Partner Bonding: What Does It Mean?
Posted By Ezra Schneier, Thursday, June 10, 2021
What is partner bonding, and how do you achieve it? That state where an alliance is more than just a relationship, where two companies do more than share customers and bring innovative solutions together—where each looks at the other as an extension of their own business, both put the best interest of the partnership first, and they truly share values.
Yes, traditional alliance life cycle management, partner enablement, and trust building are key elements to forming such a tight bond, just as they are in any partnership.
But first, true partner bonding requires an organized, thoughtful plan. How will the partnership be executed? What steps will be taken to launch, manage, and grow the alliance? How will the team members be treated?
Second, partner bonding requires a strong commitment on both sides of the partnership. All alliance stakeholders must agree and commit to the following statements:
- We are in this alliance because we trust each other.
- We will take the time to understand each other and to learn about our respective offerings.
- We will always speak highly about our partner and act with integrity where they’re concerned.
- We will always be open, transparent, and honest with each other.
But more than this, partner bonding takes time, and often occurs through action in the field involving real people and real customers. Bonding can start to take hold after a challenging situation arises and the partner comes through. They did what was promised—maybe they even went above and beyond and made the customer really happy. Or, there was an obstacle or someone dropped the ball, and the partner defused the crisis. As a result, the partners enabled each other to shine, and amid the stress, their bond is developed and strengthened.
Couple these eye-opening external events with frequent internal championing of the alliance and constant communication between partner teams, and pretty soon people start to understand that they are part of something bigger than just a standard relationship.
How It’s Done
My company, HRSoft, a small, specialized software firm focused on advanced compensation management technology, has had the good fortune of bonding with a large software company ally by filling a critical product gap that arises in certain situations. How have we evolved to be a “great partner”? Here are a few of our activities that have nurtured and cemented our partner bonding:
- Training of our internal team members. Every six months we conduct a 30-minute training session for our sales, account management, and service delivery colleagues about the partnership. In those sessions we review what it means to be a great partner—and specifically, how to approach certain situations. We vary the content to keep it fresh and interesting. This has proven helpful in reinforcing the priority of our partnership and removing uncertainty about what to do in different scenarios. For example:
Same-day follow-up on all inquiries from our partner and their customers.
Understanding and supporting the partner’s associates in achieving their goals. This includes the alliance team plus sales and client relationship colleagues in the field.
Showcasing the integration of our software solutions to emphasize the connectivity of the products, including data transfer, single sign-on, and reporting features.
No criticism of our partner’s products or service.
Following the direction and lead of our partner, either with an existing client or a prospect.
Escalation of technical issues to reach prompt resolution.
- Frequent communication. To keep our partner aware of what is going on with joint customers we have put in place an organized schedule of communication with our partner about each mutual customer. These are short emails that keep our partner in the loop at major touchpoints in the life cycle of the customer relationship. The partner appreciates the proactive communication and the fact that we keep it very brief (two or three sentences). Doing this serves to remind our partner what we are doing and reinforces the message that their client is in good hands. For instance, we advise our partner when a client they referred to us signs a contract, goes live with the software, or has completed an annual business review.
We have operationalized this communication into a schedule that identifies the common touchpoints during the customer life cycle. This lets us make sure the communication occurs, and allows it to be repeatable and easy to accomplish. Here’s an example of the life cycle events we use as a guide. (Links to template messages can also be added.)
|Customer Life Cycle Event||Touchpoint||Example|
|Contract Signed, Implementation Complete, and Go-Live Occurs||Communication to Account Manager or Salesperson with our partner.||
|After-Action Review Summary||Communication to Account Manager or Salesperson with our partner.||
|Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Annual Business
|Communication to Account Manager or Salesperson with our partner.||
|Contract Renewal Preparation||Communication to Account Manager or Salesperson with our partner.||
- Innovation. As a technology company, we are devoted to continuously developing enhancements to our software. When new product releases are introduced, we share information about the enhancements with our partner and how they can be of value to clients, and we work to constantly enhance the way our technology works with our partner’s products. For example:
Expanding the APIs in place for transferring data
Adding new product features
Enhanced management reporting
Improving the user experience with single sign-on (SSO) functionality and system support tools
- Field work. We recognize that much of the work that determines the success of an alliance happens in the field. At the end of the day, the sales and client success teams who work with clients and prospects control whether or not we are introduced to their customers. We get to know the team in the field, treat them with the highest respect, and make it easy for them to introduce us to their opportunities and clients.
We have relevant content available and accessible—with the emphasis on relevant, not generic. The content is specifically developed for this partnership. What’s more, the content is easy to understand and paints a clear picture of the partnership and the solution being offered. These resource—typically, short videos rather than documents—pertain to the situation we know the partnership was established to address.
Also, resources are available to describe how we meet requirements of clients by industry type and other types of market segmentation. We know this is important to our partner. By offering training and enablement sessions on a regular basis, the field team can learn more about our solution. In the sessions, we are sure to quickly get to the point: how we drive value for clients and when to recommend our solution to clients.
Success Takes Time
With partner bonding comes greater success. There is success for each partner—and for customers. The theory of the partnership has become reality. Yes, it takes time—and hard work—to build trust, confidence, and knowledge of each other’s products and offerings. To develop a clear understanding of each partner’s sweet spot and approach to doing business. To grasp their style and get to know one another.
Partner bonding usually results from a series of deliberate steps and actions. It does not happen by chance. When it happens, partner bonding leads to more customers, and more loyalty between the partners, because the partnership is then hitting on all cylinders. It’s doing what the alliance managers set out to do, and creating the value that was originally intended.
Ezra Schneier is the corporate development officer for HRSoft.