How to Choose a Strategic Business Partner

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On occasion, my father would begin to make a point with the phrase “if I had a dime for every time…..” and finish it with something like “a politician made a promise they did not keep – then I would be a rich man today”

With inflation, I’ve decided to modernize my father’s speech style by saying “if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me to join their affiliate program, write a book about their product, endorse their book, etc. I would be a much more affluent man today.” But, what if I actually joined all those affiliate programs, accepted every paid endorsement that came along, or felt compelled to be “nice” by blending my brand with anyone? Would I be wealthier or poorer for it?

When economies tighten there is even greater talk about the importance of “strategic alliances.” While much of this talk comes from people looking to connect with a big referral source, some of the energy behind business affiliation makes sense. But here are a few guideposts to consider when you are throwing your brand equity in with a “strategic partner”:



Join a parade– When I did a syndicated radio program and local radio show for over a decade, everyone wanted to be interviewed on the show. Everyone from motivation guru Tony Robbins to vice-presidential hopeful John Edwards. The interviews of greatest interest to me were with people who “did not need to be interviewed.” The best interviews were with people who had already achieved success, had their following, and had something to say – not something to sell. That notion also applies to strategic alliances. Similarly, when it comes to marketing events and publicity, it’s often better to connect to a well-organized community event that is trafficked as opposed to one that you attempt to create yourself – thus join a parade don’t start one.

Determine agendas ahead of time – One of my favorite collaborations came with a company that flew me into meet with them and began with “this is what we seek to gain from our association with you…..what do you want to gain from partnering with us.” Rather than trying to sell me on all the upsides of associating with them, they were laying their agenda on the table and wanted to know mine as well. Since our desired outcomes were compatible, the relationship was mutually profitable.

Brand equity is more valuable then fast cash – This is such an obvious rule to live by but desperate times breed some rather desperate measures. Recently, I’ve seen some rather “odd relationships” forged between high equity brands and rather cash rich companies of lesser integrity. While the money is nice (in yet another well-worn phrase of my father) “there is no free lunch.”

Having shared my three caveats about partnerships, please realize that I form written collaborations agreements with every company I write about. Companies like Starbucks, Ritz-Carlton, Pike Place Fish Market, and UCLA Health Sciences all share their huge brand equity with me and I share my authorship, consulting, and international speaker brand equity with them. It creates wins for both sides of the relationship.

I truly believe that there are no self-made men or self-made companies. Each of of stand on the shoulders of great people and brands that came before us, the challenge today is to not take that dollar every time an unworthy partner comes along.



What game-changing partnership opportunities await you and which ones should you let pass?

I welcome a discussion of the rules you live by when deciding with whom to partner! 


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