Nobody Doesn’t Want Straight “A’s”

Have you ever had a report card on which you did not want to receive straight A’s? In strategic business partnerships, much like grade school report cards, much like customer KPI scorecards, everybody wants straight “A’s.” Nobody doesn’t want them. We want A-players, A-teams, A-performance indicators, A-response time, A-communication, A-service.

During most of my relationship development efforts I regularly hear one version or another of, “We are not adding more providers, check back never.” What I think people really mean to communicate is that there is no value in adding just another transactional relationship to the long roster of vendors who they already work with – if that is all we are going to be — transactional. The reality is that starting the right partnership can have a mammoth affect on an organization’s operations. To be certain, even the very best championship teams still want first round draft picks. I don’t think that anybody reading this can imagine a scenario in which an established and successful team says, “No thank you, we don’t want any first round draft picks next year.” The same is true in business partnerships – even for established and successful organizations.

We can all agree that if you have 149 vendors, going up to 150 is going to provide little value – if the quality of our relationship is also going to rank 150 th . Depending on your industry that quality can be a volume rank, service rank, overall scorecard rank, response time rank – whatever your performance indicators are. The assumption that the new partner is going to also provide the least valuable relationship, if true, would apply no matter the size of a company. So when we view the opportunity to build a new partnership through that lens, then the time it takes to accept a solicitation and even onboard a new partner seems much better spent addressing more urgent matters of the day which already exist; or simply much better spent doing anything else. Even if you don’t have burning fires at the moment, chances are that taking downtime to catch up seems more attractive than adding a transactional C-player to your team who actually might even turn out to be another headache in the end.

Many people like to modify and apply the Pareto Principle of 80/20 to time and problems in business operations. So rather than 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts we like to say that 80 percent of our time is taken up by 20 percent of our problems – well, on a really good day that is. On most days it seems more like 90 percent of our time is consumed with 10 percent of our volume. On the very worst days, and we all have had them, it’s truly 99/1; one single item consumes our entire day. Almost every time, it is going to be our A-players who we go to for assistance putting back together whatever is falling apart. How do we make it so that when non-preventable problems inevitably do arise, everybody on our team has the ability to manage them so that something small stays small? So that things are contained and do not take up 90 percent plus? We have as many A-players on our team as possible. We fill our rosters with first round draft picks no matter how many providers we already work with. The reality is that our businesses are so diverse that we likely cannot have all A’s – there are going to be some B and C partnerships – but we should take every opportunity to add A- partnerships when they come around. In this case of business alliances, the rules of English and Math converge and two negatives do equal a positive – nobody doesn’t want straight A’s.