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The Mistake, the Vendor and the Strategic Partner

How to get the most value from working with a strategic partner

strat_partnersReading from some posts written in 2007, I found the following quote that I truly impacted my thinking around small businesses: “None of us is as smart as all of us” is a comment quipped by Collin Powell, referring to the fact that if we all put our heads together and offer what we do best, we can get a lot further than we could ever do individually. It means that while I might be a good chef or a good strategist or a good operator, I am probably not as good as others in other areas of the business.

What it is not!

Have you ever received the calls and emails wherein someone tells you that you can be certified on their product or service and you can represent their company, etc., in a line of business that you aren’t in? Supposedly, you will send them leads…they will send you leads…and everyone will be perfect. This is called a “job,” where you are basically marketing and selling someone else’s product or service. If you look at it in terms of opportunity cost, typically the time spent promoting the other product might be time you could have spent promoting your own and making more money or being more successful or establishing a very clear brand.

My Expensive Mistake

As a younger business owner, my ego required that I be all things for all people – product development and delivery, sales, marketing, finance, management, HR…etc. What happened, as a result, is that nothing was done as well as it could have been, but the things that I wasn’t good at took entirely too long and weren’t done well at all. Despite my imperfections, the needs of the business continued, and my short-sightedness resulted in a snow-ball effect, so that when I was ready to address the issue, it cost me a lot more to get the problem fixed than it would have to hire or align with someone in the beginning to get the work done!!

The Vendor vs. the Strategic Partner

Another mistake that I made as a younger man and have seen many business owners do over the years, is to mistake the difference between a vendor and ad strategic partner. The vendor would be no different than the ice cream man, who drives his truck conveniently all over town in order to sell his or her goods to (mostly) children in the neighborhood. His goal was to make money. He wasn’t thinking about providing refreshments on a hot day, or creating a sense of excitement when children hear the familiar jingle (Remember Mr. Softee?) although he certainly accomplished his purpose! His thinking was that if you weren’t around, or you didn’t have any money, he would just go on about his way.

On the other hand, your strategic partner sees the mutual benefit of your existence, beyond the immediate gratification of the exchange of time and money. Obviously, the equitable exchange does make the partnership work as both parties strive for mutual success. My accountant, for example, would be a person who is personally interested in my success. Where we might say, “he goes above and beyond to ensure my success,” the truth is that he is not just trying to keep a customer, but planning on going the distance with me to help me build my company.

The Benefits

When the bookkeeper acts like a vendor, the relationship is strictly transactional, so he or she simply reconciles the accounts, balances the books and goes on about their way without regard to help determine what the numbers mean. When the bookkeeper acts like a strategic partner, they are looking at the numbers, reminding me of due dates, anticipating and addressing any potential issues and looking for ways to save money and do things better. They are woven into the fabric of my company, so that  when I need to make a decision, I have someone who truly knows my business to advise me from a perspective that is different then my own. This would be a synergistic relationship, wherein each of us contributes our thinking to make something “better” than what each of us could have done on our own.

The Danger

One of the areas where this type of relationship fails is when we, as business owners, assert so much control over our “strategic partners” that

a) they are not able to perform at the level that they would have and

b) depending on the individual, the relationship could become caustic.

This is where the “Yes Man” originates, whether it is one who works directly for the company as an employee, or it is the vendor who would like to be the strategic partner. As an owner, you will not have the ability to benefit from the independent thinking that this person or people might bring you. What you end up with is forced validation of your own thinking. Sadly, this could lead to poor decision-making, with the would-be strategic partner having to take the fall for one reason or another.

Having the right strategic partners going along with you as you grow your business can make the difference between success and failure. Seeking out the proper type of relationship and providing them with the leeway they need in order to do their jobs will likely give you and your company more than what you are paying for. Allowing you and your team the benefit of shared thinking will provide you, as the leader with much broader perspectives than you could garner on your own. It is a key to building an extraordinary business.

Rick Meekins is the Managing Consultant at Aepiphanni, the trusted advisor for business leaders who are seeking forward-thinking solutions to help them plan for and navigate through the challenges of business growth. Our entrepreneurial multidisciplinary team works with clients to develop differentiating solutions and provide direction focused on lasting, strategic results.  We exist to help our clients CREATE | DESIGN | BUILD extraordinary businesses.

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