Business Insight: How to Build Strategic Partnerships

Interview with Cassandra Ong

Strong strategic partnerships can help companies build their brand and reach new customers. We sat down with Cassandra Ong, Head of Marketing at Chope, to find out what it takes to forge successful partnerships.

Work + Store (W+S): Can you tell us about the different partnerships that Chope has?

Cassandra (C): Sure. The driving force behind these partnerships is to leverage exposure. We’re a start-up so we don’t have big budgets, and placing media ads requires a lot of money. We try to diversify our partnerships and work with the best of each category like with Visa, the best global payment services; CapitaLand, the best property mall management group; and Burpple, the best local food guide.

W+S: How do you decide if a prospective partner is worth your time?

C: First, it’s important to know the database of your potential partners. There are many online tools and websites you can visit to check traffic footage. If you’re working with big companies, you don’t really have to check; they’re already established and are very likely to have the traffic you seek. If you’re working with smaller businesses or startups, it’s best to track their traffic. Sometimes, your potential partner might not have launched yet, and they may make big promises like “Oh, we’ll get x million impressions.” In that scenario, I’ll wait and meet up with the company after they’ve launched.

Second, relevance. Chope has been around for close to six years, and our brand resonates well with Singaporeans. We have a lot of partners who express interest in working with us but that doesn’t mean every partnership is feasible. We always try to work with partners who are relevant to our brand. Say a vacuum cleaner company wants to be our partner. Chope is a restaurant booking platform, so I think of an agle to work the partnership. If it’s hard to sell the angle, there’s no partnership.

W+S: If you’re trying to establish new partnerships, how do you go about approaching people and pitching your proposal?

C: I usually start with an email. The trick is to keep your email short (two or three lines max), make sure you don’t give out too much information, and most importantly, not be boring. I’ll drop a line about what we are all about and ask the other party if they are interested in setting up a meeting at their convenience to explore new opportunities. If I send out ten emails, eight will usually respond and tell me they’re keen to meet. Then I’ll go straight to them and tell them what we can do for them.

When you’re a new or small company, it’s a lot harder to convince people. Before working at Chope, I worked at Food Panda. The Food Panda then wasn’t as well-known as it is now. At that time, we considered many of the fast food chains like McDonald’s and Pizza Hut our competitors.

When I joined Food Panda, my job was to convince a lot of food establishments who didn’t offer delivery to use us as a delivery partner. Smaller restaurants were resistant because they lacked the budget while larger places couldn’t see the value of our services. It was my job to change their mind.

A partnership person has to have a certain level of creativity. You must be able to think on the spot. When you meet prospective partners and hear their feedback, you need to immediately come up with proposals that can better achieve their objectives. It’s similar to sales, but instead of talking to a single restaurant or a consumer, you’re working with a corporation.

W+S: What’s the secret to creating win-win partnerships for both parties?

C: There’s no hard and fast rule, but each of us must know what are the other party’s objectives are. I have to lead within my resources so I need to think creatively to meet my partner’s goal(s) and sometimes propose in-kind barter arrangements. Big companies usually want access to our database and approach partnerships by creating value-added services (through fun experiences) for our customers. For example, our partnership with CapitaLand helps visitors book restaurants more easily; if you browse the dining category of CapitaLand’s website, you can now find a “book now” button. We also collaborate through cross-promotional social media posts and email marketing. When CapitaLand sends out eDMs (electronic direct mailer) to their subscribers to promote us, we do likewise by sending out eDMs to our subscribers and promoting the campaign on our social media platforms. The relationship goes both ways. Always try to give and match whatever your partner gives you, and that way both parties will give and receive more.

W+S: Partnerships are about building relationships. Do you think there is a difference between building a relationship with an individual versus an organisation or a company?

C: No matter what, everything boils down to building a relationship with the individual. Sure, you forge partnerships with a company but the person you’re talking to makes the decision for the corporation. When this person moves to a new company, you may end up losing your main contact but it also gives you a new opportunity to work with the same contact in a different setting. We always follow the individuals, not the corporation.