The challenges of managing partnerships

Structure is the short path to managing partners

Working in the innovation field in China means receiving an unusually high amount of requests to partner up. Over the past four years, I came to dread receiving a message with the words “collaboration,” “partnerships,” and “let’s sign an MOU.”
While it is most definitely half my own mistake, I don’t recall any actual outcomes from sealed partnerships. The chances to fail are even higher if we’ve never met the counterpart in real life or done work together before. And if there is no cash exchanged one way or the other, the odds are indeed against this collaboration’s success.

So why would people reach out and sign MOU? I sometimes assume that people might collect paperwork and pictures with smiles or handshakes on them. It probably keeps them busy.

In a way, though, there is an opportunity to bring two organizations together to deliver something more significant than each could execute separately.
But to make this correctly, the process has to be monitored carefully. And several best practices served me well to avoid too much waste of time.

All it takes is a bit of discipline.

Push back on signing documents

First, best refuse to sign any document if there’s no cash or a short-term client available. Instead, suggest waiting until one of this two scenario happens. That has always helped set the serious partnerships apart from the PR-focused ones. That won’t make everybody happy and satisfied, but it is well worth the trouble. And if you’re like me, reading a legal document is something we gladly skip.
In China, the only exception could be with government bodies. They wouldn’t concretely lead to sponsorship or client work, but they are worth the attention in the long run.

Build a system

Second, create a system that is reliable and complete. I rely on tools to scale my action, and managing partnerships is a great opportunity to leverage digital services. My choice this time is with Notion.so and its database system. It is seamless (and free for the lowest tier) to create a Workspace, then a Page, and then create the View that suits your needs. In this case, the “Table View” works fine to prepare and maintain a long list.

At this stage, the fields (called “Properties” in Notion) that have been useful are:

  • Title of the organization
  • Status (Lead / Contacted / Active / Passive / Lost)
  • Internal point of contact (from your side)
  • Name of partner’s contact (from their side)
  • High Priority (y/n)
  • Last Activity (date)
  • Title Last Activity (short description)

Notion is built in a way that you may add as many Properties as you’d like. But it’ll be as many fields to fill in and keep up to date. It’s a balance to find and test.

Notion is built in a way that you may add as many Properties as you’d like. But it’ll be as many fields to fill in and keep up to date. It’s a balance to find and test.

Start fillin’!

Third, you may want to start adding the partners that are on top of your head. But I usually don’t worry too much and instead wait for a new touch point. Doing it step by step rather than in one go is less overwhelming admin-wise. Similarly, it’s essential to update the Table regularly rather than waiting for the backlog to get longer. Remind yourself to take a look at it every couple of days, 5 minutes once in a while will be worth the time. Plus, looking at the list can give you some new ideas with opportunities to reach out.

Don’t drop the ball

Finally, have the discipline to reach out to your partners every quarter or so pro-actively. Pinging them will go a long way and it could create some interesting conversations. It is for that reason that I keep the Property “Last Activity” well up to date. Whenever I have 15 minutes, and I see that I’m falling behind on partnerships, I will send a gentle nudge. Even if we weren’t the ones creating that collaboration, it is warmly appreciated – and a good signal of excellent customer service.

Some organization and light touch discipline – managing partnerships isn’t so hard after all. And instead of being frustrated by a handful of unsuccessful ones, we can scale this system while keeping it close to our attention.

Matthieu Bodin is an entrepreneur and community builder. As the International Growth Director at XNode (thexnode.com), he works with startup founders, corporations, and ecosystem players to innovate in China. He is on a mission to identify the relevant model that will help organizations stay ahead of the competition. Previously, Matthieu worked for Techstars as the Regional Manager for Greater China where he supported community leaders to nurture their local tech communities. He has spent 12+ years in Greater China: Beijing, Hong Kong, and now Shanghai. He is on Twitter and Instagram with @maboxiu.

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