Market Cross: ASAP Roundtable Examines Cross-Industry Collaborations

Posted By: Jon Lavietes ASAP Roundtables,

There are many inherent challenges in getting two or more organizations to work together. You have to reconcile each entity’s different values, corporate cultures, and ways of operating—and that’s just when you partner with another company in your industry. Collaborate with an institution outside of your market and partners encounter even more differences along additional dimensions that need bridging. 

Participants in ASAP’s latest roundtable, “The Great Convergence: Partnering Across Industries for Newer, Better Products, Solutions, and Worlds” shared some philosophies, tools, and approaches that can help harmonize organizations from different corners of the business world. 

Drag Race

It’s almost inevitable that alliance managers are going to come across resistance from internal stakeholders. After all, they are being asked to step outside of their comfort zone considerably in order to engage an organization that not only operates on its own rhythms but sometimes within a completely disparate industry culture. And as is also the case with some same-industry partnerships, individuals from other functions are often assigned alliance responsibilities with no say in the matter with their internal supervisors, plus they have little context, having not sat in contract negotiations. 

“You’re dragging them to do something they don’t want to do,” said one participant in a breakout session led by Samuel Gosselin, senior director of alliance management at Marinus Pharmaceuticals. 

Hop on Board, Stay on Course, and Get What You Put into It

Gosselin himself said that the launch plan, kickoff, and onboarding over the first few weeks are especially critical in these cross-industry contexts, so that folks who are new to the industry can learn about the partnership’s objective and values, as well as the contract particulars and operating norms. 

As most alliance professionals know, once the collaboration is rolling, it is crucial to revisit the North Star every so often to either pull the initiative back on course or prevent it from drifting in the first place. A group led by Michael Overfield, CA-AM, associate director of alliance management at Gilead Sciences, discussed how to frame this conversation. 

“Why are you here? What are you doing? What are both organizations trying to get out of this partnership?” said one participant. “What are you going to get out of the investment?”

That person also noted that “you get out of it what you put into it.” However, alliance managers must instill in their internal stakeholders that their counterparts will do what they’re good at, while bringing valuable knowledge and resources you don’t have.  

“At the end of the day, if you’re going to partner you have to trust the expertise of your partner,” as one participant put it.

“Enough to Be Dangerous” 

An intense topic of conversation spearheaded by Jarrod Midboe, director of clinical affairs and vendor and alliance management at Upsher-Smith Laboratories, was the responsibility of alliance managers and their internal teammates to “learn what drives other industries” and understand their rules and customs. Your organization doesn’t necessarily have to become an expert on that other industry, but everybody should understand, acknowledge, and trust this new worldview that might sometimes feel poles apart—“enough to be dangerous,” said Midboe. 

Deal Closed? Keep Your Mind Open

A chat between executives from multiple industries moderated by Ali Bristow, CA-AM, director of alliance management at Neurocrine Biosciences, covered several topics, most notably coopetition dynamics that might be foreign to those outside of tech. The participants came to the consensus that it pays to be “open-minded about leveraging competition.” Of course, that comes with risks; the group discussed how to react if a partner is bought out by a competitor. 

“Don’t give up,” Bristow said. There still may be value in the relationship post-acquisition, she said, and that value might be realized if alliance managers identify and help internal stakeholders see the “win-win rather than focusing on their own value in the relationship.” 

Reap the Harvest of New Ideas

Just about each of the five breakout groups touched on the many facets of the great divide that might initially exist between partners from different verticals—differences in time zones, decision-making processes, timelines, organization sizes, and corporate and regional cultures, to name a few. But it’s important to remember that some of these differences are of the positive variety; the partner brings new knowledge, processes, and mindsets that can potentially improve your organization. 

In summarizing his group’s discussion, Jay Cherrington, global alliance industry lead at Avanade, stressed the importance of “harvesting learnings and weaving them into [your company’s] processes and systems, and the way people work.” Adopting and integrating external best practices is a big part of “creating an agile company,” he added. 

All You Need Is Just a Little Patience

Perhaps most important, these collaborations go a lot smoother if everyone practices being “persistently patient,” as Midboe put it, and respects other industries’ respective cultures, a point that came up in multiple breakout groups. Yes, it might be frustrating that a counterpart based in Europe might be on vacation for a month or that a partner based in China won’t be able to respond to something immediately during Chinese New Year. However, it’s important to remember your culture and organization will present similar challenges for partners. 

“The same benefit goes to the partner,” said one participant.