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Everyone wants to be your partner, ostensibly to help you increase revenue with the latest and greatest gizmos or “secret weapons.”

But too many times we find ourselves in the “partner conversation” with what appears to be a great sales channel, only to find out quickly that it's a one-way street--you're finding sales leads and opportunities while your partner makes the money.

Partnerships, alliances, strategic networks...whatever you call them--they're nothing more than two companies coming together to find ways to leverage each other's products and/or services.

The goal typically centers on finding additional revenue streams and new market entry points. Very rarely is the word “partner” taken for what it really means, which is someone who shares your business values, ethics, visions, and objectives.

And a “partnership” is something that benefits both entities looking to find new revenue sources and business opportunities. Often, companies forget that once you find a partner, you need to nurture the relationship and cultivate opportunities so that you both can reap the rewards.

Before you decide to go headfirst into finding the next great partnership opportunity, think about a few things:

1. Do some internal research. Identify your own strengths and weaknesses. Look for areas where resources are lacking or could be in the future due to market trends and shifts in supply-and-demand needs. Talk to co-workers and department heads about their needs for fresh ideas and creativity. Ask your leadership which market opportunities they want to pursue and champion in the near- and long-term. Talk with your sales and marketing teams to see what customers are saying about your services, products, processes, expertise, etc. Rule of Thumb: Don't determine what or who will make a good partner in a vacuum. Partner relationships need corporate-wide support to make them work.

2. Who's already in your camp? Take note of those partnerships you already have and determine their value to your company. Determine where exactly they fit into your organization and offerings. From there, see if you find any gaps where another partner may be needed to complete the solution. Review your current and historical activities with your existing partners to see who is truly making a difference, versus who is just a name on a joint press release. Rule of Thumb: More partnerships aren't always the best idea. They could actually lead to more management headaches and fewer results. Keep focused on a manageable handful that you can clearly see, and define their roles and objectives within your organization.

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Karin K. Schaff is President/Marketing and Communications Strategist at 3rd Floor Up, Inc. (kschaff@3rdfloorup.com).