By generating leads and driving sales, marketing partnerships can help small businesses grow. Here I will share with you some of what I have learned over the past several years as I’ve leveraged partnerships to help grow JB Media Group. I will focus on B2B relationships and how to develop leads, sales, and collaborative content with other partners that will help grow sales relationships and business relationships.

Why Marketing Partnerships are Important

Partnerships often help build trust. Reaching new people and building trust is challenging and takes time. Communicating with an existing audience or contact is much easier. A cold lead or a first-time outreach can be turned into a warmer lead or warmer contact if a partner is making the introduction, because they have already built trust with their audiences and business contacts. The same is true when you’re collaborating to create content or conduct a training together. Those relationships can really elevate the trust and confidence that sales leads and other new business contacts will have in you because they already trust the partner you’re working with.

Thinking creatively about partnerships can equal big wins for a variety of different types of businesses, even those who do not have large marketing budgets. It takes time to create and maintain these relationships, but many types of partnerships can be built for free or at a low cost.

Different Types of B2B Marketing Partnerships

Here is a list of different types of potential B2B partners:

Mentors and Advisors

Mentors and business advisors are a key source for partnerships. When I started JB Media Group I put together a list of around six advisory board members. This was an informal, ad-hoc group. Overall, I would say that close to half of our business in the first three or four years came from my relationship with my mentors and advisors. Some of them introduced me to other people who became mentors or people who referred business to my company.

Non-Competitive Businesses in Your Industry

Form strategic partnerships with non-competitive peers. Seek out companies within your industry that don’t do the exact same type of work as you. JB Media is a full-service digital marketing agency. We have built partnerships with web development companies, software development companies, business coaching businesses, and other relevant businesses that provide services that are complementary to what we do, but not an exact match.

We refer business to our partners and they refer business to us. We sometimes collaborate on trainings and event presentations. Sometimes partners bring us in to consult for one of their clients, which can sometimes result in a larger contract for both agencies.

We also sometimes refer clients who are not a good fit for our agency to partners that are smaller local companies or freelancers that perform similar services. We send business down market and sometimes they send business back to us if they come across a project that’s too big or too national in nature, or if the client needs a service we offer that they don’t. As our agency scales up and spreads our reach nationally, I am working to build partnerships with much larger agencies who could send us projects that are smaller in scope than the ones they typically handle.

Business Associations and Trade Organizations

You can build partnerships with business associations and trade organizations like your local Chamber of Commerce or Restaurant Association. Seek out organizations you are suited to do a training partnership with. Attend their events in order to build relationships and leads.

Media Companies

Build relationships with media companies that are interested in publishing content relevant to your industry and your audiences. We’ve created content for several local magazines, such as Capital At Play, that are read by local business owners. As we have moved into a larger national distribution of our sales efforts, we’re working with media companies that have national reach, including Conscious Company Media, because we know getting our content published in their outlets will help put us in front of the types of companies we want to attract as clients.

Leadership Training Programs

I’ve had a lot of success getting leads from leadership programs I’ve participated in. I have completed Leadership Asheville, Leadership North Carolina, Hive Global Leaders, and StartingBloc. In all four cases I have received sales leads that turned into business from my cohort or other alumni by way of the social media platforms and email platforms that they provide to their alumni.

Events and Conferences

We have partnered with several different events. Sometimes we help market the event and get a sponsorship in exchange. For other events we provide content in the form of workshops or panels. In those cases, we can attend and get value from our presence and the exposure we receive.

Nonprofit Organizations

It is often possible to sponsor a nonprofit organization so that you may attend their events. If the organization’s audience is similar to yours, you can get leads and referrals. This is called “cause marketing.” Helping a nonprofit can have an impact of showing your business in a positive light to an organization’s donors and their followers who may need what you offer.

Common Outcomes of Partnerships

Here are a few outcomes that you can hope to achieve through partnerships:

  • Expand your contact lists and digital social network to include larger numbers of your target audiences. You can build these relationships through your partners by getting warm introductions.
  • Support your own content marketing efforts by building content together with your partners.
  • Receive warm qualified leads in the form of direct referrals from your partners. Your partners can make introductions for you, advocate for your business, or recommend your services.

Strategies to Generate Warm Introductions to Potential Partners

Here are strategies that may help you generate warm introductions to potential partners that you don’t have relationships with yet and help you take early stage relationships to the next level.

Curate and Lead Panels at Events for Your Target Audiences

One strategy is to offer to moderate or organize a panel for an event or conference and then invite your ideal partners as the panelists. This puts you in a position of authority and leadership in which you are giving the potential partner an opportunity to give a sales or thought leadership presentation to an audience. You will get a lot of value from being the organizer.

I’ve done this before locally in Asheville and right now I’m working on a panel at a conference in San Francisco that could generate a lot of business for us as well the panelists I’ve invited. The event is one of the largest conferences in the fields of social impact entrepreneurship and impact investing. I’ve been approved to put together a panel of five or six communications and marketing professionals.

I’m going to attract companies that are larger than us to that panel so that I can create the types of partnerships (with larger organizations) I was talking about earlier. My hope is to build relationships with them because we don’t do exactly the same thing as any of the other companies. I am inviting non-competitive peers as well as larger competitors to build those types of partnerships I mentioned before.

Interview Potential Partners to Create Content

Another thing you can do is start a podcast, radio show, or video series where you interview your potential partners as examples of people doing the kind of work you want to show off. We do this from time to time through our training program and through videos.

Local radio shows can be an option for that as well. Use whatever medium is most comfortable for you or you feel most meets your your availability and your needs. People love to be featured in interviews. Interviewing can be a way to get to know potential partners better. Follow up afterwards for a conversation about how you could work together in a more substantial way. They are a form of warm introductions that you create by hosting them.

If audio or video content is challenging for you for whatever reason, then consider writing an e-book and working with partners as contributors. That is a great way to work through that challenge.

Make the Most of Events

We attend a lot of events and conferences and I often find myself concerned with whether or not I’m doing a good enough job at making relationships. I’m somewhat introverted so when I’m at large events, I can feel a little bit overwhelmed.

But I’ve come away recently with a goal of returning from events with two or three really good leads for partners rather than trying to talk to everyone. Feel out the room. Look at who is going to be there beforehand and go straight to the people you want to connect with. Bring your energy and your A-game. I can only maintain that energy for a couple of hours.

Put your energy toward building strong relationships with the people that could lead to a major step forward or step up in your business and then retreat until you get the rest and recuperation that you need so that you can do your best work.

This advice may only be helpful for introverts like me who need that kind of approach. If your business development person is extremely extroverted, they may be able to talk to 20 or 30 people a day. Then after the event they can cull down and focus the list afterwards.

Do Your Research

I wanted to mention—and this is especially true if you’re about to meet someone who you think could be a life-changer game-changing partner—always do your research.

I’ve had several meeting with people who became mentors. I did a lot of research before going into those meetings. I looked at their history, their education, how they started their company, where they hit roadblocks in their career to find a point of connection. That has always led to stronger relationships from the get-go which usually leads to deeper long-term and more meaningful relationships.

It Takes Time to Maintain Partnerships

I think it’s important to meet with partners quarterly even if it is a phone call or video chat. You may be inclined to meet more frequently with very large partners. At a minimum, touch base with your major partners at least a couple of times a year. This is an opportunity to check in and see if they are working anything exciting that you could collaborate with them on. And remember, it is critical to send them leads and referrals, too.

For more of Justin’s insights and examples of how to develop B2B marketing partnerships that will drive leads and increase online sales, watch his recent JB Media Digital Drop-In class embedded above.