IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Partnering Takes Two to Tango

SAAI manages and oversees all business technology for its clients, so finding the right strategic partnerships is critical for this concierge-type business model. Here are some tips.

By Andrew Sampson

Partnership is a delicate dance. Is the partner going to do the job right? Is the partner going to take your client away from you? Partnering is difficult, and it is also key to the “concierge” service we provide our clients. With the right strategic partners you can have very successful relationships that benefit your clients, which is what it’s all about—solving problems for the client and providing a good experience.

SAAI has been in business since 1971, successfully transitioning to new technologies and new business models. Today we have expanded beyond the MSP realm to manage the business technology for our clients, the majority of whom are membership-based organizations such as country clubs, business clubs, and stadium clubs. They’re busy taking care of their members, who want white-glove service; and we provide them white-glove service—the network, cloud, point-of-sale (POS) interface, phone system, printers/copiers, security systems, productivity software, IoT devices, etc.

We certainly can’t be experts in everything, and technology is changing rapidly. That’s why we work hand in hand with various specialists and oversee it all for our clients.

10 Tips for Finding the Right Partner
SAAI started as a VAR and software developer. For our membership clients we developed a unique package that handles member billing, POS, business intelligence, and financial controls. A key feature is statistical analysis of member activity/buying habits. But all of that required that we be the “first line of defense”—we needed to be “in charge” of everything that affected the technology to make sure the client was getting the best possible experience. If the internet or phones are not working properly then the members and client are not happy. That’s why we put ourselves on the frontline, hence our concierge-style operation.

In this role we are CTO, project leader, adviser, and traffic cop. If you have a good relationship with your strategic partner you know you can tell them what your client needs, and feel confident it will be delivered. And if you have a good relationship with your clients, they will usually let you know if your partner goes off the reservation. We’ve gotten plenty of warts from some toads we’ve dealt with, but fortunately we’ve been able to recognize the warning signs before we lost a client. It’s that delicate partner dance.

So before you decide to tango, here are some tips for making sure your partner doesn’t have two left feet:

  1. Remember, the partner represents you. Determine whether they have the same business attitude toward the client that you do. We’re extremely client centric, so vet the partner and their clients to find out if they’re in it for the long term. Beware of providers jumping on the profit trend of the moment.
  2. Make sure the personalities you’re going to be dealing with mesh with you and your employees, and most important, with your clients.
  3. Verify your potential partner has the required technical competence, and check references.
  4. Investigate if that partner plays nice with others by checking with some of their other partners.  If you bring them into a client you must make sure they won’t do harm to the relationship or try to steal that client away.
  5. Learn if the partner builds relationships with clients or just sells to customers. If a potential partner keeps talking about “customers” versus “clients,” that’s a tell that they’re in sell mode. We’re not interested in just selling; it’s nice to have a good pay day occasionally but we’re in this for the long term with our clients.
  6. Eat your own dog food. We won’t provide or support anything we haven’t worked on, evaluated, or used.
  7. Stay active with vendor organizations, local organizations, peer groups, trade shows, etc. I make sure my people and I go to training programs and technical conferences. They are good places to keep up with the technologies, meet potential partners, and get some insight into how they work and conduct themselves.
  8. Go with experience if you can. Have you done work with this partner before? How did it go? We’ve got some partners we’ve worked with for 15 to 25 years; these are our go-to people.
  9. “Trust, but verify”—smart advice from Ronald Reagan. It’s exactly what you have to do, even with a longtime partner, because things can change. That partner may assign someone to the project with whom you’re not familiar, somebody with a different agenda or ego problem. Or that partner’s agenda may have changed.
  10. Recognize the red flags and take action quickly before your client, and your relationship with your client, is harmed. Red flags include missed deadlines, poor responsiveness, and client dissatisfaction.