The Secret Sauce of Corporate Partnerships

Sarah Loughry January 2, 2023

Sarah Loughry

You see it time and time again: partnerships that start off to great fanfare, promising to deliver a ton of value for both partners as the world looks on in admiration… only to see it all fall apart soon after. 

Apple and Paypal.

Starbucks and Square.

Brad and Angie.

You get the idea. And it happens all the time. 

What causes corporate partnerships—smart partnerships that seem poised to conquer new markets and majorly expand their audience—to fail so disastrously? 

Let’s sample the secret sauce of corporate partnerships in tech: what makes them grow and flourish so that, when it’s your turn to chase that sweet new deal, you know what to do—and what to avoid.

Number One Reason Corporate Partnerships Fail 

Internal alignment is everything. With 70% of corporate partnerships failing in the long run, you can’t afford to start off kneecapped by a lack of buy-in on your side of the aisle. 

Partnerships are about creating value, and that begins by understanding your stakeholders. If you’re struggling to get people on board, chances are the partnership either doesn’t hold value for them or they don’t see it through their particular lens. And you can’t expect people to buy in if it doesn’t make dollars AND sense. Trust us. We’ve even seen the big boys screw this up. 

In late 2014, Apple and Paypal were looking to partner to integrate PayPal with Apple’s new platform ApplePay. Everyone was on board…

…except the president of PayPal. 

He was against the marriage from the start, but was muscled into the deal by eBay’s CEO John Donahue. Well, shotgun weddings work out about as well in partnerships as they do in real life, and later that year Apple caught PayPay in bed with their corporate nemesis Samsung.

Needless to say, the wedding was off and both sides lost their deposit on the venue. 

The lesson? If your own stakeholders don’t see the value in a partnership, they’re never going to follow your flag into battle when it’s time to charge. 

It’s Bigger Than the Major Players 

Partnerships only work if everyone you need in the game knows the playbook. 

Take the Square/Starbucks debacle. Square was a spunky phone dongle startup in the early years, and when a partnership with Starbucks came along it looked like Square was going to be rolling deep off that little white box. However, securing the partnership came with a hitch: Square needed to take a pay cut on transaction fees at the register. 

Everyone signing the deal knew capitalization was going to be tricky, and there would have to be an all-hands effort on the franchise level to make the partnership a success.

Unfortunately, nobody behind the counter got the message and the rollout was a train wreck. Baristas were staring at customers like cats watching card tricks when they rolled up with Square on their phones trying to buy a latte. The confusion led to an economic coma once the caffeine buzz with customers cratered, and the partnership collapsed before it ever got going.

The sad part is, it’s entirely possible it could have been an industry game-changer.  If the partnerships leaders had simply realized who the critical stakeholders were and worked to get them on board, we might be paying Square fees at the Starbucks drive-thru on the moon. 

What You Can Do 

We’ve been helping professionals improve their partnership skills for a while now, and we field a lot of complex questions about internal alignment. But when it comes to the basics? We’re chanting mantras: remain neutral, listen to your stakeholders, follow the value. 

Start saying that in your sleep, and you’ll be on the road to building successful corporate partnerships.

Stay Cool

Delivering a game-changing pitch can be the biggest high of your career, but if you build a partnership solely on your own perception of value, you risk alienating the rest of your organization. Even though pursuing a partnership makes perfect sense to you doesn’t mean it makes sense to everyone else. After all, of course it makes sense to you—partnerships are your job! 

That’s why one of the most important qualities in a partnerships leader is neutrality.  Stakeholders are looking to achieve their goals, not make someone else’s life easier without a return on the investment. If you want to know what value means to them, you need to step back and let them decide for themselves. That’s what boosts your credibility as a leader, and promotes that all-important buy-in when it’s time to deliver. 

Seek Common Ground 

Every partnership should create maximum value, but that doesn’t mean the same value for everyone all the time. When you’re making your case, it’s important to seek common ground to help your stakeholders understand how getting behind a partnership will help them with their goals, too.

So the guys in sales are looking at Q4 and marketing is freaking out about ad spending returns? No problem. Do your due diligence, have the conversation, and show them what you’re seeing and how they fit into the picture. If it’s truly the right partnership, they won’t have to take your word for it. It will speak for itself. 

Build Corporate Partnerships That Deliver

Even the ground level of internal alignment in partnerships may seem like a lot—and it is—but we’re here to help. Our partnerships experts at Firneo have been in the business of building lasting corporate partnerships between some of the largest companies in the world for a long time, and we’re here to deliver that expertise to you. 

Nobody told you how to do it? Stand on us. Get yourself up to speed with our portfolio of online courses, seminars, and access to our online community of partnerships leaders who will help make your career in partnerships a rewarding one.

Join our January 2023 cohort to turbocharge your partnerships career today!