This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.
"You must trust people, or life becomes impossible,” the writer Anton Chekhov once said. This is true of all relationships—friendships, marriages, partnerships—and the manager–report relationship is no different."
From "The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You" by Julie Zhuo [Book]
Earlier this year, we revisited our approach to managing and collaborating with our tech partners to improve client outcomes. We began by curating a list of partners we believed offered the best solutions for all aspects of our clients' e-commerce tech stack. As we finalized the list, I made time to connect with all of our partner managers and redefine the goals of our partnership. We hoped that by narrowing our list, we could go deeper with each partner, working with them less as a vendor and more as a part of our team, and together help our clients succeed.
While I haven't met all of our partner managers in person yet, I've enjoyed attending several events and conferences and spending time with many of them. Despite our titles and company names, we're all just humans working with other humans. Making time to connect beyond our day-to-day has brought added enjoyment to our work.
At the beginning of February, I wrote "BL&T No. 126: Narrowing Our E-Commerce Stack & Partnerships" sharing more background on our decision to change our tech partner approach and our vision for the new direction. At about halfway through the year, it's great to look back and see how our investments have paid off with progress in many of the areas we set out toward:
Deep expertise: We're gradually making our way through a series of demos with all of our partners. We tried this in the past but got low team engagement. This time, we've curated the attendee list and created a more focused agenda. It's been great to hear positive feedback from our partners and internal team. These efforts have resulted in team-led follow-on sessions/discussions, team members proactively seeking more information about tech partner solutions, and (my favorite) integrating our tech partner's solutions into our designs. All in all, hearing all the internal buzz around these solutions is a win.
Strengthened collaboration: No matter how much we try to avoid issues, they happen. Having active and engaged relationships with our partners has been a game-changer for finding a fix when things go wrong. Luckily, this isn't often. Beyond the occasional hiccup, we've enjoyed having open communication channels with many of our partners, making it easy to get insight into everything from their product roadmap of upcoming features to the best use cases they've seen with clients like ours. The other day, I loved seeing an exchange between our Design Director and a tech partner's Co-Founder about website performance—this type of engagement is invaluable.
Marketing opportunities: A highlight so far this year was an invite-only merchant dinner we hosted at Shoptalk with our partners at Recharge and Rebuy. Through this experience, I learned a lot about what it takes to create a great event. While it was a success, I'm eager to apply some lessons learned to future events. In addition to the dinner, we've been making an effort to highlight partners in our marketing and will continue to do more going forward. We're also in talks with a few partners about case study opportunities and will be guest-publishing a blog post for a partner later this Summer.
Feedback loop: With open communication and deeper relationships, it's easier to know who to ask for feedback and who to share it with when it's relevant. For example, I've appreciated some constructive feedback on case studies, leading us to improve them in our sales materials. On the flip side, I recently heard feedback from a prospective client who told me on our first call that they opted not to pursue a tech partner's solution because of a terrible sales call. I knew who would know what to do with the feedback and passed it along. They did.
Tighter scoping: With more reps on our preferred partners' platforms, we're continuing to improve our estimations of what it will take to integrate their solutions. A few of our partners also recently shared resources outlining how other agencies typically estimate implementation. These have been helpful in how we think about approaching the work. Lastly, we've appreciated gathering input from our partners on our proposal and scope of work documents, especially when we're developing a new service or approach.
Client success: Our goal is that clients are never stuck as a messenger between their tech partners and us. With active clients, this means opening up a channel with their success managers to ensure they're getting the most out of their e-commerce stack. Sometimes, this is as simple as a workshop call. Other times, we do a deeper audit and provide recommendations for the client to improve results. I'm always surprised by how many clients are paying for platforms but not using them to their potential. We're already seeing great results here and are excited to continue on this path.
Beyond our current clients, leveraging our tech partners to provide insights throughout the new business process for prospects already on their platform has also been valuable. These insights have been a helpful tool for educating our team and taking a more consultative approach to proposals.
Lastly, having these relationships has helped us expand our network with other like-minded partners through warm introductions, making it easier to hit the ground running when looking for solutions for a client's unique use case.
New Business Synergy: A lot about our new business processes and conversations have changed since we started on this new path. For one, we're more confident than ever in sending leads to the right partners based on the prospect's goals. It's also been helpful to stay in the loop with how those conversations unfold.
Recently, we connected a prospect with a few partners we thought could help them. While the client went dark for weeks, the partners kept me in the loop with their conversations and offered to nudge them about Barrel. The client miraculously resurfaced to let us know they needed more time before they brought us on.
As mentioned earlier, involving our partners more closely throughout new business conversations has been beneficial. When considering which tech partners to recommend, we have an open channel with partners to brainstorm if they're a good fit and how to drive the most value. More recently, we chatted with a prospect who had also been in talks with a partner. We're now working together to see how we can help get them across the finish line together.
Through these conversations, we and our tech partners are learning where we both succeed. Aligning on this has opened up new opportunities, such as new service offerings, exclusive pricing, and more qualified leads. Looking ahead, we're excited to take this a step further by designing services leveraging our tech partners' platforms. We're in early discussion with a couple who recently approached us.
Working more closely with the other teams our clients rely on for business success has been fruitful. I'm energized by how this initiative is shaping up and what we can accomplish for our clients alongside our tech partners for the rest of this year.
Before I close this out, I thought I'd share a recent situation where having integrated tech partners helped us better serve a current client with an expanded scope.
Just over a month ago, one of our partners let us know a key client had finally signed with them after a year of negotiation. The client hadn't yet shared the news with us, so we reached out to congratulate them and see how we could support the platform migration. It turns out they had no idea we could help.
We had an initial call and learned they were handling most of the work with the internal team but were anxious to see how we could assist. Weeks later, they resurfaced and asked to start working on a proposal. As we worked through our approach, our tech partner was helpful in answering questions and providing input on our scope. In the end, the discussion with the client turned into a proposal for a substantial retainer for the rest of the year, much of which will focus on this new workstream.
Am I maximizing the potential of my partnerships? How can I foster stronger collaboration between my team, the client, and our partners?
Read here: Returns Don't Have to Suck