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“Humanity Is Relying on You!” Ed Cox Tells BioPharma Conference Attendees to Embrace the Challenge of Ending the Pandemic

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ed Cox, executive vice president of strategic alliances and global head of digital medicine at EVERSANA, was given the task of closing the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference on an inspiring note. He did it with a bang!

“Right now, humanity is relying on you. That’s thrilling! I want my work to matter,” he said. “This exact moment, at this exact time, what you do matters more than almost anything else in the world. There are very few occupations on the planet that are more critical to what we are doing [in this world] than what we [as alliance managers] are doing right now [in our jobs]. That’s exciting. You should be proud, you should feel challenged, and you should step up to that challenge.”

Your Interests Are Mine—Pharma Licensing Agreements Require Unparalleled Levels of Trust

Alliance management is indispensable for more reasons than the fact that the world is pinning its hopes on a handful of biopharma industry partnerships working furiously to develop COVID-19 treatments. The alliance management skill set was made to hurdle the obstacles presented to us by the virtual workplace. The nature of pharmaceutical collaborations of this magnitude normally necessitate a level of in-person interaction that is near-impossible at the moment.

Cox explained that the level of complexity of a licensing agreement dwarfs that of any other type of business transaction. If you think about transactions on a four-point spectrum, the easiest ones to consummate are those centered around everyday commodities like sugar or salt, where you don’t need to interact with salespeople any more than to hand over change, let alone trust them. The next-simplest transactions are ones centered around more durable products, such as furniture—more dialogue is needed to hammer out a sale, but a previous relationship is hardly required. Further up the complexity scale are highly technical services, such as software-as-a-service solutions. Although these types of customer agreements tend to last at least a year—often longer—and entail a deeper relationship with the seller, the level of trust required in these relationships pales in comparison to the most complex type of transaction: the pharma licensing agreement, with its arcane regulatory requirements; loads of phase 1, 2,  and 3 data; and various IP threats.

“You as the buyer, you as the partner, are relying on the seller to have your best interests in mind. None of those other stages that we talked about have that dynamic,” said Cox. “[The sales rep] has my interest in mind just as much as theirs.”

Holy Smokes! Alliance Managers Help Shepherd Deals Through the Last Mile

That’s in normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic has heaped on another layer of complications. Cox said pharma business transactions generally develop over three broad stages: 1) the beginning of a relationship upon the introduction of two parties, 2) the advancement of the conversation, and the 3) actual signing of the agreement. The coronavirus has all but completely quashed the ability to forge the new connections needed in the first stage, while the elaborate private equity and licensing deals that characterize the last one have dropped 50 percent. While alliance managers are primarily responsible for—and currently have their hands full with—that middle phase, the rest of the world cannot walk that last mile to that final stage because closing deals of this nature has also traditionally necessitated in-person interaction.

“The only way we as a civilization will be freed is by the life sciences industry innovating our way out of it, except the life sciences industry cannot close complex transactions, because so many people are used to being in the room together. Holy smokes! Those are the stakes, but that’s the exciting part,” Cox said.

How else are alliance managers vital today? For one, “Trust has gone from critical to existential,” according to Cox, and few apply trust-building as a science the way alliance professionals do.   

“I can advance these deals, close these deals, hold on to these deals, and make them work [without being in person] so that these products get to the patients that [need them] and we get out of this crisis,” Cox explained.

Communicate Value and Ration Negativity to the CEO

Cox was just as insightful in the Q&A that followed his address. ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, began by asking Cox how alliance managers can overcome the age-old problem of feeling underappreciated or not fully understood by senior management. Cox urged alliance managers to frame things to CEOs in terms of the future. He acknowledged that alliance managers are inherently disadvantaged because CEOs are more involved in the signing of the deal and the initial press release announcing it, when stock prices are soaring and optimism is high. The partnership is then handed off to the alliance manager only “to make sure it doesn’t break.” From that point on, the alliance manager more often than not only involves the CEO when there is a crisis or a problem with the partner. Cox strongly recommended against shielding yourself behind the rationalization that you are just the messenger.

“The messenger is not a role you want to be in. The fixer, the leader, the driver. That’s the role,” he said. Instead, he urged alliance managers to find ways to create new value, and to involve the CEO when you have a proposal that could result in higher revenue or increased earnings per share.

Obviously, there are some times where alliance managers won’t be able to avoid delivering bad news. However, Cox exhorted listeners to “ration” negativity. Besides, most of the time, the fire isn’t at five-alarm levels that require the CEO’s attention, and it’s almost worse to burn precious CEO time on a false alarm.  

“Don’t cry wolf if it’s not [completely] broken,” he said.   

Alliance Managers Must Let Go of “Control Issues”—and Failures

When asked what lessons people can take from alliances that didn’t reach their end goal, Cox said that it is important to understand that most alliances fail due to external factors, which goes against human nature and, to some extent, our business culture which insists that we control our own fate. Most of the time, alliance managers cannot overcome market factors, regulatory hurdles, and inadequate science. 

“There are great partnerships with really smart people collaborating well that fail because of external factors. There are alliances that are held together with duct tape that succeed because the demand for the product was so great it didn’t matter anyway,” said Cox.

If a failure was avoidable, Cox advised to be “real and authentic” about why the collaboration didn’t reach its goals.

What drives Cox at EVERSANA? He loves the fact that he is in a nascent field—EVERSANA is part of the growing contract commercial organization (CCO) market. Pharmaceutical companies have recently begun outsourcing go-to-market activities in the way they have contracted out manufacturing and research duties over the past two decades. Sometimes EVERSANA is running an entire commercial operation. Other times, the company is managing a single vertical for a large pharmaceutical organization or helping a smaller outfit get to the next level.  

EVERSANA is seeking to build the first CCO that can be accessed through partnerships.

“Nobody’s ever built one of these before,” he said. “There are a lot of products that wouldn’t have a chance to get to market, or wouldn’t have the chance to be the first thing in the bag if they get licensed to a large or midsize pharma. If they partner with us, they can be first thing in the bag.” 

Although the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference is officially over, registrants can still play back sessions or watch presentations they couldn’t tune in for live at our conference portal. We strongly encourage you to check out the rest of Cox’s session, which includes his take on digital health, when he realized the importance of alliance management, and what he would never do again in a partnership, among other learnings.

Tags:  alliance  Alliance management  alliance managers trust-building  biopharma  complex transactions  digital medicine  Ed Cox  EVERSANA  life sciences  pharma business transactions  Pharma Licensing Agreements  pharmaceutical collaborations  skill set  strategic alliances 

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School of Thought: Three Case Studies Illustrate How to Train Your Alliance Pros

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Sunday, August 16, 2020

Training is still a priority to corporations around the world, according to research from Vantage Partners. More than $80 billion was spent on all forms of coursework in 2019, but how much of that was dedicated to teaching formal alliance best practices? Not much, according to Ben Siddall, partner at Vantage Partners, who revealed that the same research found almost half of companies invested zero or few resources in teaching collaboration skills.

Siddall and his fellow partner at Vantage Jessica Wadd took some of their time to talk about the benefits of making this investment in their on-demand 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session “Alliance Management Skill Building: Case Studies Across Industries,” where they presented a trio of case studies showing that successful collaborative training can take many forms.

Before delving into the actual use cases, Wadd shared that organizations that are best-in-class in executing collaborations have devoted resources—usually on a large scale—to fostering the following skills within their employees: creative joint problem solving, managing emotions, collaboration, communication, influence, conflict management, change management, and facilitation. She outlined three broad categories of skills to help companies tailor training to the needs of their troops: 1) analytical (i.e., technical knowledge), 2) behavioral (i.e., mindset-oriented), and 3) blended—talents that require a mix of the first two skills. As Wadd and Siddall would subsequently reveal, the organization’s overall training objectives, as well as the company and department culture, often dictate which format and skill-development exercises are best for a given situation. 

Come Together: Salespeople Gather to Network, Share, and Learn

Wadd outlined the first case study, which saw a $3 billion tech company design a certification program to ensure that its sales-oriented alliance team developed the talents needed to manage a large stockpile of go-to-market partnerships. This organization was at “level 2” on a four-point scale rating organizational collaborative capability, where level 1 signified a low alliance proficiency and a propensity to engage in partnerships on an ad hoc basis and level 4 indicated that collaboration was coded in an organization’s DNA. The organization envisioned moving up two levels by teaching a variety of executives from within and outside of the alliance practice the basic tenets of “Alliance 101,” including partner value creation, coopetition, multiparty problem solving, collaboration and influence, negotiation, matrix usage, and account planning.

This organization determined that in-person training would best fit its sales-centric culture—its charges “craved interpersonal interaction,” Wadd said. Training sessions served as a reunion of sorts where the largely dispersed employee base could gather to experience firsthand “the value of getting together with their colleagues, sharing experiences, networking with each other, and building a knowledge of what others had done,” as Wadd recounted. The actual sessions were organized into four broader tracks:

  1. Alliance concepts and best practices: Alliance management basics, change management, and coopetition
  2. Understanding partner business models and alliance business plans: Customer value creation and value chain analysis, and account planning and strategy development
  3. Advanced collaboration and influence: Multiparty problem solving, negotiation, and general collaboration and influence skills
  4. Roles and responsibilities (in the organization and within the alliance itself): Working in a matrix, coaching, and talent development

Learners were officially certified when they demonstrated competency in these skills, not upon completion of the courses. They were evaluated based on a three-part assessment: 1) a qualitative review by the trainee’s manager or sales leader, 2) a 34-question multiple-choice test, and 3) a presentation of two case studies demonstrating the application of alliance principles in real-life scenarios.

Biopharma AMs Ease into Self-Guided Alliance Journeys

On the other side of the spectrum of training methods was the largely customizable, self-service program architected by a level-3 $30 billion global pharma company that relied on partnering for growth. These alliance managers were proficient in the basics of alliance management, but they were increasingly engaging in early-stage partnerships, a departure from the largely late-stage collaborations the team was used to. With a decentralized team scattered in multiple geographies, this pharmaceutical giant took the opposite tack of the previous use case and created a library of prerecorded webinars and an accessible central alliance toolkit that provided a “baseline and discipline in how they engaged in alliance relationships,” according to Siddall.

Prospective students could assess their training needs through surveys and self-assessment tools. Employees had different needs depending on the types of alliances they worked on and the particular skills required for their respective engagements. Each individual could mine this central repository of virtual real-time learning sessions, classroom sessions, self-guided learning, one-on-one coaching, and community-based learning to create “their own learning journey out of that landscape,” said Siddall. “Folks were able to tailor what they needed and how they got it to their specific constraints, all within the construct of the core alliance management tools, processes, and playbook.”

Pharma Company “Layers” AM, Leadership, and Governance Training on Thick

Another biopharma company was looking to advance its alliance practice from a level-2 standing and become the coveted “partner of choice” in its market. With most of the employees engaged in its partnerships centrally located in a few offices, the company opted for a classroom style and a syllabus designed for alliance professionals. It decided to “layer” leadership training on top of the basic alliance curriculum, and then codeliver the entire offering to the rest of the organization in an “open enrollment” format, in Wadd’s retelling.

Within a few years, the course was heavily attended by alliance first-timers and other employees whose managers felt that they could benefit from learning core collaborative competencies. These classes were eventually complemented with online learning resources, as well. The program evolved to cater to specific governance needs across the alliance portfolio. Although they were not required, executives who were appointed to committees were urged to take courses that were conceived specifically for these roles, as well as half-day sessions that took place a few times a year where committee appointees could network, share ideas, learn from each other, and enhance their skills.

Integrating alliance training for all levels and roles in this fashion “makes sense when you have a limited budget,” in Wadd’s estimation.

Three Different Ways to the Next Level

Each of these three use cases relied on very different means to train alliance managers and non-alliance personnel in the core tenets of alliance management, yet they each molded stronger alliance managers and elicited better results from their collaborations. The certification program expanded the number of tools in the team’s arsenal, engaged employees from other departments, and increased the value of the portfolio to the point where alliances now contribute 40 to 50 percent of the company’s domestic revenue growth. The biopharma giant’s self-administered training similarly expanded the role and visibility of alliance management within the organization. More important, the efficient use of resources ensured that the practice could “optimize the use of [its] scarce central alliance expert time and apply [it] only to the highest-value challenges [it] faced,” said Siddall. The last training helped the alliance management team better defuse potentially volatile situations, reduced the number of escalations to senior governance committees, and produced better resolutions of the issues that were brought to senior management. The alliance practices of the first two organizations have reached level-4 status, while the latter pharmaceutical company has moved from level 2 to 3.

Although these case studies make it crystal clear that there is no “single silver bullet” for alliance training, Siddall outlined a few common principles in achieving collaborative training goals among them:

  1. Think about the learning journey as a process, not an event. “You can’t create collaboration, influence, [and] the kinds of complex skills alliance managers need at a one-time event with no prework, no follow-up, [and] no action learning,” said Siddall.
  2. Make sure all subject matter is contextualized. “Generic content will not be as impactful. Folks won’t develop the skills, and they won’t be as engaged,” counseled Siddall.
  3. Instructors should have real-world expertise and speak the same language as attendees.
  4. Emphasize practical application. Siddall recommended a “learning laboratory” format where students apply concepts to real-world scenarios.
  5. Think carefully about format,” Siddall exhorted, hypothesizing that analytical-category learning outlined by Wadd earlier in the presentation might lend itself to self-guided tools, while behavioral and blended training may necessitate live, interactive sessions.

“Alliance Management Skill Building: Case Studies Across Industries” is one of about two dozen 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit sessions available on demand to Summit registrants. ASAP members and Summit registrants can access great knowledge like this that applies to all industries and all phases of the alliance life cycle.

Because in the world of alliance management, the learning never stops. 

Tags:  alliance best practices  Alliance Management  Alliance Pros  alliances  Ben Siddall  biopharma  case studies  certification  collaboration skills  Jessica Wadd  partner  portfolio  resources  Skill Building  Vantage Partners 

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Mashup or Culture Clash? When Biopharma and IT Meet Up in Digital Health Alliances

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Monday, August 3, 2020

It’s generally accepted that the alliance management profession is entrenched in IT and biopharma more deeply than in other industries. In these vertical markets, no business can sustain significant growth without developing an alliance practice and a deep portfolio of partnerships. No one company could develop a full stack of hardware, software, and cloud services on its own and still keep pace with the blisteringly fast tech sector, nor could a single pharmaceutical entity complete the entire drug life cycle solo for an entire portfolio of drug candidates.

Yet for many years these industries have operated largely in separate spheres based partly upon vastly different alliance principles. This is starting to change with the advent of digital health, an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of initiatives that utilize digital technologies to advance and streamline patient care in the form of preventive treatment, hyperpersonalized medicine, more accurate drug discovery, and a more efficient patient-provider relationship, among other applications. (See “Digital Health at the Crossroads,” Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Q4 2019, for more on this rapidly expanding area.)

Suddenly, cross-industry alliances are popping up everywhere, from GE Healthcare’s Edison intelligence platform (see “It’s the Data—and a Lot More,” Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Q1 2020), to the alliance between AstraZeneca and Flex spinoff BrightInsight, to the myriad data-driven pharma collaborations hard at work today. Now, Big Pharma, biotechs, and academic medical researchers are increasingly mingling with tech-industry startups, midsize companies, and Global 1,000 enterprises, necessitating the coalescence of these two alliance cultures.

Mind the Gaps

In their on-demand 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit session “The Alliance Management Mashup: Bridging a Digital Divide,” the proprietors of alliance management consultancy The Rhythm of Business laid out a common alliance framework that would help digital health partners on both sides better understand each other and function together more successfully.

Or course, to close gaps, you must first identify them. According to Jeff Shuman, CSAP, PhD, principal at The Rhythm of Business, the most glaring of these disparities is the timeline in which these industries innovate and bring solutions to market. In tech, companies develop products iteratively through agile processes in order to bring offerings to market in the tightest of windows—the “next big thing” can become yesterday’s news in a hurry. By contrast, it can take up to a decade to commercialize a therapy thanks to a stricter regulatory climate and pharma’s more methodical drug-development processes, although Shuman noted that today’s exceptional circumstances have led to some COVID-19 research being conducted in an “accelerated manner” using iterative techniques.

“‘Move fast and break things.’ That may help promote innovation, but it’s not a good principle when people’s health and lives are at stake,” said Shuman, referencing the famous operating philosophy Mark Zuckerberg used to take Facebook to stratospheric heights. Not a great recipe for pharma, to say the least.

Tech and biopharma differ in many other ways as well. Generally speaking, tech is solution-centric while the pharma market revolves around products. Tech solutions are code-driven, while pharmaceutical offerings involve complex manufacturing processes that are “highly customized for each drug and drug formulation, often requiring a dedicated cold chain to get from factory to patient,” said Shuman.

Technology products are peddled in large part through channel sales and collaborative selling efforts, while pharmaceutical firms spend lots of resources comarketing and copromoting joint products. Tech companies—particularly software vendors—can sell and distribute products through distributors, resellers, and system integrators,  or by “white labeling” their products­ via OEM agreements. Patients buy drugs from pharmacies, while pharma companies often rely on combination therapies. Where new subscription-based business models are predicated on the “land, adopt, expand, and renew” approach, pharma’s product-based life cycle management is usually expressed in the form of “new indications and new formulations.”

Disparities Extend to IT, Pharma Alliance Practices

Alliance portfolios, partnerships, and alliance manager roles look much different in these industries as well. Pharma alliances are negotiated individually and often underpinned by detailed long-term contracts with multiple subagreements, while tech partnerships can often be grouped along a particular area of focus and covered by blanket contract terms that apply to an entire partner program. Today, technology companies partner on platforms around common APIs, while pharma companies license individual assets. The pharmaceutical industry banks on partnerships at all stages of the drug-development life cycle, from research to commercialization, while tech usually partners when it is time to go to market.

Just about everything a tech alliance manager does is in the name of driving revenue—in fact, alliance practices are expected to generate new streams. Although revenue generation is a major imperative to pharma alliance managers, it is secondary to risk mitigation and maximizing the value of joint assets; pharma managers spend more time monitoring contract compliance—determining when amendments or entirely new agreements are necessary—than their tech counterparts do.

Tech alliance managers must earn the commitment of partner resources, while pharma contracts usually spell out resource obligations. Instead, biopharma alliance managers focus their energy on giving higher-ups “all the data they need to make smart decisions,” according to Shuman. Given the distributed nature of tech alliance management, the alliance division must actively engage field sales to get salespeople to actively shop an alliance solution. In biopharma, the field “doesn’t have choice,” in Shuman’s words.

Reconcilable Differences

How do you actually reconcile these differences? Jan Twombly, CSAP, The Rhythm of Business’s president, illustrated the answer with an anonymous case study where a Big Pharma corporation and a technology outfit leveraged the latter’s IoT platform to codevelop apps and medical devices and collect real-world evidence (RWE) from patients that would ultimately enable highly personalized care. Their business model rested on software subscriptions paid for by the biopharma entity to the tech company, which is “different from what biopharma companies are used to,” said Twombly. A collaborative framework was established in several key areas—the two organizations settled on joint development, cocommercialization, and revenue sharing arrangements. However, the pharma company was tasked with deciding what it wanted in the device, what the device would do, and what outcomes it would produce, while the tech company determined how to take the platform itself to market.

On a broader level, the companies needed to align on the intended outcomes, regulatory pathway, decision-making processes, and go-to-market messaging. This turns out to be easier said than done. Pharmaceutical companies are used to applying software to internal processes but not to product development, nor are they well versed in working with tech companies in a true vendor-relationship capacity. On a practical level, IT and pharma alliance managers have drastically different titles and functions.

“It may be challenging to engage in stakeholder mapping and getting the right people in the meetings,” said Twombly.

Extensive regulatory-, safety-, and quality-related processes are new to tech, which forced the IoT vendor in this case to rely on the pharmaceutical company’s expertise.

“[Pharmaceutical companies] should be in the lead when it comes to determining what the regulatory pathways are going to be,” said Twombly.

Lighter and Leaner Governance, Stronger Champions, and More Listening

Both entities needed to reimagine the governance process and the role of their joint steering committee (JSC).

“Governance-through-committee doesn’t work all that well in a lean tech company,” said Twombly, before noting that this presented an opportunity for the biopharma alliance managers to try on a lighter, “more agile” governance where teams met more frequently but for less time.

Governance is especially important in ensuring transparent decision making; it may require especially rigorous stakeholder management and a different decision hierarchy from what either side might be used to. In particular, the parties must devise a governance structure that helps partners align on evidence standards so that the tech company can produce data that will “pave that [regulatory] pathway” to meet the biopharma entity’s standard.

Senior leadership champions are especially important in getting stakeholders to understand the value of digital health partnerships and engage in the new modus operandi required for their execution. To foster collaboration, Twombly spoke of “listening to understand,” a process that involves creating a “common language with shared meaning” that helps leverage each party’s strengths. 

Follow the North Star—and Respect Culture’s Hearty Appetite

Twombly urged partners to boil down their discussion of desired outcomes to three points: 1) Align on a North Star—“know what it is that you are trying to produce, know what the outcome is that you want from this partnership, and keep everybody focused on achieving it”; 2) Agree to milestones and metrics; and 3) Make status against plans visible to all.

Twombly also reminded the audience of the old saying that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” To remedy cultural differences, she recommended that tech alliance pros assume the best of intentions on the part of their biopharma counterparts and speak up and provide alternatives when something won’t work in their environment. On the flip side, pharma companies need to explain their world, with visual aids showing how their organizations work, wherever possible. As with all alliances, everyone must celebrate successes and learn from mistakes.  

Twombly closed with a series of “tips and traps.” For the former, she outlined the following:

  1. Take time to understand how each partner innovates, goes to market, and what partnership looks like to them.
  2. Understand your counterpart’s focus, job, and core responsibilities.
  3. Use the alliance management foundation to decide how to bridge differences—the toolsets provided by ASAP “give you a common baseline which you can work from.”

The three traps to avoid?

  1. Allowing stakeholders to think that a digital health partnership is like all the others—“you’re really going to have to adapt new behaviors and ways of looking at things” because the status quo will not suffice, warned Twombly.
  2. Make sure each side appreciates and leverages what the other brings to the alliance.
  3. Don’t fail to champion your partner and partnership.

Above all, Twombly exhorted companies on both sides to recognize the high stakes and the game-changing potential of these collaborations.

“The promise for digital health is significant for both technology and biopharma companies, never mind the patients,” she said. “Allow these new therapies, applications, and ways of developing drugs to thrive.”

If you registered for the 2020 ASAP Global Alliance Summit, don’t miss out on the bounty of career- and partnership-boosting tips and tricks from some of the profession’s most senior practitioners. The three days of live Summit sessions, plus more than a dozen prerecorded presentations, are available to you on demand until Aug. 18. Log on to the Summit portal soon to access them before they’re gone! 

Tags:  Alignment  alliance practice  alliance principles  Biopharma  biotechs  cloud services  cross-industry alliances  Digital Health  digital technologies  drug candidate  Jan Twombly  Jeff Shuman  metrics  milestones  North Star  partners  partnerships  pharmaceutical  software  The Rhythm of Business 

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A Virtual Event, but a Rich, Living Community—Thanks to You!

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Wednesday, July 1, 2020

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.

Tags:  aligning  Alliance Management  Amit Sinha  Andrew Yeomans  Biopharma  Brooke Paige  channel  cloud  Commercial  Dan Rippey  David S. Thompson  ecosystem  Eli Lilly and Company  Influencers  Jan Twombly  Larry Walsh  Microsoft  Referral Partners  The 2112 Group  The Rhythm of Business  UCB  WorkSpan 

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Making Adjustments: ASAP Global Alliance Summit Now in June!

Posted By Michael Leonetti, CSAP, Monday, March 9, 2020

We’ve all had the experience of an unexpected event that suddenly threw a wrench into our alliances or our lives. Depending on the nature of the event, its magnitude, and how close to home it hits, we generally do our best to understand how the landscape has changed, adjust to the implications, make accommodations, and move forward. Reality may defy our hopes and expectations, but we pick up the pieces, dust ourselves off, and keep getting up in the morning amid the now-altered environment.

So it is with the coronavirus, or COVID-19, whose effects worldwide have already proven serious. Our hearts go out to all those who have been directly affected by this virus, especially the families of those who have died from it around the globe. In addition, this contagious disease—and the fear of it—has already had a significant economic impact, including declines in business and vacation travel and the cancellation or postponement of a number of conventions, conferences, and trade shows in various industries. Most organizations have been forced to respond in some way, whether to shift events to alternative dates or from physical to virtual, to curtail travel to safeguard their people, or to try to limit the damage to their bottom line. Or all of the above.

We at ASAP have faced these challenges as well, resulting in the difficult decision to reschedule our Global Alliance Summit, which had been scheduled for next week, to June 23–25 in Tampa, Florida. In the great scheme of things this move may barely register, but for a member organization like ours, as you can imagine, it’s a big deal. Shifting the Summit to new dates has required a huge and immediate lift on the part of ASAP staff and board, which is ongoing as I write this.

The good news is, the show will go on! I’m very happy that we were able to secure the original conference venue, the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel, for our late-June dates. I’m even more pleased to report that at present, nearly 75 percent of our presenters, panelists, and moderators have confirmed that they’ll be there.

What this means is that we’ll still have a terrific program, as planned—a program that, as always, includes presentations by some of the alliance and partnering profession’s best and brightest minds and leading lights, including these:

  • A keynote presentation by Steve Steinhilber, global vice president, ecosystems and business development, at Equinix: “Creating Alliances and Digital Ecosystem Capabilities in an Increasingly Platform Enabled and Interconnected World.” Steve ran alliances at Cisco for a number of years, and while there authored the influential book Strategic Alliances: Three Ways to Make Them Work (2008). He was also among those interviewed for our Q1 2020 cover story in Strategic Alliance Quarterly on the rise and far-reaching effects of ecosystems in nearly every industry, and his insights into this important and growing area are sure to be valuable and applicable to any industry.
  • A fascinating panel moderated by Adam Kornetsky of Vantage Partners titled “Big Pharma M&A and Alliance Portfolios: What’s at the End of the Rainbow?” This interactive discussion will feature panelists including Mark Coflin, CSAP, vice president and head of global alliances at Takeda Pharmaceuticals; Dana Hughes, vice president of integration management and alliance management at Pfizer; and Jeffrey C. Hurley, senior director, GBD global alliance lead at Takeda. These longtime ASAP members will share their recent M&A experiences, provide insights into how alliance portfolios have been managed through the transaction process, and engage participants in sharing additional perspectives critical for unlocking and maximizing the full value of an alliance portfolio.
  • A presentation by Dan Rippey, director of engineering for Microsoft’s One Commercial Partner program, and Amit Sinha, chief customer officer and cofounder of WorkSpan, called “How the Microsoft Partner-to-Partner Program Is Disrupting the Way Technology Companies Are Leveraging the Power of Ecosystems for Business Growth, Customer Acquisition, and Gaining a Competitive Advantage.” With the rise of ecosystems has come the increasing deployment of partner-to-partner (P2P) programs, and Microsoft’s may be the largest on the planet, connecting partners directly with each other to deliver value to customers without Microsoft’s intervention. Powered by WorkSpan Ecosystem Cloud, this program increases profitability by selling solutions from one or more of Microsoft’s partners, achieving faster time-to-market by leveraging prebuilt joint solutions, closing larger deals, and reaching more customers by co-selling with other Microsoft partners for a bigger joint pipeline. This new model of partnering has wide applicability and Dan and Amit’s description of how it works is a must-hear.
  • Another terrific panel moderated by Jan Twombly, president of The Rhythm of Business, called “Biopharma Commercial Alliance Management Challenges.” Panelists will include Brooke Paige, CSAP, ASAP board chair and former vice president of alliance management at Pear Therapeutics; and David S. Thompson, CSAP, chief alliance officer at Eli Lilly and Company. In the long life of a successful biopharma alliance, the commercialization phase brings its own particular challenges and problems. This panel promises to be a lively discussion of such topics as how alliance managers deliver value in a commercial alliance, considerations for driving alignment in local geographies and at a corporate level, aspects of alliance governance to get right to maximize value, and much more.

I’m not indulging in hyperbole when I say that these are just a very few of the highlights. Again,  more than three-quarters of the original Summit agenda is planned  to remain intact—including preconference workshops, single-speaker presentations, illuminating panel discussions, and of course, valuable networking opportunities.

We know there are many factors governing decisions on where to travel and why—especially under current conditions. But we’re confident that even after shifting to the June dates, we’ll be fielding a stellar lineup at the Summit in Tampa—one you’ll want to be present for. If you haven’t registered yet and/or for whatever reason were uncertain about attending in March, you now have some extra time to decide.

Additionally, the Renaissance has set up a new block of rooms at our discounted rate of $219.00+ per night. To book your room for the new conference dates, please click on the link below:

https://www.marriott.com/event-reservations/reservation-link.mi?id=1583953400577&key=GRP&app=resvlink

Let’s all try to plan for normal again! Won’t you join us? I hope to see you in Tampa!

Tags:  alliances  Amit Sinha  biopharma  Brooke Paige  Dan Rippey  Dana Hughes  David Thompson  Ecosystems  Eli Lilly and Company  Equinix  Jan Twombly  Jeffrey Hurley  Mark Coflin  Microsoft  P2P  partners  Pfizer  Steve Steinhilber  Takeda  The Rhythm of Business  Vantage Partners  WorkSpan 

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