Is Partnering the New Slang for Shafting?

Charles, a long-time and solid business-class customer of my firm, and I were engaged in one of those excellent conversations between advisor/friend and customer/friend that genuinely are enjoyable. Charles has received a sizable contract and with continued good fortune, business through 2016 is already solid. And of course, if business is good for Charles, it will be good for me and my firm. Isn’t business wonderful? But that isn’t the reason for this posting.

During our conversation Charles was describing how this very involved contract came into being. It is quite a story. The most important part is that an upstream contractor wanted to Charles to be part of the overall success and said “we want to partner with you for this contract”. And then Charles looked at me and said “you know Dan, that is usually a lie. They don’t want to partner with you – many times that is code for – I want a lower price today with a promise of more work in the future so help us help you.”

And Charles is correct. I have seen that time and time again. The implied promises of future good things is used to squeeze vendors to the brink of bankruptcy and sellers swallow the lies. I almost view the concept of “partnering for our future” as one of the top 3 business lies (just after the check is in the mail and your my most trusted advisor). The sad thing is that I believe that the majority of business professionals actually desire to develop deep relationships (hence partnering) with the overall supply chain but operate under a misguided notion that short-term results drive long-term success.

Frequently – there is really no opportunity for true partnering between vendor and supplier – the decision makers are too far removed, the paranoia associated with a fear of cozy relationships between buyers and sellers forces larger enterprises to minimize true relationships. And without a relationship – one predicated on openness, trust, loyalty, and ultimate a deep concern (similar to but not equal to love) relationships and partnering aren’t really possible.

When a prospect starts out with suggestions of partnering with me and/or my firm, my radar becomes more focused as I adjust those words to really mean, this prospects want something (referrals, money, sales, introductions, etc.) from me and he is loose with his language as there is no foundation (yet) for true partnering. Partnering evolves over time and like any true relationship cannot be rushed.

So, if you are a buyer or seller – seek relationships and allow partnering to evolve. If you hear those words too early – run, don’t walk, to protect your wallet, reputation, etc.

Oh, after Charles and I shared our cynical view of partnering, he leaned forward and said, “you know, these guys actually meant it. They assisted with financing, introductions, coordination, and overall commitment. This company really understands that working together is our bright future and they are in fact, partners.” That is simply great news for Charles and for all of us to remember that there are people who actually mean what they say and their words are supported by their deeds.

Partnering when possible is the best way for continued long-term business success. Like all ventures and relationships, choose wisely.

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