Defining Scope

Defining the Scope

When engaging an overseas partner, it’s a good idea to clearly state what each parties responsibilities are. Clearly defining the scope of your partners work helps to avoid any confusion of what is expected. It’s a good idea to clearly document any processes that you expect to be followed – remember that your partner may have different processes & norms for handling things. There’s lots of hidden knowledge in the things you do, it’s what makes you good at doing them. Converting that into a few simple documents isn’t shouldn’t be easy.

It’s usually a good idea to send all the processes and requirements in a single shot, preferably well before any actual projects begin – almost like a welcome pack. This gives your partner plenty of time to absorb the material, and for you to schedule an on-boarding meeting with the concerned teams. Remember to discuss the processes & expectations with the staff that will actually be handling the work – not just your business contact. This prevents any loss of communication between the team members.

The scope of works will vary considerably based on what you’re doing, and what your partner is handling. When defining them, try to be as wide as possible – whilst remaining relevant. The following elements are drawn from my experience, hopefully they’ll be helpful for you to create your own. Please remember:

  1. Each element in the following table should have an explanation, no matter how self explanatory it might appear.
  2. No element should be assigned to more than one party. Break the work down to smaller components, till each component is only assigned to one party.

Description

Overseas Partner Design Agency Your Company Client
System design Y
System training Y
Aesthetic design Y
Drawings Y
Project Co-ordination Y
Progress Meetings Y
Master project plan Y Y
Site access & building/works permissions Y
Engineering permits / insurances / other job compliances Y
Site survey Y
Hardware procurement Y
Creation of environment Y
Provision of ready site Y
Storage & Warehousing Y
Hardware installation Y
Quality Control Y
User Acceptance Testing Y
Project Signoff Y
Ongoing support & maintenance Y

 

The table above will help you to establish the overall scope of your partners responsibility. A more detailed scope of work document should be established so that any doubts can be cleared and what you’re expecting is clearly documented. If it’s possible to include graphics & pictures that make it easier to understand please do so! Sometimes a long wordy document can be easily summarized with a single picture.

Personally I’ve found it really helpful to share the documentation from a previous project, with a quick run through of what happened & what to look for. This case study approach lets experienced partners very quickly asses what’s involved and ask pertinent questions. Don’t be afraid to share details or project problems. Your partner is going to find out anyway, and it’s better that they know the kinks up-front.

Interviewing a partner

Vetting Partners

Deciding if you want to award partner status to a company isn’t something you should take lightly. The company is going to be representing you, they’ll be the majority of your clients experience with your brand. If they don’t live up to your clients expectations, it’s your brand that’ll be damaged. Vetting partners is no different (or less important) from interviewing employees,  you need to make sure it’s a good fit. Partner AnalysisSo how do you decide who to work with? Language is an enormous barrier, so it’s always a relief when you find someone that speaks the same language, especially if they’re a smooth talker. Whilst communication is important, a critical review of your prospective partner can provide some meaningful insights. Here are a few questions you might want to ask:

  1. Revenue & percentage revenue from your target audience; it might be an awkward question to ask, but you should get relevant specifics. Total revenue will give you an indication of their size within your industry, and financial capability to deal with your projects. The percentage revenue will indicate what quantum of their business overlaps with your industry, this can be exceedingly helpful in gauging how focused your partner is on your target segment (ie: US$100m with $1m from hotels vs. US$50m with $40m from hotels). If your partner isn’t ready to divulge approximate information, you should consider why not.
  2. Locations & Staff strength; you’ll need to know exactly where your partners offices are, where they have staff, and what locations that can easily service. Bear in mind that different countries have different transport systems, so 10 miles in one country might be a 10 minute journey, but could be a 2 hour journey in another. Watch out for “affiliate” offices, a partner may want to demonstrate a larger reach, and might include their own affiliates or partners that they operate through. This could have substantial implications on pricing and quality of service, so carefully validate how they achieve their stated reach.
  3. Software platforms; whilst it might seem trivial at first, understanding what software and technology your partners use will be important once you begin work. If they aren’t able to read your files, or can’t send you information in a format that your team can use you’ll end up with problems. This may also have implications on their level of professionalism.
  4. Certifications/training; whilst client lists and references go a long way, it’s important to understand the calibre of staff your partner has. This is especially important in roles that require specific expertise (programming, design, etc.). It can have substantial implications on delivery capability. Watch out for bottlenecks, ie: large sales team, but very few qualified designers. Ask how they cope when they have large, or multiple projects running.
  5. Operating philosophies & culture; beyond any hard metric, your partners philosophy, culture and way of working should be well understood. This is something that your client will undoubtedly notice about your partner, so it’s important that your philosophies and working culture are matched by your partner. Without matching philosophies, you’re likely to encounter difficulties when trying to resolve project issues, or unforeseen scenarios with clients.
  6. Industry associations; whilst not a critical factor, the industry / association memberships that your partner enjoys can provide a good reflection of their professionalism. Be careful, as many association memberships just require annual fees, but some have minimum attendances, require minimum business volumes, or have other criteria that can help validate your partner.
  7. Client References; client lists can look impressive, but it’s important to understand what your partner actually did and how satisfied their clients have been. It might not always be easy to get a direct client contact for reference checks from your partner, but it’s worth asking for. Calling clients directly can be seen as a sign of bad faith, and in many instances might be fruitless – it can be very hard to find the right team or person for the validation, or the client may not disclose any information to 3rd parties. Even if you can’t get a client reference, ask around, hopefully someone you know (indirectly) will have some feedback they can give you.

If you’re uncomfortable asking some of these questions, consider how much more uncomfortable you’re going to be with a botched project and a partner that’s not being co-operative. It’s very important to know your partners, and establish communication channels with them before you begin a project. To make asking these questions a little easier, you could start by sending them an email request to fill out a partner profile form (here’s one that I use). What else would you like to know about your partners before they start handling your clients?

Partner Network

Building a Partner Network

Building a Partner Network

Working overseas is always hard. Different cultures, languages, business etiquette, and of course  different practicalities. Even if you share a language, without substantial working experience you’ll probably run in to difficulties pretty quick.

Which is why so many companies prefer to work through local partners. They’re your foreign doppelganger, with some (hopefully all) the same experience and required know-how.

I’ve built partner networks for product distribution, sales, and service delivery, but you can build a network for almost anything. If you want to expand your reach into overseas markets, or even just into new territories within your own country, this is one of the fastest ways to expand.

Many of the worlds largest companies operate extensive partner networks, including Cisco, Lenovo, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Yahoo.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be exploring some of the different elements involved in building & working through partner networks. I’ll be talking about everything from vetting, branding, training through to legal & accounts. If you have specific questions, please feel free to write in and ask.