Fine-Tuning Partnerships the Smart Way

Story by Shann McGrail and Diana Kreklow

From spring cleaning to spring planting to spring training, the season represents fresh starts, growth, possibility, and transformation. This spring, it’s time to drive business forward by taking a deeper look at fine-tuning partnership strategies to capitalize on digital transformation. We have teamed up to deliver the SMART P2P offering, and below we share our approach to springing your business to the next level through partnerships.

Companies are on the move to digitally transform their organizations, and it’s a race against time. Every day a new company emerges with a disruptive business model. Cost efficiencies, capitalizing on market opportunities, fueling future growth, and the need to be relevant in the long-term are the compelling business case items supporting investments in transformation. The wave of transformation includes Partners who are striving to keep up with the demands of customers and address the opportunities. When reviewing the options for staying ahead of the curve, managed service providers, software vendors, learning partners, and systems integrators stand at a crossroads asking themselves the critical questions that will determine the path ahead:

Do we build in-house the capabilities we need to be relevant to customers?

Do we partner with already established experts?

Reflect on the following, and it starts to become clear that the fast path to relevance and revenue involves building partnerships:

By the end of 2017, two-thirds of CEOs of Global 2000 companies will have digital transformation at the center of their corporate strategy. (Source: IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Digital Transformation 2016 Predictions, 2015;
learn more at

Fifty-five percent of companies without an existing digital transformation program say they will adopt one in a year or less, and 59 percent are already afraid it is too late. (Learn more at

To avoid the race to the bottom and competing on price, Partners need to specialize to stand out (check out the Microsoft eBook series for more info:

If the opportunities are clear, why do some Partners still choose to go it alone?  One of the biggest reasons is knowing how to get started and establishing a regular rhythm of business that builds trust and achieves results.

SMART Partnering

SMART is an approach to building successful, thriving partnerships by planning across five key business dimensions: Sales, Marketing, Agreements, Readiness, and Technology. SMART can be used equally as a checklist to determine how to move forward with a new Partner strategy or to help strengthen longstanding partnerships.

Sales: In addition to the regular activities of typical sales motions, when it comes to transformation, it is helpful to identify the ideal customers and Partners you need to either deepen existing relationships or expand to new ones. It’s also critical to drill down on monetization. The shift to a recurring, period-based revenue model from a transaction or project-based one has a big impact on operations. Start by breaking down typical deals to understand the average deal size, sales cycle, and cost of sales. From that point, financial incentives for Partners can be identified and collaboration can reduce costs.

Marketing: Before approaching potential Partners, you need to make sure that you have updated your value proposition so that it resonates with them. This will require gaining internal leadership alignment, having a documented plan, and an approach to social media that will work for all.

Take the time to commit pen to paper (or mouse to PowerPoint) and create a 12-month Partner marketing plan. The plan maps out the important activities, conferences, presentations, campaigns, webinars, and more that will be needed to drive joint opportunities in the market. When it comes to social media, many Partners with a strong business simply have not taken the time to develop a content and social strategy. Consider working with your Partners to share the workload.

Agreements: There is no question that trust is the basis for all relationships. Trust, however, is not something that can be written into a contract. Nevertheless, you do need a set of core contracts to govern your business relationships. Most established businesses have a basic legal pack covering items such as a non-disclosure agreement, a letter of understanding or intent, and subcontractor agreements. With so much delivery happening in the cloud, also consider a review of legal documents for doing business in the cloud to make sure the partnership is not committing to anything outside of your control. Think about privacy policies, acceptable use policies, and service level agreements. For additional tips, a good resource is  “6 Golden Rules When Reviewing Cloud Contracts” (

Readiness & Resources: Even the biggest brand technology companies have a hard time finding the talent they need to grow. The smaller the firm, the more creativity and resourcefulness required. The irony is that this same skills shortage is one of the drivers behind more enterprise customers making the move to the cloud, so there is money to be made if you can get your team trained and ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Make sure to work with your Partners as part of your extended team as you work through this exercise:

  • Take inventory of the skills required to deliver to customers and map them against the skills you have available in-house. Identify gaps and create a training and hiring plan to address them.
  • You can keep training costs in check by looking into various (potentially low or no-cost) options available from your large software Partners, cloud providers, distributors, etc.

Treat and measure progress towards executing training plans with the same rigor as business planning and sales management.

Technology: Simply changing up the mix of reselling, professional services, and packaged IP in a deal can create a higher profit margin. Be open to looking through the lens of partnership and consider combining your company’s IP with that of Partners’ to build innovative solutions for customer problems or to grow a specialty in a vertical industry.

As difficult as it may be to let go of the control that goes with going it on your own, partnership offers an ability to innovate quickly and stay relevant to customers in a way that is strategic for them and profitable for your business. Fine-tune your partnership strategy for growth – start SMART!  

For more information, contact Shann at or Diana at and visit

Read more articles from The Partner Channel Magazine Spring 2017 issue here.

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