Any potential alliance is created as part of a company’s overall strategy and a central question: “How do we accelerate our revenue growth, improve profit margins and help our clients become even more delighted with how we serve them?”
Alliances then become part of operational and sales strategy and are ideally integrated into the overall company strategy.
Partnerships and Strategic Alliances are multipliers. Think 1 + 1 = 3. When two companies have complementary, enhancing, integrated or additive products or services, it presents the perfect opportunity for a mutually beneficial working relationship.
Business partnerships and strategic alliances are really one in the same. The relationship needs to be strategic to both businesses. Otherwise, you won’t commit the time and effort to make them successful.
A true strategic partnership is more than a casual referral. It is a collaborative arrangement where the sum of the parts is greater than your individual offering. Adding their solution to your offering provides a better, more complete solution, for your client.
The result of strategic partnerships, if executed properly, is access to new business opportunities for your firm and your partner, but most importantly, it will make you a more valuable and resourceful partner for your clients.
Strategic Alliances Key Elements
When considering strategic partner candidates, you need to look at your target marketplace, the business needs your clients have, and how your solution is solving them. But to identify great partner candidates, you need to look at the business needs you are not addressing or can’t address. Your partners should share your target marketplace and have solutions that meet those unaddressed needs.
You should then find the top companies that target the same marketplace and provide the products or services that fill those open needs. Look for companies that have a reputation for providing the highest quality products or services and are known for delivering outstanding customer service. The leaders in their respected field are the companies you want as strategic partners.
Additionally, your ideal partner candidates should offer products or services that are complementary or additive to your offerings. It allows you to present a more complete solution and save your client the trouble of having to go out and source products or services they need to address the challenge they are trying to solve at their company.
Solid and strong partnerships are built on a trusting relationship. Both parties have to have complete trust in their partner’s people and their partner’s products or services. Personal and company reputations as well as goodwill are on the line.
And really, the most important factor in successful strategic partnerships is commitment. Both teams need to make a real commitment to the partnership and to support it and promote it. Allow the time and resources to build it, nurture it, and promote it.
Otherwise, it’s just lip service.
Why Strategic Alliances
Strategic alliances and partnerships can be a critical element in any company’s sales, marketing, and business development approach. It can be especially beneficial in small to midsize businesses that may have limited sales, marketing, and public relations resources. If properly structured and managed, it can provide access to talent and skills not available within your business.
Partnerships can add additional sales professionals in the marketplace promoting your products and services. It is like adding salespeople to your team without incurring the additional expense and overhead.
Partnerships can also bring opportunities for jointly funded marketing efforts where each company pays a share of the cost for events, trade shows, promotions, or other marketing efforts.
Additionally, they present opportunities for joint development efforts where the partners work together to integrate their products or services into a combined offering that has added value in the marketplace and potentially opens up new markets and sales opportunities.
How to Create Strategic Alliances
Setting up a structure for the alliance with guidelines, resource assignments, education, and ownership is key to its success. The setup needs to be a joint effort and both partners need to do their share of the “heavy lifting” that is required upfront to put a program in place that is positioned for success. As an example,
- Define the purpose of the alliance
- Objectives of the partnership
- Joint responsibilities
- Rules of engagement
- “No Fly Zones”
- Hold out companies
- Top 50 target companies
- Financial terms
- Goals and timelines
- Assign a single owner from each company
- Define teams with functional representation from all departments required
- Estimate the time required by the team members
- Funding guestimate
- Training for sales teams
- Support training
The Who in Strategic Alliances
Having a single point of contact (owner) at each company will streamline and simplify all communications, resource assignments, decision making, and accountability. The owner has the responsibility of overseeing and managing the relationship with the partner.
The owner needs to be someone with leadership experience and proven project management capabilities. They need to be confident, capable of negotiating, highly organized, collaborative, and comfortable enforcing the rules. Ideally, they will have sales and marketing experience and will have launched new products or services to the marketplace.
And finally, they must be given the authority to act on behalf of the business and make decisions that are in the best interest of your company, the partnership, and most importantly, your customer!
Strategic Alliance Details
The operationalization of strategic alliances starts in the field with “Pursuit Management,” the first step in the illustration above.
Together, the firms find a first target prospect, needed for a first joint success. Each party assigns sales personnel (or account owners) to have discussions with their peer with the other party, jointly evaluating which clients might be a good “fit” for what the two companies, operating together, can bring the client.
Moving up the ramp requires more wins, reflected in the second step, “Account Management.”
Effectively growing installed, joint accounts is a path to new revenue which is known to be relatively easier than securing new accounts, a timeless axiom in business.
With the first win under their belts, both sides will be eager to find additional clients they could target together for a joint win. “People like to copy success,” another timeless axiom. This second stage involves, then, two major sets of activities – (Joint) Account Management, also referred to expanding joint accounts, and securing additional wins in other accounts.
The third stage, “Territory Management,” includes managing the relationships with all partners in the Partner Ecosphere. This summary axiom applies, “Minimizing partner conflict is as important as maximizing partner impact.”
The fourth stage represents the state of an “Enduring Alliances,” characterized by unique value for clients driven by the alliance and supported by mutual investments which only the most committed, advanced and successful alliances make.
The impact, leverage and access gained increases even more moving up the ramp due to the accumulative effect of joint investment (time, resources, money) by you and the partner. The alliance is truly differentiated over time.
This “ramp” “ratchets,” so movement up does not later reverse and go down.