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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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
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