Potential Partnerships: The How-To

No man is an island. And no business is, either.

Help, assistance, partnerships — they are keys to succeeding at any step of business. As such, they are keys in continued growth. B2B partnerships may come about for a variety of reasons: remaining financially solvent, growth opportunity, finding a new supplier, and more. The inherent risk is always ending up with a less than satisfactory partner.

But how do you make sure you forge a partnership that is more mutualism than parasitism? Whether you are searching for a vendor or supplier, are looking to expand, or simply see a partnership as a great way to reach a goal for your business, there are a few simple ways to help mitigate your risks — and it all starts with planning.

  • Define your goals

In order to make sure your needs are met in a partnership, your goals and needs must first be clearly defined. The folks over at Businessknowhow.com make a great point about understanding what you need when finding a vendor; their point works for partnerships in general. Without a clear vision and definition of success, your partnership will never work.

For example: What must your supplier be able to do for you? What three things are absolute necessities for a new marketing partner? How would you define and measure success with a client service vendor? Understanding these answers can be the difference between success and failure.

  • Potential Partner Research

Once you have your goals established, it’s imperative to understand what potential partners are in the best position to help you reach them. A great resource is colleagues, but an even better resource is, of course, the Internet. Join LinkedIn, and become a member of groups related to your industry to join and create discussions, ask questions on Facebook, and of course: Google. Find organizations in your industry and look for potential fits. Stay basic at this point; there’s more to be done later!

  • Understanding Your Abilities

It’s all well and good to find a partner who can provide you with what you need, but often a business will skip a very simple step in the process: knowing how they need to feed the partnership. This coupling is like a relationship, both sides have input and output. How will your business work to make sure your partner is in the best position possible to help you reach your goals?

In my day job as a Business Analyst, I often help product managers with vendor selection. My primary goal is to often analyze how my company can best work with the vendor to reach our goals. Think Jerry Maguire: Help me, help you.

  • What Can Your Partner Provide?

Think of this step as similar to a vendor selection, even if it’s not. There’s going to be money involved, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting bang for your buck. If you’re selecting a vendor, make sure the solutions they offer will fit your needs. If you’re looking for a supplier, have them show you how they’ll help you succeed. Are their solutions proven? Ask for evidence.

In my other life as a Business Analyst, I remember that during one particular vendor interview we were very pleased with a particular company, but had neglected to inquire about something as basic as product fulfillment time. When I broached the subject, it became clear that while the vendor met the majority of our needs, their capabilities on a very basic point fell short and we needed to move on to another potential partner.

  • Will Your Partner Fit?

If you’re confident that a partner can meet your needs, it’s important to consider how well they’ll fit with you. As I said before this partnership is like a personal relationship — how does their culture fit with yours? How does their outlook fit with yours? Research their company — their website can be a great source of information. What does it say about their corporate culture? Do they have a Facebook page? A Twitter account? How do they interact with their clients, customers and/or consumers?

I’ve always found the National Federation of Independent Businesses to be a great source of information; in talking about tips for finding a supplier for small businesses, they touch on two important topics: question their technology and think local. Their technology can place strict limits on how well they can integrate with you, and their location in relation to you can be a key factor in how effectively you can work and fit together.

  • How Does Your Partner Reflect On You?

Just as the people with whom you associate in your personal life is a reflection upon you, so too is the partnership you choose in your business. Similar to the step above, it’s important to research your partner to understand their reputation. Looking for a social media presence, online reviews, or other press about a partner will help you gain an understanding of how others view them and their work.

As an example, if they have a LinkedIn presence, you can use their profile to see not only the associations and groups of which they are a member, but also any recommendations and comments they have about their company or the services they offer. You can also glean information about the other companies with which they associate. Are they reputable companies? Are they organizations you trust? The people someone hangs out with can tell you an awful lot about their own character. The same goes for a business.

While finding a partner can be a daunting and challenging feat, it’s important to remember a few things: you can do this. Plan well, and be confident in your research and decisions. Once you make a decision, stick with it.

Businesses are built on partnerships. Synergy isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a term for leveraging your assets to build upon previous success. Partnerships exist because while establishing them may be challenging, they work.

What are some tips or pointers you have? Share your success stories and your other comments — let’s continue the discussion below!

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Jason is a 30-something that lives in Denver, CO. He has very red hair, loves the outdoors, and all things homebrew. He has a social media addiction, and can be found at about.me/jason.jewett.

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