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It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove!!!

partnership value

Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors. When his movie, Training Day, came out, I remember sitting in the theatre when Denzel said, “It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove.”

I’m not sure why, but I immediately thought about my role. At the time, I was VP of Business Development at an emerging technology company.

I was struggling to figure out how I could develop a scalable partnership distribution model.

The company had an outstanding suite of products and services. Our direct-to-consumer business was exploding.

But the indirect partnership business was sputtering along. It was easily getting lapped by the direct-to-consumer business.

I spent endless hours working with a talented group of business, marketing, and product experts to identify what would resonate with a partner. After each meeting, we listed a broader and more expansive list of partner value drivers.

We felt really good but, for reasons we couldn’t explain, partner adoption and growth was still slow.

As I left the movie, I couldn’t get Denzel’s line out of my head. Then the light bulb went off. I turned the phrase around to say, “It’s not what I think; it’s what I can prove to my partner.”

I realized that we were talking to partners about what we thought we knew or believed to be true but we did not, or could not, point to anything tangible as proof.

With this knowledge, I went back to my product and marketing colleagues. Together we revisited the list of value drivers. We even added to the list until we had a comprehensive record of every possible benefit we provide to customers.

Then, in excruciating detail, we discussed each benefit and whether we could prove it to be true. And, if so, how?

When we were done, there were only two benefits that we could prove with hard data to back it up: (1) that customers increased profits by installing our platform with (2) less than a 12-month payback.

So, if we could prove this, shouldn’t that positioning and messaging form the crux of our partnership pitch?

Yes, but for some reason, we hadn’t been using this data. Instead, we wasted time talking about how our solution would elevate the partner as a technology leader.

That is a hard data point to prove. It’s even harder to take to a CEO or CFO for approval— it’s what I refer to as a “soft value driver.”

And, better yet, even if true, it was not clear what that meant for the partner’s business. In other words, what meaningful metric did we give to the customer, if at all?

This is a critical question. A CEO or CFO will listen closely if you tell them, “I have a partner that can increase your profits. With a small investment, you can recoup your costs within 12 months.”

Who wouldn’t listen to that?

Compare that to the soft value driver I mentioned earlier: “our solution will elevate the partner as a technology leader.”

How do you prove that? What does it mean to your partner? What metric does that impact?

I’ve written about the importance of value drivers before.

Value drivers matter because it’s easy to build a list of customer benefits. But it’s another thing entirely to create a list that demonstrates real value to the customer, not drivers that make you feel good.

In reality, you often only need 1 – 2 compelling and verifiable reasons why a customer should purchase from you.

That is easier said than done, though. This requires an honest discussion about what value drivers you can truly affect for your customers. It means looking at what tangible data you have that will support that conclusion.

We often add unnecessary complexity, thinking it puts the company in a better light. In reality, complexity is both confusing and unsupportable.

The bottom line

Focus on what you can prove, even if it’s a single benefit.

Market and promote that benefit to build compelling data points around that benefit.

Do this before you start promoting a laundry list of benefits you think might be true. Remember, it’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove.

I know firsthand the implications of nailing the customer value proposition and the impacts of getting it wrong.

Get in touch with me now for a quick consultation. I’ll help you identify and tailor your pitch so you can highlight compelling value drivers that resonate with customers and partners.

Want more information? Download our free eBook at now to avoid common growth roadblocks through a successful business development strategy.

2 thoughts on “It’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove!!!

  1. […] what your audience is looking for. Get proof of concept before dedicating resources to it. Interview your potential customers, look at statistics, and know your financial numbers before pursuing a new […]

    1. Excellent point. The proof-of-concept approach is highly effective ‘IF’ you take full advantage of the opportunity to learn the ‘why, how and what.”

      1. Why did the customer agree to use your product or service?

      2. How are they actually using it? . . . even if it different than your original thesis.

      3. What value are they truly getting from your product or service?


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