Our second Summit panel was on the topic of strategic partnerships. The panel had a wealth of knowledge to draw on in discussing the idea of strategic partnerships from the perspective of both the smaller company and the larger company in the relationship.
So how do these big corporate entities decide when they're going to build a solution internally and when they're going to partner? Most look at what their core competencies are and what they are good at. When they start looking to enter areas that fall outside of those competencies, that is when they start to look outside to find an innovative company to partner with. They also have to consider cost and weigh whether it's cheaper to try and build something themselves or to partner with someone who has already built something that will serve those needs. And building something themselves takes time; being able to enlist a partner with a plug-and-play solution enables these big firms to enter a new space quickly. And adding a new partnership allows these companies to add even more value to their current or prospective customers.
What qualities do smaller companies who are able to successfully partner with larger ones possess? For these smaller innovators, it's important to have a solid understanding of what is expected on both sides of the partnership. Some of these smaller companies make the mistake of doing things like development and planning further steps without locking down a firm commitment from their prospective partners. The smaller company also has to understand the responsibilities that they are committing to and the strategy needed to make a partnership successful. Too many small legal tech companies can talk themselves out of a partnership by having an unrealistic idea of what the bigger company should do in that partnership.
How can small legal tech innovators make themselves an attractive option for partnership with a big company? The biggest thing these companies can do is to make themselves a credible, presentable business with a good understanding not only of how they operate effectively and what problem their product solves, but also how their prospective partners operate and what their product or service can offer to them. It isn't enough to say that you can offer value; these large companies need to see a clear plan of how you specifically want to partner with them and what it can achieve for both parties. Innovators need to be flexible and nimble enough to meet demands and deadlines and to fit in with the larger culture of the corporate partner. Perhaps most importantly, they need to be prepared for any meeting they may have with partners and be prepared for any questions they might have.
One of the biggest hurdles for the small legal tech company in developing partnerships is getting a foot in the door. When looking to reach out to a big company in hopes of forming a partnership, it's helpful to reach out to anyone in an innovation business development role, or in similar roles that would have an active interest in talking with potential partners. Perhaps even better is having the opportunity to meet someone face to face and make a connection at an event and conference and to get contact details to be able to follow up over email or phone. While that person might not be the right one to talk to about a partnership, they can likely help point you in the right direction. Ideally, you want to be able to talk to someone for whom your product solves a problem they face as part of their responsibilities. But getting that introduction is just a first step in what can be a long process if you want to create a partnership. Big companies take a long time to make any decisions and implement anything, so legal tech innovators have to have patience and be ready to answer any questions and to stay focused on a go-to-market strategy that will ultimately benefit both businesses.