Beware of Partnering Promises: Validate Why and Who To Engage With Before Forming Business Alliances

Before you engage in any partnering effort, be sure your expectations are valid. Do
you have good reasons to partner with other businesses? You should. Do you know
enough about your partner? You should. Beware of the wrong deal or the wrong
partner. But don’t let that scare you off. Partnering may be your company’s most
lucrative path for revenue growth and innovation development.

Don’t be swayed by promises your partner may not be able to keep. Don’t be
sucked into deals offering revenue you may never see. First, you must define your
own partnering goals. Second, find a compatible ally. Before you start negotiating
with anyone, conduct the appropriate due diligence to be sure they are actually
capable of delivering up their end of the bargain.

The First Step in A Thousand Partnerships

Whether your business generates profits directly or indirectly, markets or makes
products or services, sells via the Web or a sales force, offers parts or end-to-end
solutions, operates locally or globally, you cannot afford to ignore the partnering
opportunities available to you right now for growing revenue, innovation and brand
equity.

But before you begin to engage potential partners, think about how far you want
this journey to take you. Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu is quoted as saying, “A
journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” On its surface the statement
seems to say the obvious. After all, even if the journey is only two steps long, it
begins with a first step. So what did he really mean? Your level of commitment and
resolution to reach your destination is encapsulated in how you begin. Very little
determination is required in taking two steps. But one who embarks on a thousand
mile walk must summon a whole lot of tenacity and purpose into that first step.

Starting down the path of partnership is similar. Don’t take it lightly. View your first
partnering initiative as the first of many – the first step in a thousand partnerships.
Fail to start out right and nothing of consequence can follow. Start with the right
reason and a good understanding of the path before you and you’re on your way to
reaching your goal.

Before You Begin: Choose A Powerful Reason To Start With

Before you engage in the partnering process, be sure to have a clear plan. First,
decide on the best reasons to pursue alliances.

Your first alliance should be a strong one. Have a reason powerful enough to launch
your enterprise on its way to future partnerships — able to take you as far as you
can foresee.

Here are ten solid reasons for engaging in partnerships:

1. Customer Access – Two marketers exchanging access to compatible
customers.

2. Sales Initiatives – Producer or marketer working in tandem with a sales
force organization, retailer or Web store to increase sales.

3. Market Expansion – Partnership aimed at penetrating new or niche
markets.

4. Unique Value Alliance – Marketer with strong customer base partners
with innovative supplier adding unique value to the marketer’s offering and
increased sales for the supplier.

5. Building Scale – Partnership formed to achieve economies of scale.

6. Innovation and Specialization – Public, education or private enterprises
combine financial and knowledge resources to research and develop innovative or
specialty products, services or solutions.

7. Supply Chain Stability – Marketers trade exclusivity with suppliers in
exchange for investment in quality, cost reduction, and priority speed to market;
The supplier is able to make long-term commitments at stable levels and pass on
the benefits to the marketer.

8. Distributor Partnering – An alliance between manufacturers and
distributors to provide access to new markets, domestic or foreign, or strengthen a
position in existing markets.

9. Parts Manufacturing Partnership – Two or more manufacturers of
component parts pool their resources to produce a better product.

10. Licensing Agreements – Alliances providing license to proprietary
products, support services or technology.

Before You Engage: Learn About the Road You Will Be Taking

You may be motivated to go the thousand miles until you discover it’s all uphill. So
before you start on your way, be sure you know what’s in front of you. Six of ten
alliances collapse at some point down the road, because one or more of the
partners failed to do their due diligence. Before you engage a partner, learn the
following:

1. Management Strength and Integrity – Who runs the company – senior
officers and board of directors? Are these people dealing from strength or
weakness? Do they deal with integrity or are they the kind to cut corners or look the
other way? Do they have a litigation history?

2. Short-term Objectives and Long-term Goals – What is their corporate
strategy? What is their partnering strategy? What will they gain by partnering with
you?

3. Performance Rating – Is their organization efficient? Is it flexible? Is it
focused? Do they have other partners? How well have these alliances performed?
How well have they performed in the past? Regarding: quality of goods or services,
speed of delivery, pricing and management response to solving problems.

4. Capabilities and Innovations – What are their capabilities: past, present
and future? How committed are they to investing in capabilities that would benefit
your business? How creative are they? Are they unique and innovative?

5. Financial Considerations – What is their credit standing? Are they
profitable – as measured by EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation
and Amortization)? Are they growing? At what rate – as measured by CAGR
(Compound Annual Growth Rate)?

6. Resources and Employees – Do they have the resources to deliver on
their end of the partnership at the scale required? Do they have the staff or
outsourcing to fulfill your orders? Are there unresolved issues with labor or former
employees?

7. Risks and Compatibilities – Are your trade secrets safe with them? Is
their company a fit with your company in regards to markets and cultures? Are they
looking for an exit strategy? How would a change in management or ownership
affect your alliance? Will they be sold in the near future or right after they close the
deal with your company? Is your partner planning on bringing in new investors? How
can you get out of a failing alliance? Who will own new intellectual property rights
and patents produced by your partnering?

Before you make contact with the prospect partner conduct as much research as is
available to you. A second, more comprehensive and mutual due diligence phase
must be undertaken once both parties have agreed to embark on negotiations. You
will want to personally visit your prospect partner’s offices or production facilities.

The Office (DVD) Review

One of the most refreshing new comedy series on TV, The Office catalogues the inner-workings of a fictional Pennsylvania paper company called Dunder-Mifflin. The name itself alludes to some sort of bureaucratic labyrinth administered by dunderheads, and in reality, it is. Unfortunately, what makes The Office so hilarious is the ability of viewers to relate to the onscreen office culture. The branch office of Dunder-Mifflin viewers are privy to is managed by the politically-incorrect, borderline lunatic Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Using twisted logic to set company policy, worn out clich├ęs as a substitute for leadership, and an endless array of corny group activities to lift employee morale, he creates an office atmosphere that makes the career of Dilbert seem desirable in contrast.

Carell, star of the recent box office hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, shines in the role of the nutty and eccentric office manager, and his talents are well complimented by Rainn Wilson who plays the part of Michael’s butt-kiss, rule-Nazi lackey, Dwight Schrute. Dwight’s over-the-top antics conflict with the rest of the office, particularly co-worker Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) whom Dwight would like to fire. A charming unspoken office crush between Jim and Pam Beesley (Jenna Fischer) makes for an interesting and recurring subplot. Both Jim and Pam epitomize the remainder of the cast of Dunder-Mifflin employees who come across as logical, well-reasoned, and normal individuals. Normal people stuck in a bizarre world where idiots like Michael and Dwight preside over their working hours. Similar in theme to the equally funny feature film Office Space, The Office provides us with a much more excitable Bill Lumbergh lording over an army of Peter Gibbons-like worker bees. For creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who first experienced success with the concept in the UK, it’s a recipe for pure, unadulterated laughter.

The Office (Season 1) DVD features six hilarious episodes including the season premiere in which a camera crew arrives at Dunder-Mifflin in order to film a documentary. Naturally, Michael tries to portray himself as a brilliant steward of office productivity, while office enemies Jim and Dwight engage in a series of desk battles. Viewers also get a glimpse of the regular flirtations between Jim and Pam. Other notable episodes include “Diversity Day” in which Michael engages in a feeble and half-hearted attempt to shed light on office diversity, while alienating most of his employees in the process, and “Health Care” in which Michael, afraid of bearing bad news, delegates his authority to Dwight who creates an utter fiasco of the company health care plan.

Below is a list of episodes included on The Office (Season 1) DVD:

Episode 1 (Pilot) Air Date: 03-24-2005

Episode 2 (Diversity Day) Air Date: 03-29-2005

Episode 3 (Health Care) Air Date: 04-05-2005

Episode 4 (The Alliance) Air Date: 04-12-2005

Episode 5 (Basketball) Air Date: 04-19-2005

Episode 6 (Hot Girl) Air Date: 04-26-2005

Creating Successful Alliances and Partnerships through Networking

Douglas Wilder, former Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the first elected Black Governor in the United States gave me advice that I will never forget. He said, “From this point on, when you walk into a room, walk in that room like you own it, when you talk with people remember to stand on your principles, keep your word, and people will want to associate with you.” His advice became synonymous with my career and everyday living.

At the time, that advice seemed a bit arrogant, but in retrospect, his advice has granted me passages into many executive suites, corporate boardrooms and has helped me build solid relationships. His advice came at a time when I was desperately seeking to glean knowledge and help from anyone who was willing to share insight on what it takes to be successful in business as a young African-American-especially one on the lecture circuit.

Seemingly overnight, in a section of Fairfax, Virginia, businesses stretching a two-block radius have changed ownership from a predominately-White entrepreneurial establishment to an Asian and Latino establishment. They are receiving thriving support from each other. Granted, I find it great to witness that in the land of milk and honey success can be achieved by all. But, how long will African-Americans continue to allow years of division to stop us from gaining the riches and wealth we deserve? Why is it difficult for African-Americans to build business alliances and partnerships with each other?

Marie Johns, President and CEO of Verizon Communications Washington Company said, “Creating alliances and partnerships is a dynamic organic process. It is formed and reshaped. As professionals move to different sets of responsibilities there is a need to network with new people as well as maintain current alliances. One can never say that their network is complete. There are always interesting people with whom one can engage who would end up being a valuable experience.”

In today’s business culture, having productive relationships for commerce exchange is a way of life. People do business with people they know and with people, they like. They do business by referrals from people whose judgment they trust. Albert Einstein said it best, “Trust is what stands the test of experience.”

Similarly, Frank Fahrenkopf, Co-Chairman of the Commission for Presidential Debates said during our interview it’s best to “Look for opportunities and see where there is a need, think about it while making sure that you have a plan, set objectives that are reachable then prove yourself by your professionalism as you go along with every small step until you reach the end. It is highly important to be able to articulate your views once your objectives have been set.”

It’s foundations like Emerging Business Forum who see the need and are bringing minorities together as a culmination of the essentials for business growth, knowledge transfer for personal and business relationships. But, does former Governor Wilder have a valid point in how to attract quality relationships? More importantly, what are colleges doing to educate students in creating alliances before they get into the workforce?

Cliff McKnight, Counselor and Associate Professor at Montgomery College in Maryland believes “that colleges should engage students in leadership activities such as clubs and other organizations through the office of student life. It’s a major component for student development.” His belief is noble. But without a formal setting is joining clubs enough to provide competent networking skills?

Dr. Ivan Misner, President and Founder, of BNI (Business Network Int’l), an international organization that manages two thousand networking chapters says, no! Colleges and universities are not teaching networking skills because the professors don’t know the subject matter.” Why? “Because it’s an emerging topic and many are unfamiliar with the art of networking themselves,” Misner said.

After years of research, informative interviews, and hundreds of social events, I discovered the key to creating successful alliances and partnerships is by utilizing the NAAP Approach. The NAAP Approach is coined and defined as a three-dimensional approach to creating long-lasting partnerships. The rules of engagement are:

oNetworking–First stage, strictly for building a Rolodex of contacts and expertise. Identify professionals that have partnership potential.

oAction-Alliance–Second stage, relationship building takes place at this stage. It is important that keeping in touch or practicing due diligence. This process can take months or several years.

oPartnerships–Third stage, after completing stages one and two, a shared purpose for partnering can be determined. At this point, there should be a solid foundation for working together; call in your chits.

Contrastingly, Marilyn Crawford, of Primetime Omni media says, “If you have established a genuine relationship with a person there’s no such thing as calling in a chit. If you need help with something and you go to a certain person, you are essentially forwarding the relationship. In turn, they are simply forwarding opportunities to other people.” Crawford continued by saying, “If I need something from an alliance, I am comfortable enough with the relationship to pick up the telephone and say this is what I need, can you help me? On the other hand, because that person is comfortable with me they will say either yes or no. Just be prepared for possible rejection.”

Rejection! Rejection? Many African-Americans will say that the fundamental nature of rejection is nothing new and the word itself carries no meaning until the banks and lending institutions makes the word real. “It’s the banks, they refuse to give minorities loans,” a woman said while reading the draft of this article. Maybe Rennie Williams, a professional barber dubbed by the Washington Post as a “debater laureate” says what some are afraid to say, “It’s trust. Whom can you really trust in business? Many African-Americans don’t trust each other and that mistrust stagnates our culture.”

In my opinion, the easiest and most effective way to accomplish creating many strong partnerships simultaneously is to:

oGo direct to the decision maker. Begin at the top. It’s the top down theory. Going direct to the top will eliminate corporate politics that come with starting at the bottom. Top decision makers assign projects to the appropriate person.

oPresent your credentials before an introduction. Having a good image can open many doors. Presenting your credentials before you meet with potential partners allows them to have an idea of who you are and the past work you have done.

oProvide any professional supporting documentation. Submitting supporting documentation such as patents, trade articles, or related accomplishments is often the deciding factor whether executives will accept your request for a meeting.

oHave a reason for the dialogue. Make sure the purpose for communicating with potential alliances is compelling. Ask yourself this, is the meeting more to help them or help me? If it is more for them, your chances of collaborating are greatly increased.

oMaintain good values, strong ethics, and moral principles. Would you do business with a liar and a cheat? Of course not! Never assume that you know someone’s values and ethics. The best rule of thumb is to carry yourself and treat others with the highest respect.

Creating successful alliances and partnerships is critical more than ever before. It takes more than having a college degree and it takes more than just having a prominent job title. Just remember, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, creating partnerships that work takes personality and action. Once you put these two ingredients together and see the benefit of the alliances you form, you will understand why Tim Russert, Host of the television news magazine Meet the Press says, “Creating partnerships has been the most important component helping me build my career.”