Synergies and Partnerships

At times I receive initiations to meet with people and the invitation includes the words synergy and partnership. The invitation may go like this: “I see that wthat you and I are doing seems to have much in common. Perhaps we should meet and see if there are any synergies in what we do; perhaps can partner on a project or client?” Based on my experience of these meetings, at times I have wanted to define the word partner to mean “please give me your clients so I can make some money from them.”

This experience can be disconcerting, so there are two things that I do in order to maintain good relationships: I am clear on my intention and I moderate my own expectations about the people that I meet.

Not every person that I have met simply wants my clients, but enough have that I became a bit wary. At the same time, I have given numerous references to colleagues who have served my clients quite well and I am very happy that I have met the professionals that I have referred. So, the quandary is, how to strike a happy balance in meeting professionals that I might like to refer work to and finding my own clients.

My primary reason for meeting with someone is to determine whether or not that person might need my services, and I don’t meet with them unless in conversation we have discovered together both a need on their part and the possibility that I might fill that need. Qualifying a potential client is simply good business process. Anyone in business, whether a small company or a fortune, must have a person or group of people (usually referred to as a Sales Department) that spend a lot of time doing this.

If you are a small business owner, entrepreneur or independent consultant, it takes a lot of time and effort to find clients. As a result, you are leery of spending time with someone who seems to be intent on short-cutting their way by acquiring your clients. At the same time, giving and receiving referrals can be beneficial. How to solve this conundrum?

Here are 2 things that I keep in mind when I am going to meet someone for the purpose of networking that are necessarily very different to my approach when meeting a prospective client:

First, I am clear on my intention as I approach any networking meeting: that intention is best represented by the phrase: “How can I help your business?” I am interested in knowing about your business and I am constantly amazed by what I learn (see my Blog Business Starts with an Idea).

Second, I moderate my own expectations about the people that I meet and do not expect that the person that I meet will be able to refer any business to me. This is actually based on experience; while I have received referrals in the past, they are not my normal avenue for finding clients. When I receive one, I am grateful and happy, but I cannot build my business only on referrals.

This can be subtle, note that I am not saying that I have no need of references from satisfied clients and other people that know my work. These latter are very important, but I just expect that they will come from clients who I have found directly myself, not from referrals. By being clear in my intention and moderating my expectations, I am able to maintain good professional relationships with my colleagues.

6 thoughts on “Synergies and Partnerships

  1. Boy truer words were never written or spoken. In a way I was glad to read your posting because sometimes I feel I must be one of the few to experience these individuals. Your posting reveals there are a lot more of these lazy, self serving salespersons to small business owners who see only a one way street leading straight to them.

    Referrals are great especially as they do open doors. However it has been my experience that I must earn the sale by developing the relationship and this takes time. Unfortunately there are too many Captain Wing Its who spray and pray their activities and then hope for something to stick.

  2. Your comments are so true Kevin and it’s difficult to see how your approach to networking be faulted. I also agree with Leanne though – referrals can (and do) come from networking, but only in time, when people have come to know and trust you.

    As an example of how not to network, I was at a networking event recently and met a lady for the first time. After introducing ourselves, she spent 10 minutes telling me about her business, her clients, why they needed her, how great she was etc etc. Eventually, she did pause for breath long enough to ask me what I did, but I’d lost the will to live by then. Would I recommend her? No. Was she after my clients? Yes.

    What I found most interesting. was that her business speciality was communications and building relationships!

  3. Janice McIntosh

    Kevin, when I read your article, my mouth dropped right open because I feel the same way! I have to do a lot of networking for my business and it seems like a competition to get as many business cards as possible at events and then at the end of the day, I have this stack of cards and cannot remember which ‘fast talker’ I got them from.

    I do see the value of networking but there has to be a ‘How to’ and all that I’ve been exposed to is a real turn off. I recently met someone who asked that I pass my clients over to him. The next thing I see him in my office with a stack of his cards and asking if I’ve told anyone yet about how he can invest their money for them. Ugh! What a turn off.

    I liked Leanne’s and Margaret’s comments and believe that though referrals are great your work must speak for itself and allow people to spread the word out of sheer satisfaction. You need to Blog this on Yahoo! MSN and a few other sites to get everyone to open their eyes on how NOT to bombard people for their clients businesses.

  4. I too see these kinds of networkers. I don’t mind meeting with them, it just bothers me that I can’t help them.

    My biggest challenge is time. I can’t do the kind of work that I need to for success if I meet with everybody and don’t know if we can help each other.

    Recently, an adviser suggested that I create a questionnaire to help us assess if I can help them and vice versa. I am beginning to implement this strategy. I even included a couple meaningful questions that I haven’t had the guts to ask in person.

    So far, I have learned more, and will be of more value to their interests and mine as a result.

  5. […] by Kevin Callahan addressed how some less than ethical salespersons to small business owners see business networking as a one way street. These folks could care less about you, but truly only want to either sell you […]

  6. Vadim Katsman

    While networking and partnerships are two-way street, that street is not necessarily symmetrical in exchange of value. We all operate on different levels of a food chain, we enter our clients’ companies using different doors and for different needs.

    It is very unlikely, for instance, I would need to bring to my client the same person who would bring me in a prior situation – it happens but rather as an exception. At the same time I share my connections with people on both sides of my food chain.

    When I approch introducing myself to an yet unknown person in a cyber world or as a physical event follow up, I am clear that my intent is to discover if what I do is needed and if that spot is not taken yet. This is the way how I can evaluate “how can I help your business” with someone above my position in a food chain giving that person a complete control over accepting my invitation. I am also open for similar requests from services that I use when delivering so I can bring somebody trusted with me on a call.

    Just agreeing exchanging referrals never worked for me in neither direction. However, if the value I can put on a table is compelling enough, the relationship will move forward.

    But unless I approach this situation heads-on I will never know. So my introduction question is direct but clear – not “if we can learn each other about our businesses” etc. but a bit simpler way “here is what I do, here is my profile, please let me know if there is any reason for us to know each other” – and if not this is OK since it saves time to both of us.

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