Trusted Partnerships: The Key for Search Firms and Their Vendors

Cluen Trusted Partnerships

By Andrew Shapiro, Principal & Co-Founder, The Cluen Corporation

Retained search firms achieve long-term success with the support of their many trusted partners. Whether lawyers, brokers, technology providers, accountants, or the professional association, there are outsiders that play a critical role in supporting the business of executive search.

Search firms need not only world-class experts in specialties beyond their own staff, but need them to be committed, trusted partners with a proven track record and experience working with similar organizations. Part of AESC’s great success is the implicit nature of these qualities (of course its staff understands retained search and they’re committed to its success—it’s the whole point). But when making critical decisions about other potential partners, how can search firms know that they will be aligned with their business and will remain aligned over time?

As the longest-standing AESC partner, technology innovator, and expert in delivering data systems to thousands of search professionals over decades, Cluen’s team has a great opportunity to see the trends (and the impacts) of different models of engagement. When a search firm chooses a technology provider, there are many considerations (some enumerated below), but it usually boils down to a choice between a trusted partner relationship with a proven expert working towards the firm’s long-term business goals or a quick ‘transaction’ in hopes to solve an immediate need. 

A quick transaction can sometimes feel hard to avoid, but it happens by making any technology project about a partnership engaged to get a business result, where the provider (like Cluen) is dedicated to the success of its customers.

‘New’ without a long-term plan is not better for the future. Technology must constantly evolve. New ‘shiny’ widgets are continually introduced. It is clear that a new productivity tool may satisfy some short-term desires, but the value a firm builds in their technology strategy must be grown over time. In time, any competing technology providers that are truly aligned to their clients’ needs will deploy equal if-not-shinier toys. Ending up with the ‘one hit wonder’ or well-meaning upstart who doesn’t yet have critical mass and hasn’t proven the willingness or ability to stay committed to executive search over time (especially in the slow times), is a risky bet.

In today’s environment, many people don’t expect much more than a near-term transaction from their technology partners. But for executive search firms, engaging to have a real partnership is critical. Many search firms struggle with getting the most value from their technology tools, and sometimes a short-term fix to get users excited is helpful. However, in over 85% of Cluen’s new projects we find that the previous technology failed because the firm was unable to build an “information culture” around it even with a vendor that sticks around. This shows that the most successful database projects rely on the entire staff understanding the value of collaboration and participating in a shared system. That requires a different level of engagement to bring not only ‘shiny’ new tools, but also a proven method to build a data asset and information culture over time.

These same principals apply to any vendor/advisor partnerships a firm may pursue. Even selecting an accountant or a graphic designer can either be a quick transaction or a partnership working towards some longer-range goals. Trust is paramount, but beyond that, what specific questions can executive search firms ask to guide their vendor choices? These are a few that in our experience tend to be helpful (for the full list and whitepaper email

  • When was the vendor organization founded?
  • Founded by whom, and with what mission?
  • What percentage of the vendor’s (or parent organization’s) clients are retained executive search firms?
  • How did the last economic downturn impact the vendor?
  • What long-range business results can be expected from an engagement with the vendor?
  • Can the vendor show how they have made long-term business impact for their clients?
  • How will the firm know that the vendor will remain aligned with their needs in the years to come?

It does take a little more thoughtfulness to build a trusted partner relationship. However, budget-wise it’s probably not that different from a short-term fix. (And, into the future, laying the right foundation is much more cost-effective than doing it over and over again).

“Going together” is much more powerful, but search firms need the right fellowship if they are to benefit from others on the journey with them. Executive search firms must select carefully when preparing for the journey and should challenge their advisors/vendors to be real partners, together building a future vision aligned to the destination.

About Andrew Shapiro

Andrew Shapiro is principal and co-founder at The Cluen Corporation, AESC Global Technology Partners and trusted partners to retained search professionals around the world since 1990; ‘challenge’ him at

About Cluen

Cluen has been working with Executive Search firms for nearly 30 years developing executive search and talent management software. Our next-generation executive search platform, Encore Max, was redesigned from the ground up for both power-users and new users. Encore Max leverages artificial intelligence, automatic data capture, self-learning technologies and more making it the most simple and advanced executive search software you will ever have. Learn more at

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