Here’s a simple question that can open a hundred doors: What parts and accessories are your customers buying in addition to your products?
If you sell vehicle alarm systems, for example, odds are good that your customers have probably already purchased (or plan to purchase) upgrades like fancy wheels, high tech audio systems, engine tuners, etc. If you could figure out a way to get wheel and tire retailers to recommend your alarm systems, that would probably boost your sales. Heck, you might even be able to recommend their wheels and tires to some of your alarm customers, giving them a boost too, right? Win-win.
Marketers have a fancy name for this business-to-business referral activity, and it’s called “cross promotion.” Here’s a rundown of cross promotion techniques that work well for online part retailers.
First, Some Cross Promotion Ground Rules
Cross promotion can be an awesome path to revenue growth, but it can also quietly fall apart if it isn’t given ample resources. Cross promotion can also become a one-way affair, where one company benefits far more than the other.
Many cross-promotions fail because the creators don’t follow some simple ground rules:
- Set expectations and a time limit. While you don’t necessarily need to a contract, it’s a very good idea to set some goals for a cross promotional relationship and lay out some specifics. Specify how many sales, leads, or referrals you expect to get and how many you expect to give during a specific time period. Make sure the cross promotion plan has an end date, just in case the relationship isn’t beneficial. Etc.
- Make commitments to spend and act. A handshake agreement to cross promote can quickly become one-sided if company “A” invests time and money in promoting the new relationship, while company “B” does very little. For that reason, it’s a good idea for both companies to commit to a specific plan of attack before any cross promotion begins. Talk about marketing dollars and hours of work that will be invested, resources that will be shared, etc. The more specific the plan, the harder it will be for either company to coast.
- Consider making cross promotion a financial relationship. It’s perfectly logical to create a referral program and use that as the basis of a cross-promotional relationship. It’s the definition of a win-win: company “A” gets paying customers, and company “B” gets a piece of the action.
- Track as much as you can. As always, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Tracking the results of every cross promotion – and then sharing that data with your cross promotional partner – is one of the biggest benefits to cross promotion. Data is valuable.
Now that we’ve got the ground rules out of the way, here are some specific cross promotional tactics you can test.
Affiliations and Testimonials
One of the easiest, simplest forms of cross promotion is to trade testimonials. The President of company “A” recommends company “B”, and vice versa. These recommendations carry weight because they’re being offered by an authoritative person in the industry. What’s more, if a customer that’s already done business with company “A” sees the CEO of that company promoting company “B”, that can be compelling.
In addition to trading testimonials, it’s also very easy to add a “recommended brands” or “companies we like” section to your website. Place a short description, a link*, and logo for company “b” on your site, ask them to do the same, and then track the results.
*NOTE: In order to avoid any sort of search engine penalty, consider making these links nofollow.
Social Media Sharing
Another easy, low-risk tactic: cross-promote news and notes on social media. If company “A” is giving away free product, company “B” can mention the giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. If company “B” is going to be at an upcoming event, company “A” can alert their fans on social media. Etc.
This is a very low cost cross promotional tactic, as social media updates are essentially free. Your company is (hopefully) posting something to Facebook every day, and to Twitter multiple times per day. Posting news from a marketing partner is just as easy as posting your own news (if not easier).
*NOTE: This brings up an important point about choosing cross-promotional partners. If your company has thousands of fans on Facebook, and the other company has hundreds of fans, that’s an imbalance that could cause trouble. Make sure your agreement spells out the fact that they’re going to have to send out more social media updates than you will in order to balance the inequality.
Exchange Guest Blog Posts
Assuming both companies have active blogs, a guest post exchange is a no-brainer:
- Come up with a pair of post topics for each blog, ideally these topics broach areas of mutual interest
- Agree to a promotion schedule for each post (eg you’ll include the post in your next newsletter, share it 3 times on Facebook, and leave it up on the blog homepage for 1 week)
- Track the results, repeating as often as it makes sense to do so
Please understand that exchanging guest blog posts is not about building links. It’s about creating content that each company’s blog audience finds useful. In order to avoid a search engine penalty, it’s probably a good idea to nofollow links (only ask your resident SEO nerd to be sure).
Toss A Coupon In Every Order
Another easy tactic that’s specifically for etailers: Put a coupon from company “A” into every box you ship out the door. When your customers open up their packages, they’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that you’ve “hooked them up” with a discount from company “A.” Company “A” can do the same, hooking their customers up with a deal from company “B.”
The key to success here is to make sure the coupon offer is unique. The customer bought a part from you, and as a way of saying thanks, you’ve secured a deal from company “b” that they can’t get anywhere else. Customers appreciate these types of “insider” deals, and often think highly of both companies as a result. But if the coupon you’ve “hooked them up with” is the same offer they can get anywhere else, it comes across as a negative.
Event marketing works, but it’s expensive and time consuming. Co-sponsoring a car show, a get together, a tune and test night at the local track, etc. is a good way to maximize budgets and time. Event promoters are often looking for title sponsors, and a little negotiation is often all it takes to secure two title sponsorships for the price of one.
Email List Sharing
When we say “sharing,” we don’t mean sending a CSV file of email addresses to your cross-promotional partner (or vice versa). There are legal concerns that come with this type of data sharing, not to mention that email addresses are valuable, proprietary data.
But you can share lists by agreeing to email offers for one another. Company “A” can send their list of 10,000 customers a coupon for company “B”, and company “B” can reciprocate. You can also agree to trade ad placements in upcoming newsletters, invite your email list members to follow company “B” on Facebook, etc.
Ad Targeting Audience Sharing
This is a little technical, but it’s possible to share website audiences for retargeting purposes. If, for example, your company has a section on your website just for truck owners, you can place a special tracking code on that section of your site. Anyone that visits that truck section will then see advertising from company “B,” either via Google’s remarketing system, Facebook’s system, or even Twitter’s remarketing system (with more to follow).
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However, just as the policy page on AutoAnything.com explains, you should not enter into these types of data sharing arrangements casually. Don’t let someone retarget your website visitors unless you understand the technologies involved, you know what they’ll be advertising, etc. An agreement is probably important here too, as you want to make sure the remarketing data isn’t ever shared with a competitor at some point in the future.
Cross promotion is as old as business itself. If your company isn’t cross promoting products with other auto part etailers or manufacturers, now is the time to start.
Finally, if you really want to be successful with a cross-promotion, consider this question: What are your customers doing before or after they buy your product? Answer that, and you’ll be able to find partners that can help you grow (and vice versa).