What’s the Secret to Partnership Success?

Inside insight from a publishing exec for edtech companies seeking massive distribution.    

GUEST COLUMN | by Nader Qaimari

CREDIT Follett imageWhen I joined Follett, part of the allure of the role was that I would get to work with a number of the publishers and partners that once were my competitors, when I worked for a publisher. This was alluring to me because I finally had an opportunity to break down the perceptions I had formed over the years and truly see them for the value they bring to the education industry. It was no longer about who had the best marketing, talent or product innovation, but rather, all about the need they were fulfilling and how they were doing it better than anyone else. In my new position at Follett, I was coming into a land of hypothetical Legos, where I was able to put together solutions that, as the sum of many parts, could truly make an impact on education.

How can an edtech player’s offerings, combined with that of a larger, more established player, lead to new innovations that no individual company is capable of on its own? 

As an agnostic player, Follett is truly able to focus on the customer and align solutions to the needs we have identified having worked for 140 years with school districts across the world. We can anticipate a need based on predictive data, and assess a solution based on its practical application. In the end, it does not matter to us which publisher or provider wins, just as long as the need is met. This has built credibility over the years with our customers. However, it is not always evident to partners how we should and can fit into the equation. For them, we can quickly become the middle man. This is what makes my role challenging and interesting at the same time.

I can throw out clichés like “win-win” and “strategic partnerships,” but I will spare you. It’s really more about listening and understanding what each company is trying to accomplish. For some, like smaller edtech players, it’s about getting guidance, exposure, and penetration. For larger, more established companies, it’s about growth in new markets, innovation, and sales channel optimization. And, for each, it’s usually a different combination of issues. I will say, however, in almost all the cases, these companies have really good people trying to make a positive impact on education.

For me, partnerships are about figuring out how the sum of many parts is greater than the whole. How can an edtech player’s offerings, combined with that of a larger, more established player, lead to new innovations that no individual company is capable of on its own? From Follett’s vantage point, working with thousands of large and small districts, we can identify these unique needs and combine offerings to create new solutions. This, coupled with our massive distribution capabilities, allows for fresh conversations with partners that truly can further their cause, without disrupting their base business.

One of the most important lessons I have learned, however, is to truly understand their base business. No company wants to move backwards, and they definitely do not want to alienate a group of their employees for the sake of a new deal. Conversations need to accommodate the fact that sales reps need to see a new relationship as an opportunity rather than a threat. The provider’s relationship with the customer needs to grow, rather than get marginalized. And naturally, their revenues need to be maintained and nurtured. Having these conversations requires sacrifices on both ends, but if there is a clear need that is being solved with a partnership, the conversation runs smoothly.

The education industry today is getting disrupted. While many of us think that it will be the slew of small innovators that will lead this disruption, the reality is that it needs to be a mix. Smaller edtech companies can disrupt models but may also create a lot of noise and confusion in the process for the educators. It’s the right combination of tried and true players who have the experience serving the market, with the innovations of newer, more nimble companies, that will lead to impactful change. That’s where I see Follett fitting in. We can speak the language of everyone, and that language is that of the customers we serve, to make great things happen. Now, that’s exciting.

Nader Qaimari is Senior Vice President of Content Solutions and Services for Follett, managing Follett’s product portfolio and content/software relationships. Prior to Follet, Nader ran sales and marketing for Cengage Learning. In this role, he is focused on the marketing of the company’s digital assets and new initiatives, in addition to managing the Market Research, Digital Marketing, Branding, Outcomes and Measurement, and Marketing Strategy divisions. He has worked in the education industry for more than sixteen years. During his tenure, he has held positions in product management, editorial and curriculum development, and marketing. He holds a BA in English Literature from Kenyon College and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Write to: nqaimari@follett.com

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