Why we don’t do lunch (not to build partnerships, anyway)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what partnerships mean in Silicon Valley. In building our ecosystem of partners—service providers that complement RoseRyan’s offerings—I’ve realized two things: One, partnerships between service providers are tricky. And two, many people throw the word partner around, and yet it has different meaning for each person.

Our clients often ask us for referrals to attorneys, HR specialists and other service providers that can help them build their business. When I refer a business partner to a client, the partner’s work is a reflection of our firm. I want it to be a good match. I need to be confident about their values, how they work with clients and how they treat people.

But the typical Silicon Valley methodology doesn’t reveal this information. It usually goes like this: I go to lunch with X service provider, they tell me what they provide, and I explain the services we provide. After 90 minutes, we feel we know each other. Time goes by. Now I have a client who needs what X does, and I try to remember exactly what X told me three months ago. Nothing stands out—and I assume X’s services are like everybody else’s in their industry.

Couldn’t be more wrong! All service providers are different—their services are just part of the mix.

That’s why our process for building partnerships goes beyond the typical 90-minute lunch-and-go scenario. We spend a lot of time getting to know our partners. We do a deep dive into their business, we know their strengths and weaknesses, and we talk about the squishy stuff. We come to understand their values, what it’s like to be their client, and how they treat their clients when issues arise.

I’ve learned that this type of partnership isn’t for everyone. It takes time and a lot of energy to develop and maintain the relationship—just like any relationship—and many firms don’t want to make that investment, for a host of reasons.

But it’s worth it, because in the end, we are truly partners. I know their work complements ours, and that our goals and values are aligned. We have each other’s back, and we create new energy. Our clients love it. They get what we promised them in our referral, and I know the partner will treat them as well as we do.

And now I have an extra skill: I can spot the energy in a meeting quickly, and I know when people are present and engaged, and willing to have tough discussions and to push the relationship forward. And I’ve learned you sure don’t want to have these meetings during lunch!

 

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