Like Water for Revenue

Posted By: Michael Burke Global Alliance Summit, Member Resources,

As we ease into July, we thought we’d take one last look back at April’s ASAP Global Alliance Summit in Tampa. We’ve covered a number of the great panels and presentations from that conference, so before it slides out of sight in the rearview mirror like a summer sunset and we head for the beach, it made sense to look at just one more.

This session was noteworthy for (among other things) tackling two common questions around alliances: the how and the why. In other words, not only how to go about managing alliances, but what they can actually do for your organization. Titled “Executive Suite: Working with Senior Leaders and Sales to Plan High-ROI Alliance Engagements,” it featured two tech partnering executives from Nutanix, Neil Blecherman, CSAP, technology alliances and partner program director, and Amy Hansen, CA-AM, senior alliance manager for disaster recovery and backup.

In their talk, Blecherman and Hansen used various colorful metaphors and analogies to explain their approach to alliances—but most of them boiled down to keeping it simple and easy for stakeholders, especially the busy executive kind, to understand and get behind. In explaining what alliances can provide to an organization, for example, they offered a sort of mantra for the Nutanix technology alliances team as a whole: “Your best path to revenue.” With a waterfall image as backdrop, they likened it to the natural, free-flowing course water takes as it cascades steadily downstream.

Crisp and Clear

Simple, easy to understand, and transparent as clean water—like the presentations Blecherman said he puts together for the benefit of senior executives, in which he has learned to employ “simple clip art in big letters.” Not because these execs are simpletons, but because they’re busy people with a lot on their minds, and thus ideas need to be conveyed in a crisp, clear manner, making the benefits of any alliance effort easily grasped.

Hansen and Blecherman both cautioned, however, that any such effort requires more than just colorful pictures and large boldface fonts. It means doing your homework, both before and during any meetings around launching an alliance, as well as afterward, when driving sales, marketing, and product engagement and alignment. They further noted that this comprehensive approach applies all along the seven phases of the alliance life cycle, as laid out in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management: A Practitioner’s Guide.

Their framework for “effective alliance discussions”—that “best path to revenue”—is a five-step process:

  1. Document the facts
  2. Read between the lines
  3. Picture success
  4. Set the order
  5. Assign jobs

Learning the Facts, Reading Between the Lines, and More

“Document the facts” includes everything from the financials to products and technologies to strategy to resources (and resource gaps) to measuring alliance success. “Read between the lines” means understanding everything about the partner company, its executives and employees, who they’re hiring, where they invest their resources, what they put out on social media (“Watch their CIO’s Twitter feed”), who their competitors are, etc. (Blecherman remembered getting called on the carpet once for not realizing the partner senior exec he’d just met with had the same kind of Ferrari sportscar as his own senior leader—seemingly a trivial detail, but actually an important point of connection. “Sometimes you don’t read between the right lines and you don’t know what’s going on,” he admitted.)

“Picture success” may sound like a visualization technique, but actually denotes good old-fashioned planning. Hansen and Blecherman advised creating 30-day, 90-day, and one-year plans encompassing resources, sales and marketing, and the product team for the alliance moving forward. This also means, using their chess analogy, seeing eight moves ahead instead of just two or three, and understanding what could go wrong at every stage.

“Set the order” means laying out the steps for the developing alliance in the proper sequence, including meeting cadence, “gives and gets,” key decisions to be made, and so on. This also includes understanding the various “dependencies” within the alliance, and any potential surprises—like a competing product that unexpectedly makes an appearance on the market.

Finally, “assign jobs” involves carving out appropriate roles for the alliance team, executives, engineers, sales, and other functions, with an eye toward the optimal effectiveness of the alliance and its product or solution.

Row Your Collective Boat

In the end, of course, it’s all about the ultimate value for the customer—who has to be able to clearly see that value and want to buy that product or solution. And as Hansen said, “Everything is sales,” and the salespeople themselves must be sold on the alliance’s benefits as well. Ditto with folks from marketing, engineering and product, and the C-suite. It’s a team effort, starting with the alliance team, but involving many other roles and functions.

Blecherman and Hansen urged those spearheading partnering efforts to first “make sure your joint solution is solving a real problem,” and then to ensure that they can convey the value proposition clearly and effectively to all “customers,” internal and external.

On the watery path to revenue, a rising tide may lift all boats—but the message of this presentation was that everyone still has to get in the same vessel and row in a unified direction.