What It Means to Be a Partner

Over the past several years I’ve worked with dozens of digital media companies who were trying to attract marketer dollars to their platforms. Virtually every single one said they wanted to be a partner to agencies and brands, because partners tend to have more loyal customer bases, and higher margins. A partner gets compensated in ways that a transactional seller simply cannot.

But saying the word and actually BEING a partner are two very different things. Partner business relationships are rare because they are hard to create, and harder still to maintain over the long haul. Add to that the ephemeral nature of digital, and the enormous numbers of outfits that are out there trying to grab your brass ring, and the challenge becomes even bigger.

So what does it take for a seller to be a partner? I think it’s seven things:

Caring: In order to solve my problems, you need to care about them. Care enough to ask or figure out what they are care still more to ensure that what you deliver actually solves some or all of them.

Homework: We all search for signals in the relationships we choose. By spending time before you talk to someone to think about what they might need, you start to demonstrate that you view them as more than an ATM.

Attention: Most sellers are available before you sign. But what about after? Partners don’t throw a client to an account manager and put them out of mind. They may involve an account manager or others in the service they provide, but they stay attentive. To what is going on executionally. And to what new issues and opportunities arise in there would be partner’s business.

Proactivity: I’ve interviewed about 500 buyers over the past three years, in part to help companies understand what they want. Believe it or not, it’s not to be left alone. It’s to be contacted when you have some meaningful ideas or information that can help them.

Honesty: Buyers don’t really expect everything to go perfectly. They know screw ups happen. But if you fess up to mistakes while demonstrating the way to rectify the damage, they know they can trust you.

Goal Direction: Not your quarterly. The buyer’s goal.

Getting Face to Face: I don’t think you can be a partner to someone you’ve never met. In person interaction speeds the development of a relationship, and is often the catalyst for deeper information sharing.

There’s more to it than those seven, of course, but people who keep these ideas in mind are going to be a helluva lot more likely to succeed.

You also have to know when to cut bait. Partnership is about give and take. When a client agrees to terms net 30 and ends up sending the check after 127 days, they don’t deserve you. They are not good to their word. If someone won’t provide you information about what their problems are, then it’s gonna be more than an uphill battle to cultivate a relationship. And when their daily interactions with you and your people are rude and abusive, it’s time to cut them off and find someone who will treat people right.

The world needs more partnerships. If you have the commitment, and some measurement of commitment from a buyer, you’re both about to feel very very lucky.