Leveraging Partnerships – Working with Vendors, Distributors and Industry Associations to grow your business and increase market reach.
“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” Zig Ziglar
Relationships of every kind are key to the growth of your business, both internally and externally. No matter how large your industry may seem, people are constantly changing roles within their organisation, moving over to a competitor, or creating new opportunities and avenues that you need to be across. It’s well known that the broader and stronger your network and relationships are throughout the industry, the smaller it appears. Not only that, your ability to rely on these relationships to increase both your professional and personal knowledge, strengthens your market position – even if just as an individual rather than directly for your organisation.
Let’s take a closer look at how vendors, distributors and industry associations can all be built into your marketing strategy with relatively low, or no amount of money invested by your own business.
The vendors you work with are the backbone of your solutions. You have taken the time to research and trial their products and/or services, built a relationship with them because you have seen value in what their solutions provide for your customers, and you have invested in training and certifications for your team to become proficient in designing and selling their offerings. It therefore makes sense to discuss what marketing funds are available, and how those dollars should be spent to tap into new markets. You should also be discussing on a regular basis with your Account Manager, all the different marketing avenues available based on the timeframes the money is applicable for use.[i] I have struck up many deals to co-sponsor campaigns and events if the MDF allocation alone isn’t going to allow you to achieve clear targets. By offering to contribute the same amount of money towards the campaign, it could mean you run an event in two or three cities instead of one…
When you partner with key vendors, you have done so because they align with your business strategy and your target audience. Vendors not only have the money to spend on marketing activities, but also the resources to help you create and execute various campaigns. Lean on them as much as possible to create a land page for your campaign, draft the content and messaging, produce assets, book venues (where required), and take charge of the overall coordination as it’s in their best interests to ensure the success of the campaign. They may even pay for a list of customers’ data from a third-party supplier to ensure reach beyond your existing database.
Like the vendors you are aligned with, the Distributor you buy through can offer you bundled offers, discounted products, incentive/rebate programmes, and possibly even access to additional MDF from existing or new vendors.
Due to a distributor’s buying power, they can pass savings on to you, which in turn can be passed on to your customers. And when you purchase multiple vendors’ products through them, sometimes they represent vendors who are complementary to your service offerings and will bundle up hardware and software solutions for you to promote which are viewed attractively by both new and existing customers.
While a distributor can seem to be a more beneficial partnership, especially when they are representing several of your key vendors, they don’t always have the full suite of marketing resources available to help you promote their offers to your customer base. The reliance falls more heavily on your own team to sell the bundles and discounts available. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative with the way you choose to sell and promote them. For a relatively small investment, adapt an email marketing campaign into a direct mail marketing campaign targeting only key customers and prospects. You can still send the email out to everyone else in your database that might be interested in the offer, but you’ll have more of a reason to follow up with those that received the direct mail piece.
If you are actively targeting, or plan to enter a specific vertical, then aligning your business with an industry association is a great way to access their customer base. There won’t be any MDF available on this side of the fence, but it will open the doors to speaking opportunities, conference sponsorship opportunities and a variety of digital marketing opportunities directed at specific audiences.
This type of partnership can allow key individuals within your organisation to become Thought Leaders in an industry, and the more customers you acquire, the stronger your reputation in catering to their specific needs. In time, you could become a preferred supplier and hopefully land larger, more lucrative opportunities.
If you are concerned you won’t be able to budget for multiple activities with an association from your own pocket, you can try to secure funding from a vendor who is also keen to focus on selling to this market.
There is however one key point I’d like to address, when it comes to designing your marketing strategy, your partnerships can only take you so far. If you only invest another organisation’s money (i.e. Marketing Development Funds) to increase your market share and attain net-new customers, it will be a one-sided affair that dilutes your organisation’s brand and value. Instead of showcasing the value you provide, and the expertise of your team across a variety of complementary products and solutions, you will be viewed as only capable of pushing out someone else’s agenda. I would avoid this scenario at all costs.
Investing time and money into your own business tells your network and community that you believe in your business, value your solution offerings, value the people you work with, and that you are open to exploring a multitude of avenues to grow your business – in partnership.
Expanding your channels to leverage vendors, distributors and industry associations to reach new audiences should definitely be part of your marketing strategy. They all offer different opportunities and need to be employed in tandem with your marketing and business strategies. However, please bear in mind the following – if an opportunity presents itself you are unable to take advantage of, that’s perfectly fine, not all promotions are going to be appropriate due to timing or solution offering. Just because someone offers you cash to run an event or campaign, remember to stay true to your business and objectives, don’t feel compelled to use it and then risk losing credibility amongst your customers, prospects and peers. There will be other opportunities to invest your time and resources, so in the meantime, keep on networking, building and maintaining your vendor, distributor and industry association relationships.
[i] Please note, Marketing Development Funds (MDF) have an expiry date (determined by the vendor) and that the amount offered is usually equated to the number or amount of sales your business has achieved in selling that specific Vendor’s products and/or services over a given time frame.