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How to Woo a Corporate Partner in 6 Simple Steps Remember that these 'marriages' may be easier said than done. Here are ways to make your potential partner fall in love with your startup.

By Aleda Schaffer Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Partnering with an established brand in the early stages of your startup can immediately expand your customer base and increase your exposure and credibility. You'll not only become the mentee of a more established company, but be able to apply its valuable insights to your own product.

Still, this marriage might take some work: Partnering with a brand that will prove a good match (and maintain a prosperous relationship with you) may be easier said than done. Here's how to approach corporations and make them fall in love with your startup:

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Business Partnerships

1. Get your timing right.

You'll offer a corporation more value if you appear in its inbox or its lobby at the perfect time. So, do your research; show your product at a time that presents your company as the answer to its most pressing need: Is the company about to diversify into a new area? Is it about to recruit for a new role? This is all information you can use to woo that company.

2. Uncover an urgent need.

Your product or service likely fills the urgent need of one lucky corporation out there; you just have to find it. Sixty-nine percent of marketers agree that identifying buyer needs or existing pain points is critical when crafting go-to-market strategies for product launches. Show that you understand the pain point and that you know just how to fix it.

A few years ago at American Airlines, where I am strategic partnership manager, we partnered up with a company called Brightbox, which makes charging stations for on-the-go users. Users simply place their charge-starved devices in a secure chamber and walk away. We saw this as a key product at conferences, where attendees don't want to be tethered to an outlet.

After meeting the team in 2012, we placed Brightboxes in some of our activation sites at conferences to get the company more exposure. After seeing how much people loved the product (and how much traffic it drew to our booth), we purchased several to use at our events. We even featured the product in our Business Extra customer spotlight in American Way, the airline's in-flight magazine.

3. Know your niche.

You can offer a host of benefits to corporations. Remember the unique value you own, and sell that niche for all it's worth.

Related: 4 Tips to Go Further, Faster with Strategic Partnerships

When American Airlines hired a new group of flight attendants, we entrusted a startup called HarQen. Its Voice Advantage digital-interviewing tool streamlined the hiring process. CEO Ane Ohm knew exactly what she could offer us. "We were nimble and able to move quickly, which was critical at that point in time," said Ohm.

4. Show off your secure side.

IT considerations have been secondary priorities in decades past, but in 2016, you need to prove you're secure and data-ready before doing pretty much anything else. British insurance provider Lloyd's found that cyber breaches cost companies up to $400 billion a year. Others have estimated that cybercrime costs companies upwards of $500 billion.

Any brand you partner with will need to know it can trust you. Because data is now the currency of many industries, you might need to be flexible about the data you work with and allow the big brand to maintain ownership.

5. Don't pad your résumé.

Startups eager to prove themselves will often mislead their new partners about their capabilities. They may enthusiastically agree to that partnership before thinking about the consequences. Don't do this, yourself: Stay true to your brand and your scale. Be honest about your abilities.

Remember: 40 percent of small businesses failed between 2007 and 2010. If you promise something you can't ultimately deliver, you'll lose roof partnership, your reputation and possibly your own roof.

6. Capitalize on your new relationship.

Once you find your perfect partner, you'll receive valuable insights and capital. Big brands have continuous revenue you haven't even dreamed of. As you cozy up, be ready to grow and develop additional products with those extra funds so you can evolve with the relationship.

After HarQen delivered on Voice Advantage, the news spread to other American Airlines departments, and we've since grown the partnership to include tools for pilots and reservations.

Woo your perfect corporate match with your unique products and services, staying true to your vision while playing nurse to that pain point of your partner's industry.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Business Partner

Aleda Schaffer

Strategic Partnerships Manager, American Airlines

Aleda Schaffer is the strategic partnerships manager at American Airlines. Her team is focused on helping businesses through Business Extra, a complimentary business travel rewards and incentives program designed to help small and mid-sized companies reduce travel costs.

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