Ecosystem Leaders

Episode 12

July 24, 2018

#12 Jennifer Kerr: 3 Secrets to Building a Global Alliance Program

Chris Selland, the Vice President of Strategic Alliances & Corporate Development at Unifi.

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Strong partnerships don’t magically form overnight. It takes work to effectively manage a partnership.

So says Chris Selland, the Vice President of Strategic Alliances & Corporate Development at Unifi.

Chris has been in his role for about 18 months, and oversees three specific types of alliances: Technology Partners, Professional Service Partners, and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Partners.

Chris has learned to pay the most attention to partnerships that are driving the most business. He’s found the traditional 80/20 rule to be more like 95/5 for Unifi right now — in terms of the percentage of business coming from a small amount of partners.

He’s also learned the importance of figuring out what makes a great partner from the get-go. The companies that ask the right questions in meetings early on are going to be the best long-term strategic partners.

Chris joins us for this episode of Alliance Aces to discuss his role at Unifi, OEM Partnership challenges, lessons he’s learned along the way, and career advice for those looking to get started.

Chris’ role at Unifi.

Before Chris’ time at Unifi, he spent time working at a company called Vertica, which was acquired by HP. Chris partnered with Unifi during his time at HP and eventually started talking big picture about their alliances. He made the move over to join the team at Unifi in January of 2017.

His team is small, and there are about 85 people in total at Unifi, but they are growing fast and having fun.

OEM alliance challenges.

OEM alliances are almost a hybrid between partners and customers. A good OEM agreement is almost invisible — a seamless integration of products. It’s to some degree a sale, and to some degree a partnership.

You have to be careful when entering OEM partnerships because in many cases you could be creating a competitor. Chris has seen this happen time and time again, where one of the partners goes out of business because they didn’t protect themselves.

In these types of deals, it’s important to set up swim lanes. Lay out exactly what your partner can and can’t sell, and which part of the market they can go after. Be as specific and detailed as possible.

Best practices learned.

Before Chris joined Vertica, he spent the majority of his career at smaller companies. After five years at Vertica, it eventually got more integrated into HP. During this time, he learned how to work in a large organization, and it serves him well in his current role at Unifi.

Chris learned that despite what many people may think, power is distributed at larger organizations; there are a lot of people touching each deal that you need to become familiar with. Now working in a smaller company with larger partners, he realizes his need to be involved because things are constantly changing within his partners’ organizations.

He also learned that the 80/20 rule really does ring true. He has to be constantly working through partnerships and making sure that he’s dedicating ample time to alliances that are most profitable to his company.

Chris can now also tell fairly quickly if a partnership will work from initial conversations:

  • Is the potential partner asking great questions?
  • Do they understand what our company does?

On the other hand, if they’re arguing about percentages in the deal right off the bat, it’s not a great sign. They shouldn’t be asking mechanical questions, they should be asking strategic questions. Chris trusts his gut feelings about potential partners, and this has taught him what makes a good strategic alliance.

What makes good alliances?

The right partners are helping you build a joint practice and mutually boosting confidence.

They’re asking how they can become competent in what your company does. They already have some idea of the market they’re entering into with you. Maybe they’ve become frustrated with one of your competitors and are looking for a change.

Give them the opportunity!

Good partners have elements of a joint shared culture. They understand that it’s about how to succeed together in the market. Partnerships are not going to be successful if you get stuck in contact structure.

Chris believes there are also things your team can be doing internally to become a good partner. For example, you can use your partner team to teach sales reps to avoid asking things like, “What’s in it for me?” every time they enter a conversation with a prospective client.

If they enter conversations with that mindset, a deal is not likely to close.

Becoming a partner adds complexity and risk to the equation, so the first box a salesperson must check is to ensure a partnership is mutually beneficial to both parties.They can’t just go in and ask for a handout because they want a piece of the profit.

The first step toward finding good partners is to become a good partner yourself.

Career advice about getting started.

Becoming a sales rep first tends to be a great place to start if you’re looking to move into a strategic alliance role. Alliances are all about jointly generating momentum, and individuals need to learn to do this in their own organization first.

It’s hard to jump in if you don’t have that background. Look at how you can be driving revenue in your current sales role and how you can start thinking of things from other people’s point of view.

Both are required if you want to successfully manage partnerships.

Check out other Alliance Podcasts here.

To contact the host, Chip Rodgers, with topic ideas, suggest a guest, or join the conversation about alliances, he can be reached by:

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