Myth-stake of Partner Building 102: Collaborating as partners does not mean suspending reality or believing in the fantasy that each partner does not have their own special self-interests which will always be far more important than those of the partnership.
In this series of Alliance Alchemy© posts on the myth-stakes of partner building, we are examining some of the more common myths – and frequent mistakes based upon them – witnessed in partner, alliance, and channel building across the many technology market segments of PLM. I call these “myth-stakes” because they are quite often understandable mistakes based on widely held myths of partner-making, as opposed to avoidable blunders based on the unforgiving reality of competitive markets.
In Myth-stake 101 we explored the imperative of having a shared understanding and aligned vision for the market opportunity both parties hope to pursue as partners, and which they presumably can’t do as well independently. This prerequisite business vision quest is applicable whether the partnership type is one of channel reseller, system integrator, service provider, alliance member, technology OEM, or R&D consortia.
Having a shared vision of the larger opportunity does not mean both partners also share or overlap each other’s role in manifesting the common vision, nor should they. However, the exercise in market vision forces both partners to sit on the same side of the table to view the market opportunity as potential collaborators. Or discover that they are more likely situational coopetitioners if not permanent competitors.
If prospective partners cannot pull off this initial qualifying discussion that should be easy – for whatever reasons which are often more business culture than technology in nature – then they should take a pass. It is not a failure in partner-making to learn early on that you just don’t share the same vision or excitement which can power a relationship for the long distance. Investing in a fundamentally flawed relationship and hoping for the best, however, is a failure. After making this mistake several times myself on both sides of a partnership, I have learned the hard way there is no shame in flushing obstacles out as early as possible before the conversation dives prematurely into the products, people, and processes required to execute, and a deal takes on a life of its own in a race to the finish line.
The next common myth-stake is thinking that partners, once aligned on a shared vision and sufficiently excited without competitive concerns, will invest to fill the missing holes in each other’s business, even if only indirectly. No, they will likely invest only in their own business and only when it is to their own advantage for their own self-interest. They will not help you to create or complete what is missing in your own business model that should be a must-have regardless of your size. That is the role of equity investors or employee shareholders. This is true whether you are a small niche technology provider missing a viable go-to-market plan or a big enterprise solution provider missing industry-specific competencies.
However, each partner will invest in their own business in ways that can have the effect of extending or magnifying the footprint and value of their partners. And if they do this for the right reasons the partnership can actually be more sustainable over the long haul because it is in their own interest to do so without always having to be convinced or sold any further.
There is nothing wrong with partners acting in their own self-interest first. If fact, a good relationship gets this out on the table early on so each party can plan around an unambiguous definition of what are the must-protect self-interests that are not negotiable. You can’t help each other to win if you don’t know what the wins are or how they fit against your own goals as if an interlocking jigsaw puzzle.
Yet, how many times have channel professionals watched conflicts arise over territory ownership, product direction, account leadership, IP ownership, pricing decisions, and margin sharing as if any of these should be a surprise. The organizations within each partner also act in their own self-interest first, even if they rationalize it later on as having been for the collective good. While I may personally wish this was not always so in life, it is an undeniable fact of our economy. That said, I have observed that partnerships which “get this” inconvenient truth upfront have much better chances of surviving if not thriving long-term to go on to do great things together for the collective good of the industries and professional communities which they serve.
Partner & Alliance Building Myth-stake 102: Collaborating as partners does not mean suspending reality or believing in the fantasy that partners don’t each have their own special self-interests that are ultimately far more important than those of the partnership. Instead, it requires a mutually self-aware and candid discussion of these market motivations and self-interests not only at the top of their organizations, but throughout them on both sides. Often this discussion can be best moderated and vetted by an outside professional who can see both sides from afresh, but that is my unapologetic declaration of self-interest!