When to swipe left (what matters)

My last blog was about why it’s (largely) the responsibility of your technology partner to ensure your implementation project goes well. And any half decent partner will put their hand up in agreement.

But what if they don’t?

Well, in business as in life, it’s hard to accept, after the fact, that you simply chose the wrong partner to start with. And sorry, I can’t help you with that unless you want to change partner mid-relationship. But I can give you some advice on how to choose the right one next time — or even first time — round.

1. Size counts, looks don’t

While size shouldn’t matter, and a small but enticing partner may hook you in with the promise that you’ll be a big fish in a small pond, that’s not a sound strategy from a client perspective.

Why? For starters, all service businesses are focused on their pipeline. And small partners especially can’t afford to have a gap between finishing one job and starting the next. While this is sound business practice to ensure cashflow, it also means that if they’re required to start a new project while still working on yours, they usually can’t afford to turn away the opportunity, and need to share out their key people between projects. While that’s fine if they have enough people, it’s tough to manage multiple projects with limited resources. And it’s not great to be on the receiving end of a depleted project team.

Small partners also feel the impact of losing staff more keenly. A good consultant can pick and choose where they work, so exciting projects, competitive salaries, an engaging company culture and business stability are important to them. That’s a big ask for most of us, let alone a business struggling to attract, maintain or grow their critical mass of great consultants.

That said, if it’s a right-sized project, and your small partner can guarantee dedicated resources to keep it on track, then it’s all good. But you’d want that in writing.

SWIPE LEFT ON: Too small; flashy with no substance.
SWIPE RIGHT ON: Big enough to cope with your project, plus others, even if a key person leaves; a partner that’s more than just fancy brochures and a whizzy website.

2. Experience matters

Yes, partner experience is as important as the product. If you choose a product that has functionality which is specific to your needs, then your partner must have a demonstrated ability to deliver it. That includes consultants that specialise in that functionality, whether it’s manufacturing, finance, ecommerce, or logistics. Not just generalists.

And it’s not your job to pay for their consultants to learn on the job.

SWIPE LEFT ON: A lack of solution specific experience.
SWIPE RIGHT ON: Proven performers with a track record of success with businesses ‘like you’.

3. Compatibility

If you are going to be spending a lot of time together, then you need solid ground to build on. The same goals and values, and the same outlook on love, life and business. This way, if there’s a need for a robust discussion about the course of the project, you can be confident that you will both handle the situation with pragmatism and positivity, not recrimination and regret.

SWIPE LEFT ON: Master Service Agreements that ring alarm bells, partners with a sketchy word-of-mouth reputation.
SWIPE RIGHT ON: Partners who maintain good relationships with their other customers (even after they break up); Partners with a great story about overcoming a challenge that resulted in a positive outcome.

4. Performance under pressure

Ignore checking up on your partner’s references at your own peril. We know that all partners (ourselves included) are only going to point you to customers who are going to give positive references. But don’t rely on what those customers tell you on a superficial level (nice people, aligned culture, good job), instead, ask the hard questions.

  • How long did the implementation take (and how did it align with the project timeline)?
  • What were the most challenging things about implementation?
  • What are the things that you would have done differently?
  • What do you think the partner could have done differently?
  • Did your partner add value?
  • How did your partner react when/if things went wrong?
  • Would you work with them again?

SWIPE LEFT ON: Any partner whose customers think they could have probably done as good a job going DIY
SWIPE RIGHT ON: Partners whose customers have stayed respectfully and professionally friends with them after the deed is done.

4. A good talker

Forget the attraction of mysterious and moody. When you want a successful implementation there’s no substitute for a partner who communicates — clearly, often and on multiple levels. From your executive sponsor, to your senior supplier, right down to project manager/s and consultants. If you’re not getting good communication from all of those levels, and your partner is talking around issues instead of resolving them, that should be ringing alarm bells.

SWIPE LEFT ON: Anyone who leaves your messages on ‘seen’ without replying for three days, or never asks you questions!
SWIPE RIGHT ON: those who deliver a smile-inducing communication cadence, and give you a sense that your input is interesting and valuable.

5. Control freak?

This is a good thing. A casual approach isn’t attractive when it’s your money being spent. You need to look sideways if a prospective partner doesn’t present (and follow through on) a good project structure setup. This includes a schedule of regular meetings, exterior meetings, and project meetings along with a structured approach to governance. While spontaneity may be exciting in a personal relationship, it’s not a ride you want to take your business on.

SWIPE LEFT ON: partners who are flaky with date setting, or decision-making.
SWIPE RIGHT ON: partners who confidently propose dates and activities, then turn up on time!

Like dating, finding the right technology partner can be a frustrating process, with many disappointments. But, by setting yourself a few solid ground rules, based on core personal and business values, and sticking to them, you reduce the risk of being swayed by partners who impress with dazzle rather than substance. 

And, also like dating, the right connection can lead to a fulfilling, long-term relationship (we’d say marriage, but we know commitment-phobia is a thing for some!) Conversely, if the business relationship lacks equal commitment from both parties, and there is a mismatch in expectations and capability, then your future together is likely on shaky ground.

My advice? Be hard-nosed about choosing your future bed mate. You need solid ground on which to build a successful outcome.    

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