The Best Advice on Developing Strategic Partnerships

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The process of searching out the best partners on a country-by-country basis can be daunting, and it takes years to develop global best practices. With domestic partners, the process is much the same. You can never have enough intelligence on your partners or spend enough time with them trying to understand their expectations on deliverables.

Building successful global partnerships starts with developing quite a bit of patience and some essential intelligence gathering skills. It is imperative to engage on different levels with a target strategic and research who they had previously partnered with in the past and note the successes and failures. Identify the previous participants. What were the primary factors the contributed to the gain or loss? What were the best practices can you identify and what could be learned from each engagement? By simply engaging with your strategic and asking direct yet pertinent question. The dumbest question is the one you don’t ask.

Remember that multinationals want to partner with thought leaders who are “in-the-know” and ahead of the curve. Preferably they want to see previous success as a team. If you are a NewCo you are much better off assembling a capable team than attempting to push your offering solo or with a less experienced lineup. There is always a tremendous amount of competition to gain favor with a strategic partner. You might be under the impression that your organization may have the only solution on Earth; however, in most cases, you can guarantee there is a startup in Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv that is just as good or better than your value proposition.

Don’t underestimate your competition and stay relevant. We have seen complacency turn into declination a multitude of times. You might believe your value proposition is the best thing since Google, but you really need to understand how this fits into your target partner’s silo and customize your offering around their business. Be patient building the relationship and ascertain who is on the decision team. Begin to convert internal champions by demonstrating an intelligent narrative that is simple to understand on multiple levels.

If you think you had listen enough to your target partner – go back and listen some more. If the prospect is engaged on multiple levels your team will be able to piece together the mosaic that is being unfurled before your eyes. From the empirical we can say that on average it takes at least 4-5 months to onboard a new partner organization.

Once you have onboarded your partner you must sustain the relationship. There are three primary pillars in sustaining partnerships globally which includes communication, commitment, and execution. Establishing a communication protocol allows each partner to convey key messages, anticipate challenges, understand the other partner’s needs, and foster ideation. Demonstrative commitment to the partnership is key. There has to be follow-through in response to communication. If you go over and beyond the terms, you will garner unexpected dividends and be presented opportunities you never expected. That follow-though needs to continue through to execution. Commitment is not enough if you do not carry it all the way to the finish line. Successful execution is essential to each partner’s reputation, and to building a lasting partnership.

One must anticipate numerous potential pitfalls on the path to success. State by state and country by country; numerous regulatory issues materialize and must be confronted. Always have a plan B and C on standby in case you need to pivot quickly. For example, Chinese law can be enacted without a grandfather clause; case in point one such change in law prevented foreign firms deploying capital directly into local media and telecom companies. In response, many stakeholders had to create sophisticated global holding structures almost overnight. Changes such as these have long term implications and most cannot be anticipated.

The further you go in immersing yourself in each country’s local business environment, the greater likelihood that you will successfully develop world-class companies. Equally important is to develop a network of professional service organizations, government contacts, and investor peers for long-term, mutually-beneficial partnerships.

If you are going global, it is critical for you to travel and take face to face meetings. That’s the only way to build successful relationships. You’ll also discover unique and fascinating idiosyncrasies in your cross-border counterparts that will enhance your own character. I think it was Mark Twain who said: “travel extinguishes all prejudice.” That’s as true today as it was at the end of the 19th century.

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