A colleague of mine told me of how she spent a great amount of time talking to a potential corporate sponsorship partner. She works for a not for profit which is trying to attract corporate partners to support their work. After an initial conversation things seemed promising but pretty soon she realised that the corporate partner was not going to commit to anything serious. She made a remark that I hear very often; “if only I were able to ‘read’ the conversation better, I would have saved myself time and energy.”
There were some telling signs in the conversation that she could have used to avoid the disappointment.
Here is what I have learned.
Before you find the right partner, it is useful to think about the small things that may make a difference to the final outcome. Things such as simple conversation. A very simple way of spotting how serious, and thus earnest in action and thought, someone is about collaboration is observing how far they go in conversation. In my experience there are three dimensions of a conversation that can be identified.
- The first dimension is the one that most people never advance beyond. This is when people pretty much follow text book talk; they tell you things you expect to hear; they say how interested they are in assisting in any way they can, they state that they want to “make a difference”, they speak about strategic partnerships and so on. What they don’t do is elaborate. The entire conversation is a series of ‘heard it all before’ statements. Very little original content is offered.
- In the second dimension people start to go out of their comfort zone and they stop pitching and marketing, but rather open up and admit issues they may face. They show some passion and emotion in general (they may talk about their hopes and/or frustrations etc.). This is where you can enter into a worthwhile level of debate and discussion.
- In the third dimension, the person talks about real life examples, projects, experiences etc. It is only after this dimension that you can see how mature their thinking and practice is. This is particularly important when the potential collaboration is between different sectors. A person who can’t grasp this dimension is not going to be the right partner in the long run.