Strategic partnerships: the holy grail of marketing

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You’ve often heard me say that there is no magic wand in marketing. That there are principles to follow and areas to focus on, but in the main you simply have to work hard and keep going and it will come round in the end.

There is, however, one area which if you get it right will bring you the biggest and most powerful return – more than any email you could ever send, any blog you could write, any event you could hold.
Strategic partnerships.

This means building trusted relationships with other businesses which complement yours.

For accountants, this often includes businesses such as insurance companies, mortgage brokers, solicitors.  But merely sending them a client and then receiving one back does not a true strategic partnership make.

Go after the Big Fish partnerships.

Strategic partnerships are the “big fish” that Andy Bounds talks about in The Jelly Effect.  

You can work on content marketing and social media and SEO and a new website and billboard advertising to get a new dentist client or two.  Those are small fish.

But when you meet the head of the International Something Or Other Dentist Association, who asks you to speak to over 500 dentists at one time, you’ve hit the jackpot.  Big fish.

How to find potential strategic partners

Here’s how to build – and more importantly, keep – strategic partnerships in your accountancy firm:

  1. Get to know people. This is one of the hardest ones for accountants because it involves giving your most precious resource – time – with the potential to receive nothing in return.  But when I think about the closest business relationships I have, every one of them came as a result of spending time getting to know someone, recognising the connection, and then spending more time.
  2. Be clear on what you do, and who you work with. If you’re clear that you work with dentists (or at least that these are one of your focus areas among others), it would make sense to take time to meet with the head of a national organisation of dentists. Or to attend a conference on how to market your dental practice.  It’s much more likely that you will either meet the type of people you want to do business with – or those who know that kind of business.
  3. Think about more than the money. Be willing to get to know potential partners, not just because they may lead you to thousands of pounds in new business, but because they’re worth knowing, and you may learn something from them.  There are people and businesses I’ve spent time with who never referred a client to me (and for all I know they never will).  But what I learned from them about running a business, managing my team, marketing, or  any of these areas has been worth it a thousand times over.  And sometimes, it may be you who is the one to provide the learnings – with no instant return.
  4. Be clear on how you do business (and how you don’t). It’s so tempting to say, “This person has a database of 15,000 dentists! I definitely need to talk to them!”  Definitely connect with them: but don’t compromise how you do business in order to get more of it.  There are some people and businesses who talk a good game, but they’re only building a relationship for what they can get from you.  Or they’re willing to cut corners, and you’re not.  Or there just isn’t a culture fit.
  5. Be on social and use it. This is the single most powerful means of connecting with the people and businesses that are a good fit.  When I look at the closest strategic partnerships I have, almost all of them started on Twitter. I may have known the company but then connected with an individual; or in some cases simply responded to a tweet or comment and got into a conversation.  Use Twitter and LinkedIn, and use them yourself, personally.  Having someone manage your social media is a good and even necessary thing for your firm: but you have to engage with it, too.
  6. Use small tests and qualifiers. I encourage you to do this with prospective clients: killer questions, diagnostics, a phone call with someone else in your firm first.  The same applies to strategic partnerships.  Within a few emails, or a quick Skype chat, you can determine whether there is potential to do more.  Go back to points 1-3 above, but if they’re just not the right connection,
  7. Remember that the timing has to be right. Sometimes you meet someone who will bring you absolutely no business, now or ever…and then six years later they’ve moved jobs or started a new business or changed in some way, and suddenly it’s time to resurrect that relationship. LinkedIn is particularly helpful in this regard: you stay connected to people regardless of where they work or what they do. If they’re your kind of person, but there’s nothing in it for now, let it go and let it come back to you another time.

Keep the strategic partnership alive

Once you’ve made the strategic connection, and it’s a good one, keep it alive. Here’s how:

Put them in your database so they get your marketing

This is where segmenting comes in handy.  We have a tag in our CRM system for Strategic Partners, and we always keep them on a unique list which will ensure they hear about what’s happening in the Profitable Firm – sometimes even before our target audience does. Give your strategic partners an incentive to share your news or your service or your expertise with their database.  And put safeguards in place to keep those strategic partnerships alive regardless of how good your memory is.

Make it a win for both of you, and for your clients

Just because you can see the potential for years of commission does not mean that this is the best solution for your clients and contacts.  Your buyer is extremely alert to anything that smacks of their details being flogged for your benefit.  It has to be about them: and make sure they know it.  We have a client who will never take referral or commission fees, but will always pass it on to their clients.  That builds trust, and it’s absolutely a win all round.

Always be willing to be a speaker.

Offer to be a speaker, and until you get known, either do it for a small fee, or get the opportunity to contact attendees (or better yet the whole database).  There are so many organisations and networks and associations and businesses who are desperate for speakers who know what they’re talking about and can make a real connection with the audience because of it. Even if you’re not the best speaker in the world, the fact that you know dentists (or creatives, or HR agencies, or capital gains taxes) is a huge point in your favour.  (And don’t forget to follow up with all those who attended the event – always.)  Live events are particularly powerful, because you’re building trust based on what you say but the audience can also connect with you personally, but online events are really powerful as well.

Give away free, helpful information 

If you have already been working on your own content marketing, you’ll have a free download or event or offer that you can share with your new strategic partner (so they can share it with everyone they know).  There’s no obligation on either side, and if their clients or contacts love it, you can do more together. If they don’t, or the relationship fizzles or dies a quiet death, you haven’t lost anything.

(If you haven’t been working on your own content marketing, it’s time to sign up for the Content Marketer Programme, of course!)

Agree to a small tester opportunity straight away

If you’ve made a brilliant connection, and this is the right kind of person, the biggest danger is that you both say, “Well that was really excellent – yes let’s do it again sometime – if I think of anyone who [needs your services] I’ll send them to you – goodbye.”  It is entirely likely you’ll never hear from them again, and vice versa.

You have to stay top of mind – and the best way to do that is to do something together.

Think about:

  • Suggesting your new potential partner to a few trusted clients to see what they think
  • A guest blog post (you write one for them, or them for you – or both!)
  • Being a guest speaker (or having them as one) – either for an online or offline event
  • A discount or offer for your clients that you send out that week
  • Putting together the raw bones of a combined idea that will help their clients and yours – and arranging a second meeting to discuss it

Here’s an example: Chaser Marketer

A great example of this is the programme we’re building alongside Chaser, the Xero add-on that helps your clients to boost their cash flow and get paid quicker.  We came up with the brilliant idea of preparing marketing materials that you can send out to your clients to help them use Chaser (with little to no effort on your behalf), but we’re starting by testing it out with a few willing and eager accountancy firms.

If this sounds even vaguely interesting, register your interest here.  And we’ll keep you posted!

Yes, tell me more about Chaser Marketer!