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Dancing with the Alliance Stars

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/9/2013

The 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit is over, but the impressions it left us with are many—from the Alliance Excellence Awards Dinner to the evening receptions to the breakfast roundtables to the many great speakers and presenters. Thursday, March 7, the last day of the Summit, saw some outstanding presentations, including “What Alliance Pros Can Learn from Dancing with the Stars: How Trust, Alignment, and Some Nimble Footwork Can Help Your Career Performance,” a novel multimedia extravaganza led by Robert Porter Lynch, CEO of The Warren Company and ASAP founding chairman, and Patricia Garcia, formerly associate director at Sanofi and a former competitive ballroom dancer.

Using clips from The King and I, Dancing with the Stars, ice dancing, and pro wrestling, Lynch and Garcia looked at the commonalities between alliances and various forms of dance: the concepts of synergy, synchronicity, and symphony—or as Lynch put it, referring back to those words’ Greek roots, “We’re going to tell you how to ‘syn.’”

It all comes down to alignment: alliance partners, like dance partners, must be in synch. And the creative potential inherent in alliances must be harnessed in some way, yoked to a series of agreed-on “steps” that keep the partners together in rhythm.

“Alliances can be a creative engagement,” Garcia explained. “But how do we access the creativity? Alliances reveal the heart and soul of a company. Dance reveals the heart and soul of civilizations; they’re measured by their art. When you come together with someone else who has their own culture, it gives you an opportunity. You have to have the desire to interact, but also the desire and the will to be acted upon. That is sometimes the tougher side of things, to have your heart and soul be entered by someone else.”

In order for that to happen, there has to be trust. Lynch demonstrated this idea graphically with his Ladder of Trust diagram, with the various trusting behaviors on top and a number of alliance-busting, distrusting behaviors lying “below the belt.” Without trust, on which Lynch has written extensively, the alliance’s foundation will break down, and what could have been a promising collaboration falls victim to “the tornado of distrust,” as Lynch termed it.

The clip from Dancing with the Stars, like the others used, was fascinating, and showed the transformation of the amateur of the pair, a female pro wrestler, from using her “assets” to attack and defend in the wrestling ring, to using her newly acquired abilities to collaborate and get into beautiful alignment with her professional male dancing partner.

This showed, said Garcia, that “depending on how you set the stage, you can drive people up the ladder [of trust] or down, bring out the worst or the best in people, in any human being.”

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Crossing the "Great Divide" of Culture

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/9/2013

“We don’t really notice our own culture; we kind of take it for granted. When you enter another culture, you’re looking for things you’re not used to seeing,” said Andrew Masland, senior manager for NEC Corporation of America, at this past week’s 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, in a discussion entitled “Across the Great Divide: Managing Alliances for Success Given Cultural Differences,” given with copresenter Judy Mirkin, director of global alliance and business development for Riverbed Technology.

It becomes critical to do this looking across boundaries when entering into alliances with companies and individuals from other cultures. But “culture” may in fact be a broader term than it might at first appear. Cultural divides can occur across geographies, such as North America, Europe, Japan, Asia Pacific, South America, and Africa; across companies from different industries such as IT, education, and health care; and even within one company, where dividing lines can arise between different product groups, business groups, and geographies.

National culture and language differences may be the most obvious “great divides,” however. Whatever culture your alliance takes you into, Mirkin advised alliance professionals to be aware of and sensitive to the very real divergences in behavior and thinking that may mean the difference between success and failure in an alliance. “Take the time to learn [that culture], and then embrace the differences,” she urged. “And just because you don’t speak the language, don’t stop listening.”

Examples of cultural differences that Masland and Mirkin mentioned run the gamut from eating dinner at nine o’clock (Spain), to not answering emails in preference to oral communication (Arab countries), to what may seem to Americans like rather abrupt and frank discussions (Germany), to an emphasis on doing business via mobile phones (western and central Africa, where Western-style infrastructure is often lacking).

Learning foreign languages is great—even mastering a simple phrase like “thank you” is a plus, and shows your alliance partners that you have taken some time to learn at least a little of their culture—but even in situations where interpreters are relied upon, Mirkin pointed out some things to be aware of. She encouraged getting some time with them first so they understand what is going on and are thoroughly briefed.

“Invite them in and make them as much a part of your meeting as you can,” she said. “Ask, ‘Did I miss anything? Was anything lost?’ Document the meeting and confirm so everyone leaves with the same marching orders and understanding.” Also, even when using an interpreter, you still want to look the person you’re talking to in the eye and speak to them directly—they may know some of your language, so it’s a bad idea to say to the interpreter, “Tell him that…,” Mirkin noted. Awareness of nonverbal communication such as body language is also key: “When language lets you down, look for the cues.”

In short, dealing with other cultures in alliance work is a matter of learning as much as you can, being aware of potential issues, and being sensitive to differences that may cause misunderstandings if not handled skillfully, according to both Masland and Mirkin. Flexibility and openness are critical, and it’s best if potential issues can be handled ahead of time and up front.

“The important thing is, what will work?” said Mirkin.

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What Does It Take to Be a Collaborative Leader?

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/9/2013

They’re often referred to as “soft skills”—those sometimes intangible qualities that good to great alliance managers have and which they deploy so skillfully to bring diverse stakeholders together, shepherd complex alliances to the next milestone and the one after that, resolve difficult problems, and drive collaborations through to success.

But there’s nothing soft about these rare and important qualities—in fact they’re the very necessary components that make up not only today’s alliance professionals, but tomorrow’s collaborative leaders, according to Chris Elliott, director of Australia-based strategic relationship consultancy PeopleForce Pty Ltd. Elliott’s presentation at the just-concluded 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “The Collaborative Leader: New Leadership Skills for a Connected and Collaborative Future,” laid out some of the skills that great alliance managers have, as well as those that will be required as the future grows increasingly connected and collaborative.

These skills include what Elliott called “presencing,” a way of learning that not only reflects on the experiences of the past, but senses the future as it emerges, being open to it and learning from it. Alliance professionals also practice a type of leadership that spans organizational and cultural boundaries, crossing or strengthening those boundaries as dictated by the needs of any particular alliance. Furthermore, Elliott highlighted six particular skills—three pairs, actually—that are essential to the collaborative leader of the rapidly oncoming future: buffering and reflecting; connecting and creating shared identity; and weaving and transforming. These kinds of skills, in Elliott’s view, are “unique gifts” that differentiate and elevate the role of the alliance manager.

Even the questions for reflection that Elliott left Summit attendees with were thought-provoking:
  1. If I were a clairvoyant, and you could ask me three questions about what will happen in your alliance over the next 18 months, what would those three questions be?
  2. As a collaborative leader, what is the transformational impact you are committed to have on the future of your alliance or collaboration? Describe your commitment: “I am committed to…”
  3. Within the next two to three weeks, what is the action or conversation you must have, and with whom, to bring about the transformational shift in your collaboration or alliance?
  4. What are the “unique gifts” that you bring to this collaborative leadership opportunity?
Elliott encouraged alliance managers to view themselves as forward thinkers, able to see a couple steps ahead of senior leadership, as well as change agents who have the power to transform organizations and individuals. He also urged alliance pros to get more involved in ASAP.

“It’s a platform, and the more involved you are, the more we can make this revolution,” Elliott said. “You are bridge builders. You are connected.”

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SMBs: It Takes One to Know One—and to Sell to One

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/8/2013

Manoj Bhatia, CA-AM, senior product marketing manager of go-to-market strategy for the midmarket at Cisco, dedicated his 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit presentation to a topic we at ASAP Media will explore in much greater depth in our upcoming Q2 2013 issue—the David-Goliath relationship. Where our article will be limited to big and small entities working together as partners, Bhatia expanded the discussion to discuss selling to SMBs, as well as selling with them, in his session “When Your Customer or Partner Is Small.”

Bhatia first laid out Cisco’s organizational model for its SMB channel sales efforts—a business unit–driven strategy guiding sales, marketing, and channel activities.

What do small resellers and technology start-ups want from their larger partners? The sales organization wants help closing deals, the channels division wants sweetened incentives, while the marketing department wants messaging and campaign support—but in a digestible form rather than hundreds of pages of collateral.

Balancing the two entities’ needs isn’t necessarily simple or straightforward, particularly when the Global 1,000 organization and start-up collaborate to sell to SMBs. Since SMB transactions are generally lower-margin, the large company tends to want the smaller channel partner to carry out much of the sale and thus take on most of the costs. If that’s the case, channel partners need incentives, training, and resources. Moreover, that SMB partner has to get a simplified version of all relevant messaging.

Because if done properly, a large largely untapped market segment can be captured, particularly for Bhatia’s division at Cisco which is responsible for collaboration infrastructure technologies such as voice-over IP and video—a $7.1 billion market in which 75 percent of businesses have not yet embraced these new technologies fully. Also working in large vendors’ favor is a friendlier selling climate that is seeing SMB customers trusting larger companies more and more as long as it enjoys a good customer experience, according to Bhatia.

Towards the end of the presentation, Bhatia posed five rules for selling to the SMB segment: 1) keep it simple—limit the scope of messaging and governance so as not to overwhelm the partner; 2) address the hard questions up front; 3) energize overlooked distributors—“they’re big box movers,” said Bhatia—; 4) define new vectors through existing partners, competitive partners, and distributors, and “farm, hunt, and nurture” them accordingly; and 5) launch both client- and partner-focused strategic initiatives. On this latter point, Bhatia cited partner enablement, market pulse, and market map–related activities as examples of partner-focused initiatives, while new campaigns around migration, customer experience, and competitive intelligence exemplify client-focused ideas.

Bhatia spent some time showing how tricky it can be for a large organization to execute rule two. A company like Cisco has to balance the needs of both the enterprise and SMB’s respective sales efforts and allocate resources to them judiciously. It isn’t always obvious, for example, whether to pursue one $10 million deal versus 200 half million–dollar accounts. Likewise, if 20 percent of a 5,000-partner base is active, does a company try to ignite the other 4,000 “dormant” partners, double down on your top 1,000, or hunt for another 1,000 new partners?

Selecting the resources to provide this SMB ecosystem is tricky, too; resellers may benefit from utilizing the “cool” product kit in their sales efforts, but does that mean you have to provide the costlier kit to all 5,000 partners? Similarly, do you mass market to many prospective smaller customers or focus more finely on five bigger clients?

Bhatia ended the speaking engagement with three summary points. Larger partners need to provide simplicity to smaller partners and a good experience for customers. Meanwhile, the SMB partner must leverage the large firm’s marketing machine and skills training to bolster its sales practice. All the while, the business unit function overseeing the large company’s sales, channel, and marketing operations needs to create what Bhatia called a “SWAT go-to-market” team to reinforce alliance principles and define and refine strategy as the SMB program unfolds.

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IBM Exec Advises Not to SCIP Out on Intelligence Gathering

Posted By Administration, Friday, June 20, 2014
Originally posted on 3/8/2013

Competitive intelligence in the partner life cycle was the topic of a second-day 2013 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session presented by Nancy Breiman, CA-AM, manager of innovation alliances and cloud center of excellence at IBM, titled “Where the Rubber Meets the Road.” Breiman wanted to bring attention to an unheralded role player in the corporate machine—the competitive intelligence professional, the person that delineates tons of internal and external data (everything from press releases to annual reports to news articles to 10-K statements) to provide insight into a partner, prospect, ecosystem, or individual alliance opportunity. A member of the Strategic Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), Breiman espoused having an appointed competitive intelligence executive within an organization if one does not exist, or leveraging that person correctly if there is someone fulfilling that role.

Sprinkling NASCAR analogies throughout her presentation, Breiman laid out the questions that need to be asked in each stage of the alliance life cycle and competitive intelligence needed to answer them—and very clearly too, perhaps so as not to leave the audience dizzy as if they had driven in circles for 200-plus laps.

Breiman began with some questions about the big-picture state of the solution set under examination such as, were where are your solution gaps? Are you looking for a traditional or innovation alliance? Are you filling a void or establishing leadership in a market? Is this a short- or long-term initiative? Would this alliance partner be a potential M+A candidate? A variety of market and competitive intelligence needed to be gathered to answer these questions including an internal strategy gap breakdown, an overall market opportunity evaluation, and a potential partner analysis. Breiman added that these are lengthy processes, so leave plenty of time to gather this information.

“Don't expect your SCIP pro to turn around answers in two days,” said Breiman.

Breiman then drilled down into the partner evaluation stage. It is here that companies need to ask of the potential ally what type of partner are they? What markets does the company serve? What are the company’s business strategy, competitive positioning, and product roadmaps?

“You have to ask these questions, or you’re going to be in divorce court,” quipped Breiman.

The intelligence to gather: partner market position, financial health, and market share (by geo, industry, and current and future products). This type of information is pretty accessible for public companies, but private entities might require some “triangulation” of press releases and general market trends to figure the answers out., said Breiman.

Next up was the recruitment phase where companies need to examine partner maturity, cultural compatibility, and the ability to deliver at the field sales level—that is, align a sales team around a message and execute.

The first half of the development phase—in which Breiman compared a racecar’s engine to a company’s “marketing engine”—the first question was where can we get early success?

“If you haven’t gotten anything in the first six months [of the partnership], you’ve probably picked the wrong partner,” said Breiman.

Other questions included what do we have to sell? What can we enable? What is our messaging and who are our targets? Solving these riddles entailed first assessing whether marketing and messaging were aligned. Do you have a basic joint value proposition? What about joint competitive positioning?

The other half of the development phase—preparing for the race, according to Breiman—is about examining who and how to go to market together and where to focus efforts. Do we have the skills to execute? What key performance indicators (KPIs) are we using? Solution, revenue, and profit analyses are the beginning of figuring this out. A target analysis and a review of joint sales skills and the the compatibility of each partner’s compensation models are also critical to this venture.

When it is time to run the race and execute, the alliance manager and/or alliance management practice must shadow and mentor the client, so your company can ultimately add value and get you in front of the customer.

Breiman compared the competitive advantages that come with great intelligence gathering and preparation throughout the alliance life cycle to the results of the recent Daytona 500 NASCAR race in which Jimmie Johnson beat Danica Patrick despite the latter owning the fastest car and the best pole position on the race’s final day.

“You might not have the best product, but you can still win.”

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