As Billy Joel told the world in his 1986 hit song, “it’s always been a matter of trust.” While his reference was to relationships of the heart, the same saying can be applied to the business alliances we forge. People are more apt to associate with those they respect and can rely on, both from a personal and professional level, so it comes as no surprise that most people follow the same philosophy when it comes to building their own organization.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, trust is defined as “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed.” While an individual’s moral fiber is a key part of that description, skill is perhaps an even more important factor. Without the ability to follow through on promises, trust is not possible.
That’s why it’s so important to validate the commitments each side makes on an ongoing basis. Changes happen to every business over time, so it’s a good idea to review the tenants of agreements and each company’s capabilities on a periodic basis. For example, if you partner with another MSP to support specific clients, schedule occasional meetings to go over SLAs and other shared contracts. Use that time to review each company’s performance, the client’s satisfaction, and conditions that have changed since the last evaluation. These interactions help build trust and many times lead to additional partnership opportunities—as well as greater income.
When you feel confident enough to share power and client access with others outside your company, as in the previous example, it shows a high level of trust. This is especially true when it comes to vital services such as helpdesk or other areas of technical support. These relationships are much deeper than faith, as you’ve given (or received) authority to act on behalf of your partner under certain conditions. That doesn’t typically mean each company can make major financial or project commitments on their own, but it does signify the organizations share specific roles or responsibilities at designated client sites.
Authority and trust go hand-in-hand when it comes to managed services partnerships; without each, there can be no long-term business relationship. These are basically joint ventures, so each organization should have a stake in the processes and policies for shared customers. That doesn’t mean the power sharing has to be equal, especially when several subcontractors are involved with a single client. But each party has to have the proper authority to manage its particular piece of the support puzzle.
For example, if you outsource help desk support, she has to hand off certain client responsibilities as well as the authority to execute them. Trust is a significant factor in these relationships, requiring assurances that each partner has the skills and knowledge to perform their role.
Trust but Verify
An important component when building a relationship is to have confidence that promises can be (and will be) kept. President Ronald Reagan was a strong believer in that approach when it came to negotiating international treaties, delivering the famous “trust, but verify” quote in reference to peace treaties with the former Soviet Union.
Establishing a bond or initial agreement is just the first step. Trust should never be blind, especially when developing new business relationships, so verification should be a continual part of the process.
Are both sides following through on commitments? What can be done to improve performance?
Those questions need to be asked on a continual basis for the relationship to be successful over time—with all partners and the customers satisfied.
Remember, trust is a two-way action; so be willing to share information and best practices with your business partners. But there are other ways to help build confidence in your professional relationships, including:
- References—no matter how comfortable you are with a potential business partner, do your homework. Ask for client, partner and vendor endorsements—and be prepared to offer yours. Get the facts: number of certified technicians, customers, staffing details, etc.
- Credit checks—when appropriate, ask for details on their company’s finances, especially if you’ll be sharing billing responsibilities and related transactional data.
- Communicate!—a critical element of any relationship is keeping each other informed on all activities, no matter how small. MSPs should always document this information and all client communications in their PSA systems, and share the most relevant details in one to one meetings.
- Create well-defined contracts—agreements between business partners should be clear and concise. That removes the ambiguity and helps forge a solid foundation between the companies.
Trust is an ongoing entity. When a partner makes an inexcusable error that negatively affects a client, it can cause significant damage to the professional relationship. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s how they respond (or make changes to prevent them from reoccurring) that builds trust.