Letter from the CEO: When should you go it alone or combine your strengths?

Written on Nov 21, 2016

The value of partnerships is well known in the business world, where companies looking to grow or gain a competitive advantage have forged unique alliances that benefit both parties. Unlike mergers and acquisitions, partnerships typically are limited to a specific area or product line where companies collaborate and make joint investments while remaining legally separate entities.

The benefit? Partners gain access to a broader audience of potential customers through affiliation with brands or services that are symbiotic to their own.

There are some great examples of partnerships on the books, including authorized Disney Vacation Planners—independent travel agents who exclusively book vacations for those who want to experience the magic of Disney on land, sea or abroad.

Home decorating icon Pottery Barn realized the potential of forging a partnership with a well-known paint supplier when customers started asking about the wall colors appearing alongside their furniture in catalogs. High quality brand Benjamin Moore now creates seasonal Pottery Barn-exclusive paint palettes that coordinate with the latest furniture collections.

A recent marketing partnership between GoPro and Red Bull, two extreme lifestyle brands, leveraged the shared values of their brands in co-branding initiatives featuring extreme athletes.

And Uber has expanded on the viral success of its affordable and accessible shuttle services by expanding into packaging and food delivery. This sweetens the deals for drivers by ensuring there are more transactions coming their way daily.

The professional services industry is also seeing a spate of new firm alliances with the heightened merger and acquisition activity taking place right now.

Are partnerships right for your business? Perhaps, if you have a clearly defined business strategy that includes goals for what you want to achieve. You should also explore these additional issues:

Will it solve a common problem with a unique solution? This is a future success indicator in my mind and helps to evaluate the potential impact your new venture could have on the audience you’re trying to reach.

Create shared expectations for what should happen and by when. Clearly define what each partner will bring to the table, including resources of time and money. If you are the lesser known partner; your investment will likely need to be more.

Finally, don’t lose focus by trying to start up multiple partnerships if you are new to the concept. Get the framework right and measure your success. Once you have a successful formula, you’ll be in a better position to evaluate the merits of future partnerships.

Why is all of this important?

Many business organizations, including associations, are using the horizontal market approach to grow and add value to their customers.

The Ohio Society has always had business partners, but we are currently redefining ‘partnerships’ as we seek to bring you greater value.

That value could be direct to the individual member or it could have broader, cumulative benefits for the profession.

Our litmus test for going it alone or forging an alliance is based on strategic evaluation—can we do this better on our own and be a dominant competitor in providing these services or advancing this issue, or bring better solutions to our members as part of an alliance?

A good example is our efforts with municipal tax reform. We understood having the backing of 33 statewide business and trade groups would speak resoundingly to Ohio legislators about the need for change.

When should you go it alone or combine your strengths?

In helping to solve Ohio’s accounting talent gap, we are partnering with experts such as CPA Trendlines and a national learning consultant on research that is showing how different learning approaches within firms are leading to better outcomes in the form of increased retention and more effective teams that are meeting organizational goals. We currently are partnering with organizations ranging from college educators to professional business groups to reach students earlier and encourage them to consider a career in accounting. We’re also working with our own members to place more CPAs in classrooms so students see more positive role models who demonstrate all of the paths a CPA career can lead you down. This is part of our joint commitment to grow Ohio’s CPA pipeline and ensure a strong talent pool for members in the future.

Partnerships can yield positive wins if they are thoughtfully created and given breathing room to grow. Is partnering something your organization is considering? What makes an alliance worth pursuing and when is it better to focus your investment on developing your own unique products and solutions?

Scott Wiley, CAE
President & CEO
The Ohio Society of CPAs
swiley@ohiocpa.com
(614) 764-2727, ext. 2218 (office)
(614) 546-9430 (cell)
Twitter: @ScottDWiley
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/scottwileycae

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