How To Move From Customers To Partners

by drjim on January 4, 2010

What Batman Customer Wouldn't Want You As His Robin?

What Batman Customer Wouldn’t Want You As His Robin?

As product managers, one of the things that we enjoy doing the most is sitting back and counting the number of customers that our product has. Although this is great fun to do, it’s not really what we should be doing with our time. Customers are great to have, but it turns out that what we should really be doing is looking for ways to turn them into something much more valuable: partners.

What’s Up With This Partner Thing?

If you have really been doing your job as a product manager, then you’ve already gone through your product’s existing customers and “fired” those customers that were costing you more than you were making from them. What you are left with is (hopefully) a collection of traditionally good customers. Now you’ve got to get ready to make the next step.

What you’ve got to do is to find ways to collaborate with your customers. Sorry you self-centered product managers, this collaboration isn’t about you, rather it’s all about finding ways to help your product’s customers become more profitable.

Exactly how best to do this is going to depend both on the business that your customer is in and what your product does for them. Collaboration could take the form of using your product to help your customer with their long-term planning, perhaps it can help address issues with their supply chain, etc.

Building A Bigger Box

All of us product managers suffer from a common fault. In our daily lives, the things that we work on can expand to fill all of our available time. This include tasks such as working with product development, creating new product collateral, picking new features, etc. What’s missing from this is interaction with our customers.

The walls that make up our cube / office can easily start to define our world. If we want to start to collaborate with our customers, then we are going to have to push those walls out far enough so that our customers are now inside of our daily lives. It’s only by doing this that we’ll be able to find ways to get closer to our customers.

Can You Say Indispensable?

The difference between a customer and a partner is that you are simply another supplier to a customer whereas when you become a partner, then you have become indispensable. Your sales teams are working hard to make themselves indispensable to your customers, you need to be doing the same for your product.

Hopefully by now you’ve realized that you can’t create this kind of deep relationship with all of your customers. You are going to have to sort the customers that you currently have and select the few that you’d like to move to being partners with.

Developing a partnership with your customers is difficult, maintaining it can be even more challenging. This will require more of your time; however, it’s quite difficult to do this kind of relationship creation and so if you can pull it off, then you will have created a significant competitive advantage for your product.

What All Of This Means For You

Having customers for your product is fantastic. However, savvy product managers realize that just having customers is not enough. Instead, they know that they need to go to the extra effort to turn some of those customers into partners.

In order to create a partner for your product, you need to find ways to collaborate with your customers. This is all about them: how can you and your product help this customer to increase their bottom line?

If you are successful in doing this, then you will have made your product indispensable to your customer / partner and that’s the secret to your long-term success as a product manager.

How many partners do you think that a single product manager could support?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

You would think that if your product was the biggest one in it’s market, you’d be sitting pretty as a product manager, right?  Over at the big online payment processor PayPal, their product managers are currently doing quite well. However, they can see the handwriting on the wall and are taking some bold steps to remain #1…

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