‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much’ – Helen Keller
In our experience of working with entrepreneurs and SME business owners a regular challenge is helping them identify and manage their external suppliers or business partners. Coming from a mindset and reality of doing everything themselves the notion of needing external expertise or support can be a new concept. However as you grow this expertise can be instrumental to your success.
Having spent most of my career working ‘in’ businesses I learnt very early on that ‘win, win’ partnerships are the only way for long term successful business relationships. So how effective are your external business relationships? Are you meeting your objectives? Might the way you manage such relationships be hampering your success?
Trust is the basis of any successful relationship
Lencioni talks about trust being the basis for building cohesive management teams and the same is true for any successful long term supplier or business partnership. Any business will have the challenge of what to insource or outsource at different stages of their growth journey. Finding the right partner who understands your business and shares your values is as important, if not more so, than whether they have the technical skill.
Getting the right person for the job
Consider the process you go through to recruit a new team member. Then compare that to how you select a new key supplier or business partner. How robust is the process? Do they understand your why? What are their motives and are they aligned with your values? Ideally you want companies that will go the extra mile to gain the necessary insight to give advice or guidance that has relevance. Time invested is likely to impact the outcome.
‘There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over’– Jack Bergman
The terms of engagement
Ensure you know what you want. There are lots of sales people out there and watch out for ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ Are they experts in what you need? Have they experience working with people like you?
Be clear about how the relationship will be managed. How will they react to challenge? They might be technically gifted but with no appreciation of how to manage a successful partnership. How will performance be measured?
Roles and responsibilities
Who is responsible for what? If you are engaging with a new partner be prepared to discuss your ways of working, both process and cultural. Consider the demands on your internal resource. For you to get the best from your partner you need to commit time and resource.
What’s it like doing business with you?
We take the time to get feedback from our customers and from our teams but how good are you as a client? Does it matter? It might well be hampering you achieve your business goals and vision. Take a look in the mirror or ask some of your suppliers what it is like doing business with you – extreme I know!
Ensure there is a ‘respect equilibrium’ – understand their pressures as well as your own.
Are your systems and processes robust enough for easy partner integration? Unfortunately internal challenges, such as ineffective decision making can be magnified when working with external partners.
Have the honest dialogue
Even the best constructed and robustly selected partnership will have its learning. Create the foundations for honest dialogue from the start. It will be critical in the ‘forming’ and ‘storming’ stages. Getting used to a new relationship and different ways of working takes time. Work at it. However if it just isn’t working make the difficult decision and agree to walk away, but do it amicably. Word travels even faster these days!
‘Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success’ Henry Ford