4 Mistakes That Will Scare Off a Big-Brand Partner

October 8, 2015

6:00 pm

In my job, I speak with hundreds of companies, each hoping to score travel grants, perks, marketing opportunities, and networking connections. In the end, though, what most of these startups want boils down to one thing — they’re gunning for a big-brand partner.

The vast majority of these partnerships, however, never happen.

Oftentimes, we have to pass because of internal issues beyond a startup leader’s control. Sometimes, the timing just isn’t right. Maybe we’re facing budget constraints, restructuring a department, or changing our direction.

And while there are a number of factors a young company can’t forecast, there are several ways startup leaders can scare off big brands from potentially teaming up with them.

Here are four pitfalls that can sour a startup’s partnership with a big brand and how to avoid them:

1. Falling short of expectations:

Startup leaders are notorious for talking about where they want their company to go rather than where they actually are. Then, once due diligence begins, they often discover they can’t deliver on their promises.

Provide demonstrations that highlight the features and benefits of your product. And if you don’t have testimonials advocating for your product and its many virtues, ask customers for some.

Provide solid empirical data on how many clients you have, how much bandwidth you possess, the ROI you provide, and so forth. You need to show that your company will stay afloat.

2. Being unpleasant to work with:

There are countless stories of the most successful Silicon Valley CEOs being jerks. This may or may not be a generalization, but I know one thing for sure: If forced to choose between two companies with comparable products and services, I’ll go with the one led by the person who is friendlier to work with.

And unless that jerk CEO is totally disruptive and could potentially change the industry, most other people will, too. If you’re courteous and polite, people will want to work with you.

3. Not meeting security standards:

If a startup can’t prove it will keep my company’s data safe, I’ll pass. Invest in security measures that will inspire trust.

4. Unable to scale:

If a startup can’t scale appropriately, a big-brand partnership can actually mean its demise. Corporations have a lot of fear that a startup won’t be able to stay solvent, so you have to prove your company will keep its doors open and continue to grow long term.

You need to demonstrate you have products and services that will help scale over the course of the partnership, and if you can’t do that, suggest a subset of customers you could work with.

The bottom line:

Be able to show that your startup will fulfill a potential partner’s needs. By following these four tips, you greatly increase your chances at locking up a big-brand partnership. Once you’ve secured it, it’s all about following through. You have to be able to meet expectations, be a pleasure to work with, stay secure, and keep your customers happy. From there, it’s all about building on your success. Once you’ve partnered with one big brand, who knows what could be next?

Expand your horizons, and look for an even bigger catch.


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Aleda Schaffer is a 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 their travel costs.

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