Have you ever been to an event where they play the icebreaker game “Two Truths and a Lie”? In case you’ve never played, here’s how it works: Each participant gives three statements about themselves, one of which must be a lie. Then the group tries to guess which one is the lie, and whoever successfully “tricks” the group into believing their lie was a truth wins. While this is a decent event icebreaker, I think we can all agree that it’s not how business should be done with new or existing partnerships.
Yet, at times, it feels to many firms as if they have been unwillingly pulled into a game of “Two Truths and a Lie” to ascertain what in their marketing or sales pitch is not exactly the truth. Currently, in B2B (business-to-business), many of the “lies” we’ve seen of late have been related to the partner’s true ability to innovate affordably and in a timely manner to meet their client’s goal. Since the client is selecting a partner primarily based on their ability to deliver to their innovation goals, this scenario is particularly problematic. In this article, I’ll share insights on how to pick the right partner for your innovation goals.
Most days, it feels as if technology moves faster than the speed of light. (And, yes, for my more scientific readers, I know that breaks the laws of the universe, as nothing can move faster than light; however, we can all agree the pace in technology is frenetic.) The innovations are endless; talent gaps abound; and the need for profitable, fast change is unprecedented in this post-Covid-19, open-for-business era.
Those conditions create a perfect environment to bring in partners who can help firms understand the right technology moves and speed up innovation. In fact, at a recent Cisco partner event, Oliver Tuszik, SVP Partner Sales for Cisco, proclaimed it was “the age of the partner.” The reseller, system integrator, and agent channel accounts for about 90% of Cisco’s business. Tuszik said customers and vendors are increasingly relying on partners to deliver and implement solutions and cited research from Accenture and Canalys that found that 90% of tech projects are partner-assisted.
What the Right Innovation Partner Looks Like
At its simplest, an innovation partner can be a platform, company, person, or location in which several companies or creators work together toward mutual interests and, as a result, uncover new approaches to solving existing market problems. The use of “partner” is critical here. This is a relationship, not a transaction. Successful innovation is helped by having the right partner(s) side by side working with you throughout the entire process. This element is very different from simply buying, using, or procuring services or products from a partner.
Truly open innovation with the partner can deliver positive business benefits that are not seen in standard procurement engagements. It helps you expand your technology and innovation perspective as well as potentially enter new business areas and gain expert access to new technologies where the partner can provide expertise and support. The best partners should possess the tools and skills needed to not only provide technology but also to conduct research and development in your market that will help you outpace your competitors. Finally, the best partners need to be excellent communicators who are capable of tracking change and responding in a fluid manner to those changes as you pass ideas, deliverables, and project tasks back and forth.
Some of the best innovation partners may be net new to your business. As an example, you might find the best innovation partners come from nontraditional sources such as:
- Local universities that excel at research and pilots and can bring a good cadre of students or researchers to the table to help with your innovation ideation, research, and pilot tracking
- Crowdsourcing, which invites open innovation from industry experts, researchers, and entrepreneurs from all fields to generate new ideas and solutions that can be unique to your situation
- Consultancies that often look at the business problem from a different perspective than your firm
- Business process management firms that manage new digital-age processes capable of radically shifting the innovation in customer experience
- Startups, which often bring new minimum viable projects to the market to spur innovation
These types of partnerships can drive a new normal for your organization where boundaries are torn down; new approaches are honored; and progress is made quickly against even the most vexing of issues.
However, keep in mind as well that these types of partnerships share an inability to complete the total innovation project; as a result, they may need to be teamed with a delivery or support partner depending on your internal innovation resources. You may choose to partner several partners together to provide a complete deliverable or use your own staff to do so — the critical element is ensuring you know the truths of each partner based on their inherent strengths and weed out any “lies” so they don’t impact your project.
The bottom line? Innovation partnerships work. It’s simply not enough for partners to be able to procure and deliver technology punch lists any longer. They need to do more, be more, and deliver more innovation as part of the engagement. But innovation partnerships take work. Understand each partner’s real abilities, contribution areas, and deliverables, and you will win. Fall for a “one throat to choke” partnership strategy and you will likely fail.
Join us on February 23, 2023, for Partners Ecosystem Week, a digital event analyzing the business and IT imperatives around cloud, AI, automation, and cybersecurity ecosystems that define the future of partnerships.
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