Magazine Article | August 1, 2019

Improving Outsourcing Relationships

Source: Life Science Leader

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

Any good market researcher (or therapist) will tell you that you shouldn’t ask about problems without also asking for solutions to those problems. At ISR, we don’t focus specifically on problems; instead we like to dig into what is working in various outsourcing situations and environments. This probing has a tendency to unearth outsourcing problems in the process. Without presenting any specific problems — because we knew at least one would be top-of-mind — or aspects of the sponsor-CMO relationship that need to be improved, we asked drug innovators about six different scenarios and their likelihood of improving outsourcing relationships. Each of the six ideas received a positive response from the group. Three of the scenarios have one key element in common — communication.

Sharing information doesn’t always come naturally in outsourcing relationships. This may be rooted in the early days of outsourcing, when there were more concerns about compromising one’s IP in the subcontracting process. However, as the dynamics of outsourcing relationships evolve, many drug innovators are shifting away from a client-vendor perspective (where the customer is always right) and are more than willing to improve sponsor-CMO relationships. The scenario with the largest proportion of likely to very likely responses (69 percent) is for sponsors to work with CMOs to better align on evaluation criteria considerations. It is easy to imagine how a vendor can better meet client expectations in both the consideration stage and the performance evaluation stage, if the vendor has an understanding of the sponsor’s needs and wants. If it isn’t already part of your process, consider making this a formal step in CMO selection — to internally align on selection criteria and performance metrics, and then to communicate this information to the CMOs from which you are requesting proposals.


Fifty-eight percent of sponsors agree that sharing more information on timelines is likely to very likely to improve outsourcing relationships. Timelines are criterions frequently relayed to CMOs; however, the focus is commonly on when the service/activity needs to be delivered, but leaves off why. Sharing information on why the timeline was established and what else hinges on the step being completed on this timeline helps to create a common goal between the sponsor and CMO. This fosters a sense of “team” between the client and vendor. When there is both a sense of a team and a common goal, productivity improves. When the importance of achieving the goal is shared, the sponsor-CMO team can move past setbacks and overcome challenges together.

The third communication-themed scenario, sponsors sharing more information on sponsor’s pipeline, was less enthusiastically received among sponsors, but still garnered the likely to very likely responses of one-third of respondents as a way to improve outsourcing relationships. This scenario received the largest proportion of votes indicating that it was not at all likely to improve outsourcing relationships (22 percent). Considering communicating pipeline information is a key component of strategic partnerships, this surprised me. In our survey research, ISR defines a strategic partnership as a sponsor-CMO relationship with the ability to leverage knowledge and expertise around the drug innovators’ pipelines, and our research findings confirm there are a myriad of benefits to being able to plan ahead based on what might be coming down the pike.

Anyone who is outsourcing will benefit from thinking about these scenarios and identifying whether they match up well with your organization. If yes, consider adjusting some behaviors and the depth of your communication for the purpose of better sponsor- CMO dynamics.

KATE HAMMEKE is VP of market research at Industry Standard Research.