loader image

Stellar Partnerships

Stellar Partnerships: Corporate & Community Partnership
Messing with their heads

Messing with their heads- using behavioural science to win partnerships

Have you ever tried to train a puppy? It’s a constant challenge to lure them away from chewing your furniture and digging up the garden.  My border collie was a four- legged weapon of mass destruction, with boundless curiosity about everything on the forbidden list. We enlisted in puppy training to understand how her doggy brain works and how to channel her energy into more useful activities. Cues, incentives and some simple techniques did the trick.

It turns out that humans aren’t so different to our furry friends. We also respond well to cues and shortcuts that save our brains from thinking too much. Understanding some simple behavioural science will help you make better connections with your corporate partners and get to a ‘yes’ much quicker. Here’s some techniques that work well.


You’re asked to dinner at a friend’s house and the host tells you there’s no need to bring anything. Hands up who feels like they should bring something? Of course you do. You might bring flowers, chocolates or a bottle of wine because it just feels wrong to turn up empty handed. You’re repaying the gift of hospitality. In the same way, offering something to a corporate partnership prospect has the same effect. It might be an invitation to an event, a meeting with a celebrity ambassador, a recent report or a behind the scenes visit to your work. By offering something you stimulate the need to reciprocate. So when you ask for a meeting with the CEO or the chance to present to their decision makers, you’ve already set up an unconscious cue for them to reciprocate. Be generous in nurturing the relationship and you’ll reap the rewards when you need them most.


This is a great technique for getting over your fear of making the ask of a corporate partner. Or responding to that key question of “so how much are you looking for?”. Do you mumble an amount and hope you don’t get shot down or laughed at? Try starting with a big amount or a big challenge and then offering something more workable or reasonable. “I’d love a $1million partnership, but I’m not sure you’re ready for that yet. Let’s start with $200k pa.” Pick a big enough amount or a big enough challenge eg “I’m aiming to educate 1 million girls”, expect to be rejected and then retreat. The comparison between the big, ambitious number makes your offer look so much more reasonable. It enables you to be more confident in making the ask because you’ve given yourself permission to fail. The larger number is intended to be rejected. If they don’t collapse in shock, then maybe they’ve got a bigger appetite for a partnership than you anticipated!


Humans have an in-built loss aversion. We feel the loss of something more acutely than we feel the pleasure of the gain. Have you ever been online in an eBay auction only to be trumped for that bargain at the last second? The frustration lasts longer than the enjoyment of what you would have purchased. In the same way, you can frame your partnership proposals to emphasise scarcity. You can use deadlines, competition eg ‘we’re talking to other partners about this opportunity’ and a sense of urgency. It might be a window of opportunity to get life-saving aid to drought affected communities or the last spot for sponsorship at a signature event. If you can make your corporate prospect feel like they’re going to miss out, then you’re activating their natural response to grab the opportunity.

Behavioural science techniques aren’t a substitute for good preparation and relationship building But, they are useful ways to get inside the heads of your corporate partner prospects and try to influence their decision making. It worked for my border collie pup, who’s stopped digging up my strawberry beds. You may not get your partners to come when you whistle, but you’ll have a better chance of being in control of the prospecting conversations.