How to pitch a partnership to a tech giant

By Adva Saldinger 21 March 2016

Presenting a partnership opportunity to a technology company can feel like a daunting and difficult task. Photo by: stock photo

Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s global head of international relations, fields multiple partnership pitches every day. While he doesn’t want to discourage people from reaching out, there are few things that will result in him following up — or not.

Vague requests based on the premise that Google has money, or that follow a one-sided formula of “Hey you’re smart, can you fix this problem for us?” or “You’re an Internet company, can you build our website?” are not likely to succeed, LaJeunesse said at the Global Partnerships Week event in Washington, D.C., in early March.

For those outside of a tech company’s walls, though, pitching a partnership opportunity to a tech giant like Google can feel like a daunting and difficult task, so executives from Google, PayPal, LinkedIn and Amazon Web Services shared some of their advice at the event. Here’s what they had to say about what they’re looking for in a partner, how to pitch them and what to avoid.

First, what not to do: Don’t just ask for money.

This may seem obvious, but according to Google’s LaJeunesse, it’s a common occurrence.

Chief among his recommendations is “do your homework.” Think about who Google is, do some initial research and come to them with a specific proposal of how you can help and why you are best suited for the opportunity.

“I need folks to do their share on the front end,” he said.

In initial research, be sure to note any assets the company could bring to the table, including their technical capabilities and the talents of their staff, said Sean Milliken, the head of global social innovation at PayPal, at the event.

At PayPal, they are not looking to be a sponsor, but want to be a true partner bringing more than just financial resources, he said.

“Be laser-focused on what the request is,” Milliken said, adding that being “definitive about what you think PayPal can bring” is likely to make initial conversations more productive and lead to partnership.

Another factor Google has found to be important is that the person pitching the idea has buy-in and support from a decision-maker within their own organization. Once the company decides to invest resources, it wants a project to launch and be delivered quickly without getting stuck on internal hang-ups. In the past, projects have stalled well into the process when a senior executive at a partner organization needed to give their approval — and it’s something Google would like to avoid, LeJeunesse said. That’s why, for example, they’re more willing to work with the White House, because they know that obstacles will be cleared once an agreement is reached.

But the approach of the initial pitch is only part of the battle; achieving success is dependent on a few other things — the nature of the partnership, the actors at the table, the pace of success and the level of impact.

While companies can often bring the capacity to scale a project or partnership, it’s important to have “quick wins” along the way to prove that the collaboration is working and provide a foundation to build on, Milliken said.

Partnerships that hit the sweet spot of all of PayPal’s main interests — financial inclusion, participation and the power of giving — and help them achieve those goals are particularly appealing and often require a broad range of partnerships.

For example, PayPal is working to see how it can help deliver relief in times of crisis. The company has capabilities to enable giving to nonprofits, but as the movement to give funds directly to people in crisis grows, PayPal is looking at how they can remove some of the barriers to identity verification and connecting those in need to donors, Milliken said. It’s a task that requires a collaborative approach with nongovernmental organizations as well as governments to help remove regulatory barriers, he explained.

It’s also important that partners “put skin in the game” and contribute themselves as well, said Lena Trudeau, worldwide public sector practice manager at Amazon Web Services. AWS will work with partners to build platforms and ecosystems around data sets, like around rice production, but what’s proven most effective is when they host the platform while working closely with partners who manage and maintain the data, she said.

Having stakeholders at every level — from nonprofits to governments to corporations — who are all at the table for the implementation of a partnership both in the short and long term “really drives efficacy and sustainability,” added Nicole Isaac, head of U.S. public policy at LinkedIn.

Efficiency also makes a difference. While it may not be a formal part of the analysis of a potential partnership, those that suggest using a smaller amount of resources to solve a bigger problem are all the more likely to get chosen. Most every company is time and resource constrained, so they’re all trying to maximize impacts, LeJeunesse said.

“There is always the question, ‘What is this going to change? Will this have an impact?’ Those that easily answer the question with a ‘yes’ get us excited,” LeJeunesse said.

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About the author

Adva%2520saldinger%2520photo
Adva Saldinger@deveximpact

As a Devex Impact associate editor, Adva leads coverage of the intersection of business and international development. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, she enjoys exploring the role the private sector and private capital play in development. Previously, she has worked as a reporter at newspapers in both the U.S. and South Africa. Most recently, she has been ghostwriting a memoir for a former child slave and NGO founder in Ghana.


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