99 problems and the pitch is one: Top tips for CROs pitching to biopharma

4th February, 2021

Before launching into my tips, allow me to introduce myself and explain my perspective. I am a Physician who is relatively new to the biopharma industry. 

Last year, whilst working for a biopharma company as a Benefit Risk Management Physician, I had the opportunity to receive four or five pitches from prospective CRO partners over a two-week period. I was excited to be part of the process. What came next surprised me. 

Wow, what an experience. A long, occasionally painful experience. If I’m honest they all blurred into one, that’s why I can’t remember whether it was four or five. It wasn’t all bad, I met a lot of interesting people and learnt a lot about the industry. I’m hoping the benefit of my fresh eyes will provide you with some tips that I think would have made the experience a little more enjoyable and the decision a whole lot easier.

1. Don’t pitch for eight hours

Every CRO pitched for a full day. It’s very difficult to stay actively engaged for that length of time. This led to me zoning out, that’s not what you want, right? If the biotech you are pitching to suggests this format, challenge them. Suggest sending some reading material or better still a little video beforehand. An organisational chart and information about your company history, for example. 

Anything that is generic and frankly a waste of pitch time, send ahead. If there are elements you really want to present in person, strip it back and talk briefly. This will cut down time and I promise your audience will be fully engaged with the important stuff (what’s important…. I’ll get to that). If just one of the CROs had pitched for half a day I would have remembered them in a positive way. I would have also loved a video before the pitch so I didn’t have to focus for the entire eight hours.

2. Position your content to get noticed

Think about what differentiates your business and focus on them. Your competitors are all presenting the same stuff as you. Know your competitors, what do you do that they don’t? What are you better at and why? Talk about this. It will differentiate you for a good reason. My favourite question to ask was, what are your two main strengths? Don’t wait to be asked. Show them why you are brilliant. 

3. Give examples of problems  

Talk about problems you’ve had on projects and how you solved them. Don’t be afraid to admit mistakes, the key is how you recognised and fixed them. Show you can grow on a project and turn challenges into success. It will demonstrate how flexible, quick to react, self-aware and realistic you are.

4. Think about your pitch team

Ask who will be present from the biopharma company and make sure the pitch teams match. One CRO brought the leadership team and one project manager. They pitched to our entire operational team and struggled with lots of the detailed technical questions, cue awkward silence! 

If you can’t take the actual team that would be working on the trial, that’s fine, say that (this shows you’re busy and in demand), but take some of the operational team. There’s also no need to take 20 people. 

Team members should be able to speak to other functions and any very specific questions can be answered with a timely follow up email. Part of the reason all the CROs blurred into one was because everyone brought so many people, it was overwhelming and made it very difficult to differentiate and engage.

Be diverse, the world is changing, think about how you look as a company, who you send and what you talk about should be a representation of who you are. 

5. Leverage existing relationships

Even if that included some failings on previous projects, acknowledge them and show how you have improved and would do things differently. You were invited back to pitch for a reason.

6. Leave time for questions

There is nothing more dissatisfying than being pitched to for eight hours and not being given the opportunity to have your questions answered. Give yourself the chance to show your mental agility and display confidence in your knowledge and capabilities. They won’t expect you to have the answer to everything. Ultimately running out of time just displays poor time management!  

7. Ensure your slide deck stands out from the crowd

No one did this well from a presentation point of view. The slide decks were all the same, very wordy and corporate. I cannot remember one single  slide deck that was different. Be bold, I challenge you to not overload your slides with information. It’s hard to listen and read a slide full of information. If you need to, produce two decks. One to present and a second packed with all the information you would traditionally include. You can send the second as a follow up post-pitch. I did look at the information sent after the pitch. Just remember to send it quickly while your pitch is fresh in the minds of your audience.

8. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate

I’ve mentioned this before and I’m going to end with this very important point. If you don’t differentiate, you’ll blur into the canvas and miss your chance to stand out. My advice would be to include a couple of key messages you want to be remembered for and scatter them throughout your pitch. Strengths of your company, important services you provide that are unique to you and key ideas for how the trials should be run. The pitch day itself will be a long process and your audience will digest a lot of information (even if you do it in four-six hours instead of eight), most of it is likely to get lost. Pick your key messages and repeat them. End on them. Give yourself a fighting chance to be remembered.