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Co-marketing or co-selling—Do you know which you’re doing?

Read Time: 4 Mins

A lot of marketers are convinced that partnership marketing programs don’t work when that’s simply not true. These programs can fail for several reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is often linked to a misunderstanding about the level of partnership.

In general, there are three tiers of partner marketing: co-marketing (low touch), co-selling (medium touch), and fully integrated partnerships (high touch). It’s important to know the limits and benefits of each level, so you can develop successful programs that drive ROI.

Here is a more in-depth look at the three levels of partnership marketing and what you can expect from each.


Level 1: Co-marketing.

A co-marketing partnership occurs when two companies partner around a single tactic. A great example of a co-marketing tactic is a webinar. When companies co-host a webinar they share the promotional duties to their individual channels, they include joint logos and visual design, and they collaborate on the content that goes into that webinar.


The leads gathered from the co-marketing effort are shared between the companies for separate lead nurture and sales approach. There is no collaboration between the companies beyond the individual tactic. Each partner might nurture and eventually convert leads from the event, and those sales may even overlap, but there is no guarantee they will sell a joint solution.

What’s missing:

  • Shared messaging. There’s no message that weaves these partners together or helps drive a co-sale.
  • Joint solution/sales. There is no product bundle or tag-team sales approach. Both companies share the leads, but they have separate solutions and separate sales funnels.


Level 2: Co-selling.

A co-selling partnership is an integrated, long-term, multi-tactic engagement that takes a whole campaign approach, but ends before the sale. At this level of partnership marketing, companies create joint messaging and value propositions that demonstrate how the companies and their solutions are better together. Rather than each company promoting the tactic separately, they collaborate on a campaign where each is in charge of different areas of that campaign. Co-selling requires both partners to align on an ideal customer profile for their engagement. Companies also must align on what is being sold, how it’s being sold, who is in charge of what throughout the partnership, and more.


As with co-marketing, partners share leads, but now each partner is driving sales of the joint solution and sharing metrics about those efforts. Partners may also collaborate on an ABM strategy. Although there is no joint sales motion, each partner is equipped to sell the joint solution or solution bundles on their own. Each partner’s eCommerce store is still predominantly focused on its own products.

What’s missing:

  • Partnered support. Co-selling partnerships end before the sale occurs, meaning that anything beyond that point is not a part of the campaign or the partnership. At this level, customers who purchased a bundled solution must call a specific partner for troubleshooting, questions, and other support needs.


Level 3: Fully integrated partnership marketing.

The pinnacle of partnership marketing, in a fully integrated partnership the partners essentially become a reseller for each other’s solution. There is a package that includes solutions from both companies and the sales teams on both sides are trained on how to sell the joint solution and actively promote it to their customers. Most companies operating at this level of partnership marketing will also redesign and optimize their products to work better with each other, creating more benefits to customers who buy the joint solution.


At this level, both partners are fully invested in mutually beneficial results. In the best scenarios, companies list their partner’s products in their own online store, maintaining an “always-on” partnership. Customers see the two companies as inextricably tied together, may begin the relationship with either company and may go to either company for support.

What’s missing:

  • Nothing. The partnership continues through and beyond sales. Both companies share wins and losses, analytics, and even post-sales support. A customer may only need to work with one support team to make the whole solution work. In many ways, it is as if the two companies merged.


The Iron Horse insight.

Each of these partnerships hold value, and there’s a time and place for all of them. Beyond setting expectations, it’s important to choose the right partners. Most business partnerships are obvious or already established. Both companies will target the same demographic with a similar (but not overlapping) solution. For example, a pharmaceutical company may partner up with a drug delivery company to bring a full solution to a hospital. If you’re looking for a partner and struggling to find one, ask your customer base who the other solution providers are in the same space. You can then approach them with the “win-win” proposal and decide the level of partnership to achieve your mutual goals.

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