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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Moving partnerships: from cutting costs to creating experiences

The first thing that comes to mind when partnerships are mentioned, are ideas of getting access to a partner’s scale of operations, or to some unique competence they have. Both could have implications for making your business run more efficiently.

You look at your production process, and figure out what parts of that process are lagging on your end, and can be taken over by a partner.

Pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson for instance, outsource parts of the process for clinical trial in this way. They leverage patient organisations for mobilising testing subjects, or universities to support and combine research and analysis.

Although it’s effective, this is still a conventional application of partnerships. These activities, make Johnson & Johnson run better, creating, and shipping products at a higher pace. But they don’t make the business run any different in a sector that is challenged by rising insurance costs to patients, and increasing dissatisfaction over the quality of medical care.

The other way
Things are changing in the world of business collaboration. It’s becoming easier to experiment with partnership linkages and coordinate them through new technology, even when crossing over industry boundaries. Companies forging partnerships like Spotify & Uber, or Yummly & Instacart are doing just that, hunting for new opportunities to bring their existing products into new customer experiences. These partnerships enhance existing products and services in new ways: Personalise your taxi experience with the music of your choice, or get within-the-hour home delivery of the ingredients you need for that recipe you found.

In order to enable partnerships to create value through new customer experiences, partnership design needs to shift away from conventional thinking in terms of the production process, its associated steps, and then determining who can do it more efficiently, and effectively.

The alternative is to look at the full customer journey: from how customers discover your product or service, to how and when they use it, to when they finish with it. From this overview the partnering question becomes different. It turns from “where can you make our company run more efficiently?”, to “where can you add to or deepen our customers’ experience?”. A decisive change in reasoning that can overhaul a business model.


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