Referrals can make or break many small businesses. Without access to large marketing budgets, we have to think at a more grass-roots level. For this reason, most small businesses can benefit from developing a strategic partner network.
What is a strategic partner?
Essentially, a strategic partner is someone with whom you share the same description of an ideal customer. It’s a business that sells to your customers and prospects in a non-competitive way.
For example, a graphic designer could develop a strategic partnership with a printer. Both the graphic designer and printer work with business owners to develop their marketing materials. By building their strategic relationship, they offer a value-add to their customers when they pass referrals to each other. The knowledge of and trust in the referred party passes to the customer based on the relationship that has been developed between the graphic designer and printer.
Identifying a few strategic partners and designing a process by which to build a mutually beneficial relationship with each party is the basis of developing a strategic partner network.
Who should be in your strategic network?
Start your network with other professionals that you already know well. If you are a consultant, this could include your accountant, attorney, and banker. For a builder, it could be a realtor, lender and architect.
Then, consider other needs that your ideal customer has. Reach out to people who meet these needs. Perhaps you know professionals in this category already from your networking, but you may need to do some research here. Ask around. See who others are using and recommending.
Do your due diligence with anyone that you consider adding to your strategic partner network. Start by looking at their website, LinkedIn profile and social media channels. Then, search for other social media mentions for their company. You can even set up a Google Alert to be notified when this person or their business is mentioned online.
If you are hesitant at all in making a referral to a professional, do not add them to your strategic partner network. You want to be 100% confident in their reputation and ability.
Ways to engage your network
Your strategic partner network will provide an ROI based on the time you take to nurture your relationship. Consider these ideas for engaging with your network:
- Invite your network to lunch so everyone can meet each other. A bond will begin forming among the members of your network.
- Host an open house so your partners can meet and engage with some of your existing customers. This will help them better understand who you serve.
- Engage with your strategic partners on their social media channels. Share and comment on the content that they post.
- Routinely visit their website or blog to see what’ new for them. Understanding their business will allow you to pass better referrals.
Marketing opportunities among your network
With a trusted relationship forming, the next step to developing your strategic partner network is to look for opportunities to do some joint marketing. This is a win-win for everyone involved as it exposes each business to a new group of qualified prospects. Joint marketing initiatives can be as simple or creative as you want to make them:
- Co-sponsor a workshop where each business invites their customers and prospects. The workshop can be presented by one business or a combination of referral partners. You could even consider bringing in a speaker on a valuable topic to present the workshop.
- Co-brand marketing collateral and white papers. If your message is similar, save money and expand your reach by creating marketing collateral that both businesses can pass out.
- Develop a joint marketing initiative that makes it easy to pass referrals. For example, when a job is finished a remodeling contractor could leave behind a gift bag filled with items and information from a cleaning service, handyman, lawn care professional, and interior decorator.
- Co-create content to share on your website and social media channels. Your customers would probably enjoy getting useful information from other professionals. Develop an interview series or “ask the expert” feature for your website.
I love to hear creative ideas for strategic partnering. Let me know what you’ve done or seen in your industry.