Recently I discussed how to identify which processes in your business might be ripe for innovation. Operational innovation is a broad area; it can range from small adjustments and plugins to more complex changes that require long-term integration and support. At each end of the scale you’re looking for providers with very different attributes – either a supplier or a partner.
The question here is do you need a partner or a supplier? In data and insight the term ‘supplier’ has the tendency to be seen as a bit of a dirty word. For research agencies, their real value is driven by the ability to have frank and honest discussions, for that partnerships are vital. However, for technology and operations-side solutions, whether you seek to be a supplier or partner depends on what is needed.
The relationship you’ll have with a technology partner or a supplier is very different. A supplier relationship is more transactional relationship, the onus will be on self-support and self-implementation. On the other hand, a partner will deliver an ongoing relationship, will often be seen as an extension of your own team, and there is more one-on-one communication and support to ensure success.
Of course, there are some businesses that straddle both. Unbounce is a good example of this. They have a hierarchy of plug-in and play plans which means you can download and implement pop-ups and landing pages without even having to speak to a human being.
They also have a partnership offering with expanded support, one-on-one training and a team of experts to help you on your way. For small adjustments to processes, the former is usually the better choice, it’s the quickest and most cost-effective way of making profitable adjustments. In fact, a recent Forrester study demonstrated that 3 out of every 4 B2B buyers prefer do-it-yourself options. Yet for those big organisational changes you may need more of a partner relationship to ensure integration takes.
With more transactional relationships there is generally less room for negotiation, and you might be on your own when it comes to implementation. However, there are still a number of areas you need to look out for before you make a decision.
Transparency around cost is an important area to consider. There are a lot of platforms and plugins where the entry level access to the product doesn’t provide key features or significantly limits them. It’s not unheard of for freemium products to be fairly useless without costly upgrades. So, make sure you’re clear on the functionality you need and the value it will provide in your business, and interrogate this with any supplier before you sign up.
While providers in this category are less likely to provide one-on-one training, the materials they provide in terms of implementation and use are still very important. How to guides, videos and a good UX are all hallmarks of a good supplier. You should also expect open channels to real-life support if required, whether that’s over the phone or a live chat function.
With a focus on self-implementation, it’s also helpful to make sure that any technical and UX aspects are thoroughly vetted by the people on your team that will be implementing, using and involved in the day-to-day processes that you’re looking to optimise. A mixture of a top down and bottom up approach to operational innovation will yield the best results.
With a partner there is more dialogue and more room for negotiation before the outlay. Ensure that you have a clear set of desired outcomes established internally before you speak to a potential technology partner, and ensure those initial discussions focus on the benefits of the technology and not the features.
A good technology partner is an extension of your team so culture and communications can be important. Culture is something you should be able to notice from your initial conversations. Are they giving you the information you need when asked? Are they framing conversations with your desired outcomes, and making sure you’re a good fit for them? Or do they keep giving you a hard sell? When it comes to implementation and troubleshooting, you need to be a position where you want to call your partner for help, rather than dreading picking up the phone.
Regardless of the size of your business, a partner puts the success and value of their product at the heart of your relationship rather than the transaction. This kind of relationship is particularly evident in onboarding and on-going customer support, and you’ll find a partner more likely to continue to stay in touch and gather feedback so they can improve the product based on your needs.
In tech a business that doesn’t move forward risks becoming obsolete. So, an understanding of where your partner sees the future can be useful in making a decision. How often do they update the software or platform? Do they have new developments on the horizon, and do they implement customer feedback? You’re looking for a partner that will grow with you as your business grows and they won’t be able to do that without an eye on the future.