Partnering Superheroes | Who Better to Combine Collaborative Leadership Skills with Strategic Vision
Superhero movies are definitely, as the kids say, “a thing.” They’re fun and exciting, a great way to liven up a long winter night. But do superheroes really exist, and could they have any relevance for us in terms of business strategy? I didn’t think so, but recently I was part of three conversations that changed my mind.
First, I spoke with Elizabeth Gazda, CEO of Embr Labs, in anticipation of her upcoming Leadership Forum talk at the ASAP Global Alliance Summit. Embr Labs makes a wearable bracelet that can raise or lower your skin temperature to help with stress reduction and anxiety and improve sleep and focus. Before joining Embr, Liz cofounded a fintech and a music technology startup, and worked at some of Boston’s first “unicorns,” like ATG and m-Qube.
Liz made the point that the collaborative leadership and critical thinking skills needed in the C-suite are very close to those of the alliance management competency profile. Liz believes partnering “superheroes” can and should be showcased in their organizations as potential future CEOs. In her view, alliance management is the perfect preparation for executive leadership, especially as more and more companies undergo digital transformation via partnerships and seek to nurture and reward collaborative entrepreneurial excellence.
A second conversation took place in early February in Boston, at an ASAP New England chapter meeting whose theme was “Taking the Next Step: Critical Skills for Aspiring Alliance Executives and Organizational Leaders.” Moderated by Mai-Tal Kennedy of Vantage Partners, the discussion featured panelists Lou Shipley, former CEO of Black Duck Software and a lecturer at Harvard Business School and MIT; Christine Carberry, CSAP, board member at the UNH Entrepreneurship Center; and Andrew Hirsch, CFO and head of corporate development for Agios Pharmaceuticals.
All of them highlighted both the difficult job alliance managers have and its relevance for future career success. Lou in particular noted the number of alliance management “superstars” at his previous organization, including one who combined the roles of alliance management, business development, and investment banking expertise—superhero skills indeed. This individual directed the ultimate spinoff of the company and saved it close to $10 million. How’s that for adding value?
The third conversation was Jay McBain’s January 30 ASAP webinar, “Top 10 Channel and Alliances Predictions for 2020.” This presentation, an outgrowth of Jay’s influential research for Forrester, highlighted key trends affecting not only the tech world but most industries, as nearly every company, he says, is fast becoming a technology company. (See our cover story in Strategic Alliance Quarterly on ecosystems, for more of Jay’s and other experts’ timely insights and analysis of this exploding phenomenon.)
Among these trends is what Jay calls the “trifurcation” of the IT indirect sales channel into an influencer channel, the familiar transactional channel, and a retention channel. He noted too that with such heavyweights as Microsoft and Salesforce bringing hundreds or thousands of new partners into their ecosystems every month, a great partner experience is quickly becoming as important as a great customer experience when companies look strategically to their future.
With this heightened awareness of the interrelated issues of customer and partner experience—especially the complex retention phase—how are we going to manage all these relationships and ecosystems? What sort of superheroes will be needed to lead behemoths like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, IBM, and others into the partnering-everywhere world?
I think you know the answer. Who better than alliance professionals? As Jay said, they’re the ones with the right résumé to be ecosystem managers and orchestrators—not only in IT, but in biopharma, manufacturing, consumer goods, and across industries. These partnering specialists, collaboration leaders, and strategic visionaries have the capabilities, the skills, and the superhero savvy to get it done—the same attributes that make them ideal candidates for the C-suite.
So what’s holding us back? Despite an abundance of evidence, not enough companies have grasped the full implications. I see many organizations focused on the transaction—and not applying partnering best practice in the retention phase of sales partnerships. As Jay argues, some of them—even among the Fortune 500—will end up losers, sticking their heads in the sand and refusing to adapt to an oncoming future where customer satisfaction is increasingly delivered through a great partner experience (Px).
Alliance professionals can make Px a reality right now. The lessons of past partnership failures should be enough to rally today’s C-suite leaders to seek success in the massive partnerships their organizations will undertake. In addition, organizations must begin grooming their best alliance managers for the C-suite and other positions of leadership in the future—even as they’re employing them for partner and customer retention in the present. We have the tools, the skills, and the people to get the job done; what’s needed is a true focus and consensus that partnerships are difficult and require best practices and trained professionals to make them successful. That and a hardy band of partnering superheroes—with or without the cape.