Clinical Research Focus: Speed to Contract
The clinical research world revolves around longer term projects with high stakes. Most biopharma companies outsource only a handful of clinical trials per year, often spreading their bets across multiple vendors, meaning you have a high proportion of situations where a buyer and seller are working together for the first time.
This combination creates a difficult environment to rapidly convert an awarded project to a fully executed full scope contract.
While no magic bullet exists to convert large awards to signature in 3 business days with no negotiations, below are the 4 important factors within your control that will help expedite this process as much as possible.
1. Contracts and Legal teams must prioritize new customer contract negotiations.
These teams are typically bombarded with a wide variety of requests to prioritize in any given day, week, month, quarter, etc. Human nature pulls us to the requests that are easiest, fastest, or come from the business development person yelling the loudest.
At the end of the day, however, the speed at which you sign contracts with new customers depends largely on whether your Contracts/Legal team responds in 1, 2, or 3 weeks from receiving the master agreement from the customer. It might require external support in overflow situations.
I can you tell though, there are service providers who turn around MSAs in 2-3 business days and provide available times to meet within the subsequent 2-3 business days, and they get contracts signed a lot faster than those who take 2-3 weeks and wait for the customer to guide on next steps.
2. Contracts teams must prioritize new project contract development.
I'll call these "Work Orders" for convenience. There is a reason larger service providers often split out part of their Contracts team into a group focused solely on Work Orders. When the customer finally says "ok we are ready to go to contract once you make these final changes to the project", it matters immensely whether the customer receives the Work Order in their inbox in 2, 5, 10, or 15-20 business days.
It's not just the math- it's the momentum that matters. The customer is more apt to fast track a contract for signature when it's rapidly received after that final green light. The scope is far less likely to change again in the next 2-3 days than the next few weeks. Keep the momentum in your favor and rapidly turn around those Work Orders.
3. Where possible, the same person who prices post award changes should draft the Work Order.
The fewer handoffs during the contracting phase, the faster the turnarounds. There is nothing magical or mysterious about drafting a Work Order in the clinical research industry- anyone skilled in pricing a Work Order is trainable in creating the Work Order document from template (exceptions are highly complex standalone or custom situations).
Think practically- when your team member has received approval on the revised pricing, your process either has them kicking that over to another team with its own queue and priorities and time off schedules, or the person who completed the pricing can then immediately open the Work Order template and complete the document to send to the client.
Which do you think is faster?
4. Startup agreements must strictly limit duration and scope.
Startup agreements (LOIs, SUAs, SUWOs, etc.) are commonplace for larger projects, so that work can start immediately while scoping and, for new relationships, master agreements are hammered out. Startup agreements work well for both buyer and seller for numerous reasons, but can remove a needed sense of urgency in getting a full scope contract in place.
Time-limiting the term of these agreements to no more than 60 days. Set a scoping "red line" that can't be crossed without a Work Order in place- e.g., site contracts cannot be signed , sites cannot be activated, technology platforms cannot go live, certain vendor or subcontracts cannot be signed, etc.
5. Keep the original relationship holders involved.
The people involved in the process leading up to award often radically changes once the award email is received- on both sides of the table. Yet those individuals, especially on the buyer side, were involved often at an executive level to ensure critical objectives of the company were met through who they chose as their service provider.
When logjams arise at the contracting stage, the service provider should bring their relationship holder(s) back into the mix to reconnect with their counterparts on the buyer side and collaboratively work through whatever issues arose. Because these relationships are meant to last for multiple years in most cases, don't wait until a severe escalation phase to get these people involved. Both parties want to get a contract in place quickly with as little fuss as possible. Utilize those relationships to both parties' benefit.
These are only the first 5 that come to mind! The key theme across these points is to prioritize this part of the sales cycle across the related teams and relationship holders, using time and reasonable "red lines" and deadlines to force the process to resolution in a reasonable timeframe.