Guest post by Tina Hanson, Partner-to-Partner Lead for the Microsoft U.S. Partner Team

It’s a simple statement: partners who come together can accomplish more.  Over the past couple of years, I have been responsible for thinking about the partner-to-partner (P2P) experience, and have seen first-hand that partners who collaborate with one another experience a direct and positive impact to their respective businesses, with increases to productivity, revenues, and customer reach.

Successful P2P collaboration does take work, though, starting with identifying and making the connection with complementary partners. If you have tried to build these relationships in the past without success, or have been uncertain about whether the investment of time and effort will benefit your business, perhaps my ideas below will help you take the plunge and have a plan as you begin to explore the different partner communities, and different ways to collaborate with other partners, that are out there.

In general, there are two reasons partners come together: business networking and information exchange.

Business Networking

In business networking, partners typically work together to serve a common customer, each bringing their expertise to the table to deliver a complete solution. Here are ways this type of networking can help you build your business.

  • Establish your reputation as a technical subject-matter expert. Your expertise in a specific product, technology, customer segment, or other area can become your calling card among customers and other partners.
  • Extend your geographical reach locally, in your region, or nationally. By collaborating with a complementary partner that is already established in a certain market, you automatically benefit, plus you’ll have increased your reach to potential customers.
  • Proactively build your list of “go-to” partners. Fostering these relationships now means you will be more prepared to meet unexpected customer requests that are outside of your area of expertise, without sacrificing your trusted advisor status.
  • Compete against larger partners. Smaller partners working together can provide comprehensive, complete solutions that are competitive in price, quality, and time to implementation/deployment. In this scenario, it’s particularly important to nurture and value the relationships with the other partners who are participating, to compete successfully now and in the future.
  • Hold each other accountable. Partners with structured, formalized relationships may use each other to be accountable for long-term success.  You might ask each other questions like, Are you meeting or exceeding your business goals for the year? Do you have growth goals for the year? What are your plans to meet those goals?

Information Exchange

This may seem like an obvious way to engage with other partners, but the value of this kind of P2P connection for growing your business really lies in how much you are willing to commit to sharing and participating. The most frequent types of information exchange scenarios I see partners utilizing are:

  • Foster professional relationships for future business opportunities. This typically happens as a byproduct of information exchange and expanding your networks, but you will need to be thoughtful about nurturing these relationships so they are mutually valuable.
  • Share best practices. This can be intimidating, as it feels like you are giving away your hard-won secrets of success. But remember that it’s quid pro quo: you will not be the only one sharing—you’ll be hearing what’s worked for other partners as well.
  • Leverage each other’s knowledge and experience. Learn from the experiences other partners have had in serving customers, managing their vendor relationships, or tackling a business challenge.
  • Build trust and credibility among your peers. Just as you build your reputation as a technical subject-matter expert, you also need to make yourself known to your peers in the local market, which typically includes Microsoft field roles, who are responsible for identifying active and engaged partners to help serve local customers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see information exchange work beautifully, at one of the Online Services Workshops we’ve held in several local markets. At one point during the 6-hour session, we split into small groups of three to four individuals. Each group started breaking down the various considerations for each of them to transition their current business models and practices to the cloud. Despite the fact that the members of each group were likely to be competitors, the amount of sharing and interest in learning from each other was amazing to watch, and I think each of the participants took away something new and valuable from just that part of the workshop.

The partner-to-partner scenarios above are the ones I most commonly hear about as I talk to partners and to my colleagues at Microsoft who work with partners. I hope you find them useful for starting to build your plans, or expanding your current plans, to collaborate with other IT companies. Over the next several weeks on this blog, I’ll continue to explore how partners are succeeding by working together. If you have a success story of your own, I’d love to hear it. Send me a note at partnerQ@microsoft.com, or post a note for me on the U.S. Partner Community Facebook discussion or LinkedIn discussion.

Tina Hanson
Partner-to-Partner Lead
Microsoft U.S. Partner Team