How to Successfully Partner By Going “Beyond Capable”: 2018 West Coast Conference

It’s late February, but the sky is bright blue and the roar of the surf is a gentle undercurrent behind conversation as I discuss biopharma industry trends with colleagues at large and small biopharma buyers and suppliers. In a short time, we’ll be heading inside to hear one of the highlights of the West Coast Conference, the workshop.

This is the 6th West Coast Conference and each year the bar gets set higher for providing us attendees with nuggets of information relevant to doing business for suppliers and buyers while at the same time ensuring we stay riveted to the stage despite downing chocolate covered strawberries or fancy cake squares at lunch.

A Workshop Tour De Force on Partnering

Photo courtesy of Mike Tabolsky Photography
                                                                   Photo courtesy of Mike Tabolsky Photography 

As I sit down I realize, this year will not disappoint. Our workshop, The Relationship Game, based on The Newlywed Game, is clearly a tour de force. Three buyer-supplier partners who are working together (Heidrick & Struggles with JAG Learning and Sanofi with Rangam Consultants) or have mentor/mentee relationships (Pfizer with Prevail InfoWorks) via Diversity Alliance for Science’s successful mentoring program. The workshop is emceed by moderator Shannon Morrison of IM Creative.

The moment Shannon steps on stage and does a little dance with his silver shoes, we collectively shake off our post-lunch sluggishness, immersing ourselves in learning how successful partnerships happen when we act “Beyond Capable.”

Several themes on how to act emerge from this engaging conversation between the panel of successful partners. We hear from several panelists that:

Successful Partners Engage In:

  • Straight talk
  • Reliability
  • Authenticity
  • Clear and consistent communication

Partnering Mindset Requires a Deliberate Approach

In order, to act in these ways, we learn that partners need to be focused and engaged. If while speaking to each other, they are thinking about all the other tasks they need to get done that day and aren’t truly listening to their partner and being present, the partnership will not thrive. Vendors also need to be deliberate in what they are pitching—not trying to be everything to everyone. Suppliers should share the 1 to 2 things they are REALLY good at, and not provide a laundry list of potential services and therapeutic areas.

Panelist Reveal Supplier Tips for Getting to Yes

Suppliers may need to approach prospective buyers more than once as they try to establish new partnerships. What other special insights did our supplier experts have for us to improve our odds of success?

  • Be patient, but gently persistent
  • Be flexible
  • Be positive

Two situations that can cause problems down the road are not following through on promises or not being truthful with your partner. Don’t exaggerate your capabilities or try to cover up problems.

What Do Buyers Advise for Small and Diverse Partnering?

Our expert panel recommends that buyers always be clear when answering supplier questions. For example, if a supplier pitches for a project, but that supplier will never be a right fit for projects at your firm, let them know. The challenge of lack of clarity becomes clear during The Relationship Game as buyer and supplier panelist interpret pitch responses differently, showing us in real time how conversations that lack clarity cause confusion or misinterpretation. A noncommittal buyer response leads some suppliers to give up too early when they might have become successful and innovative partners, while others may continue to put time and resources into pursing an unlikely partner. By being honest and clear (yet professional), the supplier is able to change approaches, saving time and cost, and ultimately become successful by finding a better fit partner. As Nomi Edwards, Heidrick & Struggles, explained, “Ambiguity is the enemy [in partnering].”

Another tip for buyers, is to offer feedback to your diverse partner: this shows you are committed to the relationship and helps the supplier grow and improve. This approach benefits both partners in the long run.

Buyers can also help orient their suppliers to the organizational structure, culture and environment of their life sciences corporation. When the supplier better understands the company, they can effectively tailor their approach to becoming partners, including presentations and proposals.

Relationships: It All Comes Down to Personal Engagement

When it comes down to it, behind each firm is a person. Supplier and buyer relationships are really about people. Building a professional relationship means acting in a way that builds trust, demonstrates capability and supports our partner. When we act “Beyond Capable” in our relationships, we and our partners see successful outcomes.

The Relationship Game is just one out of two days of top notch presentations at the West Coast Conference plus there were multiple networking opportunities. I encourage everyone to check this event out, and if you missed it this year, it’ll be back around again before you know it. In the meantime, I’m already getting ready to meet DA4S members and friends back on the East Coast in June.


Candice M. Hughes, PhD, MBA
CEO, Hughes BioPharma Advisers LLC

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