More than a year ago I wrote on this blog about how to begin building an effective alliance with another company, in ‘We All Need Friends in Business – Creating Your Alliance Map‘.
Subsequent conversations with people who read that article have raised two questions.
- Do alliances only happen between companies acting together to sell a joint offering?
- How do you make sure alliances work well, once you’ve got good foundations?
Let me give you the answers I’ve given to people who’ve discussed this with me.
Firstly, I use ‘alliance’ to cover a variety of business relationships. The article I referred to did have a focus on joint marketing, selling and service. But alliances also occur between companies and their suppliers.
Whoever’s involved, when they can each achieve their goals by forming a long-term working relationship that goes beyond the transactions between them, then an alliance can be formed.
If they’re ‘going beyond the transactions between them’, that means they’ll have spent time, as I advocated, understanding each other’s motivation and needs, and defining how they will work together. They’ll have mapped out their alliance.
If they’ve done that, they’re in good shape to continue to do the right things to make that partnership work. So let me answer the second question – how you make sure this all works out in practice – by giving you the 5 rules I’ve found that business partners need to follow.
1. If there’s bad news, break it early. Really early.
No-one likes surprises if they’re unpleasant. If you’re about to let down your alliance partner, or found that you already have done, talk to them as soon as you can – even before you’ve investigated and got all the facts. It’ll make it easier to explain how you’re going to put things right, and it will encourage them to treat you with respect too.
2. Review, review, review.
Build into your relationship regular formal reviews of how the alliance is performing for you both. Don’t let those discussions get pushed out of the calendar for ‘more pressing’ matters, because this is the opportunity to uncover not only some problems that need to be dealt with, but also new opportunities to strengthen and expand your alliance.
3. Don’t rely on formal feedback.
It takes just a few seconds to ask ‘how are we doing?’ in an informal setting, and you may well find out things that you need to think about that don’t emerge in formal reviews. When you ask the question, listen intently to what’s said, and act on good advice that you receive, no matter how painful it might have been to receive it. Our partners can see our companies from a vantage point that we never can.
4. Celebrate success.
If the alliance is producing the expected benefits, take time to say thank you, and recognise the efforts that your partner is making to ensure that your alliance is productive.
5. Give and take, not take and give.
Just as in the best personal relationships, where there’s give and take, so there should be in a business alliance. My own personal rule is to try very hard to give before I take, and give more than I take. Whether I achieve that in every case, I don’t know, but that attitude has served me well in helping alliances to succeed.
I’d love to know what you do to make the alliances you’ve formed with other companies really succeed. Please share your thoughts in the comments – what am I missing?