Strategic partnerships are a fantastic opportunity to grow your small business, whether you have a single local shop or sell nationally online. Forming a strategic alliance requires multiple steps, but you can benefit for years once you have it in place.
What is a strategic partnership?
A strategic partnership is a clearly defined plan between two distinct businesses. Some strategic alliances include more parties, like when shopping centers run collective events with all of the stores participating.
The keys to any strategic alliance are clearly defined partnerships and compatible business values. Without these two components, the partnership is unlikely to succeed quite as forecasted for your small business. After all, you want partners who take as good care of customers as you do.
Many benefits can come from corporate partnerships. Which ones most interest your small business will determine what other companies you approach to partner with and how you measure the partnership.
Increase brand exposure
As a small business owner, you know how critical getting your name out there is. It’s how you begin building an audience and name recognition, which pay off down the line. When you choose to increase your brand exposure in a partnership, you’re more likely to see measurable benefits.
Most strategic partnerships increase brand exposure. However, particular varieties, like partnering with charity organizations, can significantly impact your exposure. Additionally, partnerships focused on exposure can also lead to more community involvement, which dovetails nicely into the recent pushes to shop locally or responsibly.
Reach new customers
Reaching new customers often goes hand-in-hand with increasing brand exposure, but they are not precisely the same thing. With a strategic partnership, your small business can attract new customers from your partner’s audience and vice versa.
Reaching new customers is a common outcome for strategic alliances, and it’s one of the backbones of measuring the success of a coalition for most businesses. The partnership is an opportunity for everyone.
Create a win-win situation
Good strategic partnerships divide the risks and increase the success of all participants. That means if you’re partnering with another small business, you both gain exposure and new customers out of the deal. The same is true when partnering with a bigger business, though the results may look a little different.
For most partnerships, it’s a win-win situation where everyone benefits. Regardless of the specific goals you have set for yourself, a strategic partnership should always be a win for everyone involved.
Improve customer experiences
One of the often-overlooked options for a strategic partnership is simply to improve your customers’ experiences. As a small business, it’s impossible to be everything and make all the components of your customer experience from scratch. That’s where the partnership comes in.
Some strategic alliances look like contractor or vendor relationships. Others look like payment processors. These strategic alliances still benefit both businesses, but customers rarely notice anything other than the excellent service and environment you provide.
Examples of Strategic Partnerships
Strategic partnerships are everywhere, and it’s never been easier to create one. Some of the biggest names in business have alliances that help them meet their goals, and if you create one, it can deliver similar benefits.
Avery and CandleScience
CandleScience started as a small business back in 2004. Not only does the company produce premium supplies for candlemakers of all levels, but they also do significant education of the community. However, in order to do that, they needed a label that worked as hard as they do.
That’s where Avery fits in. The wide variety of labels and customization options delivered the durable labels CandleScience needed to appeal to customers. It also made meeting the labeling regulations from bodies like the FDA much easier.
Today, Avery and CandleScience have an active partnership. Not only does CandleScience use Avery labels on the products, but they’re also recommended through the education and promotions CandleScience carries out. This win-win situation means CandleScience can meet customer needs, and Avery gains new customers regularly.
Coffee shops and retailers
Starbucks is one of the cultural mainstays in the United States, and part of its empire is built on strategic alliances. In particular, Starbucks often partners with large brick-and-mortar retail chains to host their stores.
Two big examples are Target and Barnes & Noble. These well-chosen chains have high foot traffic and complement the joy the brand aims to convey. For example, many book shoppers want a hot beverage to start exploring their new books, and having a café in-store benefits both companies.
In this strategic alliance, both companies benefit from each other’s brand efforts to increase visibility and foot traffic. However, both also benefit from the better experience of their customers as well, which is what makes this partnership so long-lasting.
Banks and grocery stores
Most people view both banks and grocery stores as necessities, not desirable activities. However, since both items are frequently on the same to-do list, this strategic alliance makes sense. By having bank branches in grocery stores, people can take advantage of the convenience.
Both strategic partners benefit from this focus on convenience. For banks, existing customers going to the grocer can simply pop in, or they can gather new customers from the high foot traffic. For the grocery store, more people entering the store also means more people who stop to pick up a few extra things because they’re there.
Through these strategic alliances, both parties access a broader customer base than they would generate independently. This arrangement is so popular that most of the large chains take advantage of it.
Car services and music providers
The strategic partnership between Uber and Spotify accomplishes two things. First, it delivers a unique experience. Second, it encourages members of both audiences to decide based on their existing membership.
The program means that Spotify Premium users can choose the music that plays during their Uber rides. Most customers appreciate being able to personalize their experience like this, and therefore will select both members of the partnership to get it.
The Uber-Spotify strategic alliance fits the current trends in attracting users you see. The more you can personalize and customize the experience with your small business; the more responsive customers will tend to be.
How to form a strategic alliance
As a small business, getting custom coding into Uber software or convincing a national chain to partner with you may seem unrealistic. However, with an appropriate strategy and planning, you can benefit from strategic partnerships no matter the scale.
The first step in forming a strategic alliance is identifying partners that could work with your company. You want to focus on stable businesses with a vested interest in the same values you hold and similar commitments to customer experiences.
While identifying partners, you should also consider your own capabilities. Understanding what you can reasonably deliver as a small business and your potential for expansion should it be required, are as key to a successful partnership as identifying the right companies to pitch.
During this step, you want to be as analytic as possible to compare opportunities rationally. Whether that’s making spreadsheets, researching heavily, or creating company profiles, you want to see what the options can do for your business.
Make a pitch
The next step is creating and giving the pitch for a strategic alliance. This is when you approach the company and wow them with the potential benefits of the win-win partnership. In order to do that, you don’t need all the details worked out, but you do need a potential plan.
In general, when you pitch your small business as a partner, you want to prepare materials that focus on your fantastic work and how much both companies stand to gain. However, the precise format can vary depending on what you’re comfortable with. How you approach and present it is more important than whether you have five types of coded supporting documentation, though.
Once you have prepared your presentation, you need an appointment with a decision-maker. Try reaching out during slow times to secure this appointment, and make sure you ask for an appropriate length appointment.
Negotiate the details
Since most companies do not make snap decisions, you may have to wait a little bit to hear back. Once you do, though, you need to be prepared to negotiate the details of your strategic alliance well before you intend to take action.
You can iron out these details in person, over the phone, with a video conference, or through email. The important thing is to balance your risks and split the rewards. By creating an even partnership, you can help ensure it’s renewed or repeated when the time comes.
Once you have negotiated the details, it’s essential to put all of them into a single document that both parties sign. While your strategic partnerships may be beneficial to both companies, you do want to observe the legal necessities.
Once you’ve identified a partner, made the pitch, negotiated the details, and signed an agreement, it’s time to launch. Generally, you want to add a little more to the marketing budget for this important time for your small business.
Depending on your strategic partnerships, you may want to let it run for a little while before looking at the data. Early data is often incomplete or skewed, so you may not have the complete picture. Of course, if you’re doing a trial launch with a two-week promotion period, then letting it run to the end and then examining the data at the end will provide the best results.
What a small business strategic partnership might look like
Let’s say you run a local coffee shop, whether it’s a food truck or a stationary location. You’ve run your own promotions but feel like you could be attracting more customers to your area with your high-quality brews.
You notice a few locations around town have a similar issue attracting foot traffic, so you decide a local bookstore is a good option for your business. You approach the owners with a proposal to hand out vouchers at checkout to each other’s customers.
The bookstore owner agrees. After some negotiating, you both agree to offer 10% discount coupons, and each of you gets them printed at your cost. Initially, you decide to try it for a month to see if this is the right strategic partnership.
After instructing your employees to hand out the bookstore vouchers with each receipt and to store the coffee vouchers customers use in a specific drawer, you’re ready. With a little boost to your shop’s social media marketing, the initial launch appears successful.
As you count the coupons each day, the figures still look promising. At the end of the month, you’ve gained several new regulars from the promotion, and the financial data backs up the success you saw each coupon count. The bookstore saw similar results, and you decide to continue the partnership.
A strategic alliance offers many potential benefits for your small business and can be instrumental in growing your business to meet your goals. Whether it’s local or becoming a partner for a national chain, forming strategic partnerships can work for businesses of all sizes.
There are several steps involved in forming an alliance for your small business. However, setting up an alliance on a strong foundation with well-defined responsibilities is the key to long-term success.
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