How do you engage when your partner is strategic to you – but you are not strategic to them.

My partner thinks of me as a supplier, or a channel, or ‘fill-in-the-blank.’ How do I become a strategic partner?  This is a common refrain from startups and small companies wanting a relationship with a big dog in the industry or even product companies seeking to work with global consultants and systems integrators. So how do you become a strategic partner?

Many times I’ve heard this asymmetrical partnering called “dating a super model”.  I often say to these guys “I know why you want to date a super model, but why would she want to date you?”  Quite frequently, they have not thought through the complete partner value proposition.

The partner value proposition is a three way win: How do you together create value for customers? How do you create value for your partner? And LAST, how do you create value for your company?   Your benefit in  partnering is probably obvious to you, but unless you can create strategic value for customers and your partner, don’t expect to be treated like a strategic partner.

So what might this look like?

1. You have a unique product/offer that can create a strategic advantage and will generate new business for your partner.

A company known for big data analytics found that by applying their technology they could save companies in the oil exploration business millions of dollars per drill head through more accurate targeting.  This was a compelling proof point in working their data warehousing partner who needed to sell tangible business outcomes to clients.

2. You can reduce your partner’s costs or risks in the business.

A power distribution and conditioning company teams with a large technology company in reducing data center setup from 6 months to 9 weeks.  This has clear value to customers and partners in reducing risk and cost in the deployment.

3. You have access to a customer segment that your partner does not.

A large technology company was seeking to develop the Criminal Justice market, but had very little presence.  Most of the technology companies serving that market were small, less than $5M with limited resources.  Many of the founders of these small niche companies had been in law enforcement in previous lives and had great contacts and reputation within the community.  The large company brought a brand name and marketing and sales resources to the game while the niche companies brought access and expertise.

4. Partnering with you offers your partner a competitive edge.

There is nothing sexy about middleware and it is difficult to sell.  By demonstrating that application middleware could reduce development time by 60%, a software company was able to create partnerships with app developers who typically bid fixed-price, value based projects that enabled them to win against competitors that typically bid based on hourly billing.

In other words in order to be considered a strategic partner, your contribution has to the partnership needs to have a strategic impact on your partner’s business!