Super Highway or Rocky Path? Learn the Secrets to Landing and Executing a Multi-Alliance Strategy

The journey to a successful alliance program can be tricky. Even the best-intentioned organizations may run into surprising obstacles that can turn their careful plan into road-kill. Over the years, NetApp has learned a few things that has enabled us to master not just two-way alliances, but three, four and sometimes more partnerships in tandem, driving unprecedented solutions that are able to scale quickly for rapid revenue growth and return. Learn what we have discovered along the way.


In my role as the global alliances lead for NetApp, I have the opportunity to identify, evangelize and spearhead new technology alliances that broaden NetApp’s capabilities to deliver value across a diverse ecosystem of partners and customers. It is an exciting part of my job.


Along with the excitement, initiating ideas for business and technology transformation, is also the easy part. Working with like-minded partners who are eager to explore new scenarios for product innovation is at the root of why we all are in business in the first place.


NetApp Stores, Manages, Moves, Archives & Retrieves Data Better Than Anyone Else

NetApp is a technology innovator and we love to solve problems. For us, that means finding ways of storing, managing, moving, archiving, searching and retrieving data better than anyone else. To accomplish this, one of our strategies is to leverage our alliance partners and go-to-market programs with joint solutions that are easy for partners to implement, and that deliver high-value, high-impact to customers.


The Road to Successful Alliances is Littered with Well-Intentioned Casualties

On paper this sounds ideal. And it has been for NetApp. We are the Number One storage operating system in the world, in part because we go-to-market with other respected leaders. Microsoft, Cisco, Citrix, VMware, SAP and Oracle are a few of the companies that we have aligned with successfully. And when you add in global or even boutique SI’s, the value proposition becomes much stronger.


But across our highly-matrixed enterprises with disparate processes, systems and organizational structures, landing the intended results of our alliances programs can get tricky. For many companies who have tried to partner and failed, simply a 2-way alliance can create problems and risks. NetApp’s rich history of bringing 3 or more partners to the table for product innovation and massive global roll-outs is respected across our industry. We’ve invested a lot in understanding how to succeed with alliances and the result has been massive business benefits – for us, our partners, and our customers. Our proven ability to enter new markets quickly with a stellar cast of players is unparalleled. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.


Upstream vs Downstream

At NetApp, we have identified two distinct phases to a successful alliances program. Upstream or Launch, and Downstream or Land. Each phase has its own processes, assets and roles that need to be developed, prioritized and assigned. Like the illustration below, managing all of the elements can be a balancing act. Ensuring the basics are covered and that each step receives the right amount of attention and is ready to implement at its own critical milestone is one of the keys to success.


                                                       Alliance Phases 


Enlist or Draft – Buy-In is Key

When forging ahead with a new idea that requires a multi-partnership, there is usually a pilot, or incubate period. To move at market-speed, this may mean teams will be working outside of budget cycles and will need to enlist or co-opt the right resources to participate in early-stage trials. Often this requires personnel to agree to take on tasks that are outside of their normal job description or scorecard for a period of time.


Our experience has proven that success is greater when templated on a co-operative model of “win-win”. All partners and players involved should be able to clearly articulate their own value proposition – why this endeavor will raise the stakes for them. Ideally, all team members, no matter how small or large their role is, will have a core belief in the goals of the alliance program.


Equal Attention to Marketing & Sales

The relationship between sales and marketing is a delicate balance and even more so when multiple alliance partners are involved. In today’s world of “co-opetition”, many of these alliances may have competed on certain levels, meaning that the field has likely gone head-to-head in full out battle-mode. Building trust and relationships across alliance teams at all levels is a critical milestone.


Joint planning and enablement workshops where individuals build relationships with their counterparts and collaborate to identify shared goals is key. Learning to speak a common language or to translate acronyms (when I say UCS I don’t mean “Unified Communications System”, I mean “Unified Computing System”) increases the ability for all players to rapidly relate to why this particular alliance is important to their overall success. Selecting regions where team buy-in is more likely to evolve quickly is also an important consideration.


A Case in Point

NetApp recently identified a unique opportunity in the Oil & Gas industry that needed a new 4-way alliance. Following our model, we were able to engage four partners who built and prototyped a solution in a matter of a few weeks. Identifying it as a repeatable vertical solution, the NetApp alliance model was leveraged and while the client was proto-typing, we began the necessary Upstream and Downstream steps so that the field would be ready to execute upon completion of the pilot.


In Summary

Successful alliance programs are hard work. They require careful orchestration across diverse companies with unique cultures, processes and people. Understanding the Downstream / Upstream methodology and the steps involved along the way is critical if you wish to ensure success. The unique attributes of each member of the alliance can deliver tremendous power, competitive advantage, market dominance and significant revenues to the players involved, dramatically scaling out much more rapidly and effectively than going it alone.


Maria Olson is Vice President, Global Alliances for NetApp, and has responsibility for worldwide go-to-market with Alliance partners. Maria and her team have oversight for teaming with the company’s portfolio of Alliance partners and internal teams to bring to market a variety of storage and data management solutions.  Her responsibilities include creation of business strategies and plans, strategic alignment within the partner ecosystem and global execution that increases revenue.