People tell me there are over 5,000 online dating sites, but I couldn't find one that focused on matchmaking business-to-business (B2B) relationships. Yet, every business expert tells me that finding good business partners is just as tricky as a good marriage, without the sex.
Business partnerships come in all shapes and sizes, from finding a single partner to help you run your startup, to signing a strategic agreement with another large company for development, marketing, distribution, or sales. As with personal relationships, unbalanced deals don't work, since the dominating entity finds it hard to adapt and appreciate the value of a partner.
Everyone agrees that successful business partnerships can provide cash for growth, reduce costs, provide new geographic markets, or bring whole new customer sets to the table. Bad ones will suck the energy out of your company, and leave you wanting more. The thrill of the chase is always the fun part, but making it work is a lot harder.
Just like personal relationships, if you are contemplating a business partnership, the first consideration should be the characteristics of the key people involved. In addition, your company engines have to synchronize, which requires changes beyond the honeymoon period. Here are some of the key elements of both:
- Principals on both sides need to be ready and willing to work with a partner. Some executives prefer to operate in solo mode. If you have worked for yourself for a long time, like living alone and making decisions without consulting anyone else, it may be hard to adapt to a shared decision-making environment.
- Look for a match in operating style and work ethics. A business partnership doesn't come with a no-fault divorce clause. During the "dating period," look hard for those characteristics that suggest complementary strengths, compatibility, chemistry, motivation, and values. Consider a business "pre-nup" agreement.
- Both sides should write down the shared objectives and vision. If there is nothing to write down, or the results are quite different, that's a big red flag. At this point both need to put in some serious thought about common value systems and how integration will impact current operations and the "next generation."
- Agree on performance indicators measuring partnership effectiveness. Every relationship needs to be mutually beneficial to foster trust and common commitment. If the value is channeled to one beneficiary, with more cost and effort to the other, the equation won't work for either.
- Understand required changes to the current business model. These need to be understood up front, since implementation will likely require staff changes, process changes, and a more complex communication system. Both sides need to evaluate the intangible impact of these.
Even with the best of efforts, in my experience a high percentage of partnerships don't work in the long run, because the underlying entities have different long-term objectives. This means prior planning for an easy dissolution. Document early the partner agreement detailing what each person is responsible for, who makes what decisions, and how disagreements will be resolved.
In summary, I did find a few sites, like PartnerUp and jobmingle, which are a step in the right direction, but they still seem focused on letting you do most the work (like Facebook) to find the ideal partner. How about finding the best fit for you through something like eHarmony's "scientific approach to matching" with 29 dimensions of compatibility?
I wonder how many dimensions of compatibility there are to a good business partnership? I know it's rarely love at first sight. There is still time for you to be the first eHarmony.com of the B2B crowd!