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4 Ways To Keep Partner-to-Partner Relationships Strong

The intentions are always good. Whether introduced through Microsoft to deliver a complex project or connecting through an International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP) meeting, most partner-to-partner relationships start with high hopes but don't deliver as expected.

What are the factors that lead to lasting partnerships that drive real economic results for both parties? KiZAN Technologies and Netmail are reaping rewards from a growing partnership and shared lessons learned from their collaboration.

Building Trust
When a client asked KiZAN, a multi-gold systems integrator (SI), to perform an objective comparison of multiple GroupWise-to-Exchange migration tools before committing to the project, Netmail's migration solution was included in the evaluation. While KiZAN engineers had previously used a different GroupWise-to-Exchange migration tool, by the end of the assessment they were convinced that Netmail was the best choice.

Working together for the first time on a large project was a concern for both companies' teams. "We knew it would be a challenging project," explained Robert Steele, VP of infrastructure services at KiZAN. "When you are talking about moving 16,000 users from platform that they've used for 20 years, the inertia alone was bound to create challenges."

The KiZAN and Netmail teams coordinated closely before and during the project, building confidence in one another as they went. "When we hit a bump in the road, the Netmail team worked around the clock to give us the extra support we needed," Steele said. "That was the kind of relationship we were looking for and made the project a real success." 

Cultural Fit
Following the project, Steele and the Netmail management team met at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) to talk about expanding the relationship. A candid conversation reviewing their first joint project -- assessing what went well and what could be improved -- reinforced the potential of a valuable partnership.  

Both organizations feel that the similar size and cultural fit are key ingredients to the success of the partnership. "I went to their headquarters and Netmail's management has visited our offices," Steele said. "To bring the best of the best to our customers, we need a close alignment."

"We don't take the word 'partnering' lightly," added Charles Nguyen, VP of partnerships and business development of Netmail. "It requires complete transparency and trust in one another."

Aligned Priorities
For any partnership to survive after the first project is done requires an alignment of business priorities. Especially important in this time of cloud transitions, KiZAN and Netmail share neutrality in the client's choice of deployment. They both support both cloud and on-premises deployments.

"Our first priority is to understand the customer needs and then determine whether or not the cloud is the right fit," Steele said. "We have practices that support both cloud and on-prem, so we offer both and help our customers decide what is best for them."

While some independent software vendors (ISVs) -- and even Microsoft -- sometimes forget that SIs and value-added resellers (VARs) are in the services, not the product, business, Netmail works hard to keep partner priorities in front.

"We understand the importance of the partner's professional services revenue, as well as the trust that their customers place in those services," Nguyen said. "We create the tools to help partners build their practice."

For Netmail, formerly known as Messaging Architects, additional benefits of the partnership comes from the depth of KiZAN's technical and business operations knowledge. The close working relationship means that KiZAN gives Netmail feedback on what they are seeing in the field. Such feedback allows them to continuously enhance the functionality of their solutions.

In terms of business development, KiZAN and Netmail have run joint marketing campaigns but find the most success through joint account planning. Sales reps from both companies work together to identify potential customers and pursue opportunities.

Win for Both Sides
"What makes partnerships work is being honest and understanding what the other needs," Steele said. "It may be cliché, but it has to be a win-win. The partnerships that work best are where both sides understand the other's objectives and work together to achieve them."

There are few, if any, partners today that can deliver all the solutions to their clients without the help of another partner. Those relationships can be merely a convenience, or built into something that brings more value to clients and additional profits to the company. The latter requires commitment and time investment, but can pay off with big rewards.

Are you taking a creative approach to partnering? Add a comment below or send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

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Posted by Barb Levisay on January 22, 2015 at 8:12 AM