Real Partnership Series: Operationalizing the Partnership

Building new partnerships is easy, especially when you don’t care how successful they are. But if you’re focused on driving business results in the form of mutual growth and truly successful customers, you know that getting that first joint win is a critical step in reaching the partnership’s goals.

Unfortunately, getting that first joint win often is not easy, especially given the complexity of the 4 selling scenarios discussed in our previous post.

Should you start by focusing on selling into an existing client of both parties, where you both have relationships and a foothold— even though there are pre-existing agendas, renewal dollars hanging in the balance, and differing levels of client stability at play? Or should you look to net new prospects of both parties, where any win is a clear success for both parties — but the lack of pre-existing relationships make for longer cycles and lower close rates?  Or should you look to hybrid scenarios where a customer of one partner is currently a prospect of the other partner — even though the timing, need, budget, or “way in” might not be available, easy to craft, or even helpful?

The fact is, every sales scenario is fraught with opportunity and risk. And each party’s comfort zone is to revert back and “go it alone” to minimize complexity and maximize control. We all know how difficult it is to re-train organizational muscle memory.

In other words, securing that first joint win can be very elusive.

In working together and crafting the Demandbase + Intelligent Demand partnership, we have stress tested this challenge of finding the first joint win. We’ve compared notes along the way. We’ve had frequent, dead honest conversations. We’ve gone to bat for each other within our respective organizations. And we’ve taken advantage of the trust we have in each other to uncover and work around the common pitfalls that leave most partners wondering “Why is this so damn hard?!”

Here’s what we’ve learned: the quickest path to that first deal between partners is to identify a set of potential targets and then put each under the microscope based on the 4 selling scenarios. We’re developing a nuanced understanding of the relative roles, relationships, and expectations of each party within each selling scenario. It takes some time and effort up front, but it pays off. When you identify the right joint candidates early, you avoid building distrust through failure and enjoy the natural momentum that joint success brings.

Click to tweet  When you identify the right joint candidates early, you avoid building distrust through failure & enjoy the natural momentum that joint success brings @Demandbase @intelligentdem https://demandb.se/2MjvMUI

In our case, after breaking a couple eggs, we realized the hard truth about the ecosystem in which we play: in addition to the many companies who are successfully adopting Account-Based Marketing solutions, there are large swaths of companies who fall into 2 other buckets:

  1. Those who want to make the jump to ABM but don’t know how to get started.
  2. Those who took a leap of faith without fully considering the resources, capabilities and technologies that they would need to meet their goals. They’re stalling out or underperforming and need help getting back onto a successful path.

When we applied these criteria to a set of joint target accounts, and then viewed each through the lens of the 4 selling criteria, we quickly identified three accounts that were prime candidates for our first joint win.

As it turned out, each of the candidates was eager to get started with ABM, and they recognized that adopting ABM is a journey that requires healthy amounts of thoughtful planning, organizational change, and scaling through technology — which led them to the natural conclusion that they needed an agency partner with deep understanding of ABM and a strong partnership with the ABM Platform leader.

Within 2 months of taking this approach to operationalizing the partnership, we had our first joint win. The next month we had 2 more.

And what’s even better is that our clients are set up for success because they’ve hired two partners who know how to collaborate with each other in ways that benefit them through trust and close communication.

The old adage “Nothing succeeds like success” is true here. Our sales teams, marketing teams, and customer success teams are all beginning to collaborate in increasingly effective and efficient ways. There is much more work to do, but we’ve moved the partnership from the aspirational state to the active state, and it feels pretty good!

John Common is passionate about helping organizations and people grow. He does this mostly by leading Intelligent Demand, a full service, integrated revenue agency, where he is CEO and Chief Strategist.

Kent Ragen is VP, Strategic Alliances and Channels at Demandbase where he focuses on establishing deep relationships with an ecosystem of technologies and ABM experts who help their clients optimize their marketing at every stage of the funnel.