I’ve worked in a couple of B2B partnerships recently where problems with the relationship were threatening the future business. There was a common problem: the two parties were expecting different things from the relationship. The company on the supply side was expecting a business partnership whereas the company on the purchase side was taking a transactional approach. That misalignment may be an understandable issue in reseller situations where there are simple measures of performance, QA on goods inwards and catalogue selling. But these weren’t relationships where a transactional approach was appropriate. They were complex relationships where the supplier’s solution was tightly integrated into the other company’s business model, where there were obvious win-wins (and lose-lose) outcomes, and in one case where there was an agreement to profit share. In short, a relationship where it was in the business interests for both parties to develop a closer business relationship.
So, what went wrong…
It’s all about the product (no it isn’t)
The common issue in both instances was that the relationship has distilled itself down to a small group of individuals taking a product-focused approach and ignoring the wider business picture. A combination on myopia and defending their positions, or more precisely trying to move blame for non-performance from their area onto the other business party. Looked at in the cold light of day, that’s not very surprising. Their world is limited to ensuring the product or service was delivered to specification, even if the spec was vague, out of date or didn’t improve the overall business performance. The wrong people in the wrong position. Complaining about their behaviour would just have led to a Pyrrhic victory; the persons’ behaviour might be recognised but their approach further entrenched.
How do you fix a business partnership?
A better approach would be to get back to origins of the relationships and operate at multiple levels. The detail people can remain responsible for the details, but the business relationship needs to be moved to another level. Engaging higher level management in discusses, where new approaches are suggested, is a good way forward, whilst spreading the load beyond those fire-fighting the day to day transactions. Only then can you buy time to put the relationship on a better footing.
There are many models that help to explain this including the Bow-tie > Diamond usually used in Key Account Management.
For a more comprehensive partner-oriented approach you could use our Partnership Framework looking again at the Partnership SWOT and Relationship Plan or, for larger and deeper alliances start working with the ABP’s VST process.
“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result” Albert Einstein
Whichever you approach you take, remember that it’s important to change the approach, otherwise the other partner might start thinking that you are the wrong partner to work with, and start searching for another. They will get the same result with the other partner, but that won’t help you!