The Price of Prevention in Partner Management

I intrunawayissueerviewed for a job, recently, with the CEO of a start-up company in San Francisco. While describing some ideas about projects that contribute to a positive customer experience, I brought up the subject of managing problems early enough to prevent them from having a negative impact on customers of a product.

In this case, the context is an integrated solution that incorporates business partner products or product APIs. The changes by either the partner’s development team or the company’s engineering group need to be mutually compatible so that both are releasing viable working solutions to a mutual customer base.

In a context such as this, which is becoming increasingly common, changes will be introduced that cause a problem. The problem may be noticeably apparent to the end user or it may be completely obscured from the user perspective that has a range of possible consequences that determine its relative urgency to resolve.

Unless the problem is found internally during product testing and easily traceable to the changes responsible, there will be a window of time left open where the problem has been confirmed to exist and the root cause has not been identified. This is when it would, I told my interviewer, be advantageous to have had implemented a system that provides a road map for managing co-development with the partner ecosystem.

Specifically, I used one example of the many components such a system includes, and that was conflict management. When serving a mutual customer that is experiencing a problem with a product that combine separate development efforts from more than one company, there is often that window of time left open that I mentioned earlier when it is unclear where the source of the problem originated.

Unfortunately, this also can lead to finger pointing and unnecessary delays to solving the problem. Without having a system in place or at the least, an attentive and experienced person who recognizes the need for a resolution path, the communication breaks down and heels get dug into the ground while the customer, the company and the partner experience loss of trust in their relationship to one another.

I realized while talking with the interviewer about this one specific area of the partner management strategy, that he was either not aware of this possibility or believed that it wasn’t that important.

Not an uncommon perspective. The truth, however, is that the consequences for each of these un-managed conflicts is the significant loss of resources, and worse, the potential to damage relationships with both customers and within the business ecosystem that are not recoverable.

Being aware of how detrimental the costs of unmitigated risks such as this actually are to your business is the first step to preventing them from undermining success in the market. This is not an exaggerated claim.

I have studied and been engaged in escalations within a company that ultimately cost millions of dollars in lost revenue, lost customers and lost business relationships. That was for only one issue and it was an issue I discovered could have been resolved before it ever began had the first indications of a pending conflict been successfully managed.

I didn’t have the chance to explain any of this during my interview and without understanding why it’s so important to implement such a system, my idea about creating virtual mediation opportunities in the Cloud went as far as one ear and didn’t even get so far as to pass through the other. I was met, instead, with a furrowed brow and look of confused annoyance.

So, I learned an important lesson about both CEOs and interviews. CEOs are probably unaware of issues at the level of product development and talking about initiatives that a CEO is unable to associate with relevancy to an interview is likely to cause them to think their time is being wasted. Wasting any interviewer’s time doesn’t bode well on anyone’s interview success.

The interview, I may have bombed. However, I did leave with reinforcement of my belief that not enough awareness exists in the upper layers of the corporate enterprise about why escalations happen and how to prevent many of them. Without this awareness, there will not be the requisite support to implement a system that addresses this component of having a partner ecosystem and the losses will continue to bleed companies of money, customers and relationships.

Where do we begin to fix this problem of awareness in an industry? A company? An organization? A team? A manager?

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