When Brian Schuller and I founded Digital Mettle in May 2001, we didn’t have a plan for how we would grow our business. We knew how to make great software, and we had a lot of experience satisfying the automation and marketing needs of companies of various sizes. Surely that would be enough! Customers would just walk through our door, right?
Well, maybe not customers, but thankfully partners did. Within a few weeks of hanging out our shingle, we were approached by Mark DeVine, the owner of Sensible Data Solutions (SDS). SDS is a local IT services company which offers support, primarily for Windows. Mark asked us a simple question: “Are you available to work with me?”
Technology service providers like SDS are constantly on-site with clients, and they hear about every business need their customers have. They are great at satisfying needs which can be met with off-the-shelf software, but some needs are best handled by custom software. Up until he met us, Mark’s answer for those requests was “no.” He recommended his customers find someone who could do it, but they didn’t want to deal with anyone except Mark. Mark was the face of all technology as far as his customers were concerned – they trusted him. And if he couldn’t do something, it was better left undone. However, with our partnership, Mark was able to change his “no” to a “yes” – the projects started flowing, and they’ve never stopped.
Fast forward to today: we’ve been working with Mark for 14 years, and we’ve completed over 50 affiliated projects. All without either company losing focus on what they’re good at. So what’s the key takeaway for partners from this? Partnering to expand each other’s list of capabilities leads to tremendous shared success.
Partnering can be a simple, tailored, profitable way to satisfy your customers.
Though we’ve been Microsoft partners for years, we recently realized how many advantages there are to membership in the Microsoft Partner Network that we weren’t fully leveraging – the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), mentors, networking opportunities, Worldwide Partnership Conference, to name a few. This got us thinking about the way we partner and how we might make it easier and more attractive for other partners to work with us.
We looked back over our history and found our partnerships generally fall into two main categories: referrals and subcontracting. In both, Partner A has a customer with a need for custom software or an add-on to the partner’s product. In the “referral” model, Partner A introduces Digital Mettle to their customer, and we treat their customer as our client, just as Partner A does. We provide the custom solution they need, and we charge them our regular rates, but we never compete with Partner A: no hosting, no software reselling, no additional products of any kind. What does Partner A get from this arrangement?
- A satisfied customer who owns the custom software we created for them
- A referral fee
- For IT support partners, additional work from your customer– after all, they need help, training, and support for their new software!
In the “subcontracting” model with Partner B, Partner B’s customer is their customer only, and we have no contact with them that B didn’t request. B collects the data we need to create the custom solution, and B determines the cost for the client. The pros of this arrangement for Partner B?
- A satisfied customer
- The choice to retain ownership of the custom solution, which Partner B can then resell or profit from, however they see fit
- The choice to give ownership of the custom solution to the customer – and charge for it.
We took this insight and turned it into our Digital Mettle Partnership Programs, a streamlined partnering process that has helped us continue to grow and expand our reach.
When it comes down to it, we all want to help our clients with everything we can help them with, even if that sometimes means bringing in another partner to fill in the gaps. And both partners can profit from the work and the expansion of trusted advisor status. Partnering with Mark and SDS helped take Digital Mettle from start up to success, and we’re happy to share our experience if others can benefit.
See you soon at WPC!