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Internal Alignment — The Key to Professional Services Partnership Success

No professional service firm partnership works without getting buy-in and mindshare from the partners or account executives who manage client relationships.

While the strategic rationale for initiating individual partnerships may be crystal clear to the partner setting it up, getting buy-in and mindshare from other partners or account executives is often a challenge. And unless the challenge can be addressed and overcome, the success of the partnership is at great risk of failure. Sometimes a long and painful one, as some of you may have experienced.

Let’s start with the most common types of partnerships in which professional services firms engage. In addition to understanding what you need from the partner, it is important to understand how the partners likely see you. Both of those inform how internal stakeholders can better work together to make them successful.

Solution Providers — Your firm seeks a solution (typically software) that meets certain complementary needs of your clients and will drive billable hours. To the alliance partner, you’re a potentially valuable channel partner as they hope to boost their own revenue and market penetration.

Enabling Technology Providers — You want to use their technology to enable your firm to be more efficient, to do new things, or to seem more “sophisticated.” To them, you’re a power user or customer.

Similar Firm, Different Market — Your firm wants to support clients outside your regular territory, or reach new clients in a new marketplace (whether a new geographic territory or market segment). To that kind of a partner, you’re their solution provider.

Complementary Services — You want to fill gaps in your ability to serve clients, so you can sell a larger engagement or keep competitors from gaining a foothold. To such a partner, as in 'Solution Providers' above, you’re effectively a channel partner.

Each of these types of partnerships requires different ways of working together, but each must address a common set of questions:

  • Who will spot and develop the opportunity? Own the account relationship?
  • Who will develop the scope and architect the solution?
  • What counts as a win?
  • Who will bear the costs of losing (proposal prep, POC, etc.)?
  • How will we share in costs of winning (discounts, liability limits, etc.)?

Of course, each of these questions requires a host of logistical and financial discussions among a wide swath of stakeholders — ideally before the deal is inked. But equally important is the need to achieve genuine internal buy-in and a shared mindset among all those involved. Without it, even the most well-written contract will fail to deliver value.

For account leaders, their most limited resource is their time. Why should they spend it helping an alliance partner? Their most valuable assets are their client relationships. Why should they risk them by putting an alliance partner into the mix? But from the perspective of the alliance partner who sees you as a channel, for example, that’s precisely what they want from you.

We’ve witnessed lots of alliance programs and partnership offices at large professional services firms. They are often under-resourced for the change management effort that is required. And they underestimate what it takes to mediate between unhappy alliance partners and disengaged internal stakeholders. 

And we counsel — and train — our clients on how to set up a partnership, how to onboard new partners, and how to engage account leadership. But the path to success starts with fitness of purpose: How do you align resources, as well as your partnering processes, dashboards, and other operational tasks to the reason you are in the partnership in the first place?

Without such alignment, partnerships are destined to fail.

Click here to read more on our experience with professional services clients.