A Virtual Event, but a Rich, Living Community—Thanks to You!
What a day! And what a Summit!
Thursday, the final day of the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, was filled with highlights, and served as a resounding demonstration that the ASAP community is alive and well and that the whole organization and its members and staff are supremely flexible and able to pivot from an in-person gathering to a very successful virtual event.
Flexibility and agility, in fact, were two of the recurring themes of this year’s Summit, and its last day was no exception. The day’s livestream programming began with an in-depth panel discussion, “Biopharma Commercial Alliance Management Challenges,” skillfully moderated by Jan Twombly, CSAP, president of The Rhythm of Business, and featuring eminent panelists Brooke Paige, CSAP, former vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics and ASAP board chair; David S. Thompson, CSAP, chief alliance officer at Eli Lilly and Company; and Andrew Yeomans, CSAP, global alliance lead for UCB.
Aligning Around the North Star
Commercial alliances are the go-to-market phase of biopharma partnering, and thus there’s often a lot riding on their success or failure. The panelists discussed various aspects of delivering value from commercial alliances given the business risks, human risks, and legal uncertainties; the prospect of misalignment between partners; the perils of operating in different geographic regions with their varying cultures and regulations; the need for speed and flexibility; and other pitfalls.
Amid such challenges, alliance managers have to keep their eyes on the prize—or, as Paige put it, “It always goes back to the basics: providing alignment by constantly pointing to the North Star of the alliance.”
Twombly noted that bringing partners together to hash out a commercial strategy to maximize value coming from the alliance—and then implementing it effectively—is always “the crux of the matter.”
Yeomans, citing an alliance that operated in China as well as other experiences, said the constantly accelerating speed of events means that even the most experienced alliance managers end up “learning on the job.” “Things are so much more immediate in the real world,” he said. “A lot of things can happen fast.”
More than one panelist mentioned the human element in these alliances—from training alliance professionals to dealing with human risk and misalignment. “It comes down to, do you have the right people?” Paige said. “You have to have the right people with the right mindset” to make the alliance work effectively.
Driving alignment, according to Yeomans, happens in “three buckets”: formal (contract terms), semiformal (governance), and informal, which includes both performing regular health checks and doing the internal work of alignment to “get your own house in order.” In this way issues get turned around and resolved, and escalation is avoided. “This is where alliance management can really come to the fore and add value,” he said.
He also urged alliance managers to work toward achieving a “complementary fit” in the partnership and to “be a conduit” between global and regional representatives and between partners. “Be adaptable and be ahead of the curve. In this way you become almost the go-to person,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Yeomans said he could “wholeheartedly recommend” getting into commercial alliances. “Venture forth. Go forth and conquer!” he exhorted.
Influencers, Referral Partners, Resellers, and Customers
The next presentation in today’s livestream was also concerned with go-to-market partnering, albeit geared more toward the tech industry—but with broader applicability as well. Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group, spoke on “Making Everyone a Part of the Sales Process”—and by “everyone” he meant not just resellers, but also influencers and referral partners. All have a role to play, and if handled correctly, all contribute to the eventual sale and the booking of revenue.
In fact, the customer should also be included in this continuum, as a satisfied customer could be converted into an influencer, or even a referrer, according to Walsh. He quoted one of his “heroes,” Peter Drucker—no doubt a hero to some others in the ASAP community—who said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”
“That’s why we have channels,” Walsh elaborated. “You try to create points of sale as close to the customer as possible.”
Walsh reminded the audience that the oft-mentioned “customer journey” is in reality just “part of the totality of their experience,” in which even if they’re not buying your brand, they’re still making judgments on it one way or the other. Thus it’s important to try to effectively engage everyone along the continuum from influencers to referrers to resellers to customers because, while expectations should not be overestimated, successful referral programs can be very effective. “Referrals have a lot of power!” Walsh enthused.
Since customers who are happy with a product or solution can become influencers, and influencers can become referrers, and a referral partner may even seem to be a sort of “lightweight reseller” in Walsh’s phrase, this seems to ring true. It also dovetailed with something that Tiffani Bova of Salesforce said on the first day of this year’s Summit: “Your greatest sales force is your customers and partners advocating on your behalf.”
Partner to Partner in the Ecosystem Cloud
“Customers and partners” was a theme of the day’s final presentation as well. Amit Sinha, chief customer officer and cofounder of WorkSpan, and Dan Rippey, director of engineering for Microsoft's One Commercial Partner program, gave a presentation with the lengthy title “How the Microsoft Partner-to-Partner Program Is Disrupting How Technology Companies Are Leveraging the Power of Ecosystems to Grow Their Business, Acquire New Customers, and Gain Competitive Advantage.”
It’s a mouthful, no doubt, but Sinha and Rippey provided some great insights into, first, how WorkSpan uses its Ecosystem Cloud product to help alliance managers, channel partners—really anyone who puts partners together and seeks to manage and keep track of a multipartner ecosystem—both collaborate better and gain greater visibility into the tasks, activities, processes, pipelines, workflows, etc., that are creating value.
Sinha noted that traditionally, “a lot of partnering is meeting people.” Current conditions certainly make that challenging—our Summit being no exception—but he said that with Ecosystem Cloud, remote work becomes more possible and effective and “we can scale even in COVID times.” In addition, as partnerships become more multi-way and complex, these tools become even more necessary. “It’s shifting toward an ecosystem,” he said. “It’s multipartner.”
Among the major partners in this ecosystem is Microsoft, which is where Rippey comes in. As Microsoft has shifted over the years from selling products to selling more solution-based offerings, it has also shifted from an emphasis on individual partnerships—or “pick a partner to work with the customer,” as he said—to more collaborative solution creation and selling arrangements involving multiple partners.
Microsoft realized that it needed to encourage partner-to-partner—or P2P—collaboration in order to push the company forward and grow the ecosystem. It needed to “embrace multiparty conversations,” in Rippey’s words. “In some cases Microsoft just gets out of the way. It really puts the partners at the center of the conversation.” In other cases, Microsoft comes back to the table as needed, but either way, he said, “This puts the partner in the lead.”
When a new solution is discussed, the first question is, “Did somebody already build this?” In that case those partners can be pulled in to tailor the solution to the new end customer in mind. Otherwise, “is this an opportunity,” Rippey said, to design something new?
He noted that while Microsoft doesn’t always have to lead these discussions, they seem to be fruitful in any case, and the P2P program has led to “exponential growth.” Some of its new capabilities will be “lighting up for our partners next year,” he said. “It is Microsoft’s joy to see those partners succeed, [often] without needing our help.”
New Thinking at the New Breakfast Table
This does not come without new thinking, or at times “uncomfortable” negotiations or conversations, Rippey admitted. But he said it forces a large enterprise like Microsoft to be “putting [our] startup hat on again” and to get out and “hustle at all tiers of the ecosystem.” As is often the case in the IT world, some of Microsoft’s competitors are also involved, because “we’re better together.”
And while the P2P platform—just like a social media site—is in need of “moderation,” as Sinha put it, so that there are rules and community norms and some structure, it’s also important to be fairly straightforward about your company’s needs, capabilities, and interests.
“A negotiation is designed to be uncomfortable,” Rippey said. “Be up front, be blunt about what you need, and be OK to say, ‘It looks like we’re misaligned here.’”
Both Sinha and Rippey commented on the need for speed, agility, and flexibility in working with partners, especially in the current pandemic conditions.
“The nature of collaboration has always been getting together to do things,” Sinha said. “Getting together in a room, in each other’s offices, to do joint business planning. Now we have to do more remote collaboration.”
Rippey noted that Microsoft itself had to transition its usual annual “show” from in-person in Las Vegas to virtual this year, which he said was “incredibly hard to do.” But, he added, “It’s not about the show, it’s about the conversations in the hallways. You walk into breakfast and you have nothing, but you sit down next to someone and you walk out of breakfast and you have something—a connection, a business card. It’s really hard to do digitally, and you can’t do it without a platform. We’re providing that new breakfast table.”
Here’s hoping we can all meet again before long over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a beverage to share insights and stories and to make connections. But until that time, it’s nice to know that we can meet virtually as members of the ASAP community and still get the benefits of sharing all the great wisdom, information, and learning that so many have been able to contribute.