Treating the intersection of the strategic partnerships, R&D intensity and servitisation literatures, this study explores empirically whether external collaborative service development and provision and industrial R&D intensity help to unpack the complex relation between product–service innovation (servitisation) and performance. We argue that manufacturing firms implementing services benefit from strategic partnerships with Knowledge-Intensive Business Service (KIBS) firms. KIBS partnering provides opportunities for downsizing, externalising risks and sharing knowledge. Additionally, manufacturers in R&D-intensive industries are more likely to benefit from implementing service provision than firms in other sectors because of industry dynamics and reduced customer uncertainty. The study surveys executives in 370 large manufacturers worldwide. Results reinforce the importance of concentric strategic partnerships to successful product–service innovation in high R&D industries.