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There are times when collaboration seems like an uphill battle, especially in a highly competitive industry where billions of lives (and dollars) are at stake. But that’s precisely the situation pharma companies have found themselves in. during the race to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. Every company was clamoring to be first – and to do it in an impossible time frame.
In an incredible turn of events, Pfizer has partnered with BioNTech to create a vaccine. BioNTech proposed several candidate vaccines and Pfizer contributed its experience in conducting successful clinical trials. In January 2021, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi joined the partnership and agreed to manufacture 125 million doses, despite being a direct competitor to BioNTech. The factors that stood in the way of this collaboration were extraordinary, but the benefits of success were too great to ignore.
Related: 5 Reasons Why You Should Work With Your Competitors
One thing I’ve learned from leading large-scale initiatives is that whenever goals are strongly aligned – as they were with the vaccine – there is a window for successful market collaboration. Whenever you need to get membership of people outside your sphere of influence, it is worth researching this window. Perhaps your company is developing a new product that requires collaboration between finance and marketing. Perhaps your company lacks the infrastructure or funds for a transformation initiative and needs to partner with another organization. In such cases, it is important to think about the benefits of collaboration in the market for all parties involved, then create a successful partnership for each stakeholder.
Here’s how to improve marketplace collaboration with those inside and outside your sphere of influence:
1. Think of every relationship in terms of future potential.
Obtain stakeholder buy-in requires relationship building, but you never know how impactful those relationships might be six months or six years later. Not only do you have the opportunity to create lasting impact through the projects you help execute, but you also expand your personal network, which can lead to new opportunities.
A few years ago, I met an insurtech founder who only wanted to talk to “potential investors”. Although I am not an investor, a co-worker encouraged the founder to meet with me as a potential mentor. In our first meeting, we discovered that the founder was building a regulated product and had to redesign his systems. A few months later, they contacted a mentor who understood B2B distribution. Years later, the founder started a new business and came back to me for advice on selling in the affinity market.
It’s the power of relationships. Even if a collaboration is difficult at first, it can be useful to think about each relationship in terms of its future potential. Up to 70% of partnerships fail to achieve the desired results, primarily due to a lack of attention to building a long-term relationship. Partnerships often start with goodwill, but quickly dissipate when not enough time is spent on strengthening the bond. It takes time to build a successful relationship, so focusing on what both parties want from her in the future makes it easier to engage in the present.
2. Foster relationships with diverse teams.
Research shows that collaboration happens more naturally when people see themselves as similar to the people they work with. Yet teams today tend to be large, diverse, and full of educated experts — and for good reason. Research shows that diverse thinking boosts innovation by 20%. Additionally, companies with high gender diversity in their leadership teams are 25% more likely to have above-average financial gains.
Having people with different backgrounds and experiences is extremely valuable, but leaders should be aware that these types of teams may have a harder time building collaboration and trust in the marketplace. It takes time and intention to build relationships with and within diverse teams because we naturally gravitate toward people like us.
No matter the value you think the partnership could be. People do things for their own reasons, and it helps to understand those reasons. They may be committed enough to the success of the initiative to put aside their differences, or you may need to convince them of the mutual benefits. Either way, it’s important to communicate what’s in it for them.
Related: 3 ways it pays to create a diverse workplace
3. Listen to what others might miss.
Leaders want to know how to improve collaboration in the marketplace, but they often overlook the importance of listening. Too often we don’t actively listen. We think about something else or we prepare our answer while the other person speaks without really audience what they say or engage in with thought and compassion. Not only does this rob people of their dignity, but you also miss an opportunity to build relationships and learn something new.
Active listening becomes doubly important when you add cultural differences. In the United States and Europe, social connections are generally not the determining factor in whether we do business with someone, but it is not the global norm. In Latin American cultures, relationships are paramount. In business relationships in Asia and the Middle East, socializing is how people build trust.
Getting stakeholders on board often comes down to making them feel heard – showing that you understand their challenges, frustrations and blockages. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, listen not just to what someone says, but how they say it. If you don’t listen carefully and with empathy, you may miss key information that could have improved the partnership. For example, maybe the person you’re talking to doesn’t show enthusiasm or isn’t as outspoken when talking about a specific part of the initiative you’re discussing. Rethink this aspect and give other ideas, paying particular attention to their reaction.
Related: 6 strategies to be a better active listener
4. Let your heart, brain and vision work in tandem.
As you build relationships with your people, you’ll learn what they find most important. Some people care most about numbers and data; others need to fully understand the vision. No matter what type of person you work with, you should always use everything you have: your heart, your brain and your vision.
If you are considered an expert or have access to proprietary information, lead with your brain (the logical argument). You can start by making a suggestion and then list the reasons why this outcome will appeal to the other party. Paint a picture of what the future might look like. Use the present tense as much as possible and incorporate them into the vision with words such as “we” and “our”.
If you still feel resistance, use your heart to achieve fruitful collaboration. Listen to what others are saying and ask thoughtful questions. The key is to identify areas where you might be able to gain their cooperation more easily if you are willing to be flexible (heart).
When working with multiple stakeholders, it can be difficult to achieve alignment and work towards a common goal. These things don’t happen overnight; you need to look for that rare window for successful collaboration in the market. Devoting time and attention to relationship building is worth it – after all, relationships are at the heart of any successful collaborative effort.