Is it time to say “I do” to your new marketing partner?

Agency partnerships are like marriages — you need shared values, clear goals, and strong communication to make them successful. Unless the cultures and personas are clear fits, your partnership might be in for a rocky start.

In fact, studies show business partnerships have up to an 80 percent chance of failure, and a poor fit can erode even the most promising partnerships. If you want your next partnership to buck the numbers, be sure you dig into the partner’s culture before signing.

How to Learn a Partner’s Culture

Cultural fit is paramount to a successful partnership. But how can you ensure a good fit before working together?

1. Ask senior leaders how they operate. Employees look to a company’s senior leaders for cultural cues, so company culture starts at the top.

The sweeping cultural shift Google underwent after replacing former CEO Larry Page with Sundar Pichai is a testament to the role of senior leadership in shaping company culture.

Meet with the potential partner’s senior leaders, and ask them difficult questions: How do you fire someone? How do you invest in your employees? How do you give back? The answers to these questions will cut to the heart of any company’s culture.

2. Take a field trip. The environment in which the partner’s employees work speaks volumes about the company’s overall culture, so pay a visit to potential partners’ offices to see their energy firsthand.

Amazon, for instance, shows how a company can be well-regarded externally, while harboring a very different culture internally.

When you visit, ask yourself, “Is the staff happy and focused? How are you greeted at the door? Is their workspace lively and chatty?” Culture is found in how a company operates — how it treats its people, its projects, and its processes.

3. Build understanding by breaking bread. Sharing a meal with a potential partner can do wonders to build trust. Food scientists at Cornell University, in fact, recently published a study showing employees who eat together are more effective collaborators.

Treat the prospect’s office team by having lunch delivered, or stop by to drop off an afternoon pick-me-up. Spend some time talking about things other than business. If the companies are larger, consider a potluck in an event space. Resist the urge to speak with existing co-workers, and instead, intermingle with new faces.

Cultural alignment is vital to agency partnerships, but the true vetting process doesn’t begin with an Internet search — it begins with people. Before joining a new partner, get to know how its leaders do business, support their staff, and treat their clients. At some point, the partner will be representing and even speaking for you. Vet a partnership to ensure it makes the right impression.