For the past few months, I’ve been living, eating, and breathing educational content about partnerships. As I broaden my horizons, I like to share my #PartnershipsTakeaways on LinkedIn.
I’ve received quite a bit of interest from people outside of the community. But there’s a sense of hesitation in their questions and comments. I remember feeling the same before I went all in on partnerships.
With my past doubts fresh in my mind, here is some advice I'd like to share.
Building partnerships is a long game. Adjust your expectations.
Across industries, we are used to fast and quantifiable results. We prioritize certain metrics over others, but we always use numbers to show our monthly/quarterly/yearly progress.
Hell, my company specializes in customer feedback management. Quantifying progress is what we do!
But if you’re building a partnership, your efforts might not yield measurable results for a long time.
You can’t rely on hard data to clarify your progress. Partnerships grow in their own time, or they don’t; you can’t fast-track the process or know in advance which potential partners are worth your time.
While this can be disorienting, it’s kind of exciting too. You’re building something that’s going to last. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, you’re looking at the bigger picture.
Partnerships are built on empathy.
In A Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote:
Cooperation has always been at the core of progress. But in the corporate world, competition is prized over every other approach. That is exactly why customers are increasingly fatigued and mistrustful.
They know they’re being fought over and bombarded with competing options. It’s exhausting to be caught in that crossfire.
For a partnership ecosystem to bloom, all of its members need to go through a paradigm shift. We need to rediscover that social contract. Every new partnership opens with the question, what can I do to help you today?
Of course, altruism isn’t the only reason to enter a partnership. But without genuine care for your partners’ goals and interests, your attempts are doomed to fail. Counterintuitively, you need to put them first.
You may need to work on your company’s internal culture too.
As you enter a living, breathing ecosystem, you may need to make changes within your company.
Smooth communication between Development, Sales, and Marketing is a must-have. Every department head should be aware of what the partnership aims to accomplish. In order to build relationships and deliver results, different teams need to work in sync.
If you’re in charge of partnerships, it’s your job to ensure that seamless cooperation. You need a good working relationship with various teams. Sometimes, you’ll act as a sort of connective tissue between them, ensuring the free flow of information and expertise.
To build a solid future in partnerships, you have to keep thinking of ways your own company can improve. The same skills you use to strengthen your ecosystem can form the basis of internal growth as well.
Each failure will help you hone your instincts...
It’s easy to get caught up in an optimistic view of ecosystems. But some partnerships aren’t meant to be.
This might be because of bad timing, incompatible goals, or some unforeseen disaster on your partner’s end. But sometimes, partnerships fall apart due to dishonesty. That’s the flip side of gradual relationship-building. It can be hard to know when a potential partner is stringing you along or overpromising what they can deliver.
Over time, you get better at spotting the danger signs. But to get to that point, you’ll make some bad guesses and waste your own time – and worse, your team’s time.
If failure is unacceptable to you for whatever reason, you should reconsider working in partnerships. In this community, you have to give yourself the chance to experiment and f*ck up.
… but you’re not making this journey alone.
Around 20 years ago, I got into digital marketing. This was a new horizon at the time, and the digital marketing community showed me incredible generosity when I was a newcomer. We all helped each other out, freely shared information, and we fostered a real sense of mutual respect.
This golden age lasted only a few years. As more people got into digital marketing, the community fractured. There were some old-school masters of the trade who held onto their values, but their approach was fading out.
Almost everyone had an angle, a hustle, and almost everyone looked for ways to outcompete each other. The scene was becoming impersonal and stressful.
All this time, I thought that that generous spirit I once witnessed was gone from the internet. But when I got involved in the partnerships community, I realized the ethos still exists. It just took on a different form.
People who work in partnerships are genuinely happy to share everything they know, even with novices. There’s a wealth of resources available for free for anyone to use. Even more importantly, people are willing to talk to you. They’ll answer specific questions and give constructive feedback – all you have to do is swallow your pride and ask.
Let your partnerships affect your priorities.
Personally and professionally, working in partnerships has upended the way I approach problems. In place of individualistic thinking, I’ve developed a more communal mindset.
When my company goes through any kind of change, I immediately think of ways to use that to serve others. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking about alliances I can build or improve.
Most of my team’s marketing efforts are intertwined with partnerships too: we seek out new ways to platform our partners or to pool the goodwill of our user bases.
I don’t think I can go back from this partnership-oriented way of solving problems. It’s a change I have welcomed wholeheartedly. If the partnerships community is the path you choose, I hope you’re open to changing too.