Posts Tagged ‘Outsourcing’

You’ve got an existing sales force, and they need to be trained in a new therapeutic area (while also training a new sales force at the same time).

How do you build a curriculum to accomplish this?

Here is how one of Impactiviti’s vendor-partners helped a growing client with this challenge:

>> Comprehensive Oncology Training Curriculum case study (single-page download)

curriculum map case study

Reach out to us here at Impactiviti (973-947-7429) for any outsource training needs you have – we’ll be happy to recommend an optimal partner!


Impactiviti provides vendor-client “matchmaking” services in the life sciences training area, built on a unique trusted referral network model. We consult and provide vendor advice at no charge for life science companies. Contact Steve Woodruff at asksteve@impactiviti.com

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In the commercial training arena for life sciences (pharma, biotech, diagnostics, medical devices), we do a lot of outsourcing to vendor-partner companies.

I worked for one of those partner companies for 10 years, and, for the last 9 years, have served as an intermediary between life sciences training professionals and outsource vendors.

I’ve seen good. I’ve seen bad. And I’ve seen ugly.

So, how can you partner more successfully with your vendor/partners?

Let me give you three top perspectives, and then offer you a Top 10 download list:

1. Always bear in mind that vendors can be a GREAT resource. Your vendor-partners typically have unique expertise in an area you need help with – managed markets, instructional design, curriculum development, technology, meeting logistics, and a whole host of other disciplines. But beyond this, the people you get to know on the vendor side have networks and contacts that can be of immense value. As you develop vendor partnerships, don’t forget to sit down over coffee or lunch periodically and just TALK. Your next job role, or a crucial new resource, or some vital bit of industry insight, may come from getting beyond current client/vendor titles and just enjoying some human networking. Further reading: Networking is Gold-Mining.

2. Your current role is only temporary. There is no job security – only network security. Therefore, you should not only network pro-actively with your peers inside your company (and in other life sciences companies), you need to remember that your vendor-partners most likely have a breadth of contacts across the industry. You not only open doors for them; they can open doors for you. When you realize that you should continually be transition-ready, vendors are not bothersome entities – they are valued friends. Further reading: Career-transition Ready is the New Black.


3. Working with vendors with a win-lose, scarcity, competitive attitude is a losing game. You’re not there to “beat” your vendors, winning some game such that they lose. That’s incredibly short-sighted and counter-productive. Burning bridges by being a jackass is going to come back to bite you. Your most successful projects will involve working collaboratively with your partners so that everyone looks great at the end.

Want to learn more? Here’s a white paper, assembled with the input of people on both the client and vendor side, giving the top ten ways (from each perspective!) to work together: Client-Vendor Success White Paper


Impactiviti provides vendor-client “matchmaking” services in the life sciences training area, built on a unique trusted referral network model. We consult and provide vendor advice at no charge for life science companies. Contact Steve Woodruff at asksteve@impactiviti.com

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over capacityPeople sometimes ask me how I determine whether a particular vendor is a good fit for a specific client/project.

One of the factors I consider is capacity – does the vendor have the bandwidth and talent and structure to do this particular project well?

Vendors have a hard time saying “No” to clients even when they know they’re about to overload their capacity – it stems from a fear of both losing face, and losing business. But this is where high-risk-of-failure starts to enter into the equation.

I encourage vendor/partners, particularly those with whom I do a Clarity Therapy session, to target their business development efforts at their capacity sweet spot. For instance, one of my partners is a great choice for niche product launches – but would be overwhelmed by a large launch. So, it doesn’t make sense for them to target those opportunities. Some of my solo consultant partners stand a much better chance at succeeding with emerging biotechs than trying to compete on a very un-level playing field with bigger providers for the business of Top 5 Pharma companies.

Here are some capacity questions to consider:

1. How much of this work will need to be outsourced to others? Outsourcing isn’t always bad – in many cases where specific domains of expertise are needed, it’s unavoidable – but a complex and multi-faceted project may demand a supplier with a higher internal staffing level just to manage the many moving parts. On the other hand, for more limited projects, that may be unnecessary overhead.

2. Does this project require dedicated staff from the vendor (especially dedicated project management)? Some work can be juggled successfully without a more focused team, but some projects require a fixed amount of ongoing bandwidth. Find out in advance if that is the case.

3. Does this vendor have the capacity NOW for this project? Last year’s success with a similar project does not guarantee this year’s success if the vendor is already loaded up with other work.

4. Am I giving this vendor too much work? One client can overload a vendor such that their performance degrades – and, can put that vendor in a dangerous position of being too dependent on a single client for their financial health. I have seen this latter scenario play out time and again – no vendor should have a single client providing more than a third of their revenue.

5. Is this the right KIND of vendor for this project? A marketing agency may not be a great choice for a given training project, because their staffing and processes doesn’t match up to the requirements. A training agency doesn’t always have the bandwidth and expertise to develop software well. A consultant may do a fine job on a curriculum map, but may be the wrong choice for a courseware build-out. Both sides have to be realistic about where the sweet spot is – and isn’t.

What has been your experience (both good and bad) with vendor capacity?

photo credit: 96dpi via photopincc

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Are you a vendor/partner servicing the biopharma training and development space? Well, then, I have some counter-intuitive advice for you.

nothankyouLearn to turn down some new work.

Radical? I hope it’s not. Because, according to the input I’ve gotten from many of our colleagues on the client side of the business, one of the fastest ways to lose a valuable new potential business relationship is to sell outside your strike zone.

Clients despise when vendors position themselves as one-stop-shops; “Sure, we can do that!” “Yep, we do that, too!” “Oh, yes, we’ve done those before.” Intuitively, they know that your concern is maximizing revenue for you, not providing maximum value to them.

Vendors that take on work outside their sweet spot almost inevitably end up scrambling, failing, and endangering the client relationship.

I like how one of my clients put it recently – here’s the question he asks prospective vendors to narrow down to their strike zone: “If I have only one project for you to work on so you can lock in your skill set with me, what would it be?”

I always advise my partners in the vendor arena to narrow down their key offerings to one or two – even if you can possibly do a few other things, let that wait until you’ve already established a successful reputation by doing great work in your sweet spot. In fact, I won’t recommend vendors who refuse to be clear on their differentiating offerings and strengths.

This is where there has to be a clear commitment, from the executive level, that strategy will shape sales. If salespeople are given the charge to maximize revenue even it means blurring the boundaries and pursuing high-risk-of-failure work, that’s a recipe for a bad reputation.

Now, there are cases where I think it is OK for vendors to pursue a piece of work that requires some stretch. And that is when they already have a great reputation with the client, AND where it is explained to the client clearly that taking on this work will be a stretch. Some clients so value their vendor partners that they are willing to share that risk because of the mutual confidence level that exists. But, a lack of transparency, accompanied by some glib notion that “we’ll figure it out as we go along,” rarely ends well.

Know how you differentiate. Find your fit in the marketplace. And remember: not all business is good business.

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I believe in outsourcing. Actually, I believe in right-sourcing – using the best combination of resources (internal and external) to get the job done. But I’ll focus our discussion here on outsourcing – tapping into external resources.

With many pharmaceutical companies making massive cuts in headcount, outsourcing is an even bigger deal – because the work still has to get done somehow. So let’s talk about what your company is doing with outsourcing (we’ll focus here on sales training in pharma, but many of the principles applies to other divisions of pharma, and to other industries).

I see at least three levels of outsourcing typically happening, each of which requires different types of relationships with different kinds of providers:

1. Project – Very common form of outsourcing, where you contract with a company to create or perform something, while you still manage the overall process. Typically, there is a final deliverable at the end. Sales training departments work with external providers to develop launch training modules, workshops, digital tools – you get the picture.

2. Project/Process – When internal resources (personnel and infrastructure) are too thin to carry out an initiative, an outsource partner is often engaged to take over much of the project. Learning technology and data management is now commonly outsourced at this level with externally-hosted solutions. Large-scale meetings, with a million logistical details, typically come in at this level as well.

3. People; or Project/Process/People – Companies are demanding lower headcount and more flexibility, so the engagement of personnel from outsource providers is ramping up. Larger and more specialized companies are able to provide staffing in ways that avoid “hard” headcount, and in some cases, can also take over entire functions with both people and large-scale solutions. Building new capabilities and centers of excellence can be outsourced to companies with specialized skills, infrastructure, and people-expertise.

(Let me interrupt the flow of thought to remind you that Impactiviti can help you find right partners for all of these needs, including large-scale outsourcing. We’ve done the homework for you. Just call us at 973-947-7429)

Outsourcing can be scary business, so what most clients are looking for includes the following:

  • Proven experience (at the level of service desired)
  • Capacity and scale (the ability to nimbly and flexibly meet changing needs)
  • Change Management/Process blueprint (for larger-scale outsourcing – do NOT underestimate this!)

As with everything, there are tradeoffs. Outsourcing has great benefits, but the more you outsource – particularly when you get to the “people” part of the equation – the less the training department may be a seedbed for deepening corporate culture. As one of my clients eloquently put it in a phone call last week, as leading employees rotate into and through the training department, there is an impartation and spread of corporate culture and values that may be lost if more central functions are outsourced. That’s a legitimate concern.

What other benefits – and drawbacks – are you seeing from outsourcing? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments, or e-mail me (stevew@impactiviti.com) to extend the discussion. We’re going to see this trend grow and evolve – let’s prepare ourselves and each other by talking about it.

Recent Impactiviti posts:

Doing Digital Learning – the TWO People you Need

Are You in Compliance?


Impactiviti is the Pharmaceutical Connection Agency. As the eHarmony of sales/training/marketing, we help our pharma/biotech clients find optimal outsource vendors for training, eMarketing, social media, and more.

Learn more about our free services here


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How’s Your Network?

Verizon made a great advertising move by differentiating itself from other wireless competitors by pointing to its superior network.

Cell phone service is pretty much a commodity – until you can’t get a connection.

impactmedWhen it’s 911 time in your career (and even well before), you don’t want to be without a network. That’s why we’ve launched a LinkedIn Group called Impact.

This group is just for Life Sciences Sales/Sales Training/Marketing professionals inside pharma, biotech, and medical device companies. No vendors, no recruiters, no outsiders (please see *below). The purpose is to help pharma professionals, in these times of instability and downsizing, to network with peers who can help make connections. You can make contacts, ask questions, and expand your professional base in a safe and secure environment.

Let’s face facts – there is no job security, even in large companies. Your best career-enhancing move is to build a great network that will open doors of opportunity.

linkedinJoin up!

Joining the Impact Group is simple. If you’re on LinkedIn already, just click here and sign up for the group. If you don’t yet have a professional presence on LinkedIn, you can easily sign up and start (see my profile for an example of how to create one). And if you’re a pharma professional, please feel free to send a connection request to me in order to help build your network.

* P.S. For vendor/providers, contractors, freelancers, and consultants, there is a separate group (ProActiv) for making professional connections. This group is designed to help vendor/supplier companies and potential employees/resources find each other.

(This non-commercial networking service is set up and sponsored by Impactiviti, a unique business “matchmaking” service. We help pharma clients identify and partner with optimal vendors for training/marketing/communications outsourcing needs. Our free consulting service is explained here.)

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In Part 1 of this brief series, I discussed why companies outsource. Part 2 outlined several common scenarios (in pharma sales training in particular) when outsourcing makes sense.

Here, I’ll give you four things that I look for when deciding on a good “fit” for an outsourced partner. Not surprisingly, these are the critical things I seek when building partnerships for my recommendation service (“matchmaking” clients with optimal vendors).

  1. Customer focus – every supplier says they practice this. But most commonly, it is seen with 3 traits – listening; flexibility; and exceeding expectations.
  2. Stable, long-term presence in the field – a good outsource partner has been around long enough to have a track record of success, and to have happy customers who will attest to their expertise and relationship management.
  3. Unique competencies – often, when I make a recommendation to a customer regarding an optimal supplier, there are several companies that could potentially do the job. But generally one rises to the top because of some unique core strength(s).
  4. Cultural chemistry – yes, it matters. A lot. This is a very intuitive thing – understanding your corporate culture, and finding suppliers that have a similar culture so that a good “fit” comes more naturally. I have circulated within many pharmaceutical companies over the years and I assure you, there are definitely differing corporate cultures!

By and large, I don’t recommend to my clients that they entrust important projects (especially long-term endeavors) to new and unproven companies. Some suppliers have fabulous technologies or other unique capabilities, but little if any pharma knowledge, and an uncertain track record. It’s dangerous to fall into (what one Training Director I know calls) “Shiny Object Disease,” where something new and “cool” is dangled in front of you and you take the bait without considering carefully whether this is going to be a healthy partnership.

So, to sum up, outsourcing is a valuable and, at times, highly desirable option. But it does have its unique dangers. Impactiviti exists, in part, to help you make those decisions with greater clarity and success.

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In an earlier post, I wrote about why companies use outsourcing (or right-sourcing) to accomplish certain functions that they don’t have the internal resources to accomplish. We look at four primary reasons why a company would outsource.

Now, let’s look at some typical scenarios – particularly in pharmaceutical sales training – where outsourcing is (or should be) employed.

  1. Development of training materials – this is the most common practice. Very few, if any, pharmaceutical companies have the research, writing, editing, graphical design, instructional design, and production expertise in-house to produce in-depth learning systems. Larger companies will often have sufficient internal resources to produce smaller-scale nuggets of training, but major programs are regularly outsourced.
  2. Technology solutions – often, large pharma companies will have the internal IT and administrative resources to support an installation of major learning technology programs, but it is becoming increasingly common to outsource these platforms – not only the hosting of them, but sometimes even administration (“running” the system). Learning management systems, assessment management systems, webcasting programs, etc….these solutions are now often available in a turnkey approach that is far more affordable, and less of a drain on internal employees.
  3. Strategic expertise – another word for consulting. Because many of those in sales training are on a “rotation” and are not deeply immersed in training design, it can be quite valuable to bring in outside resources who can provide a broader and more strategic approach. Many departments get invariably caught in the vortex of tactical thinking, due to day-to-day demands, and there is not enough time or knowledge to take a longer-range view.
  4. Facilitation of programs – while most companies seek to develop trainers that can facilitate live training, often there is simply not enough headcount, or no expertise in particular areas of knowledge/practice. Some very good companies (and some not-so-good companies) make their living providing this service.

There are other situations where outsourcing makes sense, but these are some of the typical ones. Part of my role as a consultant is to help my clients make optimal decisions about right-sourcing – what should be sourced to external vendor/partners, and which ones are best. That is where broad knowledge and an extensive network makes the difference.

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You’re not good at something (either as an individual, or as a department). You have limited time and resources. And you have a simple choice:

Try to do it badly. Or let someone else do it.

Letting someone else do it is often a very wise idea. It’s usually called outsourcing (a couple years back, I had the brilliant idea that it should be called right-sourcing. A quick Google indicated that I wasn’t the first to think up that concept!…however, I still believe it is actually the better term).

I have managed to run my consulting business on my own, and I’m reasonably good at most aspects of it. Except bookkeeping/accounting. I hate it. And this week, I finally decided to outsource it. It’s a drag on my time and energy, and I cannot seem to gain fluency at it. So why should I bother anymore?

When consulting with my pharmaceutical clients, one of my first considerations will often be a “right-sourcing” strategy. If there are internal resources to develop and manage something, great. But often, a program or platform or solution is put in place far more successfully with an outside partner.


    1. Expertise – often, an outside resource possesses the focused knowledge and abilities that your internal group simply does not possess.
    2. Efficiency – if someone else already has a solution in place, how much quicker is it to plug into that, than to try to re-invent the wheel?
    3. Time – you may not have the time to devote to creating or managing something new. There are only so many hours in a day.
    4. Cost – Many times, it is less expensive in both the short- and long-term to allow someone else to accomplish certain tasks than to add headcount.

There are other reasons, but these are chief. My business is to be a “right-source” for you in setting strategic direction, figuring out optimal solutions, and selecting suppliers. In that sense, I join your team for a season as a resource to help make rightsourcing decisions.

Coming in Part 2: typical scenarios where right-sourcing should be considered.

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