What is an alliance and why should I care?

The term strategic alliance has a different meaning for different people. In a roundtable of alliance participants sometime ago we started off with the question “what do alliances mean for your company?” The attendees had different viewpoints covering the complete spectrum, ranging from marketing alliances to go-to-market alliances, to development alliances, and including for one attendee, to an alliance consortium. In all cases, the alliances were shaped to be stronger together than any one of the companies could be alone.

What is an alliance?
With such a broad understanding of the term alliance, I tend to use a quite broad definition to describe what an alliance is. The definition I use most often is:

“An alliance can be any form of collaboration between two or more organizations with the aim to achieve the results that one of the parties cannot (easily) achieve alone.”

This definition contains a couple of essential alliance elements: 1) it is a form of collaboration between two or more organizations and 2) they do something one of them cannot easily achieve alone. This can mean that together the two organizations do it faster, more effective, or even bring skills and knowledge together from completely different angles.

So, why should I care?
In general, we can all do things better, more effectively or faster when teaming up with others. This applies equally to large companies as it does for small companies or solo entrepreneurs. Alliances are there in many different shapes or forms and sizes. Large organizations may prefer to follow their processes and like to have their people become certified alliance managers. The smaller companies do not have the bandwidth to have dedicated alliance managers and are less process oriented. Some of them just do alliances based on their gut feeling and are lucky. However many people have experienced failed alliance attempts due to the making of mistakes that often can be prevented. When approaching partnering, alliances or teaming up with others, taking care of some basic steps will increase your chances of success.


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