“What makes a good alliance manager?” This was a question I was asked in a recent conversation. The answer to that question, to a certain extent, depends on the type of organisation you are in and the type of alliances you look after. Organisations therefore perceive the role of alliance management differently to each other. However, regardless of where you are in the Collaborative Business Spectrum, there are a set of common skills required.
Often I explain alliance management by comparing it to being a conductor in an orchestra. The role of the conductor is to unify the performers and to ensure that the orchestra plays in tune. Similarly, an alliance manager needs to unify the alliance partners and their team members. He or she must ensure that the performers sing from the same hymn sheet.
Alliance managers need to possess certain characteristics to be successful in their role. They need to be a diplomat and a lobbyist, an analyst, strategist, business manager and relationship manager.
Let’s dive a little deeper into some of the skills that benefit alliance managers to be successful in their role:
Diplomat and lobbyist
The alliance manager might need to be more of a diplomat than a conductor must be. The alliance management role, in general, has no hierarchical connections with the performers in an alliance. To get things done and to align interests, the alliance manager needs to gain buy-in from all stakeholders, both inside their own organisation and with their alliance partners. In organisational structures that have no direct hierarchical connections this requires more of the alliance managers’ diplomacy and lobbying capabilities.
A conductor needs to be a critical listener to understand the performance of the orchestra. The alliance manager will also need to “listen” to the performance of the alliance teams. With listening comes understanding about what is happening at the partner organisation and what is happening in their own organisation too. The alliance managers need to be able to connect the dots on what they see happening. Connecting can only be done when analytical skills are well developed. Alliance managers need to be analysts, analysing the information to properly set out the course of action and the strategy.
Where a conductor sets the tempo for the orchestra and orchestrates the execution of the music, the alliance professional needs to orchestrate the execution of the strategy of the alliance. It is, however, not just about executing the strategy. It is also about creating and suggesting adjustments to the strategy, when developments in the alliance, companies involved, or external circumstances require it to do so.
To understand what is going on during the performance of the orchestra, a conductor needs to have excellent musical skills. However, a conductor does not need to be able to play all the instruments. Similarly, to understand what is going on, the alliance professional needs to have the skills of a business manager: financial insight, business insight, and depending on the type of alliance, sales insight and negotiation skills. Additionally the alliance manager needs to keep an overview of what’s going on and needs a certain drive to get things done. The alliance professional might even need to be an all-round business manager than a business general manager.
Alliance management is a relationship profession. Personal alliance relationships help to cement the performance of an alliance. Alliances are created between organisations and executed to success by the people involved and their personal relationships. This requires excellent people and relationship skills from an alliance manager.
Being in alliance management is one of the most rewarding roles. The heightened interest of CEOs in alliances and partnerships makes the role even more interesting and important. Alliances & Partnerships is the new Leadership!
The skills mentioned above are just a few of the skills alliance professionals need to master. During an Alliance Masterclass, we discuss many more of the upsides, characteristics, and skills of the role. We also provide many practical tools to make the life of an alliance manager even more successful and pleasurable.
The alliance manager is the lubricant to grease the alliance and the glue that holds it together. The importance of lubricant and glue however are often only noticed when they are missing. So having all of those important skills also requires the ability to stand back and be okay with not always getting the credit for the results of the alliance.
What other characteristics or skills do you feel to be essential for successfully fulfilling the role of an alliance manager?