Positive Path Recommended Reading

Seven Keys to Developing Positive Strategic Alliances
By Robyn Henderson

Whether you operate or are employed by a small or medium sized business, forming strategic alliances can help you get the edge in today's competitive marketplace.

So where do we start. How to we take out business from small to medium sized and with whom or to which marketplaces? Some of you may think its all too hard, but that is not necessarily the case. To develop strategic alliances, it pays to consider the following seven keys:

Make sure you attract like-minded people with similar values and ethics. Today there are still many "cowboys" in the marketplace people who ride into town, with lots of fanfare making lots of noise and hollow promises. And yes, they do attract business and even take a few prisoners, usually customers who are snapped up, taken on a whirlwind ride and left a few stations down the track, bewildered and disenchanted, and usually out of pocket. This approach may work for some, depending on their product, however, if you are looking for long-term relationships with your clients, don't network with the cowboys, or you are sure to have a stormy ride.

You may consider looking at your peers and competitors and identifying who thinks like you, runs their businesses along the same ethical lines, and have a good business reputation. If you are going to tackle the global market, your possible business partner may already have contacts in a particular region, but lack your product knowledge. This is where you may complement each other as your product knowledge combines with your regional business partner's local knowledge.

Be as specific as possible and identify exactly: 

  • how big you want your connection to grow 
  • the turnover you anticipate 
  • the number of hours you can commit to the project 
  • any other commitments that may affect your financial situation 
  • any fears you may have about the business relationship 
  • identify exactly how what products you wish to promote and sell 
  • how much you can afford to invest and lose, should your partnership fail.

Many business alliances fail because of poor communications. You should never assume items are agreed. All details must be discussed to avoid misunderstanding and potential conflict. Clarify everything. Don't be afraid to state the obvious. What is obvious to you may be unclear or unknown to your partner. Take notes during meetings or have the meeting and minutes recorded for you. Confirm everything in writing as soon as possible after your meetings. If there is action to be taken, agree on will take that action and document this also. Get firm commitment from all partners involved.

Many people agree in principal to something, and then find that due to prior commitments or unexpected events, they cannot honour their agreement. By setting trial time frames, you can get an idea of your partner's management style, attention to detail and your partner's actual investment in the project (time, resources, money). Remember always to include a time frame for task completion. Agree to a stage one. Based on the results of stage one, then proceed to stage two. Avoid the temptation to take the project beyond stage one, until you have seen and realised your partner's true commitment. If your partner misses the first deadline, will your partner meet future deadliness?

Better to lose a partner in the early stages, than lose your good name over time. Sometimes differing styles of management and leadership create disharmony. Something that seems like a small annoyance initially may become a serious irritation later. For example, you may form a partnership with someone who always runs at least forty minutes late for every meeting. You on the other hand are always ten minutes early. You may initially laugh this habit away, however, after a few months of being kept waiting, you may not see the humour anymore.

You find it helpful to include an exit arrangement. For example, review the relationship within a pre-agreed period and measure its success. If things are not working out by then, dissolve the alliance without any hard feelings. This one point can assist a clean break if this is the appropriate need.

Brainstorm possible best and worst-case scenarios regarding this strategic alliance. What is the worst thing that can happen and can you cope with that outcome? If you can, then you have absolutely nothing to lose. If you can't cope with that worst-case possibility, you may need to review the draft agreement or change the guidelines. If an alliance is not based on a win-win goal it has little chance of success. Without a win-win approach understood by both sides, one partner is likely to become frustrated, annoyed, reluctant and eventually resentful of constantly being the underdog.

In life, some people are so busy doing, doing, doing, that they forgot to stop and smell the roses. When there are budgetary restraints, we often think that we can't afford to celebrate as lavishly as we would like, so we won't do anything at all. To maintain your own and your partner's motivation, it is important to record the milestones in your alliance. Your first order or contract, your first receipt in excess of $x, are typical shared achievements that deserve mutual recognition and celebration. Celebration of shared achievements builds the relationship

Of all the people you know personally, have read about in books, magazines or seen in the media, which two people would be the perfect people with whom to form a strategic alliance? You may have to do some research to find their contact details, however make the effort.

Do your homework, do a SWOT analysis highlighting the positives and the negatives of a joint alliance and prepare your business plan. Prepare a proposal including all the information that you consider your potential partner will need to know in order to make a decision about forming an alliance with you.

Next, make the phone call, send a fax or email, and make contact with these two people. Ask for six minutes of their time and then use your passion and enthusiasm to sell your idea. What's the worst thing that can happen? Rejection. You can live with that if you accept that if they say "no" they are not rejecting you personally. Today they may reject your product, your service or a specific opportunity. Tomorrow, they may change their minds, or better still, they may introduce you to a person they consider to be more ideal as your strategic alliance partner.

We can find excuses every day to stay in our comfort zones and not approach others who can help us grow our business and our career. Yet if we have courage, we can overcome our fear of rejection and pursue our dreams, goals and targets through strategic alliances with others who can share our success.

Strategic alliances can lead to great success, and sometimes to great friendships too.

About the author: Robyn Henderson is an author, publisher and international business educator. She travels throughout Australia, New Zealand and Asia showing companies how to double their customer base through effective networking. Her latest book is HOW TO MASTER NETWORKING. For more information visit her website at www.networkingtowin.com.au

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