Strategic Alliances: Getting Started

Before entering into a strategic alliance, it's a good idea to decide what you hope to see happen as a result of the relationship. Most strategic alliances have one central mission: to increase sales in such a way that both companies benefit. There are many ways to approach a strategic alliance, but there are a few things to consider before you rush headlong into the relationship.

First, outline a business plan specifically for the proposed alliance. It doesn't need to be extremely detailed, but it should clearly outline the functions of each participant, the expected contributions on both sides, and the anticipated benefits both partners should expect to receive. Do some preliminary research to determine if the alliance is actually feasible from a financial standpoint.

Next, learn all you can about the company you plan to approach. It doesn't hurt to have a list of candidate companies for your proposed alliance. Think of this process as interviewing to fill an executive position in your company. You may need to see several candidates before you find the right fit.

Once you've found the right company, initiate contact with the decision maker at the company to whom you wish to present your ideas. Finding the right person within the sales or marketing department will save time and energy.  It can be as simple as picking up the phone and asking: "Who would the decision maker regarding _______." (name whatever your project is.)

After you've located your contact person, submit a concise proposal. Explain exactly how the alliance will benefit both parties and if possible include a financial projection spreadsheet. Companies are always interested in the bottom line, so show them the potential profit and you should be able to gain immediate interest in your proposal.

When you've secured interest, create a simple contract that outlines who does what, how the money flows, and what the disbursement terms will be. Make sure that everyone understands the role that they play so as to eliminate potential surprises. Follow your gut. You may think a company would make a great strategic partner, but if your worldview or business practices are not the same, you could find yourself wishing you'd never joined forces.

Create a clause in your contract that states you are going to start small or for a limited time to test the concept. This way, if personalities don't mesh, each of you is free to go their own way with no harm done. However, if things work well, you have a contract in place that will allow you to move ahead full speed when the time is right.

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