A few weeks ago I attended the 2017 Alliance Summit in London. Over a hundred people gathered to talk about alliances and listen to presenters talk about alliances. I was there to present and to learn from experiences from other presenters. My presentation was together with Ivo Rutten of Philips Lighting and was a similar presentation to the one we did earlier this year in a webinar.

The conference once again showed that strategic alliances cover a broad spectrum. In one of the presentations I attended, I heard the speaker constantly refer to suppliers and customers within the context of strategic alliances. That kind of alliances I often refer to as vertical alliances. These are the alliances that go up or down in the value chain. Most often when I refer to strategic alliances my focus is more on, what I call, horizontal alliances. These are alliances with partners that are at a same level in the value chain. In both cases these alliances should conform to the basic alliance definition:

A strategic alliance is a strategic cooperation between two or more organizations,

with the aim to achieve a result one of the parties cannot achieve alone.

Noticing these different perspectives on what a strategic alliance can be for a company, reaffirmed once again what I wrote a few years ago in this tip:

Don’t make assumptions, but ensure you have one common understanding in your organization of what a partnership or strategic alliance is.

In addition, ensure that you share your view of what an alliance is for you with your prospective partner. It can save you a lot of time and confusion going forward.

One of the most interesting presentations I attended was by Frederic Bonfils. I found it especially interesting due to the practical advice it contained for the audience: Frederic shared his lessons and recommendations of his 4-year journey so far with implementing alliance management in Pierre Fabre. A couple of them referred very practically back to the role of the alliance manager, emphasizing the importance of a central alliance management function.

However, Frederic also highlighted that the exact alliance management role vs other roles is not always clear. This was immediately recognizable to me, as I see it with many clients too. The role of the alliance manager is a role that spans several areas of the business. As the conductor of an alliance, it is the alliance manager’s role to keep everyone in sync. As such, an alliance manager will touch upon other people’s responsibilities. In some cases, it will not always be clear where the boundaries of each other’s responsibilities are.

Don’t expect to be able to define the role with crystal clear boundaries, as it will limit the effectiveness of your alliance managers. Instead, enable the people involved to collaborate effectively and ensure that they continue to communicate open and transparent to keep the experience as pleasant and effective as possible.