Trust But Verify

A Guide to Building Better Business Partnerships

In the course of my career, I have had a lot of success using business partnerships to deliver solutions to customers.  In most cases, our company had most of what the customer needed to solve their problem, but bringing in partners provided them the total solution.  I have seen many business partnerships flourish, but I have also seen companies and individuals struggle with the day-to-day of business partnerships.  Below are three insights to help you and your team build better business partnerships.

  1. Properly set and write down expectations

When building a partnership I believe it is important to let the other party know what is important to you, and make sure you understand what is important to them.  I would prefer to document expectations in an email or memorandum of understanding, but sometimes a formal contract is required.

The partners should talk about swim lanes (roles and responsibilities).  The following is an example of a swim lane.  I will offer web site development and you will offer blog editing services.  The teammates should also discuss if they are going to be exclusive to this customer, in a geographic market, or a period of time.  I try to build long term relationships that offer flexibility. If possible, avoid contractual terms such as don't ever talk to the customer directly or teammate A will always be a sub to teammate B.

2. Give more than you take.

In order to build trust, I believe it is important to start off the relationship by bringing your teammate something of value.  Do this to show the other party that you are on a team and not just looking for a supplier or subcontractor.  In the beginning of a relationship I don't move immediately towards a contract and try to build trust informally.  Many times contracts at the beginning will be redlined, typically resulting in a lose-lose scenario.

When things go sideways, and they will, do what you can to help the other party succeed.  The golden rule applies.  Giving is a long-term investment.

3.  Periodically validate your original expectations.

In business things change, and people get busy.  Most teammates don't intend to "screw" their partners but it happens too often.  Asking good questions will encourage open dialog.

When you are unsure of the relationship or if the communication is not frequent, it pays to check in.  I recommend asking direct questions in a way that does not put the other party on the defense.  Some examples might include:  When we agreed to be teammates, we discussed that we would notify each other of any conflicts of interest.  Are you as committed as when we started the partnership, or has anything changed?

Do you have a comment or best practice you want to share?  Share below or @KurtGreening on Twitter