The Partnership Hustle

Written by Liz Derks on the 10th of July, 2017

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As a startup founder the need to hustle never goes away.

Setting up connections, engaging with potential customers and clients and identifying partnership opportunities; the list of interactions is endless. How do founders leverage all the conversations and turn them into the kinds of traction, partnerships and pilots that will benefit in the long run? How do you utilise the incredible individuals within your own network and turn them into your champions?

The SheStarts team sat down with Meray El-Khoury, Manager Growth and Retention at Sunsuper, Caitlin Ruddock, Head of Corporate Relationships at UTS and Raji Ambikairajah, Chief Operating Office of Women in Banking and Finance to find out what it takes to build and maintain strategic relationships.

“80% of the work leading up to a pitch is research” – Meray El-Khoury, Manager Growth and Retention at Sunsuper.

El-Khoury joined Sunsuper 2.5 years ago and has been on a crazy rollercoaster ride ever since. Tasked with establishing presence of the Sunsuper brand in the New South Wales market, she has been hustling non-stop to identify opportunities and grow the business. And not without results: Sunsuper is now one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing super funds and was recently awarded Super Fund of the Year 2017.

Research is key to understanding customers and to ultimately closing the deals and partnerships you want

Meray El-Khoury, Manager Growth and Retention at Sunsuper

El-Khoury states that, “Before a client meets with us they get a pitch document. This needs to be really powerful and can’t be too detailed. It’s about finding the balance to give them enough information so they understand what it is that you do and how you can add value, and saving the technical details for later”.

Assuming the client has at least read the executive summary, once the meeting starts it’s all about relationships and people. “It’s really about connecting with each individual in the room, so I really research every single person. LinkedIn is such a powerful tool; I use it to look into people’s background, their networks and to see if we have any mutual connections. So really try to learn as much as you can about an individual and find out about their technical knowledge, this way when you’re in the pitch you can delve into what resonates with that particular individual.”

“Being a technologist without the technical background is a huge advantage” – Raji Ambikairajah, COO of Women and Banking and Finance at Sunsuper.

When Ambikairajah joined Women in Banking and Finance, the organisation was of substantial size with a strong network. However, she realised that in its current format the organisation had little prospect to grow and scale further. Having worked in technology and venture capital, Ambikairajah took it as a startup opportunity to expand the organisation and to bring in a network that wasn’t so reliant on just the traditional banks.

It’s often said you need technology knowledge to develop and grow a tech startup.

Being an engineer by training with a background in startups, Ambikairajah is of a different opinion.

Raji Ambikairajah, Chief Operating Office of Women in Banking and Finance

“The fact that you can speak tech and are able to understand your industry to someone who is quite technical or someone who knows nothing about the space is a massive card in your back pocket you should take advantage of.”

Ambikairajah also believes the key to networks is problem-solving; if you can problem-solve for someone than you are building the crux of the relationship with that person.

“The best thing anyone can ever do is be curious about the other person and ask probing questions so you can understand the business.” – Caitlin Ruddock, Head of Corporate Partnerships at UTS

“Ultimately this will make you understand where you fit in, which will get you the follow-up meetings you need to secure a partnership or pilot” says Ruddock.

As a final piece of advice, Ruddock urges all women to embrace wearing the sales and networking hat. Having an extensive background in academia and corporates, she has witnessed firsthand women being uncomfortable with networking.

“Many women see sales, business development and networking and building relationships as a dirty word whereas it’s actually a critical skill to make your business successful”.

Check out these inspiring women in action, in SheStarts episode 24: ‘Be in the Moment’.

SheStarts supporters, mentors and advisors are the wealth of the program, and we would like to say thank you for Raji, Meray and Caitlin for taking the time to share their knowledge and wisdom with the SheStarts founders.

To catch up on all the SheStarts episodes and watch next week, stay tuned here!
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