sun tsu business

Sun Tzu & Business: Quote of the Week

“We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors.”

– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Are your business alliances healthy?

I’m a partnership guy. I’ve always had partners as a key part of my Go-to-market (GTM) strategy, and believe they can be a true catalyst for amazing growth and long term success. But you have to learn to identify what a good partnership looks like, and there are many facets. Any alliance can be fraught with complications, conflicts of interest and overall pain if you don’t know the details of your partner’s goals. Here are some key items to examine before, during and after any alliance or partnership:

  1. What are your common goals? Any alliance in business requires a bi-directional understanding of the overall goal. So often, goals just don’t mesh, and can provide friction. For example, in the enterprise software world, most software developers are focused on incremental sales. In contrast, most enterprise class partners are consulting companies, and they want to drive services revenue and utilization. If the software is complex enough to require extensive services, this is a symbiotic relationship, if the software is simple to implement, there is a mismatch. Key: Identify goals of the alliance up front and the value the partnership brings to both sides.
  2. Determine the profile of the desired partner. In Sun Tzu’s age, the Zhou Dynasty, it was an era of warring states, and alliances were formed and broken throughout the period for resources, army augmentation and financial reasons. Knowing the profile of your prospective ally was key. Horses? Archers? Food? Today, in business, a partner profile might be more specific: do they have an expertise that helps you with prospects? Is their customer base ready and willing to adopt your solution? Are their strengths technically in line with your requirements? Do they have a warehouse or facility you can leverage in a key market. Key: Build a desired partner profile to maximize success of the alliance.
  3. Agree on what defines success. What are the key criteria that define the success of the partnership for both parties? Creating an agreement around success and how it will be defined gets all parties on the same page, and marching to the same drum. Note: Goals and success can be different, depending on perspective. Goals may vary in different departments or in different management levels. It might take multiple goals achieved to pronounce success. Key: Define success criteria and all else drives toward that end.
  4. Leverage experience and constantly refine 1-3. China in 500 BC was a constantly changing landscape: battles were lost, battles were won, armies were lost, resources were gained, etc. In the modern war of business people leave companies, acquisitions occur, facilities are closed and new corporate goals arise. Markets change and financial conditions impact decisions. Key: Always, always do quarterly reviews to revise alliance plans, goals and success criteria.

Signing off until the next post…good luck in the battle ’til then.

quotes, sun tsu, partnerships, business, evaluating partnerships

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