In my previous column I mentioned that alliance management is a separate profession and that the profession, together with a structured process, is needed to drive alliances to success. In other words, alliance managers are critical for the success of an alliance. 

Alliance managers are special types of business people. They are specialists in alliance management and all-rounders in many other areas, both in general business, as in company or product-specific areas. I always like to compare the role of an alliance manager with the role of an orchestra’s conductor. The conductor has to orchestrate the musicians in such a way that together, they perform a harmonious piece of music. To do so, the conductor doesn’t have to be able to play all instruments by him/herself, but does need to have the right musical skills to communicate and direct the musicians. Likewise, an alliance manager needs to understand the business.  They must also understand the goal of the alliance and enough of the product-specific elements to orchestrate the participants and stakeholders in their alliance in such a way that it leads to the desired results harmoniously. In such a critical role we most often see seasoned business professionals.

So, if the role is that critical to the success of an alliance, where then do you find your next alliance manager? 

I see two types of approaches when it comes to hiring alliance managers. One approach is that  companies look internally for seasoned professionals who know the company and its industry well and they train them to become alliance managers. The other approach is that companies look for experienced alliance managers outside and onboard them into the company’s specific culture, ways of working and product specificity. 

Which approach is better? 

It’s difficult to say, both approaches have their advantages, so “it depends …” 

As a large part of an alliance manager’s work is internal stakeholder management, the benefit of hiring internally will be that the alliance manager already has a good network inside the organisation. Getting up to speed in internal orchestration of the stakeholders will be easier than hiring an outsider. However, an outsider who is well-versed in alliance management will be able to get up to speed with the external partner quickly. From that perspective, hiring internally might be more beneficial to development alliances that require a lot of internal stakeholder management. Hiring externally might be more beneficial to well-structured operational alliances, like for instance, go to market and distribution types of alliances.

I’m curious where do you find your next alliance manager? What works best for your company: internal or external hiring, or maybe even working with contractor alliance managers? You would do me a great favour by filling in this 4 question survey below.