Digital transformation is no longer a matter of just purchasing a MarTech solution and calling it a day. Continuous improvements in networking, the introduction of the cloud, and every technological innovation over the past couple of decades have made digital transformation an enterprise-level affair.
Technology has completely transformed how buyers, sellers, and customers engage, which impacts every inch of the customer experience — and every department that touches it along the way. Don’t get me wrong. Marketing still plays an integral role, even if some of those roles and functions have evolved over the years (I’m looking at you, Marketing Ops).
As DemandGen enters into more of these big, transformational relationships with our clients, we’ve discovered that the cultural component of our partnership has become even more key to our joint success.
It’s no longer enough to choose a partner based on their technical expertise and ability to deliver on the project you’re working on right now (although those are both still critically important). When you’re talking about digital transformation — something that’s going to be so impactful across your business — it’s important to select a business partner that is also a strong cultural fit for your organization.
Hiring — and partnering — for cultural fit
Many business leaders have shared their thoughts on the importance of hiring for cultural fit. In a survey of 55 large enterprises, 84 percent of recruiters said hiring for cultural fit is more important than the expense and amount of time it takes to find the right candidate. Nine out of ten have even claimed to have passed on a job applicant because they weren’t a good fit for their company’s culture.
At DemandGen, we make cultural fit a top priority when hiring a new employee. HubSpot likens its culture to an actual product, going so far as to create a 128-page Culture Code deck to help ensure its explosive growth didn’t leave its treasured company culture by the wayside.
I would argue that cultural fit is even more important when selecting a business partner — with its own employees, culture, and way of doing things — to serve as an extension of your team.
Fortunately, this idea is starting to gain momentum in the world of business partnerships. In fact, DemandGen was recently invited to respond to an RFP for a large Fortune 50 enterprise, and they positioned cultural fit as the most important factor in their decision-making process.
The 4 ingredients of a great business partnership
I always hear, “This is a partnership, not just a project.” But what does this really mean? Do we understand what a true business partnership really is?
I’ve been thinking back to the great partnerships that I’ve had over the years. What were the common ingredients? What did success really look like? What could I point at to say, “That was/is a great partnership?”
In my quest to continue to form truly beneficial and valuable partnerships with our customers, I’ve boiled down what I’ve found to be the four most common ingredients of a successful partnership:
- Is this partnership mutually beneficial beyond the financial drivers?
While there are always practical financial considerations driving a business relationship, a great partnership is so much more than just price and functionality.
I’ve worked with clients who approached our partnership purely as a financial venture. Their culture prioritized checks and balances, reporting, and trying to save a dollar for every dollar spent. Every built-in control was financial. As a result of all the internal gates and controls, everyone put in roughly double the effort than was actually necessary. Not surprisingly, innovation and empathy dropped to zero. That’s what happens when profitability and cost savings are the only barometer of success.
Even though the project was delivered, it took far longer than it should have. It also turned into more of a checklist than a project. Delivering to the letter of the contract isn’t many people’s definition of success. And it prevents people from thinking about and planning for what’s next (and there’s always a next). Everyone just wants to go back to their box, where it’s safe.
- Are both parties invested?
Being invested in working together doesn’t come halfway through the project. Not in my experience, anyway. It starts at the very beginning of the relationship.
As a partner, I always start by really trying to understand the customer’s business. How do they go to market? How do they actually make money? How are people incented? What are their goals? Instead of focusing on the details of the actual project engagement, I invest time in learning about who they are as company and where they want to go.
As a client, go into it understanding what your partner’s goals are and how their company runs and is constructed. How do they do things? How does each individual define success? They are going to serve as an extension of your team, after all. What are the impacts to both companies and what’s the win-win? How can you leverage both companies to do what you want to do?
This is very different than an initial interaction around scope and price. In fact, I recommend that you don’t fully scope out project and financial details until after you’ve asked these questions to ensure both parties are invested in each other’s success.
- Is there a clear definition of success so we can celebrate together when we reach these goals?
If you don’t identify and articulate what success looks like, how will you know if you achieve it? Make sure success is quantifiable, sure, but go beyond the immediate financial implications. Really dig in and quantify what success will look like for the people involved as well as the business. And remember, the completion of the project isn’t an end; it’s the beginning of a new world of possibilities. So, be sure to also define success in terms of what your business will be able to achieve and where it’s going next.
At DemandGen, we define success on a few different levels. At the customer level, we define success by proving the value of the technology and by helping them become more effective and grow revenue (an increase in their stock price is also a good sign). At the individual level, I want all my customers to get promoted — which we’ve seen time and time again. Another way we define success is when a customer moves on to a new employer and reaches out to partner with us again.
Success tends to build on itself over the years, not only for the business, but also for the individuals involved in delivering a successful transformation. A great example is DemandGen’s long-term partnership with CenturyLink, the third-largest telecommunications company in the country. When we first began working with CenturyLink to stand up their Marketo instance, they didn’t have a Marketing Operations team. Kate Federhar, our main point of contact, leveraged her skills and expertise to go on to become Senior Marketing Operations Manager. She graciously joined me to share details of our mutually beneficial and successful partnership at Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit last year.
- Do we care?
Over the years, I’ve learned that any successful partnership really comes down to caring. And if you don’t care, you can’t make yourself. It’s just not human nature.
So, ask yourself if you care. Not just about your project, but also about the people, their business, and really understanding how it works in their world. If the answer is yes, you’ve already moved beyond the purely financial benefits of a partnership.
If you don’t care — and most certainly if your business partner doesn’t care — that’s a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Projects get derailed when people aren’t invested or don’t care. (And if someone only cares about how it will benefit them individually, they don’t really care.)
The benefits can be transformational (while the lack of truly teaming can be devastating)
On the surface, it may seem like a project stalled out due to financial, bandwidth, or technical reasons. When you scratch beneath the surface, though, you’ll usually find that your partnership was missing one of these four key ingredients.
Look at just about any manmade disaster (that’s what a failed project really is, right?). A bridge collapses. A train gets derailed. An offshore drilling rig fails. When you investigate the cause, it’s almost never just one thing. It’s almost always a cumulative effect of multiple smaller failures that resulted in one great, big failure. And it usually, in some way, shape, or form, comes back to the culture. That’s not to say no one cared. At some point, though, the culture allowed for a break in the chain that snowballed.
Back in the world of digital marketing, the cumulative breakdowns can be much more subtle, but I’ve seen the following:
- One group has a hidden, ulterior motive regarding their definition of success, which unwittingly pits different groups against one another.
- A key stakeholder outside of Marketing doesn’t really care about the project’s success because it’s “a Marketing initiative.”
- A key user hasn’t been trained appropriately and can’t take full advantage of your new solution, which makes it impossible to demonstrate ROI.
Projects usually aren’t derailed by just one thing. It’s usually a combination of factors. And that’s where partnering culture can play a powerful role in keeping the train on the tracks.
This is the beginning of a beautiful (partner)ship
These four questions help ensure I focus on the most important elements of a successful partnership. Try asking yourself each of these questions when deciding whether to move forward with a business partnership. By placing these ingredients at the top of your decision-making process, you’re avoiding unnecessary risk to an already complex engagement.
Digital transformations can be complex and overwhelming. Choose a partner who looks at you as more than a paycheck, is invested, can clearly define what success will look like for you, and who actually cares about the success of your project, your team members, and your entire organization.
That’s what you look for when hiring a new employee, and the same diligence and thoughtful approach should be spent when choosing a new business partner for your enterprise.
Looking for your next partner in crime for your organization’s digital transformation journey? Ask us these questions and let us know how we do.
As DemandGen’s Chief Operating Officer, Greg Carver brings nearly thirty years of operations experience in the high-tech and enterprise software industry. As a strategic operator, Greg has consistently proven success as a turn-around executive, change agent and catalyst in taking technology companies to the next level. He is a hands-on customer champion with a passion for building a culture of exceptional client relationships and experiences. As an innovative mentor and determined leader, Greg’s devotion to hard work and team building translates to company success.