Bad Chemistry with Your Lab Partner?

How to Spot Warning Signs


Modern life science laboratories rely on third-party partnerships more than ever before. With increasing pressure to discover new drugs at a faster pace, the relationship between lab manager and vendor becomes an essential element in meeting your demanding goals. The right strategic partnership fills necessary gaps, fueling growth and innovation. Leveraging a partner’s expertise can lead to greater optimization of your lab, less downtime, and more output. As a result, fostering such a relationship is critical in both the selection and retention of vendors for your lab.

You may find that your current vendor is not providing the level of service and value that you have expected. Doing business with the wrong vendor is more than just a headache; it can negatively impact lab operations and ultimately your bottom line. Consequently, it’s critical to be on the lookout for red flags and recognize when it’s time to move on.

Warning signs your current vendor isn’t meeting expectations

Vendor evaluations can shed light on a number of warning signs that suggest the relationship is not the best fit for your organization and lab. Be mindful of the following red flags and take action if you feel your current vendor is deficient in key areas and negatively impacting your business.

  1. Extended lead times and delays: Vendors with excessive lead times or experience unforeseen delays in delivery of services may have insufficient capacity to match your needs. In the race to discovery, these delays can translate into missed opportunities, negatively impacting your manufacturing schedule.
  2. Lack of harmonization: Some vendors maintain a presence in multiple geographies. While this appears to be beneficial, if workflows and training are not stringently maintained, results can vary by location and inconsistencies can follow.
  3. Too cost-driven: Oftentimes vendors become too focused on costs and selling additional services to labs without proper evaluations and analysis. This can lead to overspending or signing up for services that your lab doesn’t necessarily need, resulting in wasted time and money.
  4. Lack of communication: If vendors don’t communicate effectively, everything falls apart. Communication is the foundation of any successful relationship – without open dialogue between both parties, expectations remain unclear and performance falters. Toward that goal, is there a program manager assigned to shepherd your project, escalate issues, and ensure reports are finalized and delivered on time? Do you know who to turn to when time is of the essence, and are you confident they will be able to help?
  5. Lack of responsibility: When a problem occurs under your vendor’s supervision, is responsibility taken and a solution provided or is there a lot of finger pointing? You want a vendor who will take ownership when the problem is a direct result of their efforts. It’s not about whose fault it is – it’s about finding a solution quickly and seamlessly so that your lab is back up and running as fast as possible.
  6. Not reacting proactively: Observe how your vendor responds when a setback occurs. Reacting to a situation and solving the issue is imperative, but it’s far more beneficial to also employ a proactive approach. Identifying potential problems and taking the necessary steps to ensure the same mistake doesn’t happen again in the future is key. A good partner will have a plan of action in place and use any setbacks as lessons learned for future projects.
  7. Not aligning future investment areas with the needs of your lab: A dedicated partner will always be looking to the future needs of your lab. They should be working with you to develop a strategy that addresses the lab’s needs both now and for the future. In addition, having a provider who is willing to think big picture and add value beyond just a contractual service is what makes a vendor truly a partner. This might mean making investments in future products and technologies intended to increase your lab’s potential for success. Therefore, your third-party vendor must be actively committed to drive these goals. Companies want to know that they are not alone in their vision and that they have a trusted partner to help them along their journey. Vendors should be actively looking forward to help determine what steps need to be taken to succeed.
  8. Lacking accreditation: Far too often, vendors do not have the necessary credentials to adequately perform the work. Making sure your vendor has certifications will improve your confidence that they are using approved methods and procedures, and they understand their importance. An additional benefit of being certified is that they are regularly audited to ensure standards are maintained. This is critical when working within the pharmaceutical industry in which strict guidelines and regulations must always be followed when bringing a new blockbuster drug to market.

Analyze before you take the leap

Switching vendors is not a simple decision or transition. Risks and associated costs need to be identified. It is important to ask – what value would a new vendor bring and, more importantly, how would they help the organization achieve both its short and long-term goals?

It is also important to think about the costs associated with transitioning to a new vendor. Are you terminating an existing contract? Will there be down time and therefore delays? To ensure the partnership with your vendor is continuing down the most productive, optimal path, periodic reviews and audits should take place to assess the needs of the lab and make service contract adjustments as necessary.

Making the switch to a new vendor

If you find that your vendor is not meeting the agreed upon goals and expresses an unwillingness to change, then it’s time to find a new one.

Highly-valued service vendors strive to be key partners and invest the needed resources and technical expertise in order to be an extension of your operations. Selection of a new vendor can be a challenging process, but necessary if your existing relationship is souring. When evaluating companies, strategic relationships should be predicted upon clear performance expectations and measurement, in respect to product quality, delivery, and competitive pricing requirements. Every action should be measurable and reported back via reports and annual reviews.

A critical factor to consider when making the switch is continuous improvement. Is your vendor willing to go the extra mile to ensure your process is the best it can be? Partners should always be searching for new ways to help your lab improve, expand, become more efficient, and reduce costs. A good partner should also be taking what they have learned with other clients and creating an environment in which best practices are collective and shared across the community.


When chosen carefully, a good partner with the right expertise and background can bring a whole new perspective to your lab. Finding the right fit will help optimize your process, enabling you to focus on making groundbreaking discoveries and bringing them to market quickly.