Like any healthy long-term relationship, business partnerships take time, patience, and understanding. At Juniper, we’ve been involved in many partnerships throughout the years, and learned a variety of lessons along the way. When maintained correctly, partnerships can act as one of the driving factors of success and revenue. The key is understanding how to keep the relationship healthy and flourishing, while implementing these understandings into day-to-day interactions. Below are 9 tips for achieving a successful business partnership and a couple of pointers on where to start. While reading through our suggestions, take a mental assessment of where your organization fits and which areas could use improvement—should that count as number one?
- Establish a clear and careful vetting process
Setting expectations should be one of the very first steps in establishing a partnership. Starting with varying ideologies will invite conflict and frustration into the relationship before it even begins. Set yourself up for success. At Juniper Systems, we strive to implement this into our day-to-day by referring to our list of 15 company maxims. This list of company ideals/morals help us align with like-minded companies that share similar values and goals. In addition to our maxims, we also have a partner application and clear vetting process that considers all factors, not solely financial benefit. We focus on selecting partners who will be dedicated to serving customers, represent our products well, and offering valuable problem-solving solutions. Consider the long-term benefit of being selective with the partnerships you form, and make partner selections accordingly.
- Thrive off common goals and complementary strengths
It’s no secret that two companies working toward a common goal invites success, but recalling these goals regularly will ensure both parties are on the same page with a clear understanding of the end goal. Partnerships that utilize complementary strengths derived from a common goal often breed the highest amount of long-term success—we’re talking the red and black Power Rangers here. In our 15 years partnering with one of our many valued partners, Carlson Software, we’ve see this theory proven time and time again. Our handhelds come together with their software to create a data-collection powerhouse, both recognizing the value the partnership brings to each organization. We work to express gratitude and appreciation through business interactions to maintain an understanding of the common goal we share. The first step to identifying goals and strengths is taking the time to understand your partner’s market fully. Becoming familiar with your partner’s strengths early on will lay a solid foundation for success.
- Set the stage for mutual trust and respect
Organizations often have differing views on how situations and communication should be handled, especially within a business partnership. But regardless of these views, mutual trust and respect can and should be made a priority. Start this practice from the beginning. When individuals are treated well, the same treatment is often returned. Making this conscious effort will also diffuse potential issues before they arise and allow both parties to feel confident in the partnership. Not to mention the perk of making regular communication enjoyable.
At Juniper, the first on our list of company maxims mentioned above is, “We serve our customers and fellow employees with trust, love, respect, and active support, and expect the same in return.” We strive to implement this into partner relationships, and throughout the company. If trust and respect do not emanate from a partnership, it’s likely success won’t either. Bottom line, treat your partners like people and respect them. Sing that Aretha Franklin song if you have to.
- Be upfront and honest
Nothing creates unnecessary conflict faster than trying to hide problems from partners. Stay on offense. If there is an issue your partners should be aware of, make them the first to know. Welcome questions and invite feedback. Rather than looking at how the issue might reflect on your organization, show respect to your partners by talking through the conflict and providing an in-depth explanation. Admitting mistakes and accepting responsibility is proven to increase power and respect from others.
We recently experienced an issue with a component of a product’s keyboard. As soon as we were made aware of this issue, we immediately begin working to resolve it while simultaneously reaching out to each customer who may be affected. By approaching the problem early on, we were able to correct the issue and gain favor as an organization that respects and cares about its partners enough to act responsibly for its faults.
- Communicate effectively during conflict
Issues will arise on a regular basis, that’s a given. The most important thing is the way you choose to address the conflict. How you handle conflict speaks volumes about you and your organization. Use it as a time to display sincerity, empathy, and character. Keep in mind that you’re successful when they’re successful and make an honest effort to minimize and mitigate issues fairly.
At Juniper Systems, we invest in training employees on effective communication skills. This not only helps with internal communications, but also helps us communicate more effectively with partners, vendors, and customers. For several years, “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson has been a must-read for all employees. Additionally, each employee that interacts with customers attends an annual workshop to review principals found in the book. Like the title of the book suggests, it focuses on professional and respectful communication when stakes are high. Implementing a similar practice may provide your employees with the added training necessary to steer a sour situation.
- Learn from mistakes and move forward
Let mistakes strengthen your partnership rather than hinder it. Mistakes may spark conflict and you definitely won’t always see eye-to-eye. Having the emotional intelligence to take a step back and analyze the situation before jumping in will work to quickly dissolve conflict and make steps toward repairing the issue.
In the years Juniper Systems has spent in partnership with American Innovations, we’ve learned a lot about nurturing a successful long-term relationship and navigating through challenges. Because of this, we are able to communicate openly about conflict and resolve issues without damaging the relationship. For example, a potential plastics shortage at Juniper Systems could have put American Innovations in a difficult situation, but because we recognized the importance of contacting them early on and making the necessary arrangements to keep up with production flow, we were able to come up with a solution to mitigate the issue. It’s recognizing opportunities like this that builds trust and allows both parties to move forward with an even stronger relationship.
- Keep it personal
Don’t treat your partners like an item on a checklist. Your success is dependent on theirs, so act accordingly. It may be easy to let this practice slip when busy days turn into busy months, but don’t ever let your partner feel like a task. At Juniper, this is something that has always been extremely important to us. When someone calls in, they can expect a live receptionist to transfer them to the appropriate account manager they will most likely know by name. When a personal connection can be maintained, it creates an added investment and makes the partner feel valued. Granted, larger companies may struggle to maintain a system with this level of personalization, but a personal touch is always attainable.
- Serve your partners and make it clear you want to see them succeed
Let your actions show partners you are willing to help them be successful. Of course, an email offering assistance is always appreciated, but go the extra mile. Prove your willingness. At Juniper, we make it a priority to be actively serving our partners. Through sending leads to partners regularly, teaming up at tradeshows, reviewing ways they can be more profitable while selling our products, and providing resources on our website including logos, literature, and product photography, we strive to have our actions reflect a sincere investment. We are also actively looking for new ways to provide our partners with the resources necessary to invite success.
- Don’t be afraid to let partners go
Treating partners with love, trust, and respect is important, but expecting the same in return is equally as important. Don’t be afraid to terminate a partnership if you find you don’t share the same values. This is something within our list of company maxims that our founder, Ron Campbell, is extremely passionate about. Expecting respect in the workplace should not seem unreasonable or unrealistic. In his own words, “Life’s a bit short for that.” Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t be tolerant. We’re all human, and we all have off days, but when the relationship becomes toxic, you might want to start considering what is best for the employees and the overall health of the company.
Feel free to comment your thoughts on maintaining successful partnerships in the comments below! We’re all ears.