We had the pleasure of hosting life science Alliance Management experts Rob Barber, Senior Director, Alliance Management at VaxEquity, and Muriel Xatard, Alliance Management Lead at Labatec Pharma, for an AM-dedicated live event, the Five Focus Areas to Level-Up Your Alliance Management Practice.
The duo has more than 20 years of collective alliance management and business development experience in the life sciences at companies including Novartis, Mundipharma, and Shire.
From discussions with our clients and at partnering congresses, we have already noticed that the alliance management community is both tight-knit and highly active in sharing their best practices and strategies to make their companies stand out in the long run.
Here is what we learned from Rob Barber and Muriel Xatard about the areas where a little focus can deliver the most significant impact for alliance managers. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share their expertise with our community.
For Barber, alliance management is the “how” part of partnering project management. Whereas partnering and strategic teams may be focused on achieving specific milestones during a collaboration or licensing deal, alliance managers help carve out the paths to get there collectively. Alliance managers look for the win as one or the victory together, and often they need to play the devil’s advocate internally to smooth out partnership sticking points.
Alliance managers can spend 30% of their day resolving communications problems, not conflicts between partners. According to Xatard, most alliance managers are extroverted, highly adaptable, and open-minded to different cultures.
"We have to hear what our partners are saying. We're sitting on that interface between the partner and our own company.”
"Alliance management is clearly a relationship profession. 30% of my daily job is resolving communication issues, not conflict.”
There are a thousand facets of alliance management, depending on the company type and industry; alliance managers can hold differing responsibilities and objectives in the same role. Xatard benefited from support from her Human Resources team to learn and understand how alliances are managed in other industries, such as the automotive and hotel industries. Conferences like those hosted by The Association of Strategic Alliance Professionals (ASAP) are critical to continuous learning and networking. are critical to continuous learning and networking.
Emotional intelligence is probably the most critical skill an alliance manager should cultivate. For Barber, this means the ability to know yourself and your impact in a packed boardroom. In addition, alliance managers should consider courses on effective negotiation tactics and reading balance sheets if these aren’t already at the top of their skill set. Find a mentor who can help guide and advise you throughout your alliance management career and become a mentor for someone else.
"Skill up in emotional intelligence, which is the ability to know yourself and the impact you have on people.”
"Know your company's business and how you can represent your company's real value, not just what's on the website.”
Can alliance management excellence create new sources of revenue and deal flow for life science companies? In short, YES. At many companies, new lines of business are sourced from existing partnerships simply by continuously connecting teams from both partners, whether for discussions between CEOs or operational units. With management supporting this function, efforts to maintain connections with partners will likely succeed.
Alliance managers play a crucial role in communicating changes in strategy to partners. For Barber, companies can change their plans and perspectives quickly. Alliance managers are privileged to play an active role in those transitions, particularly in bridging the gap with partners using trust and transparency.
"I joined as number six, so there's a very clear statement that alliances are important.”
"Two years ago, AM didn't exist, and now we create meetings between CEOs and between operational teams. We're making new business thanks to this.”
Because everyone always wants more resources, Barber wasn’t surprised that a poll of the audience and the results from our Partnering 2030: The Biotech Perspective report pointed to a lack of resources as a challenge to successful alliance management. A small biotech can be intensely agile but lack capacity, while a large pharma may have human and financial capacity but be extremely slow at execution. Barber strongly believes alliance managers can see beyond these resource hurdles. Their ability to sit in the other person’s shoes makes problem-solving faster, so decisions are made, and everyone moves on quickly.
With 35 alliances to manage, some more tricky than others, Xatard insists on the need to visit them a minimum of once per year. However, her current resource-concerned challenge is to navigate price fluctuations and negotiate between partners about what’s on paper from months ago versus today’s inflation-adjusted price.
"Alliance management has to work in the margins and front and center to resolve problems around resources.”
"Since the last six months, I'm focused on the huge price increases due to the global economic situation. Most of my time is spent on negotiations to keep business moving.”
Alliance management is a relationship-management game, and digital tools can bring it to a new level of efficiency and collaboration. According to Barber, without a centralized space for partnering, an incoming alliance manager can come into a “dog’s dinner of agreements.” Digital tools are especially valuable for quick reporting on status, action items, and deliverables and particularly for keeping on top of financial milestones.
Xatard, who came into her role as the first alliance manager at Labatec, recognizes the value of having digital tools that capture the complexity of partnering in the life sciences and turn it into a simple process for long-term success.
"We’re in a relationship management game, and where we can support that with digital tools, that’s important, as is moving beyond spreadsheets and calendar reminders.”
"It’s easy to use these tools to improve your processes. Inova is our main source of alliance documentation.”
In summary, alliance management is critical for life science companies to achieve long-term revenue and strategic objectives. Based on what we learned with Barber and Xatard, and perhaps more than any other function equally vital to successful partnering, continuous up-skilling and human resource investments, support from leadership, and specialized digital tools will elevate alliance management to industry-best and ensure your company stands out as a Partner of Choice in the long run.