Successful Strategic Partnerships must go beyond the press release

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Any organization can quickly come up with a list of the top 50 partners with which they would love to work… identifying these opportunities really isn’t hard.

The real trick is to identify what you can offer and align these incentives with a company that fills one of your needs. Look for companies that might be able to bring in valuable customers and give you added credibility. The key is finding a partner with a similar vision who wants to find mutual value, “beyond the press release.” Chances are you are going to be working closely with these companies for extended periods of time, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure the spirit, vision, and culture are all aligned.

Why are the strategic objectives so often forgotten in the hurry to get a deal done?

The stakes are always high: capital is always scarce, management always under pressure, and high-quality talent is in short supply. Challenging economic conditions so often compel those involved to ‘close the deal’ as quickly as they can. Whatever people say, the experience of partnerships is nearly always mixed; how often do partnerships take longer to negotiate and become harder to implement, than expected? We all know how people operate when they rush these things – they may look great on paper, but rarely deliver in practice.

Let’s face it; it’s time for a rethink and a fresh perspective on the structuring of strategic partnerships.

So here are ten questions to make your strategic partnership successful:

1. How does the partnership fit into the bigger strategic picture?
The partnership may be significant in itself but should be seen in the context of other partnerships and other strategic activities. Are there under-exploited synergies or conflicting objectives?

2. Is everyone onboard?
Cultural fit is often as important as financial fit and is often overlooked. Be sensitive to cultural differences – whether between organizations, industries or countries. The “softer issues” are often the most difficult to tackle, but the most lucrative when you get them right.

3. Are you afraid to iron out your differences?
Identify the potential clashes between individuals, and any conflicting goals and ideas between you and your partner. Don’t just stay in the comfort zone; you need to deal with conflict upfront and find your common goals and outcomes.

4. How well do you really know your future partner?
Anticipate and evaluate your partner’s value proposition – get inside their head. It will help avoid surprises and enable a solution that works for both parties.

5. How well have you defined and monitored KPIs for the partnership?
It’s important that both parties agree on both “what” to measure but also “how” to measure it. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to call your partnership a success, or identify how to improve it.

6. How much ongoing evaluation and analysis are you doing?
Continuous analysis and assessment or your partnership make you both more confident, agile and sensitive to differences in culture and approach, in addition to avoiding misunderstandings.

7. How positive and constructive are you in your negotiations?
Framing the proposition in a positive, constructive manner makes a huge difference – ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ deals may appeal, but risk alienation and relationship breakdowns.

8. Are you prepared for disagreements?
Establish review and dispute steps in the negotiation and implementation process early on – it avoids the potential for litigation and opens up new possibilities for challenge and improvement.

9. How many unanswered questions remain?
Always raise questions or issues that have come from the analysis and preparation you have conducted – the path untrodden may have been paved with gold, or at least been an easier journey for all parties.

10. How much sponsorship with all stakeholders do you currently have?
Communicating benefits along the way helps to keep up momentum and increase support with the parent companies – it also keeps spirits up when times get tough (which they will, at some point!).

Bottom-line: Creating a strategic partnership is wisdom and art combined. Like all areas of business, perception is still essential. It’s important to choose brands with an excellent reputation, but you also want to work with companies that will make good partners. When assessing a potential partner, look at which brands or individuals they’ve worked with in the past. Reach out to those brands or individuals and ask them how the partnership worked out. And don’t hesitate to reach out to those outside of your industry for a fresh perspective. It is ideal to cooperate with an organization that stays true to your key messages, goals, and demographics. Most of all, enjoy the ride. This “mini-MBA” will enrich your career forever!

Posted in : Design Thinking

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