Partnerships have many marketing, sales, and financial returns when you’re running a small business. They can:
- Expand your reach in a new or core market
- Reduce marketing expenses
- Bolster your credibility in a particular vertical
- Generate new opportunities
- Create flexibility in your growth strategies.
They may even bolster your opportunities to be an influencer within core markets.
But with mergers and acquisitions so common in SMBs, it’s a good idea to annually review your strategic partnership tree to see whether some limbs have either been trimmed or need trimming.
Review What Partnerships You Have/Need
Start by making two lists: one of your core and growth markets, another of your existing strategic partnerships that match those core markets.
Where you have an existing match, review whatever data you have. Is there a provable track record of either referrals or marketing amplification within the last 2-3 years? If there is, maybe it’s time to catch up with that partner and see what synergistic opportunities you could create. If the relationship is not productive, consider whether their brand still matches with your company values, whether they’re expanding into products or services that make you uncomfortable, and whether your contacts there are still strong. Reading their press releases is a quick way to catch up.
In markets where you do not have a current partner, generate lists of possibilities. Look for:
- Brands that match your company values
- Companies whose products/services complement your own
- Companies with whom you share customers or overlap territories
- Review their growth – does their B2B or B2C emphasis reflect your own
- Marketing opportunities like a popular podcast, guest blog, etc.
- Familiar contacts
- Potential conflicts (like a conflicting existing partnership)
Even as you make the lists for all your markets, consider pursuing partnerships one market at a time. New partnerships are exciting, but also time-consuming. Seeking out partners in multiple verticals simultaneously may result in disappointing the very people you want to impress.
Conversely, we recommend taking more than one potential partner out for a test spin, as even the best fit on paper will not give you any indication of either their enthusiasm or efficiency.
Testing the Waters
Make a list of your own assets. Be prepared to have a couple of initial, joint marketing ideas in mind that will serve as a “one-off” test run.
- Marketing – if you have a popular media platform, like a podcast or blog page, consider inviting one of their experts to a guest slot.
- Trade Shows/Conferences/Corporate Citizenship – are you sponsoring an event in the next six months that might interest them?
- Do you have a new product/service that could use an endorsement?
- Or do they? Could your company play an influencer role?
- Do you have a new product/service that pairs well with one of theirs for a one-time offer?
Any of these measures can be a solid base hit, even if it doesn’t result in a long-term partnership. You may end up with a popular episode of your podcast, or tons of hits on a guest blog, or an endorsement you didn’t expect to have. Contacts move around too, so none of your time ever goes to waste.
Meanwhile, the companies that go the extra mile: make counter proposals of their own, amplify any joint campaign, volunteer to share lists when that campaign is over, and deliver on promises and referrals are treasures to mine for more lasting terms.
Go for It
Be bold and confident in your approach. Don’t get hung up on whether the company is disproportionate in size to your own. There is never any harm in asking, and niche gaps aren’t exactly posted on the company website. You might be pleasantly surprised and even end up with the better end of the deal, simply because you fill a niche need and had great timing.