A key challenge faced by many companies is how to bring in revenue while minimizing associated expenses. This can be achieved in a number of ways but establishing a partner/alliance program provides an alternative that can be an extremely effective means to grow your business.

An alliance program allows you to create an additional distribution channel by establishing strategic partnerships with companies that have complementary products and services. This can be especially effective if you target those that are already successfully serving the market segments and customers you want to reach.

Here are some tips on how to establish such a partnership and get as much out of it as possible.

Be Selective

Recruiting is critical--identify the best partners in your industry, both in terms of their achievements as well as whether they will be willing to take on a company not as well known as they are. One way to do this is obviously word of mouth, but if you don't know where to get started, try to attend a series of industry events. Once you've identified the top 5 potential partners, do the research. Look at their website, read their published material, get a sense of their mission and what they stand for, and see how it aligns with yours. After that, use tools such as Linkedin to establish those personal relationships, and drill further into their organization.

Provide Training

You want your partners to be able to 'talk the talk, and walk the walk'--in this case, yours! You will both be more successful if they are delivering the same message as your salespeople (and they might even do it better). Provide them with the tools they need to achieve this goal--proper training, messaging, collateral, and describe to them your go-to-market strategy and what role they will play in that. Recognize that this educational period is probably going to take most of your company's time until they are ready to stand on their own. You may even want to put a key person in charge of this process, just to demonstrate your commitment.

Stand out

When proposing an alliance, you will need to clearly describe why partnering with you is a good deal for them (e.g., increased exposure, the ability to penetrate new industries/new accounts, growth of an existing account, a new revenue stream). If you're a newer company, you might find this difficult, especially if they have a number of companies wanting to partner with them. Thus, you need to bring something that no one else can offer them and/or their customers. Identifying a situation where you can bring them business is a way to grab their attention, but you also need to show them this is not a once-and-done scenario. Show them that you have more opportunities and a methodology for sustainability you would like to discuss with them.

Go the Extra Mile

You should treat your partners the same way you treat your customers, and hopefully that's very well! You want them to be your advocate, your evangelist, and as excited about your company as you are. Show that you have a strong sales pipeline and you want to bring them specific opportunities. Let them know who you want them to meet and how you can help them. As you build the relationship, they will be glad to reciprocate and share their opportunities with you; success will become a two-way street.

Articulate Roles and Responsibilities

Going after and closing business is just the start of a much longer journey since you are impacting not only your own company but also those of your partners. Discuss in advance who will 'own' the customer relationship--whether the customer will sign two different agreements (one with you and one with your partner). Decide who will be responsible for answering key questions (such as pricing, which can sometimes be a sticky wicket) and resolving problems. Be aware that the customer could try to play one partner against the other, which makes it especially important to have the right protocol and guidelines in order to stay focused on a successful execution. Lay out the partnering ground rules at the very beginning, and you will spend less time dealing with problems along the way.

Can this work? You bet it can. I helped start IBM's PartnerWorld over 25 years ago. We weren't sure how successful we were going to be because it required a lot of close cooperation across departments in a way that had never been done before. But we put together a small, dedicated 'skunk works' project, and in the first year, we brought in $28M of additional business to IBM!

Can the same thing be done with a start-up, or a smaller company with a much smaller budget? You bet it can. When I had my first software company, we had less than a handful of capable salespeople, and we had to establish strategic relationships with key hardware manufacturers and systems integrators. They helped build our business, and continued to bring us new opportunities with each successful customer engagement.

It will be an investment of time, money and effort that, done right, will positively impact your bottom line.

Taffy Holliday is a visionary and innovative executive known for leadership in identifying and transforming leading-edge business trends into profitable software solutions that deliver significant customer value. She focuses on P&L responsibility and has had significant success in a wide range of corporate environments. Taffy co-founded two software companies, the most recent solving the Big Data issues faced by large enterprises; raised venture capital for start-ups; led business development, alliances, sales, marketing and software development teams across multiple geographies for the world's largest IT as well as a mid-range software company. She was a management consultant for U.S. and European companies in collaboration with Columbia Graduate School of Business. She has been recognized for thought leadership in mobile computing technology and for excellence in establishing mutually beneficial long-term business partnerships with customers and industry leaders. In addition, Taffy is a Good-will Ambassador and Olympic Figure Skating Team Leader and Judge for the US, Former US Figure Skating Champion, and Co-chair of several charitable events, one of which raised over $1M and sold out Madison Square Garden.

Published on: Mar 12, 2015
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