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Adrian Mott | July 8, 2015

Why Business Partnerships are so Difficult and What You Can Do About it


 The reasons for this vary, but much of the time it comes down to the fact that there isn't a defined goal for each party laid out -- a "partnership roadmap" that is produced and agreed upon.

As Leyla Seka, the former head of partnerships and AppExchange at Salesforce.com, noted in her excellent and insightful talk at the recent SaaStr conference in San Francisco, partnerships in business aren't very different than relationships in your personal life.  In order for them to work out, there has to be benefits for both parties.  A one sided partnership isn't one that's going to last or be valuable to either side.  Have a look at Leyla's talk:

If you're a developer or a startup and are trying to partner with a company that is a lot bigger than you, come with a plan.  Write down what you want to get out of the partnership (i.e. more customers, more visibility, inbound links, better leads, etc...), but also write down what value you're going to bring to the table that is going to benefit the other party in your potential partnership.  Make sure that you have a plan BEFORE you start working on a product, integration or some other asset that will benefit the partnership.

Here are some common misconceptions of how partnerships go:

  • "I'm going to partner with these guys, and then everything is going to be done for me"

So far from the truth.  If you want to partner with another company, and you're the smaller company with more to gain, you should expect to do 90% or more of the work.  So roll up your sleeves and get going!

  • "I'm going into this partnership with a product launch and I expect to get promotion/marketing from the bigger partner"

Even getting a bigger partner to tweet about you or mention you is tough -- guest blog posts are tough. Make sure that you define what you expect from the other side in your partnership roadmap and get them to agree to what you're looking for.  Expect to negotiate also -- remember, there are rules that large companies have!

  • "The company I want to partner with is going to see value or be interested in my solution or integration"

Sometimes, this is the sad reality: you're 10 million dollar idea and partnership effort just doesn't get seen in the same light by the company you're trying to partner with.  Make sure that you do your homework so that you can verify that there will be a customer need for what you're doing.

Another fantastic point from Leyla's talk is that you're going to have a really hard time partnering with a larger company if their customers aren't going to be excited about what you're offering them.  Take it from us here at Bedrock: do your research and make sure that you know there's a need for what you have in your potential partner's customer base.  Without this, you won't get any attention and your partnership will fail before it even gets off the ground.

Partnerships are also tricky because many of them that may seem so promising in the beginning end up failing anyway.  What's frustrating is that sometimes you can devise a great plan, have a customer need and engage with the right people at the company, but the partnership still fizzles or the other party just doesn't spend enough time and effort on you to make it worth your while.  The whole "They're just not that into you" ideal can hold true in many partnerships.  

It's true, partnerships are risky.  But if you do your homework, see a real customer need within a given company, execute on a simple but valuable solution, and engage the right people at your target partner company with a solid two-way roadmap that makes sense, you will be on your way to achieving the goals that you're looking for. 


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