An Alliance Model that Works: Teaming Systems Integrators and
                         Technology Vendors

               ...
Three –Tiered Alliance Strategy

A successful alliance works well at three levels. At the Executive level the vision is
ag...
Concurrently, there may be ongoing tactical and opportunistic teaming at the account
level beyond the scope of the solutio...
Executive Sponsorship

Sponsorship is a key component of a successful alliance strategy. Top-level management
of both firm...
The alliance executive leads the identification of sponsors at the Regional level based on
criteria such as area of respon...
Often a history of competition or antagonism in the field can be an obstacle to
implementing the principles. Ignorance of ...
Execution

The vehicles for the successful implementation of the alliance are: a) the joint workshops
and b) the joint acc...
executives themselves. Workshop attendees are senior level; they represent the decision
making tier of the constituencies ...
The joint account plan will include much of the same information contained in any other
account plan, with some key differ...
Technology sales people are often faulted for emphasizing features of technology at the
expense of business value. A marke...
information they are collecting is anecdotal and unreliable. Vendors typically begin by
asking account managers to enter t...
Revenue driven is easily measured when it is the result of a joint proposal or lead, but
what about measuring influenced r...
Vendors and SIs often forgo a strategic, programmatic approach to alliance teaming by
depending on one or two executives w...
Engagement in the field doesn’t always play out as planned; but that’s okay.
Circumstances and priorities at the client le...
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Alliance Model That Works

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Overview of a successful model for teaming software firms and SIs.

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Alliance Model That Works

  1. 1. An Alliance Model that Works: Teaming Systems Integrators and Technology Vendors By Thomas E. O’Dea Whether aiming for increased revenue or market share, most technology vendors have initiated –or are planning-a major alliance with a big systems integrator (SI) and vice versa. These alliances are never easy and frequently fail. Both internal and external pressures work to drive the organizations apart. However, blending vision, process, strong leadership, accountability and a good measure of flexibility can improve the odds of an alliance’s success. Technology vendors have a love-hate relationship with systems integrators. While they value successful implementations of their products, they question whether SIs drive revenue for them or merely make money off their product’s acceptance by the market. This suspicion is felt most acutely where the IT firms have in-house consulting functions that compete with SIs for scarce implementation dollars. These internal obstacles are familiar to vendor alliance executives. Vendor account managers are often wary of systems integrators’ motives in the account. Additionally, they do not always see a value at the transaction level. The vendors’ in-house consultants, meanwhile, charge that SIs “take money out of our pockets” by doing work that the consultants could do as well or better themselves. Systems Integrators face a different set of obstacles. Their consultants see the problem from a different perspective: Software firms unrealistically expect consulting firms to shed their veneer of impartiality, or to simply provide leads for new sales opportunities. They rarely understand what drives consultants’ behavior, and the resultant joint initiatives rarely address the consultants’ needs. Seasoned global alliance executives, with the active support of senior “C-level” executives in both firms, are vital to overcoming these obstacles and fostering the requisite organizational change. Visionary senior executives understand instinctively that a powerful joint value proposition can be created based upon the complementary strengths of technology firms and SIs. The alliance executive fosters this understanding by identifying, analyzing and presenting examples of successful joint engagements or best practices within their own firms or in competing companies. Many companies have scattered examples of such successes in the field. Farsighted leaders will come to understand that there is money being left on the table; and that a strategic, programmatic approach to alliance management is the way to recoup it. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  2. 2. Three –Tiered Alliance Strategy A successful alliance works well at three levels. At the Executive level the vision is agreed upon, strategy is set, product is broadly defined and the message to the market is conceived. From the decisions reached at this level, we can begin building the infrastructure within both firms to facilitate driving revenue at the customer level. Industry partners and regional sales heads come together to determine how to implement the vision in their specific market. Here key linkages are made around specific verticals, such as government or telecommunications, and a framework for going to market together is created. It is at this level that the broad vision is conformed to local market conditions. For example: Is manufacturing the best vertical to pursue in Latin America? Do mobile commerce initiatives make more sense in Europe than in North America? The most important level, in terms of achieving the goal of increasing revenue for both firms, is the Account/Client level. Here respective account/client managers, and their sales support teams, leveraging the vision and infrastructure created by management to facilitate their success, meet early in the sales cycle to target specific accounts. The keys to success at this level are a joint account plan with a joint value proposition and specific, measurable sales goals. The alliance executive can play a valuable role at this level by providing leadership and direction across vertical industries and geographies. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  3. 3. Concurrently, there may be ongoing tactical and opportunistic teaming at the account level beyond the scope of the solution envisioned in the Go To Market Plan. This may be the result of interaction fostered by the alliance strategy, or of earlier interactions. This is to be encouraged. Intelligence gained today through successful engagements at the client level, whether as a direct result of the strategy or not, drive tomorrow’s global initiatives. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted. 
  4. 4. Executive Sponsorship Sponsorship is a key component of a successful alliance strategy. Top-level management of both firms needs to be seen throughout their respective organizations as fully supporting the alliance, since it requires changing longstanding behavior in both organizations. Each organization should designate a C-Level executive as overall sponsor of its most significant or promising alliance relationships. The role of the Executive Sponsor, with assistance of the alliance executive, is to drive execution down through the organization and remove roadblocks when they occur. The two executives should agree to communicate regularly and meet quarterly, or at least semi-annually, to monitor the progress of the alliance and remove obstacles to implementation. Once senior executives in both firms understand and support the need for an alliance strategy, it becomes easier to garner support at other levels of the organization. Indeed, for an initiative to have a high probability of success, it must have support throughout both organizations. Ownership, through sponsorship, guided by an overall executive sponsor, and driven by the alliance executive, is a proven way to achieve this. The sponsors assigned to a joint go to market initiative around CRM in the telecommunications vertical in Europe, for example, may look something like this: Alliance Ownership IT Vendor SI Executive Sponsor EVP Global Sales Managing Partner Initiative Driver VP Product Dev., or VP Industry Lead Partner or Europe Sales Geog. Lead Partner Account Level Account or Regional Mgr. Bus. Dev. Or Client Partner Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  5. 5. The alliance executive leads the identification of sponsors at the Regional level based on criteria such as area of responsibility and interest. In the above example, the VP of European sales would be the likely candidate for this particular initiative, but other executives such as the VP of Product Development or even the VPs of Support or Professional Services might be good candidates, based on their level of interest in or support of the alliance. The overall executive sponsors should be encouraged to make clear that, in their sponsor roles, the responsibility and impact of the initiative cosponsors will extend beyond their normal bailiwicks. The European VP and his or her SI peer, for example, will take the lead in launching and guiding the telecommunications initiative beyond the borders of Europe by sharing best practices, reference account information, lessons learned, sales plans and contacts. The alliance executive will insure that these “best practices” are disseminated in other geographies or verticals that look to be fertile new ground for the initiative. Principles of Engagement The overall executive sponsors agree upon the behavioral guidelines of the relationship early on. They serve as principles for engagements and a benchmark against which subsequent organizational behavior can be gauged as conducive or harmful to the development of the alliance. The alliance executives should promulgate these principles within both organizations. The initiative drivers have the responsibility of seeing that the principles are enforced within their area of responsibility or, in the case of the overall executive sponsors, organization-wide. The principles are a good tool for dealing with resistance to change, particularly if they are seen and acknowledged as reflecting C-level executive sponsors’ view of the new style of alliance. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  6. 6. Often a history of competition or antagonism in the field can be an obstacle to implementing the principles. Ignorance of the scope of the new alliance relationship or simple resistance to change can also hinder progress. Problems left unresolved can fester and poison the overall alliance. A skilled alliance executive can usually overcome these organizational challenges by educating on the wider goals of the alliance. A discrete escalation process is also a useful tool. The process facilitates the communication of problems up the management chain until they are resolved. The escalation process designates representatives from both firms at each level of escalation, as well as time limits at each stage to insure that issues are resolved expeditiously. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  7. 7. Execution The vehicles for the successful implementation of the alliance are: a) the joint workshops and b) the joint account planning session, and c) the quarterly review. The product, or deliverable, of the first is a Go To Market Plan. The deliverable of the second is a joint account plan for a specific, targeted account. The workshop is the domain of the Industry/Region tier of the alliance strategy. Workshops are planned by the alliance executives around a proposed initiative or set of initiatives that are expressed in terms of solution, target vertical and geography. Ideas for initiatives come from the overall executive sponsors, sales, clients or the alliance Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  8. 8. executives themselves. Workshop attendees are senior level; they represent the decision making tier of the constituencies whose cooperation is needed for the initiative to succeed. For example, a proposed initiative to focus on business intelligence in the retail sector in North America may consist of the VP of North America Sales, the VP of Product Development, the Director of Retail Marketing or their senior level designees (depending on the size of the vendor). From the SI side, the retail partner, BI partner and key client partners may participate. The goal is to validate the market potential for the initiative(s), agree on the outline of a value proposition, and assign one individual from each firm to drive a Go To Market plan that can be rolled out to the sales and/or business development functions in each firm. It is essential that executives with the authority to make these kinds of decisions participate in the workshop. The workshops should run no longer than a half day. The alliance executive needs to do a great deal of preparation and follow up to insure the attendees’ time is used as productively as possible. For example, initiatives can be identified and vetted with the attendees individually beforehand to gain consensus and eliminate non-starters. The field sales or business development organizations in each firm can be polled on the feasibility of the initiatives. They should also be asked to recommend potential target accounts for promising joint initiatives. At the conclusion of the workshop, the alliance executive from each firm will have the information necessary to produce a written Go To Market Plan containing: a) the solution/vertical/geography(ies) b) the joint value statement c) a preliminary list of target accounts and d) a measurable objective for the initiative over a specific period of time, and e) the names of a sponsor or driver for the initiative from each firm. The alliance executives will then work with the drivers to roll out the initiative to the sales teams. The tool for success at the account level is the joint account plan. The alliance executive and/or the initiative driver bring the SI and vendor account teams together to create this. As preparation for that joint meeting, the alliance executives will present the goals of the alliance to the sales force at the regional or account level. The objective is to gain their support for the initiative by apprising them of: a) the goals of the overall alliance b) its importance to the firm c) executive sponsorship d) principles of engagement e) escalation process f) the joint initiative in question and g) the combined value proposition. This is also a great opportunity to provide a partner overview, best presented by a partner representative, to cover a description of the organization, advantages of working with the partner, and a list of key partner contacts. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  9. 9. The joint account plan will include much of the same information contained in any other account plan, with some key differences. For simplicity’s sake, the format used should mirror that of the existing account plan format. The key difference is the joint value proposition, which is the value proposition of the joint initiative tailored to the specific business requirements of the target customer. In addition, the plan will be the responsibility of the account manger and the SI partner or business development manager, and it will contain specific, measurable goals for each. Among the first of these goals will be a joint presentation to the customer, stressing the advantages of the combined value proposition. Structuring the Value Proposition The alliance value proposition needs to be expressed in terms that appeal to all constituencies without whose active support the combined sale cannot take place. Most value propositions are crafted entirely from customer’s point of view, and focus exclusively on customer return on investment. However, a well-crafted customer value proposition may not necessarily ‘sell’ the SI industry partners on the notion of working with the vendor sales team, or vice versa. A joint value proposition needs to take these other constituencies into account as well to be successful. There must be incentive for all these groups to work together. For the customer, the joint value proposition must show the added advantage of dealing with an alliance, rather than with each firm separately. The proposition should be framed in terms of offering a greater solution than either firm could on its own, resulting in better or quicker ROI. For the consultant, the value proposition of teaming must address factors such as longer and larger engagements, improved client relationships or differentiation vis a vis competing firms. For the technology sales community, the value proposition can be crafted in terms of accessing new markets, contracting the sales cycle, or improving the hit rate. In short, both groups need to believe that partnering will advance their particular agendas. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  10. 10. Technology sales people are often faulted for emphasizing features of technology at the expense of business value. A marketing professor of mine used to underscore the importance of crafting the value message to customers’ needs with a pithy aphorism: ‘customers don’t buy drills; they buy holes.’ SI firms, on the other hand, are adept at expressing the benefits of technology in terms that C level, Global 1000 executives understand. Vendor sales teams need to understand how SI involvement can be a critical element in creating a value proposition tailored specifically to the business needs of their prospective customers. Quantifying Success How do we measure the success of an alliance? Many firms believe they measure alliance effectiveness well, but few really do. A cursory audit usually reveals that the Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  11. 11. information they are collecting is anecdotal and unreliable. Vendors typically begin by asking account managers to enter the names of partners involved in sales, while not providing any incentive for them to do so accurately. Such systems rarely differentiate between partner influence, partner involvement or partner teaming in the sale. Often sales people will enter the customer’s audit partner, without having worked or even met with them. Using a dashboard with a wide set of metrics to diagnose the health and progress of alliance over time is probably the best approach. These should be benchmarked to similar alliances to determine comparative strength. The dashboard needs buy in from both organizations. It should be a core part of the quarterly alliance review with the C level executive sponsors to assess progress against assigned goals and make the necessary course corrections. Key dashboard metrics from the vendor are: revenue driven in targeted accounts, revenue in the joint pipeline, number of joint proposals, number and quality of reference accounts, and how all of these change over time in comparison with other similar alliances. SIs have an advantage in quantifying the success of the alliance if they have an established vendor practice that accounts separately for service dollars tied to that vendor’s technology. If the services bookings and revenue number for the vendors’ products is available, that is a good place to start. The SI can also usually provide the number of dedicated consultants, the number of trained consultants and the number of dedicated business development heads promoting the vendor’s product or devoted to the alliance. These numbers can then be monitored over time. The health of the SI’s vendor practice should be a significant predicator of its influence in driving vendor revenue, even if the link between practice growth and vendor product revenue is not easily quantifiable. Research shows that SIs or consultants influence most large technology purchases. As one executive sponsor stated: “ If I know their practice is growing heads, that’s less people assigned to our competitors. If these consultants are not working on our projects, they are going to be working on competitors’.” Alliance executives may display alliance metrics in an internal, web based knowledge exchange featuring the dashboard, key partner contacts, Go To Market Plans and other relevant partner information. Internal users, such as account teams and sponsors, can access the page to get an up to date snapshot of the state and comparative health of key alliances. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  12. 12. Revenue driven is easily measured when it is the result of a joint proposal or lead, but what about measuring influenced revenue? Short of teaming early in the sales cycle - the most desirable arrangement for the vendor- SIs can influence technology revenue in other ways. For example, they can recommend the technology as a valid solution to the client’s requirements. They can provide valuable intelligence to the vendor on client pain points or a client’s receptivity to the vendor’s product or sales approach. Partners often provide valuable feedback on the effectiveness of a proposal or demonstration; information the prospective customer may be reluctant to share directly with the technology vendor. One rough method to quantify influence is to use the rule of $1 in license revenue for every $3 in services, and divide the service bookings number by three to gain an estimate of the license revenue influenced. However, this method has flaws. Typically, implementation projects are won after the licenses are sold, and the partner may have exercised no influence at all on that specific transaction. However, SIs may counter that they cannot recommend what they do not know. Knowledge gained in a successful installation needs to be employed elsewhere. Perhaps more to the point, consultants tend to steer clients toward technology for which they have a bank of trained personnel at the ready, and to discourage clients from technology for which they lack heads. Or as one sales veteran put it succinctly, “I have never seen a large SI recommend a technology for which they have no bench.” A Look at What Works The key lesson learned is that an effective alliance strategy means consistent, programmatic engagement at the executive, divisional and client relationship levels. A strategy that demonstrates value at all these levels stands the best chance of producing profits consistently for both firms over any significant period. Challenges to a successful, long term alliances are legion. Many firms’ cultures and reward systems don’t encourage teaming. Commission plans assign quota and/or pay commission for activities that compete with partners. Often the sales culture discourages account managers from partnering by questioning their contribution when a partner assists in closing a sale. This is probably why tales of consultants ‘losing’ deals seem far more widespread in vendor sales organizations than those in which they win deals. Yet logic dictates that if consultants have such a pervasive influence on the client buying decision, that their influence can just as well be used to promote as dissuade. If vendors are serious about encouraging their alliances, they will tweak their commission plans to encourage teaming. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  13. 13. Vendors and SIs often forgo a strategic, programmatic approach to alliance teaming by depending on one or two executives with “contacts” in a particular SI. This is a short- term solution that limits the organization’s ability to react to changing market conditions and take on new alliances and new initiatives over time. And, like any strategy based on personalities rather than principles, it is only as good as the person(s) in charge. When that person leaves, the alliance is at risk. The culture within SI consultants is very different from that of most technology vendors. Organizations tend to be highly matrixed. Partners are owners of the business and often monarchs in their particular domains, not easily directed by managing partners. The alliance function within the SI needs to be especially strong and skilled to sell partners on the value of the alliance, and to motivate key partners to support it. It is essential for alliance executives to understand how both consultants and salespeople are paid in order to understand and influence their behavior. Since partner committees often design SI incentive plans, they may be exceedingly difficult to alter. Overcoming these challenges requires strong executive commitment and dedicated alliance management. Consistent alliance engagement cannot be sustained at the field level alone. A cross-functional alliance executive is key to driving the alliance by, among other things, identifying and publicizing best practices and driving initiatives. The role of the alliance executive is sometimes likened to that of a marriage counselor, resolving disputes, encouraging communication and always keeping the organizations’ focus on the ultimate goal: driving revenue. Ties at the Executive level need to be particularly strong. This is where the vision is agreed upon, strategy is set, product is broadly defined and the message to the market is conceived. From the decisions reached at this level come the infrastructure and reward systems needed to facilitate success in the field. At the industry/regional level the Go To Market plan is refined and tailored to the specific needs of the target market. Here key linkages are made around verticals, such as telecommunications and finance, and agreement on target accounts is reached. The most important level is the account level. If engagement is not successful here, we cannot achieve the goal of driving revenue. These are the front lines. Here the respective client relationship managers, leveraging the infrastructure and competency created to facilitate their success, meet early in the sales cycle and carry a joint message to target customers. Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  
  14. 14. Engagement in the field doesn’t always play out as planned; but that’s okay. Circumstances and priorities at the client level change too quickly to be managed effectively from afar. Von Clausewitz said that even the best strategy is useless once the shooting starts. The same holds true for alliance strategies. A business intelligence initiative might be designed for the transportation market, but the field has success with it with a telecom firm, which leads to a new product opportunity. That’s fine. What is important is to keep the ultimate goal in mind, keep the lines of communication open, maintain executive involvement and advance a multi-level, programmatic approach to teaming. Once successful, it will develop a momentum of its own. Thomas O’Dea has over 18 years’ experience in strategic alliance and international sales management at Oracle, Sequent, Unisys and NEC Corporation. He is currently Executive Vice President of Sales for KomBea Corporation. He has an MBA from the American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird). For questions or comments on this article, he can be contacted at catalyst111@yahoo.com Copyright Thomas E. O’Dea © All rights restricted.  

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