advertisement
advertisement
The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Building strong partner ecosystems in a saturated market

A well-rounded partner program can help companies grow.

Building strong partner ecosystems in a saturated market
[fizkes/Adobe Stock]

Research shows that modern companies across industries can gain from investing in partner ecosystems, especially as customers expect new products and services. A well-rounded partner program can help companies increase sales, reach new customer segments, enhance existing services, and get invaluable expertise. However, despite the growing presence of partner ecosystems, one analysis of 57 ecosystmes showed fewer than 15% of the ecosystems studied have long-term success.

advertisement
advertisement

Ever-expanding interpersonal networks, a steady stream of startups lobbying for attention, and fewer in-person interactions are creating challenges for companies trying to build effective partner ecosystems. Add to this the drastic changes over the last 18 months that reduced authentic and by-chance personal connections, making it harder to find the right value-add partners. However, it’s not impossible!

I’ve learned a lot about building mutually beneficial partner relationships in my nearly 18 years of developing partner programs, but the pandemic forced me to embrace new approaches. Following are six keys to building a successful, sustainable partner program that can increase customer satisfaction and attract new customers.

EMBRACE ASYNCHRONOUS VIDEO COMMUNICATIONS

Before the pandemic, many of us were used to regularly flying all over the world to ink new partnerships. Sometimes I long for the nice dinners and productive conversations with partners, but I’ve also enjoyed the extra time at home, having no commute, and being more productive. My sentiments are not unique. For better or worse, business travel won’t go back to its pre-2020 days, with two-thirds of companies planning to dramatically reduce business travel long-term.

advertisement
advertisement

It is possible to recreate human experiences in a virtual or hybrid environment, but it does take creativity and extra time on the front-end to understand and connect with audiences. For example, if you’re dying to work with a potential partner, create a virtual happy hour for their team and send them local food and drink in advance. Partner managers should also use video differently and throw out the old decks relied on for so long. Send across an async video to introduce yourself, share your agenda for a meeting, and give a topic for discussion.

Time and attention are the most valuable resources we have, especially in the first few minutes of a conversation, so use that time to engage differently. Try an icebreaker so everyone on video gets to know each other on a more human level. To avoid having to spend time rehashing old sales pitch language, channel leaders can instead provide an on-demand video for follow-up conversations. It’s about maximizing your time with natural, productive conversations.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

Approach choosing ecosystem partners along the same lines as speed dating. You won’t get much time with potential partners, and won’t say yes to every person who asks for your number. Most importantly, you’ll choose partners wisely because time is too valuable.

advertisement

I recommend approaching channel and strategic partnerships in a similar fashion. Initial conversations can last only minutes. Look for shared company values, parallel goals, and envision how your teams would work together. While you may network and exchange information with several companies, this helps prioritize and narrow down leads.

Remember that companies must reflect on their partners and ensuring alignment with corporate values is paramount. Company values are the foundation of your business and should also be the foundation of your partner network.

USE DATA AS A GUIDE

The volume of quality information at our fingertips is immense, but many business leaders don’t leverage data when choosing partners. Examining data will help differentiate quality partners from less worthy ones. I recommend examining data when determining which partners to work with by looking at factors like recent growth, projected growth, and customer engagement levels.

advertisement

On the customer side, surveys can help glean insights into what solutions and services they want. From there, your business can determine if the resources are in-house or if you need to tap a partner.

CURRENT PARTNERS

Who are your current partners? What do they bring to the table? What’s missing from your partner program?

Ask yourself these questions before you seek out new partners. New partners should bring something new and not conflict with your current program. For example, banking institutions like American Express and Capital One have partner ecosystems that provide customers with elevated experiences and rewards. While Capital One partners with several international airlines, they only work with one U.S.-based airline to maintain positive partner relations.

advertisement

INNOVATION

Most all leaders think their businesses are on the cutting-edge of their industry, and company partners must be equally focused on innovation. While difficult to quantify, study recent product releases, compare the potential partner to competition, and ask the team how their industry will change over the next five years.

Frequently, if a company has lagged in innovation and hasn’t led its industry, chances are that will remain true going forward. Businesses need partners that keep up with customer needs. If a company is ahead of its competitors, it will likely be easy to co-innovate with.

DON’T COMPETE WITH YOURSELF

I’ve seen businesses fail because they’ve taken on partners that provided services too close to their own. For example, Apple is unlikely to partner with Samsung. It’s imperative to understand your business’s trajectory by regularly connecting with senior leadership, so you’re aware of future products and innovations and roadmaps.

advertisement

Zooming out and understanding the bigger picture of your business will help you avoid this common partner pitfall.

A GOOD ECOSYSTEM IS FOCUSED ON CUSTOMERS

A partner ecosystem can help pave the way to increased profit and allow businesses to focus on their core strengths while driving innovation. However, achieving a sustainable, successful partner program means finding a delicate balance between being choosy while still treating potential (and current) partners with customer-sized attention and care.

Always use your customers’ needs and desires as your guide. You can have the most innovative, desirable business partners, but none of that matters if you aren’t making your customers’ lives easier.

advertisement

Rose Bentley is Chief Operating Officer at Qumu Corporation, overseeing the company’s global operations and implementation of its strategic growth plan.

advertisement
advertisement
advertisement