Tech partnerships in the age of Tinder

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Technology company partnerships have been around for a long time. In fact, if we look beyond high tech, we see a rich history of joint projects that have yielded significant benefits for customers – such as the partnership between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads in the late 1800s, that resulted in the first transcontinental railway link. That partnership took years of negotiations and the resulting joint project roughly a decade to complete. We’ve come a long way.

Over the years, technology company partnerships have become a norm in the industry, yielding new vocabulary like coopetition, tons of t-shirts and other swag that become collector’s items, and opportunities for those in the industry to speculate about if there’s any “there” there. But with the spate of announcements in a cloud and Tinder-paced world, you have to wonder: is there any staying power – or real value – in partnership announcements? Or are many vendors just swiping right as often as possible and hoping something sticks?

I have yet to hear of any Tinder relationships ending in marriage. In the same vein, it seems many tech partnerships are forgotten as quickly as they’re inked – without even the time to print the t-shirts. Let’s look at the recent past, which saw partnerships between Salesforce and Google, Salesforce and Microsoft, Salesforce and Workday, Salesforce and Oracle, Salesforce and IBM … and let’s not pick on Salesforce, as it is not alone. It’s also important to note that many Salesforce partners end up as Salesforce acquisition targets, making partner ecosystems a much more mature dating game than the pre-partnership negotiations of the past.

We shouldn’t ignore “we love each other” announcements altogether, because those that are true engagements leading to marriage (read: acquisition) often bring together complementary technologies and customer bases to drive greater value for customers and fewer vendor management issues. That said, those marketing announcements deserve sharper evaluation, and CIOs and shareholders alike should demand that they lead to additional value, not just marketing spend. Key areas to dig into include:

Product gaps and overlaps

Does a partner’s complementary technology fill actual gaps in the counterpart’s product portfolio, or simply add more undifferentiated pieces to it? If the latter is true, this is likely to create more confusion for customers and sales people alike.

Product development investments

With cloud and traditional vendors often having very different product development cycles, understanding who will take the lead and who’s following – and knowing whether both parties are clear on that or not – provides good insights into the possibility of offspring that benefits customers.

Pricing

In a cloud world, updates and upgrades follow a near quarterly-cadence. Real partnership announcements have real joint product plans and releases with real pricing on the horizon, not just vague “sales and marketing collaboration” jargon, so customers can plan and budget accordingly.

Potential partner impact

IBM has partnerships with Microsoft (with a Dynamics CRM implementation practice), Sugar CRM, and others that could conflict with the Salesforce partnership, never mind its own ecosystem of SPM, CPQ, and marketing automation partners. A good measure of potential impact (and the realness of the partnership in traditional terms) is how many resources – that is, real people – that are aligned with each cause across development, implementation, sales, and marketing.

In the cloud-tinder world, it behooves CIOs to view partnership announcements with a healthy dose of skepticism, much as they would an engagement ring at a Tinder hookup.

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