. This experience will be your window into how your partner organization works, who is involved in what areas and how you can maximize your effectiveness with future efforts. Use this first pilot as a playground, in which you can learn and test and optimize. 

Finally, remember that yes, you need the customer story but you must also keep the value to your partner central. In my career, my team and I always made sure to explain what the customer was able to achieve with us before then zeroing in on what mattered most to the partner. 

This means you should track all your standard metrics and attach a partner to them. This way, later you can show other prospective partners that every time you brought a partner in, you decreased their lead to close time by 30 days and saw average deal size go up by 50% or whatever the case may be. Few selling points will go further than clear, hard metrics of success. 

Partnerships are one of the most powerful tools that B2B organizations use to accelerate revenue and growth, but you must approach them with care. Put the relationship aspect first, execute against your vision, think like an entrepreneur and avoid short-term tactics that backfire on everyone involved. Only then can you unlock the potential of long-term partnerships that will serve you, your organization and your customers in rich, boundless ways. 

Josh Wagner
Josh Wagner is a sales, marketing and channel leader who has spent 20 years selling to and through strategic partners and has helped start-ups scale from $0 - $20MM. Today Josh is the Co-Founder and Partner at In Revenue Capital, where he provides GTM operator expertise to support growth stage founders. Josh believes that ecosystem led growth is the “cheat code” to revenue, enabling leaders to tap into one to many partner relationships to create more scale with fewer resources.