Nov 27, 2013
Table of contents:
A common misconception of success is the story of the individual who battled against adversity and rejection to prove the world wrong. Whenever you hear a story along those lines, it usually doesn’t take much to uncover the truth behind the fairytale.
In order to make progress with an idea, you need to form alliances with a wide array of people. This could include colleagues, managers, customers or the press. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether your an employee or an entrepreneur, you are not going to get very far unless you get the backing and support of those around you.
I love the whole “without permission” movement of the Internet. We live in a time where any individual can create something of value and distribute it to the world. But I think a lot of these brilliant individuals misunderstand the value and necessity of collaboration and partnerships.
In this article I’m going to look at alliances, why they are so important and the different types of alliances you need to build in order to give your idea the best chance of success.
Ideas that aren’t acted upon are worthless. You owe it to yourself to build these alliances to ensure your ideas are successful.
Alliances are important because they are critical to a number of areas of launching a successful idea. A common misconception of building a successful product is that creating the product is the hard bit. In my experience, actually building the product is not the hard bit as more often than not, the hard bit is leverage, feedback and distribution.
The importance of leverage is usually concerned with projects within a company. As I mentioned above, you don’t require anyone’s permission to build something on your time and distribute through the internet. However, alliances are incredibly important when working at a large bureaucratic company.
For example, your time might already be accounted for another project, even if you know you are working on the wrong things. By getting leverage with decision makers, you can carve out time to work on your ideas to push the company forward.
When you start working on an idea, you will most likely have certain bias and make certain assumptions depending on your experience and view of the world. Getting early feedback from people is critical for staying on the true path to success.
Feedback with the right knowledgeable people can be invaluable because they allow you to keep adjusting your view of the world to get to the right destination. Without their input, your idea will be tarnished with your assumptions.
And finally, alliances can provide distribution to their peers, connections and audiences. The world we live in values people who are well respected due to their knowledge, experience or presence within a certain community. By connecting with these people you create a much better opportunity for them to pass on your idea to their followers.
Creating a successful product is much more than just getting it into the hands of the right people. Whilst it’s nice to think that these connections will serendipitously fall into place, I tend to think more pragmatically about the situation.
I believe there are 6 types of people that you need to create alliances with to give your idea the best chance of success. Whilst certain people will fall in to more than one bucket, I think the following 6 types of connections will help you gain leverage, feedback and distribution for your new project.
It’s hard to underestimate the requirement of support from respected people. Respected people are respected because they have put in the hard work to consistently do excellent work. Their knowledge, experience and opinions are highly sought-after and so they can make or break an idea.
When a new idea surfaces in a company or a community, people look towards the respected people for their opinion on the new thing. This means gaining their support will legitimise your project and make it be taken serious by the majority of participants.
For internal projects, a respected person will help you gain access to the resources you need to make the project a success. In large organisations there are usually key people that you will need to be in touch with. A respected person is also usually well connected within the community and so you will be able to get warm introductions to the right people.
Large organisations are also fraught with politics and people looking to sabotage new initiatives in order to advance their own career. Respected people will be able to help you navigate the organisation to avoid malicious or time wasting people.
Respected people within a community will help you to establish your presence and elevate your status to a recognised and respected participant. True respect has to be earned over time with consistently good work, but an endorsement from a well respected person will go a long way.
The respected person will also attract new followers and people who are interested in your product and can legitimise your product through using it or talking about it in a public arena.
It is therefore extremely important that you find these respected people within the company or community you are targeting. Be personable with them, show respect for their work and effort and give before you get.
Often these types of people are extremely busy and inundated with inbound communication. If you can’t speak directly with the person, find someone who can and build a connection with them first.
These kinds of connections usually take a while to bear fruit because respect has to be earned over time. There is no need to rush and try to force the issue.
Hopefully you already have a rich and diverse network of people around you that you have strong relationships with. Your peers will often be your first sounding board for your ideas and so their opinions and suggestions are often invaluable to this process.
The problem with talking to your peers is, your friends will usually not want to hurt your feelings if your ideas are crap. Instead they will tell you what you want to hear and give you false hope that you are on the right track. Whilst their heart is in the right place, you need to avoid asking these types of people like the plague.
Instead filter your peers by knowledgeable people who have an opinion in that very specific niche you are targeting. When someone has an opinion, they will usually be consistent with that opinion, rather than sugarcoating their response.
Your peers are likely going to be your first early adopters. This is an amazing opportunity to iterate on your idea with people who will give your product multiple opportunities. It is highly likely that your first idea won’t truly resonate with your users or customers. Use being small as an opportunity to quickly iterate through ideas and decisions to find something that really catches on within that tiny subset of users.
Gatekeepers are the people you need to go to in order to talk with the highly influential people who can add fuel to your distribution. If you can target these gatekeepers and get them to join your early adopter peer network they will speak highly of you and help spread your idea.
Gatekeepers have trust and the respect of the influential people you want to target. They also know the best way to pitch these types of people and so building an early alliance with gatekeepers will put you in a much better position to talk to the right people when the time comes.
If you are creating a product that solves a particular problem, it’s usually a lot easier to acquire uncommitted people rather than those who are already using a competitor’s product.
Often the switching costs of moving from one product to another are too high for regular consumers, even if your product is clearly better than what they are currently using. The switching costs are even higher when your product is new to the market.
Instead of trying to change people’s mind, go after people that have shown signs of interest but are yet to commit to a product. This could be people who are facing the problem you are solving or share your views and goals about how the problem should be solved.
The problem with uncommitted people is, often you will have to convince them that they actually do have a problem. Some people don’t realise that there is a better, more efficient way to achieve something and with the right tools, their life could be so much better.
Don’t invest all of your time chasing after uncommitted people. At the end of the day, some people just don’t want a solution to their problem.
Opinion leaders are incredibly important to gaining distribution for your ideas because they have acquired followers who base their decision on the opinion leader’s thoughts.
Often an opinion leader will have a very deep knowledge on a particular subject and will have spent many years working or talking about that area in the public eye.
Whilst there are opinion leaders in just about every subject area or niche, some opinion leaders are much more valuable than others depending on your goal. For example, a lot of academic opinion leaders are influential in educational establishments within a tight nit community. If you are specifically targeting these people that’s great, but they probably won’t be able to help you with the wider distribution problem.
Try and find opinion leaders who have been savvy enough to build their own platform. Often the best opinion leaders will have a blog or website, an active presence on Twitter and an engaged email list of people who have chosen to receive information from them.
These types of opinion leaders can be an injection of rocket fuel for your idea because they not only show their public approval of your project, but they also introduce you to a wealth of people who also share your views.
However, it’s important to only target opinion leaders who share a similar target audience as your project. There is no point in targeting the wrong opinion leader because neither party will benefit from the connection.
It is much better to target an opinion leader who is passionate about your goals and view of the world with a small audience, than it is to target an apathetic opinion leader with a large audience.
An excellent way to pitch a new product to the market is to compare yourselves with the competition. For example, if you were pitching a new writing application, you could say you were like Microsoft Word without the bloat.
A great way of building alliances is to befriend the enemies of your competition. When people share the same enemy there is often a new found affinity because you share the same world view.
This is also a great way to cross pollinate audiences with adjacent products in your industry. For example, if your product is Microsoft Word without the bloat, you could create an alliance with a company that was creating Microsoft Excel without the bloat. The people who favour a simple productivity application for one job are probably also going to want to use a similar application for another job.
Alliances against an enemy are as old as time. Everyone loves a good Us vs Them competition and so pitching your product in this way is good for positioning yourself in the market, finding customers and finding alliances to increase your distribution and reach.
And finally, you will encounter many different types of random outsiders along your journey who don’t really fit into any of the previous 5 buckets. You never know who you talk to and how it will effect your trajectory, so it’s important to think about these connections in much the same way.
For example, journalists don’t really fit into any of the buckets above, but will be extremely important once you reach a certain scale. Try to build relationships with newer or less known journalists at smaller publications. It’s always going to be more difficult to connect with the star of the big publication.
Look for people who are rising in their organisation, adjacent niches or a community you are looking to break in to. Targeting the most respected people in these areas will always be difficult, but connecting with people who are also rising alongside you will be much more mutually beneficial.
So hopefully you can see, building an amazing product is not nearly enough to ensure success. The alliances that you form will not only enable you to build a better product, but they will also help you unlock the distribution problem to get it into the hands of the people that really count.
Along the journey you will encounter people who aren’t obvious partners, naysayers and people with political clout that will either help you or try to sabotage your efforts. It’s important to just keep working towards your goal, take a small step each day and continue on your chosen path.
Creating alliances with people is just like creating friendships. It shouldn’t happen overnight and if you try to force the issue it won’t work. Instead, allow the process to happen naturally, help others before you ask for help yourself and one day you will realise you have all the alliances you need to launch the new project you are so exited about.