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Seven steps to identifying the perfect strategic partners for your business
By Brenda Thomson
Strategic Alliances are the most powerful and cost effective way for small business owners to grow their business. But who do you create alliances with? Imagine having a pool of dozens and perhaps even hundreds of potential partners to work with to help generate more leads, more customers and more profits for your business.
Work through the questions in this article to identify your potential Alliance Partner Pool…
NOTE: In this article you will be answering a series of questions. Depending on your business you will find some of the questions more difficult than others. A few of them may not fit for your business at all. Don’t worry you will still come up with a long list of business categories and even individual names to put in your alliance partner pool.
As you answer the questions you will be seeking to identify centres of influence – ALL the business categories and the businesses you already know that could be good potential alliance partners for a variety of reasons – lead generation, customer acquisition or retention, increased average dollar sale, cost savings – all the potential businesses in your alliance partner pool.
You will not need or want to create alliances with all of them all of the time. Your strategic plan will determine which alliances to pursue and which opportunities to act on at any given time, and which ones to ignore or put off until the time is right!
So now its time to start working through the questions which will help you identify YOUR ALLIANCE PARTNER POOL.
Each question is accompanied by a number of examples to help you get started. Once you have read the questions and the examples – start brainstorming. There are no right or wrong answers – just opportunities.
As you work on your business and implement your strategic plan you will be able to refer back to the list you generated to identify who can help you achieve your goals. You may also find, as you generate your list that opportunities you would never have thought of before occur to you.
1. WHO ARE THE BUSINESSES IN YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN?
People typically buy for one of two basic reasons
- To solve problems.
- To make themselves feel good (achieve a purpose).
Ask yourself: Is there some other product or service that my customers typically need either before, after, or at the same time as they buy from me in order to completely solve their problem or achieve their purpose?
Who are the businesses who supply those other complementary products or services?
- Real estate agent, mortgage broker, settlement agent.
Typically all three are needed for the problem of buying or selling a house to be solved.
- Hairdresser, manicurist, tanning salon.
All three of those businesses may be needed for someone to achieve the purpose of “looking good”
Not all of you will have complementary products or services (although don’t give up too quickly as you may be surprised) – for those of you who do these are your MOST IMPORTANT potential alliance partners.
They will constantly be connecting with YOUR potential clients and you with theirs.
These are the businesses where you will be able to create an almost unlimited range of alliance strategies no matter what your current business objectives.
So think about all of the other products or services that your potential client needs and/or wants in order to ensure that they are able to completely solve their problem or achieve their purpose. Now write a list of all the businesses or professions that provide them.
These are the businesses/professions that provide complementary products or services to mine.
2 “WHO ARE YOUR PROBLEM SPOTTERS?”
This question is for those of you who have products or services that solve problems.
Who are the businesses or professions who see the problems that you solve? The person with the problem may not have even realised that they had one!
A good problem spotter working on your behalf can make sure that fi rst they let them know and secondly point them at you to solve the problem.
- book-keeper and debt collector
- mechanic and panel beater or car paint shop
- pool cleaner and fencing contractor
- Office cleaner and window cleaner
So think about all of the other businesses who are in a position to see the problems that you can solve.
And because we should be looking for WIN WIN relationships and ways to help other business owners – think about the problems that you see on a regular basis.
Who could you refer to when you spot a problem?
Again not all of you will be able to answer this question – but if you can these too are powerful potential alliance partners.
These are the businesses/professions that see the problems that I solve.
These are the businesses or professions that I am good problem spotter for.
3. WHO SELLS PRODUCTS OR SERVICES THAT COULD BE OF INTEREST OR VALUE TO YOUR TARGET MARKET?
This is the question that will generate your longest list of potential alliance partners.
But it’s also when it is MOST important that you truly understand your target market. Otherwise you will end up with a VERY long list but very little in the way of useful results!
Start by identifying other interests your target market might have – commercially, socially, spiritually, sporting, recreation, leisure.
- What else do they do and where else do they spend their money?
- What kind of cars do they drive?
- Where do they holiday?
- Where do they eat out?
- If they have children – where do the children go to school?
- What else do they spend money on?
If you are struggling with this question then it may be because you don’t know your target market well enough. If need be go back and more clearly define your target market! You should know and understand your target market as well as you do your best friend!!!
These are the businesses or professions that sell other products and services my target market typically buy.
4. WHO ELSE HAS CAPTURED YOUR TARGET MARKET BUT IS NOT A DIRECT COMPETITOR?
They may not be in your supply chain, or even see the problems that you solve but they have a database of YOUR target market or access to your target market and they market to them.
Examples I received my NAB bank statement the other day – enclosed was a discount voucher from Dell computers.
Get specific – name names – and yes it is possible for Small Business Owners to create partnerships with big business. One example is the book “Small Business Big Opportunity” with over 100,000 in print this was written by Rob Hartnett www.robharnett.com in partnership with Sensis!
These are non-competitors who have captured my target market .
5. WHO DOES THE SAME THING YOU DO?
Yes these may be your competitors – but now is the time to be honest. Do you have the BEST solution for EVERY potential client?
It is better to send away a potential client than to do an inferior job. You will be GLAD you did!
Who solves the same problems or helps people achieve the same purpose that you do but perhaps in a slightly different way, with a slightly different solution or in a different location, or with a slightly different skill set?
These may or may not be your competitors but if they are, stop thinking competition and start thinking collaboration!
- A swimming pool chemical store and a pool cleaning contractor
- Bed and breakfasts, restaurants, hotels or other forms of entertainment with a different niche market
- A business offering a do it yourself version of something versus the fully serviced version.
- A business offering the same thing in a different location.
These are the businesses or professions that do what I do.
6. WHICH BUSINESSES SHARE THE SAME VALUES OR HAVE SOMETHING IN COMMON WITH YOU?
- Are you Green?
- Do you have a favourite charity?
- Where do your kids go to school? Play sport?
- Do you share a common personal interest that you could optimize? E.g. have children in the same sporting club, or share a common hobby.
When you have a clear list of these business owners you will be able to look for ways that you can leverage shared marketing opportunities such as sponsorship or loyalty schemes and member reward programs. Perhaps even develop a Community, a networking group, or write a book together! This list is likely to be far more specific than the previous ones have been.
You are likely to be able to include names, or at least business names or perhaps something like “my daughter’s’ best friend’s father or mother” or “the mechanic at my photography club”…
These are the businesses that I have something in common with.
7. WHICH BUSINESSES USE SIMILAR SUPPLIERS/SUPPLIES OR RESOURCES AS YOU DO OR HAVE SIMILAR NEEDS OR FACE SIMILAR PROBLEMS OR ISSUES?
There is more to alliances than marketing and lead generation – what about cost reduction strategies, customer service, increased buying power, creating a support group?
Remember to think about geographic location – your customer may not be locally based but you may be able to work with other compatible businesses in your local area to resolve staffing, office space, supply or transportation issues…
This list will help you to focus in on businesses that you can work with to solve many of the other problems and challenges you face on a day to day basis. These are the businesses that buy the same kinds of things that I do or face the same challenges that I face.
More articles about Strategic Partnerships and JVs
Four steps to an effective strategic partnership plan
The 10 things you absolutely MUST know about creating strategic partnerships and joint ventures (JVs)
Is your business strategic partnership ready?
Strategic Partnership and JV Checklist
101 JV ideas
CEO and Founder, Synergy48 Group
Brenda has an honours degree in organizational psychology and a Graduate Certificate in training and development and she is an experienced trainer, facilitator and counsellor. She is a firm believer in mutual collaboration combined with a practical, hands on tools, strategies and systems as the most effective way to achieve real results in business.
Brenda has over 20 years of experience training in communication, team work, time management, productivity, organisation and strategic planning in large organisations. She is also the developer of the Business Benchmarking Toolkit used by Synergy48 Group members and clients to identify areas for improvement in their business processes.
Brenda is a sought after mentor, speaker and trainer in the areas of strategic partnerships and networking with a difference. She is passionate about actively giving back to the community. In addition to donating her speaking fees and a proportion of every Synergy48 Group membership to provide microfinance to help women in Malawi to start their own businesses, Brenda has climbed the Himalayas to raise money for Kids Help Line and helped lay a pipeline to supply water to a remote village in Tanzania.