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big mouths.jpgVendors routinely promote and reward the practice and the subject always sparks discussion at industry partner events. I’m talking about partner-to-partner collaboration or P2P. Haven’t you heard? Everyone’s doing it.

But are they?

A recent study by Channel Insider and Amazon Consulting reveals that while P2P is indeed a trend in the channel, it’s far less ubiquitous than the buzz suggests. Working with other solution providers to fill gaps in your skill set and portfolio and win deals you might not otherwise score makes smart business sense. But in practice, it’s not that simple as the data from our survey bears out.

P2P is still mainly an opportunistic endeavor. Just shy of half of the solution providers responding to the survey said they collaborate with their peers for sales and technical scale or capabilities only when specific situations demand it. That runs in contrast to the 29 percent who said P2P was a regular fact of life for them; these are folks that maintain strategic, ongoing partnerships with other solution providers. On the other end of the spectrum are the 22 percent of respondents that said they have no need for P2P relationships, period.

So if you are teaming with other solution providers, why? Nearly half of those responding said they participate in P2P for professional services delivery (pre- or post-sales) and to gain access to staff that have specific vendor technical certifications that they lack. Others want to extend their geographic reach without incurring the travel expenses that come from jetting around the country to customer sites.

Truth be told, P2P is a shrewd way not only to form bonds with other solution providers but to

expand your business without taking on the expense of more headcount, SG&A, etc. But to do it well, things must be formalized, with rules of engagement laid out and specific roles assigned with respect to every customer engagement. Keeping these relationships fast and loose only leads to the type of miscommunication and misunderstanding that sours partnerships to the point of ugly.

Which brings me to what is causing such a large chunk of the channel to eschew P2P altogether: Competitive fear. Forty percent of respondents said they did not collaborate with peers because they did not want to risk exposing existing accounts to a competitor.

This makes sense on a fundamental level. I do not think all partnerships are meant to be, which is why it’s vital to assess what you need from a partnership and what you can bring to the table, then find the right fit. Vendors can help in this regard. They maintain reams of demographic, skills and business model data on their partners. If you are running into a lot of opportunities that have a business intelligence component to them and you lack BI expertise, one of your vendor partners might be able to point you to a solution provider with those skills. From there, it’s up to you to try to cultivate that partnership.

Knowing how to craft and manage effective partnerships are among the top inhibitors of P2P, based on our survey. It’s not a trivial matter and it’s important to nail down best practices. Industry associations are another source of solid education around P2P, in addition to networking at industry events where there you will run into business owners who have successfully executed the P2P model.

Are you collaborating with your peers today? Join the discussion and tell us what has worked, what hasn’t, biggest blunder and best result.