How to Leverage Referral Partners as Growth Drivers for Your Small Business

Achieving sustainable and consistent growth is a challenge that many small business owners struggle with. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the limitations of time and the demands of running the business on a day-to-day basis. Recognizing these challenges, business owners need to be as smart as they can about how and where to focus their growth efforts.

One of the most cost- and time-effective pathways to growth is through business and referral partnerships. Partnerships offer a number of advantages. The first is that they help you reach new prospects through the relationships of others; the second is that they ensure that new leads are passed on by people who can already vouch for your company’s quality and expertise; and the third is that partners themselves can sometimes become prospects as well.

With all of these advantages on the table, it’s clear that growth-minded small businesses would greatly benefit from putting partnership strategy at the forefront of their efforts. With that in mind, here are three keys you can use to start your partnership process on the right footing:

Step One: Identify and Categorize

The first step is to identify your current and potential business and referral partners. Ideally, these should be business owners and leaders in complementary industries or service areas who cross paths with prospects and influencers who are in your target market. This sounds like a narrow list, but actually it can be quite expansive once you think about all of the possibilities.

One of the best ways to build a database of initial partners is to make a comprehensive list of partner categories first, then try to attach one to three contacts to each category. For example, if you know bankers would be a relevant group with whom to partner, consider categorizing them into commercial bankers, investment bankers, mortgage bankers, wealth managers and alternative lenders (such as factoring services). Now you have five distinct categories of potential banking partners to work with, not just one.

After you’ve created your categories and identified your potential partners, rank those individual contacts on the basis of factors such as how well you know them and they know you; your sense of their expertise and alignment with your target client base; and the depth of your current relationship.

Step Two: Present and Pitch

It may seem obvious, but you need to pitch to your partners exactly as you would pitch to your prospects. Astoundingly, this is exactly where the great majority of business owners err, because they instinctively assume that their partners know them and their business well enough already, and that presenting to them again is boring or unnecessary.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Chances are, your partners like you personally and have a vague sense of your business, but since they’re not actual customers they have no day-to-day experience of what your business is about. As a result, you need to spend more time educating partners, not less.

Remember, it takes the average sales prospect 7-9 specific encounters with your brand before they begin to really understand your business and its areas of expertise. The same is true for partners, so don’t hesitate — present your pitch to each partner just as you would if they were an actual sales prospect (and remember that, in some cases, they probably are).

Step Three: Offer Options and Opportunities

One challenge with partnering is that it is challenging to maintain forward progress over time. You get busy, they get busy and you both start to lose traction. That’s why it is imperative that you offer your partners multiple options for becoming, and staying, engaged with you in ways that could be mutually beneficial over time. These can include such steps as:

  • -Arranging regular networking and lead-share breakfasts among a group of non-competing partners
  • Holding periodic briefings for partners and giving each partner a chance to present to the group
  • Interviewing a partner for a blog article or other marketing communication
  • Offering to co-author a resource or hold a shared event that brings in prospects who are a fit for both companies.

Remember, two Rolodexes are more powerful than one, so don’t hesitate to offer the option of preparing and executing joint marketing and sales efforts to your best partners. The effort will pay you back many times over.

These three steps represent valuable and essential keys you can use to drive growth in your business today through the power of partnerships. Don’t hesitate to begin…and then see how your customer base expands as your partner network brings lasting benefits back to your business.

Image Credit: Perzon SEO (Creative Commons)
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