5 Filters to choose the right people to partner with in your customer system

Partnerships are a great way to bring fresh energy, ideas and solutions to your customer ecosystem. They are also a way to really expand your community and audience.

Examples of partnerships

Partnerships can be small things like:

  • Co-marketing a program
  • Collaborating on a small piece of content like a video or ebook
  • Doing a joint live stream

Or larger initiatives like:

  • A joint podcast
  • Producing an event together
  • Creating an ongoing class or program

While there are many benefits to partnering, finding just the right partner in your ecosystem can be tricky.

Here are five filters I have used to find my own partners, as well as to advise my clients who are excited to scale their businesses.

Filter One: Complementary missions

You must find significant overlap in your and your partners’ missions. If you do not share a fundamental commitment to solving a similar problem for the same customer, it will be hard to find a project to work on that makes strategic sense. Here are some questions you can ask of each other to discern complementary missions:

  1. What is the mission behind the work you do?
  2. Why is it important to you personally?
  3. When in your life, or in the lives of others you love, has the lack of this mission caused substantial pain or discomfort?
  4. When in your life, or in the lives of others you love, has the presence of this mission caused substantial joy or freedom?
  5. Imagine that your plan works, and a customer of your dreams has completely solved the problem that your company is designed to solve. How would their life be different? What would they be able to do now that the problem was solved?

Filter Two: Compatible values

There is nothing that will lose the trust of your customers faster than partnering with a person or entity that is not aligned with your culture and values. It may make them question your judgement, and commitment to their well-being. Have a conversation about values where you not only name the value, but also include your definition of the value.

For example, you may say “Honesty is a value for me. And that means three things: 1) Never lie to a customer about production delay. 2) Share truthful feedback with employees and partners even if it hurts. 3) Never create false urgency through a marketing tactic like saying “we only have 5 boxes left in the warehouse” when our whole team knows we have 100 boxes left.”

You can take a values assessment based on my friend Brant Menswar’s excellent book Black Sheep.

Filter Three: PB&J project potential

Truly great partnership projects bring something unique and valuable to both of your customer ecosystems. Look for partners who bring the peanut butter to your jelly — highly complementary skills, ideas or solutions that make something better than each of you could bring individually.

For example, if you are an excellent writer but balk at video production, partner with someone who brings exciting, contemporary video production skills so your message can reverberate on TikTok and Instagram, not just on your blog.

Filter Four: Strategic urgency

Have you ever kept bumping into a cool person at conferences or in online groups and said “we really should do something together in the future!,” but you never manage to collaborate?

This is because there is no strategic urgency for your partnership. There must be a reason to work together soon, otherwise, you will not have the motivation or priority to create something new together.

Strategic urgency can be driven by:

  • Budget. There is money in the budget to do a project with a partner that you must use or it will run out. Or grant funds become available that require two organizations to partner, and there is an eminent deadline.
  • Visibility. You have an opportunity to be featured in the media, but you need to have a new, unique or interesting angle to the work. A partnership may do the trick.
  • Scarcity. All of a sudden, your potential partner is getting booked and busy and you realize if you don’t jump on this collaboration soon, you may never be able to partner.

Filter Five: Partner Growth Mindset

There is a reason many people and organizations shy away from partnerships and that is because it is very challenging to create something new with someone who is not familiar with your organization’s culture or your creative point of view. When you create something new, you may push against long-held beliefs or paradigms.

What will get you through the struggles of creative thrashing is adopting a partnership lens of growth mindset. This term, popularized by the research done by Stanford Professor and author Carol Dweck in her book Mindset, sets a culture of openness, curiosity and conversation. If both partners are not willing to be open and curious, it is unlikely new and exciting things will come out of the partnership.

Watch Carol Dweck’s TED talk together, then discuss how you can weave this mindset into your creative process.

For a complete framework to find ideal partners in your ecosystem, check out my latest book The Widest Net: Unlock Untapped Markets and Discover New Customers Right in Front of You.

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