While in university, I was presented with a unique analogy. A marketing professor proposed to us that a thriving B2B relationship shares many characteristics with that of a good marriage. I was skeptical at first, but as he continued it became abundantly clear that we could learn a lot by comparing the two. I mean, consider the usual process of landing a new partner or supplier. It might start with a simple cold call, which leads to a conference call including some upper management. From there, the orders and commitments start small. Through these small orders, each party learns the business practices and rules of the opposite organization. As trust and comfort grows between the parties, the relationship grows and flourishes into a large and long-term business relationship.
Now compare that to the similar process of marriage. You meet someone, and start with small conversation. This leads to dating, meeting the family and becoming immersed in each others lives and practices. This might be followed later by an escalated commitment such as engagement. And finally, the couple gets married and lives happily ever after.
Ok, we all know that the process for marriage I just described is almost never as smooth and perfect as that. I am not going to pretend that it is, either. What I will offer are 4 elements of a healthy B2B marriage that you should keep in mind when working with your partners, suppliers, and customers:
In a marriage, there is an unwritten expectation that each party is held accountable to each other. If a husband forgets his wife’s birthday, you can almost guarantee he will be paying for in some way, at some time. The same principle applies to your relations with EDI trading partners. If one of your employees makes an error on a shipping order, the onus is on you to make up for the mistake. Likewise, if your business partner lets you down they should also be held accountable and right the wrong. This ties in nicely with the next element, Interdependence.
The bond that is tied through marriage is supposed to be eternal. Supporting each other in good health and in bad. Each partner can depend on the other to provide a helping hand or to pick up the slack. In the B2B world, this is huge. If your EDI trading partner Target unexpectedly runs out of stock of your product and requires a rush shipment to replenish the shelves, they should get it. They should get it as soon as feasibly possible for you to deliver the stock. This type of favour is beneficial to the relationship because not only are you helping them out of a bind, but you are much more likely to receive similar assistance in your time of crisis.
Most people – married or not – do not enjoy waiting. This seems to be an underlying characteristic of the human species. This trait is only amplified when one becomes accustomed to routines and schedules commonly found in the lives of married couples. If your spouse has to wait an extra hour to be picked up from work, you can be sure there will be repercussions of some nature. Similarly, business partners hate waiting. This is especially true if waiting translates into a direct loss of sales or increase in storage costs. Staying timely with your obligations to them will force them to do the same in order to maintain the mutually beneficial relationship.
This element is by far the most crucial. In order for the aforementioned concerns to be handled properly, effective communication must be in place. I can attest to this necessity as, I was witness to many communication breakdowns between my parents growing up. Something as simple as a misplaced note or missed phone call could be enough to stir the pot. Similarly if your ASN or 856 Advanced Shipping Notice / Manifest does not reach Wal Mart before your shipment does, it could result in losses for you as well as an unhappy and inconvenienced partner. This type of conundrum can easily be avoided by ensuring that the lines of communication are always open.
Being aware of these elements is one step to ensuring a prosperous relationship with your partners. However, taking proactive measures to ensure that they are covered is much more desirable. While we may not be able to help you with your personal marriage, you could think of an eBridge solution as your “B2B Marriage Counselor“. Our integration eliminates factors such as late or undelivered documents, manual entry errors, as well as offering many other benefits. If you would like to find out more, contact one of our counsel-errrr-Account Managers to see how we can help.
This list is by no means comprehensive. I encourage you to share any other similarities you can think of between marriage and B2B relationships. Share your stories (good or bad), or feel free to criticize mine; I have never been married after all!
Assistant Marketing Professional
CRM Integration, EDI - Our Customers Trading Partner Series, EDI Integration, EDI Tips and Tricks, Integration