How to negotiate in Partnerships

Part 2 of E21 with Elsa Said-Armanet who has an incredible track record in leading Partnerships and Biz Dev in Stripe, Twitter and Google. 🏆 How to negotiate with partners, stay top- of-mind when everyone is WFH, how to engage internal teams in partnerships and more.

Part 1 is here.

- Let's move into best practices of partnership management. Sometimes when you launch partnerships, you're not necessarily seeing eye to eye with your partner. Maybe you share tactics that you're employed to reach common ground. What is the way to get back on track when partners see something differently and you don't necessarily reach agreement?

- That's a very good question. There's actually a wealth of literature out there on negotiation. And I'm sure every BD professional has their favourite references and you can google these online as well. But actually, my personal references are professor Stuart Diamond from the Wharton School, because he's very famous and I had the chance to sit in his class. And then another reference would be Chris Voss, who is a former hostage negotiator. And now he even has his own master class, which is really fun to watch. And so the way I actually digested the learnings that I got from them in the day-to-day conflict resolution of partnerships is that essentially there are really two main levers to think about in the relationship with your partner. And the first lever is, do you actually have really strong shared values, or common objectives or common incentives with that partner? And a second lever is actually what is your personal relationship as an individual, with the partner company. And so, now let's take an example, addressing the first lever of the shared values. So let's assume you are in the lucky position. You have closed the deal with that partner, you have done the hard work up front of outlining those shared values and putting incentives in place for both companies to go after those values. And you hit an issue with the partner, the partner comes to you and tell you "oh we would really like you to invest more marketing in the relationship". And so here it's a question of you doing a lot of due diligence to understand why do they come up with that request? And why you may or may not want or may or may not be able to address that request. And so here another example could be that the competitor of yours has approached your partner, and they are offering lots of marketing to your partner. And you as a company, actually it wouldn't be fair for you to offer that marketing and you wouldn't be able to. And so here what could be helpful is for you to do some due diligence as to why this competitor is offering this. Why it's not fair for you to offer the same and have that very transparent discussion with your partner where you really explain "these are the dynamics of play, and this is why we're having this difficult conversation right now, and this is why this is the outcome that we're driving towards". And so if you already have that trust relationship in place with your partner upfront and those shared values, having those transparent conversations can often help unlock an issue. That said, it might also be the case that this issue really reveals that there is a misalignment in values or objectives with your partner, and maybe your partner maybe was even aligned with you before, but now they're not anymore. They had a reorg internally and they have a different vision for their product. And then it's really a question of you asking yourself do you really want to close that deal? You want to work with them going forward? And what will this partnership look like six months to a year from now. And you might actually find yourself in a position where you are a skilled negotiator and your point of contact in the partner company is a skilled negotiator. And you will somehow be able to form a deal or form a partnership, but then longer term, there won't be incentives in place to have the relationship thrive. So you might actually want to ask yourself the hard questions and re-evaluate here. The second lever here would be your personal relationship with a partner. There are two easy ways to improve this, actually. One is being very visible to your partner. Being very accessible. Spend a lot of time with them. The second is, make sure that you regularly give what I would call emotional rewards to your partner. Make sure that you talk about in a genuine way, things that you admire in your partner, in their company. Things that you're grateful for from your partner. Do they really help you on a tricky issue with their own hierarchy? Because, everybody likes emotional reward. Everybody likes positive feedback. Even yourself, I'm sure you'd love to receive emotional rewards from your partner after you give them emotional rewards. So that's like doubling down on building a stronger relationship there. And often, people may not tend to think about that because there is not this regular feedback mechanism between partners that would be within the company with your peers. And then last but not least, what happens in interpersonal relationships in partnerships, could be that, everybody has different personalities. And sometimes you may have a better rapport with someone else than with another person. And a very extreme example that I remember, Stuart Diamond giving to his students at Wharton was that maybe you even want to think about changing the person who is negotiating with your partner. Maybe you want to send someone else and you on your behalf to negotiate for you. And he was talking about how, for instance, the United States, instead of sending a diplomacy official to negotiate with North Korea and Kim Jong Un, maybe they should send Dennis Rodman. Because Dennis Rodman is someone that formed a friendship with Kim Jong Un. And so how can you actually apply that advice in your day to day role. Well, it could be that you spend a lot of time not only with your dedicated point of contacts but with as many people in the company as you can across different functions, and across different hierarchical levels. And try to identify people who will be your champion or your sponsor within the organization. And when things get tough, maybe you can then go to that person and ask them to bring your message on your behalf.

- It's actually very thoughtful and good advice. I really like your framework. But let's talk about internal communication, because a partnership person is often like an ambassador. So they are in the middle between external teams of partners and then internal teams of their own colleagues. And which is sometimes not less difficult to navigate. What is your advice on engaging the internal team in this partnership in a way that it's actually helpful?

- Here, it's a question of, first of all thinking about what are the common incentives that you could have with other teams within your own organizations towards a common goal. And so sometimes these incentives may be there. And sometimes they may be very evident. And sometimes they may not. And so it makes sense to, for instance, every quarter, at the start of the quarter, when you're planning for your objectives and key results, your OKRs. It makes sense to actually sit down with those teams, and let's say the sales teams or the marketing team, and understand what their priorities are for the quarter that they have. And understand how you as a team can support their effort. And often actually a business development team will be able to support sales efforts specifically in growing revenue, or a marketing team's efforts acquiring more partners. Or even in terms of brand marketing, some of the partners that you may bring can also be held as a reference in brand marketing communications. And so making sure that you have that OKR discussion upfront, even though you may think that you've already aligned, really will help you outline what are the things that partnerships can do, or BD can do for the other teams. But also what these other teams can do to help accelerate your own efforts. For instance, let's say you work on the European wide partnerships team, and the sales team has a lot of headcount all across Europe. They have headcount in Italy, they have headcount in Russia, and you are covering all of Europe on your own in London. When the sales team can help you with on the ground business intelligence, market intelligence and also on the ground introductions. And then if you are talking to marketing, like I said, you can bring them content for their marketing communications. And likewise, marketing teams can think about potentially allocating some partner marketing budget or developing a partner marketing function to support the partnership team's efforts.

When everyone is remote, engagement and constant communication is something that is more and more important. What are the tools or ways or maybe advice you have for companies to be on top of mind of their partners? What is the frequency of communications that you maintain with your partners? And what was your process around that, if you would be willing to share?

- You need to have a cadence of meetings with your partners, particularly existing partners. And typically, you will have one to two online meetings a week to discuss both day to day and also strategic vision. One meeting might be a bit more technical, the other meeting might be a bit more business oriented or strategy oriented and that's a meeting that will take place between relationship managers. And then on say a quarterly basis, you should have a quarterly business review type of engagement. So a multiple-hour meeting that also can take place online. Which will involve yourself and your counterparty partner management, but also everybody who is involved in the partnership at multiple levels of the hierarchy. So think about directors, executive sponsors, and also people from other functions like let's say product, engineering, marketing, which also has an impact on the success of the partnership. And this meeting is often about reminiscing about what happened throughout the quarter, what were the successes to be celebrated, what were the issues that have been addressed and what's going to be the continuous effort in addressing those issues? Where both companies are going at a strategic level? And what's the increasing scope of partnerships that the two companies should start exploring at this stage, given the strategic level agendas that are being shared? And then two other parts can also happen in this meeting. One is a bit unexpected content or unusual content, which could be for instance, someone from your product team coming and presenting a new product that your company is working on, that could be of interest to that partner or that could just be interesting for a partner to hear about. And finally, you should also have some fun element to that meeting, hopefully to reinforce the relationship. And that could take the form of many things. It could be an icebreaker between all of the participants. That could be a challenge or team challenge that you work towards. I mean in pre-COVID times that could be going out for lunch or for dinner. And so any way that you can replace that with an online fun activity, will be great.

- Elsa, let me ask you another question. What do you think partnership teams should start doing differently?

- When you think about partnership teams, they're all about having high impact and doing more with less. And it's also all about first of kind deals. First of kind says relationships, first of a kind contracts. So on the surface of this function, when you look at it, it doesn't look like there are a lot of business processes which can be easily replicable. And when you contrast this with the job of a sales team or marketing team, for instance. When a sales team will engage in a lot of almost replicable or repeatable engagements with a long list of clients. And they actually have a lot of tools to assist them in their work. They will work with Salesforce, they will have lots of tools to help them manage the relationship or manage their contracts. In comparison to a partnerships team, because they're all about working on something new, they don't really have those tools. But actually, I would encourage partnership teams to take a step back and think about in the value chain of all the activities, what are the business processes which are replicable, and which can be automated with an external tool or an internally developed tool? And one key example here is once you've closed the partnership, you have to report regularly to your partner on the partnership's performance. And so actually reporting is to this day, sometimes a massive pain for certain partnership teams. Partnerships managers have to do them themselves manually every month, it may distract them from spending their time on high impact activities. And so, are there external companies that they can engage in developing those tools or to actually license those tools? Or can they as a company develop those tools that will enable them to share those performance results? Not only every month, but ideally, instantly in a dynamic way in the form of a dashboard with their partner externally. And so yeah, if they can achieve that, that would be for sure an amazing impact.

- Partnerships are difficult to measure. Sometimes it takes a long time. And sometimes, results are not that obvious. From your experience across all these great companies, what was your approach of measuring partnership success?

- Well, it depends on the company and the type of partnership that you're working on. As a rule of thumb, I would look at three or four different factors. Often you will have very measurable results that you can see from the partnership. If you're doing a distribution partnership, it's going to be about value - more revenue, or user acquisition. If you're doing a product partnership, it's about how well of a job do you use a company to distribute your partner's product. But then there will be somewhat less tangible factors as well. One would be again, the quality of the interpersonal relationship that you have with the partner company. How strong is a relationship with the key execs within the company? How strong is the relationship with the partnership managers? Then I would talk about how well are you anticipating potential risks to the relationship? Is the relationship really risky or not? Then if it is risky actually, do you have some fallback solutions that you think you can address? What's your risk strategy there? Another angle could be how much do you think you are serving your partnership success? How crucial are you to your partnership success? And that could be measured by what's your share of wallet in your partner. So for instance, your partner may be working with several partners, and you represent 50% of the traffic that's being driven to your partner or 10% or 30%. And actually, the more you are crucial for the success of your partner, the more you can also longer term think about more strategic collaborations with them. But thinking about the fifth one, it could be how many strategic themes do you collaborate on right now? Some people in sales call them trains. So how many trains or strategy projects do you work on with your company? Is it just like the one project? Or are you working on three projects or five projects? And the more of the strategic collaborations you have going also shows how complex and deeply ingrained your partner with the company is.

- Thank you so much. I think almost everything you say is some kind of framework that could be immediately applied to business, which is absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing.

- You're welcome. Really great speaking to you.

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