January 25, 2021

Ask the expert: what’s the “partnership problem” – and how do I solve it?

In this quarterly column, Ask The Expert, we aim to provide readers with practical advice on how to grow their businesses.

Greg Watts is our resident expert. He is CEO of Findr, the AI matching platform for fintechs and their partners, and also the founder of Demand Creation Partners, a London-based growth consultancy that helps fintechs and paytechs to scale. A visiting lecturer at the American University in Paris and regular industry speaker, he was previously head of market acceleration at Visa Europe.

QUESTION 30: What’s the “partnership problem” – and how do I solve it?

Alongside raising investment, securing the right partnerships is critical for business survival.

Indeed, in a recent research report from PwC, over 75% of CEOs rated partnerships as ‘important’ or ‘critical’ to their success.

Yet with many partnerships taking months if not years to come to fruition, it’s no wonder that so many businesses fail – and waste considerable resources – in the process.

Why do so many fintechs struggle with what we call the partnership problem? Here are some reasons:

  • They haven’t identified the right target partners;
  • Their approach is too generic;
  • They haven’t spent sufficient time identifying key stakeholders;
  • Their offering and content doesn’t resonate with target partners;
  • They don’t spend enough time or resources in the right places generating awareness.

In this column, we’ll explore why businesses struggle with the Partnership Problem and then provide tools and tips to enhance your own approach and accelerate your efforts.

  1. Hone your approach – get focused.

In theory, partnership development is a straightforward process. However, many businesses often fail at the first hurdle – which is to have a razor-sharp focus on targets.

For example, it’s quite common to hear that a fintech wants to create partnerships with ‘all’ retailers or banks in a particular market, then expect their sales teams to hit the phones and secure meetings. However, with finite resources, that’s often inefficient and ineffective.

Fintechs – and indeed, all businesses – need clear partnership criteria.

The criteria for each business will vary, but some questions to consider may include:

  • Which verticals, sectors or categories do you want to focus on? Within those, what are the priorities and why?
  • What are the characteristics of your target partners? For example, are they high frequency retailers such as coffee chains or do they boast high transaction values, such as luxury brands?
  • How easily can you partner with them? For example, a Tier 1 retailer such as BP or Asda is likely to take more time to partner with than a smaller coffee chain. Given how important time to market is – it can often take months if not years to partner with large businesses – targeting smaller partners initially to create case studies that demonstrate the value of your proposition may be a more efficient strategy.

Once you’ve evaluated your target partners, assign weightings to provide focus on where to spend your time and resources.

  1. Sharpen your door opening approach by creating buyer personas.

How often have you received a cold, un-researched introductory note on LinkedIn or via email? It’s remarkable that so many businesses don’t tailor their approaches, then wonder why they don’t receive a response.

It’s imperative you know as much as you can about your target partners before you approach them – or any resources used to try and engage them will simply be wasted.

To help fix this, once you’ve identified your target partners, the next step is to ensure all your resources and activities are focused around generating awareness of your business to help you secure meetings with target stakeholders and decision makers – and ultimately – create and close commercial deals.

To maximise your chances of getting a meeting with a target partner, you need to make assumptions about what they may be looking for to help you tailor your approach. To do this, it helps to develop buyer personas from which you can create content that makes them want to engage with you.

As you create the personas, points to consider are:

  • What problems do you fix?
  • What benefits do you offer? How do these compare to other players or competitors?
  • Why should they engage with you?
  • What channels do they engage with? How can you reach them?
  • Which events or forums do they attend?
  • Who – if anyone – do they currently partner with?

As a guide, a business should have between four to six buyer personas for each industry. Categorise them as budget owner, influencer, key decision maker, executive sponsor and detractor (this last one is particularly important so you can pre-empt potential obstacles or reasons to not buy). Cluster them to create segments with common challenges and issues you can solve. Ultimately, you need to articulate why they should engage with you.

Once the personas have been created, you can focus on your content plan, encompassing your website, social media feeds, thought leadership and other marketing efforts.

Finally, allocate weightings and corresponding triggers within your marketing automation system for interactions with your business to help prioritise and measure opportunities as they progress through the sales pipeline. For example, if a prospect comes to your website and downloads a thought leadership article, that might be classed as sufficient to be passed to the sales team for follow-up. Assigning weightings means the sales team will already know the prospect and have an interest in their business – effectively, these are now warm leads who might be receptive to an introductory call or meeting.

  1. Make it a team effort.

Too frequently, partnership development and lead generation are viewed as the sales team’s responsibility.

Yes, the role of a salesperson is to sell – however, he or she must have the full support of the business behind them to generate leads. Without that, the effort is likely to fail.

At Findr, we believe that the entire organisation should be involved in generating business and creating partnerships – albeit in different ways – and that any efforts not focused on growing the business should be questioned. Thinking of it in these terms can help galvanise and focus your resources.

One way to instil this mindset and a create a high-performing culture is to display the targets throughout the organisation and provide regular updates on performance. Another way is to hold a 15-minute all-hands meeting focused on: how are we progressing with X opportunity? What can we do to be more effective? It’s amazing how many great ideas will be generated by employees outside of the sales organisation.

Bringing it all together.

Creating partnerships sounds easy. However, without the right planning and focus, the results may be disappointing.

Being ruthlessly clear on who you’re targeting and why they should engage with you – and then creating content that resonates – is the most effective approach to creating long term, valuable partnerships.

If you have a question for Greg and would like a practical, no-nonsense answer/advice, please get in touch! We’ll be answering your questions in this column – free and open to everyone.

You can post your questions in the comments section below, email Greg Watts and/or FinTech Futures’ editor, Sharon Kimathi, or get in touch with Greg on LinkedIn.