True business development and the creation of mutually beneficial partnerships is not easy work. And by partnerships, I do not mean relationships where one party pays cash and the other provides data or services – those are transactional. I’m focused on those relationships where there is joint development work, deep collaboration, and consideration of the various impacts across each function of the business: product development, packaging/delivery, marketing, sales and support.
Data partnerships are especially hard work, and throughout the history of Acxiom they have also been critical for success and for the growth of the industry. Without these partnerships, there would be no Abilitec®, InfoBase® or Audience Propensities.
A properly aligned internal organization
To help make that hard work a lot easier and partnering more successful, it helps to have a properly aligned internal organization. As Acxiom has always been a company dependent on mutually beneficial long-term data partnerships, the internal organization has evolved to support data partner development and therefore data enablement. Our process includes support from colleagues in four functional categories, each of which requires deep expertise:
- Consumer privacy
- Go-to-market by use case and industry
- Client service and support
In addition to organizing support around partner development, there are a few aspects to successful partnering that transcend function. While these will also apply to partnering in other industries and lines of business, I find them to be key for successful consumer marketing data partnerships.
- Transparency, including direct and honest communication
- A clear understanding of business objectives
- An existing business strategy and a vision for the future
- A realistic attitude and flexible approach to working through change
The first attribute, transparency, is probably the most important. No one likes wasting time and, while opportunities abound in our industry, many partnerships are not a good fit and are unlikely to work for a myriad of reasons. Figuring that out early is better for everyone. Having honest and open communication throughout the partnership, especially during times of change, often makes the difference between success and failure. No one likes bad surprises, especially if they were foreseeable.
Consumer marketing data is getting increasing scrutiny and may carry risks based on how it was collected, transferred and the proposed use. Partner transparency is critical for mutually uncovering, understanding and mitigating those risks wherever possible for the safety of marketers and consumers. Acxiom requires a high level of transparency. For example, potential partners not willing to address critical questions on data origination, consumer notice and choice, and contractual rights to the data are quickly culled from consideration for use in Acxiom’s data products, and for joint product development efforts.
In regards to business objectives, there needs to be a clear point of view on what you want to accomplish with the data in question and how that creates value in the market. If consumer data is part of your normal work, you will often have an intuitive sense of what data holds promise and where it fits in a marketer’s toolset. However, without a specific revenue generating use case with a clear path to market it’s difficult to justify investing resources in exploring further.
Existing business strategy and vision
An existing business strategy and a vision comprise the next key consideration. Does the partner have a clear grasp on their current strategy and management’s vision for their future? How does the proposed partnership fit in that vision today and in the foreseeable future? Will the business/partner development team gain support up the chain? The more real and perceived competitive conflicts and cannibalization risk, the more time and effort a partnership will require to get off the ground. Aligning the strategy and vision with the proposed business objective forms the foundation for joint value creation, and the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship. How you operate on that foundation is also important, which brings me to the last consideration.
Realistic attitude and flexible approach
I’ve found that it’s very important to have a realistic attitude and flexible approach, both in how to accomplish shared objectives and in how to evolve the relationship over time. One partner’s organization may be better suited for certain tasks and it may benefit the joint offering to trade control for effectiveness. Operational flexibility helps in reaching shared goals. Breaking new ground is not easy and there are always unexpected obstacles, both internal and external. A bad attitude amplifies those challenges. Being realistic and reflecting that in your attitude towards the partnership helps both sides focus on business versus healing hurt feelings. If you are not finding ways to grow together, the relationship is likely growing further apart. (uh, thanks Dr. Phil)
The best data partners are always looking for new opportunities. They are proactive in sharing ideas, news on changes, and try to telegraph any anticipated challenges. They also tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt and withhold judgment until the facts are known and discussed.
Of course the best advice is usually some of the oldest advice: treat others the same way you want them to treat you. I promise that you will be rewarded in this life and the next ; – )