A match made in heaven may be hard to come by, but that doesn't mean you can't make it work.
Partnering with a competitor or giant distributor isn't easy.
Corporations and start-ups often speak different languages, or one moves slow while the other moves quick. Sometimes the companies complement each other, but most of the time problems arise. A start-up's unorthodox practices, for example, might tarnish the more established brand's reputation. Or perhaps both start-up's cultures will clash and one will pit itself against the other.
August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks: One CEO's Quest for Meaning and Authenticity, says, "The single biggest mistake we make in our partnership efforts is treating potential partners as if they were end users. While the interests of partners and end-users must overlap, they are seldom, if ever, identical."
Here are three of his tips for making partnerships work:
Move the corporate mule.
Corporations can be slow moving and for that reason Turak suggests doing most of the work yourself. "Getting executives into a room and hammering out a contract doesn't make a deal. Every partnership is like moving a stubborn mule," he says. When Walmart was looking for a partner to provide sunglasses, for example, one company came to the meeting with their sunglasses already tagged, coded, and mounted on display cases. They even studied Walmart's floor designs and suggested spots for their products.
Roll products out slowly.
Turak says to avoid blanket launches after forming a partnership and roll out slowly, ideally in small batches. "Every cleaning solvent recommends trying it first on some inconspicuous place, and this applies to joint ventures as well," he says. "Not only will we uncover potential hitches, but managing the critical buzz is much easier. Always remember that people talk and that first impressions are critical to making a deal successful."
"Always remember that a heavy handed 'push' from corporate headquarters often backfires," says Turak. "If, for example, a sullen salesforce refuses to sell your product, it will be your product, not the salesforce that your partner will blame. Winning hearts and minds upfront among the rank and file is much more effective than relying on diktats and quotas from corporate."
WILL YAKOWICZ is a reporter at Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and politics at Patch.com, and his work has been published in Tablet Magazine and The Brooklyn Paper. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. @WillYakowicz