Mining Your Partners' Partners to Build Your Client Base

With a Small Sales Force, Put the 'Net Worth' in Networking

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When we think attention-grabbing partnerships, the wedding of Kate and Prince William might come to mind. Consider all that pomp and circumstance and resultant brand-building bonhomie for the royal family, on a global scale. Conversely, we may think of Apple and its Chinese factory partners cranking out iPads and iPhones under dubious conditions, tarnishing a stellar brand that could seemingly do no wrong.

Well, I've got another variety of partnership to wax about. It may not grab headlines, but it can grow your all-important network and lead directly to new business opportunities. This can be a big plus for small agencies, where you might not have a large sales force to constantly pound the pavement seeking leads for new business.

With the right strategic business partners in place, you can connect directly to their networks and establish attractive, stand-apart positioning when it comes to nabbing quality new clients. This is all about getting your partners' networks to work for you.

Most agencies don't know how to harness these partnerships and are missing sizable revenue opportunities. It's not something you can achieve overnight; it takes considerable time and effort to market your agency deep within partners' organizations. You have to develop specific benefit statements that will help you shine most brightly in partners' organizations. Great at quick-turn digital branding and pinpoint marketing in the Pacific Rim? Great. Make sure that word gets out there in BOLD FACE, ALL CAPS.

And remember you have to court your partners. You can't date two people at once, at least not successfully, and I won't even get into ethics. So how can you be a strategic partner with two competitive software-solutions companies? Review your partnerships: Do you really need two vendors that provide, for instance, the same slew of e-mail delivery capabilities? Pick the better one, more suited to your business operations, and call it good.

It's not about having a long laundry list of partners, but having the right partners that will enhance your offerings, offer best-in-class and appropriate services, and ultimately offer valuable entre into their networks of your potential clients.

How do you establish, manage and maintain these relationships? Here's a list of five ways I've successfully done so at my firm.

Start by asking why you're partnering. Establish sales goals and align your marketing. In the case of a software company partnership, we assessed and evaluated the market and matched our strongest skill sets to their software's capabilities and go-to-market strategies. We devised a plan to build awareness within the software company's organization so we'd be fed leads that matched our skill sets. We've generated some great leads and landed some great work.

Be choosey. You can generate a more focused partnership strategy when you don't have a huge list of them to work down -- unless, of course, you have the available resources and time, and all these partners fulfill a vital need. There's a lot of communication and marketing that goes into nurturing these relationships, so don't spread yourself too thin.

Resist the urge to try to be everything to everyone. "Yeah, we can do that !" Oh really? We used to believe that having more partners (which equaled having more capabilities) meant that we were casting a wider net. That's especially attractive during tough economic times, when the temptation is to grab what you can when you can can. But it comes at a cost: As a small firm, can you really deliver all things to all clients with spectacular results and QC to match?

Focusing on a select few, we've become experts at deploying partner solutions, creating happy customers for us and for them. It's a win-win, as we then beef up our portfolio with these documented successes, which translate into better win ratios when it comes to new business opportunities.

Add value to every pitch and to your partners' marketing efforts. We seek opportunities to participate in our partners' organizations. This includes speaking at sales meetings and attending co-sponsored events, maintaining ongoing communications (we try to meet weekly) and being proactive when it comes to co-marketing opportunities. This leads to quality face-to-face opportunities to meet members of our partners' networks and create goodwill and awareness that can be transformed into new business.

Find your niche. Make sure your partners and their networks are well aware of what it is . Where do you fit into your partners' potentially complex relationship ecosystem? Establish what makes you different, your sweet spot, what you bring to the table that others don't, and then sell yourself, showcase your exceptional work as it relates to the partnership. Consider it best-foot-forward, loud-and-clear self-marketing 101. Make certain that their partners are also aware of what you bring to the table.

It's a great time to get busy, nurture smart partnerships, grow that related network and stand apart from the thundering herd looking to snap up all the new business. Who needs a royal wedding, or a grand debacle with the wrong partner, when a well-thought-out strategic partnership can lead to such very good things?

Jennifer Modarelli is the owner and principal of White Horse, a 29-year old digital marketing agency specializing in the convergence of emerging and traditional media to create immersive web experiences. Modarelli joined White Horse in 1998 as its general manager and acquired the company as a principal owner in 2000.
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