The Amplified Future of Alliances: It Goes to 11!

Global Alliance Summit,

Posted By Michael Burke, Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Among the highlights from day two of the ASAP Global Alliance Summit was the keynote address by Jay McBain, principal analyst for channels, partnerships, and alliances at Forrester Research. Then again, McBain is a veritable one-man highlight reel on his own, and his well-received ASAP keynote, “Alliance Professionals Take Center Stage in the Decade of the Ecosystem,” was no exception. So how to extract the highlights from the highlights?

Having interviewed McBain a few times myself, I can attest that he is an expert on technology channels, alliances, and ecosystems, as well as all the emerging trends affecting them—trends that often have only accelerated given the shocking catalyst that was 2020. He is also a veritable fount of predictions and analysis, not only for the realm of information technology, but for every industry. As he often says, these days, “Every company is becoming a technology company,” from financial services to forklifts.

In his keynote McBain presented a Letterman-esque Top 10 Predictions and Trends, most of which have gone to hyperspeed with the pandemic and many of which are now converging. I’m referencing a few throughout this post but I won’t list them all here—though I will note that he even included a bonus trend! (So like the amplifier in This Is Spinal Tap!, his top 10 trends actually go to 11.) But I strongly urge everyone who registered for the conference and missed this keynote to access it via the conference archive (you can download the deck, too).

An Ever-Expanding Universe

Boiling it down, what are the key takeaways for the alliance profession? As the world moves more rapidly than we imagined—and even faster than McBain predicted—away from purely transactional relationships and toward a more massively multiplayer universe of ecosystems, marketplaces, subscription/consumption business models, and a now “trifurcated channel” (made up of influence, transaction, and retention), there are more opportunities for alliance professionals to take part, take charge, and take advantage.

How many opportunities? Maybe 34 million, according to McBain. (If you ask him, he can probably do the math for you.) In fact, when McBain looks at the $86 trillion global economy and how much of it is partner-sourced and/or partner-assisted, all he sees is opportunity—quite a bit of it there for the taking by alliance professionals who are ready to seize the reins of leadership.

A Big Bang of new enterprises—maybe 800,000 emerging tech companies, McBain estimates—has exploded into many orbiting forms: software vendors, managed services providers, systems integrators, cloud providers, sure; but also a growing asteroid belt of influencers, enablers, ambassadors, advocates, and companies that drive adoption and ongoing retention of products and services (especially critical, McBain noted, given the rapid movement of major players like IBM, Dell, Cisco, HPE, and others to subscription- and consumption-based models).

Goodbye “Larry,” Hello Netflix

Among other things, these new models, marketplaces, buyers, and buying behaviors mean that B2B purchasing decisions start to look more like consumer buying, and more buyers get to vendor selection without ever connecting with a salesperson or entering a sales or marketing funnel.

“You don’t buy your subscription from ‘Larry in the white van,’” McBain said, using one of my personal favorite examples. “That’s not how you get your Netflix. The customer journey now never ends, so you have to make sure your product never gets unplugged.”

How to go about that effort is now an urgent, “front-burner conversation” for many companies. And although sales and marketing will never die and there’ll always be a channel, the universe of ecosystems, marketplaces, subscriptions, e-commerce, and everything as a service is one that depends on community, relationships, and partnering. It’s the realm of the alliance and partnering professional, not the purely transactional, quota- and tier-driven channel person.

Pressure to Partner, and Pursue Opportunity

“There is a big market,” McBain said. “And there’s a rush in terms of how the alliance sphere is growing. There’s a flood of opportunity—and pressure,” he added.

Part of that pressure is to be able to understand and keep up with these trends and to see the implications for the alliance profession. Another element is that as these ecosystem universes expand, there remain gaps “where we don’t have the right partnerships built,” McBain said, and where new alliance playbooks need to be created and employed.

It’s a heavy task, and a heady period. But the good news?

“Alliance professionals are starting to elevate the role,” McBain said. “This is the time. We accelerated years in our field in a matter of months. Things are changing rapidly.”

Across the alliance and ecosystem universe, partnering professionals everywhere are plugging in the amps and turning them up to 11.

The ASAP Global Alliance Summit continues on Wednesday, March 17, and if you’ve registered, you can access the livestream, archived sessions, and on-demand content. For more information, go to