How to build a better partnership with Product
Dear Remora - I recently took on a new partnership role that involves working closely with our Chief Product Officer (CPO) and his leads, more so than I’ve ever had to before. What advice do you have for working effectively with Product to get deals done with partners?
Product Partnerships Patty
Dear Product Partnerships Patty -
This is one of the most important questions for anyone leading partnerships in a technology company - how to work effectively with Product?
For answers, I gathered advice from more than a dozen senior Product leaders at a wide range of companies - from scaled platforms to early stage startups. The group I surveyed included Group Product Managers, SVPs and Chief Product Officers.
I posed a simple question to each of them: what is one piece of advice you have for those in BD/partnerships for working with a Product leader?
From their answers, five themes emerged. You can find them below.
First, thanks to the Product Leaders whose advice shaped this post:
Jonathan Alferness @ Walmart
Dan Atkins @ Niantic
Ryan Beauchamp @ 1stDibs
Joe Bose @ YouTube
Gareth Davies @ TransUnion
Laura Dansigani @ Intuit
Ted Hamilton @ Snowflake
Jennifer Liu @ Rise Like a Phoenix
Chantrelle Nielsen @ Microsoft
Rob Rekrutiak @ Gojek
Eleanor Stribling @ Google
Adit Vaidya @ Circle
Glenn Wilson @ Stripe
To Build a Better Partnership with Product Team …
1. Walk in their shoes.
One over-arching theme stood above the rest - to work effectively with a Product leader you need to operate like one. You need to walk in their shoes. The best Product Managers are obsessed with the customer and solving their pain. You should be too. After all, your partnerships are in service to the same customer. Walking in their shoes means using the product as much as you can and filing bugs to help make it better. It means knowing the product strategy, roadmap and technical trade-offs. (To help you walk in Product’s shoes, see the resources at the bottom of this post).
“Every BD/Partnerships lead needs to be a part time PM (and every PM needs to be a part time partnerships manager.” - Dan Atkins, Niantic
“Understand the customer that product leader is building for and focus the conversation on how your solution solves a problem for that customer.” - Laura Dansigani, Intuit
“Prioritize digging into how the product is operationally developed. Having a sense of the major feature areas and what is necessary to improve them” - Joe Bose, YouTube
“What I love from BD is a complete understanding of our users and their needs … and when they understand where we're going and the constraints we're under” - Ted Hamilton, Snowflake
2. Start with clarity of purpose.
You need to be clear on why and how the partnership you’re pursuing will advance the product. What is the problem your partnership will solve for the customer? Why this partner and not that one? Why should the Product team opt to partner vs. build vs. buy?
“Start with clarity of purpose. Share your goals and definition of success in partnerships with your product counterpart to identify synergy or disynergy.” - Gareth Davies, TransUnion
“Spend more time than you think you need to understand what product is trying to achieve - specifically, the target customer, the business problem we're trying to solve, how the existing product does or doesn't do the job, and why a partnership seems like the best route.” - Eleanor Stribling, Google
“While good business development leaders may ASK product managers how they can help with the roadmap, great business development leaders ANTICIPATE needs for the product and proactively suggest ways in which partnerships can accelerate the business.” - Jennifer Liu
PMs love taxonomies, so help them by sharing a taxonomy of partnership types (e.g. marketing, sales, incubator, ISV ecosystem - whatever you can think of, or what your company uses) then specify with them what kind of partnership you're trying to work on and where the value will be generated. - Chantrelle Nielsen, Microsoft
3. Craft shared goals and metrics.
The clearest sign of alignment with Product is when you share the same goals and metrics of success.
“The best Product/BD collaborations I’ve experienced is when the two teams are tightly coupled on goals early in the discovery phase of a new initiative. This can be achieved by co-creating the product roadmap or signing up for each other’s OKRs to ensure alignment between the teams.” - Adit Vaidya, Circle
“Check if the PM has aligned OKRs... for example, if you are trying to form a sales partnership but the PM is trying to drive MAU (monthly active users), then the impact of your partnership might be too distant to make them prioritize the needed features.” - Chantrelle Nielsen, Microsoft
4. Make your case with data.
If you don’t yet have shared goals, your focus is on growing your influence with Product. You want them to prioritize the the features that your partner(s) need. For this, data is your most powerful tool.
“PMs thrive on insights and data, qualitative or quantitative, direct from the source and aggregated.” - Gareth Davies, TransUnion
“Stack rank your feature requests based on impact to the business, with estimated uplift or savings whenever possible.” - Ryan Beauchamp, 1stDibs
“Over-communicate and be flexible as data informs ongoing changes to prioritization.” - Jonathan Alferness, Walmart
5. Break bread together and with partners.
Product leaders want to make smart decisions that advance the product. You can help them by bringing your Product team to meet your partners. To maximize the impact, be thoughtful about when and who should meet. I recommend using food or drink as a lubricant. Donuts. Bagels. Lunch. Dinner. Beer.
“Bring your product counterpart to your customer conversations.” - Adit Vaidya, Circle
“Expose the Product team to the partner and involve them in the commercials - this is “a good” from many perspectives: builds alignment from the start, builds credibility with the partner, minimizes risk that there’s an unseen blocker, and may unlock some efficiencies/opportunities in commercial terms.” - Rob Rekrutiak, Gojek
“Don't be afraid to get Product involved with meeting partners early on. Even if the PM you're working with doesn't excel in biz dev or sales, their technical or product knowledge can really help drive the conversation forward” - Eleanor Stribling
For walking in the shoes of a Product Manager
A few resources for how you can get into the mindset of a Product Manager …
Podcast: Lenny’s Podcast is for, by and about product management. Great interviews with top PMs. You don’t need to be a PM to love and learn from this show.
Book: Inspired by Marty Cagan, who runs the Silicon Valley Product Group, which helps companies build better product teams. There are many more great books on product management - just as your Product lead for their favorite.
Dear Remora is an advice column for BD/partnership leaders named after the Remora fish, whose enduring partnership with sharks serves as a model partnership from the natural world. Please reply with any ‘Dear Remora’ questions you want answered.
Here you can find full answers from the Product Management leaders who contributed to this post.