If your company is involved in providing products or services to the ‘drug development chain,’ that is, the chain of companies devoted to discovering, developing, and testing new pharmaceutical compounds and medical devices, you should never use the word Partner on your website or in your marketing materials (e.g., “We will partner with you to address your needs.”)

Why? Your buyers don’t really want partners.

Not in the true sense of the word, they don’t. True partnerships are defined by law, but beyond the legal definition, the colloquial understanding of the meaning of the word partner is someone who gets a large share of both the rewards and the risks and who has a key voice in how those rewards are achieved (that is, someone who has a significant amount of control).

As an aside, yes, there are some life science sector relationships (for example between a few sponsors and select CROs – like Quintiles recent announcement of risk sharing with Eisai Co., Ltd.) where risk sharing is an important part of the deal, but these relationships arise from the overwhelmingly large risks inherent in clinical trials. In these situations, the downside is so large for the sponsor that they are willing to give up some of the upside to mitigate the huge risk. But if you compare the vastly greater number of standard CRO-sponsor relationships with the much smaller number of these true partnerships, you can only conclude that sponsors don’t really like to enter into these sorts of partnership deals where risks and rewards are truly shared. These true partnership deals are complex, take lots of negotiation, and the sponsors have to give up a significant amount of control.

If you look up the definition of Partner in the dictionary, one of the meanings is: “either member of a married couple,” that is, a spouse. So as you read your marketing material, instead of the word partner, substitute the word spouse. (e.g., We will be our customers’ spouse in addressing their needs).

That doesn’t sound particularly attractive or even very sensible, does it? Buyers don’t really want a spouse – someone who has a great deal of control, who gets a large share of the rewards (and the risks) and with whom the buyer has to compromise.

If buyers don’t want a partner, what do they want? They want expertise.

If you have a health problem, you don’t want your surgeon to be your partner. You want an expert who knows all about the multiple ways to solve this type of problem and will pick the very best way to solve yours. The deeper the expertise your surgeon has, the more control you will give them, gladly. And the less of an issue price will be.

Deep expertise is relatively scarce, and is therefore valuable. So find a way to use your marketing efforts to convey your expertise, rather than some hollow promise to “partner” with your customers.