If there is one growth tactic that I recommend all agencies and consultants use, it is strategic partnerships.
Throughout the many podcast interviews and conversations I have had with agencies and consultants, I have seen partnerships arise time and time again as one of the strongest channels for growth.
Many agency owners even attributed partnerships to generating 20-70% of their overall revenue, hence the headline of “double your agency’s revenue”.
Regardless of what stage your business is at, strategic partnerships can be incredible for bringing you to the next level, because a well-orchestrated partnership can be equal to adding an entire salesforce to your company at no extra cost.
In this post I share:
- 3 types of strategic partnerships + examples of each
- The elements of a strong partnership
- 5 steps to creating your own partnerships
Types of strategic partnerships:
1. Channel partnerships with a software vendor
An incredible strategy for growth is to ride the coattails of a software vendor in your specific market. This is a strategy I have seen time and time again and I have even utilized myself. Below are several examples.
GetUWired + Infusionsoft
Recently on my Podcast I interviewed Dobbin Buck of GetUWired. The incredible thing about this interview is that Dobbin dives into how his agency grew rapidly as a result of a direct partnership with Infusionsoft. They got in the door early when Infusionsoft was just starting out and became a huge advocate for the company.
This resulted in a two-way street of GetUWired sending customers to Infusionsoft, and Infusionsoft sending customers back to GetUWired.
By building a strong relationship with a growing software vendor, GetUWired saw drastic growth and new business as a result.
Jason Swenk (Solar Velocity) + Sitefinity
On another podcast interview, I spoke with Jason Swenk who shared the story of how he built up and sold his agency. In this interview he talks about one of the massive growth points with his agency was the relationship they built with Sitefinity.
Similar to the story with Dobbin, Jason’s agency built a relationship here that was mutually beneficial, and this resulted in Sitefinity sending them clients like Hitatchi and LegalZoom.
Making software partnerships work
I have seen this strategy used time and time again by consultants and agencies.
The key to making this work is to get in early and build a relationship directly with the company. Let them know you are invested in their success, and they will become invested in yours.
Once a company is large and established, it becomes hard to create any sort of strong relationship. For example, if you set out to create a partnership with Wordpress or Salesforce, you will probably fall flat since those organizations are so large and established.
But if you can get in the door early and become a strategic partner to a growing software party before their partner program becomes overloaded, then you will be positioned for success.
2. Partnerships with Influencers
Another incredible method for growth is to partner with an influencer or thought leader in your space.
A single relationship with a thought leader can be more powerful than an army of sales reps if handled properly.
Partnering with an author
One software development company that I spoke with had a relationship with an author who wrote several books on the programming language that was their specialty. This relationship resulted in extremely high leverage referrals.
The author was contacted all of the time for speaking engagements and training but simply did not have the bandwidth for consulting.
They set up an official partnership where the author received a percentage of revenue from any projects he referred to the agency. This turned into passive income for the author and an incredible pipeline of quality referrals for the development agency.
GetUWired partners with influencers
Previously I mentioned how GetUwired grew from partnering with Infusionsoft. In that same interview, Dobbin talks also about how he has several strategic relationships with key influencers in the online marketing space that send referrals and clients his way.
Because Dobbin has these incredible referral sources, he doesn’t even have to hire sales reps to do outreach. Instead, his sales reps are on board to close and consult with all of the inbound leads they get.
As you can see, one of GetUWired’s key growth channels are strategic partnerships.
IT Consulting firm builds relationships with Centers of Influence
Another IT Consulting firm that I spoke with has a strategy of building and nurturing relationships with Centers of Influence in their local market.
Their business is primarily geographically focused in the Chicago area. While they have a sales team that is constantly doing outreach, the CEO is proactively working on building relationships with these Centers of Influence...
These Centers of Influence may be other business owners, consultants, well-networked individuals, or political figures in the area. He is actively going out and seeking out these types of individuals and then structuring a deal where he refers back a finder's fee when they bring him work.
By finding and structuring deals with Centers of Influence, this consulting firm has just built a sales team that costs them nothing unless a deal closes.
Creating a strategic board of advisors
Another strategy I have seen several agencies use is the strategic creation of a Board of Advisors. Typically, these relationships are setup where the individuals on the board receive a small equity percentage or annual revenue share in the company in exchange for their assistance with key relationships and opening doors.
One agency I know has a high-profile internet marketing celebrity on their board. The relationship is structured all the way to a point of co-authoring books together, and even including the advisor on the company’s website.
While this individual is not involved at all in the day to day operations of business, he is a strategic advisor that can open up doors and give credibility to the agency.
This becomes a win-win relationship for both parties as the advisor gets passive income for doing very little work on their end, while the agency receives a massive benefit from the few key introductions and name recognition that comes from the individual.
Holding webinars or events with influencers
Aside from just referrals, the other benefit of influencers is that they can promote you to their entire list.
There are several key influencers I have built relationships with who have had me as a guest on their podcasts, host webinars to their audience, or write blog posts for their site.
Each time I find one of these opportunities, I see results in my business. But these would have never happened if I had not reached out and started the relationship with them in the first place.
3. Partnerships with someone else who sells to your market
Another way to approach partnerships is to think like the great Jay Abraham.
Ask the question “Who else serves the same customer, but is not my competition?”
Answering this simple question can open up a whole new world of growth for your business.
Mat Newton launches his SEO consultancy by partnering with web designers
On an early episode of my podcast, I interviewed Mat Newton who launched his SEO Consultancy to an established monthly recurring revenue very quickly.
His strategy was simple. Reach out to web design agencies and structure deals with them.
These web agencies would then refer clients to Mat for a kickback on Mat’s fees.
They were receiving revenue that they otherwise would have never generated, and Mat had an entire salesforce feeding hot leads into his pipeline.
Agencies collaborating with other agencies
Mat did this partnership at a small level, although I have seen this strategy used time and time again by agencies partnering with other agencies to fill in the gaps of services they don’t provide.
- Web development agencies partnering with UX design shops
- Digital marketing agencies partnering with branding agencies
- Web design agencies partnering with PR firms
- Content agencies partnering with web design agencies
- Development agencies partnering with creative agencies
- Animation studios partnering with branding agencies
- And the list of combinations goes on and on
The point here is that most agencies have a specific niche and simply don’t do it all.
You can use that to your benefit in one of three ways.
Refer your clients out: You can refer your clients to other agencies for a finder’s fee and grow your customer LTV.
Find others who serve your customers: You can find other agencies who are already serving your clientele, and partner with them to gain referrals and new customers from their existing client base. You can then give them a cash commission in return, or figure out another mutually beneficial agreement.
White label partnerships: You can take an agency’s services and sell them to your existing customers as a white label service with a markup. You get added revenue without having to build new capacity in house. Although you do have to manage the process.
Think outside of the box about who else sells to your market
Thinking of other agencies or consultants is the easy route to go, but I encourage you to think even bigger than that.
One marketing agency I know has an incredible relationship structured with a financial advisor that helps Ecommerce store owners sell their businesses.
Whenever one of these Ecommerce stores goes to sell, they often find their valuation is lower than they would like it to be. This financial advisor can then introduce them to a trusted marketing agency who can give them growth numbers that not only increase sales, but increase their valuation as well.
This is a partnership many people would never think about but has proven extremely profitable for the agency.
Picking up where someone else leaves off
The IT Consulting firm I mentioned earlier has another lead generation source that drives about 20% of their revenue each year.
Simply put, their partner is a company that provides phone services.
Time and time again, this company does a project for installing a phone system, but their work stops there and they pass off the project to the IT Consulting firm for the rest.
It’s all about thinking “Who else is already selling to my target customer?”
The elements of a great partnership
When you break down these strategies to their core, you will find that each strategic partnership has several common characteristics.
Access to a market
The first core component is that either or both parties have access to a market of customers or relationships that the other individual wants. This is key to making a partnership work.
These are called “partnerships” for a reason. They need to be mutually beneficial. Sometimes that can be a two-way street of referrals, sometimes that is a cash incentive, or sometimes that is just letting them know that their client will be well taken care of.
Make sure you put yourself in the other person’s shoes and figure out what motivates them and how to keep this mutually beneficial.
The other key component here is trust. A partnership simply will never work if the two parties don’t trust each other. Since it is pretty much impossible to track most referrals and if they close, you will need to partner with people you trust especially if you are going to do any sort of commission based incentive.
Be a trustworthy partner, and work with others who seem the same. If you get on the phone and don’t feel like someone is an honest person, then don’t waste your time with them.
Give without expectation of receiving
Give and create value on the front end without the expectation of receiving. Do whatever you can to nurture these relationships and create value for the other party early on, and it will pay for itself in time.
You need a great value proposition
Your strategic partners need to be able to pitch your business for you. That means you need to have your value proposition nailed down to a tee, so it is easy for them to remember and pitch to potential customers for you.
If your partners struggle to communicate what you do to others, then they will never refer someone your way. You need to nail your value prop.
An example of this is Outbound Creative’s value proposition: “We help agencies and consultants win more clients.” That simple value proposition is easy to remember and interjects itself right into the conversation most agency owners are having.
I can’t stress how important it is to nail this. If you need help articulating your value proposition, then check out Ilise Benun’s Elevator Pitch worksheet. It is one page that can help you nail exactly what you do.
5 Steps to building strategic partners
1. Identify who you want to go after
The first step is to really think through who it is that you want to go after. Use this post as a guide to brainstorming all of your potential partners and build a list of criteria and who you think could be the best fit.
2. Research a list of prospective partners
This is something you could have someone on your team or a virtual assistant help with. Get crystal clear in your criteria and then go out and put together a list of potentials.
You don’t need a massive list but plan to reach out to at least 20-50 contacts in hopes to build 5-10 really good partnerships.
3. Think through what value you can bring them
Look through your list of prospects, and try to really think through what value you can bring them. How are you going to make this mutually beneficial so that they will want to put the time and energy into partnering with you?
It’s all about empathy. Put yourself in their shoes.
4. Reach out to them with a non-salesy message to start the conversation
When reaching out to partners, forget about being salesy.
Instead, just write a simple authentic email that states why you want to talk and how you believe this could be mutually beneficial. Tap into that empathy and craft a genuine message that will resonate with them.
Another approach, podcasting:
Almost all of the strategic partners to my own business were once guests on my podcast Working Without Pants. Using podcasting and interviewing is an incredible way to build relationships with key influencers and strategic partners for your business.
5. Build and nurture these relationships over time
It is rare that you will build a relationship with a strategic partner and then see results from it right away. This can take months or even years to start producing results.
When you launch this outreach campaign, you need to plan to build this into a long-term strategy where you nurture these relationships over time. Monthly or quarterly check-ins are a must.
But, you also need to live up to your end of the deal and deliver value to them as well.
And when your partners deliver value to you, be generous. Deliver commission kickbacks or send them gifts even if they aren’t asked for. Show your appreciation and the relationship will continue to grow over time.
The partnership mindset
Not all partnerships are going to pan out. Some may sound good from the start and then simply fall flat.
But if even 1/10 partnerships you attempt to create work out, then that is still a huge win.
Because a single partnership that is working well is like adding a rockstar sales rep to your team at no extra cost.