Just as you'd do with the rhythms of romantic courtship (well, hopefully), you shouldn’t be blinded by infatuation, facade and false pretenses when you're pursuing a prospective partner in a professional setting.
Here are several warning signs of potentially bad partners.
1. Glaring negatives
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While the positives of a potential client or partner are fairly obvious -- whether they concern this person's quality of output or product, charitable efforts or overall profitability -- sometimes red flags will wave that require attention before you take the next steps.
Any indication of corporate scandal, legal issues, product recalls, unfavorable reputation in the industry or a pattern of short-term relationships with past partners are all bad signs. And, while it’s easy enough for an agency or client to promise thorough research, a Google search simply won’t suffice. Therefore, it’s best for you to dig in and do some real due diligence.
2. The 'tire kicker'
Thorough research is essential to picking business partners, and in most industries, most people reach out to long lists of potential, desirable individuals before whittling them down and deciding on one.
Despite the call for ethics in this effort, we all at some point will encounter what’s considered a flagrant tire kicker: someone who feigns greater interest in your company than he or she actually has. The purpose is just to gather information, string you along and ultimately leave you hanging high and dry.
One quick way to identify these potential time-wasters is to simply ask upfront, “What part of the process are you in?” or “Are you considering a field of partners, or just us?”
If the person turns on vague spin language, or hesitates excessively, you probably have a tire kicker in your midst.
Another indicator is the manner in which these people collect information. Are they engaging you in conversation, where elements of price, services and values are part of the discussion, or are they directly asking “How much for X?”
Sincere inquiries will feel multilayered and collaborative, not cold and transactional -- like the kind of inquiries made by someone who would just prefer to pad out a list on a board.
Be on the lookout for zealots or those who sare blindly overenthusiastic. Having passion for your company and its mission is one thing, but there’s an obvious line between enthusiasm and its single-minded cousin, obsession.
Some founders and brand evangelists have a tendency to exhibit extreme passion for their company, often to their own detriment. One way to check for this is to ask during your courtship, “Who are some of your competitors?” or, “Which of your peers do you admire?”
Far too often, I'll hear the answer, “We don’t have any competitors; no one does X the way we do X.”
Fortunately, that's rarely the case; and such words will almost always ring hollow. Everyone has competitors. Even people with a brand new technology and totally novel concept have their fair share of competition in emerging markets.
Not being aware of who those competitors are, or not having the mindfulness to acknowledge them, is a symptom of risky fanaticism and one more reflection of never thinking they’re wrong.
Let’s face it: If you notice that a potential partner has an intense idealization of certain principles or concepts, and you don’t feel similar fervor, your styles of critical thinking and core values may be too far apart for a productive relationship to take hold.
Filter, follow through and flourish.
There’s an infinite number of potential business partners out there. Just as happens when you're courting clients, the digital and social media age makes it certain that there'll be no shortage of ways to sort through and filter them, giving you no plausible reason to settle for a so-so fit once the dust has settled.
When you identify the surface issues, then dig deeper to separate fervent potentials from fickle ones, and finally discover a common bond over a mutual pursuit -- without any hidden agendas -- you'll discover that the path to courtship becomes that much smoother and obstacle-free.