5 Guidelines for Strong Business Partnerships

We are all familiar with Individual transactions where you want to obtain the greatest value or lowest price with little or no expectation of repeating the transaction (e.g. buying a car, acquiring a key piece of machinery or equipment for your business). In these cases, it is simply a function of which party can demand and get the best outcome from their own perspective. Since it is a one-time transaction, there is typically less opportunity for building upon it for longer-term mutual benefit.

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    Establishing or modifying a business relationship or partnership generally will be a different situation. In these cases, both parties are seeking value and return from the partnership that often is expected or desired over a long period of time and therefore is based on mutual trust. While it is a trite and perhaps overused phrase, both parties likely expect the relationship to be a long-term “win-win” situation.  

    Guidelines for a Strong Business Relationship or Partnership

    I have negotiated numerous business relationships of various sizes, some of which were successful and some were not. Combining these experiences has led me to apply these guidelines that help lead to strong partnerships.

    Guideline No. 1: Pick your partners carefully. Character and trust are the most important assets in a business partnership. Seek out organizations and people you are excited to do business with. The key to any good business relationship is to think strategically about the relationship and understand individual and shared goals. Before lawyers get involved, make sure you talk openly about business goals for both parties. Getting the business goals in writing can help make sure you enter the legal phase of creating a contract with a solid, mutually understood business case.

    Here are four tips to keep in mind when it comes to picking partners.

    Picking Partners Tip No. 1: Ask lots of questions to get a deep understanding of the other side’s strategies, needs, operations, etc. Ask questions even if you think that you know the answers. Listen carefully to the answers, what they say, the way they say it and their body language. Identify what brings their emotions up and down. You can present your stand according to your findings and be sensitive to their needs and requests.

    Picking Partners Tip No. 2: Be authentic and as open and transparent as possible or is practical with your own strategies, needs, operations, etc. Some people might approach a negotiation looking to gain an advantage by concealing information. While you may achieve a desired result in the short term, you run the risk of tarnishing your reputation, as well as increasing the odds that the deal can go bad. Share your reasoning and intentions in the discussions to help make it clear that you are a straight shooter who deals in good faith. You are more likely to disarm the other side’s defenses and improve the odds of a productive, long-term business partnership.

    Picking Partners Tip No. 3: Learn as much as possible about the role and benefit of the business relationship for the person or people you are dealing with. As the relationship progresses to initiation and especially through the course of the arrangement, find ways to expand your reach into the other organization by meeting and talking with people at various levels to better understand how all parties benefit. A phrase to frame this way of thinking is to seek to be “high, wide and deep” in your relationships with business partners, especially if it is a large organization. This reduces the chances that changes in management or company strategy will significantly detour the relationship.

    Picking Partners Tip No. 4: Take an appropriate amount of time to build the trust in a potential long-term relationship. If you are feeling uncomfortably heavy pressure to give an answer early in the process of developing or negotiating the relationship, I have found it is best to just say “No.”  Perhaps you can come back to the table at some point in the future, but the timing has to be and feel right for both parties.

    Guideline No. 2: Play for the long term by ensuring balance in the overall outcome (better known as “win/win”). The goal should be to forge a plan that creates solid benefits for all parties, not just big benefits for one side. Gaining the knowledge noted above will improve your ability to seek the positive outcomes for the other party and find the balance desired. This also leads to a stronger foundation to motivate a positive working relationship once the deal is done. At the same time, it is important to be ready to decide if and when there is not enough balance for either party. An imbalance of outcomes will likely lead to a short-term relationship and starting over with a new partner is more costly than continuing a fruitful and productive relationship.

    Guideline No. 3: Get on the “same side of the table.”  Be very clear about the work that is expected upon delivery and each company’s role in getting it there. Define roles precisely so they have no messy gray area. Make sure the exact product, service or process is explained and the infrastructure to support and update that product is part of this definition.

    Guideline No. 4: Create a deal for the other side that you would like to have for yourself. As you enter the contractual aspect of the relationship, it is easy to think about all the positive things that can happen in the relationship. It can be equally important to think through when, where and how things can go awry and end in a bad outcome. Look for ways to incorporate provisions in the contract that consider these potential outcomes and include ways to address or handle them should they arise. One way to think about this phase of the process is to “write the divorce settlement before the marriage.” 

    Guideline No. 5: Create a plan for evaluation. As part of your negotiation, you should make an effort to agree upon how to evaluate the performance of both parties after the deal is done. Agreeing to measure the success of the relationship is a way to improve the likelihood that performance standards, payment terms, and other rules and expectations are met. This sort of rigorous follow-through ensures that everyone’s expectations are aligned and makes conversations about the relationship following the deal’s closure more objective and generally easier.    

    A business relationship or partnership can yield great potential if approached and developed effectively.   Hopefully these thoughts serve as a guide in your business pursuits, large or small. 

    Bob Nicolay retired following a 25-year career at Progressive Insurance having had success in senior-level general management roles. During his career, he also held similar roles with small-l to mid-sized privately-held companies. He currently maintains a consulting practice advising and guiding senior leaders with financial services clients in developing and executing product, distribution/sales, marketing and operational strategies resulting in revenue and profit growth. He can be reached at Rnicolayconsulting@gmail.com or 440-213-3381.

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    Next up: 5 Lessons to Learn from the Cleveland Indians' Success

    5 Lessons to Learn from the Cleveland Indians' Success

    The Cleveland Indians experienced a historic run of success in 2017. It didn't happen by accident. Here are five lessons businesses can learn from the Indians and apply to their own operations.

    As we begin the 2017 Major League Baseball Playoffs, the Cleveland Indians are the favorites to take home their first World Series title since 1948. This season has been impressive, especially since the team could have experienced a letdown following a heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the 2016 World Series.

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    The 2017 season has been historic. Beginning on Aug. 24, Cleveland went on a 22-game winning streak, the longest in Major League history. It is the second longest unbeaten streak behind the 1916 New York Giants who had a 26-game unbeaten streak, which included a tie. The Indians will enter the postseason with the most prolific strikeout pitching staff in baseball history, more than 1,550 strikeouts and a 3.9 strikeout-to-walk rate, both records.

    So how did the Indians get so good? It all comes down to the team, a collection of individuals who work as one to accomplish their goals. There are several foundational elements of a winning team, and the Cleveland Indians are a perfect example of how to put these elements into action.

    But this doesn’t just apply to professional baseball. There are lessons for business, too. Here are five traits of the 2017 Cleveland Indians team that can be applied to your organization.

    Trait No. 1: A shared vision. The Cleveland Indians have a clear vision for 2017. The ownership, management and players all have expressed the same ultimate goal for the team—to win the World Series. This doesn’t mean that it will happen. A vision isn’t guaranteed. However, it does mean that all team members are focused on the same end state. The best teams develop a clear vision, ensure alignment of all team members, and continually reinforce the organization’s vision through both words and actions.

    Trait No. 2: Clearly-defined roles. From starting pitchers to the bullpen, all players understand what their roles are as part of the pitching staff. The same goes for the position players. Winning teams create clearly-defined roles for everyone, and make sure that all team members understand what they are accountable for and how they are being evaluated.

    Trait No. 3: Highly-skilled talent. From Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to All-Star position players such as Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, there is no shortage of talent on the Indians. To build a team of talented players, management was tasked with determining the needed skills for the team and securing players who matched up with those skills. The team also used analytics to evaluate talent before signing them. Finally, ownership gave resources such as money to attract high-level talent. For many organizations, the ability to secure talent is the most important factor to success. Just like the Indians, your organization should identify the skills you need, develop a thorough process to evaluate candidates who match those skills and create a compelling value proposition that attracts talented people to join the team.

    Trait No. 4: A strive for greatness. Many sports teams have talented players, but most of those teams don’t achieve the level of success of the 2017 Cleveland Indians. A key to Cleveland’s success is that the players are reaching for greatness. They are motivated to be better every day. They work hard at their craft. They aren’t satisfied until they reach their full potential. The tone of “strive for greatness” is something that permeates from the top down and through every person on the team. Successful teams in any organization have people who are not only talented, but also motivated to be their best.

    Trait No. 5: Strong leadership. Many people believe that Terry “Tito” Francona is the best manager in baseball. Not only does he know baseball, but he possesses other traits that lead to the team’s success. What Francona does best is managing his players. He does it by talking to them. "Tito is the total package," star relief pitcher Andrew Miller told cleveland.com. "It's his ability to communicate with anybody. It doesn't matter if it's a pitcher or position player, he has the ability to put players in a position to succeed.” All winning teams, whether in sports or business, should have strong leadership that motivates, communicates and puts their team in the best position to be successful.  

    Because the Cleveland Indians possess these five traits, it’s not surprising that they have built a winning culture that permeates throughout the organization. The 2017 Indians are an easy team to root for. They are a collection of players who believe in each other, have strong leadership and strive to be excellent. A team that is built with these characteristics is much better positioned to achieve success than a team that does not possess these crucial qualities.

    Nevin Bansal is the president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions.

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    Next up: 5 Simple Phone Tactics to Overhaul Your Image

    5 Simple Phone Tactics to Overhaul Your Image

    Have we gotten too casual on the phone? Are we being lazy when communicating with clients or prospective clients? Don’t just phone it in—or maybe you can! Give your image a facelift by taking these quick and easy actions toward improved phone communication.

    Most small businesses facing the challenge of improving their image in the marketplace are staring at major investments of time and money. Properly planned and launched, those investments can earn significant positive results.

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    But what about the rest of us with similar needs but no deep pockets to pull all that off? Are we doomed to endure the mediocre or amateurish image we’ve created by what we’ve done or not done since we started our businesses?

    Not to worry. Here are five simple and easy phone tactics to overhaul your image. So easy you can phone them in. They require no investment—only some creativity and effort. Start small and simple. See how many you can add to your small business tool kit and start using them immediately.

    Simple and easy tactic No. 1: Personalize you voice mail greeting

    Most small businesses use a voice mail greeting when they can’t answer incoming calls. This message might be the first impression a prospect or new customer gets of the company’s style and values. And it might reinforce those impressions with repeat callers. Listen to your voice mail greeting like a caller would. How do you feel about the business and the people running it? Do you want to do business with them?

    What kind of impressions does this recorded message cast?

    “Your call is being forwarded to an automated voice messaging system … 475 338-0298 is not available … “           

    Probably not favorable. More like lazy, dumb and cheap. How simple to invest a few minutes to personalize that greeting?

    “Hi, this is Ben Dover with Glitztronics. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you by the end of the day.”

    Job done—concise, courteous and helpful. Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

    Simple and easy tactic No. 2: Listen to what callers hear

    So, what do callers hear when you do answer the phone? What kind of an image does your greeting cast? “Hi …” is a good start, but it needs help: “Hi, this is Ben with Glitztronics …” is better, but “Hi … this is Ben Dover with Glitztronics. How can I help you today?” really works well. Which one casts the best image of Ben? Which is the most like yours?

    Simple and easy tactic No. 3: Turn a problem into a pleasure

    What do you say when a caller needs help, asks a question or just says, “Thanks”? I do have a problem with responding, “No problem”, which seems to be most everyone’s default response these days. Simply say, “You’re welcome” instead. And even better is, “My pleasure.” While the shift from “problem” to “pleasure” is subtle, it does say something about your attitude.

    Simple and easy tactic No. 4: Review how you place out-going calls

    When you place an out-going call, what do they hear first after answering?  Consider a concise and courteous statement such as, “Hi … this is Ben Dover from Glitztronics … Is this a good time to discuss next week’s meeting?”

    And if the other person says it’s not a good time, no need to apologize. If you knew that, you wouldn’t have called and also, remember, they picked up the phone in the first place.

    Because most people have some version of Caller ID installed on their phone, make sure the read out isn’t lame like “unknown caller”, “not available” or blank. Those all signal a robo or spam call. Would you answer a call like that yourself? If I don’t recognize the name or number, I let the call go into voice mail where they hear my concise and courteous message. Most don’t leave a message, which tells me they were robo or spammers.

    Simple and easy tactic No. 5: Please leave a (complete) message

    When you do leave a voice message, what do they hear? “Hi … This is Ben returning your call” Is a good start, but not enough to really be helpful. “Hi … This is Ben Dover with Glitztronics returning your call. I can meet with you Tuesday at 10 or Thursday at 3. Let me know what works for you at 459-703-3162.’ While longer, it’s a more courteous and complete communication.

    Little effort, big results

    As you’ve seen, it doesn’t take much time or effort to phone in your image-casting make-over tactics that differentiate your business from the competition who don’t think it matters or have even bothered to try.

    Everything your customers and prospects hear over the phone should be on purpose and for a purpose. What kind of an image-casting score would they give your business?

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to communicate confidently. A popular trainer and executive coach on workplace communications and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative.
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    Next up: 5 Things to Know About Working with Big Companies

    5 Things to Know About Working with Big Companies

    As part of our ongoing series, we sat down recently with Investor-Level Member Jan Davis from Noble Davis Consulting, Inc. to find out what it’s like to be a small business working with large companies.

    Noble-Davis Consulting, Inc. helps companies to design and maintain their retirement plans. Since 1987, the company has been taking responsibility for your retirement and welfare plans so clients can focus on their business. They make plans smart, simple and worry-free. Jan Davis joined the company in 1995, understanding nothing about 401(k) plans. She worked her way up through all positions in the firm to become the president and owner.

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    Mind Your Business sat down recently with Davis to find out a little more about what it’s like working with larger companies.

    MYB: What’s one thing you’ve learned from working with bigger companies?  

    Davis: We have learned that the key to pleasing big customers is to be nimble and able to adapt quickly to their needs. As a small company, we are more easily able to wrap ourselves around the needs of the client and make a big impact in solving a problem or providing a needed service.

    MYB: What do small business owners need to do to be prepared to work with large companies?  

    Davis: You need to really think about the scale and volume of working with a large company. It can range from figuring out how much of your staff’s time you need to dedicate to a large company to get the job done well, all the way to making sure you have enough supplies in stock to be able to fulfill a 20-page employee mailing for a customer with 1,000 employees on short notice.

    MYB: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve found in working with big companies? How did you overcome it?  

    Davis: The biggest challenge for us is that we have to have highly trained people to be able to service the large companies. If that large company decides to leave our services, it can leave us overstaffed very quickly. It will take a lot of smaller customers to fill the hole that a large company leaves. Also, we often don’t have the same resources that a national firm may have. We try to leverage the things we can do better than those national firms—such as having one point of contact and outstanding customer service—to offset the millions we don’t have to invest in something like a website.

    MYB: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve found working with big companies?  

    Davis: The most surprising thing is they are often the most appreciative of the simple things, like being responsive and providing them with a quick and accurate response. I think having one point of contact and being able to speak with the person who actually services their account can be quite refreshing for a large company. 

    MYB: How do you go about finding these larger customers? Do you have any recommendations for our COSE members who might be interested in seeking larger companies as clients?  

    Davis: For us, the key to finding any customer is the relationships we have and can make. We have found our larger customers through the same channels as our smaller customers. We establish most of our customers from referrals. Working on retirement plans, we need to have partnerships with investment advisors, accountants and attorneys. If we can show that we do a good job with our clients who have a smaller number of employees, we will also get an opportunity to service customers with a larger number of employees. Since we are known as problem solvers, we are often referred in to help a customer who had a bad experience and needs more hand-holding and the expertise that we are able to offer.

    MYB: What are some of the benefits you’ve found in being a COSE member?  

    Davis: I find the opportunities for networking and COSE events have been the biggest benefit of being a COSE member.

    Learn more about the benefits of being a COSE Member by clicking here. Or, contact our Membership Team directly via email at memberservices@cose.org or by phone at 216-592-2355.

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    Next up: 5 Traits of Transformational Entrepreneurs

    5 Traits of Transformational Entrepreneurs

    It seems as though business disruptors are everywhere these days. Do you want your company to become as big of a transformational force also? If so, here are five traits the visionaries behind these disruptors all share.

    Throughout 2018, Mind Your Business will be reviewing the highlights of the 2017 BizConCLE event hosted by COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Today’s article focuses on the five things that define influential entrepreneurs, according to investor extraordinaire Mark Thompson. Read the other stories in this series here.

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    From Amazon to Tesla, there is plenty of disruption happening in the marketplace today. These companies are connected to their customers, and they are disrupting by zeroing in on exactly what their audience needs.

    During a keynote address at BizConCLE, early investor in companies such as Facebook and Netflix Mark Thompson said there are five characteristics demonstrated by entrepreneurs who share this knack for disruption.

    Trait No. 1: A disruptive dream

    Thompson said the most disruptive companies have the same characteristics as a space mission: a big, hairy, audacious goal. They have a clear mission. And, beyond that, these business owners have a passion and sense of urgency, too.

    Game-changers such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and others didn’t get ahead by playing it safe, he said. They understood that big companies should never be disrupted and weren’t afraid to take risks.

    These luminaries also understood, Thompson said, the importance of building a strong team and that disruptors work best when they work together.

    Trait No. 2: Fanatic discipline and continual learning

    .Tesla’s Elon Musk is a terrific example of a disruptor who is not afraid to continue learning about his customers. Crowdsourcing insights into how customers use your product is a fantastic way to stay connected to what the fans of your business want.

    Trait No. 3: Productive paranoia

    Think about the worst possible thing that could happen to your business. If you had to rebuild your business from scratch, would you rebuild it the same way? Leading disruptors are thinking about this all of the time, Thompson said. And they’re not afraid to break conventional wisdom to keep their business fresh.

    Trait No. 4: Partnership

    As was alluded to previously, transformative businesses differentiate themselves through partnerships. Your technology and your processes can be copied. The strategic alliances you have, on the other hand, cannot.

    Thompson added that sustainable success is only possible when you give it to others, such as your customers, your team, etc. Relatedly, if you can identify who is making the buying decisions, it will make it easier for your business to be successful.

    Trait No. 5: Defining success

    No two people are going to define success exactly the same way. In fact, Thompson said Virgin’s Richard Branson addresses this at the beginning of a lot of his meetings by asking his associates, “What does success look like for us on this project?”

    It’s important for entrepreneurs to not assume that everyone who’s important to your business defines success the same way you do. Again, it’s critical to stay connected to your customers and consistently deliver what they want.

    Find out more about the 2018 chapter of BizConCLE and the inspiring speakers and educational sessions that are in store for you.

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    Next up: 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Holiday Downtime

    5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Holiday Downtime

    Things can get a little bit slow around the holidays. But that’s not an excuse to let your productivity lag! Here are five ways to take advantage of any slowdowns this holidays season.

    For many companies—excluding, of course, retail—business slows down during the holidays as people take vacations and defer new decisions on purchases for the following year. This downtime creates a wonderful opportunity to reenergize yourself and your business.  

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    Here are five ideas on how to leverage your downtime this holiday season:

    Idea No. 1: Organize and refresh your space. Like many of you, I struggle to keep my business organized and clean. Clutter builds up, files get disorganized and the environment gets stale. The holidays are a great time to purge extra clutter, reorganize your files and update your décor. By concentrating on these tasks during the “offseason,” your team will be more productive and engaged throughout the rest of the year.

    Idea No. 2: Evaluate opportunities. Whether it’s identifying process improvements, talent needs or new innovations, now is the time to look at your business and see what opportunities exist for improvement.

    Idea No. 3: Plan for next year. The holidays are a great time to reflect on the past year’s goals, accomplishments and challenges and set new goals and plans for next year. Your planning can include setting new sales targets, adding new products and services and instituting new processes to improve efficiency.

    Idea No. 4: Conduct teambuilding and employee engagement activities. Teambuilding and engagement should be a year-round activity. However, the holidays create a unique opportunity to amplify efforts to improve your culture. The spirit of the holidays means appreciation for others and creating a feeling of family. Volunteering to serve food at a kitchen, throwing a holiday party and providing a gift to your team are great ways to bond and to show your staff how much you value them.

    Idea No. 5: Work on yourself. Many of us work long hours and wear many hats. Our time is stretched. As a result, we have less time to work on self-improvement. With downtime during the holidays, you can read an extra leadership book, brush up on skills and work on areas that can help you become more successful in business and life.

    By doing one or all of these activities, not only have you set up your business for more success next year, but you have figured out how to gain personal value at a time when business is slow. Keep in mind that, above all else, it is important to take time to enjoy this time with family and friends. That is what the holidays are all about! 

    Nevin Bansal is the president and CEO of Outreach Promotional Solutions. 


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