Save Your Sponsor-CRO Partnership By Seeing It As A Marriage


Written by Kieran Canisius

Kieran brings together vendors, investors, growth, clinical and subject matter experts at the forefront of their life science specialties to energetically support clients in overcoming their challenges and find new strategies for success.

January 3, 2019

If you’re a regular reader of our blog posts, or if you’ve seen us talk at conferences, you might have picked up that we see a lot of similarities between business relationships and romantic relationships. For example, at times we compare the sponsor-CRO relationship to a marriage. This may seem simplistic, emotional or far from realistic, but hear us out…

Like a Marriage

There are a lot of similarities here: both relationships are contractual, legal arrangements; both are complicated. Both relationships work best when neither side tries to play the “boss,” but there is certainly substantial interdependence. In the end, both sides need the other to achieve their goals.

More importantly, both relationships seem to fail in similar ways. In marriages and sponsor-CRO relationships alike, we see the same factors undermining the happiness of the partnership again and again. Those are:

1. Control Issues

When one side is constantly trying to control the other, the lack of trust and respect is keenly felt. This makes it difficult to get past the inevitable conflicts that pop up.

2. Undefined Roles and Responsibilities

Everybody fights about division of labor at some point. People who feel they have certain expertise get the idea their toes are being stepped on, or others feel like they’re getting stuck with the “grunt work.”

3. Fights About Money

Money is a limited resource needed in every aspect of business or life. How and where it’s spent is a discussion that, sadly, can quickly get ugly.

4. Lack of Communication

The birthplace of many a misunderstanding is simply a lack of clarity in discussion, or a lack of discussion overall.

5. Assumptions

You know what they say about when you assume…

6. Lack of Empathy

We, as humans, have a tendency to think of ourselves first, sometimes ignoring what the other side might be going through. Related to making assumptions, we often fail to truly see what our partner is feeling, too clouded by our own personal perspectives.

7. Not Spending Enough Time Together

The less we know and understand each other, the more we exacerbate all of the other problems above.

8. Lack of Fun

“All work and no play” made Jack Nicholson’s character go crazy in The Shining. While it may not turn you into an axe-wielding maniac, it certainly has an adverse effect on both your personally and your fun-starved relationships.

The first step is recognizing which of these problems are affecting your Sponsor-CRO relationship.

Improving Sponsor-CRO Relationships

Once you know what you’re facing, you can figure out which solutions your particular situation needs. After all, there is often a solution or improvement for every problem we’ve listed above:

Build Healthy Relationships

Having control issues? Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that using a contract to “motivate” the other side doesn’t actually change human behavior or motivate your other half to really be the best partner. There’s no shortcut: you’re going to have to build a healthy, reciprocal relationship to get what you want.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

Make sure everyone is clear on their roles. Spend some time to clearly define who is doing what, and when.

Take the Right Decision on Financial Investments

Having financial fights? Talk about it. Of course you want to ensure that projects stay within scope, but make sure you also recognize that there are aspects of your work that require investment – do it right and the pay-off will be worth it.

Secure Open Communication

Schedule regular meetings to make sure you keep communicating. Be sure to create an atmosphere in which both sides are comfortable discussing problems in real time.

Assumptions Don’t Help

Related to the above, don’t make assumptions about what other side thinks, wants or feels. Ask, tell, listen and learn – especially if there are cultural differences.

Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

Exercising empathy, really trying to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, setting aside pride to imagine how you would perceive and respond to a particular situation, will help you avoid the communication and assumption pitfalls as well.

Spend More Time Together

The more you get to know each other, the more natural it becomes to put yourself in your partner’s shoes effortlessly. So schedule “dates” to spend time together, yes; have meetings and interactions. But also acknowledge that it takes time to make a relationship better. It doesn’t happen in a single team day.

Have Fun

Finally, make sure that at least some of these interactions are fun, that people are enjoying working together. It’s amazing how much more quickly problems can be smoothed over when the two sides know how to make each other laugh.

As life science consultants, we often find ourselves playing the role of mediator or facilitator at Seuss+. We encourage this – we truly care about bringing the two sides together. So we offer relationship-building “counseling” workshops and training programs for your sponsor-vendor relationship. Our training program is meant to be implemented in multiple ways: perhaps when the relationship is feeling wobbly or, even better, to help your whole team understand the importance of their role in the marriage before it even starts. Let us give you the tools you need to build a successful partnership.

Already in a rocky relationship? We can help you get to the heart of the issue and bring joy back to your relationship with a sponsor-CRO counseling workshop. Just get in touch. After all, if the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that it exists, the second is knowing when to ask for help.

Let us help you improve your sponsor CRO partnership.

Secure the best partners, get the most out of your alliance, run your trials and projects better and more smoothly, and up-end the life-science collaboration status quo – we promise you no less.

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