Magazine Article | March 2, 2015

Building Strategic Partnerships With CMOs

Source: Life Science Leader

By Kate Hammeke, VP of Market Research, Industry Standard Research (ISR) @ISRreports

There has been an important evolution in the CMO awards this year, which better aligns with some of the Nice Insight research findings that regularly make their way into this column. When it comes to finding the “right” CMO, the qualities that comprise what makes the CMO the “right” one are different among the various buyers of outsourced services. Not only are unbiased peer reviews important, they are more valuable when trying to answer the question, “Does this company work well with a business like mine?”

To provide better insight and help answer the above question, the CMO awards are now categorized by the five main categories of buyers of outsourced services — Big Pharma, midsize/specialty pharma, emerging, niche or start-up as well as biotechs and emerging biotechs.

The winners of the 2015 CMO Awards are now viewed from a vantage point more similar to the way drug innovators want to compare suppliers — offering which CMOs fit best with companies that have the same types of goals, challenges, preferences, and needs as their own. Interestingly, when reviewing the most important factors that influence CMO selection, there is a considerable amount of overlap among the five categories of buyers. Out of 18 qualities that influence supplier selection, there are four different attributes that continually appear at the top, with some variation in rank and between traditional pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies. Interestingly, only one of these traits, which appears in Big Pharma and emerging pharma’s top three, is a quantifiable measure: track record/history of success.

One of the main obstacles in developing strategic relationships with suppliers is a lack of measurable traits that strategic partnerships would embody. Rather, CMO selection and the partnerships that form between drug innovators and manufacturers tend to be defined by an assortment of unquantifiable characteristics that impart a feeling rather than checklist facts. Nice Insight has also learned that within an organization, there is seldom a set of benchmark attributes for selecting a contract manufacturer. Thus, for many projects, CMO selection is undertaken tactically, despite a strong desire for a more strategic approach to both the selection process and the relationship that will come from it. Nice Insight’s 2015 results show that one-third of biotechs, emerging biotechs, and Big Pharma companies are very interested in a strategic partnership with a CMO, and that one-quarter of midsize and emerging pharma companies are very interested in developing strategic relationships with manufacturing suppliers.

Considering the degree of overlap in preferred traits among the different buyer groups and their strong interest in forming strategic relationships with CMOs, one might think that if these traits are promoted in marketing materials and sales conversations, one should be able to win business from any company that needs a contract manufacturer — and then grow that business into a strategic relationship. But here is the rub: Each of these attributes can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Good communication/ transparency means something different to different audiences, even when they are within the same type of organization. To some, it means daily correspondence even when there is no news; to others, good communication/transparency means clear and concise correspondence (with a plan already established and ready to implement) when there is an unforeseen challenge or setback. Which means, as a CMO, it is key to be a good listener and to ask the relevant questions in order to understand not only which attributes carry the most weight in CMO selection, but also to understand how the company you’re in conversation with defines those traits. Then, adopt that definition as your own when pitching business to each specific prospect — that is, if you’re confident the style of communication can be maintained throughout the relationship when the business is won.

This same approach — learning which attributes matter most to a prospect, and then taking the time to understand how that prospect defines those attributes — can be applied to any soft trait. That is, an attribute that imparts a feeling instead of being a quantifiable set of facts. As for drug innovators looking to develop more strategic relationships, it makes sense to spell it out to prospective partners with regards to exactly what you mean when you’re talking about the more ambiguous metrics.