3 min read

Partnership Potholes: Avoiding Common Challenges

Man walking a tightrope

Product partnerships offer a wealth of potential benefits, from expanding your user base to unlocking innovative solutions. However, the road to successful integration isn't always smooth. Just like any tightrope walk, navigating a product partnership requires careful balance and a keen eye for potential pitfalls.

In this blog post, we'll explore six common challenges that can arise in product partnerships, along with strategies to overcome them:

  1. Coopetition: Walking the Line Between Collaboration and Competition

One of the inherent tensions in product partnerships is the concept of "coopetition" – collaborating with a competitor on specific areas while still vying for dominance in others. To manage this effectively, ensure clear boundaries are established at the outset. Define the scope of the partnership and identify areas where collaboration benefits both parties, while acknowledging and respecting ongoing competition in other sectors.

Think of ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft. They may collaborate on industry standards or lobbying efforts, but ultimately compete for market share. A clear agreement outlining areas of collaboration and non-compete clauses can help manage this tension.

Some areas to focus on when competition is an issue are:

  • Customer Demand for collaboration
  • Integrations in areas you do not compete
  • Co-martketing
  1. Leaks: Mitigating the Risk of Untimely Disclosures

Confidentiality is paramount in any partnership, especially when dealing with future product releases or sensitive data. Establish clear communication protocols that outline what information can be shared and with whom.

For sensitive, non-public information:

  • Do not share in writing
  • Do not allow screenshots
  • Check with content owners before sharing
  • Consider an NDA
  1. Over-Sharing vs. Under-Sharing: Striking the Right Balance

While leaks can be detrimental, so can a lack of transparency. Open communication is key to a successful partnership. However, it's crucial to find the right balance between information sharing and protecting sensitive data. Develop a data-sharing framework that outlines what information is necessary for successful integration while safeguarding confidential details.

For example, a partnership between a fitness tracker company and a health insurance provider might face challenges. Sharing anonymized user data on activity levels could benefit both parties, but sharing personal health information requires stricter controls.

If either party shares data by mistake:

  • Correct it immediately
  • Discuss what happened and agree next steps
  • Put safeguards in place to limit future issues
  1. Sharing Incorrect Data: Ensuring Data Accuracy and Integrity

The success of a product partnership hinges on the accuracy and integrity of the data being exchanged. Implement robust data validation processes to ensure the information being shared is clean and error-free. Regular data quality checks and clear communication channels for flagging inconsistencies are essential to maintain data trust.

A 2019 partnership between a retail store and a loyalty program provider resulted in inaccurate points being awarded to customers due to data integration errors.

It can often help to get a fresh set of eyes on the data before you share it, as a sanity check.

  1. Unexpected Changes in Roadmaps: Adapting to Agile Development

The fast-paced nature of product development can lead to unforeseen changes in roadmaps. Foster a culture of flexibility and open communication within the partnership. Regularly share product updates and anticipated timelines, and be prepared to adapt to each other's evolving priorities while maintaining a focus on the core objectives of the partnership.

Sony and Microsoft's partnership on the development of Blu-ray technology encountered delays due to changes in technical specifications. Maintaining open communication and adapting to each other's evolving priorities ensures a smoother integration process.

One way to mitigate this issue can be to give a sensitivity analysis to your partner for a given roadmap. Saying you are 50% confident in a roadmap (or 99% confident) can help them triangulate how to interpret the information.

  1. M&A Changing the Relationship: Navigating Mergers and Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) can significantly impact existing partnerships. Proactively communicate any potential changes in leadership, strategy, or product focus to your partner. Work together to re-evaluate the partnership's goals and adapt the integration strategy to align with the new landscape.

For example, the acquisition of navigation app Waze by Google in 2013 impacted its previous partnership with mapping service provider Nokia.

Include clauses for this in agreements, and consider the likelihood of this before starting any new partnership.

By acknowledging these potential challenges and fostering a collaborative approach, you can navigate the tightrope of product partnerships and unlock the full potential of your joint efforts. Remember, successful partnerships are built on trust, clear communication, and a shared commitment to overcoming obstacles together.

β€œMost of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
β€”Dale Carnegie

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