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When Someone Says, "We Value Our Relationship", Duck.

relationshipThe four words I dread most in a client or partner conversation are: "we value our relationship". Instead of being the statement of solidarity, respect or appreciation that it would seem to be, this comment is anything but. It is in fact an early warning system that should get the urgent attention of business people the second it is uttered, and should produce an eye opening UH OH moment for the recipient of this damning praise. 

In my experience, this phrase is the equivalent of the light jab that snaps your head back a bit, presenting your chin at just the right upward angle, so that when the inevitable left hook is thrown just seconds later, you get dropped to your knees. You should put your guard up, because something’s going down. 

We all know that business relationships can be really challenging – there are dozens of complexities that can strain, test and stretch good partnerships to a breaking point: incoming and outgoing team members and leaders, changing economic conditions, seasonal bumps and gullies and conflicting personalities can all contribute to the difficulties of creating and cultivating a productive partnership or client relationship. 

"Don’t camouflage your intentions with fluffy ideals that can’t be quantified and which aren’t clear to your partners." 

So what makes the good ones endure while others fall into the "valued relationship" trash heap? I’ve asked some of the business leaders I respect most for their thoughts on this topic, and have given it a lot of consideration myself, reflecting on the failed partnerships and I’ve personally experienced over the years. Based on this highly unscientific assessment, I’ve come to believe that it comes down to one, very simple, seminal factor: the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow either doesn’t exist or isn’t big enough to warrant the effort required to keep the relationship strong and healthy. 

Business relationships are about one thing only: money – either saving it or making it. Here you might start contending: "No, they’re a about synergy and strategy and optics and meeting market demand!". Nope. 

IMHO, this is a dangerously lofty belief trap that causes well-meaning professionals to squander untold person hours working to create partnerships that are ultimately, but unknowingly, doomed to fail. They fail because too few partnerships deliver the revenue increases or the cost savings they were originally imagined for. This is either because the plan wasn’t specific enough up front, or because something unexpected occurred and the intended outcomes just haven’t materialized. Regardless of the effort expended and any positive – albeit non-financial – outcomes that may have been accomplished, a partnership in this condition should end and end quickly, allowing all parties to go seek out other, more valuable partnerships. 

To prevent this bummer of an outcome, there’s a simple solution: ruthlessness. 

Anyone involved in partnerships must approach the creation of a partnership with a very clear – indeed ruthless – financial model of the intended return and the schedule within which this return is to be delivered. All parties must emphatically agree to both the intended financial outcomes and the timetable. Don’t camouflage your intentions with fluffy ideals that can’t be quantified and which aren’t clear to your partners. 

If these agreements are clear and if you’ve truly agreed with your partners, you’ll know well before the jab if your partnership isn’t cutting it, and you’ll avoid getting knocked out when you’re not expecting it.