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How Do Partners Stay Together? A Decade of HP-Microsoft

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/5/2013

Two companies. Two cultures. Two sets of management. Two different fiscal years. Even two different sets of three-letter acronyms. Sound familiar? Could be the story of any alliance—but in this case it’s the Frontline Partnership of Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, which has endured for a decade so far.

Jack Baratta and Lisa Slim told the story of this long-running alliance in their presentation “Allies for the Long Haul: A Decade Inside the HP-Microsoft Frontline Partnership,” this afternoon as the 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit rolled on here in Orlando. Slim is the director of the Microsoft Alliance Americas Enterprise Group at Hewlett-Packard, while Baratta served in that same role until recently. In her current role, Slim now manages 110 people across the Americas who are working only on this alliance. Both have seen the alliance evolve and succeed during the decade of its existence, overcoming many challenges.

How did they do it? They faced up to their challenges and learned from the “school of hard knocks,” according to Baratta. The challenges and differences between the two companies ranged from “Ugh!” to “OMG!” to “the worst,” as Baratta put it—everything from cultural differences to customer segments, from geographic differences to changes in leadership and other personnel, all the way up to coopetition and acquisitions. The “worst” challenges included value migration, strategic evolution, and changing business models. “The degree of complexity amps up quite a bit,” said Baratta.

Slim talked about the learnings gleaned from this alliance, noting that a big one involved leadership: “You have to inspire and lead your teams to press on and adapt,” she said. The HP-Microsoft “Recipe for Collaborative Success,” Slim noted, included having a consistent joint framework, the right people, cyclical collaborative planning, a focus on execution, communicating value, governance cadence, and self-examination.

The two companies worked with Alliancesphere to help iron out some of the problems in the relationship. “Quite frankly there was some dysfunctional behavior, and we were very determined that people be treated in the right way,” Baratta recalled.

“When the wheels fly off, they can really fly off and completely stall the sales process,” Slim acknowledged. This necessitates having open, “adult conversations” with the partner to straighten things out, said Baratta. In this as in any alliance, problems left unresolved tend to rebound and result in disappointment for the customer; in that case, both partners lose.

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