One of the interesting trends to emerge from the recent period of market volatility has been an obvious re-think – by both local and global brands – when it comes to partnership and collaboration.

In fact, partnerships have been so prominent of late that consulting giant Deloitte highlighted the phenomenon as one of its top seven trends of the COVID-19 era.

Here we, digital solutions provider Realm Digital, take a look at some of the valuable lessons learned by our long-term partner, book-selling giant Exclusive Books, and how you might leverage these as you consider partnerships.

1. Shared burden

In challenging times, unity makes sense. South African retail brands, for example, are fighting incredible local and global forces: some under their control and some beyond it. “When being buffeted hard,” explains Chris Deeks, Exclusive Books GM: Online,strong brands need to stand together where there’s opportunity.”

For instance, Exclusive Books partnered with Uber Eats in the early weeks of the pandemic in South Africa, to deliver bestsellers to those at home. Their message? “Feed your boredom and order now from your door-to-door bookstore.” 

This time-sensitive local collab is reflective of a greater global trend. (Consider the alliance between food delivery app Deliveroo and board game company Winning Moves Australia, to provide board games to consumers who were stuck at home during lockdown in Melbourne.)

2. Like-mindedness

Collaborating with another brand works particularly well if you have similar goals.

Exclusive Books is a rewards partner of Discovery Card – both market-leading brands and category winners. According to Deeks, “i>It’s important to partner with those who share your values. Not only when it comes to the customer or consumer overlap, which is more obvious, but also in terms of your intrinsic priorities.” 

Discovery is known for out-of-the-box thinking in terms of rewards tied to healthier living and holistic wellness, and this philosophy lends itself to books. After all, who is a well-rounded and healthy human being? Often, one who reads. 

Deeks affirms, “The titles that move the most at the moment tend to be those dealing with self-development, resilience, up-skilling, and mental health. This reinforces the value, at least for us, in partnering with brands that value constant improvement.

3. Agility, prioritised

E-commerce sales for many retailers have nearly tripled, according to the Forbes Technology Council (2020), leaving many struggling to meet demand. So how do retailers and their partners maintain a collaborative, win-win relationship?

Well, for a start, when the partnership is not strategic, but tactical or situational, it’s important to pause, and look into whether the partner is sufficiently agile. 

Consider, for instance, an event like Black Friday. If you’re the tech partner, like Realm Digital is for Exclusive Books, and things start to go wrong, you must be able to drop everything and fix it. If there’s a massive spike in demand for customer support, you must implement a new support channel – pronto. “Partnerships are forged in times of war, not in times of peace,” explains Simon Bestbier, our CEO.

He adds, “You can’t say, Well, this is the way we’ve always done things.” The new normal is over and we’re in Normal 2.0, which can yield entirely new problems. 

“You can’t just be a tech partner – you have to think more like the business and the business must think more like you, a tech partner. The meeting of minds is where the magic happens,” says Bestbier, “and you need to be aggressive in implementing solutions. Build the Minimum Viable Product, and then iterate as you go.”

 

4. Stitch ‘em together

Bear in mind that Normal 2.0 necessitates a new way to look at enterprise resource planning (ERP). At Realm, we’ve realised that plugging in an enterprise solution, when a client’s business isn’t ready for it, can cause more harm than good. 

Previously, you might have a single deployment with one implementation partner. But today, when you start looking at different models of tech ownership, what you’re looking for is being able to stitch together lots of different bits of tech from those who are the best. Deeks elaborates that “the best” isn’t best-of-breed; it’s best-fit

5. The ability to guide

Exclusive Books looks for guidance from its tech partner. Yes, the tech pieces must connect – obviously – but leadership is also required. “It’s important,” says Deeks, “to have partners who’ll walk a path with you and who have a breadth of experience in similar and other industries, where they’ve tripped over the same stones before.”

At Realm we understand businesses and we know that they want to see bottom-line impact, not gimmicks. So it’s important to have business conversations and decide on the tech to fit, in that specific order, rather than to start with tech conversations.

6. Bigger picture

Whether an innovative response to an unexpected external challenge, like a global pandemic, or part of a longer-term and more established strategy for business growth, all partnerships take time and money to integrate. 

Whether you have an internal ops and tech development team or an outside partner handling those all-important elements for you, there’s real value in asking, upfront: “How long is the road here? Are we in this for the long haul? Or are we throwing stuff against a wall for the moment, and seeing what sticks?” advises Deeks.

For example, Exclusive Books is one of the early merchants of VodaPay, the Vodacom “super-app” that will offer a range of shopping and payment services. The partnership hinges on Exclusive Books’s interest in gaining long-term access to new markets and achieving minimal friction in trade, via “one-click buy”. 

The bottom line?

According to Deloitte, 80% of surveyed C-Suite respondents not only introduced new pandemic-era partnerships, but also see these as key to business in Normal 2.0. 

Into the future, success isn’t to be found only in going it alone. We’re seeing this daily in our beneficial partnership with Exclusive Books, and in its engagements with its other partners. Perhaps that’s why they say, “If you want to go far, go together.”

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