Farm to Partner

Farms can teach us a lot about partnerships.

I watched a documentary last night called The Biggest Little Farm, on Hulu. Two folks from L.A. had big dreams of starting a sustainable farm – a farm that works harmoniously with nature.

They bought 200+ acres in drought-riddled CA and started planting.

They began by setting up the proper infrastructure, but soon recognized that they had very few resources (water, money, etc.). Then they decided they wanted every part of the farm to contribute to the other parts. This way, nothing would be wasted and everything would have purpose.

They planted cover crops to provide nutrients to their cash crops, diversified the types of crops being planted, and brought in animals of all kinds.

Then, you know what?

Things failed.

Because they didn't use pesticides, aphids ate their fruit. Because they didn't kill the coyotes, they lost hundreds of chickens. Pigs got sick, snails infested their trees, and their pond became riddled with algae.

Despite the obvious problems, they persisted. They believed that harmony was both possible and profitable. Eventually, after much persistence, hard work, and creativity, it finally began working. The farm found its homeostasis – it's natural equilibrium. Predators chased their prey. Cover crops kept soil in place during unprecedented rain. Crops and livestock thrived.

We can learn from the success of this farm because though it can seem like brute force is the easiest way to achieve results, once a natural equilibrium is achieved, systems maintain themselves.

From the outside looking in a partner person might see where the infrastructure of a company's internal ecosystem is starting to fail. Partner professionals might even recognize that partnerships have solutions to these failure points, but getting anybody to listen is a herculean task.

For many partner professionals, breaking into a well established ecosystem of sales + marketing + product is incredibly difficult and usually depends on demonstrating ROI.

At that point, it can seem like the easiest way to get a partner program established is through brute force tactics: Onboard as many partners as you can in as short amount of time as possible. Stand up a partner portal and send everyone to it. Churn out the one pagers. Cling to metrics like partner influenced revenue. Push your way into the existing silos by begging for resources from one or all of them.

That's the business equivalent to adding pesticides to a crop in order to churn out a quick and profitable product.

The truth is, brute force is an ineffective strategy. What's more effective is enablement.

And I’m not talking about one-pagers and lunch and learns or providing content to your partners. I’m talking about organizational alignment through processes, content, and tools to move toward a meaningful GoToEcosystem strategy.

Enablement is the best way to start weaving together the traditional silos of business.

Partnership teams should observe the practices around them – Is the company experiencing drought or famine? Why? How can partnerships help? – then provide meaningful learning infrastructure, tools, and culture toward ecosystem selling, marketing and product.

Weave partnerships into already existing sales motions with bite sized content delivered just in time. Show the value of partner portals and account based networking at the right time in the sales workflow.

Don’t just ask marketers to co-brand something, enable them to understand why time and resources spent on making partners famous is more worthwhile than chasing CAC.

Don’t just request an integration. Ask your product teams why they can’t spend time on an integration. Ask your partner how many resources they might have to build it. Understand the product landscape before onboarding another partner. Bring your product teams to the table before onboarding.  Everyone wants an integration that enhance the product, brings real value to already existing customers, and gives the sales and marketing teams something exciting to talk about. Those successful integrations are not accidental, but the result of many voices, opinions, and desires heard and taken into account.

Curiosity, hard work, and patience pay off in the longrun, and the farm is just one example. It takes a second for an ecosystem to find its equilibrium, but when it does, it'll evolve a traditionally siloed business model into a beautiful, highly functional, ever-evolving flywheel.

That is why a partnerships and ecosystem focused go-to-market is worth the intial investment.

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