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School of Thought: Three Case Studies Illustrate How to Train Your Alliance Pros

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Sunday, August 16, 2020

Training is still a priority to corporations around the world, according to research from Vantage Partners. More than $80 billion was spent on all forms of coursework in 2019, but how much of that was dedicated to teaching formal alliance best practices? Not much, according to Ben Siddall, partner at Vantage Partners, who revealed that the same research found almost half of companies invested zero or few resources in teaching collaboration skills.

Siddall and his fellow partner at Vantage Jessica Wadd took some of their time to talk about the benefits of making this investment in their on-demand 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session “Alliance Management Skill Building: Case Studies Across Industries,” where they presented a trio of case studies showing that successful collaborative training can take many forms.

Before delving into the actual use cases, Wadd shared that organizations that are best-in-class in executing collaborations have devoted resources—usually on a large scale—to fostering the following skills within their employees: creative joint problem solving, managing emotions, collaboration, communication, influence, conflict management, change management, and facilitation. She outlined three broad categories of skills to help companies tailor training to the needs of their troops: 1) analytical (i.e., technical knowledge), 2) behavioral (i.e., mindset-oriented), and 3) blended—talents that require a mix of the first two skills. As Wadd and Siddall would subsequently reveal, the organization’s overall training objectives, as well as the company and department culture, often dictate which format and skill-development exercises are best for a given situation. 

Come Together: Salespeople Gather to Network, Share, and Learn

Wadd outlined the first case study, which saw a $3 billion tech company design a certification program to ensure that its sales-oriented alliance team developed the talents needed to manage a large stockpile of go-to-market partnerships. This organization was at “level 2” on a four-point scale rating organizational collaborative capability, where level 1 signified a low alliance proficiency and a propensity to engage in partnerships on an ad hoc basis and level 4 indicated that collaboration was coded in an organization’s DNA. The organization envisioned moving up two levels by teaching a variety of executives from within and outside of the alliance practice the basic tenets of “Alliance 101,” including partner value creation, coopetition, multiparty problem solving, collaboration and influence, negotiation, matrix usage, and account planning.

This organization determined that in-person training would best fit its sales-centric culture—its charges “craved interpersonal interaction,” Wadd said. Training sessions served as a reunion of sorts where the largely dispersed employee base could gather to experience firsthand “the value of getting together with their colleagues, sharing experiences, networking with each other, and building a knowledge of what others had done,” as Wadd recounted. The actual sessions were organized into four broader tracks:

  1. Alliance concepts and best practices: Alliance management basics, change management, and coopetition
  2. Understanding partner business models and alliance business plans: Customer value creation and value chain analysis, and account planning and strategy development
  3. Advanced collaboration and influence: Multiparty problem solving, negotiation, and general collaboration and influence skills
  4. Roles and responsibilities (in the organization and within the alliance itself): Working in a matrix, coaching, and talent development

Learners were officially certified when they demonstrated competency in these skills, not upon completion of the courses. They were evaluated based on a three-part assessment: 1) a qualitative review by the trainee’s manager or sales leader, 2) a 34-question multiple-choice test, and 3) a presentation of two case studies demonstrating the application of alliance principles in real-life scenarios.

Biopharma AMs Ease into Self-Guided Alliance Journeys

On the other side of the spectrum of training methods was the largely customizable, self-service program architected by a level-3 $30 billion global pharma company that relied on partnering for growth. These alliance managers were proficient in the basics of alliance management, but they were increasingly engaging in early-stage partnerships, a departure from the largely late-stage collaborations the team was used to. With a decentralized team scattered in multiple geographies, this pharmaceutical giant took the opposite tack of the previous use case and created a library of prerecorded webinars and an accessible central alliance toolkit that provided a “baseline and discipline in how they engaged in alliance relationships,” according to Siddall.

Prospective students could assess their training needs through surveys and self-assessment tools. Employees had different needs depending on the types of alliances they worked on and the particular skills required for their respective engagements. Each individual could mine this central repository of virtual real-time learning sessions, classroom sessions, self-guided learning, one-on-one coaching, and community-based learning to create “their own learning journey out of that landscape,” said Siddall. “Folks were able to tailor what they needed and how they got it to their specific constraints, all within the construct of the core alliance management tools, processes, and playbook.”

Pharma Company “Layers” AM, Leadership, and Governance Training on Thick

Another biopharma company was looking to advance its alliance practice from a level-2 standing and become the coveted “partner of choice” in its market. With most of the employees engaged in its partnerships centrally located in a few offices, the company opted for a classroom style and a syllabus designed for alliance professionals. It decided to “layer” leadership training on top of the basic alliance curriculum, and then codeliver the entire offering to the rest of the organization in an “open enrollment” format, in Wadd’s retelling.

Within a few years, the course was heavily attended by alliance first-timers and other employees whose managers felt that they could benefit from learning core collaborative competencies. These classes were eventually complemented with online learning resources, as well. The program evolved to cater to specific governance needs across the alliance portfolio. Although they were not required, executives who were appointed to committees were urged to take courses that were conceived specifically for these roles, as well as half-day sessions that took place a few times a year where committee appointees could network, share ideas, learn from each other, and enhance their skills.

Integrating alliance training for all levels and roles in this fashion “makes sense when you have a limited budget,” in Wadd’s estimation.

Three Different Ways to the Next Level

Each of these three use cases relied on very different means to train alliance managers and non-alliance personnel in the core tenets of alliance management, yet they each molded stronger alliance managers and elicited better results from their collaborations. The certification program expanded the number of tools in the team’s arsenal, engaged employees from other departments, and increased the value of the portfolio to the point where alliances now contribute 40 to 50 percent of the company’s domestic revenue growth. The biopharma giant’s self-administered training similarly expanded the role and visibility of alliance management within the organization. More important, the efficient use of resources ensured that the practice could “optimize the use of [its] scarce central alliance expert time and apply [it] only to the highest-value challenges [it] faced,” said Siddall. The last training helped the alliance management team better defuse potentially volatile situations, reduced the number of escalations to senior governance committees, and produced better resolutions of the issues that were brought to senior management. The alliance practices of the first two organizations have reached level-4 status, while the latter pharmaceutical company has moved from level 2 to 3.

Although these case studies make it crystal clear that there is no “single silver bullet” for alliance training, Siddall outlined a few common principles in achieving collaborative training goals among them:

  1. Think about the learning journey as a process, not an event. “You can’t create collaboration, influence, [and] the kinds of complex skills alliance managers need at a one-time event with no prework, no follow-up, [and] no action learning,” said Siddall.
  2. Make sure all subject matter is contextualized. “Generic content will not be as impactful. Folks won’t develop the skills, and they won’t be as engaged,” counseled Siddall.
  3. Instructors should have real-world expertise and speak the same language as attendees.
  4. Emphasize practical application. Siddall recommended a “learning laboratory” format where students apply concepts to real-world scenarios.
  5. Think carefully about format,” Siddall exhorted, hypothesizing that analytical-category learning outlined by Wadd earlier in the presentation might lend itself to self-guided tools, while behavioral and blended training may necessitate live, interactive sessions.

“Alliance Management Skill Building: Case Studies Across Industries” is one of about two dozen 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit sessions available on demand to Summit registrants. ASAP members and Summit registrants can access great knowledge like this that applies to all industries and all phases of the alliance life cycle.

Because in the world of alliance management, the learning never stops. 

Tags:  alliance best practices  Alliance Management  Alliance Pros  alliances  Ben Siddall  biopharma  case studies  certification  collaboration skills  Jessica Wadd  partner  portfolio  resources  Skill Building  Vantage Partners 

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