A Foundation for Better Alliance and Channel Partnerships

Fiona O'Connor

Senior Content Marketing Manager

better partner marketingSuccess of any go-to-market partnership or alliance depends on a shared belief that, together, these two companies can be more impactful in the market than each could on its own. Yet even when both partners truly share the belief, there remain many barriers that can easily push a partnership off track. Some are internal process related, like attempting to grow a partnership without a well-articulated and agreed GTM plan; or having a plan where the goals stated promise far more than can be reasonably delivered. There are common external challenges, strategic ones, like constantly changing market dynamics, and tactical issues like the realities of working across organizations during a pandemic where communication and collaboration are that much more difficult.

For insights into how organizations have continued to develop more successful partnerships despite the challenges, Michael Latchford, VP of Strategic Alliances and Partner Marketing Services, spoke with Partner Marketing executives Joseph George (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and May Mitchell (iboss). Here are a few takeaways from their conversation.

Invest in thoughtful, comprehensive planning to lay a sturdy foundation.

As in any relationship you might be looking to grow, getting clear on each other’s expectations right at the start helps set things off in a transparent, mutually understood direction. Consider carefully what each party wishes the partnership to become at maturity and how the contributions of each will combine towards achieving that. For both panelists, this type of honest preparation and planning, built using open and frank communication, has proven foundational to partnership effectiveness.

“… instead of, ‘We know each other, let’s partner,’ let’s change that to, ‘What are we trying to accomplish? What specific customer challenge are we trying to address? What specific objective do I, as a part of this, want to achieve? What specific objective does my partner want to achieve?’” says Joseph George of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). “… it’s important for us to be honest and open about what those are so that we can walk away from this at the end saying, ‘We both won on something.’”

With that ethos in place, you can then work on digging deeper into the specifics of your objectives, the requirements, dependencies and so on. Break long-term goals down into short-term stages with well-articulated milestones. That will help you define what early wins should look like, which will then help keep things real – the team focused on what’s needed next – rather than falling into the natural trap of ambitious future possibilities that are not yet within your control.

Says May Mitchell of iboss: “Before we [even] announce a partnership, we want to set some realistic goals over the next 90-100 days, or even for the first year.”

On both sides of the partnership, gather a team truly dedicated to collaboration.

Without the right people, you may be able to start implementing your plan, but very soon you’ll run into problems progressing. Thus, it’s better to spend sufficient energy on securing real buy-in to the effort from the diverse individuals, roles and functions partnering requires across your organization. Of course, this extends to who you put in leadership jobs because they are essential to keep what you’re building towards moving forward – making the necessary course corrections and supporting the team as it solves the various problems that can arise in any stage.

“… I’ve found that the biggest projects that have been most successful have someone in alliances [who is] keeping their eyes on things and [who] takes ownership to say, “Something has come to an impasse, how can I help liberate everything?” says Joseph George.

With leadership identified on both sides of the partnership, May Mitchell recommends bringing together a “tiger team” that can work in tight collaboration for program launch. “There’s always one person that should drive [a partner program] – have one person [like this] on either side. And then have that [cross-functional] individual build the tiger team … The people that jump onto this tiger team can go through those launch items and cascade that into their respective areas …”

Track early wins to build momentum and identify areas for improvement.

May Mitchell stressed further that tracking early successes is critical to building the momentum necessary to stay on course. By documenting early successes, you establish an understanding of the value you’re developing among the partners themselves and their executive teams alike.

For Mitchell’s team at iboss, the process is very much about setting clear measures, using scorecards to help track their progress. “It’s really important to have that scorecard up front,” she explained. “Establish your baseline and goals and then revisit it, whether it’s monthly or jointly at the QBR session.”

Expanding on this further, she noted five potential categories for scorecard usage: “… you may have one [scorecard] around business-type goals – like pipeline contribution, pipeline in general for the business, retention, and then [you have] your expansion piece: You may have another on training: sales training, technical training, and maybe certifications, if you have that kind of program. Maybe one [scorecard] is around customer adoption (how many PSOs) … [and] a fourth one may be on the marketing front, communicating to the world and to your influencers. And a last one could be around some operational efficiencies …”

Likewise, at HPE, such tools, combined with a cadence of regular reviews, help provide the clarity necessary to manage a successful partnership build as it takes shape. Noted Joseph George: “I routinely like to have some of these metrics laid out that go into a scorecard or dashboard … [on] a regular cadence, monthly, quarterly [we] review those metrics, understanding that if we miss … it’s because of a lot of factors … market factors or competition, etc. … This is where you make some decisions around, for example, ‘Okay this metric did not meet the requirement we set for it. Do we continue it? Did we do it wrong and we need to do it better? Or is it something that we know is not a place we want to invest so we de-invest and we invest elsewhere.’”

For more insights from partner marketing experts, watch TechTarget’s Partner Marketing Visionaries webinar series. To learn more about products and services to support your partner marketing efforts, contact Michael Latchford.

Channel and Alliance Partnerships, channel marketing, demand generation, partner marketing

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