To found your own company, you must be an independent-minded, strong-willed individual. But the truth is you can't just go it alone in business anymore. No matter how big you get, every company needs to form strategic partnerships with other businesses. And if you're in the early or growth phases, partnerships are even more important.
Done correctly, partnerships are not always about doing direct business with each other. The most effective partnerships are about contributing value to the overall ecosystem – whether it consists of prospective clients, existing clients or just the world in general – in any way you can. This improves your reputation as a trusted resource, which over time results in more business and, ideally, continues to form a virtuous cycle.
The exponential positive effects of partnerships
My company, Hawke Media, does digital marketing in ecommerce, and one of our strongest partners is Shopify. While we're both in ecommerce and B2B, we don't help our clients achieve the same goals. Someone using Shopify will benefit from working with us, and any company working with us will benefit from using Shopify.
Symbiotic relationships like this one are what you need to focus on in your own partnership development. It's not just about companies that bring big business; we'll never send enough business to Shopify to even move the needle. It's about providing value in both directions so that customers are served and everyone benefits.
Developing partner relationships is so key to our continued growth that we actually have two guys working on them full time now. Obviously, they push leads back and forth, but being a resource for our partners by connecting them with the right members of our team at the right time is also a big part of their role. They really own those relationships and the pipeline so that when deals, opportunities or other prospects come in, they are serviced and given the kind of attention they warrant.
Strategic partnerships are the backbone of our business right now, and we've seen huge growth thanks to our consistent focus on building them. Whether it's through knowledge sharing, helping each other vet platforms, branded events, co-branding and co-marketing, webinars, or whitepapers, partnering with companies with specialized expertise should be a big goal for your company as well.
Here are the three important things to remember as you build your own partnerships.
1. Complement, don't compete.
You don't want to find organizations that do the same thing you do and trade leads. That's worthless. You want partners who will add something valuable to your business and vice versa.
Think about the partnership GoPro formed with Ford in 2016: The companies worked together to launch a campaign called Unstoppable Life. In the months prior to the release, most of GoPro's audience had been more likely to visit Toyota's website.
However, the video campaign was so effective that Ford overtook Toyota, Volkswagen and Hyundai within just one month of launching. Such a substantial increase in traffic from GoPro's audience – the index climbed from 188 percent to 254 percent – provided a powerful lift, even for a huge brand like Ford.
2. Remember: It's not all about the money.
Yes, we're talking about business, so a lot of it is about the money. But when it comes to partnerships, don't get stuck in a mindset of "I sent you five leads, and you only sent me two." That's not a partnership; that's an affiliate program.
Instead, focus on other kinds of value that will benefit your business. One survey found the main goal of forming partnerships for 32 percent of executives is expanding their geographic reach, and 23 percent cited sharing resources as a primary objective.
We have partnerships with some massive companies. I'm never going to provide them with enough customers to be meaningful on paper, but we can still be a highly valuable resource for them. I can fly around and coach their teams. I can serve as a trusted subject matter expert. And because of our team's work in this area, we tend to be top of mind when partners are stuck with a marketing problem they don't know how to solve. Ultimately, everyone benefits.
3. Don't obsess over developing a formal program – you don't need one.
Partnership development doesn't need to be between your CEO and theirs. In fact, the targeting doesn't need to be formal at all. Building strategic partnerships should inform the mindset of your entire team.
Maybe one of your account people is just really good buddies with someone working at a service provider. That's a natural, existing partnership that can benefit both companies. Partnerships aren’t necessarily entered into at the top corporate level – they can be built on the individual level too.
Another source of potential partnerships could be clients or employees who have moved on. Former customers and teammates can actually help you generate a ton business. Even if the relationship didn't work out, those strong personal connections can develop into other partnerships if they have incentive to recommend you to others.
Developing partnerships isn't always a formal business-to-business function. Oftentimes, they bloom naturally when your entire team is focused on building personal relationships with people in places that can help grow your brand. If you constantly seek to provide value to others and look for the companies that are willing to reciprocate, you can focus on building those relationships organically and, eventually, welcome them into your partner network.