Forming an alliance

During the last few weeks, my colleague and I at +IDea Agency were trying to collaborate with different types of companies. A few days ago, we decided to visit a few printing companies. The aim in our heads was simply for the printing company to refer our marketing, branding or web development services to customers with related needs, and in exchange we would offer 15% of the final earnings with the end customer.

We thought that making such a deal would be easy, as we were offering these companies extra money in return for minimum effort. Turns out, people aren’t so keen on the idea.

This is me after 4 hours of walking around and talking to printing companies.

frustration photo: frustration frustration.gif

After a few long and frustrating days, Lucas and I decided to have a conversation in an attempt to understand why this was happening.

We discussed different things, from what we were wearing, how we were introducing ourselves, how fast people were saying “NO” to our offer, our body language and so on.

I’ve been trying to build products and services that people need and want to use for over three years now, and I know that whatever someone does, they will end up pitching it in one way or another. At the end of the day, our approach for collaboration was nothing more than a pitch.

If you have some experience in business, marketing or customer service, you’ll already know that in order to maximize your chances of sales, you need to design a good pitch and test it, observe people’s reaction, redesign the pitch and re-test it. You have to repeat this five step process a few times, receive at least 100 negative answers, and only then will you be in a position to get the positive response you were seeking from the very beginning.

So what did we learn?

This being the second pitch we’ve designed for potential collaborators, we managed to observe several things. A few of them include; Don’t wear a suit – Make a connection in advance – Talk only to the boss.

Don’t wear a suit

We went into small shops and warehouses wearing smart suits. The first thing we noticed was people staring, with one question in their heads; Who the heck are you? I don’t want to buy anything.

As soon as people are prepared to say no to buying something, they will stop listening to what you have to say. This is how a consumers’ mind works. It could be argued that business people are not consumers, they are professional buyers. Many people, including myself, believe that small business people behave more as consumers and less as professional buyers.

If a consumer makes a bad purchasing decision, it isn’t likely to have a negative effect on his life or career. By contrast, when a business makes a bad decision, it could end in the worst case scenario; going out of business.

 There are two main points here:
 Point number one: If you enter my premises wearing a suit and I don’t know you, you are probably a salesman.
 Point number two: I want to avoid bad purchases, so I lock myself into one and only response to anything you offer, NO!

Outcome of the above observation

This means that the next time we drop in on someone uninvited, we won’t wear a suit. This doesn’t mean we won’t look sharp. We need to keep a professional image, by any means. A nice pair of jeans and a smart shirt should do the trick.

Make connection in advance

In the period of 5 days we managed to create 2 alliances. Yes! They said, “YES, we like the idea.

We did one thing differently with them; we contacted them in order to purchase their services initially, spent some time together, and we got to see how they think and work. They got to see how we think and work, as well. After the connection was made, there was no reason for them to say no. We are positive that they are going to recommend our services to more than one of their clients.

But what if you don’t want or need to purchase a product or service from someone, but you still want to create an alliance with them?

It’s obvious that if you work closely with someone, it’s likely to create a relationship that allows you to go further. It’s also important to create relationships with people whose products or services we don’t necessarily use.

When this question came into our heads, we decided to go back to the basics. Among our services at @IDeaBranding, we offer social media marketing as well. When we work with our customers we try to be strategic, to create connections with their customers on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and so on, helping them share their message and interact with their target audience. We realized that we need to take similar approach for our own needs.

Outcome of the above observation

Now, before we pay a visit to someone’s workplace, we find them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, Instagram and so on. Then we try to interact with them, favourite some of their tweets, like and share things they share on Facebook, give answers to their questions, even take a picture holding their logo and tag them on it! We do whatever we can to get their attention. Once we have their attention, we can be more certain that they’ll read our email, and come one step closer to create the collaboration we need.

An extra pointer: Before you send an email or follow-up email check this article out: http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2014/08/12/email-etiquette-for-entrepreneurs/ @Belle gives some amazing email pointers here!

Talk only to the boss

The companies we visited are mainly small. Due to their nature, the major decision maker was the owner of the company.

We found that the employees of the companies don’t want work harder than their position requires them to do. They usually won’t bother to understand the purpose of your visit, or any benefits an alliance would bring to the company they work for. They just want to do what they get paid to do, simple.

If you’re trying to create an alliance with a large company, on the other hand, then you’ll need to deal with the gatekeepers. Each different company has a different kind of hierarchy; big companies tend to have a so called “Tall” structure, which, by nature, doesn’t allow people in different levels of the hierarchy to communicate directly. You will need to start from the lower levels and make your way up. This could take anywhere from few days to a few months, good luck!

An extra pointer: Follow this link http://www.cornerstoneondemand.com/blog/office-hierarchies#.U-4Ku_ldXng It will help you understand the basics about hierarchy if you don’t already know. Say thank you to Charles Coy of @CornerstoneInc for the pointers on hierarchy.

Outcome of the above observation

As mentioned above, the next trial should include activities such as connecting with the decision makers of the company we wish to form an alliance with. Connection can happen through interaction in social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ etc

How can this be done more effectively? (Suggestions for all the readers)

Facebook

When using Facebook, you should first “like the company’s page. Once that’s done, make sure to follow the posts that the company shares, and if you have an opportunity, interact with them by commenting on their services and products. Do this for a few weeks or days, and then send an email. The receiver is likely to be familiar with your name or your company’s name – it depends if you’re using your personal or professional account on Facebook.

Keep in mind that Facebook is more a consumer tool. Don’t rely on it for your professional connections.

Ben Pickering says it even better in an article from the “Social Media Examiner,Facebook, by its nature, is a more compelling consumer communications channel than it is for business-to-business. Don’t forget that behind every business are consumers. With over 900 million active users, you can bet that your target customer is on Facebook.

Twitter

If you are not using Twitter, start now. It is known that Twitter is the ‘perfect customer service tool’. That means that you can offer great customer service, using only Twitter, to answering questions and more.

Searching Twitter’s database, you’ll soon realise that you can find everyday people like yourself; you can also access accounts from companies, newspapers, and journalists. Using your findings wisely, you can grab the attention of people, leading to connections and collaborations.

“Explore B2B,” an online professional community, is a good example of using your Twitter account, in combination with other online tools such as your company’s website or blog, to support your users with market research.

I filled out a survey they offered, and found two books I’d like to read. This is called a win-win situation in the business world, and you need to keep this mind; when you communicate with potential customers or collaborations, make sure that you offer a win-win deal for both sides.

LinkedIn

Another social network that is widely used by professionals and businesses is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a bit different than the rest of the online platforms, because people think of it as a serious platform. This means that your profile should be serious as well.

Use keywords in your profile that reflect your services and products. This will give LinkedIn users the opportunity to find you when they are searching for your services. Find ways to present your work on your profile; maybe write an article or something.

Another thing you can do on LinkedIn is join groups. So try to seek out groups where your customers can be found, join the groups, follow the conversations, and help people at every opportunity. Do anything that will bring attention to you and your company. By giving attention you can receive attention.

An example of a group someone could join on LinkedIn

G+

There are more social networks you can use, such as G+, which is very useful for your SEO if you use it properly. SEO is important if you want to be found easily when someone is searching for services or products you offer in a search engine. Google is the one of the most popular search engines out there, and the words content you use on your G+ account is crucial to your position in a Google search.

Foursquare

Platforms such as Foursquare can help your business receive feedback from direct users and position you in the map. Be careful though, many businesses may receive a negative feedback! Make sure actions follow-up on the negative feedback you will receive.

Keep in mind

Instagram, Flickr, YouTube: These sites have a different format, where someone shares images or videos. Sharing content that show off your product or service can help spread word of mouth, both offline and online.

An extra pointer: Make sure that you are using a Twitter account and that you check it often, as people will complain about your service before they even call you.

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