Having a great product or service is simply not enough to enjoy strong sales (especially online), which is why it is crucial to build strong relationships with other organizations.
But recognizing that your enterprise can succeed or fail depending on the quality and quantity of the business relationships around you is one thing - finding and nurturing those partnerships is another thing entirely.
This article highlights three techniques that have proven themselves to be invaluable when it comes to ensuring that your company is constantly growing a powerful network of allies.
1. Dedicated outreach
When it comes to startups, I have stuck my foot into almost every hole imaginable and have learned lessons the hard way. In particular, one of the biggest mistakes I made (and one I think many companies make) is relying on passive marketing channels to grow the business.
By passive, I mean things like organic search traffic from Google and word-of-mouth. Both of these strategies are fantastic ways to grow a startup, but they tend to rely on a threshold amount of visibility and interest in the first place.
To hit that threshold, you have to work to grow reputation and authority, and the only way to do this is to get out there and start helping/working with/advising/chatting/socializing and generally being seen.
Bite the bullet and pay for a good person (someone who is well-spoken, friendly, outgoing, intelligent, etc) to research and identify important potential partners, reach out, and build relationships.
Waiting for passive marketing strategies to work can take years and years, whereas being proactive and reaching out to people can have exciting results in a matter of days, weeks, and months.
2. Real relationships
Any company that I am involved in ends up having to rewire the way they think about customer service and support - that goes for business customers too.
A complaint from a company you work with isn't an unpleasant chore, it's an opportunity to learn more about the people you work with.
Almost all of the time, a complaint that is dealt with efficiently and effectively ends up as a net, overall positive experience for everyone involved. Once someone's problem has been resolved, take a few minutes to thank them for their time and offer them a personal, direct line to more help if they should ever need it. Like this:
"Thanks Bill, glad we were able to help. Please feel free to get in touch with me directly if you ever need anything in future."
In doing so, you build a bridge to that client based on an experience that goes beyond the traditional client/service relationship. They feel that they have a special, personal relationship with your company and this makes it harder for them to consider switching to a competitor that doesn't share that connection.
3. Creative partnerships
Are there companies out there that could make use of your products and services in such a way as to promote your company? Is there a way to collaborate on something for mutual benefit?
For example, I was approached by a startup that needed sales data in order to set up a product comparison site that would allow shoppers to compare the direct sales performance of any two products one-on-one.
It's a great idea, right? If you are doing Xmas shopping and want to know which computer game is the right one to buy for your nephew, then being able to see which game is more popular based on their online sales volumes is pretty useful right?
It means you no longer have to rely on what the game developers say about their game... or what the critics (who are often paid for their opinions) say about the game. You can look directly at what the market says about it.
RT500 Enterprise, one of my startups that provides accurate sales estimates for products sold via Amazon had the data they needed... but they couldn't afford it.
No problem. Potentially tens of thousands of new people could be exposed to my service if I ensure that wherever that data is used, there is attribution. And, what's more, I could negotiate for a cut in the revenue generated.
So, my company may not make much, if any, revenue out of the deal initially. But, it's free exposure. The equivalent amount of exposure from paid advertising might be very expensive.
Where are there gaps that your business can trade on for exposure and visibility? Finding the right one could mean real, sustained growth for almost negligible cost.
So those are my tips for B2B networking. What techniques do you use? Have you had any real success with something out of the ordinary? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments.