Ego Trips Won’t Take Your Partner Ecosystem Far

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Member Resources, Collaborative Connections,

Greg Burge, CSAP, principal of Collaborative Partnering Services, channeled his inner basketball coach to kick off the April edition of the Collaborative Connection Monthly webinar and roundtable series, “Ecosystem or Egosystem? Curating Your Partner Community for Optimal Outcomes,” in his role as moderator of the event. 

“Just as there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team,’ your ecosystem should be ego-free as well,” Burge proclaimed. 

This month’s featured guest, Jim G. Chow, partnerships/business development leader at AI21 Labs, confessed that he didn’t come up with the event title, but he was impressed with the creativity because it neatly sums up a chief reason many a partnership goes wrong. 

“That’s pretty powerful,” said Chow. “I definitely could’ve used [that phrase] in my arsenal the last 20 years.” 

That’s because many companies are “all about me, me, me. How are you going to serve me? How many leads and opportunities are you going to bring to me? How many salespeople are you going to train for me? How many implementation people are you going to get certified for me?” said Chow, who then added that these companies tend to view partnering more as a “tactic.” “They’re not afraid to say, ‘If you stop giving me value, I’ll just throw you to the side and get the next partner,’” or, “‘If I need to screw you to win this deal, I’m going to do it.’” 

C-ing the Principles of Ecosystem-Friendly Partnerships

In order to steer clear of egocentric allies and pick “ecosystem friendly” partners, Chow, a self-styled “glutton for punishment who loves partnerships,” debuted a new philosophy he called the “five Cs”:

  1. Customer – “Who are the partners important in their value chain for the kind of solution you’re offering to the customer in the middle? Where do you fall into their value chain, and who are the other entities, companies that are part of this value chain?” Chow said.
  2. Competency – Chow, who spent the last decade at Google Cloud and now works in the burgeoning AI space, noted that he has seen partners struggle to adapt to emerging technologies over the years. A little while ago, many were stuck in the world of packaged software solutions implemented in data centers when forward-thinking companies were moving to the cloud. Today, AI is requiring a totally different skill set and talent base. 
  3. Compatibility – Business models, priorities, and technologies must be more “complementary” than “competitive,” said Chow. “Anytime there is messiness or grayness [in business visions], it gets complicated when you translate that into field motions.”
  4. Culture – Chow placed a “huge emphasis” on this aspect; the first three Cs are essentially moot without cultural harmony. Disparities in pace (nimble versus plodding), risk tolerance (conservative versus freewheeling), and organizational flexibility (easy to work with versus bureaucratic) are “a very common reason why these partnerships that make sense on paper fail,” said Chow. 
  5. Craving – How hungry is the potential partner to get a collaboration up and running? Is the organization inspired to “drive your mission and our partnership together?” offered Chow.  

The Link in the Chain

It takes a little effort to fully understand one’s place on the aforementioned customer value chain. For sales and go-to-market–oriented partnerships, Chow exhorted alliance professionals to ask, “Who are the trusted advisors of the customer when they have a problem and they are looking for a solution like ours? Who do they go talk to as their trusted advisors? Who do they go ask and typically buy from?” Those looking for help with implementations have to answer, “What is needed for that customer to implement my solution fully and successfully within their business?” 

To illustrate his point, Chow shared stories from his days managing Google Cloud partnerships around the middle of last decade. Looking to break into the enterprise market by helping customers migrate applications to the cloud, the search engine giant turned to several global systems integrators (GSIs) that already had relationships with prospects and were very familiar with these customer environments—in particular, they knew how to rationalize which applications to move and when. Google also partnered with certain independent software vendors (ISVs) that brought monitoring, testing, and automation tools that could bring these migrations to fruition. 

Monitoring Partner Performance “Like Your Hard-Earned Money”

With an ecosystem in place, Chow turned to a personal investment portfolio analogy to make the point that alliance managers have to segment partners into conservative, moderate, and risky bets. For example, he said, GSIs could fall into the “high-risk, high-return” category, nimbler consulting firms and regional SIs that require a little investment might fall in the medium-risk bucket, while “low-risk resellers” could “bring in some nickels, dimes, and dollars,” Chow said. 

Then you want to set goals. In Chow’s hypothetical example, an organization was striving for 3 to 10 percent growth in partner-driven revenue in the first year, 25 percent in the second year, and perhaps 33 to 40 percent in year three. Like your investment portfolio, you don’t want to “just set it and forget it,” Chow said, when it comes to monitoring partner performance against these metrics because, in all likelihood, some bets may not pan out. It’s incumbent upon ecosystem managers to recognize and replace underperforming partners earlier than later. 

“If I’m not getting the right directional indicators, the right milestones hitting, I’m going to switch that [partner] out for something else because it’s just not working. It’s something to be managed and monitored like your hard-earned money,” said Chow. 

It’s Good to Be the King…of a Smaller Fiefdom

Chow concluded with a final lesson that less is more when it comes to partner portfolio size. Be wary of senior executives who are hellbent on signing up “as many partners as possible and showing we are the king of this market.” If you sign up a glut of partners, the resulting portfolios could be too unwieldy to manage. Plus, many might not be a good fit, which means that just a few partners will be driving 80 percent of partner-driven business anyway. 

“For me, it’s the fewer, the better,” said Chow.