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.

What Do I Mean – Partnership?

A business relationship only becomes a partnership when it is truly dynamic  – it is a two way process, is always moving forwards, and has a plan for shared development. Most importantly, it is not driven by only looking in the rear view mirror. Looking back is useful, safe and wise but it cannot help you know where you are going. A partnership is a mutual exchange of ideas, value and thinking. Alternative business models are transactional and static. There is nothing wrong with this – most media buys are classic transactional deals. In addition, the best parterships are joint and equitable investments in time, money, resources and knowledge and often require developing solutions and activities that are outside of Business As Usual. Partnerships are more often than not, Business As Unusual. A joint understanding of what the other party needs and a shared vision of where the relationship is going is the hardest thing to know and appreciate. It needs to mix commercial insight with personal communication and ‘active listening’ – to get under the skin of the other party. As Tom Peters points out, understanding what you get out of a relationship is really pretty easy, anyone can tell you what has happened in the past. The hard part (and it is the job of partnership and business development managers to do this) – is to understand the future. What the other party is getting from the deal, how they value it, where they are heading – and can the two organisations share that journey? If you know the partner is vital to you (expensive or diffitcult to replace etc) – you’d be wise to understand them. To do this requires decent analysis and plenty of empathy. It requires executives to be the eyes and ears inside the partner’s  business – whilst also being the fair advocate for the partner, inside theirs. Only then can the two organisations build a shared vision of where they are going together. Is it a weekend break in Brighton or a major journey across Brazil? As a wise philosopher once said, how can I have a conversation with you, if we cannot even define our terms.

What Do You Mean Partnership?

Like the words ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m a marketing consultant’ – or perhaps even, ‘yes, I’ll be home early’ – the term Partnership is one of the most abused in our language. As somebody who has worked in partnership / collaboration marketing for more than 10 years, I have been approached so many times by agencies, media organisations and colleagues saying ‘we would like to set up a partnership’. The question that always stumps many is, ‘what do you mean by that and what does it look like’. There then follows a lot of waffle, and if it is involved in the internet, a lot of meaningless technical fluffery. What often people mean is something that could be better explained by a better noun. So for example; ‘we would like you to be a sponsor’, or ‘we would like you to advertise with us’ – or ‘we want to manage a new supplier’. My definition of partner has been consistent, and learnt from the relationship expertise of Tony Lendrun. A partership enables a competitive advantage that is difficult, expensive if not impossible to replace. And quite simply, the more unique and powerful the benefit you can gain, then the more justified in treating it as a partership. Unfortunately, we then have the confusion of how does managing a partership, differ from managing a supplier or customer. But that’s another story.

First Dates…

Those of you who know me will know this is a common catch-phrase – that often raises a smile or two. In summary; the initial phases of a business relationship are best compared with a first date. While this may at first glance seem a light hearted ice breaker – this is a serious point. I first learnt it from the likes of top business consultant Dave Ferguson (Performance Toolbox) during extensive negotiation and relationship planning work I undertook in New Zealand in the 1990’s – and it has struck with me ever since. So what does ‘first date’ point  mean?

If any prospective beau wants a first date to be successful, then there are certain things he has to have in place. Some funding and an idea of a place to go are required. This means some preparation and planning. And, it helps if you have someone to invite, and you have bothered to learn a bit about them. To be successful, that first night out needs to be delivered on time and run smoothly, the date needs to be feel rewarded and respected. However – after that first date, you can plan another, and another – until both parties have the trust & respect of each other. 

The key to any relationshp success (and sorry to sound a bit Oprah…) – is focusing upon the understanding of what the others needs are, having good, clear communication and building a shared vision of the future. In key business relationships – long term success (be it procurement, marketing alliances or distribution channels) – is built on the same premise, yet in most cases executives focus too much on their own needs (which is neccessary, but easy to do).

As Tom Peters says, a good business relationship needs to be measured by your understanding of what the partner gets out of it. You can build a great relationship, measure what you get out of it, think how clever you have been to secure all that value. As soon as the partner leaves because they have not achieved what they wanted – you have lost the competitive advantages you have striven to build. And all because – you didn’t consider them.

So, firstly choose the right prospect, then understand their needs (as well as your own) – and aim to communicate effectively; build trust, respect and a shared plan. And it all starts with a good – ‘first date’. So – where’s that little black book of yours?

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