Skip to main content
ryan caligiuri

Any small business looking to grow will eventually need to move into new, and unfamiliar, industries or geographic locations. Most businesses trying to drum up leads in new markets will turn to the most common marketing tactics: advertising, social media, special events and e-mail pitches, to name a few.

But there's another tool in the marketing toolkit that will help penetrate new markets faster and more efficiently, lending credibility out of the starting gate and producing introductions that would not be easy to get on your own. Call it partnership marketing.

Partnership marketing is about finding people or businesses who have influence because they already have a relationship with a community, group or marketplace, and getting them to introduce your business to their network. With their simple endorsement of what you have to offer, followed up by a concerted e-mail, direct mail or social media effort, you can open new doors to potential clients and grow your business faster in a new market than if you had just done it on your own.

Those who have yet to try it might want to follow these five steps to develop a partnership marketing strategy.

Define target clients, and an offer

The first step is to determine who you are trying to attract. What industry, size of organization, and type of company are you trying to connect with? In other words, who are your ideal new clients?

Next, define an offer that you believe they would be interested in. I always recommend something inexpensive that is easy to say yes to. For example, a special discounted offer or a webinar to begin the relationship are likely going to work better than if you were to offer potential clients your product or services straight out of the starting gate.

Find partners that have relationships with the clients you want

Research to find the companies, associations or community groups that have pre-existing relationships built with the clients you are trying to get to.

To help figure out who they are, think about products and services that are bought before or after your own offerings. For example, if your business is decorative landscaping, contact potential partners such as interior decorators or home builders. If a consumer is spending money building a new house or decorating inside, he or she will likely be interested in landscaping as well.

Determine what will motivate your partner to work with you

When you ask an association, organization, community group or business to introduce you to their clients, you have to give them something back in return.

In almost all cases, partnerships are financially driven, meaning there has to be a financial benefit to the other party to get them to open the door to their network for you. Work out a contract that works for both of you. It will likely be centred around sharing the profits you garner from new business as a result of their introduction.

This is one of the intricacies of partnership marketing that turns a lot of marketers off. A deal has to be worked out beforehand in order to get that introduction. Potential partners won't be motivated to help you out of the kindness of their heart; they will do it if the incentive is strong enough.

Create a turnkey process

Once you've come to an agreement with a partner, you must create a process that will allow the partnership to move along at a steady, predictable pace. Here are some of the most common items to address when building a partnership marketing strategy:

· Develop templates and scripts for the partner to use when communicating with their clients or membership.

· Figure out how many communications your partner will send out.

· Decide what communication vehicles you will use (for instance, e-mail, direct mail, phone, or a combination)

· Decide who will send out the communication – you, your partner or both.

· Come up with a schedule of when you will pay your partner, and how you will track the numbers

· Develop and sign an agreement with your partner

Develop periodic touch points to follow up

One of the biggest pitfalls in partnership marketing is going through the process and thinking that it will naturally run itself once everything is put into place.

For partnership marketing to work, it needs to be managed closely, not by the partner but by you. If something isn't working the way it should, you need to be on it immediately.

For example, one common problem is when there are no responses to an introduction sent via e-mail or direct mail. You will need your partner to step in; that's a way to ensure the opportunity to grow through a partnership doesn't die.

Manage your partnership by holding a monthly meeting to go over performance and challenges you may be facing.

Partnership marketing in action

A very close friend of mine is taking a technology conference he ran in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to Alberta, but couldn't get to the number of registrations he'd hoped for. He'd been using advertising, e-mail, telemarketing and social media or promote the conference, yet his numbers weren't moving in this new market.

My advice was to put partnership marketing into action, finding potential alliances with people who have credibility in Calgary's technology scene who could make introductions and endorsements.

He found seven community groups with members who would be interested in this kind of conference, approached them and offered a share of the profits for every registration that came as a result of their connections.

He set up a site that would track the registrations, developed the templates that each of the community leaders would send out to their members, developed contracts outlining the details of the partnership and set a special price for members of the seven community groups.

His partnership marketing strategy is in place as you read this; while still early in the process, new registrations borne of the partnership are coming in steadily.

Those connections will help get him to his target number because he learned how to grow more effectively by penetrating a new market using one of the most powerful and underutilized tools in a marketer's toolkit – partnership marketing.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Ryan Caligiuri is a Winnipeg-based growth strategist who works with companies in hyper-competitive marketplaces that want to increase leads and demand to fill their pipeline, that need help breaking into or taking control of already established markets when there's a need to create more revenue streams, or to become more influential in the marketplace.

Engage with Mr. Caligiuri on Twitter.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues:

Interact with The Globe