If you haven’t heard the term ‘partnership co-design’ yet, you might as well get used to it. That’s because I believe partnership co-design is going to become the next buzzword in the SaaS partnerships sphere – and with good reason, too.

Partnership co-design is the process of consulting stakeholders on both sides in order to design your ecosystem strategy around their needs, from the ground up.

While the idea of co-design isn’t a new one, applying co-design principles to partner programs and ecosystem strategies is going to become increasingly necessary as partners and resellers become responsible for ever-bigger slices of SaaS companies’ revenue.

Partnership co-design requires first talking to all relevant stakeholders before getting down to brass tacks and conceptualizing your entire ecosystem strategy. That means interviewing internal stakeholders like your salespeople, members of your partnerships team, your development team, and even members of your C-suite, as well as, of course, your partners (both existing partners and those you’re still in the process of recruiting).

Use partnership co-design to create effective, efficient partnerships based on trust and mutual understanding.

When carried out successfully, the benefits of partnership co-design should be pretty obvious. Designing your partner program in a way that recognizes and meets the actual needs and expectations of everyone involved will result in highly effective, efficient partnerships based on trust and mutual understanding. Achieve that, and potential partners and resellers will be breaking down your door.

Amir Karmali is Director of Partner Relations at Marketcircle, and Marketcircle’s partner program is testament to the power of partnership co-design. Using a five-step cycle, Karmali was able to resuscitate Marketcircle’s floundering partnerships into a thriving ecosystem of engaged and motivated partners.

Here’s Karmali’s five-step partnership co-design cycle, as originally outlined by Crossbeam:

Step 1: Interview stakeholders on both sides of your partnerships.

The aim of consulting with both internal stakeholders and existing partners is to get clear answers to two main questions; firstly, what each category of stakeholders think an ideal partnership should look like, and secondly, which obstacles are currently holding them back from achieving their goals.

For example, Accenture found that 75% of partners surveyed consider it critically important that vendors offer a digital experience that makes doing business easier. Too many partnerships are still managed by painfully tedious and error-prone manual processes that obscure data and impede collaboration.

For his part, Karmali  received feedback indicating that stakeholders wanted a culture of trust and a sense of community to permeate the partnership program. Partners also wanted more clarity around who they should reach out to on the Marketcircle team for specific problems and requests.

Step 2: Look for common themes and formulate corresponding solutions and deliverables.

Once you’ve gathered feedback, insights, and opinions from various stakeholders, it’s time to identify common problems and come up with potential solutions.

For example, if partners want a digital experience that makes doing business easier, consider providing a commerce-enabled B2B marketplace for SaaS solutions and services that simplifies and streamlines vendor-partner-customer transactions and communications.

One theme Karmali identified was communication issues between Marketcircle staff and their partners. He came up with two ideas in response: one, to create a dedicated Slack workspace where partners could instantly communicate with internal staff, and two, to host quarterly Zoom meetings open to all partners.

Step 3: Go back to your stakeholders to validate your ideas.

Partnership co-design doesn’t end with one round of stakeholder interviews. Once you’ve come up with possible solutions and deliverables, go back to your partners and internal staff to get their feedback on your ideas. Listen to their reactions and re-design as necessary until you’re 100% sure that you’re on the right track.

Step 4: Execute.

Delivering on your promises is absolutely critical to the partnership co-design process. Putting your proposed ideas into action — and letting your partners see their own ideas come to fruition — will build an incredible amount of trust between you and your partners.

Step 5: Continuously validate your actions.

Never stop co-designing. This means that partnership co-design is an ongoing, cyclic process that requires continuously gathering feedback and constantly tweaking your partner program to better address stakeholders’ evolving ideas, needs, and concerns.

What’s more, co-design needn’t stay confined to your partner program; it can play a valuable role in product design, too. Says Karmali: “I want to go deeper with it. I want partners to have real input on what our product is going to look like and feel like.”

And that sentiment, in a nutshell, is the future of partnerships.

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