The terms ‘partner’ and ‘partnership’ are thrown around all the time in life – but what do they really mean?

Partner: A person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits.

In my last job, we had many conversations about who to partner with and how we could expand our business based on partnerships. I cannot tell you how many conversations we had that were almost complete wastes of time and never amounted to anything – but, it was a lot.

We had one legitimate partner – an IT consulting firm who was passionate about connecting us with their clients.  This firm bought into what we were doing and saw what difference it was making in their own environment. We came up with a way for them to resell us to their clients where they made a margin on each sale and we also made what we needed to make as well. Their leadership was all in on this partnership. Our leadership was all in on this partnership. It was mutually beneficial. It continues, as far as I know, to this day. With that relationship, I could even see a closer partnership where the larger company would acquire the smaller company in the not too distant future.

At Campus (formerly known as Ucroo), we refer to our clients as partners. This is intentional because we actually want to have a healthy back and forth between those schools we enter into a relationship with. Right now we have a newer partner we are in the process of onboarding and there has been a lot of back and forth to get things just right for the release of our Campus Platform at their school. This is not always easy, but it is worth the work to get to a good place where everyone is engaged and satisfied with the partnership relationship.

In thinking about this concept of partnership, we at Campus wanted to think about – what does our ideal partner look like?

A few years ago Sherrie Campbell from Entrepreneur magazine mentioned 10 markers that help partnerships be successful – the ones that stuck out most to me were:

1. Supportive

All the people in the relationship work hard to help each other be successful. Even if one member of the partnership is the service provider, both sides can help each other with things that come up.

2. Rewarding

At the start and during the partnership both sides can see that coming together makes sense for both of them. For us, can we help the university succeed in a challenge area or pain point? For them, does using our platform look like a win? For many of them, is there a return on investment on this partnership?

3. Cohesion

Do the possible partners see each other as equals? What is the power-differential that is happening? The more equal the partnership is, the better chance the partnership will be successful.

4. Open

Inevitably, there will be things that come up within the partnerships. How open the partnership are will also be key in navigating those challenges.

5. Catalyst

Can both sides grow and change throughout the partnership and still be successful? Partnerships have a way of morphing and changing over time and in order to have catalytic results moving forward, there has to be space for this to happen. One side can push the other and not feel unheard.

6. Morale

Do the partners understand the climate of each other’s organization? Weekly or monthly check-in meetings are a key to partnerships are they facilitate cultural and emotional pulse checks with one another. Something bad happening for Partner A? Partner B needs to understand the impacts wider ecosystem of their partner is experiencing in order to better serve their partner. Things that may have nothing to do with them, but may have an effect on how the partnership is or isn’t moving forward.

7. Service

Does each side want to help each other be successful? The issue of service is such a key part of any successful partnership. The famous book, “How To Win Friends & Influence People,” is based on the concept of helping people out and expecting nothing in return. Why does that help people influence more? Think about the most generous people you know and how much influence they have. Now, think about the most selfish people you know and how much influence they do, or more likely, do not have.

Those 7 attributes are certainly key to any successful partnership. One of the things I hear often from our leadership at Campus is that we do not want 100 average or poor new partners in the next year – we want 10-20 engaged partners who we can make a significant difference for them on their campus. Conversely, our best partners will push us to continue to improve our platform to not only help them but other future partners as well.

When we think about the ideal partner at Campus – they really encompass some or all those attributes listed above. It also helps us think about who we connect with and respond to opportunities for new partners. What if someone we are talking to embodies the opposite of the 7 characteristics right off the bat? Do you keep pursuing partnership even in the face of signs that maybe you shouldn’t?

One thing I have learned over time is that some of the highest maintenance partners take way more time than they are worth.

Save yourself at the beginning of any future partnership and evaluate how effective the partnership might be. Doing some analysis at the beginning based on this information and other sources may save you time and money in the future.