Alliance Management Expertise, Partnering Frameworks and Tools, Collaborative Leadership

Partnering at the Speed of Business
1. Partnering Guide / December 28th, 2017     A+ | a-
AUTHORS: Jan Twombly and Jeff Shuman

Speed is the new currency of business, says Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO at Salesforce. And he’s spot on!

The increased need for speed is the key point underlying Bain’s Firm of the Future practice, “Success depends on how firms deliver the benefits of scale and intimacy better and faster to customers.” What is unsaid is that because of the complexity of the technologies and the domain expertise required to apply them within specific use cases, it takes an ecosystem of partners—and probably not the same ones you’ve been partnering with—to service enterprise customers with traditional solutions—or where the purpose of the partnership was for balance of trade.

For example, industrial giants such as Schneider Electric and ABB are now co-creating customer facing solutions with the likes of Microsoft and IBM, significantly expanding those relationships. At the same time, IT leaders including Intel are partnering with auto manufacturers and battery developers to produce the next generation of transportation. The biopharma ecosystem now includes app developers and artificial intelligence components. Additionally, the promise of digital business transformation offers opportunities for mid-market and smaller businesses, prompting technology purveyors to establish a new set of channel partners – and to work with these partners to offer and co-sell specific solutions for this market.

Learning to Trust at the Speed of Business

Partnering has always required the element of trust. Not absolute trust. Just enough trust for the activity at hand. Do more complex solutions require greater trust than traditional channel or licensing relationships? There is a case to be made that they do—especially when it comes to the partners who engage with the end customer or who are core to the solution.

The question then becomes how to develop enough trust to speedily build the partner ecosystem and networks needed for your business at this moment in time—knowing that a different set of partners could be required tomorrow? We’ve consistently observed a two-part answer:
  1. Have a consistent framework for building the partnership so that the partners trust they are aligned as to the “what, why, and how” of value creation for the end customer, themselves, and any other partners involved
  2. Understand and follow the assumption validation process used by successful entrepreneurs and innovators
To develop trust and to partner at the speed of business requires entrepreneurial agility—the ability to use your partnering framework to identify critical assumptions, the data needed to validate or invalidate them as quickly as possible, as well as the means for collecting and evaluating the data. Note that this data has to be collected in real world interactions—either in working with your partner preparing to engage with the end customer or when interacting with the end customer. If the data proves an assumption is not valid, you need to iterate your assumptions quickly, redesigning the under-performing framework component.

Lean Partnering

You can think of this initial iteration of your partnership as an MVP – the Minimum Viable Partnership to launch into the business environment.  After all, why spend weeks or months building a comprehensive business plan for your partnership only to discover a fundamental flaw in your offering?

For example, you think your offering will be a gateway for customers and it turns out they want it embedded and integrated into other platforms they already use. Getting that assumption wrong could have significant impact on the resources each partner makes available and when—possibly even to the point that one of the partners no longer sees the business case as valid. Wouldn’t you want to uncover that as quickly as possible—before too much time and money has been spent? This entrepreneurial approach to partnering is akin to the popular method of building a company known as lean startup. Call it lean partnering.

When speed is the currency of business and business success depends on delivering solutions through an ecosystem of partners, partnering has to happen at an equivalent speed. Our next few blog posts will delve into the partnering framework and the assumption validation process.
To learn more about entrepreneurial agility, visit the Entrepreneurial Classics section of our Insights library. You’ll find a collection of articles about the business development process successful entrepreneurs intuitively follow. This iterative approach to entrepreneurship chronicled in Jeff Shuman’s 1998 book, The Rhythm of Business, is considered de rigueur today—and is known as lean startup. Enjoy this compendium of classic articles—and gain insight into the mindset needed to be successful in the customer-obsessed, constantly evolving business world of today.
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