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The Care and Feeding of Partner-to-Partner Relationships

Forging and nurturing a relationship with another Microsoft partner takes a lot of hard work. Here are 10 tips to help you turn that relationship into a reliable revenue driver -- for you, your partner and Microsoft.

As Microsoft continues to grow revenues each year, the products evolve and expand in number. It's nearly impossible for one organization to support all the solutions well.

One way for partners to be more successful in their partnerships with Microsoft is to form close working relationships with complementary partners. The Microsoft field looks to partner with organizations that will both close the current deal and continue to drive revenue from inside that account -- either by themselves or with their partners.

Building strong partner-to-partner relationships can be hard. Here are 10 suggestions to get you jumpstarted.

1. Pick your partner well. They should share the same client segments you do. They should have solutions that complement yours. Some overlap is likely. The key is to avoid overlap in core business areas. Great communication skills are critical to success.

2. Connect the teams. Clients are wary of "partnerships" that only exist at the executive or sales levels. They want to know that issues between the functional teams will be resolved without finger pointing. Get the client-facing teams together so they get to know each other and build confidence.

3. Understand what each company does well. Relationships frequently fail when one partner fails to follow up on a lead that came from the other company. Partners should take the time to teach each other where they have the most expertise, where their most profitable deals are and what situations cause them to walk away.

4. Be responsive. Client relationships are critical. When the partner calls, it's because a client needs something. You have to be quick in getting information back to your partner.

5. Manage overlap. There's frequently overlap between partners who are working with Microsoft. I would recommend that the first partner in the customer door gets to sell any and all of its offerings. This simple rule removes any bidding situations between the partners. Teams need to be educated about this rule and ensure they follow it. Nothing kills a partnership faster than the perception that a partner is stealing "your" revenue at "your" clients.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Partners must talk frequently -- keeping each other up-to-date on clients, projects and initiatives. This frequency of communication prevents inaccurate assumptions being made or incomplete information from clouding judgments.

7. Share intelligence. Clients will commonly tell you something face-to-face and tell others a totally different side of the story. Your partner can be an additional set of eyes and ears for you with clients. It can be especially helpful in client satisfaction situations. They may be unwilling to pick up the phone and complain, but they might make an offhand comment to someone else with whom they're working. It's critical to share this feedback to the other partner and give them a chance to make corrections.

8. Be honest. Talk to your clients about your partnerships. Sharing of a client's contact information should only be done with permission. Partnerships can be the best of both worlds -- clients get the best-of-breed specialist from each partner combined with the breadth that other partners offer.

9. Document to drive success. Try out a lot of partnerships. Some will work, but others won't. A straightforward non-disclosure is a great quick start. Over time, if you see that a partnership is going to last, put a referral fee agreement into place. This agreement gives motivation to keep track of the partnership. Are the leads only flowing in one direction? Is one party not closing the leads they're passed? This allows for diagnosis and improvement in the relationship. Make sure salespeople are paid on the referral fees; it will motivate them to find leads for the partner company.

10. Toot your partnership's horn. Meet with local Microsoft Partners Sales Executives (PSE) and sales representatives to broadcast the partnership and the mission of the partnership. Get your message to your clients and prospects to emphasize One Microsoft and the power of the Microsoft stack.

The key is to get started. Find good complementary partners in your area by asking for referrals from your local International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) chapter, your nearest Microsoft office, or even your own customers and prospects.

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About the Author

M.S. Partner is a pseudonym for a former Microsoft U.S. field rep who returned to the channel and writes this column to help other partners succeed with Microsoft. Let M.S. Partner know your thoughts and questions about how Microsoft works at mspartner@rcpmag.com.