Business is competitive, but it isn’t just about competition. Cooperation between independent, value-driven enterprises is also vital for sustained growth. Business-to-business partnerships can boost leads, improve the customer experience, and create win-win deals for B2B companies in all sorts of industries.
And we do mean all sorts. Here are just a few examples of B2B partnerships that have helped some very different companies grow:
- Corporate events provider Team Building partnered with a leading professional employer organization (PEO) for a cooperative marketing campaign. PEOs provide HR services to small and mid-size businesses, and Team Building builds events for the same customer base. Because they share an audience, Team Building and its PEO partner both stood to gain from a mutual outreach effort.
- Khaos Control, which provides enterprise resource planning (ERP) software for retailers and warehouses, partnered with U.K.-based e-commerce platform EKM to share leads. “Our partnership connects our retail customers with EKM’s expertise in e-commerce, resulting in a strong partnership where leads are passed back and forth,” says Emma Roberts, digital marketing executive at Khaos Control.
- Paige Arnof-Fenn, the founder of branding and marketing firm Mavens & Moguls, runs marketing workshops for small businesses and has partnered with other consultants in her industry to give these workshops broader reach.
Under this partnership, Team Building created marketing materials while the PEO promoted those materials to its existing audience. “This is a simple example, but it led to client work, in-bound links, and additional media opportunities for us,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of Team Building. The PEO partner got high-quality marketing materials out of the deal.
“We each promoted [the workshops] to our own databases, we shared the cost of the space, and we filled the room,” Arnof-Fenn says. “Because we covered several functional areas of content, we were able to charge more together than any one of us could solo, to a much broader group, making it financially good, too. A true win-win.”
Your B2B business can make similar growth-focused partnerships with other companies. Start with the following steps.
How to build B2B partnerships
- Identify opportunities for shared growth
- Define the B2B partnership
- Delineate clear responsibilities and expectations
1. Identify opportunities for shared growth
Are you looking for a lead-sharing arrangement? Co-marketing projects? Or do you have a product that you could bundle with others for a broader, more appealing package?
Partnerships can arise organically, through networking or even random encounters at the gym. In those cases you start with the partner and identify your shared goal together. More often, you have a goal, so you seek a partner.
Look for companies that complement yours by offering a related service or engaging with a similar audience. Corporate culture is important, too. “The most successful partnerships are those in which the businesses are complementary and share similar values,” says Arnof-Fenn.
2. Define the B2B partnership
Business coach Heather Dominick divides B2B partnerships into two broad categories: strategic alliances and joint ventures.
A strategic alliance partner is “another business in a related field to yours that can send referrals your way, potentially adding value to the work you’re already doing,” Dominick says. One example would be a lead-sharing agreement. Another would be preferred vendor status, a common partnership in the events industry.
Joint venture partners, on the other hand, involve cooperation on one or more distinct projects. “You are both focused on specific projects, sharing the financial costs, including the investment and the generation of income,” Dominick says. Co-marketing partnerships fall under this category.
Once you and your partner agree on the type of partnership you’re entering, codify that agreement in a contract. Contracts are essential if large investments are involved. Many business partnerships operate on good faith and handshake agreements, but a contract keeps expectations clear, leading to a more successful partnership down the road.
3. Delineate clear responsibilities and expectations
To ensure that duties and outcomes are clear to every stakeholder, put them in writing. Who’s paying for what? Are you splitting costs fifty-fifty? What about profits? If the partnership doesn’t work out as you’d hoped, what’s the process for ending the agreement amicably?
Being up front about expectations and responsibilities from the very beginning helps ensure a successful partnership for the duration of the agreement. With such careful planning and clear communication, a B2B partnership can help both companies grow.