Identifying the right partner is crucial for the success of any strategic alliance. The process, however, can be complex. So, where do you begin?

The initial step involves understanding your strategic rationale and the value proposition of the alliance. Once you’ve done this, you can embark on the partner selection journey. If you’re starting without a specific partner in mind, your first task will be to compile a list of potential candidates, but what criteria should you use?

Begin by establishing a set of requirements that any potential partner must meet to help you identify the ideal partner. Next, conduct a search and compile a preliminary list of suitable candidates. Following that search, assess each candidate in terms of how well they align with your strategic rationale, alliance value proposition and your company’s way of working.

Key areas to investigate include strategic alignment, operational alignment and relationship alignment:

  • Strategic alignment assesses how well the potential partner’s strategy aligns, or complements your organisation’s strategy. 
  • When looking into operational alignment you will need to look at the operational elements of your partner. How do they conduct their business, what is their management style? How does their company align with your company and where are the differences?
  • In relationship alignment you will assess the cultural compatibility of the partner compared to your organisation’s culture. A part of relationship alignment is also to determine network fit, how does your potential partner’s network or ecosystem look? Will it potentially add value, or are there too many of your own competitors in their network?      

When you’ve determined all these elements for your prospective partners you will be able to rank every potential partner on your list, create your shortlist and start approaching the first candidate.

Be aware that you will probably never find a perfect fit and that makes the assessment part important. Also, if you have only one choice of partner I would urge you to still conduct a partner assessment to ensure a rational selection rather than an emotional one. This due diligence will highlight differences you need to manage during the alliance management phase of the alliance. 
There are a number of tools available to assist you with the process, such as the needs & contributions matrix and the partner selection tool that are all part of my partner selection guide.

3 Responses to “Strategic Alliance Partner Selection”

  1. Eric Moss

    Your approach is well grounded and pragmatic.  What I would add is that the goals and hierarchy of goals that were established in the strategic rationale should be carried forward and reflected in the selection process and the specific goals for the chosen alliance partner.  This, in turn, leads me to a topic near and dear to my heart; the selection of metrics for the Alliance.  The metrics that are selected must, in my humble opinion, be aligned with the goals and consist of a combination of outcome metrics and process metrics.  Outcome metrics tell you the degree to which you are achieving (exceeding?) your goals and process metrics allow you to exercise timely control over the activities that are undertaken in pursuit of the goals.

    I think it is important to be as transparent as possible about the goals throughout the selection process (e.g., prospective Alliance Partners should be made aware of your goals and expectations).  As you move toward the Definitive Agreement with the chosen Alliance Partner, consider revisiting the specific goals for that particular alliance and make the definitive goal determination a joint activity (between you and the Alliance Partner) and then cast in concrete the appropriate metrics for the initial term of the Alliance (subject of course to annual Business Reviews).  This streamlines the creation of the Alliance Plan and enables the Deming cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act.

    On a final note, knowing the goals, hierarchy of goals, and associated metrics is wonderful for alignment (an important factor in consensus and collaboration).  It is even better to understand and appreciate that the relative importance of the goals are not going to be the same between you and your Alliance Partner and reflect those differences in perspective when assessing the overall health and status of the Alliance.

    • Thanks for your response Eric, I fully agree with your view and importance of these elements. Also in Todays workshop alliance management it was clear for the participants that one can not start early enough with setting the goals and being transparent about them. Which is by the way essential throughout the full alliance process, transparency.