Do Your Homework

Quick Summary: Prepare carefully and thoroughly before initially meeting with a potential business partner.


Many of us have experienced or heard about disastrous blind dates.  In the business world, there is no need to be blind sighted.   There is ample, readily available information to help you decide if you should have the first dance with a Goliath – and, if you do, what you should do in preparation for it.

At a very early age, we learn how important it is to prepare for a test.  Doing homework is a key element in the preparation for any exam.  Doing homework is equally important when meeting with a Goliath.  In fact, the first meeting is more like a final exam, but it only has two outcomes: pass or fail.  The purpose of the homework is three-fold.  First, it will help you to determine if working with the Goliath is truly a good use of your time and has the potential of helping your business.  Second, it will show the Goliath that you have, in fact, spent some time preparing for the first dance (meeting) with them.  Third, and most important, it will allow you to fine-tune your message, focusing on what you believe they want to hear as opposed to what you want to say.  Keep in mind that your goal for the first dance is to be asked to dance again!

It is remarkably easy to find homework activities.  The data and information are readily available.  With a small time investment, you can turn that data and information into useful and thought-provoking dialogue with the Goliath.  Some of the readily available sources are:

Annual Reports:  If Goliath is a publicly traded company, annual reports are readily available online for free.  10K reports (annual) and 10Q reports (quarterly) can also be reviewed but, in most cases, are not necessary for this activity.  In fact, the most useful portions of the annual report to prepare for Goliath meetings are the CEO’s cover letter and the captions below the pictures!  Further, focus on where the company plans to go as opposed to their past performance.  Your potential relationship is about the future, not the past.  Surprisingly, most employees do not read their company’s annual report.  Do not be surprised if you, upon a casual review, are more fluent in the report’s details than the first several people that you will meet.

Company Website:  This source is obvious, and your Goliath contacts will assume that you have reviewed it in detail.  Don’t let them down!   Remember that all websites are two-dimensional and only provide the reader with information that the company wants you to know.  They do not disclose any potential vulnerabilities or bad news and what is “behind the curtain”. 

Current Partner Information:  Many companies openly list their business partners on their websites.  Carefully review those listings to get a feel for the type of relationships that Goliath already has in place.  For example, are they already working with companies of similar size and maturity to you?   Are they working with companies that are providing somewhat similar offerings to yours? Do they have a rigorous partner qualifying process description on the website?  If you know any of their existing partners, call them to see if they can provide any useful insight.

Press Releases:  In most instances, press releases are posted on company websites.  However, the website postings may not be up-to-date.  Perform an Internet search to be sure you have the most current information.  Reference a press release or two during your first meeting.  Mention them even if they are not directly applicable to the opportunity that you would like to pursue.  The goal is to show you are prepared.

Competitor’s Websites and Press Releases:  Determine who the Goliath’s major competitors are and how they are positioned.  As an obvious example, point out how you can provide the Goliath with a competitive advantage.  Do not shy away from indicating that you are familiar with Goliath’s competitors.

References:  Ask around.  Query your employees, customers, and investors asking if any of them have any contacts or insights that may be helpful.  The popular notion of there being only six degrees of separation clearly applies to the business world; just ask.

Internet Search: The last source listed should probably be the first homework source that you investigate.  I have come to accept the fact the virtually everything that ever was or ever will be is “Googleable”.  Your main task is separating the facts from fiction.

The above list of sources may seem overwhelming but just cursory reviews will often be enough.  Watch for potential disconnects from who and where you are and who and where they are.  Some examples are:

  • Their growth and focus is in non-US markets while you are a regional domestic player.
  • They are a high volume, commodity company while you are a low volume, custom, made to order product company.
  • They are a US subsidiary of an international company with key decisions made elsewhere.

The article, 5.050205, “Incompatible DNA” discusses fundamental differences between companies that can literally doom any partnering relationship.  That article is not a “right or wrong” assessment of different company characteristics; it only points out the differences that can be present.

As you do your homework, try to maintain objectivity.  The goal is to prepare for the first exam (dance).  However, upon your analysis, it may become obvious that you are not ready for the dance now and, perhaps, never.  Find out now before you have your toes stepped on!


Article Number : 5.050403   

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