Despite the deliberate conflation of the terms customer and partner in `marketing speak` there is a profound difference between `customer` and `partner` and this needs to be recognised. Essentially, it’s the difference between a quick date and a long-term commitment.
Certainly, the process of identifying and selecting potential customers or partners is pretty much the same: find out what it is that they need; identify how a product or service will meet it and target businesses accordingly. It’s the context that makes the difference and that needs to be understood.
Common interests and goals
A successful tactical sale to a customer involves engaging an individual or team who are trying to address a particular challenge in their department or deliver on their responsibility in the business.
Creating a partner, however, requires the supplier to become part of the target company’s customer engagement and retention strategy. This means that opportunities to partner are usually much more difficult to find and require more resources to be successful, particularly given the significant differences that usually exist between corporate and entrepreneurial businesses.
To succeed, the two parties have to be aligned in many different ways. Most particularly they must have common interests and goals or they will quickly diverge. The process requires Davids to deal with the existing and complex Goliath partnership structures, licensing and financial deals that are designed to execute successfully strategic decisions made at board level.
They involve many people of different disciplines because they go to the heart of the organisation’s purpose and, as such, have a greater impact of they fail. As with most big deals, the level of risk increases with the level of opportunity. And that means the bureaucracy around risk management also increases to a level that Davids may find tiresome and intimidating in equal measure.
The upside of this is that this process shines a light on what life will be like as Goliath’s partner and underlines the reality that Davids need to fully comprehend to ensure that there's both a cultural fit as well as a commercial one. As ever, the devil is in the detail.