What is the role of a strategic partner?

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Imogen Beech
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8 minute read

Partnerships make the world go round. More than 2,000 strategic alliances are formed each year (according to Strategic Alliances by Steve Steinhilber). And what’s more, 82% of B2B leaders plan to add to their roster of partners this year (according to Demand Gen 2022 Partner Marketing Benchmark Survey).

But there’s no point in forming a strategic partnership just because that’s what everyone else is doing. Instead, it’s important to understand what a strategic partner can bring to your business and how they can help you to achieve your objectives. So, what is the role of a strategic partner? We’ll break it all down for you here.

What role does a strategic partner play?

Quite simply, a strategic partner exists to bring value to your business. Exactly what that value is can vary massively – there are lots of different types of strategic partnerships, and they can each help you grow your business in different ways. 

Depending on what you and your partner decide, they might help you to boost brand awareness, increase referrals, increase sales, reach new markets, improve the customer experience… the sky’s the limit! Similarly, strategic partners come in all different shapes and sizes, from micro-influencers to comparison sites, tech companies to retailers – any brand or individual with the means to help your business reach its objectives could be a strategic partner, and their role will differ based on the skills and resources at their disposal.

However, most importantly, they’re called strategic ‘partners’ for a reason. Not only does your strategic partner need to bring you value, but you’ll also need to do the same for them. A partnership is all about teamwork and supporting one another – it shouldn’t be a one-sided relationship where only one of you wins. As partners, you should share skills and resources to help one another to achieve goals that you couldn’t alone – it’s a simple case of ‘two heads are better than one’!

What should a good strategic partner do?

No matter what kind of partnership you’ve embarked on, there are a few things that you can expect a good strategic partner to do for you. 

Just remember that in any partnership you embark on, you are also a strategic partner. So, these roles and repsonsibilties apply to you too – keep them in mind in order to make sure you’re being a good partner in return and are giving your partnership the attention it needs to be truly successful.

1. Help you grow your business

As we’ve already mentioned, strategic partnerships can look very different, as can the range of benefits they can bring your brand. However, they’re all largely centred around helping your business to achieve growth.

Studies by Wolfgang Digital and Forrester have shown that partnerships actually exceed paid search as a growth channel – while the average business generates 18% of its revenue from paid search, high-maturity partnership programs can be credited with generating 28%! Meanwhile, the Hinge 2020 High Growth Study has demonstrated that high-growth brands are a massive three times more likely to use marketing partnerships as part of their overall strategy than no-growth firms. And there are tons more stats where they came from – check out our collection of strategic partnership stats for more!

Before you go out and find strategic partners, make sure that you consider what kinds of partnerships could help you to unlock the growth you crave, and what kind of partners could be the right fit

For instance, if you’re struggling with retention, teaming up on an incentive marketing partnership with a brand that can offer your customers exciting rewards for loyalty could be a great shout. Or, perhaps your lack of retention is to do with the fact that your product isn’t offering enough value to your customers, in which case collaborating on a product partnership with a brand that can help you to improve your offering could be just the ticket. That brings us onto…

2. Work to help you achieve your objectives

A good strategic partner will understand that they can’t just focus on getting what they want out of a partnership. Instead, they’ll take the time to listen to your aims and goals, before working with you to form a partnership that can help you to achieve them. 

Disagreeing on the goals of a partnership is one of the key reasons why partnerships can fail. In fact, in a study by McKinsey, 35% of managers cited alignment of objectives as a missing factor in failed joint venture partnerships

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to make discussions about a partnership’s objectives a key part of the negotiation phase. It might sound obvious, but it can easily get missed in the rush to complete a deal. If both partners take the time to share and listen to one another’s hopes and goals at the outset, these can inform the partnership agreement reached, giving both parties the maximum chances of achieving what they want from the partnership.

3. Be adaptable

Now, even though it’s important to create strong foundations during the negotiation phase, it’s equally important not to feel you have to rigidly stick to plans that aren’t working.

A good strategic partner will have the ability to be flexible, and will work with you to update your partnership strategy based on new developments – whether that’s the realisation that certain methods aren’t working, or the appearance of new trends that you could hop on to make your partnership even more successful. 

To enable this, we’d recommend working with your partner to form a partner marketing plan. This is a document that lays out all the ideas, aims, strategies and tasks that you’ve come up with together in relation to your partnership. However, it’s important to note that it’s a working document that should be constantly updated to take into account any changes you discuss.

Ultimately, while planning is crucial in strategic partnerships, strategic partners should be able to work with you to think on your feet and come up with new strategies and ideas to make sure your partnership is as strong as it can be.

Role of a strategic partner to be adaptable

4. Advocate for you

You should be able to rely on your strategic partner to have your best interests at heart, and that means expecting them to advocate for you.

If you’re partnered with a well-known brand, the very act of them partnering with you can act as a big stamp of approval. This can be invaluable in helping to give confidence to investors and consumers. For instance, digital art platform Niio partnered with Samsung and successfully closed its $15 million Series A funding just a month later – no coincidence, we’re sure!

However, we don’t just mean that your strategic partner should advocate for you externally – they should advocate for you internally as well. Remember that you won’t usually be dealing with the founder or CEO of the brand you’ve partnered with – rather, you’ll usually build a relationship with a partnership manager. It’s their job to advocate for you internally, to make sure that your voice is being heard within the wider organisation and that your best interests are being fought for.

5. Take responsibility

Your partnership agreement should clearly state what each partner will be bringing to the table for the partnership – whether that’s money, time, resources, skills, technology, contacts or anything else. 

Sometimes, you’ll both be bringing similar things. For example, in a referral agreement, you might both agree to recommend one another to your clients. But in other partnerships, you might be bringing very different things to the table. For instance, one of you might be providing the financial investment, while the other puts in the majority of the hard work, known as sweat equity.

Your partner marketing plan will usually take things a step further by laying out all the actions that need to be taken to achieve what you’ve agreed. These actions will then be allocated to each collaborator, so that everyone is on the same page about who is responsible for what – and what they have to achieve individually to make sure the partnership succeeds.

Your strategic partner will need to take full ownership of those aspects of the partnership that fall under their responsibility, making sure that their tasks are completed to a high standard and in time to meet important deadlines. They should also understand the need to delegate, and should trust you to complete your tasks without looking over your shoulder or micromanaging you.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a partnership where you each take full responsibility for your actions and trust your partner to do the same with the things that fall under their remit. That way, your partnership can be as frictionless as possible!

6. Communicate regularly

It’s really important that your strategic partner is willing to communicate regularly with you. Remember that most partner marketing plans will see each of you being allocated tasks or responsibilities to take care of individually during the course of the partnership. So, without regular check-ins, you won’t have much of a clue about where your partner is at and how the partnership is progressing as a whole.

Of course, there are tools that you can use to aid communication. Not only are there plenty of partnership management tools, but project management tools like Asana and Monday.com are also great for enhancing visibility and keeping track of how activities related to your partnership are progressing.

That said, it’s hard to communicate completely openly and honestly with one another without seeing each other face-to-face. Strategic partners should prioritise in-person catch-ups, to give each party a chance to talk openly and honestly about how things are really going from their perspectives. Giving everyone the opportunity to share their pain points and successes will allow you to make important changes to the way you both work, and this in turn is essential to a long-lasting collaboration.

Role of a strategic partner is to communicate

7. Nurture your relationship

Your strategic partner should invest time in nurturing and strengthening your relationship on an ongoing basis. It can be easy to put all your energy into negotiating a successful partnership, but it’s vital that the ball isn’t dropped after that. The hard work shouldn’t stop once your partnership starts – instead, it should have only just begun!

You and your strategic partner should think of your partnership a bit like a romantic relationship. It takes time to learn how to work seamlessly together – for example, you might need to adapt your communication styles, change bad habits that are rubbing one another up the wrong way or put processes in place keep things moving. All of this takes time and patience!

A strategic partner’s role is to safeguard and nurture this relationship, so that you can collaborate together as successfully as possible. While it’s not essential, it can be really beneficial to get to get to know one another on a more personal level too, such as by going out for dinner or sending one another birthday cards. Ultimately, the more valued strategic partners can make one another feel, the more trusting and secure they’ll feel in a partnership – our article on how to keep affiliates happy has some ideas on things that can help. 

8. Share skills and knowledge

A great strategic partner will be open to sharing their skills and knowledge within a partnership setting. Remember that the whole goal of strategic partnerships is to bring value to both brands. A partner’s skills can not only help to plug a gap for you, but they can also help you to upskill your in-house team, which can prove even more valuable in the long run!

Similarly, brands can often unlock even more partnership benefits by pooling their knowledge, whether that’s sharing research, technological knowledge or data. This can then be used for the benefit of both brands as part of the partnership.

Unfortunately, many brands fall into the trap of refusing to share too much information with their partner, through lack of trust and a worry that their ideas will be stolen. Of course, this is one reason why nurturing a trusting relationship is so important, as we’ve mentioned above. However, strategic partners can also protect themselves by coming to a clear, written understanding that each company owns its own IP and that if a product is developed together as part of a joint product partnership, you jointly own the IP.

Yes, it pays to be careful. But at the same time, being too cautious can be a major barrier to forming a productive partnership. In fact, in McKinsey’s study, 38% of respondents cited communication and trust as a factor missing from failed joint venture partnerships.

Hopefully, the steps above should give you a good idea of what you can expect from a strategic partner and why forming partnerships can be so valuable. However, don’t forget that once you enter into a partnership, you’ll be a strategic partner too! Follow these steps to make sure you’re being as good a strategic partner as you possibly can be.

Ready to start your hunt for strategic partners? Just book a demo for Breezy to uncover heaps of partnership suggestions tailored to the needs of your brand.

Imogen Beech

Imogen is a copywriter and content writer with over two years’ experience writing about the exciting world of strategic partnerships, as well as running her own business. She loves learning about new topics as she writes, and has enjoyed penning articles on industries ranging from mortgages to events, theatre to home improvements and everything in between.

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