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Do you Sell or Partner?

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In an earlier article, I argued that just as all new products go through a beta phase followed by a production phase, startups should follow a structured commercialization process starting with Partnerships, followed by Sales.

To be clear, when I refer to ‘partnerships’ in this context I’m talking about a reciprocal relationship with prospective customers where both parties are learning and deriving value.

Customer partnerships are essential for any new product introduction and should form the base of all customer engagements until you can achieve a handful of happy, referenceable customers.

During the partnership phase the Founder, CTO, CEO or head of Business Development is responsible for ongoing engagements with prospective customers.

In this blog, I’d like to share some components that I believe are part of a strong B2B customer partnership strategy. For more information on each of these, please contact the Evidology Group and we’d be happy to share specific tools, templates and best practices.

Customer Validation: This is the critical first step of testing and validating your ideas by having “discovery” conversations with many prospective customers. These Customer Validation discussions are designed to learn what is most important for customers and why. The Customer Canvas tools and methodology developed by the Evidology Group were specifically designed to guide this effort.

Trusted Expertise: As a by-product of Customer Validation discussions, you will hopefully find a handful of early adopters who are interested in follow-on conversations to learn more about your proposed solution and benefit from your expertise. These informal partnerships can help you build a much deeper understanding so that you can design and deliver a better solution.

Customer Advisors: Ongoing discussions with early adopters will hopefully lead to a formal Customer Advisory relationship where early adopter customers are retained as formal Advisors to the company, often compensated with stock options when allowed by their company policies. Unlike figurehead advisors promoted on slides and websites, I encourage you to hold regularly scheduled monthly 1-hour calls with each advisor. Each call should include a pre-mail with background and topics or big questions to be discussed and a follow-up email with a summary of key take-aways. In the spirit of partnership, be sure to share insights with your Advisor such as technology trends and non-confidential insights you’ve learned from others in the industry.

Design Partner Program: Complex products can often benefit from shortening the communication path between customers and your design team. Involving these early adopters in product spec reviews, UX design, or feature demos can help immeasurably in designing a better product faster that is better aligned to a real-world customer environment. Whereas a Customer Advisor is typically one individual providing advice, a Design Partner Program typically involves one or more people in a customer organization sharing their requirements and feedback, and should therefore be documented with clear terms of engagement around resource commitments, IP ownership, financial considerations, timelines and deliverables.

Beta Partner Program: The objective of any beta program is not to make money or recover costs, although that may be a worthy by-product. It serves several purposes beyond product hardening such as helping you ensure the product truly solves the customer problem and providing a valuable reference to the media, investors and other prospective customers in the form of testimonials, interviews or white papers. Moreover, the beta program should be designed to help you collect the information you need to measure the economic and KPI impact your solution has had on the customer’s business. A formal proposal may be effective in clarifying the expected contribution of both parties.

Sales ahead of partnership is certainly putting the cart before the horse. By nurturing a productive and mutually beneficial partnership engagement with prospective customers, you’ll learn, adapt and collect the necessary evidence that will ultimately set you up for a successful sales strategy.

For more information, please contact the Evidology Group and we’ll lead you through the partnership process. We’ll also share more templates, tools, and best practices.

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