You look at the big names and established brands that seem so unattainable and you look at yourself in comparison - do you really have a shot at striking a partnership with them? Forget the partnership, would they even read your introductory email?
I know this feeling because Circles.Life was a new, small and unknown brand and it wasn’t easy getting the attention of more prominent brands. We had to use everything at our disposal and I’ll show you what helped bring me success in partnerships with large organisations.
If you walk in with the mindset that you're really small and have less to offer, it won’t serve you well. You can’t walk into a partnership if you are ridden with fear.
Regardless of whether you’re approaching a small local company or a large global organisation, you have to see it as a partnership between equals. At the end of the day, you’re going to create something that is in their interest and yours.
Many people miss out on great potential partnerships because they think a big company wouldn’t care about what they have to offer and so they just don't try. Yet there are many ways to bring good value to big organisations, and some of these organisations are on the lookout for such partnerships.
You need to set out this expectation and show that the partnership benefits both of you. Then you go into what each of you is bringing to the table and how you want to be investing into the partnership. Show them the value you are bringing to the table so that they prize the partnership and what you have to offer. It’s really about the art of negotiation.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy at the start. When I joined Circles.Life, the first company I approached was a big global organisation. I went to them, and within two short meetings, they said that they weren’t interested, which is a great thing because then they aren’t stringing you along for two months. This company that said no to us approached us again two months later when we were working with their competitor. You can’t take the rejection personally and have to keep trying.
If you’re a small fry, nobody is going to give you the time of day. It’s especially so for start-ups. You need to leverage the context of your founders, your own personal contacts and the contacts of your investors. This is where selecting investors becomes really important because this is how they can add value to your organisation. They open doors for you when nobody knows about your company, but people will take meetings because of your investor. So, you have to leverage those contacts or any of your contacts to get meetings.
At the early stage, you have to dream big. Everything is a blue ocean or a greenfield. You need to sit down in your lounge and think about what kind of partnership you want. Explore the possibilities of what you could do and who it could be done with. What would create the most significant impact on your business? Dream it up. Come up with the ideal partnership or expansion that your company needs and then get a bit more structured from there.
Plan out which companies you’re going to look for in the next quarter or half of the year.
Many people fail in partnerships because they haven't spent time thinking about how they can bring value to their partners. You have to do your homework.
Spend a lot of time thinking about what their objectives and Key Performance Indicators(KPIs) are. You’re likely going to meet with the marketing team at this organisation so start thinking about what the marketing team might be focusing on and what they might be measured on.
You then take it a step further and think about what a day at work looks like for them. If you’re going to speak to the Head of Marketing at this organisation, what does this person's performance review contain? What would he or she need? Would it be to improve brand rating or would it be to go out and get more leads? Are they measured by how many customers they acquire or are they measured by the frequency of customer engagement?
Now, you want to speak to a few people who could give you some indication of what offerings might draw this company and the key person you are talking with. You could speak to competitors, someone you know in the company, middle management or anyone who can give you an indication.
Once you have done all of this, you’re ready to start approaching the company.
If you’ve done all of the preparation in chapter one, you can then start approaching the companies you’ve selected and tell them that you have specifically sought them out because of some aligned interests that you could have.
I would suggest that you go from the top down because it's significantly harder working bottom up and getting people to align. Of course, it’s harder to get a meeting with a person on top, but once you do, and your idea goes through, you can be convinced that everybody is going to follow suit.
It's significantly harder for the manager or even director to pass on the information accurately. By the time it gets to the Vice President (VP), he or she may not be using the same words, conviction, or passion that you had. The VP would then understand it in one way, and he might kill it right there, or he might take it up to his boss, and by then you may have been completely lost in translation.
Try to find different ways of reaching the person on top, just short of actually stalking them of course. That would be taking it too far. Look for people who can connect you to the relevant person. Put some time and effort into it. Many people just immediately go for the manager who is easily accessible without trying to contact someone higher up.
When it’s time to reach out to the right person, what should you say?
Naturally, people in top management roles have very little time and won’t be able to read a long email from you. You can do what I do which is to send a four-liner email.
You introduce yourself in the first line and in the next two lines you write about what you can specifically help them with. Then you end off by saying that you’re happy to share more and ask if they are free for a coffee or a 30-minute call.
Something I usually write in the last line is that Mike (name a colleague), and my team have brainstormed and we have a variety of ideas which we would love to run by them over a short call or a meeting. I offer to work around their schedule and am very polite about it because everyone values respect, so you want to start off on the right foot. You need to respect them and respect their time.
Many people naturally want to share about their company in the email, but if the partner hasn’t heard of you, they will research you if they want to. You don’t want to be bombarding them with information from the start. This is also where your investor, co-founder or colleague, who introduced you will have already shared about your company so you don’t need to repeat it.
You need to have already prepared answers and solutions that would meet any of their potential needs. Since you don’t know exactly what they need, you have to be coming up with many solutions for the potential situations they may be facing. Of course, you can’t share all of these solutions because you only have about 20 minutes to make an impression. Within these 20 minutes, you have to both sell your company and find an area of strategic partnership that would be beneficial for them.
So, in the first few minutes, be sure to ask them what they’re looking for concerning marketing so that you can suss out what brings a twinkle to their eyes. Once you know which of those angles to zoom into, you can start sharing two to three ideas which you have prepared.
For instance, if you know that the person is being measured on customer acquisition, there’s no point talking to them about lead generation. You need to have various solutions prepared even before you have reached out and gotten the meeting. More importantly, you have to communicate these ideas in a way that’s very easily understood.
One of the partnerships that I signed was with a huge company in another industry. There were significant changes in the regulatory environment which would impact their business. This company was so far removed from my business, it was crazy. Yet, after having done the research and developing an understanding of what they were going through, I actually reached out and had a conversation with them. It immediately resonated with them, and the fact that I had done my research and knew what was happening in their industry helped shift the balance in terms of how they viewed me and how much they respected that I tried to understand their business.
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Head of Partnerships