• Alan Shoebridge

Client-partner relationships: 3 tips for success on both sides

Updated: Dec 6, 2019



When I started my new job early last year, I had to assess a wide range of existing and prospective vendor/agency/partner relationships all at once. During that initial process and the months that followed, I gained some perspective that I think can benefit organizations and their partners.


Three things clients need from partners


  1. Realistic expectations. I have always lived and worked by the maxim, “under promise and over deliver.” That philosophy has served me well. Nothing is more frustrating than when the opposite proves to be true. Promising unrealistic timelines, product deliveries or budget estimates to your clients can only lead to disappointment and frustration. Now, if you can over promise and over deliver, that's even better.

  2. Clear and regular communication. This one works both ways. Regular touchbases are critical to avoiding miscommunication on project deadlines, budget status and other issues. Project check-ins held weekly or monthly are vital, and more comprehensive partner business reviews should be held yearly or quarterly depending on the scope of the work. I also see value in meeting face-to-face at least annually when that is practical for all the parties involved.

  3. Suggestions on best practices or enhancements. We don’t expect you to share anything confidential, but if one of your other clients is trying something new and interesting let’s talk about it. A lot of the value for an organization in not taking all work in-house is that we can lean on partners to bring innovative ideas to us for consideration. That is an opportunity I’ve seen some vendors continually miss.


Three things partners need from clients


  1. Tangible business goals. If you can’t articulate what you are trying to accomplish, there is very little chance that your partners will be able to deliver something of value. It’s completely fair for them to ask you who your target audience is, what actions you want them to take and how you’ll measure success. If you can’t provide those answers, take a step back.

  2. Clear and regular communication: See above. What I would add here is that you need to make the time to connect with your partners. If you signed a contract for something and didn’t schedule a planning/kick-off discussion in the first 30 days, you’re not setting your partner, your team or your organization up for success.

  3. Honest feedback. If you’re unhappy with the product or customer service, say so NOW. Waiting until the contract is up to surface your unhappiness ensures little opportunity for course correction and improvement. Even if a relationship doesn’t ultimately work out in the end, at least the decision to terminate won’t come as a surprise to anyone and you can feel good about giving them a fair chance to improve and possibly keep your business.

Overall, the key to successful partner-client relationships is both sides delivering on promises and keeping the lines of communication open. When that doesn’t happen, problems are inevitable.

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