What happens when product, and business development people join the same squad?

Product development, and partnership teams are critical for business value creation, and growth. The product development team is key for improving a company’s offer to customers. This attracts more of them, and can also increase value from the lifetime of each customer relationship. Partnership teams aim to achieve company growth; They’re like a SWAT team that opens access for other companies’ resources, and exposes the product to new markets.

Product, and partnership teams usually operate separately. This separation seems logical. Each team focusses on what they’re good at: creating product value, and driving growth. But in this article I’ll show how the separation of functions drives a wedge into the overall business value creation process, and how collaboration needs to change to resolve it.

Product, and Partnership: Better when they’re together.
Instead of looking into ways for improving partnership, and product development teams to function separately, lets take a look at what would happen if we just put these people on the same team.

Product, and partnership teams in tandem, generate more value, than they would separately. A great example of a company that has achieved this is Nespresso. By combining Nespresso’s capabilities on (coffee) product marketing, with the coffee machine manufacturing partners’ capabilities of channel marketing for kitchen appliances, Nespresso achieves significantly more leverage from the partnership than they would from just outsourcing manufacturing.

Another example is Tesla’s (former) partnership with Toyota. By jointly working on developing electric vehicle parts, and electric car manufacturing systems, Tesla learned about mass-production of cars. This was key for launching their famous Model S. So, by not only focussing on combining technologies in the partnership, but also utilising that technology in a new way of production, the partnership actually took product development to a whole new level for Tesla.

These examples show how transgressing product, and partnership team boundaries, broadens the scope for new business value creation. Neither Nespresso, nor Tesla would be where they are today, if they wouldn’t have looked at product development and business growth in an integrative way.

From marriage to divorce…
In a fledgling company you see that the functions of product, and partnerships, are combined within the same, small group of people: the same team. Often the startup CEO takes on both product and business development roles. In this situation, it’s natural to align the functions of product, and partnerships, and make product value creation and growth efforts click.

But the moment the startup starts evolving into a real company, the product, and partnership functions will branch off into separate teams. And that is where the seamlessness of their alignment is lost.

The product team starts focussing on its own resources, and existing product development roadmap, rather than looking out for ways to leverage their work through partnering.

Partnership teams will tend to focus on the existing product and finding partners for that. They have to work with what’s on the shelf, because they’re usually not in a position to tailor the product to growth opportunities themselves.

The upshot is that both product, and partnership people each start tweaking their part of an existing business model. They gradually lose the ability to operate jointly, and invent new ones in a concerted, fundamental ways.

Re-uniting product and growth.
What can we do to put the power of product, and growth back together again?

Firstly, it comes down to a joint understanding between both teams about the process that is applied for product development. Product, and partnership teams need to jointly define, and have visibility on priorities, as well as on the big questions that need to be solved to bring the product forward.

Secondly, the product and partnership teams need to start jointly experimenting with growth opportunities for the product, and make those experiments part of the product development process. It’s not sufficient to start searching for growth once the product is done. The product will also likely need to adapt to the growth opportunities that arise.

Thirdly, product and partnership teams need to start operating in the same rhythm of iterations in product development. This means that partnership teams should be able to shift with changing priorities of the product. The other way around, product teams should also be able to adapt to shifts in opportunity on the partnership end.

To support these 3 points of alignment, visual tools like the business model, and partnership canvas are really helpful. These tools enable all participants to step in and create the alignment that is needed to search for repeatable, and scalable partnership opportunities, that sync with the direction that the product needs to take. Once product, and partnership are able to apply rapid joint framing of priorities, and decision making on what steps to take, then the business value creation process is mended. The company will operate in the mode that is once did as a startup.


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Field notes from user research on Partnership Design

Over the course of developing the partnership canvas, I’ve talked to partnership professionals to hear from them about how they work, and what their experience is in forging business collaborations.

In this post, I would like to share some of the insights from my research, and show how they have lead me to develop the key features for the Partnership Canvas, and the partnership design process. I’ll use the Value Proposition Canvas to visually depict how the Partnership Canvas as a product provides value to people working in the profession.

At the end of the post, I will share a special offer with you to learn more about Partnership Design, and using the Partnership Canvas tool.

The partnerships professional
Partnership managers are a unique species of people. They’re involved in company strategy, as well as in operations of the divisions. Partnership professionals help sales, marketing, product development teams to achieve their goals for growth through collaborations, rather than creating it themselves entirely. They are not formally part of any of these teams/divisions, but they do work closely with them. The partnership professional is thus a business all-rounder.

To find out what some of the key aspects of the profession are, I’ve interviewed a couple of dozen partnership professionals, who I’ve gotten to learn through this blog, and partnership workshops.

Below you will find a summary of my key findings thus far. I’ve focused the presentation of my results on describing the key outcomes partnership professionals are looking to achieve in their work (the Jobs), and their most significant experiences in the process of achieving them (Pains, and Gains). Secondly, I look at the Partnership Canvas as a solution that partnership professionals can utilize, and how it addresses their most important jobs, pains, and gains.

The partnership professional’s profile

Jobs
The higher-level goal of partnership professionals is to create new growth opportunities for their organization, through cooperating with other companies. They are looking to achieve the following outcomes to accomplish this growth goal:

  • Understanding the priorities of all the key people in the organization.
  • Getting involvement from key people in the organization, and maintaining their involvement.
  • Doing research on industries, and specific companies to partner with
  • Talking to everyone in those industries.
  • Creating collaboration opportunities, and facilitating deals.

Gains
The following gains, are the positive experiences that come from working to the desired outcomes:

  • Knowing whom to talk to within the partner’s organization
  • On-going momentum in partnership conversations
  • Face time and trust in negotiations; keeping out legal until there is a clear narrative for the partnership
  • Getting into a flow of sculpting the deal together
  • Understanding what they get, and what you get.
  • Seeing the needle move on key metrics for the partnership
  • The satisfaction that comes from building out networks, and finding out intricate industry insights.

Pains
Lastly, partnership professionals experience the following pains in their jobs:

  • Convincing needed to get buy-in on the vision for the partnership, both externally, and internally
  • Not having enough space to explore a potential collaboration with partners.
  • Mobilizing people internally takes a long time. Lots of long talks, iterating along the ranks.
  • Changing internal priorities and people changing positions.
  • Hard to keep it simple: Every stakeholder adds on a layer of complexity for executing on the partnership

The figure below, visualizes these jobs, pains, and gains, and shows how they connect through color-coding.

The Partnership Professional
The Partnership Professional

The solution
Lets now look at the Partnership Canvas as a product, and some of pain relievers, and gain creators that it and the Partnership Design process provides to help partnership professionals succeed at their game.

Product
The Partnership Canvas is a visual business tool that captures the essential design elements of a partnership deal. Together with the Partnership Design process, it creates a method for understanding, designing, and testing business model partnerships.

Gain creators
The Partnership Canvas is an add-on to the Business Model Canvas. This enables it to tap into the power of the Business Model Canvas to understand, and design businesses. As such the tool  can be used for research on other business models, and partnership in an industry.  The connection with the Business Model Canvas also creates linkages with Lean Startup methodology, turning partnerships into testable business model experiments.

The partnership tool is also a simple, easy to understand visual tool. It asks for all the relevant insights, which are needed to create a complete understanding of a partnership.

Pain relievers

  • The Partnership Canvas is an agile tool, which facilitates quick communication, and decision making around business options.
  • The Partnership Design steps start with exploration of partnering options, before moving into experimentation and implementation.
  • The tool brings focus to partnership discussions. This also helps people with different (non-business) backgrounds, and disciplines to quickly understand and decide what is needed to build a productive partnership.
Partnership Design as a solution for the partnership professional
Partnership Design as a solution for the partnership professional

This is still an ongoing research project, and I haven’t covered the full depth of partnership professionals’ field of work yet. I keep learning from every new conversation I enter. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the profile I’ve compiled so far, and also about other tools, and methods that you use yourself to design partnerships. Do comment, or send me an email to bart[dot]doorneweert[at]gmail[dot]com if you’d like to talk further!

Interested to learn more about using the Partnership Canvas for transformative business collaboration?
Check out our upcoming Partnership Design Masterclasses