Partner Professionals Need to Pick a Career Path—It’s Either Partnering or Ecosystems

Partner Professionals Need to Pick a Career Path—It’s Either Partnering or Ecosystems

Allan Adler 4 min

For quite some time the terms  “partner” and  “ecosystem” have been used somewhat synonymously while, in fact, the two terms represent different career paths. In my opinion, folks seeking a career in the partner ecosystem space need to pick between becoming partner experts or becoming ecosystem experts, as they involve different skill sets and lead to different career paths. To be blunt, not being clear on which career path is most relevant and planning accordingly will stall your career progression and job advancement. 


Check our career path matrix below to better understand the difference between the two. 


A diagram of a company

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The domain axis outlines two paths: 

  • Partnering Domain. In this domain, the primary skill set being leveraged is a knowledge of the ins and outs of partnering across partner and customer lifecycles.  An individual contributor might start out in an IC operator role building partner competencies and proving the ability to make one or more partners or a partner program successful. 


    As these individuals progress to becoming an executive, they might become a VP of Channels and run a team of ICs and managers focused on partner relationships, mechanics, and outcomes. The ceiling for this role is typically running the partnering business, but not the strategic side of how to transform the business by leveraging ecosystems. Ultimately, this executive position will report to a higher position specialized in the Ecosystem Domain. 


  • Ecosystem Domain. Here, the primary skill set is the ability to orchestrate the interface between the organization and the broader ecosystem(s) in which the organization functions. This skill set is more managerial, change management, and strategic in nature, and does not necessarily require deep competencies in the intricacies of partnering. You will not be surprised to find that most Chief Ecosystem Officers are more likely to come from McKinsey (strategy) or another executive function than to be promoted from within the ranks of the partnering domain.  


    Ecosystem experts must understand business models, particularly the ins and outs of how to start and scale platform business models. They must be deeply skilled and savvy managing across peers in the organization to drive alignment and propose ecosystem orchestration strategies, programs, processes, etc. Finally, they must be businesspeople, ideally entrepreneurs who can go toe-to-toe with others on the C-Suite, the CEO and Board. 

This leaves any partner leader who is navigating their career path with a stark choice as to which domain to focus on. If you are strategic and entrepreneurial, enjoy change, are ok with risks and dealing with uncertainty, you are likely to find the ecosystem domain path more rewarding and fulfilling. If, on the other hand, you seek a more stable and established career path with lower risk, and you are ok letting go of the upside of innovating around ecosystem and driving ecosystem transformation and orchestration projects, perhaps the partner domain is for you. 


If you look at the fairly massive partner layoffs in B2B SaaS, you will notice that many of them were for people and teams working in the ecosystem space, specifically Tech Partner programs. You might be asking, “Does this ecosystem thing even work?’ Has anyone figured out how to turn tech partnerships into predictable revenue?" 


The honest answer is “not yet”.  This might be discouraging and lead one to turn to the partnering domain/career path as a safer bet. 


I caution against taking this kind of reactive stance. There are now emerging and established ecosystem orchestration initiatives, starting within the larger organizations, that are paving the way for folks seeking an ecosystem executive career. You need to be mindful in selecting from the few jobs available to ensure you will be working with leadership that knows leading with a Nearbound or Ecosystem-Led Growth plan is the ONLY way to go, and who are willing to make the investments accordingly. More and more companies will go this way as it becomes increasingly apparent that the direct-only GTM model is close to dead and dusted. 


Allan Adler 4 min

Partner Professionals Need to Pick a Career Path—It’s Either Partnering or Ecosystems

Leverage Allan Adler's career path matrix to uncover the crucial differences between career paths in the partner and ecosystem domains.

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