Making a Partnership Work

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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Businesses can’t grow without strategic partnerships.  When thoughtfully selected, the right partner can enhance a company’s client base, capabilities, market presence, and overall brand. When selected poorly, the wrong partner can result in wasted time, energy, and resources, with nothing to show for your efforts, and can potentially harm your company or reputation.

To select the right partner, organizations should look at these factors:

  • Alignment between the respective organization’s mission and vision

  • Alignment of target customers/market

  • A clear business case on how the two organizations can work together

  • A cultural fit

  • A history of trust between the leadership teams

One of the strategic partnerships Information Experts has created is with Waterfall Software. Information Experts has developed an online content collaboration and development product that reduces the cost and time of developing web-based training by up to 60 percent. Several government agencies and corporations are using it as they develop web-based training programs that need to be created and implemented efficiently and cost-effectively.

Waterfall has a comprehensive management platform that includes a robust learning management system, but has no mechanism to design and develop training. Our capability is their missing link. In addition, Waterfall is trying to break into the federal market. Information Experts serves about 15 federal agencies, and holds multiple GSA schedules and contracts. The integration of our two firms, on paper, looks ideal.

Our firms are an excellent fit, but not only because of our customer and capabilities alignments. The relationship between the two firms began about two years ago, when I first met Bobby Christian, the CEO of Waterfall. It took us 12-18 months to develop the trust, and create a model to work together. Since getting to know Bobby, I can say without reservation that I trust him with my firm’s capabilities, customers, people, and brand.

This is what it means to have a real partnership. Can you trust your partner to look out for you?

Don’t Believe Everything You See

Not all partnerships that seem healthy turn out to be so good.

One of my coaching clients with Successful Culture is a solopreneur, who often subcontracts to larger companies. As a service provider (rather than a product provider), her reputation and past performances are her most valuable tools to grow her business and secure additional work. Recently she completed a complex project, and did an outstanding job. Her “boss” – the prime contractor – failed to complete an essential task at the end of the project, and created a very bad situation for the end client. Rather than taking ownership for her failure to manage responsibly, she made my client the scapegoat and assigned all negligence to her. My client is essentially banned from the end-client now.

I understand the prime’s intention to protect their reputation and revenue stream. However, they accomplished this at the expense of someone else, and showed a complete lack of integrity. This can have very harmful consequences for my client.  I advised her to document the events, and to send an email stating that she disagrees with the way her prime addressed this situation. Silence would communicate that she supports the claims. She will need this documentation when she is asked to provide references for future work.

Sometimes it’s difficult to spot the red flags of a potential partnership. Like all relationships, everything’s great in the “honeymoon phase.” The differences in work ethic bubble up to the surface when problems materialize.

How can you protect against partnerships that may go south?

Bobby was my guest on my November segment of Washington Business Report. We shared the process and strategies we followed to create a winning partnership. Please view the segment here to learn how you can do the same. Our segment starts at 13:46:

In addition, I am sharing some additional sources of information on building great partnerships:

What are some of your experiences with partnerships? Which ones have led to business, and which have led to problems? What are your greatest lessons learned? Let us know!

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