5 Principles to Establish and Maintain a Great Partnering Team

The Teams Element of the Strategic Partner Leadership Model (SPLM) is all about people. The success or failure of your strategic partnerships depends on the people who manage and lead your initiatives. Strategic partnerships require strong performance not only from your company’s representatives but also from your partners’ employees. The Teams Element shares success practices and helpful insights you should consider when building or further developing your partnership team. 

5 Principles for Establishing & Maintaining a Partnering Team 

There are five core principles that all executives must understand when planning and launching a new strategic partnering function within their organization. And beyond the launch, these principles must be upheld to ensure long-term success. By following each of these principles, organizations will be best positioned to achieve their desired exponential growth from this strategic move. The absence of any one of these principles will likely spell disaster.  

1. Executive Expectations 

Executives almost always underestimate the amount of time and financial resources required to execute truly strategic initiatives. Most executives believe their new partnering initiatives will be able to match their organization’s direct sales motion’s (organic growth) return on investment (ROI) within six months. Although this scenario is not impossible, it is HIGHLY unlikely. Not only is your new partnering function unlikely to match ROI levels of your sales team in the first six months, but the odds of hitting any meaningful revenue are also unlikely in the first year. 

Executives must understand the strategic partnering role is a long-term approach that will likely not have a positive return on investment for at least 12 to 24 months. The more innovative your initiative(s) are, the more time will be required to generate positive results. But when successful, the payoffs will be exponentially greater than “going it alone” (organic). Like a jet engine, strategic partnerships are slow to move on the “front-end,” but as more air moves through the turbine at higher speeds, the power generated becomes exponential.  

It is imperative that all senior leaders within an organization understand the difference between most organizations’ very transactional, short-term approach to generate value and this new strategic, long-term approach. When this critical distinction is not understood or it becomes blurred, support for this new role is lost, and the strategic partnering function is eliminated, and critical resources are wasted.  

2. Clear Goals 

Executives must clearly define short-term and long-term goals for their new strategic partnering team. The natural inclination is for executives to focus on a monthly revenue quota as they do for their sales team. If this is the case in your organization, the executive team does not understand the role of strategic partnering and the partnering team lead has a rough road ahead!   

The individual goals set for this function can vary widely based on your organization’s growth objectives. For example, goals for a channel sales program will be vastly different than goals set for a technology partnership that leverages co-creating for a new solution. Strategic partnering teams arguably have the most challenging role for which to create goals, as the specific path to success is not a straight line – it’s dynamic and opportunistic.   

Goals must be set so a clear destination is identified. Goals that I have seen identified for partnering teams included: number of opportunities evaluated, number of deals executed, total net present value of deals signed, Net Promotor Score (NPS) of “internal customers,” NPS of partners, and solution pilots that eventually get “productized.” There are pros and cons associated with most goal structures. What is important is that goals foster the activities that you want your team to focus on and ultimately accomplish. We will discuss the topic of goal setting and goal management more in the “Goals Element” in the next chapter.  

3. Executive Sponsorship 

The strategic partnering function MUST have 100% buy-in from the highest levels of your organization including the Board of Directors, CEO, and full C-suite. Because of the massive amount of cross-functional work between marketing, sales, finance, product, and legal, just to name a few, your division heads must help create tailwinds so the partnerships team can thrive. 

The strategic partnerships team is most successful when the team leader is aligned to report directly to your organization’s CEO or a division lead who also heads long-term initiatives. When the inevitable economic downturns arise, this long-term focused role finds itself at odds with the short-term, transactional priorities of getting cash today. In these cases, commitment is lost, and the team is dismantled.  

Your strategic partnering team must have unwavering support from the most senior executives, investors, and the Board of Directors. If this function is not led and supported by a long-term strategic thinker, an extraordinary amount of effort is wasted in continually attempting to justify the team’s existence. This extra tax of wasted time only adds to the normal headwinds associated with partnering teams which further put the team in jeopardy of failure.

4. Stand Alone Function 

The most productive strategic partnering teams are those that establish dedicated resources to this cause. This function frequently starts as a single person then grows to a full team over time. The caution here is to not ask one of your sales or marketing professionals to split time between their “day job” and a new partnering role. This strategy is not impossible but judging from the hundreds of cases I have witnessed, it usually ends in failure. It’s not a failure from lack of opportunity, it’s a failure caused by a lack of focus and often skills. 

As tempting as it may seem to put a seasoned salesperson into a fractional partnership role where she is dividing her time between sales and partnering typically ends in disaster. First, you are taking a great sales resource partially out of commission, and secondly, the quota-driven salesperson will always work on the urgent, the looming quota, as opposed to the long-term tasks of partnerships. 

Momentum is critical for potential and newly executed partnerships. When professionals split their time between monthly quota-driven activities, they are inevitably told to enter the perpetual month-end battle of satisfying quotas. As a result, the critical partnering activities which need constant nurturing, wither on the vine. 

Your partners have a finite resource of time they must divide. If your organization is not top-of-mind for your partners, then another organization is. If your partnership program is failing to gain traction, is it likely because your team is doing a poor job of keeping your partners informed and engaged, each of which are a requirement for success.  

5. Supplemental Resources 

Launching a new strategic partnering team requires investments that go beyond the salaries and benefit plans for the Partner Development Leaders. Executives must understand the full investment needed to launch and maintain this new team prior to making any hires. Partnering teams that are under-resourced lack the required runway needed to take flight. Again. In these cases, failure is not caused by a lack of opportunity, but rather a lack of adequate resourcing.

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