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Marketing Alliances

By Michelle Collins |

Is your marketing strategy in need of a boost? A marketing alliance could be your answer. In addition to tapping into a new customer base, these alliances can give you the opportunity to gain some valuable business contacts.

“The benefit of co-marketing is if you can get a deal going with someone who is more well known with a better brand, that helps your credibility. One of the parties is usually stronger in brand or number of customers, or abilities,” explains Martin Wales, president of the marketing firm Customer Catcher.

Where to start
Your potential partner could be someone who co-exists in the industry such as a flower shop and a baker teaming up to provide special discounts for weddings. Or you could aim for a well-known player in the high-tech field and offer your expertise and specialized service for an area they may be struggling with.

Regardless of who you decide would make the best partner there are some things you need to consider before you make an offer.

Your first step is to determine what you want out of this partnership. Are you simply looking for new customers in the short term, or do you want to increase awareness of your company throughout an industry or region?

Once you have identified your objective you then need to consider the level of results that you want. Are you looking for an ongoing alliance that will reach a steady number of people, or do you want to do something one time with a good return? If you have clearly identified these results it will allow you to make a stronger pitch when you do meet with your potential partner.

Once you have thought about your results you need to think about whom can match your objective and form a selection criteria. Those criteria should include the product or service that the business offers, the number of new contacts that can be made, and their ability to market.

The best way to find out who would make a good partner is to research the potential businesses in your industry, and identify the benefits that you have to offer them. Read through newspapers, talk to other people in the industry, and if it's a big company look through their annual reports and websites. This research will also help you weed out which businesses to avoid.

“You have to protect your own reputation,” explains Wales. “You have to ask yourself if you would buy the product they are offering. Most of the time if you're going to do co-marketing don't offer something you wouldn't be interested in buying yourself. If you're sending your customers something that they aren't interested in you're hassling them and giving them another piece of marketing besides yours.”

Finally, although equally important, you need to consider the costs involved. Are you willing to pay all of the mailing costs so that your brochure can be included in a joint mailing? Your potential partner may be willing to share a customer list with you, but they may expect you to cover the costs of a promotional advertising campaign because you stand to gain the greater benefit.

Approaching the partner
Wales explains that you can approach your potential partner in a variety of ways such as phone or e-mail, but you will want a face to face meeting in order to close the deal.

The best way to succeed in your offer is to present the benefits for your potential partner.

Wales suggests phrasing the offer like this:

“If I could offset some of your marketing costs would that be attractive to you? That's a better statement then approaching someone and asking to include something of yours in their offer. My question is often: If you could get an additional revenue stream without spending any additional time, money, or effort would that be interesting to you? Normally there's different set-ups but the most enticing thing is sharing revenue.”

Once you have identified the possible benefit you are willing to offer, you need to introduce yourself and build a strong relationship as quickly as you can.

“One tip is not to make the offer right away, ask them about their business, what they like to do, what their challenges are,” says Wales. “You want to have rapport, credibility, it's good if you have proof. If it's a business person that you're approaching they like to know the return conversion. So if you send a mail out and you get a response rate as high as 20 per cent, instead of one per cent you want to let them know that.”

You also want to make it clear that you are simply looking for a marketing partnership or alliance, and not a business partnership, as the two situations are vastly different.

Setting up the arrangement
You've done your homework and found a partner who is thrilled at the idea of doing a marketing venture with you. Now its time to work out the fine details such as how the product will be delivered and what costs are involved.

Wales explains that a lot of these deals can be sealed with a simple handshake, but you want to have things in writing if you can.

“It's good to have a letter of agreement, per se, but it doesn't have to be cumbersome. If you're a manufacturer and I'm doing a deal with someone in Yugoslavia for a year then there's going to be a lawyer involved. If it's you and me and we're doing an offer for an e-book then there may not be a lot involved. Even if things go wrong and you have a 500 page contract you both have to stand in front of a judge which costs time and money.”

Regardless of how you set up the deal you will need to discuss certain details such as:

Upfront costs
You may agree to share the costs equally or have one partner take on more because the relationship is going to benefit them greater.

Product delivery
You have to agree on what the product is, when it will be completed and sent out, and who will send it.

Guarantees and Warranties
If something goes wrong who will be responsible for fixing it?

Who's going to collect the funds for your joint venture? If neither of you can come to an agreement on this you may want to find a third party who collects them and divides them between you.

Things to watch out for
In most cases if the partnership isn't going the way you expected you could just end it, or fulfill the contract without renewing it. In other cases you may find yourself fulfilling the agreement at a loss so that you can save your reputation.

You also want to make sure that this alliance isn't getting in the way of your core business duties. Wales says to watch out for a person who wants too many meetings, or the legal agreement becomes too strict. These requests can lead to diminishing returns and take you away from running your business, which should be your first priority.

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