A co-marketing partnership stands on two things: human communication and concrete results.
The question is when evaluating a potential partner, should you rely more on their website traffic stats and size of their email list or see how the whole relationship evolves? We have interviewed two experts responsible for building connections for strategic and tactical marketing needs and found out the key points and practical secrets of partnership management. Learn about true stories inside from Amanda Nielsen, Strategic and Co-Marketing Partnerships Manager at New Breed and Gaetano Nino DiNardi, Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva.
What are you looking for in a potential co-marketing partner?
We definitely want to choose a partner whose goals align with ours and a relationship that we think will constantly provide mutual value. It could be exchanging backlinks, co-creating content or reselling products/services. A partner should be on a similar trajectory of growth. For example, at New Breed, we work with software companies at the expansion stage, i.e., companies of between 20 and 2,000 people; not startups, and we are not going to make an exception here. A startup can have a shift in their strategy, company size, and services, while we need to think about the long-term benefits of a partnership.
We also want to make sure we have a similar customer base, target audience, company size, and industry where we sell our services. We market to marketers, so we like to collaborate with software companies that also speak to marketers. These synergies help a lot, making a successful partnership.
What parameters do you pay attention to?
Some of the key parameters that we look at are traffic volume, backlink metrics, domain authority, and keyword gap. SEO metrics are important for figuring out whether the partnership will be technically beneficial, while traffic can highlight the domains that are consistently linking to our website and that we could reach out to and suggest a collaboration.
What tools do you use to analyze a potential partner?
We have a mix of two different methods:
First, if we are not super familiar with the company, we use our data tools to find public information on them.
Then, we just talk to the person responsible for strategic partnerships in the potential partner’s company, because that’s where you get most of the insights. You can figure out a lot about a business by analyzing their website, but speaking to someone who represents the company will be the best way to confirm all these things and really hash out all of the smallest details.
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How do you define whether your and your potential partner’s audiences match?
You don’t have to serve the exact same customer base. As long as there are key commonalities, there will be enough value to see a return on your investment. For example, we are in partnership with HubSpot. They work with all company sizes, from startup to scaleup to enterprise. Although we don’t service the scaleup and enterprise sectors, HubSpot still has a very, very big new market for us, so we derive value from this relationship.
How can one know that their company is pursuing the same goals as a potential partner?
The best way to know it is by just being straightforward and setting clear expectations at the initial meetings. At New Breed, we define our partnership criteria and ask for everything we need to know about the company before we engage in any type of contractual relationship.
We like doing account mapping to find customers we have in common, as it’s a really good starting point to identify the best-use cases for a common issue. Then, if there is no opportunity to upsell to the same clients or use this prospect as a case study, we can bundle our product in theirs.
What definitely works is looking at each other’s website traffic and being honest about benchmarks for each company. Like, here are the visits, this is how they are growing, and these are our expectations.
Setting clear goals is a good way to hold both sides accountable. For example, I hold monthly webinars with different partners, and we work together to drive registrants. What I have done is create a little benchmark report based on the past 12 to 14 months of data, with average numbers of registrants and attendees. This allows me to establish clear goals for each partner and actually achieve results. Just saying “drive as much money as you can” wouldn’t sound as concrete and, subsequently, not as motivational.
Let’s say you have two brands you could collaborate with...
One of them has a similar target audience, and there has been some buzz around them recently. Another one doesn’t enjoy as much hype but targets a different audience, which could be beneficial to you as well. Which one will you choose and why?
I would say, you can choose both. With someone who has a similar target audience and is kind of popular the value will be very obvious, and it is less of a risk. You could definitely collaborate with them at a higher involvement capacity. A reseller, co-seller or referral partnership would probably pay off.
However, if you are trying to build up your authority with a new audience, you can think of a partnership with this less-famous company who has already reached your target group. With them, you could take a baby step because it is a slightly higher risk — the ROI is probably going to come much later because it is not exactly where you are right now, and you are not 100% sure whether the relationship is going to benefit you.
So, in this case, I would be very straightforward with them and set expectations with something small, like a co-marketing relationship. This is a nice jumping-off point that I like to use for all of our partners who we aren’t really ready to have a referral or co-selling relationship with, but we still like their brand, like them as people, and think that our reader base, clients, and prospects can benefit— even if we are not going to sell this company’s software.
Do things like guest blogging on each other’s blogs, backlinking, sharing stuff on social, collaborating on content offers (like co-branding an e-book or co-hosting a webinar together); based on those activities, if you find that your intuition was right, and the partnership becomes beneficial to you, you can take on higher involvement and higher risk with them.
Have you ever made the final decision on a partnership based on unconventional clues?
I think it is important not to stay super data-driven when it comes to making decisions like this. I can give an example of a partner whose name I can’t mention yet because we are still working with them. As a HubSpot provider, we don’t partner with Marketo clients. Once, we signed on a partnership with a software company. About a year after the partnership, that company ended up being purchased by Marketo; this was a conflict of interest for us because while we really liked this partner’s software, the pairing company didn’t align with what we were doing. It created too much strain on our relationship because after that there was a lot less that we could do together. Nothing against the company — it is just that we couldn’t talk in depth about our content anymore. We can still collaborate on some stuff, but it is a lot trickier to figure out how to provide value to each other now.
Something to definitely keep in mind when setting up a partnership, make sure you have initially hashed out all the details and are upfront about everything, especially about a possible acquisition and merging with other companies. There will definitely be cases where you or your partner won’t know about something potentially harmful to your relationship, and you can’t really prepare for it. Then, the best thing to do is to be proactive about it as soon as you find out the news. To avoid wasting anyone’s time, it would be better to dissolve the relationship or scale it back to figure out the best solution.
How can a potential partner win you over?
Personal communication is really important. When you collaborate with your partners closely, you will talk to them on a regular basis, so having a good vibe means a lot. I have been in situations where prospective partners were not very enthusiastic about the whole situation, our product, or even their own product. The synergies just weren’t there, and this is not what I would like to translate to our customers.
A complete opposite example is our most recent partnership with Drift. It all started when I met someone from their company at an event and just said that we were kind of interested in their chatbot; this person gave me free tickets to their HYPERGROWTH conference, and it was an awesome experience as a prospect. All throughout the relationship, they have gone above and beyond for us and provided a lot of value and positive experience for us. Although we didn’t even need to change our current chatbot for theirs, it was still great to meet a partner we could collaborate on content with.
Why do you need co-marketing partners in the first place?
It depends on the size and scale of your company and what you are trying to do.
If you are newer in the game, you are fairly well-known, but you don't have a lot of money, co-marketing is the best thing to do. My previous company was a bootstrap startup with only 25 employees. However, most people thought we were a lot bigger because we were so good at content and social media marketing. People thought we had a lot more money than we really had, while the truth was that we couldn't afford to spend $10,000 a month on AdWords. Anyway, what would this sum bring us? We would bid on one meaningful keyword phrase match, spend $1 per click and get 10,000 clicks. How many of these clicks would convert into real customers? 100? Then how long would these people that came in from paid channels last?
A complete opposite scenario would be like what Mazda and Buzzsumo did. They did a whole bunch of co-branded surveys and annual content reports. Sure, it cost some sweat, but they used their connections to get data for free or very cheap. Then, they have big networks, so co-marketing means doubling the email list, doubling the reach, and doubling the visibility. Whereas if these were just AdWords, at the end of the day, that would be just the budget spent and a brand not amplified in any kind of a meaningful or unique way. Flooding paid traffic to a landing page is just dollars spent which may or may not convert, while co-marketing is not all up to signups for a webinar, downloads of an ebook or people showing up at an event. Co-marketing makes things easier too because all the pressure is not just on you anymore.
How do you search for co-marketing partners?
I usually start with the people I know. In the beginning, I don't think about 100% relevance because sometimes it is more important to work with someone who is easy to communicate with than with the most perfect partner in the world. Sure, doing a survey report with Google or Facebook would be the Holy Grail, but without a mutual connection, it would be extremely hard.
At Nextiva, we have a great partner network, but sometimes we want to go even broader. All our partners are relevant companies, but they all have the same audience. So I might want to hit up somebody who is also in the B2B tech SaaS space but has a slightly different audience.
How can you know that a company has a slightly different audience than yours?
I judge by the messaging on their website and their language. I look at the company’s blog and the types of content they have. Usually, they are built based on buyer personas. For example, Sales Hacker writes about sales strategies for VPs of marketing. I can say for sure that this is who they are going after. Whereas in the blog of my company you will see things like the action plan for chief information officers.
Most companies now have solutions-oriented site navigation, so you will see what types of industries they are going after. Sure, some companies will include all the industries under the sun, but some will target only specific ones. For example, you will see that Agile CRM aims at real estate, while Pipedrive specifically targets salespeople.
I also look at the link profile, and if I can see that they get a lot of links from certain types of websites and certain industries, I will know that that's where their target audience hangs out because those are the kinds of links that they are trying to build.
Finally, you can just straight up ask them.
If you have two partners to choose from, how do you decide which opportunity to dive into?
First of all, I see if it is a company I have heard of. That will definitely make me prioritize them over a company I don’t know at all. Then I look at their website traffic and online reputation, and I check their reviews. I study their link profile as well because I want to see what opportunities will be there if we collaborate. I check the company’s social media: how active they are, what kinds of things they post, who their audience is.
I also look at the profile of the person who contacted me. Is it someone active in the community, for example, on LinkedIn? Is this person an influencer? Do we have a lot of mutual connections? Has this person been in the game for a while or is it just someone who graduated high school last year, and their company is just telling them to go spam everybody under the sun to try to get a collaboration?
Have you ever been in a situation when you were already in the process of negotiating with someone, but then something happened, and you had to discontinue the collaboration?
I won't mention the name of the person, but I will tell you that there is a very well-known influencer that we wanted to do a podcast sponsorship with. Everything seemed to be good, and the contract was about to be signed, butone of our partners recommended that we didn't do it. The reason was, the guy from the potential sponsor company had cursed our partner out on LinkedIn, and there were even screenshot messages of all these crazy things. So, we had to cancel everything with that new company. We had to make up an excuse about a new chief financial officer who cracked down on spending, and that is why we couldn’t continue the project. The guy didn’t even respond, and that silence was a clear sign for me.
Have you been partners with a company surrounded by some buzz around the time you collaborated?
There was a company in Arizona that wanted to partner with us on something. One of their executive leaders tweeted out support for Donald Trump's border wall security. The tone and language of that person's tweet was very insensitive to the issue, and for us, it was a reason not to work with this company. The founder of our company is from Poland, and a part of our PR angle is embracing immigration and the mentality that America is the land of opportunity for everyone. This anti-immigration tweet was completely against our policy, so we just couldn’t partner with such a company.
How can you estimate the ROI of a sponsored event before the actual event?
A lot of companies don't even really do this. When they pay for an event, they pay for the hype. I do it differently: I ask questions. The only way you can calculate the ROI is to get a sense of how many attendees are going to be there, how many days is the conference, where your booth is positioned so that you can estimate the traffic. I ask about the audience breakdown by seniority, job title, and email list. The latter is a very strong indication because the only way to really calculate the ROI is to get a sense of who is going to be there, and then doing the work beforehand to build a pipeline before the event starts. Sure, someone might stop by your booth and talk to you, but it doesn't necessarily mean they want you to follow up with them or pitch them anything. The real magic happens away from the conference site.
In my opinion, a better thing to sponsor is not a general booth but a happy hour, because it is going to give you a great excuse to mingle and talk to everyone. At 11 am, when all the keynotes are happening, there is nobody walking through the expo halls, but by the end of the day, your ROI will depend on how many meetings you got booked and with whom. If you meet with the chief information officer from a company with a thousand plus employees, you can kind of estimate what kind of deal size that would be. You combine that with your estimated foot traffic and the activity you have during the conference.
The key point is follow-ups. Personal communication is very hard to put in a dollar amount, but this is how partnerships are made.
What is the main mistake one can make when choosing a co-marketing partner?
Choosing a company that is not going to promote. I will give you a perfect example. When I was at Sales Hacker, we used to do so-called events — a series of webinars strung together. We asked everybody who was going to be at the virtual event to send a dedicated promo email to their list. A lot of participants refused upfront because they were afraid of opt-outs and they knew it for sure from their experience. However, there were those who said they were going to promote and then didn’t. That was critical.
So, you just have to make it clear from the beginning that you need a commitment from anyone who is in. Some companies agree on a registration number that their partners are going to drive or at least an estimated sign up number. They also ask if in the past their partner managed to raise these numbers. The only way to check it more accurately is by the size of the email list. Hopefully, they are not lying to you about it.