Partner Marketing: How Working For Others Can Help Build Your Business

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I recently wrote a post on networking, titled ‘5 Ways To Beat Networking’s Me First Mentality.’ In it, I discuss why I feel that so many networking experiences can fail, due to a selfish mentality. Many of the dynamics of successful human networking feed directly in to businesses that network with each other as well. One of the ways this happens is known as partner marketing and, if approached similarly, it can unlock entirely new markets, create a deep level of trust and have a massive impact on the success of your business.

As a business owner, marketer or entrepreneur, it may seem counterproductive to focus your valuable time and effort on working ‘for the benefit of someone else.’ It’s tempting (especially as a small business) to become so passionate about your product and services that you begin to see all other businesses as purely competition.

There’s a major problem with this mentality:

Gone are the days of the hard sell.

Decades ago, the goal was to convince someone how awesome your product or service was. Hit them with your elevator pitch, offer a tailored value prop, be personable, seem trustworthy and you’d be dancing to the bank in no time. One issue: Over time, consumers have grown numb to it. We’re tired of hearing companies talk about how amazing or ‘disrupting’ their product is.

If we’re honest, frankly, we just don’t believe companies that much anymore. Furthermore, many companies are working so hard to tell people how amazing they are, that they forget to add value, educate consumers and show them why they’re the best.

Have you ever seen a Super Bowl commercial that says, “Listen, our product is alright. That said, in the spirit of transparency and honesty, the other guys do exactly what we do…just way better, though.”

You haven’t because every company says they’re the best at what they do. If they don’t believe that, why do they get out of bed in the morning?

“My company isn’t lying though! We’re legitimately the best!” you say. “If consumers have a tendency to feel we’re biased…how do we prove our value?”

Create trust and awareness through partner marketing.

You know on Survivor, when the people stranded on the island create strategic alliances so that they can share information and influence for a competitive advantage? Boom. Partner marketing.

Partner marketing (sometimes also called something similar to affinity marketing, cooperative marketing, cross-marketing, co-marketing, cross-promotion, the list goes on) is exactly like that for companies — just without the island part.

On a very high level, partner marketing is essentially when two companies or organizations have products or services that can support or work well together. When that’s the case, they can each provide added value to the other’s customer base, so they agree to partner-up, cross-promote, etc. Company A gets new access to Company B’s customer base, and vice versa. It works because Company A’s customers gain value from what Company B is offering, and (again) vice versa. It’s a downright beautiful circle of business.

It’s important to note that there are a wide range of ways or agreements for how this can happen. Generally speaking, it’s really only limited only by what both sides see as added value.

Partners and channels and tactics, oh my.

There is a reason why testimonials, case studies, ratings and various other marketing tactics all work so well. They’re third party votes of confidence. People other than the business saying, “Take if from me, these guys are good.” If the third party singing your praise is respected by a whole new market of potential clients or customers, it can have an incredible (and extremely cost-effective) impact on your business.

Partner marketing can go deep, but if you’re interested in getting started, here are some great foundational tips to keep in mind:

1. Be picky.

This is a ‘quality over quantity’ thing. Growing your partner base is great, but it only matters if you have the right partners. Your customer wants jelly with peanut butter, not hot sauce. It’s critical to be able to step back and ask, “Does this partner offer value that aligns with my goals and (accordingly) with the goals of my customers? Does it vibe with my strategy and (accordingly) what my customers are attempting to achieve?” Partner marketing works when you team with those who closely align and offer your customer base something relevant. Any disconnect there will be passed on to your customers. That doesn’t go well for you.

Additionally, remember that while they spend time promoting you, you will be spending time and effort cross-promoting your partners too. You want your effort to be spent on only the most strategically aligned partners. Otherwise, the partnership isn’t going to generate the best return and it won’t be worth it.

2. Focus on them.

Obviously, any partnership needs to benefit you; that’s a given. The key is ensuring that a partnership that benefits you lasts. How do you ensure this? Think of it like any other friendship: tend, cater to and invest genuinely in it. Focus on the real value that you can offer your partner. Partner marketing is an incredibly mutual relationship.

How long would you last in a relationship with someone who wanted you to do all the hard work? Probably not long if you value yourself. Partner marketing relationships are the same. By mutually providing value to each other, partners create an environment for longevity. It’s exponential too. Partners are able to not only split the marketing workload (a beautiful thing for productivity and ROI) but you open the flow of business and lead generation in both directions. Everybody wins. Your company, their company and aaaall y’all’s customers.

3. Have a plan.

Partner marketing has no cookie cutter template. Great partnerships are custom built for the unique benefits that each side brings. Even more, they rely on execution. Skyscrapers aren’t built by unleashing a bunch of construction workers in a spot and saying, “Alright, y’all. Have at it!”

You can’t execute on a mutually beneficial level unless there’s a clear plan. Begin by identifying the inherent values that both sides bring. Whether it’s increasing your customers, raising awareness or generating revenue (through commissions, sharing or various streams), call it out.

Once you have a clear line of sight for exactly how you anticipate both sides to benefit, start breaking it down. Create a plan that leaves no misunderstanding for how it will be executed, measured and reported. Make sure both sides understand and agree on each step taken to accomplish each manageable deliverable. Then, hold each other accountable.

4. Measure. Patiently.

As a marketer or business owner, your mantra is ‘measure.’ Without measurement, you’re removing the entire quantitative ability to understand what is working, what is not and in what direction your partnership (and from a wider perspective, your business) is headed.

As you measure, keep in mind that partnerships can take some time to fully grow and develop. While some kickback may happen quickly (and it’s very important to hold both sides accountable for achieving early deliverables and milestones), it’s not uncommon that the biggest benefit (and, in turn, the clear ROI to support the partnership) will become more substantial as time goes on. Be patient, be aware and communicate.

Wrapping it up.

The days of throwing a ton of money at an ad campaign, telling everyone about how amazing your company is, are long gone. Trust is the new currency of sales and marketing, and it’s accomplished through a blend of market education and the creation of value and awareness through partnerships.

A well-built partner marketing strategy that provides mutual benefit with a perfect fit can offer an incredibly powerful and cost-effective approach to this.

This is in no way exhaustive, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have something to say? Feel free to reach out at @ryandarbonne on Twitter, or connect with me on LinkedIn!

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