A strategic alliance is a relationship between two (or more) parties to pursue a set of agreed upon goals or to meet a critical business need while remaining separate businesses or entities. Partnering with people or companies who have a similar customer base must benefit both parties equally and have full commitment buy-in from each partner. When planned and executed properly, a strategic alliance can exponentially increase the success of a campaign or launch.
A winning strategic alliance benefits three parties; you, your partner and your customer.
In it’s purest form, there is a strategic alliance between authors, booksellers and publishers. They all benefit by the increased awareness for an author’s work when the author does publicity, the publisher distributes and promotes the book in multiple outlets and the bookseller displays the book, hosts an author event and/or hand sells the books by recommending it both in-person and on it’s website. This type of strategic alliance is institutionalized and everyone knows, by nature of their business, that they are implicit partners.
It’s not as clear, for most entrepreneurs, who would make an ideal strategic partnership for their niche. Here are 5 tips entrepreneurs can use to find and leverage win-win strategic alliances.
Who Helps You?
Every business or entrepreneur uses the services of other businesses to execute or deliver their services. Go through your monthly bills and look for companies who offer services that your ideal customer might need. Your client is more like you than you might realize. If you sell tires, your client has a car. If they have a car, they need to change the oil. Who changes your oil? Contact that local business and brainstorm ways you can offer a discount during a specific time period on both tires and oil changes when purchased as a bundled offer. Then both companies can promote the message that customers will save money if they make these purchases now and each business introduces their customers to one another.
Who Do You Help?
Think about how you help your current client base. Do you offer professional photography or video editing service to help local entrepreneurs create digital collateral for their websites? You might consider approaching these clients to form a strategic alliance of local merchants to create a “Shop Local” campaign in their stores and online with signage, flyers and live links to each other on their websites. A special promotion giving new customers a discount could be part of the campaign and the partners could agree to each create a business card sized punch card that would encourage new customers to visit each business in the strategic alliance during the promotional period in order to quality for a grand prize drawing. Each of the partners could contribute a modest budget toward purchasing a grand prize that would be desirable to the common customer base. For example, local business owners might chip in to purchase a $500 gas card as the grand prize or a $500 Visa Gift Card; both prizes that all of their mutual customers would find appealing.
What Do You Offer to Their Customer?
Before approaching a strategic alliance partner, do a little research to make sure that what you have to offer is highly desirable to their customer base. A strategic alliance must provide value for both parties in order to succeed. That doesn’t mean you need to offer similar products or services. A good strategic alliance can introduce customers to a new product or service but that introduction needs to be perceived by the customers as a very valuable new opportunity brought to them by someone they already trust. Trust is the currency in this exchange and when taking your proposal to a potential strategic partner, make sure that your offer will reflect well on them, first and foremost.
What Do They Offer to Your Customer?
Let’s say you’ve done a terrific job of identifying a potential strategic alliance partner and you’re clear about what you could offer to their customers. Now it’s time to evaluate what they could offer to yours. Your customer database or store traffic are very valuable business assets. You must not squander their positive impressions of you and what you offer by recommending products or services to them that they don’t want, need or simply seem like promotion for the sake of promotion. Your strategic alliance promotion must feel be a valuable added offer on top of your usual products or services. It can encourage them to try something new. It can incentivize them to make a purchase now rather than in the future. But you don’t want to offer sky diving equipment to your aquarium enthusiast clients. In assessing a good strategic alliance, keep the end user at the top of the decision chain. Ask yourself if the combined offer would be valuable, interesting, and reflect well on you as a business resource?
What Next Step Benefits Both Businesses and the Customer?
Once you’ve sourced your strategic alliance partnership, decided on the combined offer, agreed on both the join promotion and the individual promotion, it’s time to decide the ideal next action you’d like your new joint customer to take. Would you like them to “tell a friend,” register for a newsletter that alerts them to upcoming sales, try a new product or review a product or service? Think about the ideal outcome of this strategic alliance and create your follow up funnel to guide your new leads to take that action. If growing your database or getting more “Likes” on your Facebook page is a logical next step, then ask. Simply say “If you liked this special offer, we hope you’ll like our Facebook page to be the first to know about upcoming valuable special offers.” Or, “We’re going to bring you more special offers throughout the coming year, so be sure to register for our coupons and discounts newsletter here.”
Where to Look for Strategic Alliance Partners
Susquehanna is a local bank that is very proactive about promoting their business customers products and services. They provide a place where business accounts can display their brochures, business cards or special offers. This positions them as a strategic partner in the success of local business, which is perfectly in alignment with their own business. When customers succeed, so do they. They are a part of the business community in which they are located. Think about who else might also have a reason to be interested in your success?
The Chamber of Commerce, insurance companies, the local trade schools, even grocery chains or office supply companies all benefit through your success. Think about your community as an ecosystem. When one business is healthy, there is a ripple effect. Thinking about other businesses in this way can open up your mind to new strategic alliance partnerships. Would it benefit your brokerage firm if you gave a free talk about how to use social media to promote small businesses? Would your local college or high school like to host a panel discussion about marketing with you as the moderator? Would a relocation company see the value in offering a free consultation for your services in their “welcome basket?”
Not a local company? No problem. Your town or village is simply bigger than most. On the web or through social media, you’ll still find natural circles of interest where plenty of potential strategic partnerships are possible. A group of inspirational bloggers can add one another to a blog roll on their websites to introduce their current readers to new blogs they might enjoy. A website designer and a social media professional could mutually recommend one another through a strategic alliance.
Creating a winning strategic alliance for entrepreneurs and small business owners is as simple as keeping the customer’s needs front and center and making sure that the new, combined offer is twice as valuable as either partner could offer alone.
Have you created a strategic partnership that worked? We’d love to hear about it. Feel free to post a link to your strategic partnership offer and tell us a little about how your created a win-win situation for your mutual clients or customers.