Thursday, May 10, 2012

What Makes a Successful Partnership

Many readers already know, but prior to coming to Ektron, I spent about a decade working at a digital agency in the Chicago area. I had a great run there and the company I left was vastly different (in a good way) from the company that first hired me out of school.

In 2005, we decided to became an Ektron partner and I served as the primary contact for our relationship. This means that I've been on both sides of the table once as an Ektron partner and now as an Ektron employee, and I'd like to believe that it gives me a pretty good perspective on what it takes to maximize the experience of being an Ektron partner.

Back Story

When I started at WSOL, we were a five person operation that was very dependent on a few big clients. We offered a lot of services and became a one-stop shop for customers.

We were really good at a lot of things, but weren’t experts in any specific area. We were the prototypical jack of all trades, master of none.

We had even begun building our own content management system (CMS) and it was doing pretty well. The problem was, even though we were growing, we knew that we needed a way to differentiate ourselves from the other 10,000 agencies out there.

Then it happened.

We received an RFP that had a list of requirements fifty pages long. As we read through it, we knew that we couldn’t address all of the items with our internal CMS and needed something bigger. Our tech leads started doing some research and that led us to Ektron.

When I shared the RFP with Ektron, they sent me some collateral that literally looked like it was copied and pasted into the RFP. And even though we didn’t win the deal, we were excited about all the things that Ektron could do and decided that it was a direction we needed to go.

Fast forward a few years (and a couple hundred Ektron implementations) and WSOL is one of Ektron’s top partners, was named Ektron's Partner of the Year in 2009, and has almost ten times the number of employees from when I started. It’s a great story and they’re primed to continue building on this success for years to come.

The first project I sold at WSOL was a $1,500 website project. The last project I sold was an Ektron-driven site that cost more than $300,000. That’s serious growth.

I Told You That Story to Tell You This One

The same thing can happen to your business. Let me say that again: it can happen to you.
You may have started your agency with the goal of being a 10-15 person shop, extremely selective about which projects you took on, and able to foster an environment where everyone knows they have a job until retirement. And that’s awesome.

But many organizations have the goal of growing larger and working on bigger brand accounts and projects, however, they simply don't know how to get there. Considering Ektron as the vehicle to do so is a great place to start.

So, what makes a partnership successful? Here are five things that I feel most contributed to us building (and maintaining) a successful business partnership:
  1. View the relationship as an investment, because it is. There's no such thing as a free lunch. If you're not committed to making this a successful component of your business, it won't be. And that goes for Ektron too. It's one of the reasons we have Regional Partner Managers who's primary purpose is to support our partners with anything they need. We need to invest in each other to be successful.
  2. Understand that relationships are personal, but transactions are business. It’s great to build long-term friendships with the people you work with (and I have with a number of people that I now work with at Ektron or that work at other organizations that I met via Ektron), but it’s important to be able to separate the deal from the personal relationship. I could get into a screaming match with our regional manager at Ektron on a Friday afternoon, then have an account planning meeting with him on Monday morning and you’d never know. Separate the personal element from the business element.
  3. Be cognitive and respectful of each other’s goals. It’s important that people from both organizations have an understanding of each other's goals. If as a sales person I really need this deal in Q2, but you’re not willing to help motivate the client to move on it, that can have a negative impact. Look, if there’s no chance of the deal coming, no problem, you won’t hear a complaint from me. But if the client is willing to get it done sooner, and it would be a big help to me, we should be working together to get it done. Helping each other out in instances like this will only make us want to work together on more opportunities.
  4. Leverage the available resources. Ektron has a complete team of solution consultants, sales reps, best practice engineers, support agents, and more that are available to support partners. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – that’s what they’re here for. For a while, I had a few key contacts from Ektron on AIM so that I could pop them with quick questions and they always responded promptly. I knew that they really wanted me (and my customer) to be successful, and I felt valued.
  5. Partnership is a two way street. If one partner feels like they’re doing all the heavy lifting, creating all the leads, etc., it’s not going to lead to a successful partnership. Clearly define the goals and expectations for both parties upfront and strategize as to how you can best meet them. There’s no better feeling that reaching a goal and having a few beers to celebrate this kind of accomplishment.
Ektron’s partner network is growing and whether you’re a growing SMB or a top 100 agency, building an Ektron practice can have a very positive impact on your customer’s satisfaction and your bottom line. If you'd like to discuss anything I've outlined here, please feel free to reach out and I'll be happy to chat with you about my experience.

Follow me at @jonmkee on Twitter. Connect with me on Linked In. Friend me on Google Plus or Foursquare too.

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