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Finding Opportunity in Disruption: Pivot your Partner Strategy

Posted By Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP | Phoenix Consulting Group, Saturday, August 29, 2020

Have you rethought your partner ecosystem strategy in terms of what new opportunities lie ahead? Are you prepared to find the opportunity in disruption? We can assume that business as usual is not going to work in today’s volatile business climate because business has become unusual. Yet, disruptive times are times of great opportunity for those who are alert in spotting them.

Shortly after the 2008 Great Recession, I dusted off a white paper written in the aftermath of the dot.com implosion in 2001. Based on discussions with the alliances leaders, I learned that Cisco had doubled down on their alliance strategy to buffer the impact. By continuing to invest in alliances and realigning their strategy, Cisco generated 12% growth in alliance revenue during a time of general economic contraction and while the rest of their business was struggling.

In 2008 it was the financial sector that went into meltdown.

A colleague of mine worked with partners specializing in the financial sector. I erroneously assumed that his business had cratered with the financial institutions. I was wrong. Business was booming. Financial institutions were facing mergers, acquisitions, and consolidation. They were addressing compliance and regulatory issues that had been overlooked, leading to the crises, and were planning for new regulations and compliance issues that they anticipated would be legislated. My colleague was in a unique position to help solve the big problems these businesses are facing.

In the Covid economic crises, ecosystems are again shifting to address new opportunities: work from home solutions, tele-medicine, contact tracing, collaboration on therapies and vaccines. How can you pivot your partner strategies to survive and take advantage of new opportunities?

Follow the shifts in buying behavior. Spending might be reduced in a recession, but it also shifts.  Buying behavior changes. Smart businesses realign their strategies to take advantage of those shifts. The sudden work from home mandates created enormous opportunities. Microsoft and Google started promoting their web-conferencing tools aggressively and created programs and incentives for their partners to take advantage of the trend.

Solve the big problems created by disruption. Logistics went through a major disruption as retail goods shifted from storefront to webfront buying. The transportation network was in a frenzy rescheduling planes, ships, and trucking to serve this enormous shift. This dynamic and sudden shift required companies that normally compete to collaborate more effectively. An example, a business that uses Mercury Gate for inbound freight but might use JDA for international ocean shipping. In order to get shipments from point A to point B, these two transportation platforms needed to be able to share information and communicate in real time.

Leverage the benefits of shared costs and shared rewards. Partners are the ultimate ‘do more with less’ strategic play. Partners combine forces to provide even stronger customer value proposition at lower costs. Half of the assets and expenses are on your partner’s books.

Partner marketing has always been a great cost share opportunity. A marketing colleague shifted all marketing spending to co-marketing with partners resulting in lead generation and shared costs. A bonus of this strategy was that cross marketing on partners’ house lists yielded much higher quality leads. He achieved a higher quality sales funnel at half the costs!

There are opportunities for those who can address the pain points created by disruption and provide solutions. How can you realign your partner ecosystem strategy to focus on where companies will be compelled to spend to stay viable? Disruption creates opportunity and those who recover successfully will be those who can pivot their strategy to take advantage of the changes.

Norma Watenpaugh , CSAP, is a founding partner at Phoenix Consulting Group, which specializes in helping companies find more value in their most important strategic business relationships. This blog was originally posted on August 25, 2020 in LinkedIn.

Tags:  acquisitions  alliance leaders  Cisco  co-marketing  compliance  consolidation  ecosystem  financial sector  mergers  Norma Watenpaugh  partner  partner marketing  partners  Phoenix Consulting Group  strategy 

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How Do You Build the Partner Executive of the Future?

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Monday, July 6, 2020

The rapid pace of change over the past few months has had everyone scrambling to keep up and adjust to whatever the “next normal” is—if it even makes sense to talk about “normal” at all these days. This has been true in every industry, but perhaps nowhere more so than in information technology, where the disruptions and changes were seemingly constant even before the coronavirus pandemic hit and the beat goes on accordingly.

As part of the on-demand content available to those registered for the just-concluded ASAP Global Alliance Summit, a panel was convened to discuss just how today’s technology alliance and partnering leaders can weather these frequent storms, be proactive in responding to partnering trends, act strategically, and think multiple steps ahead as they face so many uncertainties every day.

Moderated by Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP, CEO and founding principal of Phoenix Consulting Group, the panel—“The Strategic Partner Executive of the Future and the Skills Needed for Success”—also featured:

  • Rafael Contreras, area vice president, global operations, strategy and chief of staff at ServiceNow
  • Jim Chow, enterprise cloud solution evangelist and strategic partnerships/channel executive at Google
  • Greg Fox, CSAP, formerly general manager of networking and communications/vice president of alliances at WorkSpan

Watenpaugh began by outlining a list, put out by Pearson Learning and the Society of Human Resource Managers, of what makes a “star partner/alliance manager.” They must be:

  • Able to lead and influence
  • Willing to take initiative with little or no oversight
  • Strategic and global thinkers seeking and creating opportunities
  • Dynamic, creative, independent thinkers
  • People-oriented with high empathy
  • Highly cooperative, preferring to work in teams
  • Effective at networking across organizational boundaries
  • Able to flex rules to get things done
  • Capable of dealing with high levels of ambiguity

About the last quality, Watenpaugh commented: “In particular, in today’s business climate, especially in the last three to five months, we’ve had to use this muscle a lot, because it is a very disruptive, uncertain market, and being able to navigate through it is key.”

And that’s a lot. But that may not be the half of it.

Being a “Connector” Is No Longer Enough

Jim Chow of Google spoke of what he called some of the “more traditional mindsets and skills of alliance leaders, [versus] mindsets and attributes of what I believe is the partner of the future.” Among these necessary changes in attitude were going from a “built to last” mindset to “built to adapt,” “walking the talk” on digital transformation, and having alliance managers go from just being a “people person” to acting as the “CEO or general manager of the alliance,” someone who can think and operate strategically and also bridge generational and other divides. And as much as anything else, they need to embrace change.

“How do I think about change differently?” Chow asked. “Not just, ‘It’s going to come up and I’ll have to deal with it,’ but actually build change into the process. The market is moving faster now than anything I’ve seen in technology in the last 10 years.”

Chow was emphatic about the kind of mind shift alliance managers need to embrace and own if they want to succeed in tomorrow’s world. “In the past,” he said, you’d hear “‘I’m an alliance manager, I’m just a connector.’ That is no longer enough. You need to be owning the business, driving the business, helping partners as an executive, directing them to realize the value of the partnership, guiding them and telling them where to go.”

He also advocated for “evangelizing solutions” with more of a launch-iterate–fail fast approach, which he said has worked for Google, Amazon, and other high-tech heavyweights. “You’re not going to get it perfect coming out of the gate,” he advised. “You don’t know what you don’t know, and there’s not time to find out to make it perfect. So you do your best to launch what makes sense quickly, rapidly and aggressively get feedback from your customers and partners, and iterate and launch until you get it right.”

It’s All Ecosystems Now

Greg Fox, formerly of WorkSpan, said that alliance managers—including prospective ones—need to understand the shift from traditional one-to-one alliance models to ecosystems of multiple partners. He cited research from IDC, Accenture, and Forrester showing the importance and disruptive power of ecosystems, including that companies in ecosystems are growing 50 percent faster than those that are not part of one.

He also said that alliance and partnering managers need to be able to orient themselves around build-with, market-with, and sell-with frameworks, and to connect with all tiers of an ecosystem; to emphasize creating a great partner experience as much as a great customer experience; and to adopt digital tools to drive collaborative business relationships, since traditional tools are no longer enough given an ecosystems context.

Fox stressed that much of what he and the others were discussing, from business trends and speed of change to the capabilities needed by those who seek to manage partnerships and ecosystems, goes beyond the usual realms of IT and biopharma and extends into other industries, from insurance to agribusiness to retail and more.

From Legacy Leftovers to Listening Channels

Rafael Contreras of ServiceNow proposed another idea that cuts across many industries and verticals: not allowing “comfortable legacy ideas to dictate your strategy.” And given that change and evolution are continuous, as he put it, “A lot of things that have worked before need to take that step forward.”

Time horizons in many cases also need to change. “We’ve challenged a lot of our alliance managers to think beyond the 12-month range of commissions and quotas,” Contreras said, “and really start to focus on that long-term business objective.”

Another golden piece of advice Contreras provided was “never build in a vacuum.” He urged, “You need the feedback from the ecosystem, from the alliance managers, you need the business to share its feedback to you as well.” At his company, this is done via “listening channels,” councils, trainings, surveys, and other means. All of it helps in understanding partners’ and customers’ pain points, problems, and requirements, and what would constitute success for them.

Where Do Alliances Fit?

Acknowledging that partnering and alliance management are not always recognized or understood in organizations, and may report to numerous divisions ranging from marketing to sales to even human resources, Watenpaugh asked the panelists to suggest where in an enterprise alliances might best fit.

Chow took the first run at the question. “I think the best place in the organization—as long as the executive team views alliances and partners and channels as critical—is as a direct report to the CEO or general manager of the business. Then the partnerships or alliances team has a seat at the table for all the highest-level strategy in the organization. That’s ideal.” This is not always the reality, of course, and as he said, it can be dictated by “power dynamics or who’s running the show.”

“Regardless of where it reports,” Fox chimed in, “it has to look at how outcomes can best be achieved—whether revenue, or customer success, or accelerating times to market.”

Said Contreras, “It comes down to the objectives desired: What kind of experience are you trying to have with partners?”

Lucky to Be on a Wild and Crazy Ride

Toward the end of the panel presentation, Watenpaugh commenced a “lightning round” in which she asked the panelists what advice they would give to someone who says they want to be an alliance manager.

Fox: “Excellent! Welcome to the profession. Now, get ready for a wild and crazy ride!”

Chow encouraged asking why—if they want to have an impact on strategic alliances, then “great.” They’ll need energy, patience, and persistence, because it’s a difficult job in which “you don’t control a lot,” so often all you have at your disposal is “influence.” But if they say they’re a “people person” and they think it would be cool to work with partners, then “find something else to do.”

Contreras said that he had actually hired some budding partner managers right out of school, and felt that they were very “lucky” given the kind of exposure they get right off the bat.

“You’re not going to get this in almost any other department,” he explained. “You’re talking to entrepreneurs, founders, people who have taken the risk and the leap to start new businesses—and their business model depends on your alignment with them and their business objectives.”

So the partner leader of the future had better buckle in, put the strategic thinking hat on, wear the ecosystem pants, and get ready for a wild and crazy ride. Because the future gets here fast these days.

Tags:  channels  Ecosystem  enterprise cloud  Google  Greg Fox  information technology  Jim Chow  Norma Watenpaugh  pandemic  partner exec  partnering  Rafael Contreras  ServiceNow  technology alliance 

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Here’s to Another Alliance Launch

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, October 31, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Alliances win—and the profession of alliance management advances—when we partner together to meet the challenges ahead.

     In this “best of the past” issue of Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we’re actually embarking at the same time on a new voyage into the future. So I thought it would be a good idea to introduce—or reintroduce—myself to ASAP members and readers.

     It’s been my good fortune recently to be named editor in chief of this magazine and senior editorial consultant to ASAP. Some of you might remember me from my time editing and writing for what was then Strategic Alliance Magazine from its first issue in Q2 2011 until early 2014. I was also involved in editing the 2013 ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management: A Practitioner’s Guide, supporting the editorial team so skillfully led by Norma Watenpaugh, Ard-Pieter de Man, Dave Luvison, and others.

     My experience has largely been in the realms of writing and editing—copyediting, proofreading, and production editing for book publishers; and writing for and serving as editor or managing editor of a couple of quarterly magazines and one weekly newspaper. 

     Late last year I was thrilled to be asked to work with ASAP once again and write two (so far) updates to the Handbook: a supplement on IT partnering (completed) and another on biopharma alliances (in progress). Throughout the process of interviewing ASAP members and other alliance leaders for these supplements over the last few months, I was struck time and again by how knowledgeable, insightful, and far-seeing the members of this community are.

     These senior executives, consultants, researchers, and analysts drove home for me a number of important points. One is that alliance professionals need to transition from being merely “managers” who do what they’re told to leading as big-picture strategic visionaries who take an entrepreneurial view of partnering as they guide their alliances to fruition. Another is that they need to take responsibility for their own careers and take charge of their collaborations, working in multiple directions at once to educate and align senior leaders, get stakeholder buy-in, and achieve a sense of trust with partners, among other mission-critical activities.

     This is certainly easier said than done, and as one alliance leader told me, alliance managers typically end up “wearing many hats on one head,” accountable to people above and below them—not to mention laterally, in diverse functional areas—in their organization, as well as to their counterparts at partner companies.

In addition, these already busy, time-constrained folks somehow need to “see around corners” in their partnerships, their company, and their industry in order to know what’s coming next and help decide how their organizations—and their partnering strategies—will need to adjust, pivot, or even about-face to meet the challenges. This is especially true in the fast-moving world of technology partnering, but it applies as well to biopharma and practically any other sector you can name.

     As one IT industry analyst put it: “The whole world has blown up, and now it’s landing and settling. The head of alliances will be the most important person in any company in the next ten years. It’s going to create winners and losers, and complete disruption. But alliances win!”

     All the more reason for today’s companies to have not just an alliance management function, but a partnering strategy. More to the point, any corporate strategic vision should include partnering and alliances as part of the way business gets done, as a key route to competitive success in this age of ecosystems, complex supply chains, new markets, and ever more volatile conditions. The people and companies that can get that strategy nailed down and take it to market will be the most successful in a time of disruption.

     That, of course, is where ASAP comes in, drawing on the collective wisdom of its members in order to lead, educate, and set the agenda for the profession. I’m incredibly pleased to once more be partnering with ASAP in this endeavor, and as we launch our alliance, I invite you to be a part of it. Contact me anytime with article ideas and submissions, suggestions for blog posts or other content, and questions or comments about what we’re doing. And if you see me at BioPharma in Boston, the European Alliance Summit in Amsterdam, or next year’s Global Alliance Summit in Tampa, come up and say hello!

Michael J. Burke is editor in chief of Strategic Alliance Quarterly and senior editorial consultant to ASAP. He can be reached at mburke@strategic-alliances.org.

Tags:  alliance management advances  Alliances  Ard-Pieter de Man  big-picture strategic visionaries  BioPharma Conference  challenges ahead European Alliance Summit  Dave Luvison  Global Alliance Summit  IT industry  Norma Watenpaugh  partner  partnering strategy  profession  Strategic Alliance Quarterly 

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Transform or Risk Extinction (Part Two): Recognizing Value in Multiple Engagement Models

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Updated: Sunday, May 20, 2018

This is the second of two blogs continuing my April 2018 eSAM Plus article on “Architecting for Transformation: The Next Generation Partner Ecosystem,” the title of a lively conference session led by Russ Cobb, senior vice president, growth and business operations at SAS Institute, and Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP, founding principal, Phoenix Consulting Group. The two took the stage at the A2018 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Propelling Partnering for the On-Demand World: New Perspectives + Proven Practices for Collaborative Business,”March 26-28, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. The drivers of seismic changes in channel partnering, Cobb and Watenpaugh explain explained, are the convergence of SMAC (social media, mobile computing, analytics, and cloud technology), the change in technology consumption, the rise of digital transformation (DX), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Part One of this blog post concluded on Watenpaugh’s comment, “There are no simple partner models anymore. They are adopting complex, multi-faceted business models where they do all of the above.” So how to recognize value across multiple engagement models?

Watenpaugh: Companies need to recognize value across multiple engagement models in the following ways:

  • Partner programs are evolving to recognize the breadth of contribution from partners across a blended business model.
  • Incentives shift to reward behavior and customer value.
  • Vendors can no longer subsidize profitability through rebates or discounts.
  • Recognizing value, investment, commitment, volume.

Cobb: SAS has a partner program that has a precious metals taxonomy as well. What we are trying to do is have more partners because of economics—if we can get a partner to look at different ways at engaging with SAS, such as the ability to resell SAS or engage in analytic services with a revenue-sharing agreement with SAS. We are really focused on economics because of customer behavior.  The more ways we can get engaged with you partner-wise, the more commitment you will get. The ROI will go up over time. One reason we get partners to do things with us is we create commitment over time.

Watenpaugh: The cloud strategy right now is evolving and emerging. We need a flexible view of what cloud means. We need to transition to a service model. How can we help our customers fit into third-party cloud environments? We’ve got to figure out how to meet our customers where their need might be. There is a complexity of applications. No one can do it alone, so we are seeing more partner-to-partner. There are so many specializations. No company has it all. It’s becoming more and more important to get from a pick list to what skills are needed to deliver.

Some people think it needs to be more like a blockchain model. That involves the challenge of finding new partners and finding how to engage to meet the needs of customers. Infrastructure companies are challenged, and finding the right value and provision in the cloud is really a challenge.

Russ: This all comes down to if you are a channel or IT partner, what is your unique value proposition? You need a very crisp value proposition. So what is the road ahead in ecosystem evolution?

  • Industry trends in cloud, digital transformation, and IoT are driving disruption and opportunity in the market
  • Non-traditional partners offering access to the line of business
  • Vendors will be required to think more holistically about the capabilities of the partner ecosystem
  • Vendors must create relevance to business outcomes or become commodities
  • Creating a compelling partner experience

Check out Part One of this blog post as well as the May 2018 issue of eSAM Plus for other topics addressed in Watenpaugh and Cobb’s session as well as ASAP Media’s coverage of other sessions at the 2018 ASAP Global Alliance Summit. 

Tags:  blockchain  business models  channel partnering  channel partners  Cloud  complex partnering  digital transformation  IoT  Norma Watenpaugh  partner ecosystem  partner models  Phoenix Consulting Group  Russ Cobb  SAS Institute  SMAC  value propositions  vendors 

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Transform or Risk Extinction (Part One): ‘Become the Yoda to Our Channel Partners’

Posted By Cynthia B. Hanson, Monday, May 21, 2018
Updated: Sunday, May 20, 2018

This is the first of two blogs continuing my April 2018 eSAM Plus article on “Architecting for Transformation: The Next Generation Partner Ecosystem,” the title of a lively conference session led by Russ Cobb, senior vice president, growth and business operations at SAS Institute, and Norma Watenpaugh, CSAP, founding principal, Phoenix Consulting Group. The two took the stage at the 2018 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, “Propelling Partnering for the On-Demand World: New Perspectives + Proven Practices for Collaborative Business,” March 26-28, 2018, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Cobb and Watenpaugh provided a frank tutorial on seismic changes in channel partnering. The drivers, they explained, are the convergence of SMAC (social media, mobile computing, analytics, and cloud technology), the change in technology consumption, the rise of digital transformation (DX), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Watenpaugh: We need to become the Yoda to our channel partners. They need our support in areas like: how to sell to the line of business, the C-level, how these products integrate together to make a solution. The ability to manage the customer experience is going to be primary. I don’t think we’ve gotten it mastered. To enable our partners, we need to know that:

  • The trusted advisors role requires in-depth knowledge of customers’ businesses
  • The ability to manage the customer experience is key
  • Digital transformation and IoT require a more verticalized approach and expertise

Russ: I agree. This is an area where we need to put the greatest emphasis. IT is a commodity, if you think of the tech itself; you cannot create a lasting competitive advantage simply on IT advancement. This was going on almost a decade ago. The tech is going to get quicker and quicker. We are a company that is very proud of our products. We build lots of different products and product market segments. You need to ask, what unique value propositions do you have that are relevant to your customer? If you are not there, you are not going to win these conversations over time because you will not be able to provide the most value.

IoT, in particular, is very specific to your customer. We had some false starts in IoT with our partners. Now, we are trying to determine at an industry level, what is the value proposition were going to provide? You have to get really concrete about what that is. You want to add value to them not only on a cost basis but also on an innovation basis.

Watenpaugh: There are no simple partner models anymore. They are adopting complex, multi-faceted business models where they do all of the above.

Check out the May 2018 issue of eSAM Plus for other topics addressed in Watenpaugh and Cobb’s session as well as ASAP Media’s coverage of other sessions at the 2018 ASAP Global Alliance Summit. Stay tuned for Part Two of this blog post, in which Watenpaugh and Cobb discuss how to find value in complex partnering business models.

Tags:  business models  channel partners  complex partnering  digital transformation  IoT  Norma Watenpaugh  partner models  Phoenix Consulting Group  Russ Cobb  SAS Institute  value propositions 

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