How to Build Marketing Partnerships with Giants

Ryan Coon is a Co-Founder of Rentalutions, a Chicago-based software company making it easier for DIY landlords to manage their tenants. Read on for a transcript of his presentation from our January 27, 2017 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference where he describes how to build marketing partnerships with giants.

I feel like in marketing there are so many topics, but I just somehow found the one to talk about that no one else has touched on, so I’m excited. So Rentalutions, who are we? We have the only platform out there that helps DIY, part-­time landlords save time managing their properties.

Any of us could own rental properties. Statistically, based on census data, there’s 7.1 landlords in the room right now. But what’s really hard for us and what we struggle with is how do you find these people, right? Because the people we’re targeting are full-time doctors, bankers, lawyers, marketers, consultants – they’re not listed in the Yellow Pages as being part-time real estate investors. So when Lawrence, my co­founder, and I started the company five years ago, we struggled with this. And we tried everything out there. We tried going through public data, we tried buying lists, we tried digital ads, we tried all of these things, and nothing seemed to click.

Funny story: One day we were combing through City of Chicago’s property tax records and we came up with this great idea and said, “Look, if the property tax bill is mailed somewhere that’s not the property address, it has to be an absentee landlord.” We thought we were geniuses, we thought we’re onto something. So we went out, we spent about $20,000 on postcards and we sent them out.

The phone rang once. It  was this woman from Lincoln Park and she’s like, “Holy cow, what list am I on? How do you know I’m a landlord? I’m getting a divorce, my husband doesn’t know I own this rental property so whatever list I’m on, take me off of it immediately.” True story. So we’re sitting over there at 1871 and that happened and we just immediately went across the street for beers. What we found though is, landlords also tend to be very cheap. There’s not as much money in real estate as you would think. So we said, “We need to figure out ways to make other money and we need to figure out ways to market ourselves.”

Here’s how we did it.

  1. We identified companies that would have relationships with DIY landlords

One day we figured out there’s a lot of companies out there who interact with these landlords and who already have relationships. These companies are selling things like maintenance services and cleaning and insurance.

  1. We targeted the right partnership contact at each partner and actively promoted their company once they were on board.

And what we did is go to all these partners and say, “Look, we want to help you with your marketing because we’ve got the platform that landlords and their tenants are interacting with throughout the year.” One example of this is whenever renters now sign a lease through our system, we put out on ad for State Farm. So we say, “Congratulations on signing your lease agreement. Click here to buy renter’s insurance from State Farm.” Not surprisingly, that’s been some of the most effective digital marketing State Farm has ever done. It performs 20 times better than other digital ads.

  1. We focused on their returns, not ours

Now, what happened next was even cooler. They came back to us after about a year and said, “Ryan, how do we do even more of this?” And in the back of my head I was almost waiting for that question and I said, “Help us help you. You as State Farm, you sell insurance to two million DIY landlords. If you promote us to these landlords, these landlords will come onto our platform, they will then bring their tenants onto the platform, who will then sign leases, who will then click on an ad for State Farm. So by promoting us to your landlords, you’re in effect building your book of renters.”

So what we did was pretty straightforward, earlier this year State Farm began sending emails out to their two million landlords about our product. They’re now putting State Farm marketing dollars behind social media ads targeted at their landlords about us. This is the first time in State Farm’s 100-year history they’ve ever promoted an outside company and it’s working really well. I can’t share in terms of actual numbers of customers, but I can tell you that right now we’ve got 40,000 independent, DIY landlords using our product across the country and State Farm has accounted for a lot of that.

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