TEN TOP TIPS : Partnering – How to Make the ‘Marriage’ Work

Honesty, equality, recognising you have lot to offer one another, discussing problems and celebrating success – all are vital elements of healthy relationship. They are also the essential principles of partnering in business, which, in many ways can be compared to marriage.
Partnering is low-cost and high-return strategy but, like any good partnership, you need to take time to get to know one another and be prepared to work at the relationship.

• Find partner who is good fit. Partnering means you no longer have to be all things to all people. Choose partner who can do the things, or offer product, you can’t and who will provide another part of the equation. For instance, we recently secured partner status with Vodafone NZ for our Application Messaging Service (AMS) web-to-mobile solution. We are micro mobile software company with product which can benefit companies globally but without the resources to penetrate the international market. Partnering allows us to ‘borrow’ the brand recognition and business contacts of huge operation. Vodafone in turn benefits from having solution that businesses are asking for.

• Allow for sensible length of courtship. You are going to be working closely together, potentially for very long time, so take time to get to know prospective partner and build the relationship over time. We have often taken eight months or more. Find out who owns the company, exactly what it does, what it can offer and what they want from you. You need to ensure there is fair balance in terms of give and take.

• Your partner needs to believe in your product and vice versa. There is no point in entering partnership unless you are both enthusiastic about what the other is bringing to the relationship. Opposites can attract, but there has to be mutual respect and appreciation.

• Beware those who try to sweep you off your feet with lavish promises. Enthusiasm is vital – but it needs to be tempered with reality. Rushing things doesn’t work in partnering. Be wary of people who make lavish promises. Detail is important. I would walk away from those who want to jump in at the end of the game. Remember – steady courtship, not hasty elopement.

• Document everything. It is very important for both sides in partnering to have processes. Write up summaries after meetings and ask your partner/prospective partner to acknowledge that this is what you have discussed. If they don’t have processes in place this may create difficulties when you are trying to do business together.

• Make sure prospective partner is an ethical fit. partner who is prepared to engage in practices which you consider unethical may damage your brand – for instance disclosing information they should not or indulging in business practices you would not approve of. From the beginning you need to establish understanding regarding codes of behaviour and approach to customer service.

• Be assertive – even if your partner is much bigger than you. Stand up to your partner when you need to. If you are concerned about something they are doing then tell them openly and honestly. If they have criticism then acknowledge and discuss it but don’t be cowed or grovel. If you think your partner is putting undue pressure on you – then let them know.

• Make it clear your companies are separate entities. You can ask your partners for feedback and suggestions for making things work better. However, if you feel partner is overstepping the mark in telling you the way you should be doing things then make it clear that it’s you who makes the decisions about your business.

• If you are start-up business then be wary of partnering with other start-ups. Usually there is no point, although there may be exceptions. If you have product and you want to get it to market then you need partner with major client base.

• Acknowledge successes and nurture your relationship. Back to the marriage analogy – you have to work at partnership. Sometimes you can forget to acknowledge joint successes in the way you would with your own staff and colleagues. So copy your partners into positive emails and make time to get together on occasions even once the partnering is well established – perhaps not for candlelit dinner, but certainly to make sure you keep the relationship fresh and exciting.

Ruth Bruce is director of sales and marketing for Kinross Group.

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