It can be tough to scale your business on your own. That’s why developing strategic partnerships to help you grow your business at scale can save you a ton of time and energy. Not only can you leverage someone else’s network, but you can also add value to your existing customer base. Plus you add value to your partner’s existing customer base while strengthening both of your value propositions.
I’ve developed partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, industry associations, and nonprofit organizations throughout my experience as a four-time founder and startup business development lead. My hope is that this article will equip you with the tips and tricks you need to get started in the partnerships space and successfully grow your business.
1. Do Your Research
The first step when it comes to partnerships is deciding what your goals are. Typically, you’re looking to grow your brand’s exposure while adding value for your existing customers or clients. This means the best place to start is to speak with your customers and understand the problems they’re facing. If they’re running into three main problems and you can solve two of them, think about how you can form a partnership to help your customer get that third issue addressed.
Once you identify some areas to focus on for partnerships, you’ll want to continue your research. But, this time looking at potential partners. If you want to partner with a training provider, don’t just reach out to the first one you find. Look into all the training providers that match your criteria to see their reviews. Plus, if they have other partnerships in your space that may disqualify them from being a partner. In this example, you may not want to partner with a provider that is overpriced or not well established. Especially, if they aren’t going to add value for your customers relative to one of their competitors.
After you narrow down your list of potential partners that align with your criteria, you’ll want to think about how you can best add value to the partner and their audience. Partnerships are a two-way street. So, it’s crucial to put just as much time into thinking through their benefits from entering the partnership as you do thinking through your benefits. This will help get in front of any objections. Additionally, it will concisely demonstrate the value proposition of the mutually beneficial partnership.
2. Add Value
While cold partnership outreach can be successful, you’ll have much better luck partnering with someone who is familiar with you and your brand. Reaching out to mutual connections to ask for introductions to their former or current employers, colleagues, or classmates is a great way to bridge the gap. You can do this quite easily by using LinkedIn’s search filters.
Aside from leveraging mutual connections, building your presence on LinkedIn through commenting on prospective partners’ employee and company posts can be a great way to get you and your brand noticed ahead of reaching out.
Finally, tagging the company or employees to welcome them into conversations can help add value for the potential partners and whoever you’re helping. For example, if someone makes a post about sales software recommendations, tagging your potential partner’s company page or sharing a thought leadership piece from the partner can go a long way to get you noticed in a matter of seconds.
3. Take the Lead
When you contact someone about a potential partnership, don’t just ask to chat. Some organizations receive thousands of partnership inquiries each year. Many don’t have the bandwidth to read and respond to them all. This is why to grow your business it’s important to lead with what’s in it for them. Spell out exactly how you envision the partnership looking.
Oftentimes, founders will lead with information about their company and propose a time to chat about partnerships. There are two problems with this approach. One, busy professionals won’t see any value in reading a huge blurb about your company. Two, it puts the onus on the recipient to try to see if there’s a good fit. Since you’ve done your research, you’re more familiar with their company than they are with yours. This means it’s much easier for you to outline your ideas, saving them the brainpower of thinking of ideas from scratch. If you send a concise email outlining why they should care and tangible ideas you have for a partnership, they’ll be much more likely to reply.
4. Be Patient and Mind the Details
Patience is key when it comes to partnerships. They are often not the number one priority on your or anyone else’s list, so it may take a few follow-ups to get a conversation booked into the calendar, especially if the other party is looking to involve multiple members of their team.
While some partnerships may only need a single conversation, this often isn’t the case. You and your potential partner will likely need to take the conversation back to your teams and get their input. Because you and the person you spoke with may not be the ones executing the potential next steps. Teams are busy, especially in the summer with vacations, so plan to budget a week or two between your initial call and a follow-up call.
During this time, remember not to put all your eggs in one basket. A deal can fall through at any time. So, it’s important to keep your options open until a deal is agreed to in writing. It’s also helpful to not commit to a long-term partnership in case it doesn’t end up going as planned. Starting off with a shorter-term trial partnership at a smaller scale has many benefits. It lets both parties evaluate the effectiveness of the partnership, gather sentiments from their audiences, and reassess the next steps moving forward.
Even unsuccessful partnerships can be great learning experiences to help shape future partnership conversations and strategies. If a certain type or format of partnership doesn’t work, be sure to reflect on the reasoning behind the performance. This way you can create a better one next time. When done right, partnerships can be a great way to grow your business and add value for your audience.