Beginner's Complete Guide to Making a Partnership Marketing Plan That Works

Sam O’Brien
Sam O’Brien
Sam O’Brien is the Chief Marketing Officer for Affise—a Global SaaS Partner Marketing Solution. He has also written content for Nextdoor and Cincopa.

You’ll learn what partnership marketing is and master the steps you need to take to create a partnership marketing plan that will work for your business.

📚 Table of contents

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.”

The wise words of the Japanese writer Ryunosuke Satoro echo down the decades, reminding us of a universal truth.

Or, to put it in more prosaic terms: teamwork makes the dream work.

That’s certainly true when it comes to marketing your business. We all know from experience that it takes many hands to make a good marketing campaign work. If you’re looking for a new strategy to put some zing into your marketing approach, how about partnership marketing? 

Throughout this article, you’ll learn what partnership marketing is and master the steps you need to take to create a partnership marketing plan that will work for your business.

What is partnership marketing?

Quite simply, partnership marketing is any joint marketing strategy used by two companies or organizations working in collaboration with one another to achieve their goals. This can take a wide variety of different forms. Companies may work together on a single campaign or go for a more long-term approach. From sharing SEO strategies for affiliate marketing to co-producing webinars and live events, each project can pay dividends for all involved.

The advantages can be huge. For example, did you know that companies with the most mature partnership programs are seeing their revenue grow twice as fast on average as their competitors’? That’s according to Forrester Consulting, which found that 77% of the companies they surveyed see partnership development as central to their sales and marketing strategy.

Why is this? Well, a lot of it is about being able to tap into new audiences you might not be able to otherwise reach. Building reputation and customer trust are absolutely central to the development of any business, and this takes time. If you can form a marketing alliance with another operator who is already trusted in their space, you can benefit from the association.

It works both ways, of course. Partnering with a different operator can be great news for your own customers. After all, with any luck, you’ll be introducing them to a trusted provider they haven’t come across before. 

Image Created by Writer

Types of partnership

The range of projects you can pursue with a partner is limited only by your imagination. We’ll go into greater detail for a few common partnership projects later on. But for now, here are a few ideas you may want to consider:

  • Affiliate marketing
  • Joint distribution
  • Sponsorship
  • Webinar production and hosting
  • Conferences and other live events
  • Content marketing/guest blogging
  • Licensing
  • Product placement
  • Publishing joint research
  • Referral marketing

Focus on your strengths. If you know nothing about influencer management best practice, maybe stick with what you do know rather than chasing the latest TikTok phenomenon with a business proposal. It won’t help to rush into things. In fact, how and why you select the partners you work with will ultimately be critical to the success of the relationship.

Choosing your ideal partners

There are two key considerations here. First, it makes no sense to partner with your direct competition. The whole concept of partnership marketing is about trying to develop a competitive edge through collaboration. 

Nevertheless, the partners you do select need to have the same target audience as you - to an extent at least. A healthy overlap is ideal - there’s little point in partnering with an organization whose email marketing list is 99% identical to yours. 

On the other hand, if you’re in the business of developing apps for law firms and an ice cream brand offers to partner with you, well… you might want to think twice. (Not that lawyers can’t enjoy ice cream, of course - but you get the point.)

Do some research upfront. Who are your potential partner’s customers? Are they people you’re hoping to reach? Make sure you dig a little deeper, too. The last thing you want is for your collaboration to turn into a headache later because of some unforeseen reputational damage issue. 

It’s worth spending some time looking for potential difficulties in advance. Glowing online testimonials and polished social proof are great but don’t depend on them alone. Use your judgment.

Image Source

Making your partnership marketing plan

Once you’ve found your ideal partner, start by setting clearly defined roles. You could think of this stage as if you’re onboarding one another - and we all know how vital new employee engagement is during that process. It’s important that the work involved is shared equally; you shouldn’t be left with the feeling that one partner is carrying the other throughout the process. Ideally, each partner should specialize in what they do best.

Communication is key. Make sure the lines of communication are wide open from the start. Company cultures can vary greatly, but for any partnership to work, it’s crucial that both parties understand the importance of knowledge sharing from the very beginning.

Draw up one central marketing plan document accessible to everyone. This should set out all the tasks, strategies, and goals of your project, including your growth strategy and your investment and ROI targets. Consider using specific documentation metrics to continually assess how your plan is performing. As the project progresses, you’ll probably find you need to adjust and revise the plan. That’s okay. Flexibility is the name of the game.

Of course, exactly what your plan entails will depend a lot on the nature of your project, so let’s now take a look at a few common partnership marketing strategies in closer detail.

Affiliate marketing

This is probably one of the best-known types of partnership marketing. Essentially, it’s a type of performance-based marketing where a company or individual earns a commission for referring new customers to a partner company.

This can be done in a number of ways. It’s popular with high-profile bloggers, for example, because it lends itself well to that medium. A blogger can review a product or service and then include a link to it on their site. 

A big advantage of this kind of marketing is that it feels a little less direct to the consumer than traditional ads. It’s much more akin to word of mouth, which is one of the most trusted touchpoints for potential customers. Many smart companies take advantage of this by using referral programs to increase sales. 

If you’d like to set up something similar for your business, consider using referral program software to keep things simple.

Image Source

Content

Ah, content marketing - where would we be without it? In a world where traditional marketing techniques are becoming less and less effective, creating valuable and consistent content can be central to attracting and retaining the right audience for your business.

A popular way of doing this is via guest blogging. This means that you write a post for your partner’s website (or vice versa). Typically, this includes your byline and is highlighted by the blog’s editor as a “guest post”. It’s a great opportunity to showcase your services or thought leadership skills to a new audience.

Alternatively, you and your business partner may wish to collaborate on video creation or an email marketing program. Why not produce a how-to guide for your customers and input from both partners according to your respective areas of expertise? Or you could have content for each other’s email lists. You don’t need to share lists - provide the content, and your partner can send it out for you while you do the same for them.

Website advertising

Sometimes, the simplest initiatives are the best. If your business is in the ecommerce space, for example, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about optimizing sales via advanced techniques.

On the other hand, there are also non-profit partnerships. For instance, we have companies partnering with colleges to sponsor business students that are taking courses after 12th for commerce. It will be helpful though to include banners or ads about this partnership on the college's website.

But if you sell ad space on your website, you could start by going back to basics. Consider making some of it available to your partner, while you benefit from a presence on their site too. You might even consider setting up a dedicated page for each other. You can provide your partner with the copy and graphics you want on the page and all they have to do is publish it. Nice and easy.

Image Source

Making it work for everyone

When all’s said and done, there are thousands of different ways to create a mutually beneficial partnership. 

It’s really just a matter of finding a good fit and then having each partner play to their strengths. Remember, it should never feel like a one-sided relationship. Make sure to define all the tasks and goals together and share out the work according to each team’s skills. 

Whether your business is a huge company that already knows about using chatbots for marketing, or a start-up looking to get in front of a new audience and catapult into the mainstream, partnership marketing can help achieve your goals.

So what are you waiting for? Go find that perfect partner today.