Author: Dr Matthew Alderdice, Head of Data Science
In an increasingly competitive market, sponsors are wary of choosing a Clinical Research Organization that requires constant monitoring and attention. Issues such as delays and poor-quality data can increase sponsors' costs. The onus is with the CRO to anticipate the sponsor's journey in seeking out the best-fit CRO and demonstrate its value and professionalism at every stage.
This article will give CROs the steps they need to ensure that they demonstrate value for money to sponsors. We will outline how you can go above and beyond to stand out from competitors and reduce sponsor churn.
What are Sponsors looking for in a CRO?
More than ever, Sponsors are relying on CROs to streamline their processes, provide cost savings, therapeutic expertise, geographical reach and more accurate data with real-time access. The Sponsor ultimately requires these clinical research services to help deliver new treatments and drugs to patients faster. Sponsors need to pick the best-fit partner with the right expertise and track record and work to cultivate a successful partnership.
The Sponsor will have a thorough vetting process to understand the strengths (and weaknesses) of each CRO and how they can help them meet their objectives.
So what are they looking for?
Typically Sponsors want to partner with CROs that meet some or all of the following criteria:
- Able to fill a gap in expertise in a particular area (such as data management, etc.)
- Penetrate a geographic region where the sponsor doesn’t have a footprint
- Increase the sponsor’s current headcount to support the development of their drug pipeline
- Ability to meet deadlines and turnaround time
- Technical know-how
- Experience and track record
- Extensive knowledge of the regulatory requirements
- Efficient quality systems with requisite documentation in place
- Secure storage and transfer of data
- A flexible approach to working and to incorporating last-minute changes.
- Able to provide real-time access to data and regular/up-to-date reports.
How to make your CRO stand out
Selecting the right CRO takes time and due diligence on the part of a sponsor. They have to go through multiple steps in researching the type of CRO that can best fit their needs.
Sponsors are better informed and more empowered than ever before, and it is crucial to understand them and their journey to CRO selection to gain their trust. If you can deliver the proper communication at the right time, you will cement your position as the authority in your space. Achieving this will compel the sponsor to take the next step of their journey with you.
So, how can you make it easier for them to select you?
1. Get a deeper understanding of Sponsors.
It's imperative to have a deep understanding of the Sponsor and their journey in selecting a CRO. Be sure to conduct interviews with current partners, prospects and business development colleagues at your own company to get a better sense of sponsor needs. If you can't name 20 challenges they face, you probably don't know them well enough.
2. Review top competitors and adjust the competitive edge
Review competitor offerings, positioning and messages (along with your other situational analyses) to help you re-evaluate and adjust your own value proposition, positioning and messages. Emphasising your competitive differentiation clearly through all your content will help you communicate your core strengths at all levels of communications.
3. Ensure All Marketing Channels Are Consistent
It’s a no brainer. Put yourself in the Sponsor’s shoes navigating your site. What type of journey would they have? Would they get clear messages that compel them to reach out to your company? Do you have resources to help move them through the buyer’s journey?
Set up a test group of sponsors to travel through your site while recording their actions and feedback. Create a framework of content that you can build into your journeys that support and compel the audience.
4. How to meet proposal expectations
Take time to read through sponsors’ proposals to understand precisely what they are looking for. If anything is unclear, don’t be afraid to request a conversation to ask questions and clarify. Most sponsors would rather spend 10 minutes on the phone than hours wading through proposals that have failed to meet their needs.
5. Which marketing channels fit your persona best
From your market analysis, interviews and other research, you should have a good understanding of where your target audience spends their time. Part of understanding Sponsors is knowing where they spend time and where they don’t. Do they use LinkedIn or Twitter? What about industry websites and conferences? Knowing this is an essential step in helping you cut out the noise to narrow and focus where you spend time placing content.
6. Preparing Your Strengths
How can your CRO prove that you can be an effective partner?
- Communicate the therapeutic areas and disease indication areas that your team has expertise in.
- Do you have experience in conducting trials in other countries? If so, state your team's experience with the regulatory and ethical guidelines.
- How well do the members of your team communicate with each other? Have they worked together before? Will they be a good fit with the sponsor team?
- Do you have experience with trials in unique or difficult situations?
- Has your organisation dealt with sites that are new to industry-sponsored research?
- Can your organisation provide real-time data access and interactive reports to sponsors?
- Has your team successfully directed site training?
- Can your organisation deliver remote trials via cloud technology?
7. Map your content across funnel stages
Take an inventory of your existing blogs, resources and other thought leadership pieces to map against the relevant stages of the buyer’s journey. Build a holistic view of the journey and enhance your content funnel. Use the inventory list as a checklist to help you identify gaps in your content funnel to address.
(TOFU) Top of the Funnel: The awareness stage
The awareness stage is where the sponsor will be looking for answers, resources, education, research data, opinions, or insights.
Resource types: Blogs, Social media, Whitepaper, Checklists, How-to videos, tools, ebooks and webinars.
Include your strengths tactfully and thoughtfully in the content piece. Remember, no one likes the person at the party who only talks about themselves, so be sure that the content is meaningful and what the reader would have expected when they clicked.
(MOFU) Middle of the Funnel: The evaluation stage
The "evaluation" stage is the link between high-level concepts and the actual value your company provides to clients. The sponsor will be doing substantial research on whether your service is a good fit for them. A buyer’s journey is seldom linear; this is when you can dedicate time to segment the needs of your audience while they evaluate your brand and develop an affinity for it over your competitors.
Resource types: Service Comparison Guide, Case Studies.
Sponsors require more nurturing during this stage. Create more content and give more attention to developing your relationship with them to build trust and credibility.
(BOFU) Bottom of the Funnel:
Your bottom-of-the-funnel contacts know your brand, and you have nurtured them with the right content at the right time. How do you deliver content to your sales team to enable them to push the deal across the line finally?
Resource types: Free Trial or Live Demo, Consultation Offer, Coupon
8. Ensure everyone that communicates with prospects is on message
It’s no use having a great plan that only you know about; include your teams interacting with Sponsors in the development process. Their expertise and insight will elevate the engagements between both parties along the way.
Offer them something your competitors don’t
Get a competitive edge with real-time data
CROs are increasingly required to provide access to real-time data and analytics. Sponsors expect to see evidence of transparent and traceable processes and access tools and services that empower them to dig deeper into their data faster than ever before.
Sonrai Analytics' AI Data Analytics platform provides CROs with a fit-for-purpose Data Portal and Trusted Research Environment. Sponsors have immediate but controlled access to data, analysis and reports at any stage during a project's lifecycle.
Reduce time spent on Client projects to scale operations
CROs are limited in the projects they can undertake by their in-house skills for data processing and analysis. Democratizing and lowering the barrier to entry enables them to deliver new services.
CROs tend to have limited staff working under tight timelines. They need to find a way to reduce the time spent on a client project to increase the number of projects and ultimately increase revenue. Like any sector, they need to automate processes, or they will fail to scale and fail to deliver a quality service.
Sonrai Analytics takes CRO data types, instils order to disparate data sets collected over many projects and integrates it to mine for new insights - all within minutes. The platform automates your laborious processes like manual data entry, manual validation, cleaning or calculations, and generating interactive reports and analytics.
New and Enhanced Technologies
Research projects can be delayed for months, sometimes even years, because of a lack of expert bioinformaticians. Worst though, is poorly executed analyses that are likely to result in incorrect conclusions and the subsequent misallocation of resources to support the findings.
Sonrai's platform can instantly enhance your current analytical capabilities by lowering the barrier to entry for complex bioinformatics analysis and cutting-edge machine learning techniques. Sponsors are looking for data to be generated and many need help with downstream processing, analysis and reporting.
Most CROs are using a wide variety of tools to address the Sponsor’s data analysis needs. Sonrai’s CRO platform re-engineers the system enabling integration with their preferred solutions and removing the need for multiple tools.
Deliver efficiency and Guarantee Quality
Integrating risk-based quality management into daily clinical practice helps sponsors and CROs better understand data trends and patient outcomes while identifying unanticipated data anomalies. Unknown or unexpected data and events can significantly impact data quality and study results, and data issues are more common as trial complexity increases.
CROs have opportunities to grow their business through the power of machine learning and real-time insights for prediction, remediation, and ongoing performance improvement. The ability to detect issues proactively, including inclusion/exclusion criteria violations, protocol violations, and other compliance or performance red flags, will help keep your trials on track.
It is essential that CROs work in close collaboration with their clients, providing intelligent solutions to their analytical needs, establishing and transferring methods quickly, and ensuring that information transfer is efficient, secure, and confidential. You should have a visible process that is understood and adhered to by your team.
How can you turn clients into ambassadors?
The relationship between CROs and Sponsors can be fruitful if the time is taken to nurture it. The rewards of increased quality delivery, more significant cost-savings and time efficiencies are achievable. Both parties must work hard to build an open and transparent relationship based on trust, clear expectations, specific responsibilities and shared goals.
When a CRO can create a successful partnership with the sponsor, they will be more successful in agreeing to participate in valuable marketing activities. Sponsor collateral such as quotation/testimonials or participation in a joint white paper or conference presentation can be precious for CROs to develop new sponsor relationships and new sales.
Agree on timelines upfront to ensure transparency about expectations and any deadlines that they must meet. During these discussions, you should be open about your in-house ability to meet the required target dates. Be prepared for the client to ask for metrics on timelines.
To create a long-term relationship, both parties should be upfront about their plans and share timeframes for future trials and other projects so that CROs can build these into their schedules. Otherwise, the CRO may take on other projects and quickly find that they cannot fully deliver on the partnership.
Build a practical plan for communication
Trials and research projects are complex, with multiple deadlines and moving parts. Clear and open communication between both partners is critical so give careful thought to achieving this. How often will you meet formally? Who needs to join those meetings? How do you raise and solve problems that suddenly crop up? What documents and plans do you need to keep track of progress, risks and next steps?