Guest blog post by Micki Vandeloo, GPC, President, Lakeview Consulting, Inc.
It is so important for manufacturers to find and cultivate valuable partnerships. These partnerships can help manufacturers expand their service or product offerings; make their processes more efficient; and help specify and procure just the right equipment.
When manufacturers are launching a new product or making major changes to an existing product, they often need to procure valuable partners to make the effort successful. These partners may be familiar to the company, such as previously used vendors, equipment manufacturers or consultants. Other launch needs may not be able to be met by current suppliers, so companies must then search for new partners.
This scenario often brings up questions such as how do we know where to go to find the perfect partner, how do we know when we have found a good one, or how do we know whether they will provide what we need when we need it. If you are getting ready to enter into a new partnership, read on for four tips to help you select the perfect partner that I have learned through working with multiple MEP Centers. Some of these tips are also helpful if you are engaging current partners for new endeavors.
I risk stating the obvious, but I have seen far too many manufacturers enter into partnerships not knowing much about the person or group they will be working with. This can lead to disaster.
If you are going to spend your time and money working with someone, you owe it to yourself and your company to find out a lot about them. Do your homework! It is a good practice to flush out the following with any potential new partner before signing on the dotted line:
Let's say a new partner comes to your door, and offers to increase your sales by 50%. However, you are already struggling to get production out the door, and you are doubtful of your capacity to handle the additional work. What you may need instead is help using Lean Manufacturing principles to take waste out of your processes. While it is tempting to engage with a partner promising such great results, if they are not going to contribute to your desired outcome, they may end up being a costly distraction.
You must identify your desired outcome from your project before engaging any new partners. To identify your desired outcome, ask yourself and your team, “What do you expect to change after this product or service launches?” You may want increased sales, new markets, or increased equipment utilization. Your goals must align with your partners’ capabilities. If you don’t define them, you can fall prey to lofty promises, which can be disastrous down the road. Always keep the end in mind!
Once you have defined your desired outcome, how do you plan to get to that state? What portions of the scope of work can your team handle and what roles will you be engaging partners to accomplish? This should be a detailed document, so no one reading it is unclear about his or her roles and responsibilities. If you have this document in your hand at the very first meeting, any questions or concerns about the project's scope will immediately be answered. This also helps avoid "scope creep", when a partner veers away from the project's scope, which often leads to additional charges to the client to bring their work back to the original scope or cancellation charges.
There is definitely something to be said for intuition. Let's say you meet with a potential new partner, and something just feels off. When the meeting ends, take a few minutes with your team (and, yes, a cross functional team is necessary for appropriate partner evaluation). Go around the room and solicit the input of all team members. Did anyone feel the same as you? Likely, if you noticed something, someone else did too, but this is a good way to validate your initial impression.
This happened to me recently. Our company had been working with a partner for a few months to help us with high level planning. It was costing our company a lot of money and the results had been ok, but not great. I went to an event where this partner spoke, and realized that many of the items they were proposing to do for us were really not in their sweet spot. I took my concerns back to the rest of the management team, and it was decided, after a follow up conversation with the partner and a review of key staff resumes (see Tip 1), that we would no longer require their services. While this was uncomfortable, continuing on knowing that there really wasn't a fit was a much less desirable and costly situation for all of us.
The next time you need to identify partners to support a launch, I hope you find these tips helpful. In my experience, not following this process will lead to "buyers remorse", and a waste of time and money, neither of which any company can afford to lose.