Why some partnerships fail

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-03-31 Print this article Print

Why do partnerships fail?

Most partnerships fail when you find out the person you partnered with isnt performing the work you assigned to them at a quality level that meets your standards. Poor communications is one of the problems. A lot of these partnerships fail in the details because a VAR didnt properly explain his expectations to the partner, or the partner doesnt fully understand the expectations of the engagement.

All of a sudden, theres a misunderstanding before you start the work, and that leads to all kinds of problems. The nice thing is, once you start to work with a few partners, a lot of those issues go away. The better you know your partner, and the more you do business with them, the better the relationship becomes. You each become an extension of each others company, and you want to make sure youre doing a good job for the partner.

On average, how many partnerships should a VAR strive for? Is one sufficient, or do you need multiple partnerships for different disciplines?

Im a big believer in multiple partnerships to cover whatever it is to meet your needs. You might need several partners to cover different disciplines and for geographic purposes.

I have two general partnerships with companies that I work with all the time, and, beyond that, I have at least a half-dozen other partners that are specialty providers—companies that focus on Web development [and] cabling and another new one around Microsoft CRM [customer relationship management]. In those areas, we decided were not going to do it ourselves; instead, were going to address the need by working with partners we trust who wont take our business. The cabling partnership, for example: Thats one area that we completely outsourced before and made zero dollars on any efforts. Now, were making $70 a drop, and thats not a bad deal.

How should a VAR position its partnerships and partnership strategies to customers, and whats the key benefit to them?

In some cases, we explain them, and, in some cases, we dont. We size up the client to figure out which way best meets their need. In either case, people are a lot more savvy about outsourcing—you cant pick up a newspaper these days without someone talking about the virtues of outsourcing, especially around IT. People seem to understand this model of service delivery—they may have questions, but theyve seen it work in other industries. If it makes sense for their bottom line and gives them the results they want, theyre fine with it.

It also gives the client more flexibility with whom they work, with the same controls. After all, whats the difference between a referral and a partnership? In my mind, theres a stronger relationship with a partnership because the partner knows they have to answer to me at the end of every business day. Comparatively, a referral is a lead—they can follow up if they want, but theres no control whatsoever. At the end of the day, we want to be positioned as the go-to guys for technology for our clients. Whether theyre putting in a phone system or building a Web site, we want them to pick up the phone and call, and we need to have partners to be able to fulfill that wide range of services.

What are customers biggest concerns about VAR partnerships, and how do you alleviate them?

Their biggest concern is that youll turn their account or project over to a partner and not keep an eye on it. The only way to alleviate that is to have constant contact with the client and with the partner. If you dont, its basically a referral. To maintain control, we have someone from our office follow up on every service call with the client. We maintain control over the customer relationship, and, in that way, we please the customer and make sure our needs are being met as well.

How can an organization like SMBTN help, and does it make sense to cooperate with your competition?

SMBTN is about more than partnering. Were focused on three areas: Business development, which includes partnering and co-marketing; professional development, which is mostly in the area of training; and vendor relations.

I am still surprised at the good fortune we have had forging relationships with SMB vendors. Sonicwall, Microsoft, Symantec, 3am Labs and Trend Micro are some of the vendors who have partnered with us, offering our members benefits from specialized training to discounts. Many of these are things that they would not be entitled to as a smaller reseller. I think it is our strength as a group of SMB-focused resellers that has caught their eye.

Whats next for SMBTN?

Our second annual conference is coming up March 30 to April 1 in Buena Park, Calif. [In February,] we began airing a radio show pilot in six cities in the United States and on the Internet. I am very excited about both of these events, but, frankly, the thing that amazes me is the growth of our membership. I had set a goal of doubling our membership from 250 to 500. It now looks like we will meet that goal by the end of March. It is our increase in membership that will allow us to go further and do the things we want to do.

Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer in Newbury, Mass. She can be contacted at bstack@stackpolepartners.com.

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