Top 5 Symptoms of an Unhealthy Partnership
For service organizations that can’t be everything to every client, a strategic partnership is the next best thing. Wherever there is a gap in their core area of specialization, SMB vendors join forces with the goal being to present a unified solution to prospective clients. So if a service desk outsourcing organization is not the ideal resource for hardware procurement or a data center doesn’t dispatch break-fix technicians across the globe at a moment’s notice, partnering with those that do is the ideal alternative. But in order to make the partnership work over the long term, the solutions offered must be mutually beneficial and the channels of communication open and free-flowing. Unfortunately, like any business relationship, partnerships are subject to conditions as mercurial as the economic climate, fluctuating market requirements, and the evolving tools and technologies those partners leverage. As a result of these changes and how they impact each organization differently, it is rare that a partnership is in a permanent state of good health. The problem is that service organizations get so caught up in navigating a dynamic business climate, they sometimes forget to read the writing on the wall. For those that think their partnership may be overdue for a checkup, here’s a list of symptoms that may indicate yours may be a little under the weather:
1. You’re still chasing rainbows
It’s year three of the relationship and you have yet to land another big sale together. Still, the new business conversations haven’t stopped. In fact, you’re stuck in a perpetual exercise of four-alarm fire drills, responding to urgent requests for one proposal after another. You draw from internal resources and craft a thorough and detailed solution that works, but offers to get in front of your partner’s prospective client are declined. Eventually, you learn once again that your proposal never made it past your partner’s drawing board. Value partnerships get beyond the hypothetical and minimize the cost of sales wherever possible. To make the partnership work, both parties must focus on legitimate opportunities and formulate a specific, client-facing plan of action.
2. You’re only sharpening one side of the pencil
If the contractual relationship is between your partner and the end client, it’s understandable that you might not be privy to the final pricing or the negotiation dialogue that follows. So both parties may start out with a quote based on reasonable margins for both portions of the service, but when the end client asks for some pencil sharpening on the grand total do both sides reduce their price or are the brunt of those concessions absorbed by one party? By that same token, is your portion of the service passed through at cost or does your partner tack on enough of a markup that it puts the odds of winning the business way out of reach? In a mutually beneficial partnership, all pricing considerations are shared and proportionate to internal costs.
3. Little to no interaction
For the same reason most people would clean up their list of Facebook friends, the lack of interaction is pretty much the definition of a non-relationship. Still, many partnerships persist on paper despite meaningful growth conversations being a thing of the past. Is your partner receptive to opportunities for knowledge share such as sales training on a new product release or a more efficient industry related process? If those offers to visit or webinars are met with crickets, there must not be perceived value in those proactive growth initiatives or your partner’s priorities are no longer compatible. Without a commitment to future activities, how can your partnership even have a future?
4. The mutual respect just isn’t there
Respect may mean different things to different people, but no one can deny that the core principle at work is that everyone involved in the partnership should treat each other as they’d want to be treated. To some extent, that means respect with regard to the use of each other’s time and resources, but even more so in how we communicate. Despite the term “partnership,” there will always remain an element of the vendor-client relationship depending on which way the money is going. The important question to ask yourself is, does that buyer/seller dynamic manifest itself in communication style and tone? In terms of deliverables, are the expectations for urgency, responsiveness, and professional courtesy a two way street or more of a double standard? Is critical feedback constructive and even-tempered or hostile and peppered with the occasional ultimatum?
5. Your solution is not adequately represented
First off, there is absolutely no way one partner can be an expert on the other’s service offering. Even if the sales rep has had prior experience in a similar field, the likelihood that they can address operational minutiae at the same granular level as the staff managing those activities every day is unlikely. Understandably, if the contractual relationship is between your partner and the end client, they should quarterback the dialogue or presentation. But they must be willing to hand off the ball to the subject matter expert, the person who can most adequately demonstrate the value of what’s being proposed. Otherwise, the prospective clients may miss some crucial advantages over competing bids. Good partners don’t horde face time with prospective clients or fly solo as a means of control. They know it’s in their best interest to involve the key players in the sales process whenever it’s appropriate.
Of course, these symptoms may be temporary and take on varying degrees of intensity. And gauging the health of a partnership, as with any relationship, involves a bit of subjective intuition. So it’s important to consider the context and frequency of all of these symptoms over the long term before you ask is the relationship worth salvaging and, if so, what can you and your partner do to make it thrive again? A partnership worth saving is certainly worth the conversation.