It can be easy to forget that Partners are people too!
In the abstract world of APIs and Ecosystems it will always be helpful to humanize your partners whenever you can, especially to other internal teams, to make sure you set them up to be successful.
What Partners are NOT
They are not like other vendors you work with, where you have a purely transactional relationship. Do not treat them in this way.
- Outsourced Resources
Partners are not your "skunk works" or external R&D function. They are not there to pilot ideas for you, especially risky ideas.
What Partners MIGHT be
While you may work with other large Enterprises as partners, a good chuck of your ecosystem are going to be entrepreneurs. These are not big companies, with big budgets and multiple revenue streams.
These may often be smaller companies who depend on you and your platform to earn their living.
In some cases, these folks have taken big loans, or second mortgages, to build their business. Really think about how your decisions can positively (or negatively) impact these teams.
- Filling a need you cannot
Don't assume you have all of the answers. These partners are your "feet on the street" and can often get closer to customers, and their unique needs, then you can.
Listen to them. Respect them. Do your best to help and enable them.
What Partners ARE
- Taking a risk on you
These partners are investing their time, money, and human capital to make your program a success. What else can you be doing to help them win?
- Teams with lots of other options
APIs and platform ecosystems have never been so pervasive or easy to start building for.
These teams have lots of other options.
How can you become more worthy of their time and attention? How can you make it easier, more cost effective, even more fun to work with you over someone else?
Building more empathy for Partners internally
This is not a "one and done" project. Working to humanize partners and tell their story internally, should be part of how your partnership team operates and be a muscle you keep trying to build.
Some ideas which may help:
- Humanize these teams
Whenever you can, talk about the individuals at the Partner, and not just "XYZ Inc." who is an "ecosystem partner".
Show their faces. Learn about their stories and share them internally. Meet them when you can and listen to their feedback for you.
- Share the pain internally
It can be easier to share the love internally, but more effective to share the pain.
It can be tempting for Partnership teams to absorb all of the negative feedback from partners, and provide a diluted version back to other cross-functional teams.
Sometimes it can be better to let those teams hear it directly from partners.
Note: it's a good idea to have a dry-run of these sessions with partners first. You want to make sure their feedback comes through respectfully and is backed-by data, rather than have it be a venting session.
- Give them a voice
Getting feedback from partners is critical.
The more often you can do this the better, but make sure to be transparent with them. Share what you have heard and what actions will be taken based on that feedback.
Even if there will NOT be any major changes initially, confirm that back, so they have all of the data they need to keep running their businesses.
"When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems." - Stephen Covey
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