Your company develops web content management software, but lacks robust translation capabilities. Or perhaps you’re a communications consultancy looking for ways to enhance your social media offerings. For many organizations, partnering with an industry peer that excels in a particular business area or specialty is preferable to investing the large amount of capital and resources required to expand and enhance product offerings.

If you’re a business-to-business (B2B) organization, forming B2B partnerships can enable you to produce the best results for your clients and customers. This is especially critical in today’s business environment, which is more volatile and more competitive than ever.

Fostering collaboration between not only your employees, but also with other companies, can be highly beneficial regardless of the industry. In addition, leveraging B2B partnerships can improve customers’ access to products, expand your company’s product and service offerings, and increase efficiency throughout your value chain.

Finding B2B Partners

Unlike business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, B2B organizations present an extra challenge when it comes to developing fruitful partnerships. Ideally, your B2B partner will be a company in a similar industry that offers products and services that complement yours.

Though B2B entails companies selling to other companies (rather than an individual consumer), it’s still individual contact and personal relationships that ultimately initiates and cements a B2B partnership. Thus, it’s worthwhile to know where to go to for networking, as well as how to tap into existing networks to uncover potential business opportunities.

Industry conferences and trade shows, professional networking events and traditional word-of-mouth referrals are common avenues business owners pursue when looking for B2B partner candidates. However, with social media being the ideal tool for connecting people and organizations of similar interests and professions, there are several business networking sites you can use to jumpstart your search.

Scouring LinkedIn groups is a good start. However, you can take your online search even further by checking out websites like SunZu for industry experts and business owners or StartupNation for entrepreneurs.

Narrowing Down the Shortlist

When finalizing your recruitment list, keep in mind the qualities and characteristics that will deliver the results you’re seeking in a partnership. For example:

  • Find partners who will be a good fit with your team. Look for organizations that will mesh well with your company’s mission, vision and corporate culture. It’s crucial to partner with businesspeople who are not only capable of capturing your company’s message, but also open to learning your business inside and out.
  • Find partners who are established in your industry. Research the organization’s reputation. If possible, ask for references from their existing partners. Flip through their annual report, or establish a proposal process that evaluates key points, such as profitability and overall growth.
  • Find partners who are proactive. Does your potential B2B partner uncover emerging opportunities and developing trends in your industry? You’ll want to work closely with companies that can identify new opportunities and volunteer innovative ideas and approaches for doing business and building your customer base.
  • Find partners who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. While you should collaborate with businesspeople who will be team players, you’ll also want to avoid working with someone who will be hesitant to question established standards and practices. Your partners should be good listeners, but also capable of voicing opinions that will help each organization reach its goal as well as meet customers’ product and service needs.

Marshal Internal Resources

Additionally, consider building an internal team or channel program that focuses on business development and recruiting business partners. Typically, this responsibility is assigned to a Business Development Manager or Channel Sales Manager who focuses on identifying and recruiting complementary and even competing companies for future partnerships.

You’ll want to build a business development team that boasts significant sales experience, industry knowledge and brings a vetted list of industry contacts to your organization. Your channel sales team should not only support and cultivate partner relationships, but also help develop thought leadership and other sales collateral to support your sales and marketing efforts.

Building and Nurturing Partnerships

When building your partner relationships, start gradually by establishing simple goals that allow both you and your partner to flex your strengths. You can begin by developing joint marketing campaigns that focus on lead generation, but also produce positive publicity that benefits your brand and builds credibility in the sector.

Continuously strengthen your relationships by sending over qualified leads to your partner. Supporting your partners by referring other partners and customers as well as by providing support during marketing initiatives (e.g., staffing a partner’s booth at a trade show, and vice versa) can increase your long-term return on investment.

Likewise, you’ll want to continually update your partner agreement, make adjustments where needed and be open to terminating the partnership when it’s no longer profitable for either party.

Advantages of B2B Partnerships

Though the benefits of B2B partnerships may be obvious, it helps to always be aware of the key advantages of establishing, maintaining and expanding a partner network. If you’re still unsure whether creating a B2B partnership is the right move for your organization, the following are three benefits commonly cited among companies that engage in B2B partnerships:

1. B2B partnerships expand your customers’ support network.

As you broaden your partner network, so does the availability of help and support resources for your clients. In addition to your own professional services and customer support team, your partner should be ready to present an entire team of professionals who can assist your customers with their issues and help them reach their business goals.

2. B2B partnerships help reduce the length of sales cycles.

According to accepted research, the number of touches it takes to close a sale depends on factors such as organization size, industry and customer needs. Nevertheless, it can take anywhere from 7 to 13-plus touches (e.g., advertisements, press releases, events, sales presentations, etc.) to close a sale, according to the Online Marketing Institute.

This is especially true in B2B business deals, which tend to feature long evaluation and buying cycles due to the high price tag and complexity of B2B products. Working with a partner that already has a “warm” lead may significantly reduce the number of touches required to finalize the sale, effectively shaving costs and shortening the normal B2B buying cycle.

3. B2B partnerships generate both customer and partner referrals.

As mentioned earlier, business partners can be a valuable source of new clients and repeat business. However, existing partner channels can also lead to new B2B partnerships. Make sure you build and strengthen your existing partner relationships while working on new partner opportunities that can lead to solutions your customers want or will need in the near future.