The Marketing Strategist:

Making Partnerships Work: How to "Sell-With," Not "Sell-Through"

April 3, 2007

  • News

Traditional partnering in the technology space has often focused on the use of partners to extend market reach—using partners in a “sell-through” model. But customers are demanding ever more sophisticated solutions that deliver business results rather than merely solve technology issues. Todays services providers are frequently required to collaborate with others to meet customer demands. Striking and developing these “sell-with” partnerships is not without its challenges, and at an ITSMA Roundtable in Paris last month, a number of European members got together to explore in greater detail best practices for creating successful partnerships.

Support From the Top

Many partnerships begin with good intentions but fail to deliver on their initial promise due to lack of senior-level buy-in and support from the start. All roundtable participants cited gaining this buy-in as a critical precursor for successful partnerships.

Ensure Strategic and Cultural Fit

Another critical step to creating a win-win partnership is to create an agreed vision for the partnership that links back to the overall business goals of both parties. These types of partnerships—the ones that are built around jointly identifying and meeting market opportunities, as opposed to opportunistic alliances struck around a specific customer bid—are much more likely to be successful, long-term affairs.

In addition to ensuring a strategic fit, however, it is also important to ensure that the partnering companies are a cultural fit. Conflicting metrics, differing management styles, or opposing attitudes on risk or investment philosophy can create major obstacles. Partners must also keep in mind that it is the strength of personal relationships at all levels that will hold the relationship together for the long term; therefore, they must work hard to build those personal connections.

Size Isn’t Everything

Remember that size or scale of operations does not necessarily dictate the scope of a potential partnership. Again, it is more important that the strategic fit of the partners and their respective contributions to the service proposition are equally relevant to the end user and target market.

Build a Joint Value Proposition

The next step in establishing a “sell-with” partnership is to identify a clear, differentiated joint value proposition. This is essential not only for communicating with customers; it also assists in minimising conflicts with other partners and programmes.

Educate and Communicate

Education and regular communication are also key to a partnership’s success. This is especially true for services companies, which need to go to extra lengths to ensure the delivery of a consistent service experience. (It’s much easier to ensure consistency with a sell-through approach whereby a partner acts as a reseller of a packaged “product” to the end customer.)

Participants at the Roundtable cited a number of activities to ensure that everyone involved in the partnership has a good handle on what it means and what it involves, including:

  • Executive briefings to all client-facing staff
  • Demos and training on capabilities
  • Easily accessible support materials—both physical and online

Trust Matters

As in any long-term relationship, openness and trust between partners (and in many cases clients, too) is essential if the partnership is to develop and grow over time. This requires considerable efforts where multiple country and business units are involved and should not be underestimated when embarking on the journey.

Keep Marketing’s Role in Perspective

Finally, it is important for marketers to recognise that although marketing has a clear role to play in selecting and developing the partner portfolio, marketing should not own this relationship. A good test of an organisation’s commitment is the allocation of dedicated alliance management resources to be the ultimate owner of the partner relationship and nurture it over time.


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