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Expanding the SMB’s Footprint into Its Multinational Partner’s Value Proposition

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 4/24/2013

This week, we are building out a series of posts on alliances between large companies and smaller entities like SMBs and start-ups using excerpts of the interviews we conducted for our cover story on this topic slated for the Q2 2013 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine. One element that is covered in the forthcoming print story is that the onus is on the smaller company to conduct research to find the niche in the larger company’s ecosystem that will advance the latter’s value proposition.

However, what we didn’t reveal in the magazine piece is that the smaller company has an opportunity to expand that niche and help its larger counterpart connect dots within its own organization to drive additional results. Darrin Carroll, CPA, director of corporate business development at specialty tax technology solution provider Vertex Inc., spoke to us about his company’s relationship with IBM, which began when Big Blue closed on its acquisition of Vertex Inc.’s longtime partner Cognos in 2008. Vertex Inc. has dedicated a lot of effort the past few years to establishing relationships at IBM. Initially, the company leveraged its Cognos contacts to make inroads in the Global 500 partner’s software division.

More recently, Vertex Inc. has identified ways its tax calculation software could bolster Big Blue’s services business offerings and is now trying to convince its software-side allies that it is worth their time and effort to advocate on the smaller partner’s behalf. To do this, it is incumbent upon the Vertex Inc. team to arm the IBM software group with the ammunition to make the case. This entails more than just providing the raw data—case studies, testimonials, anecdotes, revenue figures, etc.—but doing so in the language of IBM’s corporate culture; Vertex Inc. has delivered case studies in the form of IBM “blueprints”—business cases and white papers used by Big Blue to pitch its prospects.

“As we’re going further into the relationship and giving proof points along the way to them, we’re now showing a better business case as to why they’re more apt to get [us] to those folks [in IBM Global Services],” said Carroll.

Most important, of course, is to provide the “what’s-in-it-for-me” to the software people.

“It will help them sell more units on the software side through services,” said Carroll.

In essence, according to Carroll, you simply have to help your contact help you by illustrating how this act will, in turn, boomerang and boost the efforts of his or her division. And all of this information—PowerPoint decks, elevator pitches, and anything else illustrating the high-level benefits to that division and its customers—needs to be prepared in such a way that the partner contact can understand it clearly.

“If you can do that homework ahead of time and give [your primary partner contact] some ammunition to help you, they’re more apt to help you,” said Carroll.

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Governance—SMBs Learn to Live with It, Alliances Can’t Live Without It

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 4/23/2013

In our continuing series on alliances between large multinational companies and smaller entities (SMBs and start-ups), we examine an issue that surprisingly didn’t make it into the cover story of our forthcoming Q2 2013 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine on the same topic. When we originally set out in pursuit of this article on so-called “David-Goliath” alliances, we postulated based on informal conversations with members that a big part of managing this type of alliance would be to help SMBs, biotechs, and start-ups deal with both alliance governance processes as well as the inherent bureaucracy that comes with large company operations.

As part of this issue we examined whether the bigger organization would find itself having to quell the practice of “decision shopping” by its smaller partner—circumventing the alliance governance structure and chain of command when the larger organization’s primary contacts are not giving you the answer you want, and getting a “go” signal from an executive at another branch, division, regional unit, or other part of the multi-armed multinational. The smaller organization can in theory say it got necessary approvals to proceed on a course, even if that decision really was never sanctioned by the big company’s alliance constituents.

According to the people we spoke with, this practice is generally the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, those bypassing the alliance communications channels are not necessarily ill intentioned, according to ASAP New England chapter president Frank Curran, director of business development and alliances at SUSE.

“Some people go around for honest reasons where they know somebody [at the big company] and they think that that can help. It frustrates and actually causes chaos because it hurts your peer’s stature because someone else above [at the large company] is going to question him,” he said.

Rob Wills, vice president of alliance management at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, said biotechs and other smaller pharma companies are very good about utilizing the governance structure properly. He outlined a rare exception—when “this no-yes is the death of the program,” which is covered in the Q2 2013 cover story. He also added that Janssen has had experiences when the smaller partner has sidestepped the larger company entirely, not just its governance structure.

“What we have had is they get impatient and they make a decision without us, and then they ask for forgiveness,” he said.

Later in our conversation, Wills explained that the committees, which of course have smaller company representation, ultimately help resolve disagreements a large majority of the time. He acknowledged that there are occasional situations that grow so contentious that they cannot be settled using the formal governance measures, but he said these instances are “more rare than common.”

Wills also said that trust, open lines of communication, and rigorous education on the alliance governance and internal Janssen corporate processes go a long way in preventing snafus that might arise from a failure to properly navigate a large company, in general. Pannie Trifillis, Ph.D., CA-AM, director of alliance management at PTC Therapeutics, agreed.

“Even though we are a small company, we understand and embrace the need to have governance committees and processes. We expect our partners to be transparent about these processes and to help us navigate the system within their organization,” she said.

Curran certainly understands how employees at start-ups might get tripped up trying to make sense of the many tentacles of a global company. In a previous life he orchestrated alliances on behalf of a few start-ups. If nothing else, the speed of decision making alone might frustrate the smaller company alliance counterparts.

“When I was in a startup or emerging tech, we went into a room and made a decision—the CEO was there. [At large companies], CEOs and vice presidents are traveling around the world, and the stakeholders for each initiative are often dispersed,” he said. “You have to bring more people into the conversation often from many geographies and product groups.”

Besides, added Curran, getting the most senior people at a large organization isn’t necessarily going to help the immediate cause since alliance initiatives with smaller organizations are rarely big enough to warrant their attention.

“[My smaller company counterpart might say] ‘Why can’t you get something done? So-and-so is on vacation. Can’t you go higher?’ No. Even if I went to the vice president, he’s going to say, “Go work with the marketing manager,’” said Curran.

Corporate and alliance governance might create seemingly extra hurdles, but without it these multinational/SMB alliances would ultimately get tripped up.

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Alliance Managers’ Play Big Role in Getting Start-ups in the Door at Multinational

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 4/19/2013

It’s that time again where we are in the process of putting the next issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine to bed and poring over some valuable material that ended up on the cutting room floor due to space reasons. (How’s that for referencing old media clichés on a modern-day form of communication?)

For our cover story we spoke with several people from both sides of the fence of so-called “David-Goliath” partnerships, alliances between large companies and SMBs or start-ups. This is oftentimes a misnomer in our book since the bigger entity in these isn’t always looking to strong-arm its smaller partner. There are exceptions, of course, one of which you will read about below. Dennis Skigen, CSAP, business development consultant for Fitbug, online wellness coaching service and a maker of a device that helps people monitor their exercise activity and manage nutrition, has put together relationships with bigger health care entities such as the UK-based Willis. Skigen spoke about the role ASAP has played in getting Fitbug into meaningful conversations with a handful of large pharmaceutical players, including Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly and Company.

“It was game changing for us as a small company to be able to have that access. It is not the same thing as giving you a meeting with HR,” he said.

Although the connections made through ASAP networking opportunities help immensely in getting Fitbug in the door with these multinationals, Skigen also credited the unique nature of the alliance manager for enabling the start-up to make its case. For one, alliance managers are not as omnipresent as marketing, sales, and other professionals, so they have a natural camaraderie, to a degree. Moreover, alliance pros can compare their wares without making the conversation a sales pitch.

“The conversation has a different tone and a different level because you’re not trying to shine them on [your offering]. You’re not trying to give them the razzle dazzle or the dog-and-pony show, or any of those chestnut sayings,” said Skigen.

Shooting for the Moon

Prior to his current post at Fitbug, Skigen spent time with Digital Integrator, a technology start-up that collaborated closely with U.S. Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA. Digital Integrator encountered unique dynamics in working with some of the largest government agencies. The company found that governmental politics could be a significantly more disruptive force than your run-of-the-mill office politics. A major initiative backed by then West Virginia senator Robert Byrd was scuttled by President George W. Bush when the former was outspoken in his public criticism of the Commander-in-Chief. But even before that, Skigen’s upstart company had gotten the attention of bigger competitors in the U.S. government’s partner ecosystem, and unlike much of the IT industry there weren’t rules of engagement that kept competitors playing nice—or nice enough.

“The big companies got wind of us and [learned] that we had a solution that was better than theirs, and they squeezed us out,” said Skigen. “If you shoot for the moon, there’s going to be people looking at you.”

This isn’t to say that this was true across the board. Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) played a big role in integrating Digital Integrator’s financial market data integration technology into bigger solutions for these government bureaus, and even offered to take a stake in the company at one point. Although Digital Integrator never made it to the promised land of unfathomable riches like many of its dot-com-era brethren, Skigen is still proud to have forged partnerships that brought him into the “inner sanctum” of our federal government. And at the very least, even if the connections he forges through other alliance managers do not pan out to something tangible, he knows his peers will have given him a fair shot.

“[Alliance managers] are collaborators. They are willing to talk about what makes sense.”

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Intel's Changing World

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 4/15/2013

This weekend, the New York Times profiled ASAP Corporate Member Intel examining the chip and semiconductor giant's plight as it faces an inevitable decline in its PC chip revenues over the next few years.

The piece talks about the efforts of longtime Intel partner ASAP Global Member Microsoft to diversify its chip partner base, Intel's recent collaboration with Hollywood players around a television set-top box and subscription service, and its less-publicized partnerships with wireless companies outside of North America on chips for smartphones and tablets.

On one hand, Intel will be challenged to compete in the new consumer environment that de-emphasizes the PC, in large part because smartphones and tablets require lower-cost lower-margin chips—not Intel's sweet spot. However, as ASAP Toronto chapter president Phil Hogg, CA-AM, vice president of strategic alliances for Moneris Solutions, noted in his 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit presentation, the company has already taken measures to cope with this reality with its spinoff organization Celeron. Moreover, the world of cloud and mobile is still early in its evolution. Intel still has time to insert itself into these markets while the dust is still settling and establish a partner ecosystem that can help it quickly develop products that meet the needs of customers while defraying the costs of getting market traction in this lower-revenue segment.

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Former FDA Head: Complex Drugs Require Closer Collaboration Between Biotechs, Medical Devices Companies

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 4/12/2013

Former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, who served in this capacity from 2005 to 2009, had some interesting things to say about the changing nature of drug development in early clinical stages. According to the Boston Business Journal, "Von Eschenbach stressed that the medical industry is at an inflection point, due to rapid advancement in recent years in understanding how cells and cell nuclei work. But as the types of medical conditions and diseases that are being targeted are more complex, the solutions needed to address them go beyond a simple drug or medical device. And that means companies working together much more than current intellectual property laws allows.

'You need to be collaborating and sharing intellectual property at the very outset,' he said. 'Today, there are huge barriers to doing that.'”

In the full Boston Business Journal article, von Eschenbach is said to have suggested regulatory changes and an overhaul in funding models to facilitate this type of collaboration. However, one has to wonder whether medical device companies and biotechs have the collaboration skills to execute effectively, even if von Eschenbach's recommendations were implemented.

This week, we put the editorial content for the Q2 2013 issue of Strategic Alliance Magazine to bed. During the course of putting our cover story on big company/small company alliances together, we were reminded that biotechs oftentimes need the larger company to guide them through working with alliance governance processes and such—not always, mind you, but it is common for the smaller entity to follow Big Pharma's lead. When you talk about a biotech–medical device collaboration, now you can conceivably have two alliance novices, which could lead to less-than-optimal execution of combination drug-medical device products.

Is this a real concern? We'd love to hear from the folks from the biopharma side.

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