Finding purpose In partnerships: Customers first, collaboration second

I’m a big believer in the benefits of business partnerships and integrations. When it all clicks, aligned companies are able to achieve much more than going it alone. For early-phase tech startups, the benefits can be enormous. The cost of building new tech is astronomically high, salaries are skyrocketing, and income streams are often slow to materialise.

FoodByUs has forged collaborations that have assisted us to build out Aussie’s largest online procurement marketplace to the hospitality industry that belies our relatively small team.

What have I learnt from partnerships?

We service more than 1000 customers in a number of Australian capital city markets with a team of 65 full-timers. The key to sustaining the scale, reach, systems development and back-end competency required to service that market and continuously develop and grow our product is to lean into strategically aligned, mutually beneficial partnerships.

Wins from partnering with a complementary product or service can include achieving instant growth in reach or product range, sharing of leads and data, collaborative strategizing and leadership, and thought leadership opportunities which can help the entire industry.

Despite the range of benefits, there are also pitfalls to be aware of, because what’s stitched together in haste will often not yield results for both partners. It’s important at the outset to be clear not only about how any alliance will serve your respective strategic goals and objectives, but also how it will be implemented across your organisations.

When leaders get together it’s often excitement and possibilities, but distilling this down to specific action plans is where partnerships are made (or fall short). Being thoughtful in your approach to partnerships will ensure you’re committing to a long lasting working relationship, beneficial and overall, successful. The first key to securing this can be found in your clients.

Why is it vital to put the customer first?

You need to view any partnership you make through the lens of the clients that you and your business partner are trying to serve. This is particularly important for tech companies. User experience determines the success of any tech, so linking two different digital experiences to one another must be to the benefit of the customer first, otherwise it’s all for nothing.

Starting any alignment from a customer-first mindset helps you and your partner to quickly hone in on where you can add tangible benefits with real economic impact. This kind of customer feedback can be obtained by surveys, interviews or data analytics.

If your service helps restaurants in the procurement of ingredients, and a partner helps those same venues with selling their dishes, then sitting with a client and understanding the process of procurement is a great first step to unearthing the basis for a potential partnership.

It’s important to articulate this both internally, and to the customers you are both targeting. One of our partnership programs involved a lead-sharing initiative with each other.

Despite really pushing it, the result for both sides was minimal as the messaging wasn’t clear enough about why we were introducing one another. What this taught us is that despite the overlap of our potential customer lists, we were lacking that ingredient of providing perceived value to the customer that may have led to creating a more  meaningful connection.

Following on from that, we engaged in another partnership and decided to take a different approach by asking ourselves, ‘What do our customers really want?’ It turned out that more than just an introduction to a new service, customers wanted helpful education.

We landed on an online e-guide with really useful data on how our clients can make improvements to the operating efficiency of their business – using both of our products. The response was fantastic and generated an impressive amount of meaningful connections.

The contrasting result between the two approaches highlighted for us the value of putting your clients first. Taking the time to educate and provide assistance over and above our product has become core to how we operate the business, and leads me to my next point.

How important is implementation and communication?

Once you have an idea, whether that be an e-guide, lead sharing or even a webinar – it’s critical to communicate an action plan across both partner’s organisations. Remember – you are both trying to build your own business even as you are building on this exciting new partnership. So it’s easy to get off track, as everyone is so busy getting on with work.

The key here is to differentiate what each partner will commit to, by when and of course most importantly, how this will all be communicated to the client. The initial excitement of a partnership can quickly fizzle if both sides don’t see the benefits, and this results in a loss of momentum and potentially a bad experience for the customers you’re both trying to target.

We’re trying to look at the overlaps, the points we have in common with them. This is essential when bedding down a new partnership; the quicker you can deal with any overlaps in service, the easier it will be to hone in on your central goal for the client and the partner.

Once you have figured out whether you are creating cost savings, improving reporting, or whatever the fusion happens to be, the next step is how to approach the customer without bombarding them with information they don’t want to know. We are not looking to exchange databases in order to harass each other’s customers with emails.

With overlaps out in the open, partners can look at what client-benefitting opportunities are now available thanks to this partnership. The implementation of an opportunity can range depending on the idea, and what is vital in all cases is to allow yourselves time and to set up the right decision makers at either end to make sure the partnership goes smoothly.

What is the ‘launch date’, who will you contact, how often will you meet as a partnership team to check in, what are the risks or approvals required to run this idea, and perhaps most importantly – how will you collect and share leads? This careful planning can help drive the partnership forward – and always remember, one good idea (such as a webinar or e-guide) can then domino into a long-lasting and fruitful partnership with many iterations.

Our experience has been that when you get the alignment right with a synergistic partner, the opportunities to create value for your clients beyond the sum of the component parts, and to grow the standing of your business in the eye of the client, makes the path worth exploring.


Ben Lipschitz is the CEO and cofounder at FoodByUs.