Ecosystems Keep Customers on Track as Business Changes Course

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Member Resources, Collaborative Connections,

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The only thing constant is change.” It’s so ingrained in our business culture that you probably never even took the time to learn who originally said it. (The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is first credited with the quote, if you were curious.) All of us in the business world are dealing with some form of rapid evolution in our respective environments at any given moment, and the ones we are experiencing today are certainly testing our adaptability.

“2023 has seen reduced levels of COVID, but continued threats to international peace and security, political change in many countries, and recent financial disruption resulting from banking failures have increased risks,” said John Parker, principal of John Parker Associates, who was introducing the April edition of the Collaborative Connection Monthly webinar and roundtable series, “Making It Better Together: Ecosystems and Co-innovation.”

Change Is Personal—and Business

The featured presenter of the session, Sally Wang, group vice president of global alliances and partnerships at International SOS, knows a thing or two about change. She barely spoke a word of English when she moved to Alabama from China at age 15. 

“Being in a new place definitely had an impact on my career. It taught me how to adapt, pivot, and make the most out of it,” she recalled.

Her employer is impacted more heavily by global political, economic, and health-related forces than your average organization. International SOS performs hundreds of medical and security evacuations per year, among many other services, on behalf of clients, largely American expats and employees of US-based companies living, working, or traveling abroad. The organization has been in the alliance game since the mid-2000s, when it entered into a joint venture with a security competitor. It now has one, two, or sometimes three dozen active alliances at any given moment.

What Do Customers Want?

International SOS’s ecosystem has helped it adapt to change in three broad areas—capabilities, integrations, and thought leadership—especially during and since COVID. In the latter category, for example, Wang said partners were critical to positioning her company as the principal source of services and knowledge around the subject of extending duty of care to employees working from home during COVID, a market that heated up in the midst of the pandemic for obvious reasons.

One of the keys to International SOS’s agility is the company’s sales force. Wang corresponds frequently with sales associates who are hearing directly from customers who detail what they wish they could buy or subscribe to if it existed in the marketplace. Wang also gets this feedback from the horse’s mouth, as she is privy to direct client interviews as well.

“Being industry-first in those [three] areas requires us to be super vigilant with the market and ask our clients what they are looking for. It’s not on me and my team to cook up these ideas in silos,” she said.

Wang likened the process of utilizing partnerships to fill offering gaps to a train ride where customers are the passengers and the partners represent different tracks.

“You want to be able to converge the two and know where to stop, where to get on, and where’s the right handoff to make it meaningful and useful for your customers,” she explained. 

“You’re Not the Only One Out There”

Almost a decade ago, Wang sought out external resources for dealing with organizations with different corporate cultures, decision-making processes, stakeholders, and values. She attended her first ASAP Global Alliance Summit and was “blown away” by the best practices, knowledge, and “how candid the community is in sharing.” She was relieved to discover that “you’re not the only one out there,” a message she shared with novice alliance managers during the presentation. She still consults The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management frequently, even pointing people who ask what she does for a living to a diagram of the alliance life cycle contained in the publication.

“Take the nuggets from your colleagues in the ASAP community if you can, and definitely get the Handbook,” she urged. 

Similarly, she plugged the profession, too.

“It’s a Fun Ride”

“I tell people I have the best job in the company. I have a chance to influence strategy and to be part of the mission,” she said. You may not be in sales, products, marketing, or research, but as an alliance professional, “you have your fingers on all of those areas. This is your opportunity to lead. Nobody put that in your job description, I’m sure, but if you find a way to do it—find support, find stakeholders that will support your mission, get buy-in, find partners that you can create good, shared value with for your customers—it’s a fun ride.”

Check back with this blog later this month when we recap the May Collaborative Connection Monthly session, “Delivering Value in an Ecosystem of Coopetition and Misaligned Objectives.”