“Partnership”: It’s More Than a Word

Posted by Dayton Keane on December 18th, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Photo: Rob Young

Hundreds of digital media companies are vying to attract marketer dollars. Virtually every one says they want to be a trusted partner to agencies and brands.

It stands to reason. Partnership sounds great to a seller. Being a partner means longer contracts and, with a little luck, higher margins. A partner gets compensated in ways that a transactional seller just plain won’t be.

But partnership is more than a word.

In a business context, a one-way sales relationship doesn’t qualify as a partnership. Partnership is about collaboration - about shared risk and reward. It’s ultimately about nailing your trousers to the mast of a client’s success.

So what does it take for a seller to be a partner? I think it’s seven things:

  1. Caring: Partnership is first and foremost a caring relationship. The vendor needs to attach import to the unique issues of a client company, and then care enough to shape their offering to actually solve problems. You don’t “pound to fit” a partnership.
  2. Homework: Partnership is also about more than just ingesting what the client gives you. You need to add value and thinking in a unique and original way.
  3. Attention: You have to be there after the sale. Partners don’t make themselves scarce after the ink is dry. They involve account managers and experts in the service they provide. And they stay attentive. To what is going on executionally. To what new issues and opportunities arise in their client’s business.
  4. Proactivity: Fast reaction time is a great thing. But it alone doesn’t define a service partnership. You need to bring the client new ideas that can have a meaningful impact on their business challenges.
  5. Honesty: Buyers don’t really expect everything to go perfectly. They know screw ups happen. But if you fess up to mistakes while finding the way to rectify the damage, they know they can trust you.
  6. Goal Direction: A focus on client goals sometimes means that what you do today isn’t lockstep consistent with your own quarterly goals. But it is essential for long-term partnership.
  7. Getting Face to Face: I don’t think you can be a partner to someone you’ve never met. In-person interaction speeds the development of a relationship, and is often the catalyst for deeper information sharing.

You also have to know when to cut bait. Partnership is about give and take. When a client agrees to terms net 30 and ends up 93 days late, they don’t deserve you. They are not good to their word. Similarly, if someone won’t provide you information about what their problems are, then you can’t really partner. That’s OK, you just do the transaction. You just have to get real about the sort of relationship you are going to create.

Finally, when a client’s daily interactions with you and your people are rude and abusive, it’s time to cut them off and find someone who will treat people right.

The world needs more genuine partnering, and less empty talk about partnership. Before you talk partnership, make sure you are prepared to live up to the word.

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