Marketing

A Detailed Guide to Partnership Marketing: Modern Way to Grow Your Business

Interested in leveraging partnership marketing to reach wider audiences and improve revenue growth? Here is everything you need to know.

Sam O'Brian Sam O'Brian on May 9, 2022 (last modified on May 4, 2022) • 11 minute read

Think about when you make non-routine purchases. Where do you learn about solutions to your needs and desires? Which sources do you consult to make a decision? If you’re like most consumers, you rely on a network of trusted sources. When buying products or services, you’ll pick the brains of friends and family and turn to favorite publications and influencers for help. 

In all likelihood, business advertising speak is among the last voices you would seek out. Why? Because it’s the validation of other people, the communities we listen to, that matters to us most.

Prevailing customer skepticism and lack of trust in brands only puts this into sharper relief. How can businesses get through to customers when speaking on their own behalf can only take them so far? 

Business partnerships have exploded in popularity for these very reasons. In every industry and vertical, companies are using them to reach wider audiences. With the right talent, processes, and referral marketing software in place, you can recognize the best opportunities and move on them.

In this guide to partnership marketing, we explore how it can help you achieve significant and sustainable revenue growth.

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What Is Partnership Marketing?

Partnership marketing, or partner marketing, refers to the collaborative relationships that give brands unique access to customers through the partner’s circle of trust. 

These collaborations enable partners to create meaningful value for customers and meet – and exceed – their own goals. 

The Purpose of Marketing Partnerships 

The idea of partnerships in business is nothing new. Enterprises have long built complex networks of partnerships under the reseller partnership model, transacting with end-users and downstream partners such as retailers, resellers, or managed service providers.

Today, referral partnerships are a new type of partnership model in which partners recommend and refer a businesses’ products to their shared target customers. In fact, referral programs for small businesses are a great way to convert leads and expand your customer base.

Related: Here’s How to Increase Your Referral Traffic (Tips from 42 Marketers)

The Benefits of Partner Marketing

At the top of the list: partnership marketing helps businesses generate real growth. The kind that can only come from reaching and converting new prospects into customers, improving customer retention rates, and increasing customer lifetime value.

Well-established businesses can gain a more significant market share and increase their revenue. Meanwhile, smaller companies can generate more brand awareness and expand into new markets.

Because fruitful partnerships are built on trust-based and pre-existing relationships, they also enable businesses to cut through the noise and increase customer advocacy. And since many partnerships operate on a performance basis, where businesses only pay for results, partnership marketing is also cost-effective.

Why Does Partner Marketing Work? 

Fundamentally, partner marketing more accurately reflects the needs and journeys of modern customers and echoes how the world itself increasingly works. 

Moreover, when partners and brands combine their experience, resources, and imagination to meet their shared target customers’ needs, they can create more value at speed and scale than on their own.

Consider how SaaS companies focus on developing products while leaving the service and deciding on their B2B SaaS pricing model to intermediaries who perform those functions better. Partnership marketing helps businesses pivot, adapt to, and drive market disruptions. And as a result, industries can churn out innovative solutions and faster services for customers. This is so important, considering customer experience is a business’s key source of competitive advantage.

Different Types of Partner Marketing

Partnership marketing comes in a variety of shapes and strategies. Here are some of the most common partnerships.

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Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is probably the most popular partner marketing model, where publishers (bloggers, brands, websites) promote a company’s product or services in return for a commission. The affiliate partner gets paid when customers take the desired action – impressions, clicks, or sales. 

Distribution partnerships 

These occur when one brand promotes another by bundling up its products or services among its own. When they share a similar target audience, one brand can benefit from another’s distribution network in return for a fee. Brands with an aligned vision can also combine their marketing efforts. The Adidas x Yeezy collaboration is a famous example of mutually-beneficial cross-marketing.

Loyalty programs 

These are brand-to-brand partnerships customers find useful and whose benefits they enjoy. Customers who interact with the partner’s brand receive rewards that keep them coming back. Think of airlines that dole out frequent flier miles or loyalty points that can be collected through retail chain member cards.

Native software integrations 

These are brand-to-brand partnerships that harness new tech and share relevant data to enhance customer experiences. Ticketmaster, the premier ticketing company, now integrates with the music streaming service Spotify. While listening to favorite artists on Spotify, customers can tap through content embedded in the app to look up concert information and buy tickets. Spotify receives a cut of sold tickets, Ticketmaster generates new growth, and customers enjoy a more holistic product experience. 

Mobile partnerships 

These are another rapidly growing part of the B2B partnerships landscape. And this makes sense, given the increasing importance of the mobile app space.

Sponsorships 

These are one of the oldest types of partnerships. While sponsorship marketing is diverse, the sponsor typically vouches for the brand publicly. For example, brands sponsor creators on Youtube in exchange for endorsing their products.

Influencers 

These are a newer type of partnership marketing that has seen a massive uptick in popularity. Trusted brand ambassadors who have built their dedicated social following, influencers are already in the business of creating informational content. Unboxing videos, for example, or tutorials that show people how to get the most out of a high-quality product. Because they are already in conversation with your target customers, influencers add authenticity and help businesses get away from staid ad messaging. Even if paid, their recommendations carry weight. Influencers help you reach people who are not looking to be sold to through the creators they relate to most.

Content partnerships 

These are also becoming vital for enterprises and publishers looking to overcome the limits of traditional ad models. Brands can partner with media publishers who know their audiences in and out and leverage their trust to create enjoyable commerce content that adds value for target customers. The editorialized content around their products and services contains embedded referral links or promotion codes. Guest posting in exchange for backlinks is one example.

Did you know that at Databox, we collaborate with more than 30,000 to produce new content on a daily basis? And we would love to include insights as well.

Browse the opportunities below to contribute to our and our partners’ upcoming articles. 

6 Ways to Make Partnership Marketing Work

It’s tempting to play things by ear when you’re getting your partnership marketing off the ground and navigating its life cycle. However, you can follow a series of steps to save time and effort, avoid mistakes, and find the perfect partners. 

1. Find your ideal partners

You can conquer mistakes that prevent you achieving your business goals. And you can let your goals set the parameters of your best partnership use case. In general, ideal partners should be a good fit for your values and brand. What companies relate to your target audience? Do they have access to the right customers? Can they endorse your products credibly? Hypothesize how your business meshes with both the user experiences and customer relationships of potential partners.

Once you identify the partners with the right qualities, put your plan into action. Read their reviews to research partners and ask for references from previous collaborations. Think outside the box at this stage.

2. Agree on contract and pay

Unlike business partnerships, marketing partnerships don’t always involve legal contracts. However, the best way to set yourself up for long-term success is to agree on clear terms and conditions upfront. That way, you can prevent conflict down the line.

The form of your agreement could vary, but it should acknowledge the unique strengths and value each partner brings to the table. Lay out the rewards of your commissioning for the valuable conversions partners deliver and payment methods.

3. Track partnership activity

Transparency and trust are intrinsic to successful partnership marketing. You can activate it by tracking partner traffic and ensuring they receive due credit for driving it. Once you’ve determined the variables that will count as success, set up partners with a tracking infrastructure, a system that accurately identifies and records the source of sales and leads across channels and partners.

4. Support your partners

Make a good impression and bring partners into the fold with proper onboarding. Then, follow up with ongoing feedback on partner performance, ensuring partners have the training, resources, and strategic insights they need. 

5. Protect your program

The success of your partnerships lies in driving valid results. That means remaining vigilant against fraud and keeping tabs on partner compliance, both with the law (the marketing of expired offers, for example) and your agreement.

6. Optimize your process

Partnership marketing is an iterative process. To bring out the best in each other, you and your partner need to experiment. See what’s bringing in new prospects and be on the lookout for any underlying issues that could be hampering your competitiveness. With the right software tracking affiliate marketing efforts, for example, businesses can accurately evaluate partner value and reward them on a performance basis. Instead of relying on ad-hoc solutions, think about automating this process to optimize individual partnerships and your diverse mix of partners. The right tech also makes scaling quick, meaning future partners can get off on the right foot.

It Pays to Get Good at Partnerships, Now!

Although we’re in the early stages of partnership marketing, it’s already seen as the future. The sales and marketing efforts of many businesses are already topped out. Yet partnerships are humming along nicely. Brands committed to building partnership capabilities can deliver better value propositions, enter new markets, and create a competitive advantage. 

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We should really think of partnerships less as a part of marketing and sales and more as powerful engines of revenue growth in their own right. Remember that shared or similar target customers are the glue that brings businesses and partners together at every turn. And customer satisfaction and delight are what make partner marketing successful. 

About the author
Sam O'Brian
Sam O'Brian Sam O’Brien is the Chief Marketing Officer for Affise—a Global SaaS Partner Marketing Solution. He is a growth marketing expert with a product management and design background. Sam has a passion for innovation, growth, and marketing technology.
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