In part 1 of this series, we explored the overall vendor mix and compatibility strategies in building an ecosystem, what they might look like and some of the challenges in building our vendor/partner relationships. Although there is no guaranteed formula in creating and supporting these ecosystems, there are best practices to employ when managing them. Building upon these best practices, we can manage our go to market with our ecosystem, and be successful in how we communicate with them.
Once we have chosen a few partners, and we are growing our ecosystem, our next step is defining how we will work together to set clear expectations for both vendor and partner. This is a critical step that we often overlook. A partnership needs care and feeding, just like any other relationship. Setting things up from the start will serve us well later.
Defining the priorities and clear goals in our relationship will establish a framework from which to build upon. We need to agree on what they are, and who is responsible for them. For this, a good, basic joint business plan will bring all parties together to agree on priorities, goals, responsibilities and time frames. It does not have to be anything fancy, lengthy or require weeks of effort. But it does need to provide the documentation on what we are building our partnership on, and why we are doing it. Some critical elements of a business plan are:
- Clear Objective Unified Goals – This is the first step in creating a plan together. All the goals in the plan need to clearly state what the goals are and how it would benefit both of us. It is at this stage that we can clearly define the value proposition to the vendor and the partner, and if we can all align and market that value proposition and joint goals, then the rest of the plan will come together far more easily.
- Stake Holders and Responsible Parties – Once we have decided on the goals of our relationship, we map out all the stake holder and responsible parties for each objective along the way. More than likely, this will be a combination of our team and the vendor team to bring these goals over the finish line. At this stage, it’s extremely important to define ownership about who is accountable.
- Timeframes – Next up would be a best-case time line. As with all goals, we need timelines towards success. Drawing a line in the virtual sand helps us prioritize on actions and base other activities around the completed outcomes. Be cautious not to be too “set in stone” with them though. Sometimes we need to reset expectations due to things out of our control. We sometimes need to revisit the plan and adjust as necessary.
- Milestones – As with any good plan, we need to set milestones or markers of progress into our planning and review process. These are the “mini goals” within a larger goal framework. These milestones will ensure that the plan is on track, and that the teams are moving forward with regard to the specific goals. Often times, these are also good markers for other activities that can be done to bolster goal related efforts, like marketing or training.
- Review Cadence – When we initially lay out the business plan, we need to establish the cadence of how we are going to check in with one other to ensure everything is on track. Best practice is a formalized QBR of some kind quarterly or every other month; along with a weekly or bi monthly status check with documented accomplishments, next steps, and open issues.
The next critical step in any ecosystem is setting up the communication channels. Research shows that communication is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in partner/vendor relationships. It seems that we often struggle to get and keep this aspect working. We can establish guidelines for communication models that work most of the time. People have different ways they take in information. Some like to read, some like to watch, some like to do. And in today’s world, there are many different ways to consume information. If we want to get communication to work, then we need to commit to a multi-channel, multi-format process for communicating with our vendors and partners. Some of the most important factors to consider:
- Be Consistent – The best way for us to establish communication channels with our vendor and partner it to become consistent and predictable in the time and type of communications we push out to our ecosystem. Our communication channels need to be at regular, predictable times and formats. For example, if we publish a monthly newsletter, send it on the same day every month. This pattern will set up as an expected way for our partners and vendors to receive information from us.
- Format – As many studies have shown, people need to see, hear and talk about something seven times before it is committed to memory. Studies also show that people learn in a variety of ways, so we should consider at least 3 different delivery mechanisms for our messages. At a best-case scenario, our top three should be email, video and social. These 3 types of communication have shown to be the most accepted and successful ways to communicate with vendors and partners.
- Be Relevant – The biggest difference between successful and unsuccessful communication strategies comes down to relevance of material. The more relevant our message is to the audience receiving it, the more likely we are to have our communications well received. Consider a newsletter packed with marketing information. A developer or other technical person is not going to read the newsletter because it is of no value to them. Likewise, a newsletter with only technical content would be glossed over by a sales person. The closer you can align your content with the reader, the more effective your communications become.
- Enable Communication at All Levels – Establishing communications using the best practices noted here will hit most of the communications channels we need to address: Sales, Technical, Marketing, Development, and Executive. Depending on the vendor we have chosen, and the strategic nature of our partnerships, aligning at the executive level is a critical best practice often overlooked. Again, like the business planning exercise, this does not have to be a big production; instead it is a connection between the executive levels in each organization to ensure we are in alignment with the strategic visions for each of us. As much time as we spend making sure the product, sales, technical and marketing is in sync can all be washed away if the strategic vision for either the partner or vendor changes. Making sure you have enabled communication within all levels of our organization is a best practice for success.
In conclusion, building out a partner ecosystem our business can be a powerful differentiator for your company, for your market evaluation, and to enable your clients’ success. If we take the necessary time to evaluate all aspects of a potential relationship, and then manage the relationship with these industry best practices, we will be on our way to a successful, vibrant ecosystem that positively impacts our top and bottom lines.