Guest Post: Position Your Alliance Strategy
It’s no secret that business partnerships are complex. A successful business partnership requires sound fundamentals including clear joint strategy, alignment, and goals, to name a few. Absent these, we have all witnessed numerous partnerships of all sizes and shapes failing.
According to Mark Sochan, author of The Art of Strategic Partnerships, as many as 60 to 65 percent of strategic partnerships fail, and the same goes for corporate alliances as suggested by HBR.
Let’s face it: Whether with ISVs, VARs, MSPs, or SIs, we all love to form partnerships when an opportunity emerges on the horizon. We are quick to onboard teams, integrate solutions, and co-market features. However, in the rush to address market requirements, aren’t we all sometimes guilty of hurrying things up and overlooking—if not disregarding—the fundamentals?
There are many causes of failed partnerships, but I’d like to limit my scope to a tiny but critical element: positioning.
Start with Why
There is no place in competitive business for an ordinary, generic, copycat solution. We live in an overcrowded market with every possible avenue of communication oversaturated, leaving little tolerance for ambiguity and complexity.
Despite this, a Sirius Decisions survey showed that 69 percent of partners could not differentiate their offerings from the competition or status quo, and 72 percent were unable to connect their offerings to buyer needs and challenges.
So what’s causing this chasm between market expectation and reality?
From an alliance strategy point of view, the soundness of a joint strategy surely determines the value of the partnership in the market. However (without discounting the importance of tactics), all too often, well-conceived strategies underestimate the aspect of positioning, leaving the value of the alliance ambiguous, vague, and overly complex from a customer standpoint.
In other words, crafting and collaborating on a great alliance strategy isn’t enough. Value to the customer must ultimately be brought from concept into reality, and here is where positioning turns out to be useful. Positioning statements capture the strategic imperatives of a partnership, including the unique differentiators stemming from the vision and mission of the alliance, directly communicating why the alliance is beneficial, what value it brings to the table, and how it is advantageous to the customer.
By defining a joint positioning statement, alliance stakeholders not only articulate the value of the partnership in very tangible terms to the customer, but also help better align to the true North Star: customer-centricity.
The When: At What Stage of a Partnership Should One Apply Positioning?
The role of positioning has been well articulated by marketing guru Jack Trout, who wrote: “Positioning is the first body of thought that comes to grips with the problem of getting heard in an overcommunicated society.”
But positioning shouldn’t be limited to only the planning stage. It should be woven through various levels and phases of the partnership, including crafting recruitment proposals, defining alliance mission statements, and ultimately articulating the value of innovations brought to market.
In addition, positioning, like everything else, evolves over time and requires nurturing. It shouldn’t be perceived as a one-time exercise; instead it should be reexamined and reiterated periodically in response to the changing dynamics and drivers of the market.
One more point: Positioning isn’t a mere template or formula. It is the most effective when embraced as a thought process or a flow of thought that guides alliance teams. Furthermore, stakeholders should feel extremely comfortable tailoring and adapting alliance positioning to the context and use case.
Among the various approaches to positioning, my personal favorite has been that of Geoffrey Moore, author of the marketing classic Crossing the Chasm, which is as follows:
For (target customer)
who (statement of the need or opportunity),
(Joint solution) is a (solution category)
that (statement of key benefit or compelling reason to buy).
Unlike (primary competitive alternative),
our solution (statement of primary differentiation).
What I love about this approach is its brevity and simplicity. Yet at the same time it is deeply insightful, helping business teams to clearly articulate and embrace the value of partnerships.
Don’t get me wrong: Positioning is by no means a magic wand that creates a successful partnership, but when done correctly, it can at least set you up for higher success.
So make positioning a priority! Don’t throw it in as an afterthought. Take the time to carry out positioning exercises internally as well as together with your partners. Understand your joint target audience, your value, and your key differentiators before plunging into the tactical deployment of your solutions.
Sources: https://breezy.io/blog/strategic-partnership-stats/; https://www.getlift.com/blog/20-b2b-channel-partner-marketing-statistics/; https://medium.com/the-contechi-blog/how-to-write-a-positioning-statement-for-your-business-3d7d3c7c792e/.
Aditya Kammula, CA-AM, is an alliance management and marketing professional based in Hyderabad, India, with 14 years of experience in cloud computing, IoT, and SaaS. As an alliance manager at Nutanix he is responsible for building and scaling technology partnerships, including orchestrating and managing GTM programs with various sales motions.