There’s an old saying that business is done between people, not companies.
In our entrepreneurial business environment, that saying proves itself almost every day as partnerships form between people who own businesses with mutual interests or target markets. By investing in strategic partnerships with other firms, we're better able to present a holistic and complete solution for our customers' problems — regardless of whether those solutions fall outside of our core service offering or not.
For example, if you're primarily a front-end designer but lack the technical skill needed to build a custom app integration for your client's store — partner with an experienced app developer. Or if you lack the expertise to fully optimize your website for search engine algorithms, try to find an SEO specialist to bring onto your project. Regardless of the form your partnerships come in, they should all have one thing in common: an enhanced end-product for your clients.
But developing these partnerships doesn't always happen easily. Throughout this article, I’ll share several insights I’ve gathered over the past 15 years from successful partnerships I’ve had at Mamaya — my current company — as well as previous companies I’ve founded. Hopefully, these tips will help you develop strategic partnerships in a way that is effective and beneficial for you and your clients.
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1. Remember: timing is everything
When we approach a potential partner with an offer, we expect one of two replies: “Yes” or “no”. Sometimes when we ask, or are being asked a question, we tend to forget that there’s a third option: “Yes, but not right now”, and we end up defaulting to “no”.
Almost every time I hear a “no” from a prospective partner, I put it in the “yes, but not right now” bucket. I understand the other person might have his plate full right now and cannot handle new ideas, but that doesn't mean the door is closed forever. Furthermore, most of the time when things are extremely hectic, we don’t even have the mental capacity to process new ideas because we’re so preoccupied with previous commitments.
We can’t always tell what the other person is going through and why they refused our offer, but we have to accept their response and make sure we keep that door open for a future opportunity. When you get a “no”, reply with a polite “thank you” and say that if they don’t mind, you’d like to keep them in the loop for further updates. These updates can be done over email and should show your progress and achievements. This frequent check-in will keep you top of mind and may drive your prospective partners to change their “no” to a “yes”, when the time is right.
2. Leverage each other's expertise to create "value-adds"
Although pure joint co-marketing partnerships are pretty common, it’s better to generate a synergy with your partner that will result in even greater value for your customers. At Mamaya, we’re always looking for partners with an exciting product or service that we can integrate with our advertising platform to create cool and effective new marketing tools.
Take our partnership with Arqspin for example.
Arqspin developed an innovative technology for capturing and displaying a 360° product view for online stores — including their apps developed specifically for Shopify.
The first time I came across their product was at their conference booth at the International Retailer Conference + Exhibition in Chicago.
We understood pretty quickly that we shared some core values like simplifying complex technologies and making them accessible for online merchants. From there, we started to think about how we could integrate both of our platforms in order to create a simple, yet effective, solution that will provide our customers with a different way to advertise their products.
After the conference, we conducted a few technical sessions and managed to create a whole new product that combined the strengths of both Arqspin’s imaging technology and Mamaya’s automated retargeting technology. Now, our customers can create beautiful 360° view dynamic retargeting product ads automatically — a clear added value alternative.
3. Be honest
If you’re aiming for a long-term relationship – and you be should most of the time – you must know that sooner or later you’ll have to deliver on your promises. This is why you should never promise anything you can’t deliver. You can never know how much your partner is counting on you to pull through, and dropping the ball is a sure way to lose a potentially strong partnership.
Maybe they have investors lined up and need this partnership to demonstrate traction or credibility in order to raise funds. Maybe they promised their customers something that depends on your joint solution. In any case, always being honest and straightforward with your partner is a fundamental rule of good business relationship building.
I remember when I started one of my previous companies, I was working on a strategic partnership with a major distributor. As part of the deal, we agreed to send newsletters to our customers with a joint offer. When we negotiated the terms of the partnership, my partner said he would send the newsletter to their 45,000 mailing list subscribers. Then, he asked me how many subscribers we were sending this offer to and I honestly admitted that we were still a pretty young company and only had 600 people on our mailing list.
The partner appreciated my honesty because he knew I could have thrown out a higher number and he would have never known it wasn’t true. But, since I was honest he agreed to send the offer to his full mailing list, even though we weren’t on an equal footing and our list was only 1 per cent the size of his.
4. Understand your partner’s needs
When you try to form a partnership, you have your reasons. It can be reaching new customers, increasing credibility, or improving what you have to offer. Either way, you know your goals and you're trying to shape the partnership to help you achieve them.
When you are focused on your needs, it’s easy to overlook those of your partner. If you want your partnership to truly succeed, you have to make sure you understand your partner’s needs and motives. Don’t assume you're aiming for the same place. Ask them about their goals from the get-go and also try to read between the lines to fully understand why they put in the effort to partner with you.
Try to evaluate the current stage of their business, their strategies for the future, and what they intend to gain from this partnership. Once you have this understanding of their interests, do whatever you can to help them achieve their goals. You need to remember you’re on the same side and it should be a win-win situation, otherwise it won’t last.
Communication is often taken for granted. We’re so busy and we tend to put everything we can on autopilot.
From the onset of your partnerships, make sure to have a clear understanding of the expectations for communication. This means defining your communication channels, the frequency in which you will be in contact, the core contacts on each end, and topics you'll want to discuss with your partner.
Most of the time your communication can be done via email, but make sure to actually talk to each other every once in a while. Things like tone and intonation can sometimes uncover issues you need to handle and a good conversation can turn into a productive brainstorming session that can take your partnership to the next level.
So what are you waiting for?
The beauty of the Shopify Partner ecosystem is that we have unrivalled access to hundreds, if not thousands, of potential partnership opportunities at our finger tips. If we have a void to fill in our business, or a specialized skill needed for a particular project, all we need to do is connect with other Shopify Partners and come together to create truly innovative and amazing solutions for merchants around the world.