CEO of PhoenixCG specializing in collaborative business ecosystems to accelerate innovation and open new markets.
Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) is frequently cited as a key element in successful partnering. In my business, I often find that partners cite that they partner with the Big Brand Gorilla in their market because they have to—customers demand it. But if they’re given a choice, they will lead with the Challenger Chimp, a second-tier competitor, because they are easier to do business with. So what does that mean?
When asked, these partners relate a variety of reasons why they work with challengers. “They are more responsive; they take our phone calls.” “They engage proactively and ask us what we need.” “They are more ready with resources to support our business.” Others note they were less rigid with rules. In one case, the challenger was more likely to support things that weren’t in “The Policy” as long as there was a clear business opportunity. As a result, these challengers were getting business because they were a preferred partner or a partner of choice. They were easier to do business with.
Frictionless Business Processes
I have found that frictionless business processes do contribute greatly to EoDB. Processes may be perceived as bureaucracy, but in my experience, it is only called that when processes are cumbersome, complicated and unpredictable in regard to outcomes. When partners can engage in highly streamlined processes and get immediate results in a couple of keystrokes, it hardly gets noticed since that’s a minimum expectation. Friction gets notice.
Where processes often break down is when organizations design their partner business processes from the perspective of “What is easiest for me?” and not from the partner’s perspective. While they may think they are taking friction out of the process, they may well be creating more for their partners—which denotes another EoDB factor.
Take The Partner’s Perspective
In one of our client engagements, we did a comprehensive look at what the partners’ experiences were in working with our client. It wasn’t pretty. This outside-in point of view is critically important in your business processes but extends throughout the partner experience and interactions with your partners. Are you treating them like another cog in the machine or as a true partner, where you recognize their success is yours, as well?
For this client, we recommended implementing some listening programs as a start. This process includes the ubiquitous partner satisfaction survey, but it also utilizes lots of face-to-face, or at least Zoom-to-Zoom, conversations with partners to really understand where the points of friction are and how that affects their choices in working with you or your competitors.
Who you gonna call?
Another key obstacle is when lines of communication and feedback are not clear. To be honest, I’ve seen this multiple times, including in a partner organization I used to run. In one instance, our client had run a partner sat survey, and one of the key points of dissatisfaction was that partners did not know how to contact our client when they had questions or issues. The client set up a partner-help email, a chatline and an 800 number. They broadly advertised these channels to their partners. When they ran the partner sat survey again, they saw a 7% bump in their scores.
One key factor in responding to partners is to ensure that the people on the receiving end are empowered to resolve issues and not just answer questions. If a problem cannot be resolved on the spot, they should give the partner a checkpoint—a date and time by which they will get back to the partner with either a resolution or an update. This helps set expectations and ensures that your partner knows you are working on their issue and not just leaving them to wonder.
Building relationships within a large ecosystem of partners is difficult, but it is still possible and still imperative. The example above is one of the ways in which you build trust with partners even when there is not a dedicated relationship manager.
Trust is composed of two dimensions: One is predictability or reliability. You do what you say you are going to do. Responding to a checkpoint consistently and on time builds trust.
The second is good faith. You are trusted to act honorably and in your partner’s interest as well as your own. There is a commitment to mutual benefit and a mindset for creating value.
Doing The Right Thing For The Business
One of the attributes of a high-performing partner manager is finding ways to get things done despite bureaucracy and differing business operational models. This requires flexibility in thinking about how decisions are made and how partners work together.
One of the best practices in partner agreements is to keep the actual contract minimal. Put the operational content into a joint business plan that is reviewed and modified on a regular basis as conditions and opportunities change. Indeed, alliances have been defined as an “incomplete contract” because you cannot anticipate and document every decision and every turn in the path of an alliance operation. It is important to retain the flexibility to do what is right for the business in a timely fashion without having to amend a contract before you can take step one. In today’s fast-moving business environment, flexibility and agility are key not only to EoDB but also to a survival strategy.
EoDB Within The Ecosystem
I have asserted in a previous article that there is an exponential unlocked power within ecosystems that is released when partners partner with other partners. This P2P dynamic unleashes creativity, innovation and growth. Enabling EoDB between partners in the ecosystem will accelerate this dynamic. This is an evolving area where there is an incredible opportunity to accelerate the value created within an ecosystem. Enabling partners to collaborate with less friction, more trust and more agility will drive transformational results.