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7 alliance partner marketing pitfalls you may not know (but should)

By Rod Griffith
February 25, 2022

7 alliance partner marketing pitfalls you may not know (but should)

(A version of this blog has previously appeared on B2BMarketing.net.)

If you’ve been in alliance partner marketing for a while, you know the oft-discussed pitfalls. Chances are, you’ve experienced one or more of them: the lack of a shared vision, lack of resources, lack of openness, weak planning, weak metrics, poor communication…. The list goes on.

These pitfalls are real—any of them capable of kneecapping your alliance marketing effort. But they’re not specific to alliances. They are fundamental failures that could hobble any marketing effort. 

In our decades of experience with alliances, we’ve seen marketers fall victim to several less obvious planning and implementation problems. Consider avoiding these seven, to boost your alliance marketing success.

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1. Thinking that you and your alliance partner share common goals


You might define an alliance partnership as two companies working toward common goals. But are your partner’s goals exactly the same as yours? Wouldn’t this description better define competitors? 

More accurately, an alliance partnership refers to two companies working together to achieve complementary goals—goals that are not exactly the same but complement one another and can therefore be achieved more effectively through collaboration.

You might think this is just semantics. But it’s important to remember that your partner isn’t typically focused on your specific goals. Each partner needs to identify, plan for, and measure its own separate goals to ensure mutual success. 

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2. Neglecting to assess differences in customer journeys 


At times, partners with complementary offerings, target markets, and goals find that joint marketing and selling don’t work well. This can be due to differences in their customer buying journeys. 

For example, one partner may typically be far into the sales cycle before prospects are interested in talking with the other partner. (We’ve seen this occur between software companies and their computer hardware alliance partners.) Their customer journeys are “sometimes” not in sync. 

Differences in customer journeys don’t mean an alliance is doomed. But partners need to understand customer journey differences ahead of time and focus on the best opportunities for mutual benefit.

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3. Lack of buy-in and training with the local sales team


No matter how strong the relationships between allied marketing teams, executives, and local field sales teams, if the alliance is to succeed, both companies must be engaged and cross-trained in the joint selling effort.

Through joint selling and marketing workshops, you can foster sales team buy-in and provide training. Bring salespeople from both companies together to discuss joint sales tools and alliance benefits. Your success will depend on an open, honest dialogue about where in the buying journey each partner can best support the other.

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4. No detailed plan for the co-management of leads 


Who’ll find the opportunities and leads? What constitutes a qualified lead for each partner? Are you and your partner courting prospects of the same size and organization type? Who qualifies the leads, and when do they bring in the other partner? Who builds and owns the prospect database? How will you avoid customer confusion and sales conflict throughout the lead follow-up and tracking process?

You and your alliance partner need to define and agree on all the details around leads and your respective roles throughout the lead lifecycle. Discuss the numerous what-if scenarios and document your joint plan. 

Be sure to include steps for identifying and reporting metrics. This will ensure there’s no confusion, overlap of effort, or conflict over who owns each element of the lead nurturing and sales process.

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5. An investment imbalance


This one is easily stated but less easily applied. Both partners need to have about the same amount of skin in the game. When one partner is substantially more invested, the alliance is more susceptible to failure. 

Note that investment equality does not always mean identical quantities of time, dollars, or resources—especially when one partner is considerably larger. A small company’s wholehearted investment in an alliance may never match, dollar for dollar, that of a larger partner. 

So, think in terms of investments as they relate to the company’s size and overall marketing budget. Ask, “If this alliance fails, will both partners feel a similar level of pain?” 

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6. Inability to measure the return on your alliance investment


Tracking lead sources can be difficult, especially in a large company. But if you have no way to discern your own leads from partner-sourced leads, you won’t be able to measure the return on your alliance investment. 

You also need to know where your partner has helped you gain incremental revenues, as opposed to simply helping you with known business opportunities. A partner that helps you close your business opportunities adds value. But a partner providing leads that turn into new, incremental sales is adding value of a much higher order. You should be able to measure it all.

Establish alliance processes and metrics that allow you to identify the true value of your partnership, so you can invest in alliance marketing wisely.

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7. Boundary confusion (or “partner myopia”)


Sometimes, when an alliance manager has worked with one partner for too long, they may start to over-advocate for that partner and work against their own company’s strategy and goals. This is especially prevalent in larger companies with many alliance managers who must compete internally to gain financing, resources, and executive attention for their partner.

It’s important that the alliance manager’s necessary partner advocacy does not overtake their allegiance to their own company’s best interests. Companies sometimes shift their alliance managers to different partners after a number of years to avoid this “partner myopia.”  

Now get out there and avoid them

Despite the many complexities and challenges in managing alliance partnerships, marketing leaders generally believe in the value of strategic alliances. Yet the alliance failure rate is high. One study from the Business Performance Innovation Network and the Chief Marketing Officer Council tells us nearly half of all alliances (45%) fall short of long-term success. 

If you’re among the many alliance marketers striving to wring more value from your alliance partnership—and to measure and report on your success—avoiding these seven lesser-known pitfalls could make all the difference.