minute read

How a zero-sum mentality is hindering your success with partnerships, and how to fix it.

People with a zero-sum mentality believe that in order for them to succeed, you have to give up something. Let's change that.

This is a short, but important post.

I was listening to the Lex Fridman podcast (awesome by the way), and he was talking to Elon Musk about the human race. And one of the thing Elon mentioned was in relation to the "zero-sum mentality" of humans...

What he said reminded me of some of the less inspiring partner programs I've come across in my career.

The idea is this;

People with a zero-sum mentality believe that in order for them to succeed, you have to give up something.

This is the metaphorical pie where if I take a piece, you have less you can eat.

But, the world has proven this is not true - there are new inventions, land, companies being created every day which then unlocks more opportunities for all of us.

Partner teams often get stuck in this zero-sum sales mentality wherein they believe in order for to succeed, they have to get their partner prospect to give up:

> Time to learn / train.

>> Money to purchase licenses.

>>> Relationships with their clients by referring them to the partners salespeople...

And, of course, as the best partner programs have shown us, this is a losing battle.

I believe this zero-sum mentality and culture some tech companies posses is what creates (a) program failure, and/or (b) those odd hybrid roles where the company gives the person a "Partnerships" title, but everyone knows they are just a salesperson.

Here's zero-sum in action:

> Partner Manager reaches out cold

>> The prospect bites, takes a call

>>> On that call, the Partner Manager focuses on product features, testimonials, and integrations... and of course, commissions for referrals...

>>>> After the call, the Partner Manager expects the agency to be thinking only about how many referrals they want to send over bcs the product is so great and they want to earn referral revenue...

>>>>> Each quarter the Partner Manager reaches out asking for referrals...

>>>>>> Crickets 🦗 🦗 🦗

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So then, how should you be thinking about partner operations to avoid falling into the zero-sum trap?

It's simple, don't focus (at first) on the current pie. As in, forget there is a pie and pretend (initially) you are there to create opportunities for one another by opening up new markets, create something together to draw in new business...

Focus on net-new for both of you.

This will ensure you do not (1) scare potential partners away, and (2) create genuine reciprocity, and (3) create a longer-lasting partnership.

So now, let's see what happens with a partnership that starts with the mentality of "What can we create together for mutual benefit?":

> Partner Manager reaches out cold with an idea (co-marketing is easy).

>>On the call, the Partner Manager does not pitch the product.

>>> Partner Manager and agency formalize a co-marketing campaign, and Partner Manager sends the agency a free account code in return for the time spent.

>>>> Meanwhile, agency is exploring the product, creating a free account...

>>>>> Prior to the campaign going live Partner Manager suggests they map accounts in a free co-selling platform like Reveal in order to attribute success of this campaign (increase in overlapping accounts).

>>>>>> By the time the campaign is live, the partner is feeling grateful, and wants to reciprocate.

>>>>>>> The campaign brings in a lot of search traffic to the Partner Manager's landing pages, converts new users, and brings a lot of leads to the partner.

>>>>>>>> On the review call, the partners are now looking over joint leads in their mapped accounts and making warm introductions.

A true partnership is born because the Partner Manager focused on net new, and did not ever need to ask for anything from the partner.

I hope that makes sense.

To execute proper partnerships, join Partnerhub - the free solution for finding / managing all of your partnerships.

- Alex


Alex Glenn


Founder and CEO of Partnerhub. Proud father. And proud of what our team has built!