Not all visibility on the Web is garnered through advertising or even public relations. One of the best and cost efficient ways to gain web site prominence is through developing strategic partners. From large to small players alike, strategic partnering is a hot way to build web site visibility and cross-market a site.
Strategic partnering is like taking the good ol’ tried and true reciprocal linking and revving it up several notches. Strategic partners can help promote one another on their respective web sites through banners, buttons, text, links, and even through direct, on-site sales. Partners can develop “co-branded pages,” pages on a web site which are branded with both partners and promote each in tandem. Strategic partners can form revenue sharing ventures that can be offered on unique web sites altogether. But true strategic partnering is not for the impatient, so if you’re interested, be prepared for some long, hard work.
Building a strategic partnership can be a complicated and time-consuming task. Figure between three to nine months to close a partnership deal, and the more complicated the deal, the longer it’s going to take to close. If you’re looking to cultivate multiple partnerships for your site at the same time, better plan on spending the bulk of your time working on this project. That is, of course, unless you have a contact, an “in.”
In fact, having an “in” is one of the best places to start nurturing a strategic partnership if the fit is right. What defines a good fit? For the most part, you want to look for partners who have strengths in areas you don’t, yet who are marketing to the same target audience. There needs to be a mutual gain on the part of both parties partnering – an answer to the age-old question, “What’s in it for me?” Look for companies through whom you can get the kind maximum reach that’s right for you – if you partner with a niche site, as opposed to a portal site, for example, your reach is going to be more narrowly defined, but it might be more properly targeted. If the company is a brick-and-mortar business as well as an online one, you can also seek to leverage their off-line marketing muscle.
Once you have identified a potential partner company and are ready to pursue a partnership opportunity with them, take a moment to understand their company. Create a list of all the services/products/marketing dollars/cut of revenues you are willing to share or exchange in return for having your request(s) met. Be prepared to offer a concrete opportunity/partnership plan.
If you don’t have an “in” at this company, the next step is to try to identify an executive within the company who has a marketing or business development title (if it’s a magazine or news source you are targeting, find out the name of the editor). Once you have a name and phone number, start calling. Yep, it can be as brutal as the infamous telephone sales cold call, but I usually find it’s much more effective than sending them an impersonal email. Most likely, these upper level managers will be difficult to reach, particularly in large, well-established firms. If you fail after several attempts to reach them by phone, leave a short voicemail explaining the purpose of your call and identify some of the benefits they could obtain by responding. Then, if your messages are not being returned, try sending a follow-up email. Follow-up emails allow you to outline the benefits of a partnership in more detail than can be explained in a short voicemail. It also puts all of your contact information within easy reach.
If your benefits are good enough to grab the prospect’s attention, make your request to further pursue the partnership. Present your plan of what you’d like from them in return for your offer, but be flexible. Being open-minded can lead to offers from your potential partner you hadn’t considered before. You will likely have multiple exchanges and conversations as you try to draw towards the close. Along the way, document the offers in writing so as to have some recourse if need be. Also, many companies request proposals and it’s a good idea to provide them with one. It gives your prospect the opportunity to share the idea with others in their company and decreases the chances for a misunderstanding.
If the prospect sees the need for involving fellow employees in deciding whether or not your opportunity is worthwhile, make yourself available to them and offer to present your idea either in person or via a conference call. If at all possible, don’t let someone else try to sell your idea — they won’t have the same level of motivation nor confidence you would portray.
Once you have come to an agreement on the specifics of the partnership, draft a “partnership agreement” detailing the arrangement and ask for a signature. You may also want to include a clause that allows either party to terminate the relationship if need be. If your arrangement involves the exchange of money or valuable products & services, you may want to hire an attorney to assist you in drafting the partnership agreement.
Finally, stay in close contact with your new partner and be responsive to their needs. Ensure that they are receiving the benefits you claimed and they expected. If they feel they are getting the short end of the stick, offer them a little more. It takes time to build up a strong partnership, so spending a little effort now in maintaining it will hopefully make you both more successful and prosperous in the long run.
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