With strategic partnerships, focus is the key

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In my experience, strategic partnerships tend to start out with a great deal of enthusiasm and momentum.

Both parties come to the table with a long list of ideas and next steps. Ideas flow freely and both parties are eager to execute. Your meeting room is quickly filled up with Post-it notes along the wall, someone is feverishly trying to capture all the notes and next steps on her iPad, while another is photographing scribbled notes with his phone to send to colleagues in other locations. The energy in the room is high, and there is no shortage of ideas.

I think in most cases, or at least in mine, everyone has sincere intentions about doing great things for the business, providing more value to their respective customers. But somewhere between sending out the meeting follow-up notes and your next meeting, things stall. You get back to your “day job,” and that list the partners came up with moves to the back burner.

You promise yourself you’ll get the meeting notes and action items out next week—that is, right after you finish a big project for your boss. A month goes by and the initial momentum gets lost.

Assuming the partnership makes fundamental senses for both parties, here are some things to consider in advance:

  • Keep your partnerships to a minimum. Earlier on in my career I came into a new role where we had eight “strategic” partnerships under way. In that first year, we reduced the number from eight down to two. At the most simplistic level, we shouldn’t have been working with so many partners—it just didn’t make sense. The value of what we could mutually offer one another was severely diluted by the fact that some of what we offered overlapped. And we didn’t have the bandwidth to manage the relationships properly, which brings me to my next point.
  • Evaluate your resources. Be honest with yourself and ensure that you have the time and resources to devote to the partnership. Don’t assign a high-level manager to be the day-to-day person in charge, when the bulk of the relationship is more tactical in nature. Things just won’t get moved along at the rate you both want.
  • Keep your priorities simple and prioritize. Regardless of how many ideas you come up with, try to categorize your thoughts into two groupings—short-term tactical and longer-term strategic. Assign different owners to each category. List the ideas in priority order and only commit to a few at a time.

I realize that these decisions are not always black and white, but these are some tips that might help. Best of luck.

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