golf cart with "just married" sign
PHOTO: Derek Thomson

In February, I picked a fight with love at first sight. I blew up the idea that, à la “Jerry Maguire,” you’d recognize your marketing technology match “at hello.” After all of my rough experiences in the martech dating scene, I couldn’t leave others to suffer the heartbreak I had experienced.

But I left you hanging! I never explained how to build a successful martech marriage after you tie the knot. After you say “I do,” what’s next?

A martech partnership is not all that different from marriage — a conclusion I’ve reached after 20 years of living with my lovely wife and after 10 years of working with martech vendors.

Unfortunately, most tips about business partnerships are Cosmo-style “suggestions” you don’t want to try at home (not that I would know what’s in that magazine). Instead, let’s have a heartfelt discussion about what a great martech marriage takes. Feel free to test these ideas at home.

Related Article: Don't Let MarTech Vendors Sweep You Off Your Feet: A Guide for the RFP Process

1. Relinquish Expectations

Remember that first week after you moved in with your spouse or significant other? Yeah, it was a potpourri of sights, smells and conversations you didn’t anticipate. But it’s only a painful process if you set lofty expectations, and the same is true of martech marriages.

After the romantic courtship (also known as the request for proposals process), reality sets in. Maybe the vendor’s team isn’t doing the custom integration the way you would. Perhaps the training isn’t hands-on enough. Or, to your surprise, users aren’t flocking to the new platform.

Once the honeymoon is over, you discover things you didn’t know about your vendor. But these things are not deal-breakers. Let go of expectations and move to the next step.

2. Talk Openly

Newlyweds may not have complementary communication styles. They may also be afraid to raise concerns and complaints.

If you bring up the fact that she sets a 5:30 a.m. alarm and still hits snooze, will she be defensive? If you call him out about the dirty underwear left next to the shower, will he feel that you’re nagging him? Keeping quiet builds pressure until the grievances become unaddressable and potentially explosive.

Vendors want to support clients the way clients want to be supported, and they need input and feedback to do that. As a client, you might judge a new vendor in comparison with other vendors you’ve used in the past, not realizing that you can shape the experience. Give constructive critiques, ask for things, hold the vendor accountable for being a good partner to you. We vendors are not mind readers, but the best of us have thick skins.

Related Article: Navigating the RFP Process: 7 Tips on Evaluating Digital Agency Experience

3. Build Trust

As newlyweds, you begin to divide responsibilities based on strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps your spouse is the household chief financial officer who does the bills, and you’re the chief operations officer who plans vacations. Those roles are equally valuable.

Your new vendor is similar in that its team will fill a void that you don’t necessarily want to fill. The vendor’s representatives can consult with you in their organization’s areas of expertise if you give them space to do it.

Set your vendors up to succeed! If you only notify vendors about crises at the last minute, they will let you down eventually. They will feel stressed and begin to lament your calls. They need opportunities to shine.

Of course, some couples engage in what you might call “testing.” Each of them may set up unfair situations designed to validate their preconceived beliefs — that the other partner is lazy, incompetent or so forth. If you’re frustrated with your martech relationship, don’t “test” your vendor. Go back to step No. 2: Talk openly.

4. Nurture a Dream Together

At some point, couples must divulge their goals. Hopefully, this talk happens during the courtship, but it’s a dynamic conversation and it can evolve.

The classic example is children. Almost always, couples share their desire or reluctance to have children before getting married. However, they can’t anticipate every roadblock and variable. For example, maybe raising three kids in San Francisco is too expensive, and the couple considers moving somewhere beautiful, affordable and down to earth — like Madison, Wisconsin. The couple must review such goals and choices to prevent differences from becoming deal-breakers.

In a vendor partnership, children aren’t optional: You always have tech babies! (It’s not a coincidence that we talk about “tech adoption.”)

As vendors, maybe we have to pivot, alter the road map or introduce new products to share your dream. We won’t know unless we talk about your goals. (Tip No. 2, “talk openly,” is kind of a big deal.)

Related Article: The Vendor-Customer Relationship: Top 3 Tips to Get What You Want After Tying the Contractual Knot

Dream Long, Dream Often

In romances, friendships and vendor partnerships, the principles of a successful relationship are the same. Realistic expectations, open communication, trust and co-dreaming strengthen every bond.

Remember, you can always ask a relationship counselor (a.k.a. a technology consultant) to mediate. And yes, in some cases, you should consider separating.

Don’t let the RFP courtship become a distant, surreal memory. Let it be a reminder of how much joy, growth and opportunity is available in a relationship after you say, “I do.”