Whilst attending SaaStr Europe in Barcelona last month, I held a series of one-to-ones with SaaS company leaders and founders on the topic of “How to Leverage Partnerships for Growth”. Going into it, I wasn’t too sure how the conversations would go or where they could take us but I believe sharing ideas out loud is a big start. For me, the number one lesson taken from the one-to-ones was—find someone to talk to who will listen to understand, and question.
My opening question to each of the leaders sitting in front of me was “tell me what you want to get out of a partnership”? It was, as you would imagine, a similar answer across the board—more sales. But this is our first mistake when looking at a partnership for growth. Ultimately, the whole point of any business relationship is to help achieve the business goals set out in the business plan. But perhaps our initial thought should be about what we want out of a partnership ourselves.
7 ingredients to a winning partnership recipe
In my view, there are three parties in the partnership, you, the partner and the little talked about third element. Actually, the third element is probably the first thing to be overlooked, least worked on and most often not taken into account. I am, of course, talking about the relationship in the middle. The relationship between you and the partner is vital and how you view, and work on that relationship will impact the longevity and success of your partnership.
The relationship between you and the partner is vital and how you view, and work on that relationship will impact the longevity and success of your partnership.
Here are some learnings that I took away from the thought-provoking conversations I had during the SaaStr Europe conference and what should be “on the table” in a partnership exploration.
1. A relationship must be built on mutual grounds. What are the business goals of your partner and what are your business goals? How can you support each other to achieve these goals? Get the business goals out on the table and be honest with each other about why you are entering the partnership.
2. The customer will get forgotten. Put the customer on the table. How do you each help the customer solve their pains in a unique way? If we forget the customer, we could easily go backwards with sales, even if we move forward with a partnership. How do you partner with people who can add real value to the end customer in a multiplying way?
3. Hold each other accountable. Contract verbally from the start with your partner to ensure both sides have permission to hold each other accountable.
4. Measure and document the partnership-what are the key deliverables on either side to adhere to, to maximise the value to the customer. If you don’t measure it from an early stage, then there could be a lot of back-tracking and catch up to be played later down the line.
5. Don’t just think inside your industry. Partners come in all different shapes and sizes. Ultimately, you need to think about where your customer hangs out and where they feel most at home. In SaaS we often think that its other SaaS products we should be partnering and integrating with. It was clear from the conversations that other partner channels would bring the same, if not more benefit to the business goals on the table. Communities were one of these, which communities do your customers hang out and talk about things in? How else are they solving their problems in growth? Go where they go to find your next partner.
6. Be strict with who you partner with. If there is no mutual ground or value-add to the customer or business goals, don’t be afraid to cut the partnership loose. Focus on the quality of the partnership, not the quantity. If one of your targets is the number of partnerships, push back and have a challenging conversation with the person who set that target about quality over quantity.
7. Finally, never forget the people thing. Relationships are built on trust. Build out the solid foundations of trust by qualifying with the other side around ownership of the partnership. Make sure your counterpart can make key decisions at pace when the need arises.
At Zendesk EMEA, we are hosting an event with our global partner, StartupGrind, in September to discuss fundraising, customer success, growth marketing and hiring talent. StartupGrind is a global startup community with 4 million startups across 600 cities and 125 countries worldwide, giving startups the education, opportunities, and access they need to build, grow, and scale their companies. Also in September, we will be hosting an event with another of our key partners, Antler, a global early-stage venture capital firm that enables exceptional founders to start great companies. They support 3000+ aspiring founders and 500+ portfolio companies globally. We will be continuing the conversation on how to leverage partnerships to accelerate business growth at the event.
Only when you work on mutual benefit, value add to the customer and label the third party in every partnership, will you truly find the right people to move forward with. Keeping the conversation going and working on the bridge (the relationship) between you and the partner will be the key to your business achieving growth through a partner network.
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