I recently received an interesting e-mail from a gentleman in the UK asking if marketing partnerships really work. He had approached a number of potential partners and many expressed interest in forming partnership, yet nothing got done.
There seems to be quite a bit of interest right now in marketing partnerships. It is about time. Businesses can set up and implement very successful partnerships, but the process is long-term. Partnerships do not generally produce significant results quickly.
What A Marketing Partnership Is
A marketing partnership involves two or more professionals, companies or salespeople who have common prospects, similar marketing needs, and possibly complementary services. These entities join forces for mutual marketing and sales, usually within a specific market sector or for specific prospects. This does not mean they lose their individual identity. More than likely, each will continue to market and sell outside the partnership.
Marketing activities may involve:
- Creating joint marketing materials
- Joint direct mail, e-mail or advertising campaigns
- Joint sales calls
- Referring of prospects
- Possibly even combining services, talents and assets to create new services
An example of a potential marketing partnership would be an accountant, estate attorney, financial planner, and insurance agent. By combining forces, these professionals can, at least in theory, coordinate and help guide an individual's affairs without the potential of conflict, jealousy, or competition. And, again, each individual professional benefits from wider exposure, more referrals, and marketing that is more efficient.
Virtually every professional and company has opportunities to create marketing partnerships. Although the most visible partnerships involve large, publicly traded companies, partnerships offer tremendous potential for even the smallest of companies or single practitioners.
What A Marketing Partnership Is Not
A marketing partnership is neither a quick fix for sales problems, nor a way to eliminate the burden of marketing and sales.
Although some marketing partnerships may be elaborate formal legal entities, most, especially with smaller companies and individual practitioners, are informal devices that enhance each partner's marketing reach--their combined efforts allow both partners to meet prospects' needs they may not have otherwise been able to meet individually.
In a partnership both parties must assume responsibility for marketing the joint venture. A partner who expects to ride the back of the other partner will quickly find himself alone.
When considering a partnership, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Your Partners Help Define Your Reputation And Position
When you enter a marketing partnership, whom you choose to join forces with directly impacts your sphere of influence, marketing potential and reputation. Each partner's reputation "rubs off" on the other. In addition, your marketing reach is enhanced-or limited-by the other side's.
Consequently, you should take care when approaching someone as a partner. As the initiator, you have the advantage of choosing providers you want to join forces with. Since the ball is in your court, pair with businesses that have the reputation you want for yourself and the market reach you desire.
Careful selection of partners can rapidly establish a relatively new company or professional as an expert or serious player within their local industry. Likewise, poorly selected partners can just as quickly damage a reputation.
2. Partners Want Real Value From The Partnership
When you initiate a marketing partnership, the professionals and companies you approach will want to see results before they become enthused. You will have to sell them on the idea that the partnership will produce real benefit for them, not just for you. In addition, they will not want a new free "soft" service to provide their customers. They will want a real profit benefit.
So approaching them with the idea that they can refer a client with a need to you and thus provide a "service" to their client will not cut it. The partnership must offer them bottom-line dollars. Even then, they will not fully participate until they have experienced some benefit and see that it works. That means you must be prepared to give before you receive.
3. Your Commitment is Key
As the initiator of the partnership, you not only have the luxury of approaching those potential partners you believe will enhance your status, reputation and business potential, but you also must assume responsibility for its success. You will have to do the vast majority of work, at least at first. You will be dealing with people who may like the concept and want it to work, but they will be skeptical. You will have to carry the ball and show them that you are committed to the partnership-and, again, that it will produce results.
The quickest way to achieve full buy-in of partners is to have a client or two ready to go as soon as your partner prospect agree to the partnership. Nothing gets the attention of a new partner like immediate business--and it demonstrates that you are serious in your commitment to them and not simply looking to mooch off their business.
Many, if not most, marketing partnerships fail to live up to their promise because the initiating partner forms the partnership with unrealistic expectations. If you are looking for a quick fix to sales problems, an "easy" way to get business, or are looking for a one-way referral connection, a marketing partnership is not the answer.
Nevertheless, if you are committed to building a long-term partnership that can vastly increase the prospecting and marketing capabilities for all concerned--and eventually the sales pipeline--a well constructed marketing partnership can work wonders.
Paul McCord, president of McCord and Associates, a sales training and management consulting company in Houston, Texas, is the author of Creating a Million-Dollar-a-Year Sales Income: Sales Success through Client Referrals (John Wiley and Sons, 2007) and upcoming SuperStar Selling: 12 Keys to Becoming a Sales Superstar. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.