- What do Tim Hortons, Justin Bieber, and Instagram have in common? Successful strategic partnership and collaboration. A partnership isn’t a one-time, short-term thing. It allows all parties to grow and mutually benefit from the arrangement if there is clear communication from the start.
- Self-professed “rookie mom” and change catalyst Agnes Lan loves relationships, but she tapped fresh motivation by digging her heels in over COVID. She developed a growth strategy to accelerate and thrive during lockdown — and to maintain momentum in the “new normal.”
- Partnerships are not reserved for big business alone. Connect, grow, and remember the unique skill set your team brings to the table.
In 2016, the B2B partnership between Red Bull and GoPro became the talk of the marketing world. The energy drink company saw a unique opportunity to collaborate on an out-of-this-world campaign, with Red Bull-sponsored athletes using GoPros to film themselves floating in outer space and to live stream highlights from its network of over 1,800 international sporting events.
Developing successful B2B partnerships doesn’t have to be rocket science, but key takeaways from the energy drink and camera technology mash-up are still relevant today. The Red Bull-GoPro model is just one of the topics I discuss with my guest Agnes Lan, the Vice President of Sales for Change Connect and CEO of Kinderdrop, in a special Growth Month interview.
Here, Agnes details her steps to achieve partnerships and shares case studies of successful capacity collaboration.
3… 2… 1… Blast off!
Why do we find it hard to leverage our relationships for strategic growth? Even when working in sales and cultivating relationships daily, pitching a B2B partnership proposal can feel like a leap into the unknown.
How can small businesses attract and approach collaborations with larger organizations?
Agnes says it’s important to “stop saying you have nothing to give.” Remember: Regardless of size, if your business is successful, it is sought after and stands apart from its competitors. Without self-confidence, B2B partnership possibilities might slip through your hands.
When you’re ready to draft a proposal, Agnes cautions against getting into business with friends. A “beer buddy” mentality can lead you down a path of destruction. Even if you enjoy someone’s company and believe they run an inspiring organization, you may not have a common goal and similar revenue expectations.
Approach B2B partnerships critically and make sure you can pinpoint your desired return on investment.
After consulting for twenty years and specializing in sales for the last decade, Agnes knows the elements of successful B2B partnerships. She identifies the three key indicators of success as:
- A mutually beneficial reason for both parties to come together
- A communicated and agreed-on common purpose
- An exciting revenue goal
Ideally, B2B partnerships are complementary pursuits. The skill sets, networks, and missions of each team should enhance the other.
Skillset, mindset: Oppose versus overlap
Agnes points out that too many overlapping skills mean “partnerships become less dependent on each other. And if there’s less dependency, it’s hard to hang on.”
She adds that most partnership arrangements fail due to “a missing common goal.”
But with clear communication, a mutually beneficial goal (such as a revenue target) can clarify the division of labor and point both partners toward success.
Communication is essential when navigating logistics. When working with an external organization, it’s important for each partner to have defined roles.
“They are not in the same room as you or Slacking you every day,” says Agnes. “So if you don’t set expectations about logistics … it will be tough for [your partner] to meet your expectations.”
Agnes encourages teams to work towards milestones on their way to their goals, which motivates all parties, offers easy check-in points, and provides time to pivot or readjust. Every day, Agnes talks to people from small consulting firms who think partnerships only exist for bigger players.
If you are pooling human resources, each voice becomes crucial.
The minute one voice goes quiet, it sidetracks the success of everyone involved. Agnes encourages smaller teams to pool their interns, website builders, and social media enthusiasts and view their headcount as the full community, not individual employees.
With new colleagues in your corner, collective action is an instant confidence boost and makes smaller companies appear bigger than they seem.
Small but mighty: Don’t stand in your own way
To honor collaboration and community, Agnes decided to create Small Mighty Events, a summit for small and mid-level consultancies with the end goal of becoming stronger together.
“Dig deep into why you are so good at what you do, and articulate why you’re so good at what you do,” she says.
Peer recognition is a reusable and natural resource for B2B partnership momentum. Her summits have drawn up to 150 attendees at a time and continue to see results. She is currently working with a group of five other mid-size consulting firms, and says “the small guys don’t know how to articulate or how to ask.”
With this platform and newfound encouragement, the potential for success becomes limitless.
B2B partnership case studies
When Agnes speaks of successful B2B partnerships, she specifically highlights two of her favorite models:
The Biebs Brew: Tim Hortons and Justin Bieber
Last November, the Canadian coffee institution Tim Hortons partnered with pop star (and London, Ontario native) Justin Bieber. Together, they achieved a common goal: reaching a younger demographic.
What started as one bite in the market has grown into a full menu of drinks, food, and merchandise. Legions of new Timmy’s fans agree: It tastes like success.
The collaboration began in 2021 with the launch of “Timbiebs” and continues this year with Biebs Brew, hats, and other fashion accessories. The collaboration featured heavily on both Tim Hortons’ and Bieber’s social media channels with trending hashtags like #timbiebs and #bieberballs. Agnes highlights the case study as a terrific example of both increased brand visibility and accessibility.
Off (and on) the grid: Home Depot and Instagram
This B2C partnership was instrumental in driving Home Depot’s Canadian sales in the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.
The marketing team at Home Depot was quick to realize that while Instagram users scroll in search of home-renovation inspiration, they can make in-app purchases as well.
Now, Instagram provides the link to each Home Depot item users tag in their posts, detailing the aisle in which they can find it and whether next-day delivery is available — making nesting in a crisis as simple as possible.
Building a future with your own blueprint
Armed with Agnes’s tips for motivation and self-confidence, the rest is up to you.
Sales and marketing are relationship-focused industries; most entrepreneurs already have the tools to build the B2B partnerships of their dreams. Reach for the stars while keeping your big-picture goals on the horizon, prioritize excellent communication, and chances are, your results will be out of this world.
This post is based on a talk produced as part of Growth Month. Organized by Autoklose, a VanillaSoft brand, this monthlong virtual event in June 2022 featured 48 experts who share insights, strategies, and tactics for growing startups while providing the opportunity to connect entrepreneurs, marketers, and sales professionals from around the world.