Prince St. Pizza in Manhattan serves up one of the best slices of pizza in the city.
Their square pepperoni slice is a cloud of sauce, fresh mozzarella, and quarter-sized slices of pepperoni that invert to form a bowl shape as they cook and crisp.
It’s a tiny shop located in the NYC neighborhood of Nolita, which derives its name from an amalgamation of “North of Little Italy.”
And in an ever-changing cityscape, it remains a relic, recalling simpler times when you had to actually walk somewhere and wait in line to get a bite to eat.
I have a simple relationship with Prince St. Pizza. They make pizza, and I eat it. We’re both very happy.
(Editor’s Note: Sounds like the author has something in common with Mike Connell.)
Despite how much I love eating their pizza, and how much they love taking my money, our relationship is not a business partnership.
The Confusion of Partnerships
The idea of a partnership is incredibly complex and much too intricate for a single blog post.
No matter how you define it, there will always be exceptions to the rule.
Somewhere along the line though, marketers, salespeople, and business development representatives decided it would be worthwhile to refer to customers as “partners.”
This would create the illusion for the customer that the vendor was just as interested in their long-term success as they were.
Every customer wants to feel important, and what better way to make them feel important than by calling them a partner?
But don’t let that charismatic salesperson or glitzy email fool you. The relationship between vendor and customer is incredibly meaningful and can be vastly different than a business partnership.
Your Customers Are Not Your Partners
How would you like to show up on the first page of Google search results for all of your most valued keywords?
What if I told you I can get your company at the top of search results in 30 days?
Sounds too good to be true, right?
My company partners with companies like yours to boost SEO through dynamic keyword research, incisive content, and on-page optimization. Let me know when you’re free for a call so we can discuss enterprise options. Does 5 minutes from when you open this email work for you?”
How many of these emails do you get a week? How many do you get per day?
If you’re an online service company, my guess is you’re well into the double digits.
This person is not offering a business partnership. All they’re offering is their product or service.
If this were a business partnership, they’d be entitled to expect something in return from their customers other than monetary payment.
There’s a growing misconception among salespeople that offering customer service is the same as working together or partnering.
Investing in your customers by providing them with solutions and expert advice is a natural part of the business cycle and should be included in the cost.
The Customer Experience
It’s the vendor’s job to meet customer expectations, not the other way around.
You should always provide top-notch customer service.
You should always be invested in the well-being of your clients.
Your clients should always derive value from using your product or service in some way.
These should all be givens in the business world. For paying customers, these are the absolute minimum expectations.
Even if the client stands to profit or benefit from using your product, that still doesn’t make this relationship a business partnership.
If this were the case, every interaction between a paying customer and a vendor could be construed as a business partnership.
Why would anyone buy your product or service otherwise?
Or, as Omar Little put it, it’s “all in the game, yo.”
As the provider of this product or service, it is your obligation to go above and beyond to deliver an unforgettable customer experience.
The customer has absolutely no incentive to improve your business or provide value to your company, which is why this relationship is not a business partnership.
So, What is a Business Partnership?
For a relationship to become a busines partnership, two or more separate entities must unite to achieve a common goal otherwise impossible or incredibly difficult to reach if operating individually.
In other words, it takes more than someone just buying your stuff to become your partner.
A perfect example is a recent partnership between Virgin Atlantic, Delta Airlines, and hundreds of craft beer breweries across the United States.
The two airlines collaborated to open up a pop-up shop inside the Old Crown Public House on New Oxford Street in London that sells microbrews from each of the 230 United States destinations served by the airlines.
The business partnership creates exposure and favorable publicity for all parties which wouldn’t have been possible without the other’s help.
Another example of a great business partnership is Uber and Spotify.
In 2014, Uber partnered with Spotify to allow Spotify Premium users to DJ their Uber rides.
This created an incentive for Spotify users to upgrade to a premium account while enhancing the user experience created by Uber.
Both of these cases are examples of companies finding synergy and capitalizing on it to create an opportunity to work together.
Are You My Partner or My Customer?
There are many key differences between partnerships and simple business relationships.
And understanding them will help clarify the status and allow you to set reasonable expectations.
If you’re under the impression that you’re in a partnership with a company, consider these attributes in determining if you’re getting the most out of your “partnership.”
Paul McCartney and John Lennon enjoyed successful post-Beatles careers, but their individual outputs generally don’t compare as favorably to what they accomplished together.
Lennon’s songwriting was offbeat, experimental, radical, and poetic. Whereas, McCartney’s was more calculated, anthemic, and pop-friendly.
When they wrote together, they created music that simultaneously reflected the strongest aspects of each other’s songwriting.
The push/pull dynamic elevated The Beatles music beyond what each artist was capable of on their own.
Whatever holes did exist in each other’s songwriting, they were able to fill them and create timeless music.
Great business partnerships work the same way.
The dynamic between two business partners is they offer something to one other that not only fills needs but propels them to new heights.
Uber and Spotify are both massively successful services with loyal followings. But when combined, they created a brand new customer experience that would’ve been impossible to create on their own.
Healthy business partners should also be catalysts, and that works both ways.
There’s a Bigger Picture to Consider
Successful business partnerships incentivize success for all sides, and that usually entails a big picture vision for everyone involved.
Home Depot sells consumer tools to maximize profit margins. And individuals shop there because they feel they’re getting the best deal.
They have an obligation to provide quality customer service, a healthy inventory of products, and competitive prices.
The customer has an obligation to pay for the products.
That’s where the relationship begins and ends.
Your customers aren’t going to help you realize your big picture goals.
Even if they really love your service, they have nothing to gain from your success and won’t feel any negative impact when your company isn’t doing well.
If my content creation company partners with a news release agency, it’s understood that we’re going to have some sort of agreement where we secure a pipeline of potential customers going in both directions.
Therefore, we have a vested interest in not only fulfilling our end of the agreement but also abstaining from working with other news release agencies for the duration of our business partnership.
Since there is a direct correlation between the success of our partner news release agency and our own success, it makes perfect sense for us to consider any other news release companies as somewhat equal competitors.
What if your “partner” company is working with other companies like yours?
They are then feeding your competitors, which puts you in a perilous position.
They are sustaining other companies who have ambitions of driving you out of business, so they’re not solid partners.
Does it Really Matter?
Partnerships are multifaceted relationships that you can’t build through hollow marketing emails.
At the end of the day, your goal as a business is to thrive.
And sometimes that simply means putting in the grunt work and making as many sales as possible.
At other times, it means working with other companies to maximize efficiency and potential.
Frequently, the best relationship for a company is the simplest one.
I couldn’t be happier with my relationship with Prince St. Pizza.
We’re still not partners, though.
Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash