BBN partner meeting at TriComB2B offices in Dayton, Ohio, USA

“Trusted partner.”

When I first heard these words in marketing parlance about 20 years ago, I thought, “I get it. But it sounds like something everyone is going to want to say.” And sure enough, as if someone from McKinsey or Harvard Business Review told every business executive all at once, most companies began talking about being a “trusted partner”.

It was everywhere.

As a marketer, I try to avoid phrases that may become ubiquitous or overused — some form of personal protest. Thus “trusted partner” and all the noun (They’re our partner), verb (Let’s partner), and adjectival (That’s not very partner-like) derivatives became permanent eye-roll material for me. Not just on the basis that the word was being overused, either. It often felt like the very people and entities overusing the word partner wanted to be anything but.

Enter 2022 and a phone call from Annette Fernandes-Poyser from BBN International

At the time, our agency had been seeking a better way to offer global capabilities to our clients. We’d looked into a variety of networks and associations but couldn’t find the right fit. Annette’s pitch was different. I can remember she told me BBN was unique. That the owners and team members of the BBN agencies were — you guessed it — true “partners”. But I didn’t roll my eyes this time. Why? Subsequent interviews with BBN agencies revealed an energy, familiarity and level of commitment that felt special. It seemed pretty, well, “partner-ish”.

TriComB2B joined BBN in 2022.

Since that time, I’ve come to appreciate the potential of a true partnership: the “we’re in this together” attitude, shared goals and common beliefs that allow individual desires for achievement to peacefully coexist with team-oriented, jointly pursued benefits that can only be achieved by larger groups. I’ve been asked on several occasions to describe why we’ve been so satisfied and successful with our experience with the partnership. It comes down to a few things BBN consistently achieves as it evolves and expands its partnership model.

Alignment: A great partnership incorporates team members who care about the same things while recognizing and appreciating productive differences. This isn’t an everyone-is-invited party. A passion for B2B is a must. But more deeply, member agencies must believe in the power of being a responsible global citizen, the beauty of diversity, and the importance of creating positive social and environmental changes. This alignment creates the foundation upon which a strong partnership can be built.

Respect: Put 30+ business owners in a room and you’ll a) run into some strong personalities; b) encounter some unbelievably intelligent people; and c) never have a shortage of opinions. Whether you’re a big personality or reserved observer, I’ve witnessed nothing but full respect for every team member in various meetings and discussions. And it doesn’t need governing; it just happens. There’s a shared belief that every partner has value to add. Why? I honestly don’t know, but it likely has something to do with the upfront vetting process that sniffs out prospects who might be more “I” than “we”.

Chris Eifert collaborating with BBN partners Hernán Braña and Harrison Lissha

Intention: Ever been on a video conference or in a meeting where you feel like you only have part of someone’s attention? Or watched someone vigorously work their emails during an important discussion? The sign of a great partner is full engagement. They listen intently — as if you’re the only one in the room — ready to offer counsel, an alternative approach or just a word of encouragement. BBN partner agencies engage vigorously. Watching 60+ agency leaders fully participate in our recent Annual General Meeting for more than two days, with nary a laptop open or phone being used, was quite a sight.

Fun: It’s hard to fully trust someone or be vulnerable with a work colleague unless you know them somewhat well. Think of your best professional engagements and consider the relationship levels you have with those people. My guess is you know a little about them personally; that you’ve shared some meals, had a cocktail, or spent one-on-one time with them. We B2B marketers know that the best campaigns connect emotionally. Would it not make sense that the best partnerships (and partners) would do the same? Purposefully incorporating a little fun into your partnership model is imperative to making it work, and BBN has a long track record in that regard.

There are also a lot of technical reasons related to how BBN built the world’s greatest B2B marketing partnership. Yes, there are common processes, shared investments, reporting, accountability and more — but anyone can document and enforce a few rules and procedures. Partnership starts and ends with the intangibles: alignment, respect, intention and fun. Gloss over those and you’ll be left with the “trusted partner” empty vessel mantra from 20 years ago with nothing to show for it.

When you’re looking for your next partner or partnership, I’d advise you to look beyond the bylaws, agreements and contracts. Make sure you can “feel” it. And once you do, make sure you get involved and engage deeply in that relationship. You’re likely to find the professional, commercial and personal fulfillment you were hoping for. And you might even win a little hardware. 😊

BBN group photo accepting an award

Learn more about the BBN partnership and TriComB2B’s awards in our latest press release.