One of the most common pieces of advice I share with founders whenever possible is to focus on channel partnerships. In my opinion, the lack of emphasis on partnerships is the single most underrated lever of growth for startups, particularly in the Midwest.
I truly believe the best way to build your brand is on the back of another established brand. Simply stated, becoming a category leader requires this. As a startup, the best way to punch above your weight class is to stand on the shoulders of giants. This is the ultimate way to leave a footprint bigger than your shoe.
Time and time again, I see companies leaving money on the table because they aren’t thinking proactively about how to build these relationships. Granted, this is a big topic and this post will serve as the tip of the iceberg, but here are a few key ways to flex some partnership muscle regardless of your company stage.
1.) Productized Integrations
I am a firm believer that partnerships often begin with your product. I love companies that have the mindset of leveraging open ecosystems. Even if you have the most robust product in the world, it only matters if it can plug into the systems already being used daily by your customers.
Productized integrations are one of the best ways to do this. By integrating with larger platforms of record, you deliver optimal flexibility, usage, and value. Until your product’s functionality seamlessly plugs in, the value you think you can provide won’t be taken seriously. The reality is that systems of record are likely already in place and being leveraged daily. Focus on how you can seamlessly plug into these systems in a way that rapidly creates business value and the habit of using your product every day.
2.) Joint Marketing
Attending and sponsoring user conferences, planning events in conjunction with user conferences, inviting your partner as a guest speaker for an event or for your webinar… these are all examples of joint marketing.
All of these small efforts add up to create deep, mutual relationships with key business partners and executives at your partner companies. Navigating channel partnerships can be messy. It takes knowledge and skill to navigate the channel of command, while building mutual trust and respect. Joint marketing is almost always the fastest, easiest way to get started and begin establishing momentum.
3.) Customer Innovation
When you release an integration or co-market an event, you still need to close the loop with your customers. You need to not only tell them why it matters, but show them. You have to sit in the shoes of your customer and have intimate knowledge of how they’re using your product and your partner’s product.
One of the best ways to make sure you don’t miss the mark is to incorporate feedback from current customers of the giants you want to align with. Which customers do you share? How can you incorporate feedback to create a wow experience?
Ultimately, the biggest value you will receive is from inbound deal flow from partner ecosystems because they already understand the mutual value of your product and how it meshes with their software package and tech stack. These customer use cases become the fuel to help rapidly expand the partnership.
Partnerships in Action
This week kicked off HubSpot’s Annual User Conference – INBOUND 2017 – and in light of that, I am excited to share announcements from Sigstr and Terminus, who both announced respective, game-changing integrations with HubSpot:
- Sigstr Launches Next Generation Integration with HubSpot
- Terminus’ HubSpot Integration Unites Inbound & Account-Based Marketing Strategies
Both Sigstr and Terminus are among the few companies that can count HubSpot as an investor, which obviously helps, but don’t put the cart before the horse. HubSpot invested in Terminus and Sigstr because of the efforts they’ve made to build relationships and focus on adding meaningful value to their customers who are already using HubSpot.
Finding the Win-Win
This isn’t only about what you gain, but also investing in your key partners and helping deliver value to them. Every successful partnership is built on a win-win philosophy, and it starts by investing deeply in your partner’s existing ecosystem and viewing them as an extension of your team and efforts.
Plan and simple, if you want to win BIG, you need to begin thinking about partners very early. Salesforce paved the way in using open partner ecosystem approach. It rapidly builds your brand, creates fuel for demand gen, and unlocks future corporate development opportunities.
Can you think of a single software category leader who hasn’t had a major focus on an open partner ecosystem? Getting started isn’t hard, but requires intentionality and focus at an executive level. If you’re stuck on where to get started, simply listen to your customers. Determine the most critical, adjacent software applications they’re using and pick 1-2. Focus on adding rapid value for your joint customers and success will follow.
What else have you experienced to effectively create meaningful partnerships? Leave your thoughts below.