Organizing productive meetings with clear-cut purpose, contained to your team and company is challenging enough.
Then there are the partnership feeler meetings.
The purpose of the partnership feeler meetings is to establish a personal connection with a potential partner company while brainstorming ideas for possible collaboration, ideally within thirty minutes. It’s a tall order, especially for folks who are not born salesmen.
Compared to other forms of meetings, it comes with a few twists:
- Lack of a prior connection makes it impossible to tailor the meeting to the preference of your counterparts.
- Various stakeholders on both sides are curious and it could be useful to include them, but only a few participants contribute during the meeting.
- Abstract meeting goals that frequently boil down to trying to find something to talk about in subsequent meetings.
The structure of the feeler meetings usually consists of:
- Pre-meeting. One person from either company initiates a meeting; people are looped in and invited; agenda is set.
- Small talk. At the onset of the meeting, people from both sides try to break the ice.
- Going over the Agenda. The meat of the meeting where ideas for collaboration generate before the meeting are discussed.
- Follow-Ups. Follow-ups of the most promising ideas are identified.
- Post-Meeting. Teams from both companies internally discuss their feelings about the meeting and potential next steps.
Nailing the partnership feeler meeting is a sum of excelling at executing the individual parts. Let’s examine them individually.
Keep the circle of participants from both sides as small as possible. People frequently join because they’re curious about the other company, but they have limited stake in the meeting. Being overly inclusive leads to large meetings with lots of uncomfortable silence. Make it clear that no definitive decisions will be taken during the meeting and you’ll keep notes and distribute them afterward. This disclaimer helps quell people’s fear of missing out and gives them an easy out of the meeting.
After you have the participants list, reach out to participants from your company and brainstorm ideas together. This will lead to stronger ideas and better engagement during the meeting. Sometimes you won’t avoid creating a presentation solo, but it’s always better to make it a team effort, even if others’ contributions are only symbolic.
Once you have the agenda ready, send it to all participants well ahead of time (at least a day, ideally more). This helps the partner company form an opinion on ideas and creates a bit of healthy pressure on them to come up with counter-ideas. Once you know that the other side has done a lot of prep, you don’t want to look bad by going to the meeting empty-handed.
Also, always prepare slides or other visual assets that you can share as agenda during the meeting. They help immensely with focusing the discussion and injecting a sense of momentum.
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Most partner meetings start with small talk that focuses on either very general things (weather, season, etc.) on sharing tidbits about how each company works.
If you can, direct the small talk into talking about your respective companies. You can quickly gain bits insight into how the other company works and set expectations for yours. Small talk is a great opportunity to understand the planning cycles or organizational quirks of the peer company and share yours. If you can make this discussion happen, it can become the most valuable bit of the entire meeting. Whether the other company runs weekly sprints or if they execute top-down quarterly plans will have a big impact on your future relationship. Getting this information early is a win.
The fewer participants you have in the meeting, the better the small talk opportunities. Making fun of the process quirks is something people are understandably not comfortable doing if large portions of their company are present. Keep in mind that you also need to be comfortable sharing.
Lastly, don’t skip introductions.
Going over the Agenda
This part is similar to other kinds of meetings.
Ensure that the conversation is inclusive, and everyone is comfortable with sharing ideas as well as asking questions.
Keep in mind that the goal of these meetings is to generate ideas and establish rapport. Sticking to the agenda is less important compared to other types of meetings. If the meeting derails into an unstructured discussion, it’s a good signal that rapport is being built and ideas are flowing. If you tend to be a stickler about sticking to the agenda, loosen the reins a bit for this meeting.
If you succeeded during the Going over Agenda portion of the meeting, you have several concrete actionables in your meeting notes. Take a few minutes to recap the actionables for both sides and ensure that it’s clear who is responsible for the follow-ups.
Asking companies you’ve just met for deadlines might not be possible. Still, by sharing a specific timeline for individual actionables you’re responsible for and asking participants from your company for the same, you can maximize the chances that the partner company will commit to a specific timeline for follow-ups as well.
It’s helpful if you can formulate the actionables as concretely as possible. “Discussing with engineering and sharing which of the ideas are in principle doable” beats “Thinking about it more and regrouping in two weeks”.
Besides being more useful generally, concrete actionables make it easier to inquire about progress from either side should there be a lack of communication in the weeks following the meeting.
After the meeting itself is concluded, it’s useful to reach out to participants from your side to gauge the overall feelings and ensure alignment on the next steps. In most cases, you shouldn’t need another internal meeting to do the debrief; a few messages can do the trick just as well.
Don’t forget you’ve committed to provide meeting notes to people not attending the meeting. Take a few minutes right after the meeting to polish the notes and write a meeting summary, sharing it with all participants in the meeting and with any people who expressed interest. The longer you wait with this step, the longer it’ll take to clean up the meeting notes. You start forgetting nuances of the meeting the minute it ends.
Lastly, ensure you’re tracking follow-up items in the appropriate place. If they’re only in the meeting notes, it’s easy to forget them. Adding them to your task manager or the team issue tracker will help follow-up more consistently.
Don’t worry if you feel like some of the partnership feeler meetings aren’t productive. You can do everything right; some meetings will still be unproductive. Not all partnerships are meant to be. Walking away with an understanding that the company is not a good fit is a valuable takeaway as well.
Regardless, excellent preparation and a positive attitude go a long way and positively impact the value you get out of these meetings, helping you find the best companies with which to partner.