Summit Panelists Review the Skills to Rake In the Bills
In some ways, the alliance management profession is one of contradictions and paradoxes. Ask any veteran who has run partner programs what skills today’s tech industry alliance manager needs to develop, and you will invariably hear phrases like “entrepreneurial mindset,” “understanding market problems,” “building business cases,” and “mini-MBAs.” Indeed, these words peppered an enlightening panel discussion on the topic, “Building Skill to Make Go-to-Market Partnerships Work,” during last month’s 2022 ASAP Global Alliance Summit.
Yet, as panelist Jenifer Fleury, CA-AM, business strategy advisor for global partner ecosystem development at SAS, put it, “There’s no class in an MBA program on partnering.”
Alliance Managers “Do Everything”
Neil Blecherman, CA-AM, technology alliances and partner program director at Nutanix, is currently administering performance reviews of his team just nine months after being hired by the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) vendor. So far he has been wowed by his charges’ versatility. He observed that they touch a variety of external marketing, sales, and customer success–focused activities; operational duties related to partner onboarding, enabling, and portal construction; and internal influence initiatives that bolster sales, product, and executive teams.
“I’ve been so wonderfully surprised at how good they are at understanding what's going on in the marketplace because they know the partners,” he said. “They do everything.”
Having the Right Stuff, and Getting Unstuck
Moderator Jessica Wadd, a partner at management consulting firm Vantage Partners, posed a question early in the session about best practices for hiring and training new alliance managers who don’t necessarily have previous alliance management experience. Melinda McBride, senior vice president of global alliances and channel partners at Equifax, who is currently looking to fill three positions on her team, noted that her most successful recent hires have been folks closer to solution development than sales, a sentiment similar to one echoed by Laura McCluer, CSAP, vice president of global alliances at Xactly Corporation, the previous day.
“Ironically enough, some of our most successful people who we have brought into the [partner] organization over the years have had either a technical or data/analytics background but they happened to be really great in front of the customer or [have been] someone from the product organization who is used to thinking about use cases and go-to-market,” said McBride.
Fleury mentioned that her alliance team features former salespeople, as well as others with an MBA. In order to foster the ability to build business cases with qualitative ROI estimates and coordinate the relevant parties needed to bring them to life, SAS held a series of workshops that covered topics like financial metrics, value creation, assessing opportunities and gaps for partners to fill, and stakeholder management. This year, it followed up with additional workshop training around more specific elements within these categories to “remind, reinforce, and give them tools,” according to Fleury. She added that an outside voice can help get team members to embrace change, develop new skills, and even “see that they’re stuck in how they’ve always done things”—Vantage Partners conducted these working sessions.
Cool Skills to Partner and Make It Rain
Whether one makes a lifelong career in alliance management or uses the role as a stepping-stone to something else, Blecherman advised anyone involved in business collaborations to hold roles overseeing 1) a customer or partner, 2) a product, and 3) a broader strategy.
“When you own all three at some point in your career, you bring perspective to each of those no matter where you end up staying,” he said.
Fleury noted that many business skills can be adapted within the context of a partnership, and in many cases, they have to be. She herself came to the profession from a marketing role after the CEO of a previous employer asked her to start the company’s partner program, and she agreed that the alliance management role combines a variety of skills she has learned in previous disciplines.
“We hire for skills. If the right skill sets exist, we can train on partnerships,” she said. “We all come from somewhere else. We all bring with us a variety of skills.”
McBride has the luxury of working in an alliance-friendly company, in which many of the alliance management professionals have fanned out to other parts of the organization. Equifax’s chief revenue officer, Joy WilderLybeer, came from the alliance practice, and she has hired several alliance managers into direct sales roles. These ex–alliance managers realize how partners can help them ring the cash register and close new deals.
“It’s very cool for me to have my colleagues who own verticals understand what I do for a living and call on me,” McBride said, adding that Equifax continues to train its direct sales force on alliance management principles.
Summit registrants who may have missed “Building Skill to Make Go-to-Market Partnerships Work” can view the session in the conference app, and there are many reasons to do so. Wadd, Fleury, Blecherman, and McBride dropped knowledge on dealing with coopetition, identifying and informing key stakeholders, integrating the voice of the customer, and composing a readiness assessment. You’ll also hear McBride’s five pillars for alliance skill building, among several other tips.