Armour’s Ten Rules Of Partnership Management

1 – First; Know Thyself. ( Or, Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want?)
2 – Know Who You Want:
3 – Operate On First Date Principles:
4 – Seek First To Understand – Then Seek To Be Understood:
5 – Narrow The Focus (Seek Clarity)
6 – It It Isn’t Written Down – It Does Not Mean Anything
7 – Momentum Is King
8 – You Cannot Manage What You Cannot Measure
9 – Build Peer To Peer Relationships
10 – Copy And Paste

At the temple of Adephi, the simple wise words written upon the wall are ‘Know Thyself’. It is the hardest thing to do. Before embarking on any activity and especially involving a third party – it is vital to Know Thyself (from a business perspective) and appreciate how the idea or programe fits within the bigger plan. And as the Spice Girls so wisely put it; ‘tell me what you really, what you really, really want’. Is it all about cash? Or is it about product development? Your profile or exposure? What is the cost of failure? What happens if you do not secure the partnership? Can you afford to walk away? In negotiation terms – what is your ‘BATNA’ (the Best Alternative To Negotiating Agreement).

Marry in haste, repent at leisure as my mother would tell me. Or, as the Duke of Wellington put it; ‘time often spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted’. With modern communications and trade media it is now easier than ever to find out more about a prospective partner way before you even pick up the phone. You may even change your mind and start the prospecting again. Apart form being a practical marketing step, it is also pure good manners to find out about a business before you drink their coffee.

A relationship is a linear and iterative process, that moves by causation from step to step, with each stage requiring completion before further movement can be made. This is so simple and evidently true in life, love, and business – yet it is often so little understood and instead people trample into sensitive new commercial relationships like a herd of greedy elephants. The easiest way to take a girl out on a fabulous and ambitious second date ( I have two tickets to a Take That concert t the O2… and I can take you for dinner at Gordon Ramsey’s beforehand) – is to start of with a simple and successful date first ( do you fancy pizza and an afteroon movie).  Ries and Trout put it well in their classic 22 laws of marketing; you willachive more by firstly aiming for simple objectives. Aim for simple first dates, and you will seldom be disapointed. A simple first date allows you to test the other party. Did they turn up? Could they pay for things? Was the first experience poor, OK or brilliant? How likely is it that you could work together on something more elaborate?

What is the organisational cultural fit like? Do the respective people have chemistry? Could you imagine working with them? What are they seeking from you. Money? Customers? Your Brand? Distribution?

Good things really do happen when you narrow the focus. Get the kitchen cleaned tonight. Book the holiday tomorrow. Decide on what you want from a business partnership. The strongest question you can ask any marketer, is ‘what does it look like?’  The better the thinking the greater the clarity of business mechanics. I am amazed at how bright, articulate managers are unable to explain in simple terms what they expect from a third party relationship. Often, it is a jumble of various aims, from money to traffic, from brand fit to customer retention. In addition, if you want to take the lead in a relationship – then take the initiative and present an idea. People who still adopt the ‘let them make the first move’ school of negotiation are as out dated as Don Johnson’s pastel trousers. Be clear, be assertive, refect your understanding of their business and show them how you want to work with them.

Human beings are superb are only hearing what they want to hear and the only way to ensure there is ‘consensus ad idem’ ( a meeting of the minds) – is to start documenting things early and avoid misunderstandings. In the majority of cases, additional stakeholders and people not in meetings will need to understand the relationship so you need your documentation to work hard for you. There is nothing worse then that dreaded moment when both parties realise after 4 rounds of undocumented meetings that they are holding two different sticks, let alone the wrong end of the same one.

If you have gone through the above steps and you are clear on the path ahead – then agressive and systematic progress is vital to avoid scope creep, personal lethargy and what I crudely would refer to as marketing constipation. A vital lesson I learnt from Boise (print management) is to have small seed budgets avaiable to quickly remove initial relationship obstacles and irritiations. By showing you can quickly alleviate minor issues (from arranging meeting venues to quickly paying for some concept designs) – you immediately show your honest and enthusiasic corporate intention and personal commitment. Quite simply, positive momentum builds trust and trust builds positive relationships.

Both parties need to agree how they will measure success. Often, each party will have different needs. A simple rule is to only use three core KPI’s and if a report is not missed, then it is not really worth doing. But what else is important to measure success by? What are the ‘soft’ parts of a relationship that are also valuable and make all the difference in terms of long term opportunity? A massive sale, with awful administration, PR, service and costs – is not good business, but may look good to the account manager. Good communication, informal and formal is vital to understand not just the facts and figures, but what is responible for them.

Initiatives are created by individuals but often require teams of people to proactivley deliver. The classic model is for ‘zip’ – or zig zag relationships between organisations to ensure that logistical points, practical elements and day to day progress is managed quickly and does not funnel upwards or downwards creating delays. It is important to make sure this matching up process is done. As the relationship develops, different layers need to be introduced in a ‘presidential’ capacity to ensure cohesion and endorsement. They will not need to be involved but they do need to be informed.

I once asked a former boss and multi-millioniare entrepreneur, what the secret of marketing success was – and what was her biggest learning she had obtained from building two highly profitable businesses. Rather than complex financial metrics or business jargon, she surprised me by responding –  ‘Copy And Paste’. If you have discovered a great recipe for past success, then do not go mad starting completely from scratch next time you have a similar problem or opportunity. Her belief was that most marketers were ‘ego-driven’ – and had an inate desire for showing ‘creativity’, being innovative and challening the new,- rather than in fact, solve the problem based on past knowledge. In terms of business relationships, whilst the tactical implemention and styles may need to shift and change – the general approach and process for any good initiative can be copied and pasted from another.

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

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