A successful Internet business is rarely built on upon a one pillar. Rather, winning e-commerce formulas usually develop from ‘balanced’ campaigns that integrate a wide spectrum of sound business practices. Having a viable core product or service is essential. A credible website that establishes your professionalism – and that’s easy to buy from – is equally imperative. And profitable e-businesses always target the right customers with intelligent, cost-effective marketing strategies.
Depending on your business model, tactics like search engines optimization, e-zine advertising, PR campaigns, and affiliate programs can all serve as valuable marketing vehicles. The Internet is replete with information on these topics, and it’s hard to open an email without confronting the latest news on search engine optimization or super-affiliates.
However, there is one critical element that is consistently and conspicuously absent in all these e-commerce discussions: partnership. In the business world, partnership goes by many euphemisms. But whether you’re saying ‘strategic alliance’, ‘biz dev’, ‘joint venture’, or ‘tactical relations’, it still comes down to one thing: businesses working together towards common, mutually beneficial goals.
When two or more businesses forge a relationship, the collaboration must add up to more than the sum of its collective parts. Partnership means research, it means creative thinking, and it involves give and take – and often the pay-off is less immediate than simply buying a few keywords. However, in the long run, the benefits may be more far-reaching and more profound than all your other marketing strategies combined.
So what’s an effective partnership? It’s a union that creates a powerful synergism between two complementary enterprises or entities. True partnerships are symbiotic and are established in good faith. They build relationships aimed not only at achieving mutual business goals – but toward meeting the needs of the collective customers of both businesses. In most cases, partnership will be determined by the needs of the target consumer audience that both businesses serve and share – and this is where you should be looking.
Consider co-branding and bundling products with a complementary business in order to create a novel product or unique product configuration – one that builds and enhances value for both parties. Look for cross-promotional opportunities determined by the needs of your mutual customers – then satisfy those needs while serving a new niche. Look at how computer software and hardware companies have partnered. Through bundling, the value of two distinct products (from two distinct firms) can be multiplied exponentially – and with twice the marketing front. For evidence, look at the desktop of almost any top-brand computer.
While the partnership has since gone sour, Amazon.com and Toys-R-Us developed a different partnership relationship in 2000 where Amazon established the e-tailing storefront and Toys-R-Us operated the inventory and fulfillment back-end to the empowerment of both companies. In e-B2B, an e-commerce web design company may partner with a search engine marketing company. Here, everyone benefits – including the clients of the web design company who may be receiving discounted registration packages.
Partnership can succeed on any scale – large or small – as long as there is synergism. Your company may be able to provide discounted services to a well-known organization and the organization will, in turn, offer exposure for you. Or your company may provide a steady stream of customers to a company that can simultaneously return that favor. PR and press release opportunities are also enhanced when two or more companies join forces. Sometimes, the forging of alliance is itself newsworthy. From simple cross-linking and banner exchanges to the co-branded integration of software applications, partnership can have powerful results and position you for vital relationships later.
At the payment processing company where I work, we’ve developed our own partnership program (a Co-op Program), where we absorb the majority of the cost of developing an e-commerce website – but only for a qualifying client with a high transaction business model. The benefit to the client: they receive a polished e-commerce website for a fraction of the price. The benefit to the company is: we continue to develop a healthy network of payment processing clients by bringing on businesses with high transaction potential (armed with websites optimized for sales).
The truest (and most lucrative) partnerships are established when the goals for both parties are the same and success is mutually determined. In any of its various forms, partnership and strategic alliance is, more often than not, geared toward long-term, high-impact results. It’s not about an immediate infusion of leads or myopic quick-burn marketing. Partnership is about patient e-commerce; it’s about intentionality and infrastructure; it’s about cultivating business momentum. The brands and businesses we know by name today are built on these principles.