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Putting a Billion Dollar Alliance Back on Track

Problem

A medium-sized biotechnology company and a large pharmaceutical company in a co-promotion alliance were anticipating the launch of a competitive product. A joint team had been formed to develop a marketing strategy and coordinate activities designed to address the competitor’s marketplace entry.

Despite minor differences, the team managed to survive the competitor’s product launch without any significant conflict. Over time, however, visible symptoms -- like rising employee turn-over and low morale -- began to appear, indicating a bigger problem below the surface. Soon, the only agreement among team members was that their working relationship was hindering the effectiveness of the alliance. Other problems included:

  • A tendency among team members from both companies to assume bad intentions
  • Wide-spread perceptions from both companies that "the other side" was not delivering on its commitments or adding value to the alliance
  • Difficulty coordinating alliance activities because each partner defaulted to its own internal processes and avoided communication with the other
  • Tensions that regularly flared up between individuals from each organization, slowing down progress and reinforcing frustrations and negative feelings
  • Diminished productivity because representatives from each company insisting upon being involved in every decision and activity

Because the two organizations were about to co-market a new product, team members recognized an urgent need to improve the way they worked together and approached Vantage Partners for help.

Approach

Vantage Partners conducted an alliance relationship audit to assess the working relationship and understand the root causes of the partners’ problems. Interviews with team members from both organizations resulted in the following diagnoses:

Trust had deteriorated completely between the two organizations, to the point where neither partner trusted the other to do what they said they would nor do it well. There was a wide gap between the partners’ corporate cultures, with no mutual appreciation for the differences between them and no mechanism for capitalizing on each partner’s unique and complementary strengths. The partners lacked agreed-to protocols for making decisions jointly and coordinating other internal processes. Individuals lacked the skills to productively deal with difficult team and interpersonal issues.

To address these underlying problems, Vantage designed and facilitated an alliance re-launch comprised of a series of short workshops. The workshops helped individuals from both sides of the alliance discuss what a "good working relationship" entailed, clarify roles and responsibilities, agree on decision-making protocols, and establish procedural agreements outlining how they planned to work together going forward. After the re-launch, Vantage provided ongoing coaching to individuals on both sides of the alliance, designed and delivered a set of relationship management tools and trained team members on problem-solving skills. At three and six months out, Vantage Partners conducted two follow-up audits to evaluate the alliance and the improvement of the relationship.

Results

Since the alliance relationship audit and re-launch, the team has reported improved efficiency, reduced conflict, a more collaborative mindset, and a readiness to tackle difficult team issues. The co-marketed product has since been one of the fastest growing biologic drugs, with posted sales of over $800 million in 2002.

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