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The Sales Era Ends: How Brands Are Building Partnerships That Last

By John Hall | Forbes

This article was co-written by Don Broekelmann, Executive VP of Brand Management at Influence & Co.

B2B sales used to be much simpler. If you needed a copier, you called Xerox, and the company happily sold you one, along with a maintenance plan. Transactions were cut-and-dried, and suppliers cared much less about partnering than they did about meeting their sales quota.

That kind of relationship is no longer enough. Smartphones make it easy to quickly compare prices, and there are plenty of companies out there doing what you’re doing. The era of the copy paper salesman is over.

Small business owners are looking for more than a sales pitch and a one-time-purchase relationship. They need education and resources. They want to know that you care about their product and support their endeavors. Today’s small business owner has a lot to manage, and she’s looking for your product to make her life easier. A good partnership will go one step further, helping an entrepreneur maximize the investment made in your product.

However, this new type of business partnership doesn’t just benefit the customer. When your company becomes a partner, you also increase brand loyalty and drive sales.

Big brands are beginning to realize they have to provide more than just a superior product. Here are a few companies that have found success by creating more than a transactional relationship:

1. Web.com hosts a series of live forums for entrepreneurs. Small business owners are also invited to in-person trainings in which Web.com and SCORE experts give advice on Internet marketing. The company is so committed to this partnership that it doesn’t even allow sales activity at the events. Their experts focus fully on education and mentorship.

2. Skype in the Workplace launched in 2012 and allows small businesses to connect with partners, customers, and suppliers around the world. Users join the community, which is essentially a hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses. You can join chats with experts and coaches, reach out to potential partners, or advertise your own goods and services. Skype offers the service for free, facilitating the connections business owners need to thrive.

3. Rackspace is a hosting and cloud services company. However, the company is particularly popular because of its partnership with startups all over the country. The Rackspace Startup program offers support and hosting services, but it also focuses on providing mentorship and brand-building advice from Robert Scoble. Through these initiatives, Rackspace has become more than just another provider trying to sell products to cash-strapped startups.

4. The launch of Sprint’s Mobile Health Accelerator, in partnership with Techstars, proves the company is working to be more than just a supplier of telecommunications services. Its support of innovation and progress in the mobile health field, along with its commitment to growing the budding entrepreneurial scene in Kansas City, provides tech-savvy startups with a much-needed boost from a Fortune 500 partner.

Without these types of partnerships, a company is simply an organization peddling its services to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, most small business owners are becoming more attuned to empty sales pitches. Instead of trying to garner the awareness of busy, overworked entrepreneurs, create tools and information to make small business owners’ lives easier. You will reap the rewards of their undivided attention.

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John Hall is the CEO of Influence & Co., a company that assists individuals and brands in growing their influence through thought leadership and content marketing programs.  Influence & Co., one of the leading providers of high quality expert content to the world’s top publications, is the creator of Contributor WeeklyConnect with John on Twitter or Google+.