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  • Writer's pictureMartin Steel

Breaking up is hard to do. And Expensive. Invest in your collaborators and win together.

More than a few years ago, I was mid career at a well established CRO when of my more progressive clients made the decision to no longer be a FIPCO – a Fully Integrated Pharmaceutical Company. They realized they couldn’t effectively house every drug discovery and development and go-to-market discipline within their company. They were going to make a strategic move to become a FIPNET – a Fully Integrated Pharmaceutical Network. They would need to establish a network of trusted vendors to be successful.

They were smart about it and realized that to get the maximum ROI out of their network they’d need more than RFIs, RFPs, and KPIs. They’d need RELATIONSHIPS. At times it was a little bewildering – they paid for half of the dinners when we had strategic meetings. They visited us as often as we visited them. They got to know the key players personally. It was kind of unprecedented at the time. The transactions were large, and the drugs moving through the pipeline are today’s brand names, drugs you’d recognize. Drugs that help people live longer and better, by the way.

During a due diligence visit to one of our sites, the client was considering using us for a new service. Along the laboratory tour, they stopped to chat with a young scientist attending to his equipment. Polite introductions were followed with “we’re with XXXXXX company. We hope to be working with you. If we do, we want you to know how much we’ll be counting on you, how much your contribution means to us”. The young scientist turned a whiter shade of pale. He'd never had a client lay it out to him like that. And we moved on with our tour.

I'll never know for certain, but I'd bet that everyone that young scientist worked with heard "holy cow, if we get any projects from XXXXXX company, we better get it right. . . . they really care".

There were many more interactions like that, where the client let our teams know that they cared. They depended on their network. They were demanding but fair. They invested in the relationship, and it paid off. The FIPNET concept became the norm and now there are various permutations, including VIPNET (V for Virtual, the model of many small/emerging biotechs).

Fast forward to 2007, I was fortunate to attend BioWest in Denver. Jim Collins of Good to Great fame was the keynote speaker. He told a very personal story about his wife being a breast cancer survivor. He shared how when she was past the worst of it, friends and family opined on what a strengthening experience that must’ve been. How it must have cemented their relationship.

In fact, it had been very hard for them. He didn’t necessarily appreciate the naïve assumption. They survived, but a great many couples lose their relationship during that sort of adversity.

Mr. Collins shared that they only survived because they invested in building a strong relationship before adversity struck. He went on to say the same is true in B2B relationships. There will be adversity, unanticipated challenges, mistakes, acts of God and nature will get in the way. The smart bets are on the B2B relationships that invest before adversity strikes, because it will.

And then it made sense. I could see the pattern. Clients like the one at the beginning of this article operated more effectively because they could survive adversity alongside their network. Most often, if they chose wisely and built strong relationships based in mutual trust, their ROI would be better than their less effective competitors.

Conversely, clients that could not make a priority of B2B relationship management operated less efficiently. They switched vendors and started from scratch more often. They had projects that didn’t conclude successfully or yielded confounding results, and unsure what to trust they abandoned the project or the relationship. They jumped ship.

The best CROs in our industry work hard to build those bridges with clients. To establish rapport, calibrate around expectations, over communicate, under promise, over deliver. To avoid the proverbial shipwreck. And, the best, most efficient clients in our industry embrace that and reciprocate. Those CROs and those clients get the most bang for their buck. Both of them. They both win with fewer false starts, fewer shipwrecks.

As I write this I look in the mirror and ask ‘am I doing everything I can to help my clients weather the inevitable storm? To avoid that shipwreck?'

I can always do better. Whether you’re on the CRO side, or the client side, or a lay person that stumbled onto this, I’d challenge you to ask the same question. . . am I investing in my B2B relationships in a way that will create the most value for me, my company, and also the company on the other side of that ‘2’

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your perspectives and experiences on client/vendor relationships, what’s worked and what’s not. Contact me on my email below.

Joe Flynn

Vice President, Strategy

p.s. Of course, some relationships can't be fixed. If you're in that boat, give us a call.

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