by Leon Rosenshein

Customers vs. Partners

Customers are and partners are different. According to the dictionary, it’s like this.

Customer: a person or organization that buys goods or services from a store or business.

Partner: any of a number of individuals with interests and investments in a business or enterprise, among whom expenses, profits, and losses are shared.

Or to put it more succinctly, you work for a customer, and with a partner. And that’s a huge difference. Your customers have different motivations than you do, with almost no overlap. Of course, your customer wants to buy the thing and you want to sell it, so there’s that overlap. They have a need to fill and you want to fulfill that need so there’s that overlap. But at the high level, your goal is to fill the need, but your customer wants it as a means to an end for whatever their purpose is. You succeed if they make the purchase. You don’t care if they succeed after that, with the exception that if they succeed they’ll buy more of what you’re selling.

Conversely, your and your partner’s motivations have considerable overlap. There might be some differences in the details, but you share the exact same high level motivations. You’re working together to meet the same external need or goal. You succeed or fail together. You succeed by working together to meet that external goal.

One big way this shows up is how influence flows. Of course, when you build something for a customer you should listen to them. If enough of your customers want something it’s probably a good idea to add it. How you build your thing will influence your customers. They’re invested in using the process and want it to work, so what you provide will influence them and their thing they’re building, but it’s a weak influence.

With partners the influence is much tighter/closer. You have more influence since you’re doing things together. It’s a collaboration. All sides get to state their wants/needs directly. You work together, in partnership, to come up with a solution that works for everyone. That fulfills the shared need of everyone in the partnership.

Being successful, regardless of whether you’re working with a customer or a partner, means you need to aware of those differences.

As important as that awareness is, it gets even more interesting when you’re a platform team working with internal customers or partners. But that’s a another story for another time.