Sometimes it is very clear what a term or job role means. When it comes to roles such as purchaser or sales, we know that one’s job is to purchase something and the other’s is to sell something. The role of an alliance manager is to a lesser extent understood.
Ask five people from different organizations what an alliance is and you might receive five different definitions for an answer. With such a wide playing field is it almost impossible to come up with a single definition for the role of an alliance manager. One alliance manager might be responsible for enabling resellers to sell your products, while another might be more focused on a joint development project with a partner. As such, the first one will be leaning towards sales and the other towards R&D.
When we leave the specific elements aside, alliance managers all have in common that they work with a partner to accomplish something their company can not achieve alone. That element brings along a lot of relationship and stakeholder management to the role of alliance managers: relationships with the partner organization and relationships inside the own organization.
Coordinating the internal organization often consumes more of the alliance manager’s time than working with the external partner. The alliance manager has, in general, no hierarchical connections with his teammates. To get things done he needs to gain buy-in from colleagues and alliance counterparts by persuasion and by winning them for the sake of alliance.
An alliance manager will also need to be able to gain a clear overview of the alliance, over what is happening at the partner and what is happening within the own organization. He will need to analyze the continuously changing information and suggest and implement adjustments for the alliance where needed.
In many ways, an alliance manager is an all-round business manager. Many aspects of a business are involved in the coordinating of alliances. On the one hand, the alliance manager needs to have an understanding of financials, business, development, and sales to orchestrate the alliance. At the same time, the alliance manager needs to be able to think outside the box and identify new opportunities in the relationship in order to continuously develop, fine tune, and evolve the alliance.
Is an alliance manager a jack of all trades? He is certainly a versatile person. Most often we see that alliance managers are seasoned professionals who have worked in several areas of business before assuming the alliance management role. This brings along the maturity required to be able to work with stakeholders through all layers of the organization, to run the business aspects of an alliance and to be able to influence without authority.
Given the broad spectrum of alliance relationships, it might be difficult to come up with a single definition for the role of alliance manager. You could describe the role in general as “a person who coordinates the alliance relationship between two or more companies”. In the light of what I described above, that might be a bit too general as it does not reflect the full breadth of an alliance manager’s responsibilities. Next time you meet with an alliance manager, ask them what their role entails. It will be a great way to get to know each other better and it will create clarity at the same time. After all, clarity precedes mastery!