Guest author Ramgopal Vidyanand (Anand) is vice president of corporate marketing and business development at Celltick.
Partnership deals are never really closed—even if your initial deals don’t cover additional opportunities.
Entrepreneurs often start small, on an experimental basis, with the expectation of growing the reach of their products from city to city, state to state, country to country, or from one device to multiple devices. Within that approach, there are always growth opportunities.
See also: How To Target The Right Customers
Even after you’ve expanded your partnership as much as possible, there are relationships to nurture, case studies to create and intros to make. The weight cannot be just on the sales teams, it’s a company-wide effort to ensure your trial turns into a bigger partnership.
When we secured a partnership with a top cellular carrier in one country, our team was ecstatic. We knew that if we played our cards right, the partner would bring our app into cellphones across Europe. We’ve done this in the past, and we knew that it would take a concerted effort, so we prepared for it. Today, we are partnered with over 50 OEMs and mobile carriers. Now, we continuously focus on expanding our partnerships. Here’s how we do it.
Set And Reset The Right KPIs
Bear in mind that “show me the money” may not always be a company’s mantra. Of course revenue is always an important factor, but OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and service providers also focus on customer satisfaction, business intelligence and engagement. It’s not always about just turning a profit from your app.
Each country and company will have their own unique objectives and goals, which will keep changing at different times based on market conditions. Listen to their needs, understand the KPIs (key performance indicators) that would be key to their success and tailor services to help them achieve their goals.
Here’s an example from my own experience: In one region of a very large European operator that we worked with, our KPI was only revenue for about a year. Then a management change brought a new head who was much more concerned with the volume of complaints received every month. That became the main KPI over the next 6 months.
We spent weeks trying to understand the problem, working with the head of customer service, and revamping customer service training. Then we noticed that tech support calls asking for help on using the app were logged as complaints. Other communications were also errantly categorized.
Six months after we implemented the customer service changes and met those KPIs, revenue returned as the focal point again. As times change, so do the needs and the definition of success for the partners. Target metrics can and will change numerous times, and you need to be prepared to cater to these changes. Create multidisciplinary teams in which everyone knows the common goals and can work toward achieving your goals.
Always Be Testing—And Teaching
It’s important to remember that we are doing business in a market that’s always changing its trends and needs. In a constantly shifting industry, we aren’t always going to make all of our clients happy. Understanding what went wrong could be a valuable lesson for future partnerships.
If you find that an experiment goes wrong in a particular market, share that with other teams in the company, so the same mistake doesn’t get repeated.
When we found that selling ring-back tones on our app worked very well in Russia, we implemented the same feature into our app in Southeast Asia. We did a very small trial, and although the project looked promising, we found that it did not work very well. We wound up abandoning it.
What works in one market may not work in another, and what fails could become your surprise hit somewhere else. Either way, you don’t want you or your partners to wind up with burnt fingers. So continuously research the markets that you are involved in, so you can find out what’s not working early.
Truth Builds Trust
Stuff always happens, and even if you’ve done all the research, sometimes you just don’t hit the mark anyway. If something went awry, let partners know that something failed and explain why it happened—before they ask you about it. Present it with a plan for next steps and a solid strategy, and it might not be as bad you think.
Handling those relationships with honesty may be easier said than done, but it’s crucial. If you don’t make those foundations strong, your deals will amount to Jenga towers that could fall at anytime.
That can be easier to manage in smaller trials, which is one reason limited runs have become rather standard among even the biggest OEMs and carriers. Many came to this conclusion, after having learned valuable lessons from the past.
In 2013, Facebook launched Home on HTC First. Known to many as “the Facebook phone,” the device landed on AT&T and rolled out nationwide with much fanfare. It was a disaster. Within a month, the company dropped the price within one month from $99 to $0.99 cents. Turns out, the problem wasn’t the pricing, but the flawed value proposition of the interface. Customers flocked to return the phone, and AT&T quickly dropped the First altogether. Many at HTC blamed Facebook’s Home for the flop.
Many operators and OEMs carry out smaller trials with just one device, one geography or only a limited number of installations. These trials can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months.
If something misfires or goes wrong during that time, don’t be afraid to disclose it. Partners want to hear about successes, obviously. But in a true relationship, it is not just about the wins; it’s also about how you handle the failures and work through them that can strengthen your bonds.
In 2006, we signed on with a widespread South American mobile carrier, working with them through shifting KPIs and numerous problems. Its confidence in us was at a different scale when we developed a new product line years later.
Relationship Building Is The Foundation For Growth
Sounds simple, but don’t forget to keep in touch. Before you know it, you might realize that you have gone more than two weeks without contact with your partner. If your expansion plans succeed, you may even have find yourself stretched across a number of them, and you need to check in with them all.
Setting up regular progress calls with clear data discussions ensures that you are following up on the KPIs and results. Weekly or biweekly meetings are also critical to building lasting relationships. You want to let your partners know they are a top priority.
With one of our long-time clients, we slowly let the account move from a complete mapping of our relationship to a matter of maintenance by an account manager. It happened slowly, and no one on the team picked up on it. We had lost focus on the account from a management perspective. Then one day, the CEO of the operator visited our booth at a trade show and asked if he could meet with us. We realized that our attention on this partner had slipped.
We immediately started to revamp the relationship and nurture it back to health. The partner has been continuously growing in revenue ever since. The company has now grown five times in revenue, becoming one of our largest customers.
Make Sure They Look Sexy
Your partners can become your very own sales force—a very effective one. Make sure they look good, and they could become your staunchest supporters. That’s very valuable, particularly in front of other prospects.
One partner wanted to better understand how we can generate higher ARPUs (average revenue per user). After much discussion, we decided to test different ways of natively generating revenue. We realized that we could increase the revenue generated from 5 cents per active user per month to $1.10 per active user within 4 months.
The operator was thrilled that we were able to increase its profits for no extra cost, and it not only decided to rapidly expand our reach, but it become our evangelists in the market.
Photo by Derek Σωκράτης Finch