Jim Ivers is the Chief Security Strategist for Covata.
For any industry, partnerships are the lifeblood to a successful and long-lasting business. Like any meaningful relationship, strong partnerships are not built overnight, nor do they happen by chance. They are the result of hard work, constant evaluation, and the confidence to terminate the ones that are unproductive or toxic.
I once had an industry analysts tell me that “today’s partnerships are tomorrow’s unsupported features,” so the market does view your partners and the strength of those relationships seriously. In fact, it’s wise to think of your partners as an extension of the reputation you have built for your brand.
You never want to find yourself in defense of your name because partners aren’t presenting themselves in the right light.
The first step in the process is to make an honest inventory of your partnerships by asking yourself a series of three qualifying questions:
- Is the vendor/partner still providing value to your business?
- Since engagement, has the vendor/partner maintained performance expectations?
- Do you trust your vendor/partner to protect your information?
If you’ve answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, it may be time to cut the cord, particularly if you have expressed your dissatisfaction with the partner in the past.
An added value of this exercise is that it is much easier to identify what to look for in a replacement by determining where problems exist. Don’t let emotions or history override the present status of your business and your relationship. In other words, if it’s not working today, it likely won’t work tomorrow.
Luckily, if you’ve answered positively to all these questions, you’re well on your way to solidifying the bond you have with your third party partners.
Integrate vendors into your strategic plan
For the most part, annual plans focus on the tasks and responsibilities of the internal team, leaving external stakeholders in the dark. The products and solutions of your vendors, and their expected participation, should be an integrated, thoughtful part of any business operation.
In some cases, looping them in could lead to a more refined solution than you are currently utilizing, or could lead to an extension of services depending on what the partner can offer.
Similarly, this type of active participation may encourage your partner to be more invested in carrying out your business proposition. Sharing the risks and rewards, like in any ongoing relationship, builds efficacy for all involved.
Build a performance plan for each vendor
While this may seem a bit ‘Big Brother,’ the intention behind it is worthy of consideration. Performance plans can come in a variety of forms and combine a number of criteria; service, quality, value and delivery are the most common combinations.
As with any performance metrics these should be easily measurable and rationally achievable. The best case would be to build the plan cooperatively with each vendor so they have buy-in and ownership.
Performance plans have benefits that are three-fold. First, it is a way to align expectations and maintain a set of mutually agreed upon goals across the board. Second, evaluating current performance metrics can quickly determine if expectations are being met, and know immediately what has to be done to correct any problems. It is far easier to identify and correct measured performance than to respond to subjective criticism.
Lastly, it illustrates credibility for your organization as potential partners may be more inclined to work with a company that notices and rewards good performance.
Give them the tools to succeed
Don’t assume that your vendors or partners will know your organization’s unique needs – they aren’t mind readers. This could include a combination of the following:
- Proper onboarding for new relationships: This will help facilitate more comprehensive performance plan development and to create a baseline for future evaluations.
- Regular training: This can be used to refine your business needs based on what your vendor is capable of providing. You should evaluate how often these trainings should occur, based on a variety of factors including new technologies, policy changes, corporate needs, etc…
Constant communication is key, particularly in the early stages of any partnership. They will need to be able to reach you when they need you.
Be available. Answer their questions and provide guidance. The effort will pay off in the form of a successful and efficient business relationship.
Establishing a positive working relationship with your vendors, suppliers, stakeholders and strategic partners will leverage a common sense of purpose across the board. Truthfully, they are your most valuable behind-the-scenes growth assets – nurture them and your business will flourish alongside their success.