Partnerships, or joint marketing campaigns, is a marketing tactic we love and often flies under the radar at early-stage startups. This post aims to fix that by providing a quick guide to planning and executing successful campaigns with partners.

This is the third post in our new series about boosting demand generation quickly. Here are the other posts:

Here are a couple of examples of joint marketing campaigns from our clients.

TrueAccord, a FinTech scaleup, partnered with Experian — a $5B public company with access to all of TrueAccord’s potential clients.

OpenLegacy, an Israeli startup selling to global enterprises, produced a joint webinar with BigID, another Israeli startup with a complementary product targeting the same audience. 

Why are partnership marketing campaigns so great?

  1. They’re a strong and cost-effective demand generation tool. You get (indirect) access to your partner’s database, allowing you to add fresh, clean, interested leads to your database for free. These leads can be from new companies in your target market, and / or different buying personas within your target companies. 

  2. They’re a way to look bigger than you are, enjoy brand halo from your partner, and present your offering as part of a larger solution ecosystem. One of our clients, a 30-person Series A startup, ran a joint webinar with Marketo — a much bigger, well-known brand, reaping the benefits of excellent brand adjacency, and lots of new leads.  

  3. In the partnership campaigns we shoot for, no money changes hands. This makes them easy and fast to execute, and appropriate for early-stage startups with limited budgets.

Note: the companies you partner with for joint marketing campaigns do not need to be technology or business development / sales partners of your company (though they could be). In fact, pure marketing collaborations are easier and faster to execute, as they don’t need investment or buy-in from your tech or legal teams.

Guidelines for planning and running a successful joint marketing campaign with a partner

Picking a partner

Build a list of like-minded companies, selling to your audience but not competitive.

Example: When we worked with a Series A, NYC-based startup selling to retail marketing leaders, we partnered with several other NYC-based early-stage startups selling non-competitive products to the same audience. With a FinTech scaleup selling to large financial institutions, we partnered with a team within Experian which sells complementary products to the same audience. (Experian is also a larger, older company with a well-known brand—and even major network TV commercials. Talk about a brand boost.)

How to find these companies? Research conference sponsors, see what other tools your customers are using, and who’s advertising in industry publications. 

Go for “quality over quantity:” A single partner with strong brand recognition in your target market and a complementary marketing message will outperform multiple partners with questionable fit.

How to connect with potential partners

No groundbreaking advice here. Getting introduced through a mutual connection is always helpful, but we’ve had success even with cold messages on LinkedIn. If you’re targeting a relevant person and company with a compelling partnership idea, there’s a good chance they’ll be interested. Larger companies often have a dedicated partnerships or business development manager, tasked with making partnerships happen. 

Picking a topic

Look for a topic where each partner can present a unique angle, and the combined presentation feels synergistic, not contrived. A few ideas:

  • A joint customer success story is always a crowd pleaser; separate success stories or different use cases can also work. 

  • Commentary on industry news or technological developments.

  • How your products play together, and lead to new benefits for the audience (1+1=3). 

Choosing a channel for your joint campaign

Should you run a joint webinar? Or co-author a research report? Any channel can work. We’ve had success with webinars, content, and events (both self-produced as well as in third party conferences). It makes sense to choose a channel that at least one partner is an expert in, so they could lead execution. 

Setting expectations

As with any collaboration, setting expectations in advance is critical to a successful campaign. Here are the main elements to discuss and agree upon before starting to work on a joint campaign. Create a shared document that lists these elements and the decisions you make to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.

  1. Timeline, time commitment, and stakeholder availability. Build a calendar with clear milestones and deadlines. It’s great to have the partner’s CEO as a webinar speaker — as long as the partner makes sure she’s available for the three prep meetings leading up to the webinar.

  2. Who’s doing what. Who’s in charge of setting up the Zoom webinar? Who’s creating the visual assets? Who’s sending speaker gifts? 

  3. Promotional plan. Make sure you’re on the same page regarding campaign promotion. Email marketing is a key promotional channel, so ask in advance what’s the partner’s email database size, and what’s their plan for promoting the campaign via email. If the partner has a smaller email database or plans to do less email promotions than you, that may be OK, but you want to know it in advance. 

  4. Lead sharing. We aim to share all leads who engaged with the campaign, regardless of who brought them in. If your partner has a different approach, find out about it before you partner, and make sure you’re good with it. 

  5. Post-campaign follow up. Just as important as what’s happening before and during the campaign. Where are you publishing the event’s recording? What follow up is each of you doing? Best to plan in advance so you can promptly follow up. 

  6. Budget. In case you’re collaborating on an initiative that requires spending money (for example, a joint dinner at a conference), build a detailed budget and confirm the budget split in writing.

The bottom line

Partnering is an exciting opportunity to broaden your reach, learn from others, and have fun. ✨ Avoiding partnership pitfalls and focusing on each partner’s strengths will set you up for mutual campaign success and lasting relationships.

Further reading