5 Steps to Establish a Successful Partner Relationship

I just finished reading an article by Peter Simoons, 25 Tips for Successful Partnerships & Alliances, that provides high-level guidance on how to how to set up and profit from a new partnership. Simoon’ also has an e-book on the same topic, Successful Partnerships & Alliances, that goes more deeply into how to structure a partnership based on shared goals, collaboration and trust. It’s short, at 45 pages, and it picks up on an idea introduced by Yves Doz and Gary Hamel in Alliance Advantage more than a decade ago: “No company can go it alone.”

We're growing and expanding our partner ecosystem to include software companies, system integrators and data brokers around the globe.
Kairo Cerere, Global Program Manager, Dun & Bradstreet

Dun & Bradstreet has taken this philosophy to heart. We’re growing and expanding our partner ecosystem to include more technology companies, system integrators and data brokers around the globe.

How do we do it? We pay attention to Simoons’ 25 tips. Here are my five favorites:.

1. Be clear on your reasons for partnering – Just like in a romantic relationship, potential partners court and then consider whether they want to move to the next step. It is imperative for the potential partners to take ample time in this rationalization phase in order to guarantee a higher success rate when they move into the next gate-phase.

2. Make a contributions, needs and benefits matrix – Each partner should produce lightweight, concise documentation that covers their expectations for:

  • What each partner will contribute to the relationship
  • What each partner needs from the relationship
  • What the benefits/upsides for each partner will be

3. Ensure solid executive sponsorship – With my background in program/project management, I know that lack of executive sponsorship at the onset of any initiative has dire ramifications. I believe Simoons used the word “solid” to emphasize that the executives at both partner companies must be firmly committed to the partnership initiative, from the beginning.

4. Be clear on the roles and responsibilities – Simmons talks of using a “peer-mapping tool”.  One of the tools we use in program/project management is a RACI matrix, which stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. The matrix contains roles, names, and the level of engagement required at each stage of the program/project.

  • Responsible – These are the people that need to do the work, task or set of tasks.
  • Accountable – These are the signatories and approvers of the work, task or set of tasks.
  • Consulted – These are subject matter experts (SMEs) whose guidance may be sought by those doing the work, task or set of tasks .
  • Informed – These are the people that need to be kept in the loop for various reasons. It’s possible that at some point an Informed person may move into another category. For example, once an agreement is signed, the legal representatives may want to be informed of the progress even though they are no longer responsible for the deliverables i.e. the work, task or set of tasks. Another example is keeping the marketing representatives informed during the deliverables development and testing phase so they can create a good go-to-market (GTM) plan.  Eventually, the marketing representatives become responsible for executing the GTM plan.

5. Communicate – Both partners must engage in, facilitate and sustain good and timely communication across the board (vertically and horizontally).

These are just a few of Simoons’ ways to begin to think about partnering. It’s good to know what your expectations and assumption are going in. The goal, of course, is to create a successful alliance that brings the best results for both parties.