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Solutions For Small Business Partnership No-No’s

June 9, 2011

As an advocate in partnership marketing it’s just as important for me to point out that not all partnership and collaborative offers are good ones – and that sometimes it is best solution is to walk away from the deal.  As an old boss once wisely told me ‘do not fall in love with the deal’ – but keep a clear idea of what you really want from the relationship. In an interesting piece published in Business Insider in 2010, Venture Capitalist Don Rainey pointed out that small businesses need to just say no to certain partnership deals. I agree with Rainey up to a point but I think some of the ‘no-no’s’  he points out can be overcome with a sharper partnership approach too.

Rainey’s parterships that small business should avoid – and some possible solutions.

1 – Don’t Form Partnerships With Other Small Businesses:

It is better of course to seek out a big player who can add more to you. This can be tricky, as in a large organisation relationship managers often seek a parity of size and culture. Solution: if you are small business, in most cases, seek out a bigger player who can give you substantial benefits in resource or capability but you need to make sure you have something compelling to offer in return to.

2 – Don’t Start By Going First:

The danger of doing so is that the other party may have a very poor experience or feel they have received everything they need – so don’t need to continue the relationship. This is also a case of Trust. Solution: Don’t rush in and give away the crown jewels. Focus on a simple joint plan that starts with ‘handshakes’ and ‘first dates’ to test the relationship: – low-cost, low resource and quick activities.

3 – Don’t Just Do Press Releases:

It can often be tempting to announce the partnership and give each other love notes, only for nothing to happen.  Solution: Keep the collaboration under wraps until you’ve built and launched an actual initiative – then publicise it.

4- Beware Of The bureaucrats:

This is true! Organisations that are stuck in traditional systems, processes and decision trees will not make good partners. This is not just an issue for small businesses either. Solution: ensure there is the right cultural ‘Fit’ that can take the collaboration forward (see the Benchstone Gears Model ). Not every business will be as nimble as a small start up – and sometimes large organisations can be tricky, but that does not mean they are a lost cause. If the opportunity is worth it – check that there are senior leaders championing the initiative, people who have the clout to sponsor and bypass the bureaucratic hurdles. If they’re not willing to commit to such a sponsor, then you may need to get back to prospecting and pioneering…

5 – Beware Companies That Have Negative History:

Some businesses have a reputation of taking ideas, being litigious or being aggressive with smaller players. Solution: One of the simplest problems to avoid. Deliberately and purposefully hunt and pioneer those partners who have a good reputation, that have lots of collaborations and have strong relationship building skills. The golden rule is simple; if the prospect does not have strong existing marketing collaborations, then that is a pretty telling fact. Stay away and get back to searching for a better prospect who does.

6 – Don’t Do Deals With People You Cannot Trust:

The people and cultural fit is built around trust. Without trust, there can be no collaboration and in fact, in economic terms, without trust there would never be any innovation, trading or commerce at all (see my article on Trust here ). There is a reason why business was often based on the principle ‘my word is my bond’ Solution: Trust is something that is won not given away lightly – and it is a process that can be managed. Once again, start the relationship with what my old law professor called ‘little steps’. Don’t rush in and expect dramatic results but start with simple, low risk, low-cost and quick activities that allow you more time to test the ability of the other party to deliver.

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