A strategic alliance is a formal agreement between two or more organizations to work together to pursue common goals and objectives.

It involves a partnership in which the organizations share resources, expertise, and capabilities while collaborating closely to achieve mutual benefits and competitive advantage.

These alliances can be long-term or short-term and they may take various forms, such as joint ventures, licensing agreements, distribution agreements, research and development partnerships, and marketing collaborations.

For example, in 2016, two technology giants, Microsoft and Adobe, formed a strategic alliance to integrate their Cloud-based services, Microsoft Azure and Adobe Marketing Cloud. The alliance aimed to provide mutual customers with a seamless solution for creative advertising and data analytics.

IBM and SAP have collaborated for five decades, since SAP's founding in 1972 by former IBM employees. The two firms have partnered to provide integrated enterprise solutions aimed at helping companies boost efficiency and reduce costs. The alliance combines IBM's expertise in infrastructure and integration services with SAP's enterprise software to deliver comprehensive solutions to their mutual customers.

It makes sense to be on the alert for possible strategic alliances. But how do you evaluate an alliance under consideration?

Well, like most things in business there are pros and cons.

The Benefits of Strategic Alliances

Strategic alliances have many benefits, including access to new markets, shared resources and expertise, cost savings, and competitive advantages.

1. Access to New Markets

Strategic alliances can provide a B2B company with access to new markets and customers it may not have been able to reach independently. Accessing new markets can help expand the customer base and increase revenue potential.

For example, if you have a strong brand, it could be attractive to other brands that want to partner with it through co-branding or brand alliances:

  • With co-branding, two brands from separate organizations market a new brand together. Co-branding allows each brand to grow, become more profitable, and enhance brand loyalty while appealing to the same customer base.

  • A brand alliance is a partnership between two brands with common strategic goals. Consider, for example, the alliance between Uber and Spotify.

    With that alliance, Uber riders can play their own music, making the Uber ride feel more personalized. In addition, Uber riders may become more likely to subscribe to Spotify Premium to listen to the music they like inside and outside of Uber rides. Each brand benefits.

2. Shared Resources and Expertise

A B2B company can benefit from shared resources and expertise with its partner organizations by forming a strategic alliance. That can include shared technology, research and development capabilities, distribution networks, and even access to specialized skills and knowledge.

3. Cost Savings

Collaborating with another company through a strategic alliance can lead to cost savings. For example, both companies can share marketing expenses, research and development costs, or even production facilities. Any combination of those options can help optimize operational efficiency and reduce expenses.

4. Competitive Advantage

Strategic alliances can provide B2B companies a competitive edge by enhancing their market position, brand image, and product offerings. By leveraging the strengths of both companies, the alliance can create unique value propositions that are difficult for competitors to replicate.

The Risks of Strategic Alliances

But there are potential downsides to a strategic alliance.

1. Coordination and Integration Challenges

A strategic alliance combines two organizations' cultures, systems, and processes. That can create difficulties regarding coordination, integration, and alignment of strategic goals. Misalignment can result in inefficiencies or conflicts that hinder the alliance's success.

2. Sharing Confidential Information

B2B companies often need to share sensitive and proprietary information with their partners when entering a strategic alliance. That can include trade secrets, customer data, and intellectual property.

There is always a risk that such information may be misused or shared with competitors, potentially harming the company's interests.

3. Dependency on Partners

B2B companies that rely heavily on strategic alliances for market expansion or resource-sharing can become overly dependent on their partners. If the alliance ends or the partner fails to meet expectations, that can disrupt the company's operations and growth plans.

4. Potential Conflicts of Interest

When two companies enter into a strategic alliance, disputes of interest may arise. The partners may have different priorities, business strategies, or desired outcomes, leading to disagreements and compromises during decision-making processes.

Balancing the Pros and Cons of Strategic Alliances

It's important for B2B companies to carefully evaluate the potential benefits and risks associated with strategic alliances, considering their specific circumstances, objectives, and the compatibility of potential partners.

Due diligence, clearly set out agreements, and ongoing relationship management are crucial for maximizing the advantages while mitigating the drawbacks.

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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is MarketingProfs founder and CEO, positioning consultant, and emeritus professor of marketing. Over the years he has worked with companies such as Texas Instruments, Informix, Vanafi, and EMI Music Distribution to help them position their products defensively in a competitive environment. He is also the founder of Insight4Peace and the former director of Mindful USC.