Building Strong Partner Ecosystems in a Saturated Market

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

Ever-expanding people-to-people networks, a steady stream of startups pushing for attention, and fewer face-to-face interactions create challenges for companies trying to build effective partner ecosystems. Add to that the drastic changes over the past 18 months that have reduced genuine and casual personal relationships, making it more difficult to find the right value-added partners. However, it is not impossible!

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

ADOPT ASYNCHRONOUS VIDEO COMMUNICATIONS

Before the pandemic, many of us regularly flew around the world to form new partnerships. Sometimes I long for great dinners and productive conversations with partners, but I’ve also enjoyed the extra time at home, no commuting, and being more productive. My feelings are not unique. For better or worse, business travel will not return to its days before 2020, with two-thirds of companies planning to drastically reduce long-term business travel.

It’s possible to recreate human experiences in a virtual or hybrid environment, but it takes creativity and extra time on the front-end to understand and connect with the audience. 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 drinks ahead of time. Partner managers should also use video differently and throw away the old decks they’ve relied on for so long. Send an asynchronous video to introduce yourself, share your agenda for a meeting, and suggest 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 to get everyone in the video to know each other on a more human level. To avoid having to spend time rehashing old sales pitch language, channel managers can instead provide video on demand for follow-up conversations. It’s about maximizing your time with natural and productive conversations.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

Approach the choice of ecosystem partners in the same way as speed dating. You won’t have a lot of time with potential partners and won’t say yes to every person who asks for your number. More importantly, you will choose your partners wisely, because time is too precious.

I recommend approaching distribution and strategic partnerships the same way. The first conversations can only last a few minutes. Look for shared company values, parallel goals, and imagine how your teams would work together. While you can network and exchange information with multiple companies, it helps to prioritize and narrow down leads.

Remember that companies need to think about their partners and ensure alignment with company values ​​is paramount. Corporate values ​​are the foundation of your business and should also be the foundation of your partner network.

USE THE DATA AS A GUIDE

The volume of quality information at their fingertips is immense, yet many business leaders fail to leverage data when choosing partners. Reviewing the data will help differentiate quality partners from less deserving ones. I recommend looking at data when determining which partners to work with by looking at factors such as recent growth, projected growth, and customer engagement levels.

On the customer side, surveys can help to better understand the solutions and services they want. From there, your business can determine if the resources are internal or if you need to bring in 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 looking for 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 high customer experiences and rewards. Although Capital One partners with several international airlines, it only works with one US-based airline to maintain positive partner relationships.

INNOVATION

Most leaders believe that their companies are at the forefront of their industry and that business partners should be equally innovation-driven. Although difficult to quantify, study the latest product releases, compare the potential partner to the competition, and ask the team how their industry will change over the next five years.

Often, if a company has lagged behind in innovation and not been at the forefront of its industry, there is a good chance that this will remain true in the future. Businesses need partners who meet customer needs. If a company is ahead of its competitors, it will probably be easy to co-innovate with it.

DON’T COMPETE WITH YOURSELF

I have seen companies fail because they took on partners who provided services that were too close to theirs. For example, Apple is unlikely to partner with Samsung. It is imperative to understand the trajectory of your business by communicating regularly with senior management, in order to be aware of future products, innovations and roadmaps.

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

A GOOD ECOSYSTEM IS CUSTOMERS CENTERED

A partner ecosystem can help pave the way for increased profits and allow companies to focus on their strengths while driving innovation. However, achieving a sustainable and successful partnership program means striking a delicate balance between being selective while treating potential (and current) partners with attention and care appropriate to the size of the client.

Always use your customers’ needs and wants as a guide. You can have the most innovative and desirable business partners, but none of that matters if you don’t make life easier for your customers.


Rose Bentley is COO of Qumu Corporation, overseeing the company’s global operations and the execution of its strategic growth plan.