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Synergy Marketing

Coconut shrimp
August 23, 2018
The Balance of Supply and Demand
August 23, 2018
I was recently asked to speak at a conference. The request was simple: “Teach them how to land more business without spending as much time and money on marketing.”

At first, I laughed. Let’s be honest; that’s a little like saying: “Teach them how to lose weight while eating more junk donuts and working out less.”

I politely agreed to teach on a totally different subject and moved on. But that request has eaten at me ever since, and not because it was irritating or funny. In this industry, that is the elephant in the room. Because we are ridiculously busy running our businesses and trying to keep coaches on the road and drivers at the wheels, marketing is the ugly stepsister that keeps getting shoved to the back of the line.

Because I’m an eternal optimist, however, and because I’ve raised my kids on the Disney principles of life where happy endings are always just a few plot turns ahead, I want to solve this issue. I want to help operators sell more while doing less, though that sword in the stone is a tough one to pull out. But is it really? Maybe the notion isn’t quite as crazy as it may (at first blush) sound. Let’s discuss.

First, the disclaimer: marketing does require some effort, time, and resources. I recently taught a class about guerrilla marketing and one of the key points I shared was that, with any marketing you do, you must choose 2 of the following: cheap, easy, or effective. You can opt for cheap and easy (but it won’t be effective), go for cheap and effective (but it won’t be easy), or focus on easy and effective (but it won’t be cheap).

The strategy that I am going to talk about today is cheap and effective, but not necessarily easy in the beginning. It will, however, become an autopilot strategy that will pay long-term dividends and fill up your dispatch sheets. It’s called synergy marketing, and it will transform how you sell.

In its most basic form, synergy marketing is when you find other companies who are targeting the same audiences you are, and you work together for the mutual benefit of all partners involved. This is inherently different than referral marketing, as referral marketing is built around referral fees and almost always has a “catch”: if someone sends you business, you owe them something. With synergy marketing, the fact that you are growing together is the point; no money changes hands.
To begin, synergy marketing requires that you answer this question: Who are you trying to sell to? When I ask people this question, I often get “groups” for an answer, though that response isn’t specific enough to be helpful.

But if you identify that you want to sell to more wedding groups, for example, the list of synergy potentials becomes much more clear: every wedding venue, reception center, hotel, caterer, wedding planner, dress shop, photographer, and cake decorator becomes a possible synergy partner. From businesses to churches, when you identify exactly who you want to talk to, there will inevitably be a lot of other people also trying to reach that same market.

Once you’ve identified some potential partners, it’s time to reach out. This is where the initial investment in time simply can’t be skipped. Now, I am the first to admit, I hate cold calling. Period. Making unsolicited calls can be intimidating, and if you think it’s easy to put off marketing, just wait to see the list of things you can come up with to put off cold calling! But I have developed a magic recipe for success here. It’s simple and, just like “bibidi bobbidie boo”, works almost every time. “Hi, this is Chris. I am the director of sales for a transportation company and I realized that you and I are both trying to sell to the same customers. I was wondering if we could get together to see if there was a way that we could work together and maybe send more business your way?”

I know it’s a bit more wordy than “abra cadabra”, but I promise it’s just as effective. You see, what you said to them was that you want to help them grow their business. Unless they have more business than they know what to do with, or they’re having a really bad day and just got off the phone with the IRS, they will, in all likelihood, be receptive.

So now that they are listening, what do you do next? You set up a face-to-face meeting. You can do it at your office or theirs, and over lunch, coffee, or no food at all. At the meeting, your mission is simple. You want to figure out if this person/company is doing anything that makes a synergistic relationship a possibility.

Synergy marketing works wonders, but it will fail under a couple of conditions. First, it will fail if one of the partners is making referrals but not receiving any. It will also die if one partner is not delivering the service that the other can in good faith refer.

Imagine, if you will, that you set up a relationship with a caterer. Then, you tell a bride you’re working with to check out their services. She ends up booking with that caterer, and everyone is happy right up until the entire bridal party gets food poisoning from the chicken salad. No one wants to take the call from an angry customer about a referral you gave them that went horribly wrong.

Bottom line? When you meet with potential partners, it’s important to look beyond surface level excitement to see if the odds are good that they’ll live up to their end of the bargain.

Once you have come to an agreement, you need to have a plan in place. You’ve got to know how you’re going to refer people to them, and also what you plan to give to them to make it easier for them to send referrals to you. The first half of this is probably where many companies struggle the most because it’s not something that’s a part of our normal sales or order-taking process. In order for this to work, however, we must start to see ourselves as a resource for our customers. As we do this, opportunities to refer them to people we work with and share our “trusted vendors and partners” will open up.

"With any marketing you do, you must choose 2 of the following: cheap, easy, or effective. You can opt for cheap and easy (but it won’t be effective), go for cheap and effective (but it won’t be easy), or focus on easy and effective (but it won’t be cheap)."

As for the second half, we simply must continue to deliver on our end of the bargain. We need to be on time, use quality equipment, be responsive, and have drivers who are true professionals. And in the event that something goes wrong, we must act quickly to make it right.

If we do these things, we can build a robust stable of partners who are using their marketing efforts and dollars to help us grow our business. This effectively allows us to sell more to more people without breaking the bank or investing a whole bunch of time. (See, told you it was magic.)

There isn’t any one silver bullet in the marketing world. A well-executed marketing strategy includes a lot of different tools and activities. Synergy marketing is one of the few that you could actually build an entire sales program around, and it doesn’t require a great deal of advertising or creativity. It simply requires a little time, a few pieces of collateral that you can leave with your partners to make it easy for them to refer you, and an honest effort on your part to refer your buyers to your partners as well.

I know it works because I have done it. I also know that, though it sounds simple on paper, there are a lot of moving parts that require massaging and refining over time. This kind of work takes effort and it isn’t free, but it’s relatively inexpensive, easy, and the dividends are worth it. Selling to end users is good, but being part of a network of companies whose continual referrals help fill your dispatch sheets today, tomorrow, and in the future? That really is magic!

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