The Three Pillars of Partnership Success

Those who have heard me talk about building partnerships know about my thesis on the three pillars of partnership success. The premise is that no alliance can ever flourish if we cannot master the following three areas: (i) Operational Excellence, (ii) Tech & Sales Enablement, and (iii) GoToMarket alignment.

If one pillar fails, the other two cannot withstand the weight, and consequently, the partnership will eventually succumb. There are now in the market partner-oriented SaaS solutions trying to address the challenges of building some of these pillars.

I want to discuss a bit more about these three pillars and also share some of my own discoveries on the solutions in the market that are helping partner organizations improve their operations.

Operational excellence

It encompasses any back-end requirements for you and your partners to work together.

Think about legal contracts, partner master agreements, and service agreements to work together and support joint customers. You'll also want to consider the tools you need to operate efficiently. At a minimum, you will need a partner portal to share information with your ecosystem at scale and a CRM to qualify partner leads or track/manage opportunities. Lastly, having the infrastructure to pay incentives, issue invoices, and provision licenses to your partners will go a long way.

(Read more about using incentives to drive partner success in my previous Op-Ed.)

In short, you need to have the infrastructure and processes backbone to support partnerships at scale. 360insights and Vartopia are companies that caught my attention with their offerings in this space.

Technical and sales enablement

You'll need to activate and educate your partners to empower them to achieve success. Product integrations, co-marketing events, or joint GTM sales plays cannot thrive if your ecosystem is not aware of the details of your solution. A few items that come to mind include online training assets, a product certification curriculum, sales training material, a Technical Enablement Plan, and one-pagers, among others.

The main challenge is keeping everyone up to speed about your products and guaranteeing others outside your organization will fairly represent your products in front of customers. A few companies are tackling this area; the most known are Highspot and Seismic.

GTM alignment

The last pillar is about having agreements on partnership expectations across all relevant teams involved in the alliance. It's a common scenario where one side of the partnership feels great about its accomplishments while the other side is frustrated with the alliance outcomes. Joint business plans are a good starting point, yet all those involved in the partnership need agreement on short and long-term KPIs to evaluate the partnership's performance objectively.

The main activities to tackle here include alignment on how both companies will collaborate around sales, marketing, engineering, and professional services; defining budgets to support your partners, and agreed-upon incentives that can drive desired behaviors; planning on how you will be going to market together and what the sales offer(s) will look like.

Setting the right expectations and defining alliance success metrics from the beginning is one of the most important tasks of a new alliance. Doing so will ensure teams can track progress, drive efficiencies over time, and get leadership to be patient about results. 

Partner relationship management and account mapping tools like Reveal, Crossbeam, and Workspan are just scratching the surface of what it really takes to build strong GTM alignment between two organizations.

Balancing the pillars of success

Driving joint co-marketing events without knowing how to support prospects through the sales journey is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, spending resources building an alliance's infrastructure without activating the relevant teams will not yield any results.

The success of any partner organization hinges on balancing these three pillars across its channel ecosystem at scale.

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