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From corporate joint ventures and M&A, to co-branding and deep integrations, partnerships are everywhere, and becoming increasingly crucial for operational success amid complex business environments. But successful partnerships don’t just happen. Leaders grapple with challenges within collaborations that threaten the value or health of their business, from geographical barriers to the effective use of sophisticated technologies.
Strong partnerships can be the deciding factor behind how well you can operate for your end user. Like many executives, I learned the hard way that the health of a partnership can impact your work and bottom line for better or worse. And as a product leader, I’ve witnessed partnerships that have been so aligned that they’ve ended in a merger, and others that have dissolved to the detriment of a company’s product.
The lessons I learned from those experiences helped my team pull off a smooth transition recently when we made a change to a core banking partnership. Partnerships with banks are operational requisites in fintech, and quality relationships with partners can make or break your product and your business. The case is similar in most highly regulated industries. Here’s how to set yourself up for success in partnerships:
Build a team that rallies around change
You could have the most meticulously planned idea, but complications and roadblocks are inevitable in product development. As Mike Tyson famously said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Especially in fast-moving sectors, startups and team leads should consider all plans as subject to change — roadblocks and curveballs are often out of anyone’s control, so when you build out your department, consider the ability of potential team members to adapt tolerate quick pivots.
On the product side, just a minor update requires testing, iterating, and adjusting. Don’t build a team that optimizes for a perfect plan. Instead, build that culture of agility, flexibility, and collaboration. A team with a startup mindset will help you scale and propel your part of the business forward even if a partnership doesn’t go as planned.
To lead a team that can pull off significant pivots, look for candidates who not only demonstrate competence in a use case or industry, but also who don’t shy away from a challenge, instead demonstrating a willingness to rally around change and play nicely with others.
Synergy is everything in partnerships
Synergy should go at the top of the rubric when you’re evaluating potential external partners. This will likely look like complementary operational practices, mutually beneficial goals and interests, and transparency from the onset.
You can suss out partnership viability within the first few conversations with a potential company. Having candid conversations around goals and defining success within a certain time frame together is important, but what will really illuminate the likelihood of partnership success is digging into how you’ll get there. For example, if in an early conversation with a partner, you mutually agree on 100,000 leads by the end of the year but have no clue how you’ll work together to make that happen, those 100,000 leads likely won’t be realized.
Collaborative, deep partnerships are important because they create better experiences for the end user. If the working relationship isn’t there, your products may not be able to reach their full potential.
You’re never overcommunicating to your internal or external team
During significant change, alignment is so critical to the point that overcommunication is essentially impossible. But you need to communicate well outside of massive product or partnership changes, too. Minor disruptions can impact your customer success, sales, or business development teams more than you realize.
And information can fall through the cracks at the most inopportune times, especially in a hybrid workplace. So maintaining open and frequent communication with all teams and stakeholders helps ensure clarity (even if you feel like you’re repeating yourselves). As a rule of thumb, assume that almost everyone will read an email (even if not immediately) and that 60-70% of the team will read a Slack message. And if the information is important — for example, a significant delay or bug that will impact several teams — it can’t hurt to repeat yourself across many communication channels.
Product teams in particular are so dialed into the rapid pace we’re moving at to build and scale our vision that it’s easy to forget how exciting some of our work can be for our customer success, marketing, or recruiting teammates. We tend to naturally communicate substantial updates, like new integrations, services, or capabilities — all worth celebrating — but the day-to-day work can fly under the radar.
Everyone at your company likely wants to contribute to the core mission, and any metrics your team can share that can highlight the work you’re doing to achieve those goals will boost engagement across the board. Even if the information might seem insignificant or repetitive to you, it likely is not to the other departments and will provide much-needed context as to why certain investments are being made in a product, and how it is performing.
Building a dynamic partnership boils down to effective collaboration towards your mutual interest. A solid foundation with excellent synergy and communication goes a long way to creating an enduring relationship that helps fulfill both companies’ missions and visions. But wise leaders will supplement this foundation with a team that can roll with the punches and adapt when needed, because it might not all go according to plan.
Herman Man is Chief Product Officer at BlueVine.
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