Marketing is becoming ever more personalised, and for long-term success, your business needs to keep up with the trend. You need to be building relationships, and doing that means being where your customers are. Online is key, but how can you leverage that beyond your own networks?
One essential key to expanding your reach and connecting with new, larger audiences is to develop a partnership programme.
Whatever your business – whether you are an expert coach, author, trainer or speaker and exchange time for money by selling your services, or own a brand selling products – in order to grow a sustainable business you need partners to help promote what you offer to a much wider audience.
By ‘partner’, I’m not talking about just having a Facebook page, or paying a high profile influencer to talk about you.
I mean strong, personal, 1-1 relationships with individuals (or organisations) who have the same target audience as you, and who are looking for a win-win-win scenario.
This will almost certainly mean a range of partners, for different areas of your business. How many, and who, is a mixture of quantity and quality. Or, perhaps more accurately, relevance. That win-win-win comes from you having something relevant to offer your partners for sharing, and by definition backing, your brand with their audience.
Investing in relationships to build strong partnerships
For you to understand what’s relevant to them, and for them to appreciate how what you offer adds value to their customers, you need to take the time to build that strong relationship. How that works depends on your business and location and theirs, but developing it almost always means ‘giving’ them something – something that shows them the value of your thought leadership, services or products, and demonstrates how your brand adds value to theirs.
That could be as simple as you building your profile through personal networking, spending time with people (yes, this is always about people) to give them the benefit of your knowledge. But whatever you choose to do, remember that building strong, long-term partnerships is the same as building any other relationship – you have to invest time, effort and a bit of yourself in them. It’s not just about selling.
How I use partnerships in my business
Let me give you an example. In my own business, I have various revenue streams that come from different target audiences. For each stream, I need a different type of partner:
As a speaker
As a keynote speaker, I work internationally. But, to be able to speak in the Middle East, Germany, Finland, Israel, Holland and Romania (to name just a few countries I’ve worked in,) I need a partner company that is present in that country. It’s not just about them having the local database, though that’s vitally important. They also know the local language and culture, and can help me promote myself in the right way for that market.
For this to be a success, I have to supply marketing material so my partner can promote me. And we need complete transparency, so that if I am contacted directly by a company in that local market, my partner knows whether that’s an existing client of mine or whether it’s a potential client lead that they have delivered to me.
That’s not to say I don’t use my own network as well. LinkedIn is my main tool for contacting other organisations to get speaking engagements, but I’m looking for long-term success. To achieve that you need a partner who both understands the local market and knows you and your area of expertise.
As an author
As an author, I simply need a partner who can print, distribute and manage all of the online and offline bookstores and send me a review of sales on a monthly basis.
As a trainer in the room
As a trainer, I work with a huge range of businesses – everything from MBA to start-up, from business owners to corporates. But to do this successfully I first have to create different content that works for each of these target customers. Only then can I go out and find partners with that specific target audience.
My partner might then do one of two things, each of which has its pros and cons:
Fill the room and pay me a day rate.
This gives you a fixed fee. You might not always get your true day rate, but you could get booked for 10-20 days a year.
Open up their audience for me to market to in order to fill the room, and I give them a commission for every delegate that signs up.
This has the advantage that it enables you to be in control of the sales and profit. But you’re responsible for the marketing and sales, so if you’re not a strong marketer or sales person you need to be careful.
Both options have their positives and negatives, but if you’re working internationally I would definitely recommend option 1.
As an online trainer
I’ve been running online training courses since 2012. Audiences differ, and prices range from £197 to £2,500, but in each case I still need partners to work with to fill the (online) room.
For you, selling online through partners could be via global brands like Groupon, or with other businesses and experts who don’t specialise in your skillset but do have the same target audience as you do.
You can of course promote your online event via places like Eventbrite or Conferize, but with these platforms you do not have that personal relationship, which in my experience is key to achieving a better ROI.
Getting started with your partnership programme
1. Think quality not quantity
Partnership marketing is, in part, about numbers. Expanding your reach is vital – but at the same time, you must understand the audience and be offering something relevant to everyone.
Hubspot has some good advice here, suggesting that:
“The partners that are solely focused on the financial motivation are typically not the best for long-term success. The partners that want to add value for their clients and pick the best solution for them are the ones that will ultimately develop the best relationship with you and your brand.”
Think carefully about how your partner’s brand adds value to yours, as well as the other way around, and choose partners who share your target audience.
If you’re venturing into partnership programmes for the first time, a few, quality relationships will bring you better results than trying to go for volume without substance.
2. Proactive engagement
Keep front of mind by being in touch with your partners regularly. Make it easy for them to learn about what you offer, and how to partner with you. That means
developing relevant content and incentives, as well as supporting your partners, and training them if necessary.
You might need to offer them the benefit of your experience through 1:1 conversations, which is a great way of building the trust that leads to long-term collaboration.
This matters, even where your business is done entirely on-line. With so much on offer, buyers are increasingly relying on partners, peer-to-peer referrals, thought leaders and brand ambassadors when making buying decisions.
3. Offer the right incentive
There’s no single right answer to this, so your partnership programme needs to fit the needs of your company and your partners. My most important piece of advice is to keep it simple – making it easy to explain, implement and pay out incentives in return for leads.
Particularly if you’re setting up large-scale partnerships with online businesses, where your leads come via automated online platforms, you’ll need to consider automated payouts; otherwise a successful programme will quickly become unmanageable, and drain on your resources.
Types of incentives you could consider are:
- Revenue share – a commission representing a percentage of the total purchase. Think PayPal, which takes a small fee for each transaction.
- Dual incentives – if both partner and referee get a reward for sending you business, there’s a win-win-win built in.
- Limited-time rewards – Exclusive rewards for high performing partners are a great way to encourage participation. For example an award for the highest monthly performer.
Does your business really need a partnership programme?
In a word, yes. Did you know that B2B buyers are typically 57% of the way to making their decision before they engage with a sales process? For your business, that means that to get that sale, you need to have given your audience multiple opportunities to discover, learn about and engage with your brand. If your audience has already learned about you from brands they trust and buy from, you are far more likely to get their business.
Partnerships take time, effort, energy and commitment to form, but if done correctly by ticking all the boxes and providing mutual benefit to all parties, they will help you build a sustainable business and form new, lasting friendships.
You can read more about how important relationships are in marketing here.