While the partnerships industry offers countless opportunities, that doesn’t mean starting a career in partnerships is simple. As is the case when people enter any other field, new partnerships leaders need to have a plan in place if they want to succeed. Unfortunately, reliable advice is hard to find in the world of partnerships—and that means getting a foothold in this industry can be tricky.

For this installment of Partner School, Firneo Co-Founder and CEO Scott Pollack and Global Director of Strategic Partnerships at Innova Solutions Lela Koopal spoke about the ins and outs of partnerships careers. Their conversation covered professional networking tips, advice on handling career transitions, the need for reliable feedback, and much more.

Understanding the Landscape

At the start of the interview, Lela emphasized the importance of knowing one’s long-term career goals before delving into the partnerships arena. Partnerships may manifest differently from one industry to the next, but this work ultimately focuses on building relationships for lead flows between organizations.

On a related note, Lela went on to debunk the misconception that people working in partnerships must stick to one industry throughout their careers. While there are advantages to staying within an industry, the fundamental principles behind partnerships, referrals, and alliances can be applied across multiple sectors.

Career Pathways in Partnerships

Scott then asked Lela about the diverse paths available in the partnerships industry. She said jobs in this field go beyond traditional partner management roles—solution engineers, product managers, and technical evangelists can all help companies deliver value through their partnerships. 

To illustrate this, Lela shared her experience as an ISV Technical Evangelist at Salesforce, where she helped partner companies optimize their solutions. By broadening their perspectives, professionals like Lela can identify unique partnerships paths that align with their skills and interests.

Lela also identified three primary categories for partnerships-related careers:

  1. Technical/Product-centric Roles: Individuals who understand solutions, create compelling case studies, and guide partners in building innovative solutions.
  2. Strategic Roles: Leaders who formulate vision and strategy, manage high-level relationships, and contribute to the growth of partnerships.
  3. Feet-on-the-Ground Roles: Operational roles focusing on building relationships, managing day-to-day partnerships, and ensuring effective collaboration.

The Importance of Feedback

According to Lela, having a trusted network is crucial for career growth. When you can get feedback from trusted people in your personal and professional life, you’ll have a steady source of valuable insights for self-improvement. Lela encouraged professionals to cultivate relationships within their industry and beyond, emphasizing the significance of human connections in a digital world.

Of course, feedback is only helpful for people who are open to different perspectives and willing to use them for personal and professional development. For example, Lela recalled an experience where listening to candid advice stopped her from pursuing a role that didn’t align with her interests.

Effective Outreach and Networking

In order to get reliable feedback on industry-specific topics, partnerships leaders need a strong network of peers. To that end, Scott and Lela discussed the art of professional networking.

Before partnerships pros connect with someone in a business capacity, Lela said they should research that person’s background so they can send them a personalized message. Moreover, she advised professionals to approach networking with a genuine curiosity about the other person’s experiences, increasing the likelihood of mutually beneficial interactions.

Navigating Career Transitions

Throughout her career, Lela has had significant experience with career transitions. By leveraging her network, she successfully transitioned to a director-level role in alliances—showcasing the importance of strategic planning and connections while moving from one position to another.

For partnerships pros looking for work at another company, Lela highlighted the significance of having a clear target and conducting thorough research on potential employers. On the other hand, partnerships leaders gearing up for a career shift within their current organization should engage in “plus-one activities.” These extracurricular activities can include:

  • Involvement in charitable contributions
  • Joining enterprise resource groups
  • Participating in industry-specific programs

By participating in plus-one activities like these, Lela said partnerships pros can acquire new skills and build relationships while staying within their current roles for the time being.

The Unlimited Potential of Partnerships

Since partnerships play a pivotal role in various facets of an organization, this career path offers virtually limitless opportunities. From strategy and consulting to marketing and sales, Lela believes that people in the partnerships industry can ascend to executive roles such as Chief Revenue Officer or CEO. Recognizing and leveraging the broader impact of partnerships across one’s organization is the key to career growth in this field.

Growing Your Career with Firneo

The partnerships industry offers a diverse range of opportunities for career growth and development, but it can still be difficult for newcomers to get their bearings. Lela’s story serves as an inspiration for those seeking growth and success in the world of partnerships, and her deep knowledge of the industry can help partnerships leaders at any point in their careers.

If you’re a new or experienced partnerships pro looking for additional help navigating this field, you’re in luck. Firneo is the world’s number-one source of reliable partnerships knowledge, and our goal is to give new partnerships leaders the playbook they’ll use for decades to come. Taking the first step is as simple as enrolling in our Mastering Partnerships Strategy program today!

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