How to Get Into Partnership Management and Thrive

Decide if this role is for you, how to make the move, and what you’ll need to do in order to be successful

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Ecosystems will continue to be a red-hot topic in the business world, and the COVID-19 crisis has only amplified the importance. While business leaders still consider ecosystems a lever for disruption in their industry and business models, many have yet to see the revenue growth. Because ecosystems are complex, companies will need to rely on partnership managers to be creative and break away from the traditional approach to ecosystem partnerships to capture maximum value.

The role of partnership management is undergoing a dramatic growth phase. While there hasn't been an established best practices playbook or guideline to follow, many partnership professionals are taking it upon themselves to establish their own set of standards. For people entering this role, this creates an opportunity to define the necessary skills needed to develop successful partnerships. So what do you need to consider if you're interested in breaking into this trending career path? This article will cover if the role is right for you and the skills you'll need to excel.

Is Partnership Management A Good Fit

Partnership management is no longer just about spreadsheets, leads, and revenue. In today's world of ecosystem-influenced partnerships, partnership managers must continuously evaluate their partners and lean into the ecosystem to uncover new forms of end-to-end value chains.

Pursue a partnership role if you are comfortable with:

  • Balancing your company's shifting strategic priorities with those of your partnerships.

  • Guiding multiple partners to achieve their growth goals.

  • Ensuring partners are following the agreed-upon guidelines.

  • Knowing you'll receive less recognition relative to other teams.

  • Always advocating what partnerships mean to internal teams.

  • Understanding what the integrated partner tech stack would be and what the joint value proposition is.

  • Understanding that every partner is unique with their priorities and constraints.

  • Identifying and analyzing multiple data streams to gain a better sense of the customer, market, and industry.

  • Knowing that it may be challenging to attribute success to partner activities.

  • Accepting that not all partnerships will be successful.

Plan for the Role

While it is true that the majority of people currently in partnership management today come from a background of sales and marketing, it does not mean that it is necessarily a requirement for the role. Depending on your company's size and industry, the partnership role can report directly to the CEO, product team, sales team, or marketing team.

If you choose to pursue a partnership role, you will need to advocate for yourself and how the value of partnerships aligns with your company’s business goals. To do this, you will need to put together a solid partner strategy to present to stakeholders inside your company.

For example, your strategy could include the following:

  • Gather support team feedback for integration requests and gaps in the current product.

  • Gather sales team feedback for missed deals due to lack of partnerships.

  • Collect historical data on current partners and programs and highlight top performers.

  • Forecast how much partnerships could contribute over the next one to two years.

  • Outline a path towards the expansion of the channel and partner ecosystem.

  • Explain what strategies will result in the type of success that matters to each stakeholder's team.

The Three Things You'll Need to Do to Thrive

Partnership managers are typically responsible for recruiting and acquiring new partners, training and supporting them, and coordinating sales efforts. What we've learned today is that this is not enough. The business customer is now using digital channels more than ever. The buyer journey is no longer linear. To meet the new buyer, partnership managers must enable their partners to engage the B2B buyer early and often throughout the buyer journey.

To do this, partnership managers will need to:

Influence buyers early

B2B buyers rely less on meeting potential suppliers and depend more on gathering information independently and through a small circle of influencers. With fewer opportunities to influence the buyer, partnership managers should look outside traditional partnership targets and focus on partners that can occupy a coveted seat at the buyer’s table. When you understand the partners that exist where the buyer goes to read, socialize, and listen for information, you’re one step closer to becoming a valuable influencer for the buyer.

Adopt a more open and collaborative way to create new end-to-end value

The pandemic has taught us that the rate of digital transformation is accelerating faster than many predicted. Ecosystems that reacted quickly to meet their customer’s needs by minimizing disruptions were more successful than others. The most resilient companies expanded their ecosystem partnerships to unlock new revenue opportunities while also providing additional customer value.

For example:

  • Delivery platforms leveraging last mile partners to streamline business provide and provide greater value to customers

  • Communication service providers offering new “as-a-service” solutions that provide all the components of network infrastructure to address the complexities that customers typically face when deploying massive networks at scale

Become data-centric

Partnership managers can no longer succeed with manual processes or spreadsheets to manage their partner programs. Businesses today are leveraging data influenced by artificial intelligence and automation to make better decisions to optimize sales, marketing, and commerce for their customers and employees. Using channel software, partnership managers can gain the upper hand by performing data-driven activities such as account mapping, partner recruitment, and channel ecosystem management to make informed decisions to understand where and how to optimize their partner ecosystem.

As a partnership professional, you will need to rely on internal teams to execute any deal. Becoming a successful partnership manager requires a strategic focus on choosing the partnership approach that best fits your company. While the role is challenging, the reward for facilitating complicated deals and ensuring everyone is performing at their highest level can open the doors to more significant opportunities for your career.


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