Partnerships can be very useful to a startup. With the right company, you can expand your sales pipeline, gain access to otherwise cost-prohibitive infrastructure and generally minimize your risk in pursuing growth. However, the reality is that most business partnerships fail for one reason or another. For those interested in beating the odds with a successful partnership, I offer below a few best practices that should help when teaming up with another company.
1. Invest time in researching the right partner.
The best way to find the right partner is through research. Once you have a sense of what external assets would be most useful to your business, you can begin building your list of prospects with whom to partner. But your research should not begin and end with what your business needs. Rather, as part of your research, you should spend just as much time exploring which of those prospects could benefit from a partnership with your business. For a successful partnership to work both parties must find value. So be sure not to neglect this crucial latter element of your partnership research efforts.
2. Designate internal champions.
Having the right corporate partner is critical, but it is not enough. No corporate partnership can work unless each partner has its own internal champion dedicated to making the relationship thrive. The right champions should have knowledge of the reasons behind the partnership and the desired outcomes, access to the stakeholders and resources necessary to support collaboration, full commitment to the success of the effort and accountability for results. With the right champion in place you send a clear message to your new outside partner and your team that you take the relationship seriously. This will vastly improve the odds that your partnership will work as hoped.
3. Develop and stick to a structured plan.
Once you have the right partner and the right internal champion, your partnership is primed for success. However, there is one last vital requirement to keep in mind. In short, you need a structured execution plan. Before you begin cross-selling products or seconding staff, you should take the time to work through a detailed roadmap for the partnership. As a starting point, you should clearly identify the short- and long-term objectives of both parties, establishing a clear series of individual and collective milestones as well a framework for measuring the success of the efforts. Once that is done, you should document specifically who is responsible for contributing what resources and when and who is accountable for those commitments. Finally, you must have a regular meeting schedule for the internal champions or a broader group to discuss the progress of the partnership. These meetings should have clear agendas that are circulated ahead of time, and they should address the agreed-upon milestones as well as who has or has not fulfilled their responsibilities. Without a structured communication plan and routine assessment of the efforts of both parties, your partnership may be painfully short-lived.
There are many variables in business that determine success and finding the right external partner cannot guarantee that your startup will experience accelerated growth or even float. However, with a partner that derives as much value as it provides, a capable and committed champion on each side and a detailed plan, you can certainly increase the odds that your new partnership has a positive impact on your business.