Have you ever heard the quote, “The only way to have a friend is to be one?” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words ring just as true in the business community as they do the schoolyard. You have to give as much as you get from relationships for them to be truly worthwhile. While that’s no secret, many high-ranking and skilled business professionals have short memories when it comes to that principle.
When two parties carry on a conversation, their discussion is usually split fairly evenly unless one has a real issue that the other is trying to solve. Whether talking about family, sports or the latest stock market trends, if the dialogue becomes decidedly one-sided the other party could feel short-changed, dissatisfied or even annoyed. That is basically an unwritten rule of fairness that our society has come to accept over the years. The best friends aren’t those who talk the most and get their way whenever possible. They’re the individuals who balance everything they get from a relationship by delivering more care and compassion whenever possible.
Most everyone should have a firm grasp of those principles by the time they reach adulthood, yet many seem to forget when attempting to forge strong business alliances. Over the years, I’ve run into a number of channel executives, including CEOs of rather large organizations, who took the opposite approach when forging relationships. Rather than create a mutually beneficial alliance, several expressed a willingness to squeeze more from their partners than they themselves were willing to give.
Some executives believe that’s the only way to win in business—pressuring prospective partners to make concessions above and beyond what they would be willing to give themselves. Whether asking for larger than average discounts or demanding investments that only benefit the other party, if it doesn’t create a “win-win” for the relationship, it might not be fair. Of course, there are always exceptions since every business alliance opportunity has its own nuances. One of the prospective partner organizations may have neglected its infrastructure or not be following the latest security protocols, which could require corrective actions or additional financial investments. It’s entirely appropriate for the other party to ask for those upgrades and some may even offer assistance.
While relationship building isn’t rocket science, there is a formula you can use to develop stronger ties with current and prospective business partners. The key element in that equation is conviction. In other words, are you willing to do whatever it takes to build equally beneficial alliances? Regardless of the other parties’ capabilities, are you focusing the proper attention on:
1. Developing clear reasons and goals for partnering: Every business agreement must include a statement of intentions between the parties. The objectives should be concisely written and easy for everyone to understand, with an accurate overview of the opportunities available to the participating organizations. If there isn’t an equal value exchange in the relationship, the odds of its success may diminish significantly.
2. Getting buy-in from the top down: Few business alliances will ever succeed without sponsorship and support from the leadership teams. They typically drive financial and strategic planning, and can help resolve relationship issues when they occur.
3. Clearly defining roles: Who bears which burdens? Individual responsibilities must be assigned and openly communicated to everyone involved in the alliance.
4. Establishing clear lines of communication: The easiest ways for alliances to fail is through misunderstandings and a lack of open dialogue between partners. Those who manage the relationship have to monitor discussions, ensuring that their teams are collaborating, not just checking in. For example, what are they doing to grow sales and improve customer relations? Speaking with great regularity is key, but the context has to be meaningful and helpful to all the organizations involved (including their mutual clients).
5. Adapting for corporate/cultural differences: No two business or individuals are the same. This becomes readily apparent when dealing with business professionals in other countries who often have different core beliefs.
6. Developing a potential exit plan: Are there certain activities that would make either party want out of the relationship? Will the alliance terminate when its objectives have been met? Not every agreement has to have an end, but it’s always a good idea for both parties to consider potential conflicts, time periods and goals that might signal the end of the relationship.
7. Conducting periodic evaluations: This final point is extremely important. Few business relationships will succeed over the long-term without regularly scheduled assessments. Each party should consistently conduct cost-benefit analyses of their key alliances and work collaboratively to improve their program results over time. That can be difficult to do on the fly, so evaluation parameters and assessment measures should be established early in the relationship (whenever possible).
It takes hard work and solid collaboration skills to build the trust required to forge strong business alliances. You can attempt to take shortcuts or pursue fast-track options, but the best success comes from arming the right people with an effective strategy and some leeway to get the job done. Productive business relationships are usually well worth the effort.
Brian Sherman is the Principal Consultant at Tech Success Communications, a firm specializing in IT channel marketing and business development.