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Tag : decision engines

Are You Providing Self-Service Journeys?

Customers are owning more of their own decisions.

We’ve all heard the data on how customers are delaying contact with salespeople and owning more of their own decision journeys. Recent research from Forrester predicts that the share of B2B sales, by dollar value, conducted via e-commerce will increase by about a third from 2015 to 2020: from 9.3% to 12.1%. Why does Forrester see this number growing at such a rate? Primarily due to “channel-shifting B2B buyers” – people that are willfully conducting purchases entirely online rather than going through a manned sales channel.

All this adds up to more control of the journey residing with the customers themselves and less opportunities for salespeople to influence them. Your marketing needs to accommodate these control-desiring customers. It needs to accommodate as much of the buying journey as it can, and in many instances it can and should accommodate the entire buying journey – digitally.

Scientist considering an online purchase

Accommodating Digital Buying Journeys

Planning for the enablement of self-service journeys is a complex, multi-step process. In brief, it consists of:

  1. Understanding the relevant customer personas. Defining customer personas is always a somewhat ambiguous task, but my advice to those doing it is always not to over-define them. It’s easy to achieve so much granularity that the process of defining a customer persona becomes meaningless due to the presence of far too many personas with far too little to distinguish their journeys in a practical sense. It’s okay to paint with a broad brush. For a relatively small industry such as ours, factors such as “level of influence on the purchasing decision” and “familiarity with the technology” are far better than the commonly used definitions of B2C demographics which you’ll likely see used if you look up examples of creating customer personas. It probably doesn’t much matter if the scientist you’re defining is a millennial or Gen X-er, nor do you likely need to account for the difference between scientists and senior scientists. That’s not what’s important. Focus on the critical factors, and clear your mind of everything else.
  2. Mapping the journey for each persona. This can be done with data analytics, market research, and / or simply as a good old-fashioned thought experiment, depending on your resources and capabilities as well as how accurate you need to be. If you’re using data, use the customers who converted as examples and trace their buying journeys from the beginning (which will probably have online and offline components). Bin them each into the appropriate persona then use them to inform what the journey requires for each persona. The market research approach is fairly straightforward and can be done with any combination of interviews, focus groups, and user testing approaches. If you’re on a budget and just want to sit down and brainstorm out the decision journey, start with each “raw” customer persona, then ask “where does this person want to go next in his decision journey?” A scientist may want more information, they may desire a certain experience, etc. Continue asking that question until you get to the point of purchase.
  3. Mapping information or experiences to each step of the journey. Once you know the layout of the journeys and the goals at each step, it should be relatively clear what you need to provide the customer at each step to get them to move forward in their journey. This step is really just asking: “How will we address their needs at each discrete step of their journey?”
  4. Determine the most appropriate channel for the delivery of each experience. You now know what you’re going to deliver to each customer at each point in the decision journey to keep them moving forward, but how you deliver it is important as well. On paper, it might seem as though you can simply provide all the information and experiences the customer needs in one sitting and then that’s all they will need to complete their decision journey. In practice, it often doesn’t work that way. Decisions often involve multiple stakeholders and often take place over the course of days, weeks, or months. Few B2B life science purchasing decisions are conducted on impulse. For young or less familiar brands you may also need time for the scientist to develop sufficient familiarity with the brand in order to be comfortable purchasing from you. This is the time where you must consider not only the structure of the buying journey, but the somewhat less tangible elements of its progression. Structured correctly, your roadmap should essentially remove steps from the buying journey for the customer.
  5. Implement it! You now know what the scientists’ decision journeys look like and exactly how you’ll address them. Bring that knowledge into the real world and create a holistic digital experience that enables completion of the self-serve buying journey!
  6. That’s it! Your marketing is now ready for today’s (and tomorrow’s) digitally-inclined buyers.

    Owning the JourneyNetwork internet brain head

    What we’ve outlined above will create a digital experience that allows customers to complete a purchasing decision on their own terms, which is something they increasingly want to do. If you build such an experience you will give yourself a definite advantage, but your customers will still shop around. It’s not enough to get them to hone in solely on your brand (which, if we’re being honest, is an incredibly difficult task).

    Digital marketing is not only capable of enabling your scientist-customers to complete their decision journeys on their own, however. It is possible to create a digital experience that owns a hugely disproportionate share of the decision journey to provide outsized influence upon it. Such mechanisms are called decision engines, and when properly implemented they provide their creators with massive influence on their markets. If you would like to learn more about decision engines, check out this recent podcast we did on the topic with Life Science Marketing Radio or download our report on the topic.

    "Is your life science brand adopting to the changing nature of scientists’ buying journeys? If you’re not well on your way to completing your marketing’s digital transformation, then it’s probably time to call BioBM. Not only do we have the digital skill set to develop transformational capabilities for our life science clients, but we stay one step ahead with our strategies. We live in an age of constant change, and we work to ensure that our clients aren’t simply following today’s best practices, but are positioned to be the leaders of tomorrow. We’ll provide you with the next generation of marketing strategies, which will not only elevate your products and services, but turn your marketing program into a strategic advantage. So what are you waiting for?"

Carlton Hoyt Discusses Decision Engines on Life Science Marketing Radio

Principal Consultant Carlton Hoyt recently sat down with Chris Conner for the Life Science Marketing Radio podcast to talk about decision engines, how they are transforming purchasing decisions, and what the implications are for life science marketers. The recording and transcript are below.

Transcript

CHRIS: Hello and welcome back. Thank you so much for joining us again today. Today we’re going to talk about decision engines. These are a way to help ease your customer’s buying process when there are multiple options to consider. So we’re going to talk about why that’s important and the considerations around deploying them. So if you offer lots and lots of products and customers have choices to make about the right ones, you don’t want to miss this episode.
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The Plight of the Distributor

Let’s be frank: if you are a laboratory products distributor, you have a ton of competition. With inexpensive digital marketing at anyone’s fingertips and drop-shipping increasing in prevalence, it’s incredibly easy for almost anyone to start a distribution company with little up-front investment. As the laws of economics would predict, if something is cheap and easy, lots of people will try to do it.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to succeed, however. In fact, it may be more difficult than ever.

The Value Squeeze

There are way too many distributors out there and differentiation is hard to come by. Distributors are facing increasing pricing pressure, and while it is certainly in part due to heightened competition and simultaneous tepid growth in research budgets, eroding margins also have a much more fundamental reason.

As a whole, distributors simply don’t add as much value as they once did.

Information used to be time consuming to find, and often difficult or impossible to find. Distributors were once viewed as a critical source of knowledge on various equipment. Today, for many purchases, it’s very easy for scientists to obtain the large majority of the information they need on their own. Doing so is often significantly easier for the scientists than subjecting themselves to a sales rep. We see evidence of this in the increasing delay of when customers are contacting suppliers within their buying journeys. The value of distributors to customers has eroded.

Geography used to be a massive barrier to the flow of information, and a local distributor was critical to allow customers to even know a product existed. Today, according to BioBM’s own research, 100% of users perform an internet search at some point in a buying journey (unless their goal is only to purchase a known product from a specific brand). Any company anywhere in the world can get in front of that customer with a simple search ad which costs all of a few dollars. Email can connect any two people in the whole world. Even product demonstrations are becoming increasingly virtual. The result: the value of distributors to suppliers has eroded as well.

The Four Models for Successful Distributors

The old rules are no longer relevant. Being a distributor in today’s business environment means assuming a particular role and providing a particular value. As such, there are a limited but highly defined number of business models which can reliably provide long-term success to both new entrants and incumbents alike.

  1. The Price Competitor. The Price Competitor attempts to be as visible as possible for people who are looking for a specific product, offer as many products as possible, and offer them at the lowest price. They seek the value buyers – people who know exactly what they want and only want the best price – and provide value to those customers by sacrificing margins to provide discounts. Their advertising is minimal but effective, as their razor thin margins simply don’t allow much else. They generally will deflect as much of the responsibility for support back to the manufacturers as they don’t want to spend the resources to do otherwise. For The Price Competitor, reducing cost as much as possible becomes almost a singular focus. The distributor who can obtain the best prices from their suppliers while operating on the lowest margins is most often the winner. The smart supplier, however, will avoid the price competitor, as they add little to no value to the supplier so long as the supplier’s list pricing is competitive
  2. The Exclusive Rep. The Exclusive Rep fills their product portfolio with unique items that they obtain exclusive rights to resell within their territory. Being beholden to their product lines, their success is often based on the products which they represent and their ability to maintain favored status with suppliers. To obtain their exclusivity, The Exclusive Rep will bear additional responsibility for developing the market in their territory, stock inventory, offer demos, or perform other services which are of value to the supplier. The additional value to the customer comes in the form of convenience – having someone local who knows the products well.
  3. The Relationship Builder. A difficult model for new entrants and one that is arguably the most endangered, The Relationship Builder relies on person-to-person relationships between their sales team and researchers. They rely heavily on an outside sales force. Acquisition of business is based on trust, extremely high levels of service, and loyalty. Because of this, they break the trend of the customer taking control of their buying journeys and instead customers may involve The Relationship Builder earlier and more directly. Relationship Builders used to be able to be effective in all types of sales, however due to easing access to information are presently most successful for complex purchases. These types of distributors add value to the supplier by having existing relationships with potential customers and add value to the customers by being a trusted source of information to aid them in their purchasing decisions.
  4. The Decision Engine. The Decision Engine provides a superior customer experience which makes the buying journey easier and more fulfilling for their customers. Their success is based on their ability to claim ownership of as much of the customers’ buying journeys as possible. They are adapting to a declining ability for salespeople to influence customers by providing the platform on which customers make their own decisions. The Decision Engine provides value to customers by enabling them to make purchasing decisions more quickly and easily, and provides value to suppliers by drawing in potential buyers.

Note that these business models are mutually exclusive. The price competitor generally does not have sufficient resources to take on any of the additional duties required by the other business models. The exclusive rep cannot be a decision engine due to lack of choice within each product category. The decision engine and the relationship builder have conflicting approaches to serving the needs of the customers’ buying journeys. The relationship builder will have a difficult time being seen as a trusted advisor if they are only promoting a single type of solution for each customer need, and therefore cannot reliably be an exclusive rep.

Lacking the ability to meaningfully differentiate aside from by their product offerings (and only the exclusive rep can reliably secure a differentiated product line), distributors must pick one of these business models and execute it better than the competition. That is the only mechanism to ensure success. Even then, the changing nature of scientists’ buying journeys puts business models themselves at risk.

"Finding and elaborating the right strategy is often difficult, but it is a process equal in importance to execution. If you are looking for a strategy which will allow your life science company to thrive, contact BioBM. Our existing knowledge – a laser-focused knowledge of the life science market – gives us a better understanding of the territory through which you must navigate. While every company’s journey will be different, having BioBM as your guide will provide you with the tools and knowledge to maximize your chances of success.

Ready to start your journey to success? Let us guide you."

New Paper on Decision Engines

BioBM Consulting has published a new paper which outlines the current problems facing scientists when attempting to make a purchasing decision, the negative impacts this is having on scientists, and how decision engines can be leveraged to create transformational change within life science markets. “How Decision Engines Will Reshape the Life Science Buying Journey” explains why information has become the enemy of purchasers and suppliers alike, explains what decision engines are and how they are already creating disruptive change in other markets, and outlines a general framework for creating decision engines.

All with all BioBM papers, “How Decision Engines Will Reshape the Life Science Buying Journey” is available free of charge to all those in the life science tools & services industry. To learn more about the new report, to preview it, or to request a copy, please visit: http://biobm.com/idea-farm/reports-papers/