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Strategic partnerships in marketplace businesses. How to create partnership playbook?

We got together with Yolanda Lee to discuss how marketplace businesses, such as Deliveroo and Uber, run strategic #partnerships and what we can learn from their partnership playbook.

Yolanda led Partnerships APAC & ME at Deliveroo, and before that developed partnerships in Uber and Rocket Internet . The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

This is part 1, you can find the second part here: How to partner in highly competitive markets? How to build your partnership team?

How strategic partnerships are different from day-to-day operation of a marketplace business?

Yolanda, you have an incredible experience in partnerships in Uber, Rocket Internet and then Deliveroo. All of these companies are platform companies, so they partner with riders and they partner with restaurants.

But at the same time, they run B2B strategic partnerships as well, and this is where you were involved. Can you explain how that works?

All of the businesses I've worked in are marketplace models by nature and are partnership businesses in some form of another. They're connecting riders to drivers and like that.

We generally think about the partnerships within the core of the business which keep the business running. It may be partnering with restaurants, partnering with delivery riders, partnering with consumers as well. That is what sits in the core part of the business.

It's almost like a separation between your day-to-day running of the business and then the bigger picture, seeing the forest from the weeds. How are we going to partner with businesses that are going to take us to the next level?

And then you have what we call strategic partnerships. It's almost like a separation between your day-to-day running of the business and then the bigger picture, seeing the forest from the weeds. How are we going to partner with businesses that are going to take us to the next level? And that's really the separation I've seen in all of the marketplace businesses I've worked in.

Can you make an example of how strategic partnerships are different?

A food delivery platform, for instance, is a three-sided marketplace. You partner with delivery riders, you partner with restaurants, and consumers are another part of that equation as well. There's thousands of restaurants on a platform. How that commercial relationship is structured is a form of a partnership, but a much more simpler partnership often, than something like a payment partner.

Working with an Alipay or WeChat Pay, which is going to unlock a vast number of new customers and grow the business in a way that makes a step change. That's how we differentiate. These companies are strategic partners.

How to make a case for a partnership inside your company?

You worked as head of commercials before, which means that you're all about KPIs.

How do you make a case that a partnership actually makes sense?

You start from "who within my platform is this partnership serving and what do these players value?"

If it is a partnership that is looking to tap into a new market segment, then you would look at that segment and what are the sort of things that they value?

  • is it price,

  • is it service,

  • is it a new selection of a product?

  • And how are you better servicing that part, that customer in the end?

You're always starting with the customer, but you layer that with you as a company, your own business objectives.

And then I'd say the icing on top would be feasibility. I often would look at partnerships and evaluation of a partnership and return on effort as well. So looking at the amount of inputs that need to go into a partnership and what is the projected deliverable in terms of internal goals, in terms of externally, how it's serving customers as well.

Example of strategic partnership

I've covered markets within Asia Pacific and the Middle East where financial inclusion can unlock whole vast segments of customers. And strategic partnerships with payment partners can really create a step change.

When I was working in Kenya and where you have something like 2% credit card penetration, running a platform business in a market like that, onboarding payment partners can ultimately change the game.

In building the case for it, we had to look at

  • who our consumers are.

  • what are the broad, high-level market dynamics there.

  • how will integrating with a player like M-Pesa, open up our business to a vast number of customers that we didn't have access to before?

M-Pesa has something like 89% penetration in a market like Kenya.

How to create a partnership playbook

How you build this partnership playbook and how you create a process of creating partnerships, running them and engaging your partners?

What I've tended to do when building out partnerships teams to group together certain kinds of partners and create playbooks accordingly. Because there can be quite a variety in how deals are structured. Our approach is really to take a sector approach.

What I've tended to do when building out partnerships teams to group together certain kinds of partners and create playbooks accordingly.

Take for instance, working with FMCG partners.

How you evaluate, what value is defined for them as a partner, and how that layers with value for us as a platform. That is how we've taken that approach.

1. From opportunity mapping

"Here's where we see opportunities and where we've learned where there can be opportunity and the pros and cons to different sorts of things."

It can be:

  • commercial opportunities,

  • brand opportunities

  • growth opportunities

with these partners and mapping out those opportunities.

2. From there, we'll look at the negotiation and agreement.

Sometimes we're working with global players, and it's important that we take this - because I've always worked in regional roles- is that we take a cohesive approach to the DOs and DON'Ts of how we structure deals with global partners.

3. Then, we'll look at execution

Which is often a very challenging part. What will go into a playbook, are thing like:

  • templates for contracts,

  • templates for NDAs,

  • templates for post-campaign analyses.

4. Then we'll also look at re-negotiations as well

How to learn from your post-campaign analyses and build a better deal going forward?

How to accelerate results in partnerships?

Often companies shake hands on "let's launch a partnership tomorrow." And then, especially in big companies, bureaucracies starting to creep in and partnerships never happen. What are your tricks to speed this up?

It's not always easy. I think it's:

  1. First about partner identification. It's knowing who are the partners that really are going to deliver value for your business

  2. Find your internal advocate, especially when dealing with big companies. That's very important. You need to find the person that is personally or professionally invested in achieving this partnership.

  3. Be very upfront and build that relationship of trust, initially. Be very clear what is feasible from a product standpoint. I think it's often that there's an over-promising and under delivering, and being very clear from both sides, what is feasible, is going to save everybody a lot of time and energy.

  4. Be able to know when to walk away as well. Sometimes you think a partner is on the surface a really great partner, but once you sit down with them and you understand their goals for the next three years or that they're actually going through a big compliance overhaul at the moment or something, is knowing that, okay, this is actually isn't the right time for us and that we should re-engage next quarter, next year, or something like that. That can also save a lot of time.


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