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Your Customer's Partner Is Your Friend (and Also Your Partner)

Customers often need multiple partners. The more a customer grows, the more partners it is likely to need and have. Smart customers know that a single partner cannot do it all, and that it isn't wise to rely too much on just one dominant partner, so they end up with an ecosystem of partners in various business areas or geographies. Some partners transact goods like licenses and hardware, but most partners supply various types of services -- and their paths are likely to cross yours now and then.

Traditionally, the holy grail for partners was to become a customer's single "trusted advisor" that influences everything. Perhaps some partners still dream about that. However, nowadays there are often several trusted advisors for various parts of a customer's needs (which makes sense as partners become more specialized to be successful).

As a modern Microsoft partner, it is important to enthusiastically work together with the other partners that your customers have chosen. Collaboration between other partners that are part of your customer's ecosystem is crucial. But collaboration alone is not enough; you need to put your soul into it -- and you should encourage, or perhaps demand, that the other partners do the same. True collaboration doesn't mean complicated or costly, and it doesn't mean having meetings in which each partner sticks to their entrenched positions. Instead, true collaboration means finding the best alternative for your common customer.

I myself have been in meetings where the larger partner tries to freeze out a smaller partner by making things overly complex or trying to grab every opportunity for themselves. I've also seen partners of the same size try to win more business by discrediting each other. This isn't the way.

The best protection against losing a customer is to ensure that they're a happy customer -- and therefore it's crucial for that customer's partners to help each other. You and your team should make every effort to eliminate friction and ensure that all partners are successful. Your customer will love that approach and it will lead to more business opportunities.

So how do you make this happen? Setting up meetings once a month with a recurring agenda is a great way to start. The extent of the customer's engagement with their group of partners determines how long each meeting will take; it can be anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours. Whom to invite will depend on the nature of the engagement -- don't make the groups too large! Taking notes is encouraged but don't make it too formal. And speaking of not being too formal, it doesn't hurt to break bread together once in a while so that you really get to know each other. Familiarity is an underestimated way to success.

In these meetings, take the opportunity to discuss new services and solutions that the customer might need. Discuss it first between yourselves. If, collectively, you see a potential ROI for the customer, then present your initiative to the customer. Just remember that it doesn't hurt if the new business opportunities are evenly spread over time between the partners in the group.

And don't bill the customer for your meetings unless he asks you to do it!

Another piece of advice is to have a "hotline" so that problems in collaboration with your mutual customer get escalated to senior people that can take immediate action. There's no better way to de-escalate than to pick up the phone and talk to your counterparts. If all parties see the long-term value, then problems are often easy to resolve. And solving problems together builds trust.

Becoming a master at orchestrating partners is an art, but it reduces the risk for both partners and customers so it makes sense to invest time to make it happen. When both customers and other partners see you as easy and friendly to work with, you'll generate positive buzz that transforms into more business opportunities for your company -- and that's probably the best ROI you can ever dream of.

A successful relationship with other partners, even if it was only a mutual customer that brought you all together, opens the avenue to finding more joint customers together. After all, you have at least one success story to talk about. So go make friends with your customer's partners and build success together!

Posted by Per Werngren on May 17, 2023


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