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Last month, two things happened at the same time that made me really think about corporate partnerships. How does one go about making them compelling, valuable, and lasting?
The first was a piece from one of my favorite newsletters, CB Insights, which is most definitely worth subscribing to if you like super-interesting facts with a punchy delivery. They talked about how genuinely terrible most partner requests are.
The second was from an in-depth conversation with an old friend of Third Law, Romain Saha, who heads up corporate partnerships at BlackBerry QNX. Nancy and I were asking Romain about partnership opportunities on behalf of one of our clients. (Romain is also a world class chef – I’m not kidding – who in his spare time creates, tests, and shares amazing mouthwatering recipes. It’s worth your while to check out his site.)
Both of these sources reinforced that most requests to partners are approached incorrectly, and both highlighted the same three critical problems.
Outsourcing the work
Outreach for corporate partnerships is a bit notorious for being vague. Even if you personally write a passioned request and know the people at the other end, such requests are many times a paltry “we’ve got common customers so let’s do something together.”
If you really want to partner with the company you’re contacting, take some time getting into their head and provide specifics about how you can make a difference.
This is only marginally better than the spammy sales note I found in this morning’s email:
I’m reaching out to companies like Third Law to talk to leaders about the projects that often sit on the side of their desk. Now more than ever, I see a lot of businesses that are only able to spend time on their core business functions and forget about the small projects that help move the needle.
<OURCOMPANY> helps companies build capacity and get ahead by leveraging bright student talent from colleges and universities across North America for short term projects. If you want to hear more, just reply and I’ll show you how this could work, unique to Third Law.
It’s pretty clear that the person on the other end of this email didn’t do any work to figure out what they could add to my business. How many of us get dozens of unsolicited requests like this for our attention in one form or another? Who has the extra cycles to spend thinking through how someone else might be able to add to our business?
Forcing busy people to spend their brainpower figuring out how they can benefit you will certainly fail. If you really want a partnership with the company you’re contacting, take some time getting into the head of your partner and provide specifics about how you can make a difference. As an example, if the sender of the spam above had spent just a minute looking into my company and thinking about how he could help with my problems, they might have written this:
I’m reaching out to Third Law because I can see on your website that you must create a lot of content. We all know creating content takes a lot of work, but not all parts of the process need the same level of expertise.
That’s where we can help. <OURCOMPANY> helps companies like yourself build capacity and get ahead by leveraging bright student talent from colleges and universities across North America for short term projects.
Specifically, for Third Law, we might be able to offload small jobs like image searching, proofreading, WordPress management, or link research to let your team create more content with the same high quality. Let me know if you’re interested in discussing more.
Hopefully this example won’t encourage even more spam, but I’d be a heck of a lot more interested in following up with that email because I don’t have to think so hard about why I should care.
A category-based understanding of a company results in poorly understood partner motivators.
Lack of research
Tied to the first problem is that there’s often no research done on the partner’s needs. What is their business model? How do they make money? What are their goals? What personas do they sell to? Even if you are familiar with the company and have many long-standing contacts within it, you can easily make the mistake of not truly understanding what motivates them.
We find this often happens with established companies, because if you’ve been in the industry long enough, you know the potential partner – maybe even have done business with them – and so you think you know them. You might know exactly what they sell and who they sell it to, but you probably don’t know what drives their profit or how they’re trying to maximize their bottom line.
In the high-tech auto space that we operate in, there are a large number of long-standing companies mixed in with tons of new mobility startups. We assume we know the market, and it becomes extremely easy to assume a company’s goals based on category and position in the ecosystem. A category-based understanding of a company results in poorly understood partner motivators. As my Dad says “close, but no cigar”.
If you’re a smaller fish trying to partner with a bigger one, you will need to dig deep to figure out what you can contribute that’s of value,
Not having a win-win proposal
The third problem in corporate partnerships is the failure to craft proposed projects in a way that’s beneficial to both parties. Don’t even bother trying to strike up a partnership if your partner campaign has any of the following issues:
- You assume the partner has the budget needed to run the program
- It’s unclear how your partner will recognize their revenue
- Your partner contributes the expertise and credibility that makes the outreach compelling
- You’re leveraging the partner’s customer database
- Your partner will end up shouldering the marketing effort
Delivering a win to both parties is a necessity for a compelling program that both partners can get behind. This is true regardless of whether both companies have common goals or if there’s a size mismatch between the potential partners.
You’re never going to get close to someone unless you understand each other and are working toward shared goals.
If you’re a smaller fish trying to partner with a bigger one – where so many partner outreaches start – you won’t have the budget or customer list that your big partner does. You will need to dig deep to figure out what you can contribute that’s going to be of value, and make sure it is valued in terms of the bigger partner’s goals.
How to forge lasting corporate partnerships
All of these problems stem from the core issue of being out of step with your potential partner’s business. Make it clear that you understand what drives the other company, think about what moves both parties forward in a way that’s of value to both, and propose concrete ideas of what you could do together that benefits each party.
It may be trite, but it’s true – business partnering is not too dissimilar from interpersonal relationships. You’re never going to get close to someone unless you understand each other and are working toward shared goals. Treat your business partner with the respect you would a potential date, and you’re much more likely to build a mutually fulfilling relationship that can last.