Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Alliance Life Cycle

Unlike buying a house, forming and managing a strategic alliance involves a life cycle - embracing a relationship and negotiation that starts with the first conversation between potential partners.

Alliance strategy development evolves over time as we've discussed. From that strategy, identify target partners and the alliance development phase begins. The rolodex is king.

Finding a receptive partner starts the process of developing a joint value proposition. That it is joint is a distinguishing aspect of strategic alliances. Defining ways to grow the pie, so each share is larger makes for the highest probability of success for both parties. Ideally then, this discussion leads to negotiation of a business description of the deal, a term sheet, that when approved by both business negotiating teams can form the basis of the legal contract. It is during these early phases of discussion that the social contract forms, where the principal stakeholders and executives identify a shared vision, approach and the overall tone of their relationship.

With the signed contract and launch of the alliance, the real work begins to make the relationship successful, and to anticipate and solve problems. Enter sales, product development, support, training, marketing, etc, etc. A good BD leader will ensure that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of their roles in the alliance's success.

Important alliances undergo re-negotiation on a regular basis, sometimes in specific legal terms, but more often in the changes to the social and business context that occur. Regular executive review meetings during the life of the alliance can help keep things on track, change course when necessary, and measure mutual success.

At some stage before reaching the end of the term of the contract , the executive sponsors will decide if and how to adjust or extend the alliance to match corporate and market dynamics, and continue to drive success for another several years.

Move an alliance effectively through this process is critical to meeting your company's goals in forming, negotiating and managing alliances that meet your goals - whether revenue, marketing, competitive or any of the other important reasons for forming an alliance.

After a spot of R&R, I will be back next week to talk about setting goals for BD. It is no easy task for management or the BD professional that aims to meet those goals, as we shall see.

See ya,


Graphic in part courtesy of John Soper, New Paradigms Marketing, Los Gatos CA. Copyright (C) 2008-9.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Musical Chairs?

Many of us will remember that game of Musical Chairs we played as kids! It was a simple game, played with 33 1/3 LPs and a parent lifting up the stylus in my time! When the music stopped, everyone tried to sit in a chair, but there was always one less chair than kids, and someone had to step out of the game - a chair is removed and the game continues until there are two people and one chair. Then one winner!

What does this have to do with Business Development? Well, the rules of Musical Chairs change in BD, but the game is similar. Chairs come and go, sometimes in blocks, at an alarming rate, and it is hard to hear the music. Mergers change the layout and comfort of chairs, and market evolution serves to add or removes chairs over time. The goal, nonetheless, is to sit in the most comfy chair in the room at the right time. The "Chairs" in our version of the game are potential acquirers, the "Players" are typically venture-backed companies evolving from incubation through revenue, to some level of market recognition, trying to guess what the right time is, and who their eventual buyer might be. Sitting in a chair means you have reached your exit, and the comfort of the chair is a reflection of the "best price" for your circumstances. With the state of today's public stock markets, an acquisition is the most likely "liquidity event" for most of today's startups, so this should be important stuff to today's entrepreneurs and investors.

But, why does this really matter? In Three Dimensional Business Development, 3DBD, we need to consider our alliance strategy from now until the music stops as a game of Musical Chairs, and plan alliances that take us ever closer to our favorite chair. And, as most of us are probably a bit picky, our choice of favorite chair can change over time, which adds another dimension to the game.

Let's look at an example: Argon Tech has the opportunity to do an OEM deal with Immense Business Networks, IBN. They consider IBN one of about 4 potential acquirers they see today, but don't yet have the revenue to justify the required exit price. So, as they are working on a deal, a 3DBD approach would suggest taking some steps including:

  1. make sure that the terms of the deal are not so good that IBN doesn't need to acquire Argon,

  2. this deal doesn't "repel" Argon's other chairs - potential acquirers, and

  3. that this is the right time and sequence for this deal with IBN.

So, having a naturally evolving strategy for who your potential acquirers are as well as an optimum path to reach them is critical to forming strategic alliances, even in the early years. An evolving strategy deliberately includes key company stakeholders in an ongoing discussion of the chairs in the room, and which seem most comfy in your chosen exit time frame.

So, next time you grab your kids or grand kids and that old LP and record player (OK, OK, CD and remote control) to play some Musical Chairs, think about what names you would put on the chairs today - or in 6 months.

Next time I will dig a little deeper into the alliance life cycle...


CMT Consulting, Inc. - Business Development Consulting Services

Monday, May 11, 2009

What is 3DBD?

Hello friends and colleagues,

For some time I have been thinking about putting my thoughts and insights into Business Development on paper - blogging seems like the most effective and interactive way to do this, so here goes. My first foray into the world of blogging after some 38 years in this crazy business we call "High Tech"!

3D BD - or Three dimension Business Development" is an approach to Corporate & Business Development that I have developed over the past 20 years of forming alliance strategy, developing alliances, negotiating agreements and considering exit options for venture-backed companies. In future blogs we will cover a variety of topics that I hope will be of interest to BD professionals, CEOs, VPs Marketing and CTOs at startup companies hoping for a structured way to approach the formation and execution of partnerships and alliances. While my experience is largely in the High Technology and Music industries, I think this approach maps to other industries.

See ya next week.