It’s amazing the number of “networking” meetings I’ve had in the past that have amounted to nothing. Conversations where you quickly realise there’s too much overlap in what we do. Or the flipside, that as businesses we are just too far apart to ever come together in a meaningful way.
That’s not to say all those meetings were entirely fruitless. I’ve developed some great friendships from an initial introduction over coffee. We are, however, unlikely to ever do business together. For these same reasons, I’m sure the networking value was also limited.
People develop business relationships with each other because the value of the relationship exceeds the value without it. There are caveats to this of course. For example, if the value of the relationship is lopsided in any way, either in value or cost, then that relationship may be difficult to maintain.
It is one thing to go into these kinds of meetings with your eyes open to whatever may turn out. It is another to have already predicted the outcome before you get there. As much as I like coffee, I also like return on investment. Even a ‘quick’ coffee meeting ought to have a return on the time somewhere…
Most business relationships tend to unite around a common purpose. In this purpose, there is an overlap that exists between you and your new (or potential) value partner. In the intersections, lies three touch points:
- Offering: Basically, what is that you are both bringing to the table. How are you and your value partner contributing to the shared purpose? This could be anything from skills and capabilities, resources like money, or perhaps just emotional and moral support.
- Engagement: What is need for you both to engage with the purpose or problem? Marketing and sales might be the obvious examples here, but emotional and social factors such as trust and loyalty can be extremely important.
- Integration: What do you and your value partner need to work together. Like the other two points, this must cover the functional, social and emotional aspects of the relationship. How do you share knowledge? How do you maintain trust?
Now that we understand those touch points, we can start to map out what our potential relationships might look like. Start with a given problem you want to solve; your future shared purpose as it is. For each touch point, a competitive, cooperative, or collaborative relationship will have certain characteristics.
Competitive relationships will have similar, or a high overlap on offerings. Reframing the shared purpose may, however, still allow valuable partnerships form. For instance, educating the marketplace on a new concept would bring mutual value to an otherwise competitive relationship.
Such relationships would typically then become cooperative. You and your value partner both bringing existing capability and knowledge to the party. Engagement into the purpose may be via an industry body, or funnily enough, a cooperative as is popular in agriculture. Integration could be as thin as a handshake agreement or perhaps some kind of membership.
Collaborative relationships will typically focus more on the integration side. Transparency and trust become key factors along with the more functional needs in each offering. The offering of your partners could be one of diverse view, or potentially the resources needed to fulfil a vision.
They key here is to understand what attributes each relationship entails. What are we looking for across the three touch points? How are they different for a competitive, cooperative, or collaborative relationship? Important questions when looking for any compatible suitor.
Targeted and Deliberate
With clearer picture of our target relationships, we can venture out into our ecosystems with purpose. Focusing on those organisations that best match our profile for more deliberate meetings. Or for a more effective outcome, framing the conversation in a way where the shared value is obvious.
What we are trying to avoid is walking aimlessly around the school yard asking “Can we be friends” to every kid you run into. Kids do this because they don’t know what works and what doesn’t. They are still learning what being friends really means.
We as adults, running businesses of our own, should really have no excuse. Our goal should be to foster a healthy ecosystem through a targeted and deliberate approach. Anything else would quite frankly, be a waste of everyone’s time, effort, and resources.