The term “partner” has evolved over the years, from the early cowboys’, “reach for the sky, partner,” to today’s “choose a business partner as carefully as you would choose a spouse.” In today’s hectic business economy, developing trust between organizations has become critical than ever. By adopting a trusted partnership model across your enterprise, the sky’s the limit for success. These precious partnerships are developed between customers, third parties and even within our own companies. From establishing trust early in the relationship, all involved can openly share knowledge to achieve a synergy where everybody wins. Here are some recommendations for building trusted, successful partnerships.
How to build trusted partnerships
Avoid the Noise. It’s becoming difficult to filter through the onslaught of noise coming from all directions and across numerous channels (email, social, phone calls, pop-ups, notifications, direct mail, etc.). All of which have carefully crafted messages designed to entice recipients to drop everything and learn how all their troubles can be magically solved. However most stakeholders will avoid responding to the unknown, preferring to seek the advice from a trusted advisor – someone whom they have worked with before and understands their business climate. Since these business problems are often complex, careful selection of strategic partners is imperative for all major projects.
From author Jordan Lewis’ Trusted Partners: How Companies Build Mutual Trust and Win Together, “Trust is the glue that holds organizations together. More powerful than contracts or authority, trust enables partner companies – or groups within a company – to achieve results that exceed the sum of the parts. Without trust, alliances fail.”
Quid Pro Quo. Long-term business partners have a vested interest in helping their clients solve business challenges, even when their own products or services aren’t being considered. However, becoming that trusted advisor whom clients can always call on is often of more value and benefit for the trusted advisor. For when their products and services are needed, busy clients will have confidence their best interests are being addressed. The foundation of your organization’s success revolves around servicing the client. Strategic alliances enable a business to gain competitive advantage through access to a partner’s resources, including markets, technologies, capital and people.
No “I” in “Team.” In addition to establishing long-term partnerships with clients, trusted advisors must also establish strategic partnerships with companies that complement their services. This may be a company that has offered competitive products/services in the past, but in today’s economy, the smart company knows how to manage “coopetition,” positioning it as a value to their clients. Teaming delivers an immediate expertise as well as the experienced resources necessary to address the clients business needs with a single source, end-to-end solution. High-growth companies depend on creating strategic alliances to save them time and increase productivity. Replacing the need to research and onboard new vendors organically allows businesses to focus on their core competencies.
Benefits. Potential benefits and impact to your business are abundant and include:
- Access to knowledge: Mitigating risk and reducing potential mistakes
- Access to people: Drawing on a wider pool of technical expertise, experience, and skills
- Effectiveness: Creating more appropriate products and services
- Efficiency: Reducing costs and delivery systems while avoiding duplication
- Innovation: Developing new ways of addressing complex challenges
- Reputation and credibility: Achieving immediate organizational reputation and greater credibility
Risks. Partnering is not a low-cost or risk-free option. Potential partners need to consider the opportunity costs and establish KPIs to measure if the targeted outcomes are really worth the investment. All too often, I have invested time into developing a partnership because it just “felt right,” although the numbers never added up. To minimize risks, I recommend keeping a close eye on the following:
- Conflicts of interest – is it good business for all parties involved?
- Abusing resources – are you continuously overcommitting the time and energy of your key staff without the same commitment from your partner?
- Who owns the client – when the partnership dissolves, who maintains the client relationship?
- Loss of autonomy from the shared decision-making process.
Where will you start when building more effective strategic partnerships? Here are some ideas from Paul Tarlemezian, founder and CEO of iFive Alliances, and one of my favorite alliance mentors.
- Focus on one-way streets: Both partners need to have a mutual benefit, but that doesn’t require both partners will do the heavy lifting.
- Establish and early focus on revenue goals and accountability: the primary reason for a partnership is profit for both partners. Make sure that you are on the same page as far as the economics and timeframe
- Deal with the difficult issues up front (e.g account ownership when the alliance ends): This results in either “killing the alliance” or strengthening it. If it dies early it was probably going to die later and at least you save the time, money and energy.