Many people (and let’s start with me) sometimes use the terms partners and customers interchangeably, and that’s a mistake. While it’s possible for a partner to be a customer and vice versa, there are many times when that is not the case. In addition, even when the same person or organization overlaps the two roles, it’s vitally important for your business to understand the difference.
We are not talking about partner in the sense of someone with whom you start a business. In other words, I don’t mean Michael, my partner in ColorMetrix, or Shelby, my partner in SheHe Media. Instead, we’re talking about folks ColorMetrix or SheHe Media might partner with to create new product and service bundles that will allow mutliple organizations to benefit by finding new customers and/or revenues.
For example, my software company ColorMetrix might partner with a manufacturer of complementary technology products. Working together with this new partner, we could co-brand or private label one of our software products which in turn our new partner would market to their customer base. It’s possible the new partner might not even share in revenues from this joint software offering. Instead our new partner would grow their customer and/or sales base by having a superior value added to offer to their competitors. We would grow our customer and sales base through marketing to our partner’s client base to which we would not otherwise have access.
The key to partner relationships in business is that they need to be give and take or – to use a far overused cliche – they need to be win-win.
A customer is perhaps easier to define. You have a product or service that they find of sufficient value to pay the price you are requesting. For example, I’m sitting in a coffee shop typing this blog post. Before I started working on this blog post, I purchased an ice tea. That makes me a customer of this coffee shop.
I think that in this new digital age some folks lose track of when they are a customer. For example, if you think you are a customer of Facebook or Twitter (and you aren’t paying for ads or promoted messages) then you are mistaken. You don’t pay these services to utilize their services and actually your willing participation in the network is part of what they sell to their customers. This isn’t to say you don’t have a value exchange with Twitter or Facebook, because you do. It’s just not a customer/supplier relationship.
Sometimes a organization can be both a partner and a customer. Let’s say the partner I used in the ColorMetrix example also utilized other products/services that we offered and paid us for those just as a typical customer would. That would make them a customer but still a partner. The same could happen if we purchased their technology products for use in our business. We’d then become a hybrid to them.
Why all this matters
How you engage with and serve customers and partners is different. With partners, you strategize and share what might otherwise be confidential business information. You work together to shape a product/service bundle and the marketing campaign that will support the offering. A customer, on the other hand, is offered service and support focused around either a sale or ongoing use of your product/service.
Do you see how confusing the two might affect the effectiveness of your selling? Jump in the comments and share how you view partners vs. customers.
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