There is the well known story told by Buck Rogers of how he clinched a big deal with the simple question, "Do you want to do business with a hardware vendor, or do you want a partner?"

Rogers, of course, understood very well that the customer was looking not just for the product, but for the solution, and he presented IBM as the partner to provide that solution.

But what does being a partner mean? In the strict sense of the term, it suggests that partners will share in the ups and downs, the profits and losses of the business.

Does this happen in the real world? Indeed, just as the words 'I love you' seem to have lost their significance in so many of today's relationships, the words 'I will be your partner' have been bludgeoned to death.

In reality, it is extremely difficult for an organisation to look at the promotion of its customer's or buyer's interests to the point where it is willing to subjugate its own.

And yet in a world which has become smaller, much quicker (in terms of business practices and processes) and, of course, much more competitive, few organisations can survive on their own. The operative word in business today is choice - whether this relates to products, stores, services, or suppliers. And like it or not, organisations have to adjust to this.

What then can be the glue to keep organisations together? I really believe that we are looking for a commonality of interests and an attitude appreciating our inter-dependence on one another.

Competitive advantage

According to Michael Porter: "Commonalities define potential inter-relationships leading to competitive advantage." Where the two parties concerned can identify this commonality of interests a platform for a successful relationship can be quickly created.

This commonality could be defined by market needs such as share, brand image - jointly conquering the market; or production needs such as volume, turnover - deriving greater economies of scale.

Or it could be in the form of sharing of each other's core competencies - eg. logistics handling, expertise in distribution, use of marketing skills, product development capabilities, local knowledge - where each party brings to the table a clearly identifiable set of core competencies which fill a gap in the other party's capability-set with greater efficiency and cost-effectivness.

Booming customers

This all looks fairly obvious but does it really happen? How often have we heard buyers complaining of the perverseness of suppliers or vice-versa. And how often have you attended meetings or business negotiations so filled with suspicions, doubts and misgivings that it felt like emissaries from two enemy countries trying to solve a border dispute.

But it does not have to be like this.

You only have to look around at the number of successful businesses that have grown in the city. Whether it is retail chains which have made service the raison d' etre of their existence, or restaurants that go the extra mile to make their customers comfortable, garment factories that have completely aligned their operations to that of their booming customers, or indeed, the remote call centres that seem to be mushrooming as extensions of operations thousands of miles away - the change is visible for us to see.

And they do this because they know that survival and growth depend on the strengthening of this relationship. But is that the way organisations look at each other? Is there a conscious effort to try and estimate the value of the strengths that each party brings to the relationship? Do we try to build on these strengths, indeed leverage them, in order to create true synergy in the association? Or do we look at each other as opposing protagonists in the business battle?

Real success today will come when the parties decide that the goal based on common interests is mutual, not exclusive; long term, not immediate; and co-operative, not adversarial.

The writer is the general manager for retail and marketing, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group.