How to Cultivate Strategic Partnerships

strategic partnerships
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As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child. Why not extend that concept to education? 

Joining forces with key partners in the local community and greater edtech arena allows for the exploration of numerous perspectives and specialties, offering students the richest of learning environments. 

Liz Crawford, VP of Partnerships at Instructure and an upcoming EdExec Summit speaker, discusses the benefits of cultivating strategic partnerships. 

The Importance of Strategic Partnerships in Education 

strategic partnerships

(Image credit: Liz Crawford)

“We are at a transformational time in education with new technologies and new market drivers,” says Crawford. “Educators and students use hundreds of digital tools for teaching and learning every day. Our customers are looking for seamless solutions that work together to impact student success and solve education’s biggest challenges.”

Partnerships can make these challenges easier, helping districts deliver teaching and learning in a more meaningful way by navigating through the overwhelming new landscape of edtech tools as it evolves. These powerful and interoperable partner ecosystems are becoming a deciding factor for customers in choosing a platform for their schools, districts or higher education institutions, according to Crawford. The benefits flow both ways.

“At Instructure, I’ve seen customers of all sizes and shapes choose Canvas LMS because a robust ecosystem was one of the top factors in their decision criteria,” says Crawford. “For edtechs, partnerships grow your mindshare, expand reach of sales and marketing into new markets or new customers, create competitive advantages, scale your business and deliver fully integrated solutions for our customers.”

Target the Perfect Solution Partner 

Joining forces is clearly a winning strategy, but how do schools identify potential partners?

“As districts and schools are considering partnering with edtech vendors, a key element to consider beyond privacy, security and efficacy is their partner ecosystem and interoperability with other instructional tools,” says Crawford. “Districts want the teaching and learning solutions they use to work seamlessly together in one platform. A K-12 CIO recently asked me, ‘I want all of our apps and tools to integrate into Canvas, can I send them your way?’ Of course, I said yes.”

Quantifying benefits versus the level of nurturing and care that goes into a partnership can be tricky. Meaningful results through partner teams can involve designing go-to-market strategies, delivering sales enablement, managing operations, negotiating contracts, troubleshooting and solving problems, selling products, supporting customer meetings, researching and hunting for new strategic alliances, analyzing a market segment, and knowing partners’ product technically. 

“Partnerships are hard work but worth the effort,” says Crawford. “It’s worth it to persevere to bring two companies together to make a difference for educators and students.”

Mutual Value is Key for Successful Partnerships 

Crawford’s impressive background through roles at Apple and Instructure have taught her the importance of seeking mutual value when approaching potential partners. Having onboarded 100 new partners in the last year alone within an ecosystem of over 850, she has become a master at balancing the personalization that strategic alliances need, within the framework to scale and deliver value to all parties.

“A common thread in my journey has been building partnerships (relationships) with people through trust, transparency, and creating mutual value to move partnership goals forward,” says Crawford. ”The most successful partnerships I’ve led start with a thoughtful discovery process and defining the unique value the partnership will bring to customers, each partner and the market. Regularly spending time with your partner to think creatively about the trajectory of the partnership usually uncovers a new idea or path forward. Take time to reflect on how to do things better, differently or more effectively to get to the goals.”

Whether in business or education, gaining executive support creates access to resources that make partnerships even more successful. Crawford suggests articulating the potential value to stakeholders by telling the story of how partners impact customer buying decisions, add value and reach to sales and marketing, give your company a competitive advantage, and complement your strategy.  

Five Steps to Pitch Potential Partners 

  1. Prepare - Understand the drivers of their business and partnerships. Do you target similar customer profiles? Do you go-to-market with the same motions? What are the trends in their market segment? What are their competitive advantages/disadvantages? 
  2. Lead with curiosity (not a demo and a big ask) - What if the first conversation doesn’t start with a demo, but learning more about one another? Be curious about their top priorities - what are their customers asking for, what are their goals, what do other successful partnerships look like, etc. 
  3. Develop the joint value - Think through why they want to partner with you - how do you complement one another, how can you help them achieve their goals, how do they help you achieve yours, and is there an unique partnering idea. 
  4. Be thoughtful - If a partnership is a 50/50 endeavor, be ready to share what you might bring to the table. Assume everyone else is asking them for the same ‘get’ (resell my product, market my product). Be thoughtful and intentional with your proposal. 
  5. Differentiate - If you’re pitching a partnership with a market leader, there are likely a lot of companies out there who also want to partner with them. Clearly articulate what sets you apart and understand they are probably flooded with partnership requests. 
Sascha Zuger

Sascha has nearly two decades of experience as a freelance journalist writing for national magazines, including The Washington Post, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic Traveler, and others. She writes about education, travel and culinary topics.