When an American executive visited a potential Japanese partner in 1991, a young employee of the company served him green tea. Well versed in Japanese manners, the American treated the young man with great respect.

Two decades later when the man was in charge of a $100 million budget, he still remembered that the American treated him with courtesy.

This is the essence of a successful partnership. The companies you’re looking to do business with are made up of people just like you, and the personal relationships you develop with them will determine whether your partnership succeeds or fails.

To give global partnerships the best chance of succeeding, it’s essential to develop a transparent relationship where you clearly understand your partner’s needs and objectives and work to keep an open line of communication.

How to Make Partnerships Prosper

The first step toward transparency is getting to know your potential partner. Executives exploring global partnerships should:

  • Choose the right people to work with. This is the foundation of any successful partnership. You must choose partners whose values and objectives are in line with your company’s so you can form a mutually beneficial relationship.

If you’re thinking of entering emerging markets in places like Africa or Russia, be prepared for very different approaches to business ethics. I once worked for a venture capital firm in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. We were bidding on the rights to develop a gold mine, and we were considering a geology firm as a potential partner.

Everything seemed fine until I was asked to agree to a quid pro quo agreement with the partner. As a U.S. company, we comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids bribes of any kind. We lost the deal, but it was a valuable lesson in the importance of vetting the people you’ll be working with.

  • Choose the right representatives. Think about the people who will be representing your company. Do these people have international travel experience? Are they empathetic? Do they like to learn about new cultures and places?

Also consider when you should transition from a U.S.-based representative to local representation. Keep in mind that the sooner you make this transition, the more the business will become embedded in the country you’re doing business with.

  • Learn the local customs. I’ve seen several deals crumble because the principals did not understand local customs. Proper etiquette for carrying a conversation, negotiating, and hosting a meeting varies across cultures, so you must do your research to avoid committing a major social faux pas.
  • Clearly communicate your objectives and expectations. Whether it’s a service-level agreement or simply coordinating a meeting time, you can’t over-communicate in an international partnership.

Don’t ever assume either party understands the other’s point of view. Similar companies do things differently and have different long-term goals.

I once worked as a consultant with a leading U.K. retailer that wanted to improve business in its European stores. As I was visiting different locations, I discovered a real problem with communication: Some stores were receiving merchandise from the parent company that didn’t make any sense, such as sweaters sent to a store in the south of Spain where it rarely gets cold.

  • Invest in face time. Today’s technology makes it easy to conduct all conversations through conference calls and email, but nothing beats face-to-face interactions. Try to get together in person to learn about your partner’s business needs, meet his employees, and view his facilities.
  • Understand that laws and practices vary across borders. For some U.S. companies, partnerships have become more complex because the partners they work with are required by law to uphold certain practices.

For instance, companies like Nordstrom that use global partners for their apparel manufacturing follow the dictates of the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, which seeks to eliminate practices such as human trafficking.

You should never rush into a relationship with a partner who hasn’t been fully vetted because one failed partnership could make other potential partners hesitant to work with you. But if you make an effort to get to know your international partners, learn their laws and customs, and communicate clearly, you’ll be much more likely to forge a successful global partnership.

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