Becky, a consultant, was telling us about a proposal she made a few years ago. The project was big and she needed help so she partnered with company that she had worked with before. They agreed to work as one company to reduce customer concerns about managing multiple contractors. At deal time the partner broke ranks trying to make a separate agreement. The customer declined to work with either company.
Trouble in partnerships generally comes from three things: Poor due diligence by the partners, mismanaged expectations and lack of defined roles and responsibilities.
When picking another company to partner with, you need to decide if they are a good fit with you. For example, a firm that is fastidious about quality will be driven crazy by a sloppy partner. If the firms have different ideas about client relations, there can be mixed messages that cause trouble and false crisis. You’ve decided the partner firm is qualified and shares a compatible management approach, but you also want to check for a cultural fit. Are the work methods compatible? If your company likes slow, steady progress will you be able to work with one that pulls all nighters to deliver a last minute product?
Once you’ve done your homework, set the expectations for the work. Decide with the other team what each one of you wants to get out of the project. Who gets the credit? How is the fee divided? How much effort is required of each of you? Who leads the relationship? Taking the time to learn everyone’s expectations will avoid fumbles in front of the customer and disappointments that can sour the relationship and make for a bad experience for everyone involved.
Deciding everyone’s role and what they will be responsible for in advance eliminates a lot of headaches and keeps you both from having unhappy clients. Documenting the reporting structure between the two firms and establishing a communication path that makes sense for all parties is critical. It doesn’t matter if communication will occur between single points of contact or if all involved can communicate with anyone else on the project, just make sure there is agreement on the process.
Within that structure, take the time to formally define the roles of all working the project. Detail what their jobs are, what they are responsible for and who they answer to. Make this part of your work plan for completing the project. Also account for who will communicate with the client and for what reasons.
Finally, write it down. Make the working agreement part of your contract with the other company. It’s tempting to jump right into the work on a hand shake or to use a standard contract that only deals with commercial terms, but having the agreement takes the pressure off if there is a question about how the contract should be handled. Eliminating grey areas is never a wasted effort.
Remember that the ultimate goal is for the customer to see your two firms as a single entity. The more seamless and transparent the marriage of your companies appears, the more likely it is that you will have a satisfied customer.