Have you ever seen a barrister in action? Below the antiquated gown and scratchy wig, there is a magician at work. One of the features of our legal system is that a barrister can work on a wide range of cases. One day they’ll be prosecuting a drug trafficker and the next they’ll be negotiating a celebrity marriage break up. They are ‘learned in the law’ but can’t possibly be experts in every subject. How do they do it?
It’s a similar situation for partnership managers. You’ve all brought a range of talents to the role, including sales, business development, fundraising or community organising. But your partnership portfolio is likely to include a wide range of different corporates. How do you manage the different needs and priorities of organisations that might run the spectrum from fashion retailing to construction? You need to think like a barrister and become micro experts in each sector.
Do your research
Legal dramas on TV typically show the barrister in full flight in court. Occasionally they give you a peep behind the scenes at the barrister’s chambers, where her desk is piled high with books and papers. That’s because they do in depth research on their client, the context and the sector in which they operate. You need to take a similar approach. Desktop research, covering publicly available material and sector news is the start. Then take a look at 12 months of social media to understand what they company is saying about itself and how their customers are responding. If they’re championing their brand but their customers are complaining about their products and services, they’ve got a problem. Are they struggling to get any engagement on their boring Facebook posts? Clearly, they need some engaging content. Have you looked at the SEEK review page to find what employees are saying about them? Maybe they’ve got some staff retention and engagement issues.
A good barrister looks beyond what the client is telling them and gets a broader perspective. You need to do the same. You can approach corporate communications with a healthy dose of scepticism. Sometimes the bigger the focus on an issue, the more that the corporate is trying to hide its challenges. I’ve found it useful to ask for insights from a corporate’s competitors. They have no hesitation on giving a frank assessment of someone else’s performance. Doing your research involves getting under the skin of the situation and going behind the public statements. You won’t have to determine if they’re guilty or innocent, but you will be able to figure out how you can be part of the solution to their problems.
Persuade not pester
In the book The Golden Rules of Advocacy, a barrister stated that “our objective at trial is not the ultimate truth but an opinion in our favour”. Partnership managers are advocates for your cause and your role is to persuade the decision makers. That means being prepared to handle objections and answer questions. A barrister doesn’t give a pre-prepared PowerPoint presentation and then sit down; she’ll have a bank of evidence and relevant material that she can then use flexibly in more of a conversation with the audience. Imagine yourself in the barrister’s position. Would she deliver a templated slide deck and then follow up every ten minutes to check if the jury will say yes? Not likely, so I suggest you don’t do it either. Your goal is to persuade your corporate partner and demonstrate how your arguments are compelling and inspiring enough to get a great result for both of you.
Don’t take it personally
We can all get personally invested in a cause and passionate about getting to a yes. But sometimes things don’t go your way, and you don’t get the outcome you wanted. It’s frustrating and disappointing, but don’t take it personally. It’s not a reflection on your credibility or the importance of your cause. Sometimes the corporate partner isn’t ready, can’t get budget approval with the right internal stakeholders, or the timing isn’t quite right. The best way to approach it is to accept that your role is to help them make a decision. That decision may be for now and not forever, so hold it lightly and be prepared to revisit the opportunity at a later date or in different circumstances. Barristers don’t have time to dwell on lost cases- they’re too busy moving onto the next urgent matter. You need to make sure you’ve got enough in your partnership pipeline to allow you to keep moving forward.
If you want to raise the bar with your partnership opportunities, then channel your favourite TV barrister. I’m thinking more Rumpole than Lieutenant George in Blackadder. Do your research and become that micro expert and you’ll open up more valuable opportunities and get to the right verdict.