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Partner Doesn’t Have to Be a Four-Letter Word

Originally published August 4, 2004

There are fads in business just as there are fads in clothing, toys, and entertainment.  In business, fads lead to the overuse of once powerful words, phrases, and ideas until they are trivial affectations and abhorred by all.  “Paradigm shift” and “synergy” are just two recent examples of this phenomenon.  So is “partner.”

Over the past few years, business executives have diluted and twisted the idea of ‘partner’ until we’re bored and tired of hearing about it.  The word “partner” has come to mean any business that is remotely affiliated with your company, even if only by a link on the website or a mention in a press release. As strange as it seems, I’ve even heard of competitors turning out to be ‘partners’ for the purposes of one desperate sales opportunity.  

Businesses say they want to “partner” with their constituents: clients, partners, and employees.  The problem is that nobody is really creating a partner relationship.  They are merely giving lip service to the notion of focusing on the key relationships that insure the growth and success of your business.  My concern is that many businesses are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater;” missing an opportunity to reap the rewards of truly partnering, because the concept has developed a bad connotation through overuse and abuse.

What if you truly did partner with your constituents?  How would you really do it every day?  What does partnering really mean?  These are all good questions.  By going back to the basics, we may just be able to answer them.

From the Oxford Dictionary, the word partner is defined as: a player on the same side in a game (and certainly, business is a game!).  There is also a more business-oriented definition: a person who shares or takes part with another, especially in a business firm with shared risks and profits.

So the idea is simple.  Partners are the people or businesses who want you to win, and will share the risk with you so that all parties benefit.  These could be service providers, employees, vendors, or customers.  By far, the most important of these groups is your customers.

How do you get your customers on your side?  How do you get them to want you to win?  How do you share the risk for mutual reward?  Let us present three ideas.

It may sound overly simplified, but the first and most important step is to include your customers in almost everything you do.  Make them a real participant in your business by changing your mindset to think of customers as ‘us’ rather than as ‘them’.  Include them in your discussions and planning for corporate strategy, new offerings, product line extensions, and customer services….whatever critical decisions you are making to grow your business.   It is important to remember to seek out their ideas; and not just ask them to confirm what you think. 

Second, create a meaningful dialogue around your customers’ issues.  This requires ongoing, two-way communication.  Ask your customers about their problems and listen carefully to their answers.   Respond to their concerns as quickly as is practical and with extraordinary solutions. Go the extra mile.

Third, communicate with your customers early and often, not just intermittently or when there’s trouble on the horizon.  Put in place a continuous, closed-loop communication process.  This could be accomplished via customer advisory boards, in-depth one-on-one interviews, online forums, account planning sessions, newsletters, or a combination of communications methods.  The key is to plan the process carefully, execute it rigorously and analyze the results objectively.  You’ll discover key insights to enhance your strategy and govern your day-to-day behavior.

Now, ask yourself, “Does my company do any of these things?  Do we do them well or half-heartedly?  Are we serious about creating an ongoing dialogue with our customers are who most important to our success?”  Be honest with yourself.  If the answer is no - or even a non-convincing yes - now is the time to get on the right path.  Your future success depends on it!

We’d like to hear from you!  If you are a technology buyer who has an opinion about how technology vendors can better service your needs, let us know!  Send us your ideas, anecdotes, questions, and complaints.

If you are a technology vendor who has implemented uniquely effective methods for bridging the customer satisfaction gap, we’d like to hear about those too.  What are they?  Why do they work so well?  What challenges did you face while implementing them?

  • Bob Butchko

    Bob is a veteran technology entrepreneur with more than 20 years experience managing technology companies at all phases of their development, typically at the level of president or CEO. Bob has both extensive Silicon Valley experience and considerable government sector knowledge and marketing expertise. He has founded, turned-around and taken companies public in a variety of disciplines, including hardware, software and the Internet. Bob's expertise carries a particular emphasis on turnaround and transition scenarios, and positioning companies to tap emerging markets. Bob can be reached at C-Level Leadership LLC. 703-245-1270 or bbutchko@clevelleader.com

  • Susan Kearney

    Susan is an entrepreneurial Senior Executive with a proven track record of success in marketing and selling high tech solutions for companies ranging from large, publicly held corporations to entrepreneurial startups. Her career includes leadership positions in corporate and field marketing, sales and business development, operations, and consulting. Working for companies like Comshare, IRI, Oracle, and Paragren Technologies, her focus has been on helping businesses streamline and automate sales, marketing, financial, and other operational functions. Susan can be reached at C-Level Leadership LLC. 703-245-1270 or skearney@clevelleader.com.

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