Scott Murtaugh spent roughly a decade and a half working for various start-ups, and in many of these positions he focused on building and maintaining partnerships, including as the VP of Product Partnerships at Yext and Head of Global Partnerships at Reachdesk. Today, he’s shifted gears, and is developing GTM Partnership Strategies anchored in actionable content creation.

Like anyone else in the partnerships industry, Scott has faced more than a few challenges throughout his career. Not much comes easily when you’re aligning interests and pursuing buy-in, and Scott discovered it requires a lot of soft and hard skills that nobody’s going to teach you in your degree program. He had to learn it on the fly, and he’s sharing some of his top secrets for getting everyone on the same page. 

Sarah: Tell me a bit about your role right now. 

Scott: I’m actually at an interesting point in my career at the moment. I’ve been working for start-ups for 15-plus years, but I recently left Reachdesk (a B2B gifting platform) to pursue something new. My current goal is helping companies by developing GTM Partnership Strategies anchored in actionable content creation.

Many companies want to dive into partnerships, but sometimes they don’t know what it takes to make it happen.

Having an outside professional come in to assess an organization’s readiness and architect a  partnerships program is a direction I believe in, especially since early stage companies to are are focused on capital efficiency. That’s the journey I’m on, and I’m excited about help founder achieve.

Sarah: Getting buy-in from CEOs and management teams can be a significant pain point for partnerships professionals. When you’re coming into companies, do you already have a certain amount of buy-in?

Scott: Buy-in can still be a challenge for several reasons. Not everyone truly understands what a partnerships program involves. Thus, even if you have some buy-in at a high level, you may not have the resources, processes, and metrics in place to accomplish your goals. Along with that, partnerships jobs are some of the most cross-functional roles imaginable requiring alignment across all key stakeholders.

You don’t just need buy-in at the top level to succeed—it needs to be present throughout the organization.

As the partnerships expert in the room, your job is to generate and accelerate pipelines while retaining existing business, so you have to communicate with marketing, sales, and customer success. And since many of today’s biggest partnerships are technology partnerships, there’s a good chance you’ll also end up working with your company’s technology team. Eventually, you’ll find yourself working with practically every department in your organization except for finance and legal, and they’ll could participate if you need any official agreements. 

It’s easy to say “we’re going to start building partnerships,” but you need to think about all those different touch points partnerships will overlay within your organization. If there isn’t an established process or alignment where those resources are available. Then each of those groups essentially has their own partnerships team, you’re operating on an island. That’s going to make things much more complicated. 

Sarah: Let’s say you have buy-in from half of the departments you’re working with, but the other departments aren’t entirely on board. How does that affect the overall process, and how would you handle this situation?

Scott: If you don’t have a certain level of mutual understanding, there’s going to be conflict along the way. I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve gone too far too fast without getting alignment, and that usually ends poorly. As always, internal and external alignment is key here. You need to be sure that your objectives, strategies, and values align with those held by each group you’re working with.

When it comes to getting buy-in from management, it’s best to focus on completing one project at a time instead of prioritizing too many different things. That’s a great way to demonstrate your team’s value, but it can also be complicated. Everyone wants partnerships teams to do more than they should. Making matters worse, these teams tend to be under-resourced because people assume they can work with other groups. In reality, however, they’re stuck doing everything on their own if they don’t have sufficient buy-in.

Sarah: What problems can arise if partnerships pros don’t pay enough attention to external alignment?

Scott: At one point in my career I was working on a partnership with a company, and they gradually lost alignment with my employer. It eventually got to the point where we said, “hey, we have to end this relationship—this isn’t working anymore.” 

To avoid situations like these, partnerships professionals need to check in with their partners every so often (quarterly or annually). Take some time to talk about the KPIs they care about, the KPIs you care about, and how you can maximize both.

Because partnerships pros are responsible for keeping their partners satisfied, they often find themselves acting on behalf of their partners internally. No one else from your company is interfacing with them on a regular basis (unless you’re bringing them into every conversation, which is not an effective way to communicate). Instead, you have to defend their position to ensure your partnership remains mutually beneficial.

Sarah: Finally, do you have any tips for establishing trust in the early stages of a partnership or any other business relationship?

Scott: It’s not about going through a script, and it’s not a sales pitch. If everything goes well, you’re going to work with this person for a while. Instead of diving right into the tactics, your top priority should be finding out who they actually are to build a relationship and trust.

The partnerships industry is a small world—if you help someone out, they might return the favor later on.

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