Startup Advice: How to Use LinkedIn to Create Successful Partnerships
I’ve been working with some startups lately and I’ve noticed that some of them don’t know how to partner with other companies. Why is this important? Well, for starters, startups are by nature running lean and looking for some big hits early on. Developing smart strategic partnerships is one of the ways you can make those things happen. Then there’s LinkedIn, a veritable goldmine of potential strategic relationships and partnerships that many, perhaps even most, startups are completely overlooking. That’s why I’m writing today—to bring some awareness for startups (and also businesses of all kinds and sizes) on why the LinkedIn platform is important, and also how to use LinkedIn to create successful partnerships. Note that I’m not in any way affiliated with LinkedIn, I am, however, a longtime user, and a big fan of the platform. It works, if you know how to use it.
There are plenty of great reasons to create a strategic partnership with another, complementary organization. A good strategic partnership will allow you to:
- Quickly create a larger following than you can do on your own.
- Grow your business and drive revenue.
- Get access to new markets, new ideas, technology, innovation, and resources.
- Speed up the time-to-market timeline for your product or service.
- Improve customer satisfaction.
- Spread and enhance reputation.
- Take advantage of the benefit of extra brainpower.
- Reduce risk.
- Reduce costs (through economies of scale).
- Obtain an alternative point of view.
Think about it. You likely have a great idea to build, launch, or promote something. Ideally, you want to do this as quickly, economically, and as successfully as possible, all with the least amount of risk. Before you begin using LinkedIn (or any platform) to develop strategic partnerships, here are some key points to consider.
Framing The Concept of the Partnership
Picking the right strategic partner is key. However, before you actually approach anyone about a strategic partnership, you’ll first want to clearly define your goals. This will allow you to decide which potential partners to approach.
Then, you’ll need to identify your strengths. What are you good at? What is easy for you to do? What are the best parts about your IP? This is what you’ll be bringing to the partnership and what the potential partner will most be interested in. If you walk into a partnership proposal with nothing but a list of “wants and needs” but nothing to offer in return, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The goal here is to make a strategic partnership proposal a win-win!
The next step is to identify your biggest weaknesses. They may be technological, financial, or have to do with customer acquisition, etc. These weaknesses are your gaps and it is these gaps which will help you identify the best potential partner. The best partner will be the partner that fills those gaps.
How to Use LinkedIn to Find the Right Strategic Partners
The first thing you’ll need to do once you have a preliminary list of potential strategic partners (or at least the criteria for potential partners) is to start your research. The easiest and best way to do this is on LinkedIn. If you don’t know which companies you would like to approach, start with a search of the criteria items, in both LinkedIn and Google. This will help you start a list.
When you have a target company in mind, visit their company page on LinkedIn. On that page, read the “About” section, see when they were founded and pay close attention to the number of employees. This will give you an indication of the company’s size. Most importantly, see what they have listed as their company specialties. Read their LinkedIn posts. Whether they end up being a potential strategic partner or not, follow the company on LinkedIn. It’s the click of a button for you, not as though it’s a ton of work. If you have a LinkedIn Premium account you’ll also see an “Insights” section that provides even more information. Here, you can see a lot of information about the company’s employees, including the growth trajectory, distribution, and tenure of their headcount. This will give you tell you if the company is in growth mode, staying the same, or reducing their headcount. As an aside, it’s totally worth the investment to have a Premium LinkedIn account. Last I checked, it was about $29a month, and for a small investment, you can tap into a lot more functionality from the platform.
How to Use LinkedIn to Find the Right People to Approach
Now, that you’ve got your strategic partner prospect list, you’ll have to find the right people at the company to approach. The best way into a company is through a referral versus a cold call. So again, head over to LinkedIn and go to the Company Page of your first target. On the Company Page, toward the top right, you’ll see, in blue, the words “See all # employees on LinkedIn.” Click that and you’ll get a list of all of the company’s employees on LinkedIn. The list will include their names, positions, location, what level connection they are to you and, most importantly, which LinkedIn connections you share with them. The first thing I do is to look for the right position of the person I’m trying to reach, depending on the type of project. I pay close attention to LinkedIn connections in common. Why do those mutual connections matter so much? You know people, they know people, sometimes you know some of the same people! That’s where the platform is extremely valuable.
The ultimate goal here is for you to be able to get to the decision maker and, in many instances, getting there by way of an email referral from a mutual friend or connection is going to be the quickest route to success. I know you might be tempted to cold-call the person, but trust me, getting to them via a referral gives you a better chance of success. There’s one exception to this; if you work for a large, very well-known company, making a cold call is fine.
Asking for a Referral From a Mutual Connection
If you have LinkedIn connections in common, display the list of the connections. Ask yourself things like: How connected am I to this person? Have I successfully worked with any of those connections? Will they be amenable to making an introduction of me and my company? Who on that connection list is most able to positively talk about you and your company?
Once you’ve answered those questions and maybe winnowed your list down a bit, start with the connections who obviously make the most sense. Next, using LinkedIn, message that connection (or you can also call them) to determine how close they actually are to the person at the company you’re trying reach. If they’re close with them, tell that person you’ll be sending them an email and that you’d very much appreciate them forwarding it to your target partner contact. Do not, under any circumstances, have them send an email on their own. This is really important! The goal is to have them forward YOUR email, making sure they ‘cc’ you. By doing so, you’ll have your initial pitch conveyed the way YOU want and an easy way to follow up with your target.
If you don’t have connections in common, you may have to get a little more creative and you may have to make a cold call, send a cold email or send a LinkedIn InMail. Each has its pros and cons. Do whichever you feel more comfortable doing—it’s up to you.
Making the Initial Contact
Once your referral has connected you via email to the right person at your target strategic partner, you’ll need to be more specific about your partnership idea. Your return email to the person should be clear, succinct, and concise. It should also mention that you’re going to send them a LinkedIn invite to connect, which you should do right away.
Since your goal is to get a meeting, either on the phone or in person, your email should briefly explain what you do, your idea for a partnership, why you think they would be a good partner and how a partnership would benefit both organizations, but focusing most on how they would benefit. Finally, mention how you’d appreciate ten minutes of their time, at their convenience, to talk about your idea.
Ten Minutes to Get Them Excited
If you get a ten-minute call on the books, you should send a one-page overview of your proposal to them a couple of days in advance. It should be short and easy to read. It should briefly mention who you are, what you do, your idea about a synergistic partnership and what the goals are. Your goal here is to get a longer meeting scheduled, preferably in person.
Creating the Pitch Deck
I like to use bulleted PowerPoint decks for presentations because I think it helps me quickly and easily lay out my thoughts, goals, and objectives. The deck shouldn’t be too long or too verbose. It should be an overview of a win-win proposal that includes bullets and data points on:
- Your background highlights and I stress the word “highlights.”
- Your clear objectives. What is your end goal?
- What you bring to the partnership and why you are an ideal partner.
- Why they are ideal partners and why did you decided to approach them.
- What they bring to the partnership and how you would like them to participate.
- The potential for mutual wins of the partnership by joining forces.
- What the end state of the strategic partnership looks like.
- And, just a hint of what other things could you possibly do together in the future. This shows you’re a good investment of their time.
I find pitch decks are also useful because your contact can walk away with a leave behind to review after the call and share within his or her organization. Make sure you leave time on the cal for meaningful discussion. Assuming you’ll be successful and that your target partner finds your proposal interesting, you’ll meet, discuss, iterate, and hopefully move to the final step before implementation; the agreement.
The agreement details is my final piece of advice and it contains a lot more information, including a complete how-to guide PDF. Want to check it out, head over to my website and grab the download (no signup, no hassle).
Bottom line, with the right strategic partner, you should be able to do more, faster, and cheaper than you would on your own. Understanding how to use LinkedIn to create strategic partnerships might just be the best thing you can do for your company this year. If you try it, I’d love to know how it works for you. Be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn, you can find me here: John Peters on LinkedIn or on Twitter, @johntpeters.
Also, if you have any questions along the way, hit me up. I’m always interested in a great conversation.
The original version of this article was first published on John T. Peters blog.