Collaboration is the key to success for every business—that’s what 75% of CEOs believe. It’s a way of bringing together diverse minds and ideas and sharing resources to create something bigger and better than individuals could achieve alone, and it’s gradually becoming the status quo for modern businesses in all sectors, including retail.

When you hear business owners talking about collaboration, they’re usually describing the way their staff members work together to achieve their goals. But collaboration doesn’t need to be limited to the walls of your retail store any more than the act of selling does. If you’re looking for a way to amplify your marketing message and be heard more clearly above the noise, collaboration with other businesses might just be your best way forward.

In this post, I’ll discuss eight ways you can approach business-to-business (B2B) collaboration and how each strategy can help you grow.

1. Refer your customers to related businesses

Each time a customer buys something from your store, you probably think about what else they might be interested in buying. What other products might your customers like? What will they need to get the most out of their purchase? Sometimes, your own inventory won’t offer much chance to upsell, but you can still help your customer referring them to retailers and service providers that you trust. Keep a collection of business cards and brochures on hand at your point of sale (POS), or include a list of your trusted partners on your website and in transactional emails. In return, those businesses can refer their customers to you.

For example, if you’ve just sold some light fittings, your customers might need some hardware, or an electrician to finish the installation. Perhaps they’re renovating, and they’ll want to hire a painter or an interior decorator to help. Next time those referral partners hear someone is looking for light fittings, they’ll send them your way, boosting your sales.

2. Introduce your collaboration partners on social media

If you’ve got a well-defined target audience, it shouldn’t be too hard to identify other traditional retail and ecommerce stores that share your audience without directly competing with you. For example, if you sell toys and accessories for pets, your target audience is pet owners, so you could partner with one or several businesses selling pet food. Even though you’ve got the same audience, you probably don’t have the same social media fans and followers. So by introducing the pet food retailer in a social media post, you’re exposing your partners to a wider audience, and they can return the favour for you. Consider how often you’ll cross-post promotions or feature their services on your page—you might like to share something once a month, or every time you get another 1000 followers.

3. Publicly thank your business suppliers

Showing your appreciation is a good way to strengthen business relationships with your suppliers. I’m not talking about your wholesalers here, but about all the other businesses that help you run your business, such as:

  • an accountant you’ve hired to prepare your financial statements
  • a freelance graphic designer who perfected your online store’s branding
  • the shopfitters who created your bricks-and-mortar presence.
    • A public acknowledgment of their skills and services, shared with your customers on your website or social media pages, will help boost their brand profile. In return, they can feature you in their case studies, and drive referral business to your website or social media pages.

      4. Feature your clients in case studies

      This approach is basically the reverse of the previous one—this time, you’re the vendor, and you’ll publish case studies featuring your happiest customers. The benefits of this approach are twofold. First, these case studies help your prospective customers place themselves in the picture by giving them someone to relate to. You’re effectively posting a super-sized testimonial on your ecommerce website, which can build trust for your site visitors and improve your search engine rankings. Second, your collaborators will receive genuine traffic from your case study, and they’ll return the favour by talking about your business to their customers, expanding your reach or sharing the case study with their own customers.

      5. Split the cost of creating content

      Anyone can create a tweet or share a news article on Facebook, but that won’t be enough to capture the attention of your future customers. To do that, you’ll need unique content with eye-catching images—usually taken by a professional during a costly photo shoot. You can improve your return on this digital marketing investment by partnering with like-minded businesses to feature your complementary products in use together. You’ll not only be able to share the cost of your photo shoot, but also benefit from the added exposure to their audience.

      6. Take a tour—guest blogging

      Guest blogging is a more subtle but highly effective way to drive more traffic to your online store. It works by establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry. Readers will become curious about the brand behind the blog post, and want to find out more about what you offer. You can also invite high-profile bloggers to write for your blog. When they share their contribution on social networks, you’ll see the spike in traffic, but it may not convert to sales in the short term. This is definitely a top-of-funnel (TOFU) approach, but it can have a long term impact on your brand’s success.

      7. Speak with a united voice

      Partnering with similar businesses (and even competitors) is one of the strongest stances you can take when you want to steal the limelight from the big players. It works well if your partners offer the same products in different regions, especially when you’re trying to encourage customers into your bricks-and-mortar stores. If you’re going to talk this talk about buying local, though, you’d better walk the walk—there’s no point calling on customers to go with the little guy if you’re not willing to do it yourself, so make sure you’re already working with other local businesses. The downside of this strategy is obvious: when your campaign is successful, you’ll be sharing the spotlight with your direct competitors.

      8. Show your community spirit

      You don’t always need to partner with other commercial entities. Partnering with a social enterprise or community groups that aligns with your interest is a great way to boost your brand reputation and build a loyal audience. A sporting goods store could partner with the local football club, or a bespoke fashion retailer could work with graduates of the local fashion design school to create a unique range of products.

      Choose your collaborators carefully

      Each time you choose a partner, you’re ruling out their competitors, and you wouldn’t want too many partners anyway—that only dilutes your brand’s essence. Your brand has made a promise to your customers, and keeping that promise should be one of your highest priorities. So don’t partner with any businesses that don’t see eye to eye with you when it comes to the big issues, and be confident that you can trust in the people you’ll be working with.

      Whichever approaches you decide to try, keep in mind that it’s only worth investing your time or cash if you’re seeing the returns. So it’s best to define your expectations at the start and agree on them with your collaborator, to avoid any conflicts down the road. With clear expectations and the right collaborators, you’ll be seeing new traffic in no time.