"She analyzes synergies, or synergizes analogies... or some such thing."--Father Brian Finn (Edward Norton) in "Keeping the Faith"
Peter the CEO just returned from a corporate funfest with a new partnership. "This puts us in the sweet spot of the market by leveraging our mutual synergies in a going-forward approach." Now he wants Robin to work out the details. "Just put out a FAQ, brief the sales force, and start inviting the new team to your product planning meetings."
Nothing seems difficult for the people who don't have to do the work!
Poor Robin. As a product manager, Robin already has plenty on her plate and now this! What to do? A good partnership solves a problem for a market segment. First, find a problem, determine the optimal solution, and then explore partnership opportunities. Before doing anything public, Robin needs to understand the reason for the partnership--visualize the results of the partnership from the customer's point of view.
Is this a technology partnership? Is this about creating a new or improved product? If so, Robin should plan a few "getting to know you" meetings and get clarity on exactly what the output will be and who will be responsible for what. Ideally, the team should produce some work product before announcing the partnership. What if Robin can't work with the team? What if their architecture is incompatible with hers? What if the team cares more about quick-and-dirty and Robin cares more about elegant usability? Are the partners compatible?
Is this a marketing partnership? If so, Robin needs to discuss promotional opportunities with the partner company and then align them with her own marketing plan. The partner hosts a significant user conference; is speaking at events a key element of Robin's marketing plan? If so, sign on up. If not, why support the partner conference?
Is this a sales partnership? Here's one way to know: a successful sales partnership presents one sales person, not two, to the customer. I know I know. It sounds great--internally--to say "our two sales people will go to the customer arm-in-arm to present a single solution." Alas, that always seems to fail in the real world. One solution = one sales rep. Actually, sales partnerships are rather fun. Since Robin knows the partner sales people don't know her products, she won't assume that they do and will create better sales tools and training as a result. [Hey! Maybe you should assume your own sales people don't know the market or the products. Wouldn't you create different sales tools and training?]
Partnerships are a great way to expand your expertise, your product set, your exposure to the market, and your sales reach. Both partners should benefit from the relationship. And your mutual customers should get a better single solution than the parts created by the two of you individually. But you better label your stuff. The average partnership in technology business lasts about four years. Be clear what is owned by whom for when the inevitable separation occurs.
Don't announce a partnership until you're clear on team roles and deliverables. The best partnership creates better experiences for your customers.