Archive for December 2011

Introducing Full Alliances Management in a New Team – Lessons I am Learning   Leave a comment

Over the last 6 months I have had the privilege of planning, then executing the introduction of new alliances management practices in a very special team in our organization.

This team has always been highly sensitive to alliances, both with large platform vendors and with smaller, sometimes niche, value-added solution providers. In fact, this team enjoys from its beginning a very special, defining relationship with one of the top global platform vendors – arguably our whole organization’s most important platform partner.
In addition to this, ever since this team was very small, quite a few years ago, many business developers in it have effectively achieved greater than life impact on the market by leveraging ISVs, both including their solutions in our offerings and leveraging their relations with our common clients.

Here are the special features of the new practices we have been introducing:

  1. Resale: we practice systematically value-added resale to our clients of solutions from Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).  
    This helps strengthen and differentiate our own client propositions and those of our partners.
  2. Relationship: we manage systematically and communicate explicitly the value of our relationship with partners – to both our clients and our partners.
    This is about both joint pipeline, and combining the trust each of us establishes with our joint clients.

Introducing these new features has required evolving the established alliance practices and approaches in the existing team. As we have begun doing this, three lessons have emerged.

First, our solution sales teams have the key role in this initiative.

On one hand, it is their responsibility to assess the value of partner solutions across multiple clients and multiple opportunities and projects. By helping account teams to sell and deliver our offerings that include partner solutions, they determine what solutions from what partners give the best value for multiple clients, how do these solutions fit into our own offerings, and what investment to make in building capability on each partner solution. This in capability building, that solution sales teams manage, is by far the most significant investment a systems integrator can and need to do on a third-party solution. Wise partners rightly aim to get that investment as a key competitive positioning tool.
On the other hand, solution sales teams become more effective at carrying out this alliance responsibility, and reap better rewards in their sales success, as they evolve from opportunistic choices to more systematic ones, and come to focus more and more on solution definition and capability building, leaving economic negotiation and transaction to the account teams and alliance specialists. My key responsibility towards this team is helping solution sales leads complete this evolution, and taking up the resulting economic negotiation responsibility.

Second, global and local executives need to make a conscious decision that this new, active and systematic approach is indeed valuable – both for our clients and for our partners and us.

Historically, many sales teams and executives in our overall organization and in this particular team had regarded alliances management as a complexity driver to use only in selected cases, often opportunistically. Even more importantly, some sales teams used to regard resale of partner solutions, now one of the value and scale drivers of our approach, as conflicting with a systems integrator’s role in our clients’ eyes.
In retrospect, the executive decision to articulate and propose to our own clients the distinguishing, incremental value of offerings that leverage and combine uniquely value from ISVs and OEMs may well have been the single most important factor in our first successes and current evolution.

The third and last lesson, that we are still articulating and evolving, is about accepting existing practices to evolve them.

As this team has long maintained active alliance management practices, I have chosen to take them into account and leverage them as much as possible while introducing new standards. We have embraced these earlier practices fully in our first few applications as a way to understand them and help all stakeholders compare them with new practices and their benefits.

I strongly believe this has been essential for early successes and will be invaluable to evolve and consolidate our new, more structured and systematic alliance approach. Now we have a clearer and more practical picture of opportunities and ways to improve current alliance management practices and adopting new ones.

Last, this experience strengthens last month’s lesson learned: channel management and relationship management boost and support each other when we engage together, on the same opportunity or campaign, a large platform vendor and their ecosystem value added solution providers (ISVs and OEMs).

A large platform vendor tightly manages their resale channel, keeping resellers and systems integrators focused on separate value drivers to their end customer. For a global systems integrator like us, the focus of an alliance with a platform vendor is value-added joint go to market, essentially free from resale opportunity.

ISVs and OEMs, however, keenly leverage both joint go to market with the platform vendor and resale through systems integrators.

Our experience introducing full alliance management in this team has confirmed: as a systems integrator capable of sophisticated, multi-vendor, multi-way alliance management, when we engage platform partners and their ISVs and OEMs together, we can combine three components: resale margins from ISVs and OEMs, plus a joint go to market with them, plus a joint go to market with the platform partner. This in turns allows us to offer our clients – and our own solution sales teams – an even better value proposition than each kind of alliance would provide alone.

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