Partnership marketing has long been a core strategy for professional services firms seeking efficient ways to both grow and increase their profitability. For startups that may be on the cusp of a hot service innovation but lack market visibility and credibility, partnerships with established companies can provide much needed early recognition. Even for large businesses with established brands, partnerships can be extremely beneficial, particularly in building visibility around a new direction for the brand.
And by partnership marketing, I'm not talking about simply sponsoring events. While sponsorships can certainly get you in front of the right crowd and might even generate a few leads here and there, they're more costly and less effective than partnership marketing that is more project oriented.
For example, you might consider conducting a research project with your partner or starting a special educational program. An innovative, high-profile project is more distinctive than your logo on a crowded sponsorship banner - and is a far more compelling when it comes to explaining to people why they should be doing business with you. Large, well-known businesses, trade associations or universities are all good partnering candidates.
At our company, Hinge Marketing, we either do this ourselves with our own partners or walk our clients down the path of strategic partnership marketing. Here's a list of the top most effective strategies that have actual results.
1. Write the definitive book on your signature topic
This requires that you and your partners know your stuff. We always recommend that a book written in this spirit should be written for clients, not fellow professional practitioners. Probably the most time-consuming of the top tactics, if you can manage to make a complicated topic easy to understand and appreciate, you and your partner will be seen as leaders by the people who matter most.
2. Produce quality webinars
You and your partners can generate an entire webinar series around the content of your book. Webinars are a known commodity in the world of lead generation and brand-building. Leverage the hard work that goes into a substantial thought piece like a book and tell the story with a compelling webinar series.
3. Conduct a groundbreaking research project
Does a major question remain unanswered in the industry you collectively serve? Do people understand their competitors, or is perception foggy at best? Industry players rarely conduct research on their own, and when they do, they usually keep it proprietary. As service providers to the industry, you and your partners have more freedom. Do the research, share the results widely, and count the leads that come your way.
The research might be the foundation for other types of content, such as a book, a webinar series, or smaller pieces, like joint white papers. The point is that research produces data, and data grounds the intuition upon which so many strategies and recommendations are built upon.
4. Develop a guest blogging strategy
Posting your blog content on other sites accomplishes two goals in one. Having someone else pitch your expertise catapults your credibility and visibility with an audience much bigger than your own. It's also beneficial for SEO as guest posts drive traffic directly to your site and increase your search engine visibility. Just as with your own blog strategy, make sure the blog you're pitching to your partner's site is something that potential clients and referral sources want to read - having a blog just to have one won't cut it. And it isn't the time for your sales pitch.
5. Organize a specialized program
While the bulk of the most effective strategies are going to have a digital component to them, more traditional means work too. Conference participation is a proven way to build credibility around your expertise and generate leads. Speaking and sponsorships are both tried and true. But you want to be a leader.
Why not be bold and develop your own specialized conference with a known partner? Let's say your IT firm handles cloud computing security and you have customers in the health care industry. Instead of presenting a panel at a health care conference, organize an entirely separate event centered on your topic. Set a clear focus on an emerging niche that is not currently addressed. Keep the conference small and specific at first, bringing in as many partners as needed to make it successful. As the conference grows, so will your audience.
Another type of highly effective program is a high-profile interview series. Let's say that you market your services to CIOs. Imagine that you set up video interviews with the most visible CIOs from the entire industry you serve. Now all these high-profile CIOs know your firm. Other CIOs are interested in what the leading CIOs have to say; now they're also exposed to your firm. Everyone assumes that your firm knows a great deal about CIOs (which it does). In short, you generate leads through the promotion of others' credibility and visibility. Make sure to share the full videos, excerpts, summaries, etc. in a variety of formats to maximize your overall visibility. Whether on your own or with a partner, educational programs deliver the goods.
Not convinced or think these are too time consuming to actually make happen? Like anything, once you get past the exploratory phase, things can fall into place surprisingly fast - as long as you're aligning your partnership marketing strategy with your core capabilities. The above strategies are really about jointly promoting your expertise so that you can spread the marketing work load when it comes to the nurturing and promotion that needs to happen for an effective lead gen campaign. They also allow you to leverage each other's customers, contacts, and other partnerships that might be in place, and lastly, your own customers can benefit from an expanded referral pool of trusted resources.
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