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It’s Nearly Here! ASAP’s Virtual Summit About to Start

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Saturday, June 20, 2020

Have you registered yet? I hope so, because it’s almost here. ASAP’s first-ever virtual Global Alliance Summit begins Tuesday, June 23, with livestream sessions running June 23–25 and on-demand sessions available—well, on demand, anytime you want to view them.

As usual, the leading lights in alliance management and partnering will be sharing their insights with the ASAP community, along with some special guests who will provide a look into aspects of the partnering landscape you may be less familiar with.

People like Dr. Louis B. Harrison, MD, FASTRO, of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. He’s the chair of the center’s radiation oncology department, but he also happens to be its chief partnership officer, and he’ll be talking about the kinds of partnerships a cancer center engages in and the challenges and opportunities that arise from those engagements. He’ll be leading off day one of the Summit, along with Tiffani Bova, growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, whose presentation, “The Untapped Gold Mine of Building Trust, Unconventional Affiliations, and Iteration-Based Partnerships,” looks to be a highlight.

And by the way, aren’t you itching to know the winners of the Alliance Excellence Awards? I know I am, and fortunately the waiting is almost over as these exemplary partnerships will be showcased on the first day as well, with Ard-Pieter de Man, CSAP, PhD, professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and coauthor of the recent book How to Survive the Organizational Revolution, handing out the awards.

Day two will see a presentation by Steve Steinhilber, global vice president ecosystem development at Equinix—and an alliance and ecosystem veteran with years of experience at Cisco under his belt—called “Creating Alliances and Digital Ecosystem Capabilities in an Increasingly Platform-Enabled and Interconnected World.” This will be followed by what should be a fascinating panel discussion moderated by Jessica Wadd of Vantage Partners and featuring panelists from across industries, “Managing Power Imbalances: How to Navigate Partnerships Between Large and Small Organizations.” (Does that sound like a perennial topic of interest?) Finally, Wednesday will also boast a talk by Carl DCosta, worldwide general manager of partner success at Blue Yonder, “Foundation for Partner Success in the Digital World.”

Thursday kicks off with another panel, this one moderated by Jan Twombly, president of The Rhythm of Business, dealing with commercial-stage alliances in biopharma and their challenges and featuring nearly a who’s who of pharma alliance leaders: ASAP’s board chair Brooke Paige, formerly vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics; David S. Thompson, chief alliance officer at Eli Lilly and Company; and Andrew Yeomans, global alliance lead at UCB. In addition, Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst at The 2112 Group, will speak on how to include everyone in the sales process in today’s interconnected, omni-channel, partnering-everywhere world, while Dan Rippey of Microsoft and Amit Singh of WorkSpan will give an inside look at how Microsoft’s partner-to-partner (P2P) program works to connect the ecosystem and power business growth and competitive advantage.

OK, that’s the three days in a nutshell—but that’s just the livestream content. Did I mention on-demand sessions? The list is extensive, and you’ll want to check a good number of them out. Like these:

  • Session 301: “The Profit Power of Collaboration,” by Robert Porter Lynch, The Warren Company
  • Session 403:  “Resiliency in Alliance Management: How Amgen-UCB Managed the ‘Roller Coaster Ride’ of a Long-standing Alliance,” by Tracy Blois, Amgen; and Alistair Dixon, UCB
  • Session 404: “Integrated Joint Alliance Marketing Best Practices: How to Establish Joint Marketing Moments That Drive Impact,” by Liz Fuller, Citrix
  • Session 501: “How 5G Will Transform and Disrupt Business and Partners,” moderated by Stacy Conrad, TPx, with panelists Manoj Bhatia, Verizon; Pradeep Bhardwaj, Syniverse; and Andreas Westh, Ericsson
  • Session 503:  “Marketplaces: The New Buying Centers in the Age of As-a-Service,” by Glen Kuhne, Ingram Cloud Blue; and Roger Williams, Citrix
  • Session 504:  “The Strategic Partner Executive of the Future and the Skills Needed for Success,” moderated by Norma Watenpaugh, Phoenix Consulting Group, with panelists Rafael Contreras, ServiceNow; Jim Chow, Google Cloud; and Greg Fox, WorkSpan
  • Session 602: “Demystifying the Ecosystem: An Interactive Conversation,” by Claudia Kuzma, Protiviti; and Nancy Ridge, Ridge Innovative
  • Session 702: “Big Pharma M&A and Alliance Portfolios,” moderated by Adam Kornetsky, Vantage Partners, with panelists Mark Coflin and Jeff Hurley, Takeda; Dana Hughes, Pfizer; and Chris Urban, Amgen
  • Session 703: “Absorbing and Facilitating Change: Managing Your Partner Program During Organizational Upheaval,” by Ben Anderson and Susan Cleveland, Thomson Reuters

And while there’s nothing like “being there”—in this case virtually—whether you’re able to participate in the livestream presentations, on-demand sessions, and interactive roundtables that are part of this year’s Summit, you’ll want to check this space during the coming days and weeks, as my colleague Jon Lavietes and I will be blogging both livestream and on-demand sessions to give those who missed it a taste of what’s going on. We hope to whet some appetites for more of this kind of programming, as well as to showcase some of the great content on offer at this year’s virtual Summit.

So tune in, and stay tuned! 

Tags:  Amit Singh  Blue Yonder  Carl DCosta  Dan Rippey  Equinix  Larry Walsh  Louis Harrison  Microsoft  Moffitt Cancer Center  Salesforce  Steve Steinhilber  The 2112 Group  The Rhythm of Business  Tiffani Bova  Vantage Partners  WorkSpan 

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“We Need to Be Where the Customer Is”: Toward a Sales Process That Includes Everyone

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Saturday, June 13, 2020

Sales of any kind has never been a job for the faint of heart, but like everything else it’s become far more challenging lately. Many customers have been stuck at home for months, unable to just walk into a store or even make connections with their usual sales contacts the way they normally would, from their offices and workplaces. So how and where do businesses and salespeople find them? And given these hurdles, how can they effectively influence, inform, and sell to them?

There are no easy answers, but thinking of the process holistically can help put the pieces together. That’s one of the themes that Larry Walsh, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group, will be exploring in his presentation, “Making Everyone a Part of the Sales Process,” which will be livestreamed on June 25 as part of the first-ever virtual ASAP Global Alliance Summit.

A Network of Relationships

One of the key notions that Walsh is pushing is that the sales process needs to be seen less as a series of linear “handoffs” and more as a network of ongoing relationships involving different actors—in the indirect channel, three of them, to be exact.

“There’s the influencer, which is—no other way of saying it—influencing or driving consideration,” he explained in a recent conversation. “Then you have referrals, which are a step above influencers in that they will help drive consideration, [but] they will even help lead the customer right to the purchasing point. And then you have resellers, or the actual point of sales. And they’re the ones who actively engage with the customer to the sale point. We typically think of these as ‘handoffs’: once the influencer is done doing their job, they hand off and somebody else picks up the sale. Same thing with referrals—they will hand off to a salesperson, and the salesperson will then nurture them through the process. The reality is we really need to make sure that all these different actors remain persistently engaged as the customer goes through the sales funnel. That’s not really a new idea, but what really is a new idea is thinking that everyone is an influencer, and everyone has potential to refer, and everyone can actually participate in the sales process.”

Walsh maintained that we often underestimate just how many influencers are involved with our customers, or the importance of their role. The influencing itself, he said, takes place for two reasons: what he called “warm-glow altruism” and “anti-altruism.”

“Warm-glow altruism is when you do something because it makes you feel good. You want to help someone or you want to make a difference for them. And warm-glow altruism can have a benefit to you, but you’re doing things to help your customer. That’s one form of influencer. The other form is this anti-altruism, which is doing something to influence someone to buy a third-party product because there is something in it for [you]. An example of that would be, you and I have to do this meeting, so you really should be using Zoom, because Zoom is a really good platform—and oh by the way, here’s my tool that plugs into Zoom and that works. So that’s anti-altruism—you’re influencing them because it’s in your interest.”

Influencers, and Channels, Are Omnipresent

As an example of how this works in practice, Walsh pointed to the professional services marketplace on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The companies on that platform, he said, are “recommending AWS, but they don’t get compensated for that. What they do get compensated for is the services they sell around it. That’s a way of influencing the customer because it’s in your interest. You’re going to see this entire idea of making everyone a part of the sales process become more important going forward as you see more digital channels and omni-channels taking root.”

Walsh defined “omni-channels” as “a means for giving the customer the ability to have a seamless interaction with you regardless of where they are interacting with you. For instance, if I need something, and I want to buy it at Target down the street from my house, I look online: Do they have it? I want to be able to know that I can walk into the store and pick up the item—I can pay for it in advance, I can ask somebody, or access a chat bot and ask questions about it. I can scan it when I’m in the store, see if there’s a coupon available for it. I can research and compare across different platforms. That’s how omni-channel works. It’s not that you have just one channel; you have multiple channels, but the customer has a seamless experience across all of them.”

Last Mile to the Future: A Changing Channel and Evolving Ecosystems

I asked Walsh if taking this omni-channel or “get everyone involved” approach is more critical now, given the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. He thought so, but:

“I think it’s more about the future. The pandemic made us more reliant on digital tools for research and acquisition, but I was just reading today that Macy’s reopened 450 stores, and they have higher than expected sales. Which is great, but you’re going to see that because of the pandemic experience, they’re going to make it easier to purchase online versus in-store. Amazon, for example, is looking to acquire JCPenney. Why? Because Amazon is constantly attacking the last mile. I don’t want to wait for two days to get my widget, whatever it might be: I want to get it now. I know if I just drive down to the corner to that former JCPenney store they’ll have it for me—or they’ll have it for me in a day as opposed to shipping it in two days. Certain things are going to happen as a result of this—that’s not just a B2C example, that’s going to happen across B2B channels.”

And as we move more rapidly into that future, the traditional indirect sales channel is undergoing change as well.

“It’s becoming a part of the ecosystem,” Walsh said. “I think digitalization is something that everyone has to not just give serious consideration to, they have to figure out what their digital strategy is going to be, and build out the muscle to be able to communicate effectively with customers regardless of where the customers are interacting with them. Think about this just in terms of customer service: if the customer calls you up, they can talk to somebody who can retrieve their order history, who can retrieve their trouble tickets, etc. Or they can go into a portal and get the same information themselves. They need to have these capabilities to meet the customer’s expectations. The customers want this, it’s not something that we’re trying to invent. We’re not trying to push a concept out into the world—the world’s already adopted it, it’s us trying to catch up to them.

“Here’s the thing,” he continued. “I deal with channel strategy. I help companies recognize what their best routes to market are, and how do we most effectively get to them. The biggest mistake I see companies make is they go, ‘Oh! We need partners to expand our sales and our sales coverage.’ Why is that? Partners have revenue. They have customers, therefore they have revenue, and we should be able to tap into those customers. That’s not the reason for doing this. The reason for doing it is because the partners will do something either you can’t do or you won’t do. Otherwise, you don’t have enough separation between you for justification.

“There’s a reason why we have channels,” Walsh concluded. “The traditional reason for having channels is to have a point of sale where the customer is. And the reason why we need to have omni-channels and we need to engage with everyone who has a piece of the sales process is because we need to be where the customer is.”

Tags:  2112 Group  B2B channels  channel  channel strategy  channels  ecosystems  Influencers  Larry Walsh  network  parnters  referrals  resellers  sales 

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“A Commonality of Spirit”: How a Cancer Center Partners to Help More Patients

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Monday, June 8, 2020

At ASAP we’re used to talking about all kinds of partnerships: tech industry, cross-industry, biopharma, multipartner ecosystems, and others of many flavors. But what kinds of partnerships are important to a hospital—specifically, a leading cancer center?

That will be the subject of a June 23 keynote presentation at ASAP’s virtual Global Alliance Summit, “A Cancer Center’s Experience Developing Clinical Partnerships and Alliances: Opportunities and Cautions,” to be given by Dr. Louis B. Harrison, MD, FASTRO, vice president, chief partnership officer, and chair of the radiation oncology department at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

“Everyone Wins”

 Speaking with me recently via Zoom—a conversation briefly interrupted because he had to go check on a patient—Dr. Harrison indicated that the partnerships the Moffitt Cancer Center is engaged in, and that he’ll be speaking about later this month, tend to fall into two categories: clinical care and clinical research. As an example of the former, he mentioned a partnership that Moffitt runs to deliver radiation oncology services at one or more hospitals within a 20-hospital system.

“They did not have radiation oncology expertise, although they did have other key elements to their cancer program, so we develop a partnership with them, and in the context of that partnership, we send faculty there, and treat patients there, and work with them to build a program, and do that together with that hospital,” he explained. “Another partnership relates to bone marrow transplants—that partner did not have a successful transplant program, so we sent a key clinical leader there, added additional faculty, and incorporated key members of their existing faculty, who all collaborate with the faculty at our main center in Tampa. But the key is that we treat patients there. Everyone wins—especially the patients, who are now able to receive state-of-the-art care closer to home.”

Some partnerships involve both treatment of patients and running clinical trials, he said. “Another partnership I’ll talk about [at the Summit] is a large health system where we’re going to open up a clinical trial unit and develop an outpatient cancer center, and do any number of other things in the clinical and research realm—things that they could have done by themselves, but which they felt would be stronger by doing it with us. The synergies here are basically that these hospitals or health systems have special needs in cancer—and those needs are better fulfilled when they partner with a place like Moffitt. At the same time, Moffitt gets to extend our footprint into these other hospitals and health systems. So we grow together: they get services and expertise that they don’t have but they need, and patients in those communities benefit because they get the Moffitt level of care without traveling to Tampa. Everybody wins.”

Definitely a win-win—for the smaller community hospitals that don’t have the types of specialists a major-league cancer center features, but also for Moffitt itself, Dr. Harrison said.

“Not only don’t they have [those services and expertise], but it would be hard for them to develop expertise at that level,” he explained. “A community hospital is just not going to develop that breadth and depth—it would not be worth their while, just in the context of their entire mission. They can’t possibly go that deep into the basic science and biology of cancer, at a molecular level—they don’t see enough cancer patients, and they don’t have the infrastructure to do the kinds of things that an NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center can do. At the same time, there’s no way for us to have our own network of hospitals in Florida. But if our partners have the system of hospitals and we have depth of expertise, that makes for a perfect  combination. [They get] specialists, and access to clinical trials, special drugs, new therapeutics, molecular diagnostics, expert pathology, things like that.”

In addition to its mission of treating cancer patients, Moffitt is also involved in various clinical trials at a number of levels, and some of these necessitate partnerships as well. “Sometimes we develop trials that are our own trials, and sometimes we join cooperative group trials, and sometimes we join pharmaceutical trials, so it’s all of the above,” Dr. Harrison explained. “The more patients we can enroll on trials, the more we can learn and the more progress we can make in helping patients.”

Two Day Jobs at Once

He further noted that his role as chief partnership officer is actually in addition to his “day job,” which is heading up the Moffitt’s department of radiation oncology. “I’m the chair of radiation oncology, I’m a doctor, so this partnership role is not my main job, but it’s part of my job,” he said. “But we’ve developed a fairly robust team, so I have a leadership role on the clinical side, I have a partner, another person, a vice president who is the business lead, and [we] work closely together. Then we have a series of financial analysts and managers and partnership administrators and physicians who take the lead for various projects. We liaise with scientists at some of our partnership hospitals. So if you think about it, there’s a fairly broad and wide infrastructure that supports this, and it all does report up through our senior partnership leadership team.”

As to any challenges or obstacles that arise in these ongoing partnerships, Dr. Harrison pointed out the importance of the cultural and strategic fit between partnership institutions. These relationships make all the difference, he said—and as ASAP members know, they need to be handled with care.

“[In] partnerships and alliances, there has to be a commonality of culture, a commonality of spirit,” he said. “These relationships often, maybe more often than not, boil down to the people who are involved and their ability to work together. On the one hand [they] represent their institutions well, and on the other hand [they] find the commonality and the overlap where there can be synergy, where there can be common success. Taking the time and having the patience to truly understand one another’s goals is a crucial factor in the success of any partnership.”

Finding Opportunity in a Time of Greater Need

Asked about the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, Dr. Harrison acknowledged that there is “absolutely” more need for such partnerships now, given the ways in which the pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of our lives, including healthcare.

“Yes, of course, it changes everything,” he said. “Like many other things, it’s ‘What’s your framework?’ I think it’s an opportunity. Because at the end of the day, COVID-19 has stressed every healthcare system, every business, every enterprise in the country. With that stress, it becomes harder to do things yourself, and more palatable oftentimes to do things with others. Not only to share resources, but also to share risks. I think a common threat, like any other circumstance, should allow good partnerships to thrive and find new ways to work together that will make the threat we all face more surmountable on the one hand, and then of course on the other hand to be able to do things with shared resources that either of the partners would be challenged to do on their own, especially in this resource-challenged environment. So we have approached COVID-19 as an opportunity—as a partnership opportunity.”

For more information on the virtual ASAP Global Alliance Summit and to register, go to https://www.asapsummit.org/

Tags:  Alliances  cancer program  clinical care  Clinical Partnerships  clinical research  COVID-19  culture  Dr. Louis B. Harrison  hospitals  Moffitt Cancer Center  partner  partnership  radiation oncology 

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“Golden Minutes”: How International SOS and Workplace Options Coalesced to Help Clients Quickly in Moments of Crisis

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Later this month, we will publish the next profile in our series of exclusive online articles examining the 2020 ASAP Alliance Excellence Award nominees. Over the course of the last four months, ASAP members have read the inspiring stories of Banistmo and Reciclar Paga’s groundbreaking recycling program in Panama, PTC’s series of system integrator–run IoT demo centers, the transformation of Blue Yonder’s alliance program, and the versatile Deloitte-Genpact alliance that is ready to storm the marketplace. (ASAP members can read these pieces in the previous four issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly, which can be accessed via the association’s Member Resource Library.)

In a few weeks, ASAP members will learn how International SOS and Workplace Options teamed up to bundle the former’s medical and security services with the latter’s emotional support offerings to deliver comprehensive services to globally mobile workforces in dozens of countries. As readers will discover, this collaboration isn’t just delivering complementary resources to customers—it is eroding the stigma around acknowledging and treating mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, that is still prevalent in many cultures around the world.

If we could do it all over again, we might have considered running this piece in the most recent issue of Strategic Alliance Monthly—in putting this feature together, we learned that May is mental health awareness month. However, while hindsight may be 20/20, foresight is one of this blog’s main functions. As we do with many of our Strategic Alliance Quarterly features, we thought we would dedicate this post to some fascinating facts about the International SOS–Workplace Options alliance that didn’t make the cut in the forthcoming June edition of ASAP’s monthly online-only outlet.

Harmonized Work Styles Result in Smooth Client Service

In ASAP circles, talk often turns to how to make two organizations work seamlessly as one. More specifically, we oftentimes speak abstractly about recognizing and reconciling the different “worldviews,” “assumptions,” or “organizational cultures” that companies bring to the table. These themes came up often in the discussion of how these two organizations harmonized their operations. Sally Wang, group vice president of global partnerships and alliances at International SOS, discussed the differences between how her organization’s medical personnel and Workplace Options’ counselors tackle patient cases.

“Our doctors are not psychologists or social workers, who specialize in mental health. Workplace Options counselors aren’t doctors.  You tend to look at the situation from different perspectives,” she said.

The two sides must be in lockstep because time is of the essence with inbound calls. Wang noted that cases of this nature tend to be very intense—many come in the context of heavy physical and emotional support needs. International SOS reps have “golden minutes” to accurately capture details and convey them to their Workplace Options counterparts. Otherwise, frustrated and potentially panicked callers may abandon hope and give up, according to Wang.

“If it is not done smoothly, the member may say, ‘It’s too much work. I don’t really need it,’ and we lose an opportunity to provide holistic care,” she said.

Mary Ellen Gornick, senior strategy advisor at Workplace Options, added that having a dedicated team of counselors from her organization who understand the complexity of issues International SOS clients face has been critical to the partnership's success.

“In addition to having expertise in mental health, these counselors are also skilled at responding to the unique needs of someone who may be traveling frequently or in a remote location or high-threat area,” she shared. “That experience makes a tremendous difference in how counselors are able to tailor the support they offer.”

Review, Realign, Rinse, Repeat

Wang’s colleague Molly Walsh, program manager for the strategic alliances and partnerships group at International SOS, reviews client cases and conducts operational alignment calls each month to discuss situations that might have thrown one or both parties for a loop and explore how to course-correct for similar instances in the future. The two companies have each gotten very comfortable with their partner’s constructive criticism. 

If there are problems, we’re very up front in talking about it,” said Wang.

International SOS and Workplace Options are nominated for the Alliance Excellence Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility category. They are competing with:

  • Telecommunications giant Ericsson, which delivered and maintained Internet connectivity to rescue workers in the immediate aftermath of two natural disasters, a devastating cyclone in Mozambique and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, as part of the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) Emergency Telecommunications Cluster initiative;
  • Global consulting firm Protiviti’s “i on Hunger” program, which delivered 10 million meals to individuals suffering food insecurity;
  • Analytics software vendor SAS’s Nordic Hackathon, which convened partners Knowit, Microsoft, Intel, and Evry to mine data for a wide variety of social causes, such as reuniting displaced families via facial recognition technology; and   
  • The aforementioned Banistmo–Reciclar Paga partnership.

The June Strategic Alliance Monthly will be sent to ASAP members prior to the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, where the Alliance Excellence Award winners will be unveiled. Registration for the Summit, which will take place virtually June 23 through June 25, is still open

Tags:  alliances  Ericsson  International SOS  Internet connectivity  Mary Ellen Gornick  operations  organizational cultures  partner  partnership success  partnerships  Sally Wang  SAS Nordic Hackathon  United Nations’ World Food Programme  Workplace Options 

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Make a Decision! Now More Than Ever, Alliance Decision Making Is Critical. Game Theory Can Help

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Most of us have probably worked on teams and within hierarchies where decisions were hard to come by: slow to be made due to fearful, indecisive leaders, or requiring multiple hoops to jump through to get approvals. It can have a crippling effect on projects and partnerships, and everyone becomes frustrated when things don’t move forward in a timely manner.

Now, with so much uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be even more difficult to get decisions made. With teams spread out and working remotely, it can be challenging even to pull key decision makers together, much less to formulate a coherent strategy. But for every challenge there’s an opportunity, and for every problem there’s a potential solution. It turns out that game theory may hold some of the answers to this dilemma.

“How can we best make decisions?” Harm-Jan Borgeld, PhD, MBA, CSAP, asked in a recent ASAP Netcast webinar. “There is now an opportunity. Now is the time for alliance leadership.”

Borgeld is vice president and head of alliance management at Merck Healthcare KGaA, based in Darmstadt, Germany, and he copresented the webinar with Professor Stefanie Schubert, PhD, CA-AM, professor of economics at SRH University Heidelberg. Titled “Decision Making Beyond COVID-19 Times: Leveraging Your Capabilities by Employing Game Theory,” the May 5 presentation examined how decisions should be analyzed using game theory, how to make decisions more efficiently, and the important steps needed to move from thinking about a decision to implementing it and aligning around it.

Just Decide, Please

Even in the absence of a crisis, Borgeld noted, it’s more important for leaders to be decisive than to actually make “the right decision.” He even cited an article showing that of those CEOs who were fired, one third were let go for making the wrong decision, while the rest—the vast majority—were sent packing for their indecision. The bottom line? Alliance leaders, like other executives, can’t afford to be indecisive.

This becomes even more true under the conditions of COVID-19, according to Borgeld, given the following factors:

  • There is a greater need for speed in decision making now than ever before.
  • The usual ways of “informal influencing,” such as hallway meetings and watercooler conversations with key stakeholders, are currently unavailable.
  • Decisions are now often being made alone or in small groups of two or three.
  • There’s a very uncertain future ahead.

In effect, Borgeld argued, alliance leaders need to do the same things:

  • Negotiate
  • Communicate
  • Influence
  • Look ahead
  • Align
  • Implement

These actions will no doubt be familiar to alliance professionals in every industry, but in COVID-19 times, they’ve all become more challenging. Take alignment, for example. Before the pandemic, aligning with key stakeholders and team members could often be informal, taking place during a coffee break or over lunch, Borgeld said. But “now we need to align in a different way.”

Games People Play

How could game theory assist in this process? Schubert emphasized that “game theory is actually the science of strategic decision making”—a critical skill at any time, but all the more so during a crisis. In addition, the principles of game theory provide “a structured framework for deriving optimal decisions,” she said. This helps avoid situations where decisions are made on the fly without benefit of proper analysis, or conversely, where decisions are not made at all due to organizational paralysis and lack of leadership.

In brief, the application of game theory to a decision means asking these questions:

  • Who are the decision makers?
  • What are their options?
  • What is the timing?
  • What are the payoffs?

Borgeld and Schubert presented a fictitious case study involving Sandra, an alliance manager for Sapphire, a biotech based in China, and Michael, an alliance manager for Diamond, a US-based company. Sapphire licenses a drug product to Diamond under a codevelopment and cocommercialization agreement, and the two companies had planned to conduct Phase II clinical trials beginning on July 1, 2020. But once COVID-19 hit, the timeline for these trials became very uncertain, and the costs the two companies had budgeted for could be way off the mark. So what to do? How can Michael and Sandra make a good decision and align around it?

Schubert showed how, from Michael’s point of view, he needed to look at his options and Sandra’s preferences and decide on the best option based on the potential outcomes, or payoffs. Given this information—and the uncertainties—he and his company prefer to wait six months before deciding, by which time perhaps they’ll have a more accurate sense of how much the trials will cost and whether they can be carried out properly. Thus he needs to steer Sandra toward this decision and convince her to accept it, even though it is not her or her company’s preferred option. It’s not her worst option, either, so with this compromise perhaps they can agree to move forward.

If the outcome is not the one you prefer, as in Sandra’s case, you may need to “change the game you want to play,” Schubert noted, being creative about options and the timing of moves. She also stressed that this represents a simplified version of game theory application; to perform a more detailed analysis, you would need to calculate eNPVs—estimated net present values—including for situations where payments are uncertain, as with COVID-19.

“When you want to apply game theory, you have to focus on the aspects that are really important,” she explained. That also means you need to “put yourself into someone else’s shoes,” figuring out what their preferences will be before you can make your own decisions, taking both their preferred outcomes and yours into account.

Game Theory and Practice

Borgeld also had some tips for how these game theory principles could best be applied in actual alliance management decision-making practice. These include:

  • Look at all options at the same time instead of sequentially, the way you would when buying something on Amazon or eBay.
  • Go to the decision makers, present them with three options and their pros and cons—including one non-COVID option—and get approval for the option you recommend.
  • Be more efficient in conference calls and virtual meetings by paring things down to a “perfect agenda,” using strict time management and making sure to include one “context” slide before giving the options.

“Where you can really shine as an alliance leader is when you put the context there,” Borgeld noted. “And especially in these times when people are [spending] eight, nine, ten hours a day on conference calls, they are really happy when you end early. So try to limit it. I would never recommend a JSC call go on for three hours.”

In addition, Borgeld recommended monitoring the financial status of biotech partners, reviewing the contract’s force majeure clauses (“What could be the consequences? What could happen to us? Also, what could happen to the partner? Discuss it with the partner, and don’t wait too long”), and staying “two steps ahead” by looking at the short-term, midterm, and long-term horizons.

Schubert stressed that “Life is very complicated, and you have to find out what aspects are important, what are the decisions, and who are the players, the decision makers?” Approach the right people in order to decide together, she advised, based on a clear analysis of payoffs and outcomes.

One final thought from Borgeld: Get the meeting minutes out on time! Alignment and implementation are critical, so it’s important once decisions are made to communicate those decisions and send minutes out immediately—the same day if possible to avoid foot-dragging. “If you wait two weeks, people sometimes have second thoughts.”

All in all, it looks like applying game theory to alliance decision making could be a winning strategy.

Tags:  alignment  alliance leaders  alliance managers  decision makers  decision-making  decisions  Game theory  Harm-Jan Borgeld  informal influencing  Stefanie Schubert 

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