Alliance Trailblazers Share Lessons Learned at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit
What can those in various stages of their alliance management careers learn from folks who have worked their way up into alliance leadership positions? Plenty, it turns out. At the 2023 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, Christina Neary, corporate vice president of Avanade’s global Microsoft alliance, moderated the cross-industry panel, “Together We Rise: Igniting the Journey to Alliance Leadership,” in which she and three other alliance management veterans shared some of their successes, failures, and lessons learned along their journeys with conference attendees, many of whom have been alliance managers for five years or less.
Watch Your Language
Neary herself holds an English degree, which she said has been instrumental in her career over time. In fact, she started her tech career by helping companies translate their technological innovations into plain English for customers and prospects. She said her career was the sum of early experience with tech writing, consulting, and sales.
“We need more liberal arts grads in tech and alliance management because we can see themes, we can synthesize information from different sources. Language matters,” she said.
The Prescription for “We’ve-Always-Done-It-This-Way” Syndrome
Cherie Gartner, partner at KPMG, offered some pointers in driving consensus in the face of resistance and “we-have-always-done-it-this-way” syndrome within your own organization.
“You have to have a really compelling narrative and differentiated value proposition to attract and bring forward stakeholders,” she said, before urging attendees to “be prescriptive” with your narratives in order to get buy-in. “One voice is just one voice but many voices can try to bring along others.”
Nicole Colwell, executive vice president and chief alliance officer at PraSaga Foundation, has also heard the refrain “we’ve always done it this way” over the course of her career. She recalled a time early in her alliance management odyssey when she was starting a new division within her company and her task was to convince other business units to work through a partner to sell to a three-decade-old customer. Despite her employer’s long-standing relationship with the client, the partner had made deeper connections with the customer’s C-suite executives who were soliciting guidance directly from reps at the allied organization. Colwell, too had to come up with ways to gain consensus, some of which she shared with the audience.
“Providing some context. Helping them to understand big picture and where they fit into it, and how it’s not going to alienate their account or create more challenges,” she said.
Down in Front: A Front-Row Seat to Rectifying Conflict
Brooke Paige, CSAP, a career biopharma alliance professional who is now at the nexus of the convergence of pharma and tech, running digital alliances at Novartis, mentioned that one of the best parts of an alliance manager’s job is that they “get a front-row seat to other people’s excellence.” Of course, the flip side is that they sometimes may have a “front-row seat to folks who might be making the wrong decision.”
Paige spoke of one such time when a very tall senior executive from an organization she was supporting jumped out of his seat during a governance meeting and “hulked over” the petite woman who had been speaking and screamed in her face.”
“When the meeting ended a few minutes later, everyone ran out of the room—except for this leader and me. I asked him what he was trying to achieve with that outburst.”
“’I was trying to train her,’” the executive told Paige after the meeting.
“As you can imagine, we had an extensive conversation about what that behavior meant for the alliance—and his organization—and how that behavior was also not in his own personal best interest,” noted Paige.
There was a relatively happy ending to the story; Paige ultimately convinced her senior colleague to apologize to their partner counterpart.
The Strongest and Smartest Adult in the Room
The story prodded Neary to offer that alliance managers are in some ways uniquely positioned to “speak truth to power.”
“I’ve been in the room with some of the biggest leaders in the [tech] industry. A lot of times I feel like the alliance [professional can be] the adult in the room. We can bring the objectivity to think about the outcome that needs to happen here,” she said. As the leader of Avanade’s Microsoft relationship, Neary has often worked with the Redmond, Wash.–based Global 100 company’s top leaders.
Colwell has also rubbed shoulders with senior management, including one legendary tech luminary. She told the story of a meeting with her HP colleagues, which was attended by then-CEO Meg Whitman, in which one participant pleaded for help with an important initiative in an era where many were brought up to think that doing so was “a sign of weakness.”
“’That is the smartest and strongest person in the room,’” Colwell recalled Whitman saying in response.
Colwell said alliance managers’ versatility—"jack- and jill-of-all-trades,” she called them—sometimes leads them to think they can do everything.
“You can do it all, but should you do it all?,” Colwell asked rhetorically, before adding that it’s okay to say, “I do need some help here.”
Hold That Thought
Gartner once had a dustup with her CEO after the latter berated a partner during a partner meeting. She stuck her neck out for her partner in a “firm, but not emotional” way. She “broke down” after the meeting, but her CEO later wrote her an apology note. The encounter taught her that sometimes it is best to “hold my thoughts” until after a meeting and share feedback offline afterwards.
There were other tremendous insights from “Together We Rise: Igniting the Journey to Alliance Leadership.” Conference attendees are able to review the recording of the panel session in the conference.