The Power of Partnering

‘Partnering’: It’s a buzzword (like so many) across the IoT space. Business partnering is, in many instances, a version of an old-hat business approach that aims to leverage as much value as possible and secure your spot of a value chain, whilst quickly expanding your customer base via a different channel. In the next four minutes, I’m going to argue that I think it’s time we returned to true partnerships. The ones where we go the extra mile, be transparent with our objectives and take the most sensible decision for a customer.

I love a partnership – genuinely. Reciprocal value is, for me, the most sensible approach to public and private business reaching their aims and objectives. I’m of this opinion because I can look back through my career to-date and pinpoint specific outcomes and successes that are intrinsically linked to the partnership model.

To an extent, partnering has enabled me to build strong personal and business relationships. For me, it’s a mentality, it’s a commitment, it’s the ratification that, as partners, we will prioritise hard work, fairness, and decency in everything we do together. That’s not to say that there isn’t difficulty within a partnership, but it is to say that we share the same values to make it better.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, partnerships haven’t always gone smoothly. This is a potted history of why, in my experience, the partnership model can fail:

  • A single or several of involved parties are determined to leverage short term gain with no substantial commitment
  • Significant upfront investment by a party sours relationships and spreads discontent
  • Lack of appetite for collaboration
  • Poorly aligned objectives
  • Little or no transparency
  • Poor operational engagement

I know what you’re thinking, this will obviously destroy a partnership before it gets off the ground. This isn’t rocket science, Sam, and you’re stating the obvious. All these things may be true, but the reality is that some organisations simply do not see these red flags in a timely enough fashion, some of them even starting before the ink is dry on the ‘partnership’ agreement.

Several years ago, I was thrust into an organisation, a new ‘partnership’, that I’d not been involved with previously. The two organisations were very different – one had an intense focus on providing a quality service, the other was trying to provide one. From day one, I sensed a general lack of willingness to engage operationally (my counterpart played no role in selecting the partnership) and the more time went on, the biweekly calls, the QBRs, the ad-hoc engagement; I just knew it was going one way and there was nothing I could do (despite my best efforts to save it).

I tried to reboot it; creating a community for improvements, joint targets, knowledge share, events, marketing, support… Whatever I did, it simply could not fix the basic problem; these organisations, on this subject, simple cannot work together.

When I look back, this should have never been a partnership or positioned as one; it was one organisation selling technology to another, a supplier/customer relationship. Of course, it wasn’t my choice at the time, and I inherited it with a flimsy foundation built on existing (successful) engagement in other areas. The reality was that, in this instance, neither organisation was set-up to support a partnering model; one organisation wanted to extract as much value as possible and the other had different objectives. This was a poisoned chalice and, to my knowledge, remains so to this day…

My point in all this is very simple; if you want to talk partnering, be a partner or take a partnership seriously, you’ve got to do it in the right way:

  • Know your weak spot as a business (yes, your WEAK spot. Keep telling yourself you don’t have one and you’ll blind yourself, take the business backwards and, trust me, we all have one)
  • Clearly define why you’re jointly doing what you are (It’s easy – be open and honest across the entire stakeholder map)
  • Don’t obsess about immediate value extraction (massive upfront costs, instant leads, obsession with c-suite access will leave a sour taste)

If you can’t do those things, don’t call it a partnership. Call it what it is; a commercial/strategic agreement, a marketing strategy, technology sharing or whatever. We know there are clear ways to articulate what we do, the helix cooperation and innovation model for example. It’s results and collaboration driven with joint commitments of resourcing and outcomes focus.

To give a real-life example, we have an excellent partnership with the LoRa alliance – we contribute and input to strategy, facilitate introductions and share commercial opportunities. We innovate and share ideas and ensure our contribution is one focused on collaboration as a basic principle.

I guess I should finish but stating the obvious: I’m not naïve enough to think partnership are focused on one thing. To be a partner within a partnership assumes a closeness and transparency that is often not in place when these commitments are made or when they are described – and that’s okay as long as both organisations are clear. Just, please, let’s not degrade the collaborative value of the true partnership model any further by saying it is, when it really isn’t.