Successful project management requires a team of trusted advisors and vendors to keep up with ever-shifting trends and meet the unique needs of the business and each of its clients. Building these partnerships with marketing consultants, IT consultants, and others takes time. My fifteen years in program management, procurement, and entrepreneurship in the Greater Los Angeles area and in New York City have led to many successful (and a handful of not-so-successful) partnerships. I’ve learned how to find and keep the right mix of people and companies, and I’m happy to share my experience and put you on the fast track to more successful vendor partnerships here in California or wherever you may operate.
Now’s a great time to take advantage of the slower pace of business during the holidays to review your advisor and service provider suite and decide who should remain and who may no longer be a good fit. Then, start putting out feelers for new partners who better serve your needs and wants.
Here are five elements of successful advisor and vendor partnerships:
1. Common Goals and Values
A partnership exists to benefit both parties. Have a frank conversation up front with potential partners to identify common short-term and long-term goals, and to make sure your values align. Do you usually find yourself on the same side of common issues? If you do not share a particular value, does your potential advisor or vendor understand and consent to your priorities, and are they willing to use your priorities to make business decisions?
A clear statement of work, detailed notes, and regular review of these shared goals and values promotes unity and synergy and will also let both of you know when it is time to part ways. With a clear outline of the work to be performed and the estimated completion time and cost, it’s easy to see whether the vendor’s goals align with our company and those of our clients. When they do, success is ensured for the vendor, the client, and our firm. When our goals do not align, open communication can prevent a potential failed partnership, saving all parties time and money.
One successful example from my own experience was a partnership with a Salesforce consulting company. Their statement of work clearly outlined their tasks, completion time, and cost, which lined up perfectly with my client’s objective and collection of in-flight projects. This ensured that our partnership reached high performance levels, and our client was happy and satisfied.
We all know how rosy the beginning of a business relationship can be. The business lunches, the grandiose promises, and the exciting visions that come from the brainstorming meetings can cause a powerful inertia. But this energy must be tied to something substantive before it gets results. Before going too deep into any business relationship, be sure to:
- Establish a limited timeframe for commitment that lets both the vendor and the program management company test the waters and learn each other’s personality, strengths, and weaknesses. This commitment also makes it easier to press through the inevitable rough patches and (hopefully) on into greener pastures.
- Establish reasonable benchmarks that your advisor or vendor takes ownership of. Timely benchmarks provide clarity and focus and encourage accountability.
After countless projects involving partners and vendors over the years, I have learned that it’s imperative to have clear expectations and accountability at each step in the process.
Does the vendor have the domain experience and testimonials to back it up? A referral alone does not mean that company is the right fit for your organization. Before you consider working with them, interview potential partners using a list of tough gotcha questions that will reveal their knowledge base. Knowing what questions to ask is key. All CEOs have to know enough to be dangerous; otherwise, you may find your partners walking all over your business. If you don’t have knowledge in that area yourself, have the vendor or advisor teach you what you need to know; in this case, make sure to have at least two experts from different organizations so neither company gets an upper hand.
Here at Value Integrators, we have a rigorous interview process for vendors, a couple scoping calls, and an evaluation process to score the vendor on the relationship, project scope, other experience, and personnel topics. Make sure your own evaluation process provides a final score from a suite of key players in your company, client and/or project that you can associate with that vendor to help you make the right decisions about current and future partnerships.
Does your advisor or vendor make good decisions and give you reliable and relevant information to help you make good decisions? Do they have the expertise required for the job at hand? Do they have prior success with the job you’re asking them to do or the aptitude to succeed with your guidance? While it may seem nice to have “yes people” who always agree with us, it may be more productive to have advisors and vendors who know when to say “no.”
Our decision making reflects our inner circle. If you repeatedly make poor decisions, take a look at your leadership team, including your suite of vendors and advisors. Many organizations outsource fractional CMOs, CIOs, or CFOs. How might their decisions be steering you in the wrong direction? Will they partner with you to help the company succeed, or will they allow you to make poor choices until they simply abandon you altogether?
If a CEO pushes for new initiatives that threaten the success of initiatives already in progress, will you say yes to keep the peace and secure your job/contract, or will you do what it takes to keep the team intact and successful and accept the risk of losing your job/contract renewal?
This is a crucial assessment, but determining trustworthiness takes time. At the beginning of a new partnership, guard against a potentially untrustworthy advisor or vendor by working with them on shorter projects to see how they handle varied scenarios. Each project builds trust and gives you the confidence to move forward with the next one.
When your project management company must work with a new vendor on a larger contract, you may choose to do more extensive research on their background or conduct a rigorous interview to help determine their credibility, knowledge, and character.
Whatever method you choose, be sure to establish the trustworthiness of a new vendor or advisor before entering into a long-term partnership. Working with the wrong service providers can cost you big down the road—not only in money but in the time and energy it takes to repair failed contracts and client relationships.
Every new partnership will provide its own lessons. I’ve built a successful track record in project management here in the Greater Los Angeles area, and I hope the lessons I’ve gleaned can help make your journey easier as you build your own experience base. But remember: Don’t listen only to the experts and forget to listen to your own common sense and intuition. These five tips are designed to help you do just that, so you can identify and retain the right advisors and vendors for your consulting practice in California or beyond. Now get out there and build those partnerships!
Want to know more? Contact us with your project management questions.