04030 A Good Marriage: Working With Partners

The value of partnering

Compared to manufactured goods or hardware, software products are easy to integrate so that they work together seamlessly. Therefore, collaborating with other software companies to complement and extend the scope of your own product has the potential to transform it and greatly increase your customer base, revenues, and profits.

Joining up with partners can result in offspring where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The ability to form successful partnerships plays a vital role in your company’s success. It’s not enough to get engaged, you want to get married and you want that marriage to last a long, long time.

Thought for the day: How ironic that companies today are spending all sorts of money to build redundant systems and hardware, but shed redundant employees in a flash.

Read on below for some ideas on how to develop a good marriage with the right partner company for your product, and how Product Managers can play a key role in forming a long lasting and fruitful relationship.

(Here’s more about how a Product Manager at a startup can help a partnership with a large company succeed. And here’s more about how a Product Manager at a large company can maximize the potential of a partnership with a startup.)

What Kind of Partner Do You Want?

It’s a big market out there of companies looking to hook up with other companies. Chances are there are several companies that might be a lot more interested in you than you in them, and vice versa.

The only way you’ll find a good match is to be clear what you’re looking for. A Product Manager can help immensely with drawing up the list of desired qualities, based on the product’s strengths and weaknesses, and the capabilities you don’t have that are in demand.

The Product Manager can also provide an understanding about what types of companies are most successful in the market, and where your company faces the biggest hurdles to more sales.

Think a little about what qualities you are looking for, keeping in mind how your company and product are perceived and what you aspire to. Do you like classy? Sexy? Stable? Cautious or adventurous? A little naughty? Courteous and respectful? Brassy, flashy, rich, or salt of the earth? Any of these qualities may be necessary in order for two products and companies to work well together and stick with it.

Getting the First Date

Just getting the right company’s attention and time can be the hardest part of finding a suitable partner. A Product Manager can make a good go-between to talk up the possibilities, how the products complement each other and potential new markets or customers that would appeal to the other company. You can play a role of inside matchmaker, like helping a grandchild or cousin get introduced to someone who catches their eye.

Through casual conversations at trade shows, conferences, and gatherings of experts, the Product Manager can make the other company aware of your own company’s interest and potential.

First Comes Love

Well before any official vows taken before the entire world, there is a significant period of developing mutual interest. The two companies have to understand, respect, and genuinely like each other to survive the ups and downs of contract negotiations for a reseller agreement, strategic alliance, or joint development effort. Here again, a Product Manager can do a lot to keep both sides interested, talking, and optimistic about the prospect of being together.

Then Comes Marriage

Once the agreement is inked comes a long period where you want to work together as harmoniously as possible. Like a real marriage, it may include the Awkward Adjustment Period and the First Big Fight. It also may fall into any one of a variety of patterns you see out there in real life.

Trophy Wives

When a well-off company with a plain, staid product needs a sexy new technology to extend its product appeal, it’s not all that concerned with whether the company with the sexy product is stable or well funded itself. What’s important is that both companies help complete each other in a way they both want.

Marrying Up

Your little startup company with the jaw-dropping product may be hungry to marry up in the world. Your product has the pizzazz and the capabilities. But you need a company with lots of money in the bank, steady revenues, and a strong customer base that you can sell to.

Partnership of Equals

Some arrangements are a partnership of equals. When two strong, standard-bearing companies work together to integrate products or sell collaboratively, it has a powerful impact on the market. But even when two smaller companies do the same, they have better sales coverage and more features, and each one looks larger than the two of them combined.

Best Friends

Some relationships work fine without the two partners needing to be each other’s best friend. But occasionally you get a partnership where not only both companies get along, but they get along wonderfully, and really enjoy working together and being together. The kind of energy that comes out of such a situation helps generate passion and enthusiasm for joint sales and marketing ventures as well as significant integrated product development.

Clash of Family Cultures

We have all seen the tensions and battles that can arise when two very different families, with different backgrounds, preferences, personalities, and lifestyles find themselves thrown together. Two companies that work together may have widely divergent cultures and still be able to work things out. Product Managers on both sides can serve as the equivalent of the happy couple who have to find a way to bridge the gap between the two clans.

In such a situation, it can be beneficial to try to bring together pairs of counterparts from each company. Let the two Development managers meet, or the two Marketing pros. This can help build strong ties even though things might be a little strained when larger groups meet.

You and Me Against the World

The enemies of one company often become the enemies of the other. When considering a potential partner, take a good look at their enemies, because they’ll very often become yours, and pretty quickly, too.

When you have a good partnership, it can be a real comfort to make common cause against your rivals and competitors. Each side can help the other put together more pieces of information to form a more complete picture of the competition’s product development, marketing strategies, and strong and weak points.

Part of Your Life Now

The more time you spend together, the more it sinks in that your partner company is part of your life now, and it’s your duty to make sure that they are fully folded into your world. As Product Manager, keep your eyes and ears open for information and initiatives across your company where your partner company should be included. A quarterly sales meeting? Have a channel sales rep from your partner attend to hear about the success stories, the competition, the pipeline, and targeted prospects. It may turn out your partner can open a door somewhere.

How about when a team of developers reviews a technology for potential alliance or acquisition? Chances are your partner’s technology is similar enough that their developers could gain or provide valuable insight and experience.

A Product Manager can serve as a continuing catalyst for partner participation in your company’s teams, both technical and managerial.

In-Laws With Connections

Finally, there is the potential for your partner’s friends to become your friends. Talk often with your partner to learn about their community of relationships and alliances, and use their connections to reach potential partners and customers that you are interested in as well.

— Jacques Murphy, Product Management Challenges