12 Rules to Mastering the Art of Co-Marketing

Marketing executive and advisor Dan Slagen shares the lessons he’s learned creating the powerful partner relationships behind the marketing success at HubSpot, Nanigans, Wayfair, and HourlyNerd.
Dan Slagen on Mastering the Art of Co-Marketing | OpenView Labs
Co-marketing is the art of going to market with a partner. Getting it right can be tricky, but it’s a highly effective strategy that is especially well suited to nimble startups with minimal marketing budgets. Dan Slagen, CMO and advisor, has made co-marketing an important component of scaling marketing teams at HubSpot, Nanigans, Wayfair, HourlyNerd, and Rock Coast Media.
“For certain companies, I’ve led teams that don’t have much budget,” says Slagen, “I’m a firm believer in circumventing roadblocks and challenges. The trouble is that most people say they want to do something different, but they don’t. They just stick to doing the basics — branding, performance, product marketing, sales enablement, etc. All of that is great, but none of it will make you an industry-leading marketing team.”
So, what does make an industry-leading marketing team?
Based on his successes, Slagen puts a lot of stock in creating unique partner relationships. Time and time again, he has seen creative partner co-marketing solutions make a huge difference for B2B startups. “Most people think about marketing in terms of ‘What can I do?’ — with email, via search, etc.” explains Slagen, “But that will only take you so far. Eventually you’ll hit the wall.”

“Most people think about marketing in terms of ‘What can I do?’ — with email, via search, etc. The best ideas — the game-changing ideas — develop when you instead ask, ‘What can I do for others?’”

— Dan Slagen, Marketing Executive and Advisor

12 Keys to Mastering the Art of Co-Marketing

Though each partner and co-marketing opportunity is unique, there are a number of key truths that apply to any co-marketing endeavor. Once adopted, these critical mindsets provide an unshakeable foundation that will support any partnership you choose to build.

  1. Listen to your partner first. Great co-marketing is not driven by your needs. It’s driven by your partner’s needs. The best opportunities come from giving your partners the chance to talk about their needs and goals, letting them reveal the gaps that you can fill.
  2. Have more than one plan. Co-marketing puts a lot of variables on the table. Your plan isn’t just about you anymore. The game can change at a moment’s notice, so you have to be ready to adapt.
  3. Design reporting around your partner. When you’re thinking about how to track and measure co-marketing activities, make sure that you set things up in a way that makes your partner look good. The partner should be the star.
  4. Make “partner success” your #1 goal. You only succeed if your partner succeeds. Base your decisions on what’s best for the partner, and you will ultimately be ensuring your own long-term success as well.
  5. Specialize in your partner’s weaknesses. Where your partner is weak, you must be strong. Where your partner has a problem, you must have the solution. Make their Achilles’ heel your strong suit, and you’ll be a perfect match.
  6. Do everything on your partner’s timeline. Never try to force a relationship. Make your best pitch, but if the time isn’t right for the partner, just let it ride. There are many factors that a partner must consider before joining forces with you. Don’t presume to know better than they do. Patience is a virtue.
  7. Don’t assume the new guy can’t get the deal done. Just because your contact has only been with the partner company for a short time doesn’t mean he can’t make things happen. Often, the newest member of the team is the most eager to make a difference. Your partnership idea might be just the thing.
  8. Share your marketing playbook. Don’t be stingy with ideas, contacts, or references. Be the person who makes important introductions. Remember that you’re on the same team.
  9. Provide resource support. If you’re focusing on helping to bridge a gap for your partner, it’s likely that they are lacking in internal resources to address their problem. Come to the table with whatever resources you can offer — expertise, connections, manpower, etc.
  10. Be ready to act when they call. Often, even if a potential partner doesn’t jump at your first pitch, they may come back later. When they do, be prepared to engage while the proverbial iron is hot. Timing is everything.
  11. Be relentlessly honest. It’s a small world and getting smaller all the time. Everyone talks to everyone. Your reputation is your currency. Be the person other people can trust, the person who not only plays well with others, but also puts others ahead of herself. Also, be aware of potential conflicts between third parties. Sometimes there’s history you should know. Do your research.
  12. Be part of your partner’s vision. Most of all, understand your partner’s mission. Get your head around their goals and make them your own. Understand their deepest needs, their philosophy, and what drives them to do what they do. You need to “get” this on a strategic level, but also on a tactical level — what do they need in the next year, the next quarter, the next month, tomorrow?

If your organization embraces these truths, you will be well on your way to discovering and successfully taking advantage of pivotal co-marketing opportunities. Bear in mind, however, that co-marketing partnerships do not always yield immediate results.
While you’re waiting for the relationship to mature and deliver a return on your investment, don’t neglect all the basic marketing activities that are also your responsibility. Get inspired about your co-marketing projects, but keep your foot on the gas with core marketing initiatives as well. In the end, the combination of these two disciplines will be what takes your marketing team to the next level.

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Photo by: Flazingo Photos

Dan Slagen
Dan Slagen
CEO & Co-Founder

Currently CMO at ClimaCell, Dan Slagen is a four-time startup executive specializing in scaling global go-to-market functions from early stage to $100M+ in ARR. With experience in both B2B and B2C at companies such as HubSpot and Wayfair, Dan has built teams across marketing, growth, sales, customer success, business development and also founded and sold his own video tech startup. A frequent contributor and advisor to the startup community, Dan has spoken at more than 50 conferences and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNBC, TechCrunch, and Bloomberg TV amongst others. Above all else, Dan believes in creativity, drive, and a people first mentality. Learn more about Dan Slagen: DanSlagen.com
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