We’ve come a long way from the cut-throat days of revenue-above-all when partners’ needs languished low on the list of most organizations’ priorities (if they were on the list at all). In the past, partnerships were regarded as an input factor of revenue generation, but not central to decision-making.
This makes sense if you think of a partner program as nothing more than a lead generation function - but as we know now, that’s a mistake. In reality, your company’s ecosystem is a major success factor. In some cases, it may even be the biggest one.
In today’s ecosystem-driven environment, leading companies are undergoing a major mindset shift that puts partners right at the heart of their business model. Why? Because powerful ecosystems of loyal partners achieve more than any one member could manage on their own.
That sounds great, but how do we get there? It’s all about achieving true, long-term partner-centricity. That’s what I’ll be discussing here.
What does partner-centricity mean?
Partner-centric organizations put partners and the partner experience first and foremost in almost everything they do. They focus on developing strong and positive relationships with the partners in their ecosystems. That takes work and commitment, but it’s most certainly worth it. Partnerships between partner-centric organizations achieve an impact far greater than the sum of the individual parts.
When it comes to great partnerships, 1 + 1 = 3.
So how do companies achieve that? In short, by doing these four things:
- Align your company goals with those of your partners
- Build a company-wide, cross-functional partner-centric culture
- Consider partners’ needs as equally important as your own, and act on them
- Create great partner experiences, along the entire partner lifecycle
Before we unpack what these mean in practice, let’s consider why they matter.
The partner-centric shift: What’s in it for you?
A management mindset that focuses exclusively on the company’s own needs has significant blind spots. If your partners feel like their needs and goals don’t matter to you, these relationships can wither on the vine. Partners who don’t feel valued are unlikely to remain loyal in the long term - why should they?
If it persists, some may even leave you behind. As a result, your company will need to spend more on partner recruitment and partner (re)activation. That takes time and resources that you could have used to build out and enhance the ecosystem. A vicious cycle ensues, and the amazing potential of strong partnerships goes untapped.
Strong relationships are worth even more than the revenue they drive
That can all be avoided by adopting a more proactive, partner-centric approach to onboarding, enabling, and engaging your partners. That’s the way to preserve strong relationships that boost loyalty, trust, and ultimately, partner-driven revenue.
Maintaining your relationships in this way is much more cost-effective than constantly recruiting new partners to replace the ones who left, or trying to reactivate those who have disengaged. Longstanding relationships will generate better results than opportunistic connections in which each side is just trying to optimize for its own short-term benefits.
Over time, you’ll develop a reputation for partner-centricity and create loyal advocates amongst your partners. That will make it easier to recruit new partners. In fact, you’ll reduce the amount of time and effort needed to attract new partners: partner-centricity is like a gravitational pull that draws new partners to you. It'll turn your ecosystem into a flywheel that generates the momentum you need to power the growth of your business.
Building flywheels: how to design a partner-centric program
Transforming a business into a partner-centric organization requires a very structured approach and game plan. Here are the elements that it should include.
Partner-centric, or just partner-focused?
Decide whether you truly want to become partner-centric or just partner-focused. Building a partner-centric organization isn’t easy, and it takes time. It’s not something you can achieve overnight, or even within a few months. Is it worth it?
But before you embark on this journey, take a long, hard look at your organization. Ask yourself whether putting your partners at the center of what you do is in line with your company’s values. And consider whether your current partner ecosystem is ready to move along this trajectory with you. Can you expect it to be reciprocated by your own partners? What are you willing to give in order to achieve partner-centricity?
Beyond the IPP: do you really understand your existing (and future) partners?
How well do you understand your current partners? Will you be able to truly understand the partners you engage in the future? If you want to create a truly partner-centric culture, you’ll need to get granular on your partners’ organizations.
When you know your partners well, you’re in a better position to create a partner program that caters to their needs, gets them excited, and boosts loyalty. Keep in mind that it’s not enough to understand your partner’s business through the lens of your own needs, and the value their business can bring to yours. It’s just as important to understand it from their point of view and know what they are aiming for.
Partnership ecology 101: understanding the partner lifecycle from inception to maturity
Partnerships develop naturally, through a series of phases. Thinking in partner-centric terms calls for understanding the partner lifecycle and recognizing the things that matter to your partners, and the people who work for them, at different stages in that cycle.
For example, a fresh partnership has different needs from a more established one. With new partners, your priorities should be building trust and alignment. Keep in mind that within each partner organization, there is a community of different people with different needs as well.
Every single person in your partners’ organizations goes through their own partner lifecycle with you. Consider the case of a well-established partner who has a new AE. You will need to properly onboard her, and develop trust on an individual level before you ask her for anything.
It may help that she knows there is a long history between the two companies. But you will nevertheless have to take the time to properly welcome, onboard, and enable her. Don’t see your partners’ employees as one entity, or merely representatives of the company. Instead, treat them as individuals.
Ecosystem health checks: generating insights to better understand your partnerships and their state of play
Partnerships are not static. Partner-centric organizations are constantly generating partner insights in order to identify opportunities for improvement and growth. You need to be able to see trends and openings in your ecosystem that foster collaboration. And you also need to be on the lookout for obstacles that may get in the way of a partnership. Like a natural ecosystem, a partnership ecosystem never rests. It’s continually evolving, and you need to understand that in order to thrive within it. Never consider the current state of an ecosystem as set in stone.
“My work here is done,” said nobody who has ever built a partner program
Full disclosure: this is hard work.
But here’s what’s in it if you persevere: eventually, you can reach the point where the lines between organizations begin to blur, and your ecosystem becomes (almost) one organism. That is where the magic of partnership really happens, and every member of the ecosystem begins tapping into this synergy in order to win.
Prefer to listen? Subscribe to our PartnerHacker Articles Podcast. Text-to-speech provided by our partner Voicemaker.in.