Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Partner vs. vendor. I’d like to start with a basic definition. A partnership is the relationship between two or more people to trade or do business. Each person contributes something like property or skill and shares in both the profits and the losses of the business. Let’s be honest, we’d like to share in the profits more than the losses.
In B2B, a vendor to vendor relationship can feel transactional. You can feel as though the design of any exchange is there simply for the profits. Changes in supply chain, prices of materials and fluctuations in talent can put your business on a rollercoaster ride. The profit margins become harder to manage with the ups and downs or sharp turns.
However, if you shift your focus from a vendor to vendor or transactional relationship to a partnership, the aim becomes how can we create a win-win relationship. One where we have a vested interest in each other’s success. How can we manage that rollercoaster ride and feel excited at what we create together?
Related: How to Create Strategic Partnerships That Are a Win-Win
A vested interest is not only maintaining pricing and expectations but also supporting each other in difficult economic times or when sudden challenges emerge. The economy has shifted significantly during the pandemic. Certain sectors have thrived, while others have suffered. You need to know that success is shared, but that the lack of success is also shared. The lack of success can be shared for two reasons — they can hit tough times or go out of business and you lose them. Or, they seek to bring their business elsewhere, so you lose them anyway.
In the last 12 years, I have gone over and above to create partnerships in the payment solutions space. I have 10,000 partners. I say this with pride, not out of ego. I care about these people and their businesses. I aim to provide as much value as possible because I have a vested interest in their success. How can I make your customer happy is my motto. If I know what they are trying to achieve, then we all win.
As an entrepreneur that serves other entrepreneurs, the value you provide every single day is ensuring your partner’s success. I’d say that longevity is another thing to aim for. It allows you to keep those 10,000 partners. And, maybe even reach the point where you don’t have to rely on lead generation or cold calling.
From my experience, the three things you need to establish to create lasting partnerships are:
1. Exhibit Desire
Let me break this down. You need to have the desire to see your partners succeed. The relationships should be so important to the heart of your business that you can celebrate their wins. And, know it was possible because you had the same desire they did. It’s probably a worthwhile gut check to read your company mission statement out loud occasionally. These statements of the goals of your business should feel honest and familiar on your tongue. And they should ring true. That mission should feel as though it was written for each and every partner.
2. Provide Service
You need to serve your partner’s needs from the beginning. If you are focused on your bottom line and not their customers’ needs, then your work will reflect your one-directional focus. If you are focused on their customers’ needs and not your bottom line, then your work will reflect your equitable nature. It’s okay for both sides to see a profit. But you can tell pretty quickly when you are being sold. And even if what is being sold is exactly what they need, if not delivered in the spirit of service, trust can be degraded.
3. Simply Listen
Listening is a special skill. We all have a tendency to be thinking of the answer or the solution once someone begins to share a problem. We often do not listen to the whole thing. We are all guilty of interrupting, assuming that we know the answer before knowing the whole story. Active listening is your best skill. In fact, pausing afterwards to digest the information or being honest that you need time to think over the problem is the biggest gift you can give your partner. The goal is to see the forest through the trees. It is what they are reaching out to you for in the first place. They lack clarity. Your partnership ensures a safe landing to find the solution together.
Related: 13 Tips to Create the Perfect Partnership
As a family man and one of strong faith, this works on your personal relationships as much as in business.
However, and most importantly, the silver lining is that the real win is the customer’s experience. When the work you do together with your partners creates solutions, then the ultimate stakeholder, the customer, is happy. Happy customers keep everyone profitable, through good times and bad.
The late Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, excelled at keeping the customer happy. His entire business strategy was shaped around delivering happiness, which is also the title of his book. To distill this strategy, it was about treating all levels of the organization as stakeholders. Your customer, your vendors and your suppliers. Tony’s strategy was to partner with them all.
While setting up your business to treat all stakeholders as above, let’s go one step further. I would recommend having a strategy meeting throughout your relationship with each of your partner companies. Seth Godin states in his book This is Marketing, “culture is strategy.” Generally, this happens at the beginning by default. A business is seeking you out for your services. The goals and expectations are made clear, pain points are addressed, strategy is created. But as mentioned earlier, the rollercoaster ride is real and so is the entrepreneurial experience. Therefore, goals and pain points change.
In conclusion, be the partner that addresses strategy regularly. This is how you create longevity and trust. This will permeate the organizational culture and the customer will be the winner and recipient of the efforts. This is how I built 10,000 legacy clients I call partners.
Related: How Investing in Strategic Partnerships Can Help Grow Your Business