We’ve all been there: you had a great call with a partner, you follow-up, and… crickets. A week goes by. More crickets. Uh, was there a miscommunication somewhere along the line?
I’ve been working with external and internal partners for over ten years in a variety of business development, partnerships, and product management roles across startups, small businesses, and large enterprises.
From direct product integrations to service and marketing partnerships, I won’t claim to have seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. And fortunately, I’ve even learned a few things along the way—like how to be a squeaky wheel when you really need a response from a partner. Before we get to common scenarios below, a few general words of advice when it comes to partner communication:
- Shorter is better. Get to the point. If your emails read like novels, this decreases the odds of a partner reading them and increases the odds of your recipient missing important details.
- Not everything is urgent. Similarly, if you start every other email with “URGENT” or “TIME SENSITIVE”, nothing becomes “urgent” or “time sensitive.” Be thoughtful, have perspective, and plan ahead.
- Be proactive. Consider throwing out a date and time rather than asking your contact for a good time to connect. If it makes sense, proactively share screenshots, data, demo account info, or anything that can help accelerate the partnership and strengthen the relationship.
- Be as specific as possible. Who is accountable for what, when, and how? Spelling these things out early and often only adds value and clarity.
And now, what follows is how I’ve found success working through situations we’ve all encountered by recapturing a partner’s attention when the going gets tough:
Situation: When you have a good relationship and you’re suddenly ghosted
Objective: Get your initiative back on your partner’s front-burner.
Remember: Not every silence signals bad intentions—emails go to spam, people take vacations, switch teams, etc. Be patient within reason, and remain specific with your goals and timelines.
Hi [Contact Name] —
Following up again after our meeting on (date). Is (specific date and time) next week a good time to regroup on (specific thing that was discussed)? In the meantime, I wanted to share a few data points that might be useful as you socialize the idea internally. Were you able to learn more about (action item)? Lmk if there are other helpful details I can share before we chat next.
Why this works: This email doesn’t attempt to assign blame, express disappointment, or convey frustration. Instead, it’s a straightforward get-out-of-jail-free card for you both, a chance to reset at a specific time on a specific thing.
Situation: When you left things on a not-so-great note but still need partner engagement or support
Objective: Get your partner back on board with working together.
Remember: How does this partnership benefit both parties? If you dropped the ball, apologize. Avoid blame and focus on how you can jointly achieve your objectives and goals. Try this trick: instead of rinsing and repeating the habits that caused things to go awry, try introducing a new contact to help breathe fresh, positive life into the relationship. Consider restating goals to realign.
Hi [Contact Name] —
I’m hoping to reconnect to discuss [XYZ]. [Name], our Engineering Lead (cc’d), offered to jump on a call this Friday to help smooth out some of the wrinkles we ran into during our previous attempt at [thing you were trying to do]. She’s happy to work with the appropriate person on your team to better [understand, document, and prioritize the remaining integration action items]. Who’s the best person for her to team up with? We’re confident this could drive meaningful impact for [ABC].
Why this works: Bad relationships, in any context, are the pits. Instead of playing blame ping-pong, introducing a new contact can alleviate pressure and force the group to recognize what’s important. Different individuals can often help unearth valuable insights and understandings. I’ve used this tactic successfully when I seem to be running in circles with a partner or running up against a wall with a request.
Situation: When you’ve followed up multiple times and it’s still crickets
Objective: You need to get back on your partner’s radar ASAP.
Remember: Try sending an invite directly to your contact’s calendar (be careful about overusing this tactic). If you’re supposed to be working backward from a milestone or deadline with the partner, mention this in your note. If you continue to get no response, consider finding another point of contact at the company via LinkedIn, the company website, etc. on your own.
Hi [Contact Name] —
Checking in again — I popped something on your calendar for later this week, I’m hoping we can connect to talk through (XYZ) since we’d like to allocate resources for this in our sprint starting (date). If that time doesn’t work or you’re no longer the best point of contact for us, please let me know another time or point person. We’re looking forward to getting this off the ground.
Why this works: I’ve used the “pop something on their calendar” trick on three big occasions that stand out in memory as major nail-biters. All three times proved effective: even though the partner had been missing in action over multiple emails, they jumped on a video chat when they saw the calendar alert. Reinforcing why a response is time-sensitive by including a milestone and also offering your contact an easy response option if they’ve moved on to another shiny object can help keep the initiative moving when it otherwise could become easy for them to ignore.
Situation: When you’re proposing something different than what was agreed upon and you’re looking for alignment
Objective: Get buy-in on your new approach.
Remember: How does this change benefit the partnership? If the change largely benefits only you or it requires significantly more work from your partner, can you counterbalance it with something that the partner will be happy with? If it involves changes to an established contract, SLA, etc., be sure to call this out and/or get ahead of things by vetting with your legal team before broaching with the partner.
Hi [Contact Name] —
As we were (building/thinking through XYZ), we realized (ABC). What are your thoughts on (describe desired change and how it impacts customers and both parties’ business/customer interests). We ran past Legal and they are comfortable with the change. Any risks or potential issues from your end? Let me know if you want to connect sooner than our scheduled check-in next week and I’ll make the time.
Why this works: Instead of just springing a new thing on your partner, your email demonstrates you thought through the context, were proactive in assessing risk, and value partner input and collaboration. You show you’re prioritizing the relationship and are mindful of how this change impacts stakeholders.
Situation: When something bad happens to their company (ie layoffs, a scandal, etc.)
Objective: Understand if/how this impacts your partnership while extending empathy and keeping the partner excited/interested in the relationship
Remember: How would you feel if you were in your partner’s shoes? This may be an extremely tough and stressful time for your contact—responses may be delayed or they may not be in a position to support the partnership at all anymore. If your partner has not proactively reached out to you to discuss the bad news (ie, you learned about the news on an industry blog, Twitter, etc.), give things a few days to settle if timelines allow.
Hi [Contact Name] —
I wanted to reach out after hearing about (news). Layoffs are awful, I’m sorry your team has to endure this right now. Let me know if there’s anything we can do to make things easier right now and if you anticipate any changes to (thing that you’re working on) work or timelines. We’re still on track on our end to get you (thing) by (date) and know our customers are going to love this (integration/new feature/initiative/campaign/etc).
Why this works: Reaching out in the aftermath of bad news can be daunting or awkward. If you’re able to extend an offer to provide additional partner support, that helps demonstrate you value the relationship and care. It’s important to know if/how the news impacts your partnership. The phrasing above explicitly asks for impacts on the partnership and keeps the focus on your objectives ahead.
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