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How to successfully canvass for partnerships  

If you're seeking to land partnerships with other online businesses, whether it's a cross-promotional partnership, simple link exchange or something more involved, getting your virtual foot in the door is sometimes the hardest step. 

With everyone's inboxes crammed full of email these days and many online business owners suffering from information overload, it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd and not be forgotten. Here's a few guidelines well worthwhile observing that will help increase positive responses to your initial partnership canvassing.

Targeting

Don't waste your time and the time of others by pursuing partnerships with sites that have no bearing on your own products and services. For example, a wine site could be a good match for a cheese site, but site selling meat products would be an extremely poor match with a vegetarian site. Step back from your own business and think; "what other products and services would my customers purchase that are somewhat related to my own?" - they are the sites that you should approach.

Phone vs. email canvassing

My personal preference is to perform initial canvassing via email. I've been pulled out of bed at 3am in the morning by other businesses wanting to establish partnerships and I can assure you that not one of my responses was positive. In fact, I couldn't even repeat how I respond here :). 

With people working in all different sorts of time zones and most of us extraordinarily busy, email is a more considerate and polite approach in my opinion. Once the potential partner has expressed an interest, then phone meetings can be organized.

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Credibility

This is very important. Don't use a yahoo, hotmail, gmail or your own ISP address to make the approach from - use an email address from the domain of your site or the company you are representing.

The reason is pretty simple - credibility. Unless you represent a well known site, the recipient may immediately see the offer as smacking of amateurishness. Even if your site is well known, given that so many outsourced link chasing companies use free email addresses, the recipient may feel it's just a bulk canvassing campaign, not particularly targeted to them.

Also ensure that your site explains very clearly about your company - who you are; your objectives etc. Much the same principles apply to wooing partners as reassuring your site visitors.

What's in it for me

Focus on the WIIFM factor (What's In It For Me) in relation to the partner and how they will benefit from an arrangement with you - but be careful on how much spin you use - you'll likely be dealing with site owners and marketing development people who will be able to smell hype a mile off. Keep it real.

Previous partnership successes

Anything that requires effort on the partner's behalf will likely meet with some hesitation. Building on the WIIFM approach, if you can briefly refer to previous partnership successes that can help make the potential partner more open. For instance, state something like:

"We've set up a few similar partnerships with others with great success resulting for both parties"

or

"Since the partnership commenced, one of our previous arrangements has seen the partner boost sales by X%"

Bear in mind, that if you're going to be generic in your success statement, be prepared to back it up in the ensuing conversation if asked.

Initial canvassing note length

I've tried all sorts of different canvassing note lengths and it seems the shorter the better. Hit them with the crux of the arrangement and have templates prepared that going into greater detail once the person responds favorably.

Don't be patronizing

It's important that you take into account the skill, focus and knowledge level of a potential partner. For example, I often receive emails requesting link exchanges that attempt to explain to me in great detail what Google PageRank is or that inbound links help boost search engine ranking. This tells me instantly that the person hasn't bothered looking over my site - it's a subject I write about and search engine optimization is a topic I've been covering for over 6 years.

Show that you've researched

If you can relate something you've seen on the target partner's site, this will certainly demonstrate that your approach isn't a bulk mailing. Refer to an article or page and make an associated comment such as:

"I came across your site when looking for potential partners in this area. I thoroughly enjoyed your article on X...."

Personal approaches work better

Try and find the site owner or marketing manager's name. As soon as someone is addressed by name, it tends to boost their attention factor by a couple of notches. If it's not on the site, it doesn't hurt to send an email to the general email address along these lines:

"Hello,

I'm X from X. I'd like to contact your Business Development Manager or equivalent regarding a partnership proposal I'd like to submit. Could you please provide me the appropriate person's contact details.

Thanks in advance for your assistance!

Regards,

You"

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Follow up your approaches

Many site owners are busy people. If you haven't heard from the potential partner after a week or so, it doesn't hurt to follow up and then follow up again a week later. In fact, you can keep approaching the target partner until such time you get a negative or positive response. 

In your follow ups, remain polite and reference the original email by either including it in the follow up, or paraphrasing the original approach. At this point in your canvassing, it doesn't hurt to automate it somewhat to save time via a series of emails using mailing list/autoresponder software. Using a list management package can also help you ascertain if targets are even bothering with opening your email - most good list software applications can provide all sorts of statistics.

I've had a couple of cases where I've approached a site owner a half dozen times and had no response, then left it for a couple of months, tried again and received a positive response; so polite persistence certainly does pay off.

Keeping track of all these approaches you'll be making can create somewhat of a headache also. It's easy to lose track of where you were at and you don't want to approach the same partner too often. You can just start a notepad file to help keep track of your canvassing, or for something a little more heavy duty and functional, consider implementing CRM (customer relationship management) software. CRM packages are excellent for these sorts of tasks and can also handle mailings.

Canvassing subject lines

Something I've found quite successful in grabbing attention is the following wording in a subject line:

re: (company name) partner inquiry

The "re:" infers a possible previous communication; one that the partner had responded to - this can help prompt someone to open an email as they think it may be an ongoing conversation. Including the target company name helps with recognition and the "partnership inquiry" sums up the contents of the email.

Persistence is key

If you don't have a zillion dollar marketing budget, sometimes partnerships that don't involve an exchange of cash are the only way to go. 

You can simply trade links or newsletter space or perhaps offer each other a discount/bonus to add to your respective services. While landing partnerships can be somewhat time consuming process, once in place they can produce positive results for both parties for years. It's just a matter of finding the right person to speak to at the right time; so don't give up, continue to canvass; it can really pay off. Even if you only get a few positive responses, visiting other related sites can provide a wealth of ideas for your own site.

Once you have your foot in the door with a potential partner, it's important to keep the flow of communications going; otherwise it's very possible the potential partner will get distracted and you'll be back to square one.

Added tip - sometimes it can be difficult to demonstrate aspects of your business to a potential partner via email, IM or telephone and that's where online meeting/webinar software can be very handy. Learn more in my webinar software review.

I hope you find these tips of value; good luck in your partner canvassing!

Related articles:

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CRM software

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
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