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Tag : e-commerce

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?"

Why MAPs Are Good Business

I’ve heard a number of manufacturers say that online sales are “a race to the bottom.” That’s a bit like hearing a dinosaur tell you that being warm blooded is overrated. While online sales certainly aren’t right for all types of products, e-commerce often provides a superior experience for purchasers – usually because it’s easier and faster. Research from Forrester has shown that 49% of B2B buyers have intended to buy a specific product then purchased another product because it was easier to buy online. 88% of executives purchase products online. $1.1 trillion of B2B sales are projected to move online by 2020. This will likely only accelerate with generational change, as younger purchasers are far more likely to make B2B purchases online.

There is, however, a legitimate concern that e-commerce, with its much more public pricing, causes downwards pressure on prices. This is strongly exacerbated when selling through distribution – particularly if you have multiple distributors in the same country or who sell in the same currency. Especially in the United States, there is an endemic of discount, online retailers who add little to no value while encouraging price competition and therefore decreasing margins and disincentivizing other distributors from spending on marketing or support. They are effectively leeching off other distributors and, if domestic, off the supplier itself. This creates a situation where pricing is no longer based on value (which has been proven to capture more value) but rather based on cost, with distributors selling at the lowest margins they are willing to accept regardless of the magnitude of the discount the supplier provides. Low margins erode your distributors’ ability to spend on marketing and provide quality support.

Fortunately there is one simple solution to all of these issues; One that prevents the “race to the bottom,” disadvantages distributors who cannot add value to the sale, and potentially allows suppliers to recoup value for themselves. That solution is a strong and enforced minimum advertised price policy. We strongly encourage minimum advertised prices any time where there is competition between sellers of the same product, be it distributor-distributor or supplier-distributor.

MAPs: Encouraging Good Competition

A minimum advertised price (MAP) policy is either a contractual or informal agreement not to advertise products below a specified price. (We strongly recommend that MAP policies be written into distribution agreements to increase their ability to be enforced.) The MAPs may be individually specified for each product or they may be a fixed percentage of all product prices. Distributors who are found to violate the policy are usually given notice and have a specified amount of time (set in the agreement) in order to bring their advertised prices in line with the MAPs. Those who do not may be subject to a range of penalties, varying from reduced discounts to immediate suspension of the distribution agreement.

An enforced MAP policy protects distributor margins, enabling spending on marketing and support, which help drive demand and improve customer experience. It disadvantages distributors who are not adding value to the sale, since by eliminating price competition it forces distributors to compete based on customer experience. These improved customer experiences are positive not only for the customer but also for the brand, since an improved experience will lead to increased overall satisfaction with the brand.

If your distributors are giving deep discounts in the absence of an MAP policy, that probably means you’re discounting more than necessary to begin with, and therefore throwing away value. If you are confident that your pricing is competitive, there should be no need to discount. By discounting, your distributors are affirming that they have more margin than they need. You can therefore reduce distributor discounts and retain more value, or institute a higher MAP and give more value to the distributor, thereby encouraging sales. As most suppliers advertise their own list prices by default, any distributor discounts in areas where you sell direct potentially allow your distributors to undercut you. (We’re big proponents of setting competitive list prices then having MAP set to the list prices.)

Competition based solely on price is detrimental to the distributors, the supplier, and the supplier’s brand. By establishing and enforcing a minimum advertised price policy, you’ll largely eliminate bad competition and replace it with good competition that elevates the brand by requiring competition be on the basis of enhanced customer experiences. You’ll reward your best distributors, discourage the discounting “leeches” who don’t add value, and potentially be able to claim more value for your own company as well.

"Distribution and marketing have one very important factor in common: there are a lot of partners out there which can help you reach your audience, but winning them over is a different story. Successful distribution is an additional link in the value chain that also adds significant complexity and often requires careful management to provide benefit to all stakeholders. Ensure your distribution partners don’t just help you reach your target audience, but help you win your customers. Contact BioBM and start winning."

Personalized Experiences

The image below is of a Target which is near me. It shows what you would see if you just walked in the exterior doors of the Target. Can you think of any problem with this?

Providing a single generic experience for all customers increases the duration and complexity of their experience (or purchasing decision!)

You could walk in that Target looking for a sweater, I could be looking for toothpaste, and someone else could be looking for an end table. Regardless of our very different reasons for being there, however, we’re presented with the same initial experience. That’s not helpful.

Now Target is a little bit limited by the fact that they have physical stores. It’s not particularly easy – in fact it’s downright impractical if not impossible – to personalize a physical experience for every customer who walks into your store. You can’t exactly modify the physical store for every customer. However, you can readily personalize the experience in the digital realm. Despite this, even the largest life science tools and services companies fail to do so.

The world’s best e-commerce sites, such as Amazon or eBay, don’t have that problem. They use what they know about you, and also what they know about the products they’re selling, to try to get you from where you are to where you’re going as fast as possible. (Note this doesn’t only apply to personalization, although personalization is an important part.) However, you don’t need to be a billion-dollar company to personalize digital experiences. There are many tools that make website personalization accessible to mid-sized companies and even which make financial sense for small companies with a strong e-commerce focus.

As we’ve discussed in a previous report, research from the Corporate Executive Board has shown that increasing the simplicity of the buying journey can lead to an 86% increase in initial purchases of a product and a greater than 100% increase in the likelihood that a product or brand will be recommended. Helping customers solve their problems has been shown to elicit a more positive reaction than any other brand experience. Help your customers solve their problems in a simple, streamlined manner, and they’ll reward you with their business. Personalization is an important part of doing so.

"Looking to improve the performance of your life science company’s e-commerce site? Want to streamline your customers’ purchasing decisions and earn more of their business in doing so? Contact BioBM. We’ll help you implement practices which not only improve performance, but provide strategic advantage for your company over the competition."

Lowering Barriers

Lower the barriers to purchasing your products and services to increase your life science sales.Life scientists are busy people. Between bench work, meetings, writing, presentations, seminars, and everything else they may have to do in their day, their time is limited. As such, they appreciate (knowingly or not) situations where the purchasing of products that they need is easy, fast, and simple. While the ease of the purchasing process is usually not so important as to change the mind of someone who has decided on purchasing a given piece of lab equipment, antibody, reagent, or other bioscience product, it can easily sway the undecided buyer one way or the other. By identifying and lowering or removing the barriers to purchasing your laboratory products or services, you can sway those undecided minds in your life science company’s favor.

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but for brevity’s sake we can break down the sales process, from the eyes of the customer, into three steps:

  1. Finding your product / service
  2. Obtaining the desired information
  3. Acting on the desire to purchase


The first step is arguably the most important. It should go without saying that unless scientists can find your product, they are not going to buy it. Getting found is a multi-faceted issue that has no single solution, but rather many different potential solutions that can be used in combination based on your company’s situation. Having distributors list your products in catalogs, traditional marketing campaigns via print advertising in scientific journals, banner advertising on relevant websites, e-mail campaigns, search engine marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization, word of mouth marketing, and utilizing in-house sales teams are all options with different benefits and drawbacks and a unique mix of any of these may be appropriate for your company and product (note that this list is not meant to be exhaustive). Identify how you can maximize your exposure in a cost-effective manner and implement those solutions so your life science products are easily found.

No matter how a customer finds your product or service, you always need to make sure you provide them with the desired information to get them interested in buying. As a general rule, more information is better so long as it is well-organized, relevant, and positive. Use this information to keep them engaged the entire time they browse it. Any time a researcher wants more information about your product but doesn’t find it is an opportunity for them to walk away or look for different products, so even if in formats not well suited to containing large amounts of information, the location of additional information should be given and this information should be as easily accessed as possible. A key component to this, since it will almost inevitably contain the most information about your products or services, is having a website with all the necessary product information laid out in an easily navigable way. (you can learn more about streamlining your website for additional sales here)

Lastly, the ability to act on the desire to purchase should be a fast, simple, and easy process (or at least as much is plausible given the nature of the product or service). For example, if your product does not require a quote-driven sales process, e-commerce allows your customers to order quickly and easily. Online forms for quote requests or demonstration requests are similarly low barriers to action. Where possible, free samples are a great way to get your products in front of the customer. If the customer needs to contact your company, let them do it in the manner that they prefer to, be it e-mail, phone, a simple contact form, etc. to ensure that they are comfortable establishing the necessary communication to further the sales process.

Scientists, lab managers, purchasers, and procurement agents all prefer simple and streamlined sales processes, and reducing the barriers to purchasing your bioscience product can be an easy way to increase your conversion. While the ease of the purchasing process is most often not important enough to the customer to change a purchasing decision altogether, it can easily sway the undecided buyer one way or the other. By streamlining your sales process, you can tilt those undecided buyers in your favor and increase your life science sales.

"Would you like to make it easier for life scientists across pharma, biotech, and academia to buy your products and / or services? Want to use a streamlined sales process to tilt undecided buyers towards purchasing your products? BioBM Consulting’s marketing and internet consultants can help you streamline your marketing and sales process. Talk to us and we’ll help you boost your conversion by identifying and lowering barriers to purchase."

From Site to Sale

Use analytics to ensure that your website is designed to optimize leads and sales.Many companies under-utilize their website, and life science companies are no exception. There is often a lot of marketing going on, and that’s good, but most websites seem to stop there. While good online marketing will indeed reflect well on your products / services and make customers more likely to buy, companies often fail to think about how their website can take that one step further and leverage it fully to dramatically improve lead or sale generation. In order to do this, however, you need to know how visitors are using your site and analyze why they use it like they do.

Important Tip

Make friends with Google Analytics. It’s free, it’s fairly easy to set up (it just requires adding a small amount of HTML to each page on your site) and for basic analysis it’s quite easy to use as well. Google Analytics will tell you how visitors to your site are getting there, what keywords they are using when finding your site via search, what pages they are looking at, etc. Put together, this is powerful information.


Chances are that some users will enter your site via virtually every page. You should, however, be able to determine what pages users enter your site from most often. Are these the pages that you’d want them to be entering your site from? If not, you may want to rearrange some content or add / change the content of the pages to make them pages you would want visitors entering from. There are other techniques for influencing what page users enter from as well. Just don’t expect all users to enter your site via your homepage – it’s never going to happen. The majority probably will, but that’s as good as you’re going to do.

Imagine you are a salesperson. You have all sorts of pitches and responses to customer inquiries and concerns. As you stand in front of a scientist, lab manager, etc., you can alter your responses to their statements in real-time. You can have a dynamic conversation. On your website, you don’t get that luxury but you still want to make the sale or get the lead. Your website, in effect, is the salesperson that talks to the most customers so make it behave as such. Since your website cannot have that fully dynamic conversation you therefore have to anticipate what the viewer is going to want to know or do after viewing a certain page and make sure that they have access to the desired information (or action) from that page.

Along those lines, you do not want any page to be a dead-end. If you get to a page where there are no good options to continue looking for more information or enter the quote / sale process, you probably found a page that a lot of viewers are exiting your website from. Even at the end of the sale or lead generation process, lead users back to the homepage to continue browsing your products / services.

Side Note from BioBM Principal Consultant Carlton Hoyt

A tactic that I’ve seen work wonderfully in the past have been free samples of consumable products or demonstration requests of equipment. These tactics significantly reduce the barriers to getting your product in front of the customer. There are both pros and cons to this strategy, however. We’ll discuss this in more detail at a later time, so be sure to check back, or contact us if you would like to discuss it in greater depth now.


Another web faux pas is not having a way to complete the sale or lead generation process online. There are situations where companies have a reason for not implementing an e-commerce platform (for example, they do not sell directly to scientists) but there is never a reason not to at minimum capture lead information on your website. Some people will find filling out an online request for more information or performing an online purchase easier or simply preferable to calling to inquire about a product or faxing / calling in an order. You want potential customers to progress with the lead / sale process in the way they find easiest. Taking into account the preference of your customers by utilizing these relatively easy measures helps lower the barriers to purchasing and therefore increases conversion and helps you derive more value from your website.

Having a well-designed website is about more than just the look and feel. A well-designed website will ensure that maximum value is captured from your website. It is often not possible to know how to optimize this value upon the initial design of your site, but by monitoring and analyzing your site’s analytics you can determine how to best lead take your audience of scientists and researchers from site to sale.

"Are you interested in deriving more value from your website? Want to turn more visitors into leads and / or sales? BioBM’s experienced internet consulting staff can implement and perform the necessary analytics to determine how to optimize your website for improved conversion. Contact us if you have questions or would like more information on how we can help you derive more sales and leads from your website. Alternatively, you can request a free site review to ensure that any problem areas for your website and overall online presence are properly identified remedies are discussed."

Improve Your Online Presence

Internet penetration is growing, and the internet is becoming an ever more important marketing tool.I don’t think anyone will dispute the power and influence of the internet. According to data from the International Telecommunications Union (a United Nations agency), internet penetration in the developed world will exceed 70% this year. Scientists are even more heavily influenced by the internet. We rely on it as a vast and trusted source of readily accessible data, a gateway to the tools and databases we use on a regular basis, a necessary communication tool, and a platform for collaboration across countries and continents. Fueled by fast, extensive business and university networks, internet penetration among life scientists is virtually 100%.

Just as individual consumers are turning more and more to the internet for both information and to make purchases, so are scientists. Researchers, geared towards finding their own information and encouraged by the ready availability of online information, look to the internet for information on products and services prior to purchase, and ever more are using use e-commerce for fast and efficient purchases. Because of this, it is imperative that life science companies leverage the internet to maximize their exposure, ensure that they manage their online brand image, present compelling online marketing, effectively capture online leads and convert these into sales, and utilize e-commerce where possible to reduce the barriers to purchase and increase sales efficiency.

How Important is A Website?

Online, your website is who you are. The quality of your website will be perceived to reflect the quality of your company and, by association, your products. Customers expect that the same kind of companies who create and maintain high-quality, well-performing products will put the same effort into creating and maintaining high-quality and well-performing websites. An outdated look or feel, errors, poor navigation, and a large list of other website faux pas will hurt your image and reputation. Unless you have an extremely strong reputation among your target market, you can assume that every new prospective customer who is interested in your product will look at your website for information before purchasing, and it is likely that your website will be the first place they look … unless they search for it and someone else comes up higher in the search results. Even with a strong reputation, many will still look to your website for more information. While a beautiful, well-structured website alone will not be enough to sell your products (you still need the proper content) a poor website can dramatically hurt your sales.

Refining Your Marketing Message / Having the Right Content

Your online marketing message is arguably the most important one that you will present. It is, in effect, constant; your online brand and marketing are always there for anyone to view. Again, it is very likely that almost all of your customers will view information for your products or services online at some point before purchase. You therefore need to have the appropriate mix of technical information and compelling marketing messages to encourage scientists to either buy the product at that time or inquire for more information immediately.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) / Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

It will not do you any good if your company has an excellent website that no one can find, and how you get found is through search. ComScore’s global search report has indicated that Google alone gets 1.5 million searches per minute, or well over one billion per day! Having insight into how search engines serve search results to these hundreds of millions of people is crucial to ensure that scientists looking for products or services online find yours and not those of your competitors. Search engine optimization is a tricky thing – search engines guard their algorithms and make only vague public statements as to how they work, so having someone with expert knowledge manage your SEO is crucial. For example, there is a sweet spot between a site having too few keywords, which will result in sub-optimal rankings, and too many keywords, which search engines will penalize you for. Experts have spent years figuring out the optimal “keyword density” along with many other SEO considerations and know what works and what doesn’t. Even with expert help, organically improving your search engine ranking takes time. To get around this, and get you to the critically important first page of search results today, you can make use of search engine marketing. Remember: 90% of searchers never go past the first page of search results, and 99% will not go past the third page, so being on the first page is of extreme importance. A properly managed SEM campaign can economically get you to that critically important first page page of the search results regardless of SEO, and even with good SEO it has been shown that a well-run SEM campaign will still result in an average 20% more hits. Another benefit of SEM: since most SEM campaigns are pay-per-click, you know that most of the people clicking are in your target market. After all, people most often click on links that are of genuine interest to them. Also, search engine marketing prices their advertising by the keyword, and a lot of life science keywords are niche markets, and therefore are less saturated which leads to lower costs and a higher return on your advertising dollars.

E-Commerce

According to a study by Forrester Research, sales via electronic commerce will increase by an estimated 60% from 2009 to 2014 in the United States. In Europe, the estimated increase over the same time period is 68%. A burgeoning societal tendency to make purchases online compounded by extremely high internet usage among scientists and the ease of finding products and information online, ever more researchers are turning to the internet for laboratory purchases wherever possible. Particularly for lower-cost items which do not require purchase orders or budgeted line-items (usually $2500 maximum for universities and research institutes and around $5000 for pharmaceutical or biotech companies), a well-implemented e-commerce backend to your website can make it easier for customers to buy your products, help you process orders more efficiently, and even integrate with customer relationship management and / or accounting software to automatically capture customer and order information. The most important factor, however, is the ease and speed of ordering for customers. At all times, you want to ensure that it is as easy as possible for customers to order your products.

These are only some of the considerations that a company should think about when analyzing their online presence. I did not touch on Social Media Marketing (SMM), forms of online advertising other than SEM, online brand presentation, and many other factors (a quick tangent since I’ve brought up social media marketing; if you think the most popular site on the internet is Google, you are wrong). However, the above points are perhaps some of the most important for a small life science company to consider when establishing, updating, and / or maintaining an online presence. We’ll be tackling each in more detail, including social media and the other topics we didn’t cover at all here, so be sure to follow us on twitter or add our blog to your RSS feed if you’d like to stay up to date with the latest posts.

"Does your company want a more professional online presence? Would you like to improve your online marketing? Would you like to know how you can improve your company’s search engine rankings? Get a free site review from BioBM and we will analyze your online presence and discuss how we can help you establish and maintain a top-quality online presence."

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