Partnership Case Studies: Smart Goals Don’t Always Lead to Smart Partnerships

partnership case studies

Partnerships are a major growth tactic for businesses of all sizes, but 45 percent of senior executives struggle to keep what partnerships they have active and mutually rewarding. How is it that partnerships that were so carefully planned in the beginning often fall by the wayside after some time? Contrary to popular belief, too much attention to developing “smart” goals is often the culprit.

A common misconception in partnerships is that goals have to align perfectly in order for partnerships to succeed in the long run. Relationship managers, however, cannot expect partners to share in their goals exactly. Rather, they should focus more on three factors before entering into any potential strategic partnership:

  • Shared values
  • Transparency
  • Shared vision

Below I’ll provide three partnership case studies of partnerships that paint a picture of the way these three factors influence partnership success, without placing much attention on smart goals.

Find Partners Who Share Your Values

When it comes to partnerships, shared values, more than shared goals, will lead businesses to greater long-term success (and, not to mention, make it much easier for partners to collaborate). For example, if a business takes special care to promote environmentally friendly practices, it would do well to partner with businesses with a similarly “green” mindset.

RAMP Sports founder Mike Kilchenstein recounts as much in Success Magazine, where he documents path to finding a channel partner that would help him extend sales throughout all seasons of the year. As a ski business, RAMP typically experienced 100 percent of its sales during the winter high season and complete dry spell during the low season. To bridge that seasonal gap, RAMP sought to partner with a company with high sales volume in the spring and summer. Eventually RAMP established a partnership with the paddle board company C4 Waterman, which shared its value for sustainability.

Having common values will help partnerships succeed, and can be applied to partnerships in all industries. In the hospitality industry, for instance, restaurateur and indieFORK owner Matt Levine used shared values to help him choose the right partner. To celebrate National Gluten-Free Day in January Levine arranged a partnership between No Bread NYC and his “market to table,” Soho-based restaurant Chalk Point Kitchen. As part of their collaboration, Chalk Point Kitchen hosted a gluten-free menu designed specifically for No Bread NYC customers. Though Chalk Point’s and No Bread NYC’s goals didn’t necessarily mirror each other on National Gluten-Free Day, aligned values helped the two see a large turnout. Matt told me:

“With our dedication to giving diners a large gluten-free variety of options, our values were aligned pre-partnership, and certainly led to our partnership and our success in celebrating National Gluten-Free Day.”

When partners share values customers are more apt to welcome the alliances they form.

How Misaligned Values Leads to Risky Partnerships – and Confused Customers

If customers are likely to accept partnerships between values-aligned businesses, they are just as likely to balk at partnerships between businesses with contrasting values. Case in point: Kirstie Alley’s controversial return to Jenny Craig.

Upon signing her new deal, Alley was highly criticized for bringing her natural foods-focused weight loss company, Organic Liaison, with her to Jenny Craig. After spending years building her natural foods company, it seemed hypocritical for Alley to allow her organic food company to be swallowed by Jenny Craig, home of the “million ingredient” (and certainly not organic) weight loss menu. This sentiment has been covered extensively by health journalist Brandi Koskie in her post “Kirstie Alley’s Organic and GMO Food Beliefs Don’t Align With New Jenny Craig Partnership.”

Key takeaway: don’t do like Kirstie Alley. Make sure any potential partner shares in your business’s core values before you begin collaborating, whether for a one-day event, a long-term alliance or even a mergers and acquisitions deal.

Be Transparent

As we’ve stressed before in our partnerships strategies guide, open communications are an essential part of every partnership. This applies not only to the duration of a partnership but also to the partnership planning process.

Casey Brennan, managing supervisor on FleishmanHillard’s Global CSR and Sustainability team, stresses that transparency will allow for not only easier collaboration but also extended support:

“Don’t leave your organizational partnership goals to the imagination. Be upfront with your partner! Looking to build your reputation? Want to attract more corporate investment? Say so! Being transparent will help you and your partner be on the same page, and will lead to a more fruitful relationship over time, where each partner can support each other’s unique interests.”

When discussing a potential collaboration, successful businesses will be transparent about what they hope to gain through the partnership.

Create a Shared Vision: Partnership Case Studies

Once they’ve laid their respective goals out in the open, businesses considering a partnership will be ready to plan their collaboration. And what will become a big part of their planning? Creating a shared vision.

Different from partnership goals, a shared vision is a general, values-based objective partners decide to take on together. For example, when global manufacturer ITT Corporation launched its collaborative sustainable water and sanitation initiative ITT Watermark, they established a shared vision with their partners for empowering local communities. Bjorn von Euler, former director of corporate philanthropy at ITT Corporation, writes:

“One of the main reasons we chose to establish relationships with three nonprofits — Water For People, Mercy Corps and the China Women’s Development Foundation — is that we all believe the best way to create sustainable water and sanitation results is to empower local communities.”

Levine, too, established a shared vision with NoBread NYC before designing the particulars of the collaboration. Chalk Point Kitchen and NoBread NYC each had its own reason for collaborating (Chalk Point Kitchen aimed to promote its vast menu options to gluten-free dieters while NoBread NYC sought out the partnership as a means of obtaining a brick and mortar outlet), but the two were able to succeed together because of a shared vision around gluten-free lifestyles. “The overall goal was to raise awareness of living a gluten-free lifestyle while not only celebrating, but also acknowledging and bringing recognition to National Gluten-Free Day,” Levine said. “It was extremely effective and successful and brought awareness to our regulars while highlighting our gluten-free menu to new guests at Chalk Point Kitchen.”

Shared visions give partners a general objective to aim to achieve. Despite having different goals on an individual level, partners can use shared visions to remain on the same trajectory, together.

More Partnership Success

Though the stories of RAMP Sports, Chalk Point Kitchen and ITT Watermark are excellent examples of ways to select the right partner for success, they are far from the only happy partnership stories out there. For more on how leading businesses are using shared values, transparency and shared vision, rather than smart goals, to find collaborative success, check out our 2015 partnerships outlook.

Have a partnership story of your own? Feel free to tell us about it at blog [at]

Learn more about our business matchmaking platform, where businesses find customers, suppliers, partners and even get investment, financing or credit for your company. Fast.

strategic partnerships 2015
Fill out the form below to receive your free eBook today.


Featured image by Ulf Bodin