Key stakeholders in a partnership process
In Strategic Selling, Rob Miller and Stephen Heiman define a 'complex sale' as one in which "several people must give their approval before the sale can take place."
These people play roles in the buying process such as guiding the seller and providing information ('Coach/Influencer'), screen possible suppliers and make recommendations ('Technical Buyer'), make judgments about the impact of your product or service on their job performance ('User Buyer'), and give final approval to buy ('Economic Buyer').
In some of my recent work with startups trying to sell through partnerships it struck me that there are roles in the partnership process that are comparable but different in important ways. By selling through partnerships, I mean convincing another organisation to use its resources to sell your product or service to its customers, and sharing the revenue in some way.
For instance, if your product is an email marketing tool for small businesses you may want to sign up a network of resellers to distribute it to their existing network of customers rather than trying to sell to each small business individually.
Signing off a partnership typically does not involve any money changing hands, so there's no 'Economic Buyer' whose budget you need to access. Similarly, there's no 'User Buyer', because the partner is not the one who will use your product.
However, there will be 'Technical Buyers', who will assess whether your product or service actually works, whether it fits in with the rest of the portfolio, and whether your company fits the right profile for their company to work with. There will also be a 'Coach/Influencer' role, to guide you through your potential partner's organisation and politics. It is typically the Coach/Influencer role that you initially have to convince that the partnership opportunity is worth exploring.
In place of the 'User Buyer' I suggest that an important role in any partnership discussion is Sales. It will be the sales team that is responsible for answering questions such as:
- Which customers will we target first?
- How will we engage them?
- How will the sales team be incentivised for selling your product or service?
- What support will they need from marketing and who will provide it?
In place of the 'Economic Buyer' I suggest the key equivalent is the 'Project Lead', who will typically be an executive in your potential partner's organisation, responsible for answering questions such as:
- What is the commercial model for the partnership?
- Who will be involved in overseeing the ongoing success of the partnership?
- What are the key metrics for the success of the partnership?
- At what point will the partnership be re-evaluated?
The roles may overlap and some individuals may play several roles during your negotation.
To summarise, there are four key roles that you need to involve before you can feel comfortable signing up a new partner for your business:
- Project Lead – for commercials, metrics, and management
- Sales – for targets, sales strategy, incentive plans, and marketing support
- Technical – for product assessment, compatibility, and legals
- Coach/Influencer – for validating market size and value proposition, and helping you navigate the rest of the organisation