What exactly is a Peer Group and how can it benefit you as a Partner?
With more than 60,000 Microsoft Partner’s worldwide and growing it seems there is no shortage of examples of success you can measure yourself against.
However, whether you’ve been a Partner for years or just starting, it can be a lonely journey. If I look back at my school group, I can count the other business owners on one hand, and not a single one was in the technology field.
While I have been fortunate to have an amazing business partner at Leap Consulting to go through the ups and downs with, there have been times we’ve faced challenges we’d never seen before.
Back in 2009, our company was scaling quickly, and it felt like everything was breaking. No matter how hard we worked it didn’t seem to equate to profit, and we had no idea what good looked like. Everything we did was a reaction and not planned or structured in any particular way.
We had spent money on coaching, consultants and external associations but nothing seemed to stick or make a difference. We had a chance meeting with another Partner at a Connectwise User Group, and he mentioned he had heard about a peer group concept for IT companies called Heartland Technology Groups (HTG).
What’s a Peer Group?
HTG sounded like the perfect solution. A quarterly face to face meeting over two days with business owners just like us to discuss best practices, goals, financial benchmarking and help us solve our biggest issues.
We found after our first few meetings that a Peer Group was far more than that. It was a way for us to accelerate our growth, learn from the mistakes of others, develop our leadership and help hold us accountable.
This quote from Robin Sharma says it well - “You cannot lead others until you have first learned to lead yourself.”
Fast Forward 10 Years
One of our greatest lessons from HTG (now called IT Nation Evolve) is the power of vendors. We learned over time that a major part of the success for larger Partners is their engagement and work with companies like Microsoft. We often expected our supplier or vendors to chase us when the reverse should be true. It is up to us to find a way to break through the noise and create a relationship where we both win.
This doesn’t come naturally to many Partners, and it isn’t easy to navigate the labyrinth that is Microsoft (or any other large vendor for that fact). Understanding how successful IT companies turn those relationships into a long-term strategy that catapults them forward has been key for us and many others in our Peer Group.
The Financial Return
When you think about the speed of change and the amount of competition in our market it is hard to comprehend. Add in the volume of information we have access to through the Microsoft Partner program, meeting the needs of customers, dealing with finances, managing staff etc and it can be overwhelming.
Through a Peer Group, you have access to what I like to call the “blood noses” of other Partners. These are the hard-won lessons or business mistakes that can set you back years if you don’t know about them in advance. Each one of those is valuable on its own, but in a room of 10 to 12 other IT companies, this is a compounding gift. It can save you thousands if not hundreds of thousands depending on your size.
On the opposite side of that coin is the “slip stream.” This is following the path of success another Partner has taken that has driven their business forward and helped them reach their goals sooner. When you can see the actual profit or balance sheet impact of that choice and not a flippant hallway conversation you can identify the major benefits from walking in their steps.
Scaling the Mountain
All of us are looking to find a way to succeed as a Partner. Not every metric of achievement is revenue or size. I have witnessed many smaller IT companies outperform larger ones with double the profit simply because of their strategy.
For every Partner that thinks there is only one way to operate, I could name another that is operating better but using a totally different model.
Peer Groups help you realise that there is more than one way to scale the mountain, but the bigger question to ask yourself is whether or not that mountain is the one you want to climb?
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” - Stephen R. Covey