How to train your dragons: managing your internal stakeholders for great corporate partnerships

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Sometimes it feels like the hardest relationships aren’t the new corporate prospects you’re targeting, but your own internal stakeholders. Just like the movie, your colleagues and bosses are like those pesky dragons- full of energy, liable to go off in different directions and occasionally destroying something you’ve carefully built.

Successful corporate partnerships need the help and support of everyone in your organisation, but few understand partnerships well and even fewer understand their role in winning and sustaining them.

Here’s some typical things we hear from corporate partnership managers:

  • “My boss has given me a list of the ASX Top 200 and told me to cold call them.”
  • “A board member saw an article on a charity- corporate partnership in his in-flight magazine. Now he wants to know why we don’t have one like it.”
  • “My colleagues keep giving me ‘helpful’ ideas about new partners I should contact, without any idea of whether they’re a good fit.”
  • “It’s hard getting reports from my program colleagues as they say they’re too busy to collect information for our corporate partners.”

Your role as a corporate partnership manager is as much about change management as new business prospecting. Here’s some tips to mobilise your important internal stakeholders and ensure that they are supporting success in corporate partnerships.

1.      Your leadership are busy, so help them learn

Leaders in charities often have experience in marketing or sales, but not partnerships. Some of your board probably work for corporate entities and have a very different perspective on partnerships. Either way, they don’t know enough and are generally time poor.  You can help by providing snippets of information, regularly- this could include case studies of successful corporate partnerships, latest trends, highlights of what has succeeded and why. If you have existing corporate partners, get one to come in and talk to your leadership and board so they can understand your partner’s perspective.

2.      Provide clarity on which corporate partners you’re looking for and why

The best way to fend off those ‘helpful’ suggestions and random ideas is to be clear on what you’re actually looking for. Much easier to say ‘thanks for the suggestion, but here’s the shortlist we’ve identified. Can you help with any connections?” rather than shoot them down in flames. That means doing your homework early: gathering your assets, refining your value proposition and building a prospect list that’s the right fit for your organisation.

3.      Get others actively involved in the partnership process

Corporate partnerships can take 12-18 months to nurture and bring to fruition. During that time, you might look really busy, but your boss and colleagues won’t be seeing any results yet. Involving your colleagues early in the process helps to demystify corporate partnerships and gives them the chance to offer their ideas and insights. Get them involved in some brainstorming over corporate prospects, tap into their information when you’re building your asset catalogue, hold a network mapping session with a cross section of colleagues to see who has warm connections to a prospect.

4.      Keep communicating

Be brave and be transparent. Don’t be afraid to tell everyone what’s going on – if your top 5 prospects haven’t yielded anything yet, tell everyone and then tell them the next 5 you’re after and why. Use your internal newsletters, staff forums or news boards to share what’s going on- otherwise an information vacuum gets filled with rumour, assumption or speculation- not helpful to you or the organisation.

5.      Build corporate partnerships into organisational processes

Sometimes it’s the simple things that build trust. We once made the point of including a presentation on corporate partnerships in every monthly induction session for new staff. That gave us the opportunity to set the scene early and build relationships with key people. If you’ve been successful at getting leadership support, then they may be able to build partnership participation into key roles and job descriptions.

You can train your dragons- but it will require a mixture of preparation, persistence and creativity. External corporate prospects are the easy bit; you’ll need to invest as much in the relationships with internal stakeholders to make sure you can deliver on your partnership promise. With the right kind of training, you can turn your dragons into a fighting force for good, rather than unguided missiles.

If you’d like to know more about corporate partnerships and how to mobilise your internal stakeholders successfully, or just want to offload about your problem dragons, then contact us at info@stellarpartnerships.com

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