Sponsor Onboarding: Getting the Other Side on Your Team


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.

September 23, 2019

Sponsors and CROs once really were on the same team – literally. They used to work at the same company, hunting for success for the same brand and bottom line. But now clinical research is largely outsourced, and CROs and sponsors are driven by different things.

Each side still needs the other, but each has its own private interests now. They are separate but bound together. So how do we get everybody to unite behind one overarching goal: a successfully executed clinical trial?

Playing for different teams

Without unified drivers steering us toward the same goals, relationships can get bumpy. This uneven dynamic is strengthened through the bid defense, where the interaction is primarily twisted toward winning the account.

This power-focused dynamic often continues throughout the project’s first phases. Later, both sides try to control and motivate the other through contracts, incentives and penalties. Unfortunately, none of this makes you feel like you’re on the same team.

Sponsor onboarding?

The first step is to acknowledge that the sponsor and CRO each have their own goals, which will overlap to varying degrees. That these goals are not the same, does not mean that the behavior needed cannot be aligned. There needs to be space to discuss this openly from the beginning, without the pressure of a looming emergency or deadline. Basically, the relationship needs to be fixed before it’s broken. Our suggestion: sponsor onboarding.

Onboarding is something we usually associate with training new employees. As an academic paper defined it:

“Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.”

Common tactics used to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations include:

  • Formal meetings
  • Lectures
  • Videos
  • Printed materials
  • Computer-based orientations

In our experience, the benefits of onboarding are by no means limited to new employees. When you start working with a new sponsor, their staff are also “joining the team.” And when you give them the same attention and access to information that you give to any other new team member, you will also see them thrive in their work with you…and thus, you can reap all the associated benefits yourselves as well.

How to do it

We’re not suggesting you spend your planning phase sipping beer around a campfire…but it’s not a bad idea if you also do something like that! Your relationship with your vendor will thrive personally and professionally when you meet each other in a variety of both formal and informal situations.

You want to provide structured training about your company and product(s), such as lectures, videos, printed materials and computer-based orientations. But you also want to give your sponsor a chance to get to know the people behind the messaging and discuss what they’ve been learning about your work and culture.

Our suggestion

Don’t keep the CROs you work with at arm’s length with long-distance training. Invite them into your space in a situation where the pressure is off. As a sponsor, these more informal chats can be a real mood and motivation booster. It’s a great time to express your passion and knowledge about the trial and product. In return, the researchers you work with will get to know what makes your team tick at a deeper level and have a deeper level of understanding of what happens inside the organization and why you prefer to work the way you do. Ultimately, they will feel more comfortable and confident in their working relationship with you.

Don’t make this a one-time occurrence either! That goes for both the training and the less formal get-togethers. People are motivated by regular, ongoing training – like any other relationship, working relationships need consistent attention to thrive. It’s often even more important to make sure the sponsor feels they can come to you with anything and everything once the project gets rolling. With an open working relationship you can maneuver through the challenges more smoothly and honestly – and you can also just have more fun, enjoying each other’s company and the work you do together.

There’s no better way to remember that we’re all on the same team. 

Take action

Do you need help with your sponsor onboarding or want to strengthen your relationship? We offer interactive workshops and training programs that help you repair and improve your sponsor-supplier partnership.

Through practical sessions, we help both sponsor and supplier develop a deeper understanding of each other’s needs – and thus nurture this crucial relationship.

Need more information? Just contact us to see how we can help.

Find more information about vendor management for biotechs and clinical trials in the following blogs:

Centralizing Vendor Oversight: A Strategic Imperative for Small Biotech

6 Steps To Vendor Management Success

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

5 Ways to Save Sponsor-CRO Relationships

Do you need help with your sponsor onboarding?

Our tailored training programs and interactive workshops unleash your team’s full potential, empowering them as individuals so that they can drive organizational growth

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