IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

A How-To Guide for Partnering with Peers

Best-practices advice on creating, maintaining, and deepening mutually beneficial relationships with other IT pros. By Carolyn Heinze

There’s no denying the benefits that can result from partnering with other IT firms. Whether it’s to expand your geographical reach, extend your service offerings, or simply manage your workload, partnerships offer IT service providers access to resources they wouldn’t have going it alone. Like everything else, however, you get out of your partnerships what you put into them. Without a clear-cut strategy that accounts for how and why you’re partnering with another company, what seems like a good idea can very quickly transform into a bad––and potentially damaging––experience.

The most stable partnerships are, as the term “partner” suggests, rooted in equilibrium: If the relationship is not mutually beneficial, it’s likely to be unstable. “When there’s that balance, everyone is benefiting and the partnership will flourish,” says Singu Srinivas, partner at Waterstone Management Group LLC, a Chicago-based tech industry consulting firm. “If it’s too weighted on one side and you’re the one constantly driving leads, you’re the one constantly doing the outreach, then you’ll have fatigue if it’s not reciprocated in some way.”

Total Care Computer Consulting LLC is an IT provider in Centreville, Ohio, with offices in Westchester, Ohio, and Florence, Ky. The company specializes in infrastructure––servers, networks, PCs, laptops, wireless access points, and firewalls––and has formed partnerships with organizations that specialize in structured wiring, video surveillance, and wired phone systems. “There are certain things that we could do but we choose not to because we’re small, and we can’t afford to keep people on staff and pay them a salary for things we get asked to do, but not often enough [to justify the expenditure],” explains Kevin Royalty, managing partner.

Royalty says Total Care currently works with nine partners, with differing levels of formality. In some cases, there are detailed, written contracts in place; others are handshake deals. “It’s less complicated. Plus, we have already pre-vetted these companies based on work that we’ve done with them at other clients in the past,” he explains. His firm generally doesn’t take a commission or a finder’s fee when it refers customers to its partners; instead, it’s agreed upon that the partner will give that referred customer a discounted rate, and that the partner will refer business back to Total Care. “When we’re not doing commissions back and forth and our businesses do not overlap in any way, it’s all verbal. There’s really no need to have a written agreement.”

Finding Potential Partners
One of the best sources for finding potential partners is your customer base. As Royalty alludes to, chances are you will run into firms that are complementary to yours at a customer site while executing your own projects. This is an ideal opportunity to witness potential partners in action and determine how professional, knowledgeable, and reliable they really are.

Royalty also points out that there’s no need to be shy about asking your customers what they think of their other providers. “We will ask our client about Company A that came in and did the security system––we’ll ask them to show us a few things and we’ll walk around and look at the quality of work, and then we’ll follow up again in a month,” he explains. This follow-up involves questions like: Are you still happy with the system? Is everything still working? If there was a hiccup or something needed to be changed, how difficult was it to get those things resolved?

“We absolutely pay attention to those things because these are potential business partners. Our reputation is on the line, too, if we refer one of these [firms].” Royalty also identifies potential partners through his speaking engagements, as well as through the Cincinnati Small Business Users’ Group, which he started 14 years ago and attached to the Cincinnati Networking Professionals Association, of which he is vice president.

About the Author

CAROLYN HEINZE is a regular freelance contributor to ChannelPro-SMB.

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