It is really starting to settle in—there is no going back, there is only moving forward. Whenever we again experience a world where face-to-face meetings, quick drop-ins on a colleague or executive, and maybe even business travel are possible, there are some things we’ve learned in the past six months that make sense to carry forward into that next normal. In our current normal, we are not only figuring out how to deal with distanced work, we’re trying to learn how to innovate with new partners and new partnering models and ensure we deliver what matters most to our stakeholders and alliance partners to realize the outcomes and value intended by both newly formed alliances and those once operating under an entirely different set of assumptions.
These are some of the highlights of our exclusive executive roundtable discussion during the 2020 ASAP Biopharma Conference on September 15, complementing our presentation The Silver Lining: Reimagining Alliance Management to Focus on What Matters Most Now. Link to our conference presentation.
Our roundtable discussants represent a microcosm of the broader industry, including representatives from traditional big pharma, biotech, and specialized service providers. They also are based in Europe and Canada as well as the US and to some extent, their experiences differ depending on location. For example, according to one of our European participants, “A lot of the feeling is that we are all back to normal—a lot of things are working well and we’re thinking about what can we save into the new world. What can we adopt moving forward?” He was not the only person who feels things are going fairly well and thinking about what can become new practices. “I am thinking through with my team how do we now establish the foundational relationships at the start of an alliance,” shared one leader.
This may sound as if the conversation focused exclusively on the impact of the coronavirus on business. That was certainly a major theme, but an equally important current was how alliance managers address the torrent of new partners and new partner types, especially digital alliances, that are requiring we think anew about alliance management. “We are starting to have those conversations,” according to one of our participants. “They may not be mature organizations. How should we be initiating and especially qualifying possible partners without having the physical connection?” The conversation around digital partnerships included acknowledging the need to “learn their language, and their lifecycle.” “We should also look at the way they are organized” and “Aligning speed.” At this point, most life science alliance professionals have more questions than answers about partnering with digital companies.
Alliance professionals have always had to adapt to new circumstances and it seems our participants have done so quite well. “I’m starting to think we’re becoming more of a gymnastic organization,” said a representative of a service provider. “We’re also being more value driven—focusing on how we can deliver value virtually.” We touched upon another area people are probing. “We’ve been talking about how to set up more sustainable relationships with Real World Evidence (RWE) providers. We’ve tended to treat them as vendors.”
We also discussed how companies are checking in on the resiliency of their partners during these trying economic conditions. About half the group indicated they had been proactive and reached out to their smaller partners. In one company, assistance was offered to partners if necessary (it was not). In another, more controls were put in place to provide early warning of trouble.
In a nod to another topic that has been top of mind for many, one of our executives asked the group if they are having discussions about diversity and inclusion. If we’re thinking about these issues anew within our own companies, should they be discussions we have with our partners, not unlike discussions regarding codes of ethics or compliance guidelines? General consensus was that while these conversations are happening internally, they really aren’t yet happening with partners.
The silver lining of our time is that we have license to fix what is broken, drive greater efficiency and effectiveness, and dispense with hide-bound processes. That’s exactly what one of our participants has done. “The past six months have helped my organization look internally and think about how we want to re-engineer business development and alliance management.” Another participant said, “We’ve used the time to redefine how we operate and leverage existing resources. We’ve had to act quickly and become much more flexible.”
At The Rhythm of Business, we believe that the combination of workloads that make it hard to be as engaged and proactive as desirable, new partner types and partnering models, and the impact of the pandemic means that we must reimagine how alliance management practices are implemented. We look forward to continuing this conversation and working with you to position your practices for the next normal.