Guest Post: Communicating with Partners Drives Success—but It Requires a Plan
Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, famously said: “Communicate everything you can to your associates. The more they know, the more they care. Once they care, there is no stopping them.”
Communication is also critical for partnerships to thrive. And taking an organized approach to planning communication can help ensure that stakeholders understand and appreciate partnerships.
As alliance professionals, we sometimes get caught up in responding to the day-to-day activities associated with introducing new partnerships and supporting existing ones. But it can be constructive to use an organized approach to plan for upcoming communications. By creating a partnership communication plan, we become more intentional and targeted in our communications, and we introduce a new model for getting the word out.
Why Make a Plan?
The plan focuses on reminding colleagues about the opportunities available for making an impact with our alliances and the benefits that come from their success. As people leave or change roles and new colleagues join the company, setting up a system of routine communication helps us refresh the memories of all parties. Perhaps most important, having a communication plan puts a stake in the ground and shows our commitment and determination to keep letting our colleagues know about the value of partnerships.
How to Do It
Just as marketing professionals use a social media calendar to plan their upcoming posts and the content that will be used to promote their offerings and build awareness, alliance managers can create a partnership communication plan as their central source for ideas and cadence of outreach to contacts in the months ahead.
With a partnership communication plan, we have a chance to experiment, change it up, and try different types of communication to see what works best and has the greatest resonance, reach, and impact. Emails are great, but we can also be more creative, using other methods such as social media posts, short surveys with the results shared after they are compiled, blogs, and infographics.
For example, put together a short video Q&A session with a customer or a colleague at either partner company. Host a webinar on a particular aspect of the relationship. Trying different ways of communicating will generate some buzz and enthusiasm for the alliance.
Alliance managers actually spend a great deal of their time communicating with colleagues inside their organization. This internal communication about partnerships can cover a wide range of topics:
- Who are our partners?
- What is the purpose of each partnership?
- How does each partnership create value?
- How do we collaborate with our partners?
As part of this internal communication, it is important to get buy-in from different associates. Some are by nature skeptical of partnerships, or they may be reluctant to share information for fear of introducing risk to a client relationship or a sales opportunity. The partnership manager can try to alleviate these concerns by showing the positive side—for example, a straightforward explanation of the benefits that can be realized if the partnership relationship is embraced.
At the same time, don’t let a handful of disbelievers stop you. Keep communicating. They may come around to realize the value of partnership, but if not, that’s okay. Accept it and keep going.
A partnership communication plan gives us the ability to develop and reinforce connections at different levels in our own organization via messaging that is aimed at different groups. For instance, we may have communication designed for the client success team one quarter, and a different message tailored to the product group in the next quarter.
External Communication with Partners
Then there is communication with our partners. This includes alliance managers at the other organizations, as well as account managers, sellers, and operations and IT teams.
When we communicate with our partners, we share important information they can use. We demonstrate trust. We show that we trust our partner’s team to know about our goals, our customers, and how we can win together in the market. Communicating this information is a powerful tool and increases the chances for joint success.
Relevance and Relationships
Communication takes effort. Be sure to develop content that is absolutely relevant to your audience. By making the message clear and appropriate we ensure that it is easily understood. We do not have to be agonizingly detailed—in fact, keeping it short and simple is usually best and appreciated by all.
Building strong, lasting relationships is a key goal of our partnership communication plan. With that in mind, it is a good idea to include content that speaks to the value of the partnership and how we are in this relationship together for our common benefit.
Marc Benioff, founder and co-CEO of Salesforce, put it well in his book Trailblazer: “Relationships in business are just like those in life, in the sense that it’s all about connection, not transaction. Business is temporal, but relationships are eternal. Which means they have to be genuine, and built on common ground.”
Scheduling and Frequency
Consider when to communicate, and how often, as part of your plan. While it may never be the perfect time to have a call, webinar, or meeting, some times are probably better than others.
Communication is not a one-and-done activity. Frequency matters. We know from studies about “effective reach” that it takes multiple times for someone to be exposed to a message for it to register.
Just as the content in our messaging varies, the interval for communicating will vary based on the organization and the partnership. But including some target dates in the communication plan is highly recommended, at least to use as the base case or model for what is desired.
Your Reputation Is on the Line
Create a favorable reputation with each message or activity. To execute on the communication at regular intervals will usually require the cooperation of different managers. If you are going to present at a sales team session, for example, it will require an invitation from the leader of that group. Your favorable reputation as someone who brings forward worthwhile information and doesn’t waste anyone’s time will lead to more such invitations.
Developing the highly regarded reputation we all want takes effort—and time—to earn. But if you have a positive reputation, more people will open your emails and read your social media posts!
The Key to Success
Sam Walton said, “If you have to boil down the Walmart system to one single idea, it would probably be our communication, because it is one of the real keys to our success.”
For alliance managers, skillful and regular communication with our internal teams and our partners contributes greatly to the success of our partnerships. Putting a partnership communication plan in place can help.
Ezra Schneier is the corporate development manager at HRSoft.