Startup life is tough. You’ve built a great product, you’ve got a nice website, but how do you get potential customers to take notice? If you have a lot of VC money, you hire Sales Development Reps, Account Executives, Content Marketers, Social Media Marketers, Email Marketers and a host of other employees. And if you’re a bootstrapped startup with little cash? Your best bet is to create a network of partners – affiliate partners, channel partners, technology partners – who can help do this work for you.
Having been involved with a bunch of startups, I can confidently say partners are the most cost-efficient means to grow your business. Below I’ll outline why partners are necessary and then give you a few tips on how to maximize your partnerships. So why partners?
Partner Have Authoritative Voice
When you first launch a company, you have no brand equity. You also have no case studies, no reference customers, and no real thought leadership. What you do have is the ability to form relationships with people that have authoritative voice with potential customers.
Consultants, for instance, have the trust and respect of their clients. So if you win over the trust of consultants, they can vouch for your company. Consultants also have to sell themselves – via social media, email marketing, etc – meaning the potential touch points where your company is mentioned by them grows rapidly. Thus if you become tied at the hip to a partner, every new client they approach is a new client you are potentially approaching as well.
Partners Are Invested in Client Success
As a startup, even after you bring on a customer, you still need the human interaction post-sale to ensure customer success. This is particularly dicey for SaaS companies, since an unhappy customer can churn in any given month. Partners can become a very effective de facto customer success team, without having to pay them any more than the referral fee they are already getting for bringing the client onboard.
I’m a big believer in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. My favorite habit is “Think Win-Win.” A partner relationship is the epitome of that. If they recommend your product, they’re going to try to make sure the client keeps using it, both so they can continue to receive a referral fee and to keep their client happy. Both parties win when startups and their partners have happy customers.
Partners Give You Honest Feedback
How many clients have you had that cancelled without giving you a reason? Being confrontational and honest in the business world is sometimes tough. People prefer saying nothing to airing their grievances. But how can you improve your company if you don’t know what’s wrong with your product?
Partners are a great intermediary for getting honest feedback. Potential customers aren’t afraid to tell consultants what they truly think of a product, since the consultant is really just an impartial third party. Plus partners are invested in your success, so they can give you an outsider’s view on what is and isn’t working.
How Can I Better Work With Partners?
Now that I’ve hopefully proven the value of partners, I want to shift gears and talk about how to manage the partnership relationship. Just like with a client, you have to keep a partner happy, or they too will churn. Below are a couple ideas…
Schedule Times for Meaningful Check-Ins
I’ve worked with some companies that think once you sign up a partner, the hard work is done. That’s incorrect. Partners get complacent, they find other people to partner with, they focus on their own business needs. So you need to actively schedule time to reach out to them, and you need to stay on top of news at your partner’s company so you can have meaningful engagement with them. A solution like Nimble helps with that.
Throw Them a Bone
You’re pretty much always going to get more from a partner than you give back to them. But why not throw a potential client their way every once in a while? Sure, you might lose 15% of revenues in affiliate fees, but all it takes is them bringing in one new client to make that back 6x over. That’s win-win.
Feed Them Information
You’ll generally train a partner on your solution at the start of the relationship. For some, that’s the extent of knowledge transfer. If partners are your primary contact point, you need to keep them up-to-date on your company and arm them with the materials to sell for you. My company, WorkSmart.net, allows users to build partner portals they can stock with PDFs, logos, videos, etc. You can then also use WorkSmart to actively collaborate on documents with your partners.
Say “Thank You”
This one is pretty self-explanatory. But it goes a long, long way. Make a habit of saying it to your partners often.