What the crew of the Santa Maria teaches partner/alliance managers about partner myopia

Rod Griffith

By Rod Griffith
October 7, 2022

What the crew of the Santa Maria teaches partner/alliance managers about partner myopia

On its 1492 expedition with Christopher Columbus, the Santa Maria wrecked on a reef off the coast of northern Haiti. This would require 39 of the men to stay behind while Columbus took the Pinta and Nina back to Spain. Having heard of an abundance of gold in the area, Columbus ordered his men to salvage the ship’s wood and build a new fortress—named La Navidad after the date of the shipwreck.

When Columbus returned to the settlement in November 1493, he found it completely destroyed and uninhabited—with no trace of any of his men. When the bodies of all 39 men were eventually found, it was clear something had gone horribly wrong. Apparently, the men had started fighting with each other over the gold and local Taíno women. In defense of their land, the Taíno set fire to the sailors’ homes and drowned the few remaining crewmen.

Initially bonded by a common goal under the specific orders of Columbus, the crew eventually stopped acting as a single team, becoming individual competitors in a fight-for-life battle for resources and gold.

Partner myopia

Like the self-centered focus that permeated the settlers of La Navidad, a similar ailment can inflict strategic alliance and partner marketing managers. We call it partner myopia.

Partner myopia is a quiet killer of productive partner marketing or strategic alliance relationships. If left untreated, it can cause strategic alliance managers to become hyper-focused on their desire to deliver for their partner—even at the expense of their own company’s strategic business goals.

The role of a strategic alliance/partner manager is to collaborate with their assigned third-party organization to foster joint strategic initiatives designed to help both companies more quickly reach their business goals. While those initiatives are often cooperative marketing and selling efforts, they may also include joint technical or development initiatives.

The strategic alliance manager must often advocate on behalf of their partner to gain resources, buy-in, funding, and executive mindshare within their company. An effective strategic alliance manager will balance and align the needs and goals of their partner with the strategy and directions of their employer.

But that isn’t always what happens.

man in yellow rain jacket with binoculars and walkie talkie

Know the warning signs

As strategic alliance/partner managers work more and more with their partner counterparts, the close bond they form can begin to cloud their ability to objectively evaluate situations. They may start to relate more with the partner than with the peers and management in their own organization.

This is the first symptom of partner myopia.

Potential long-term effects

As the drive to assist their partner intensifies, the partner manager may lose sight of their own company’s goals. And what began as simple partner advocacy now conflicts with their employer’s goals and directions.

Partner myopia can lead even the best strategic alliance/partner managers to battle with their peers or management to gain resources or attention for their partner. Such is their desire to please the partner, they may deflect resources and funding away from colleagues, mislead management, or disregard specific directions.

ship crew working on sail

But there’s hope

Fortunately, partner myopia isn’t a given. Many strategic alliance/partner managers maintain their objectivity and carefully align their partner’s goals with their company’s goals.

Partner myopia most often occurs when a strategic alliance/partner manager has spent years managing the same relationship. It is especially prevalent in larger companies where many alliance/partner managers must compete to gain financing, resources, and executive attention for their partner.

Some preventive medicine

To avoid partner myopia, remind your strategic alliance/partner managers that their success depends on maintaining objectivity in their day-to-day decisions and joint relationship efforts, while always evaluating each decision and initiative to ensure it is aligned with your company’s strategic goals and directives. They must understand that paying too much attention to partner goals that are clearly out of line with their own company’s goals will not lead to success—regardless of how satisfied the partner is with their efforts.

Another approach to avoiding partner myopia is to simply reassign your strategic alliance/partner managers to different partners every few years (through careful transition plans). This provides them with opportunities to broaden their experiences and strategic marketing skills while reducing the risk of becoming too entrenched with one partner.

The best prescription: Remember the Santa Maria crew

Learn from the mistakes made by the doomed settlers of La Navidad. And don’t let partner myopia take its toll on the health of your strategic alliance/partner marketing.


Insights in your inbox

We take pride in a team loaded with smarts, wit, and ideas. If you'd like to have a smarter, wittier inbox filled with ideas each month, subscribe here to the MarketReach Blog, and we will let you know when there is something new you might like!