All companies making and / or selling life science tools and services have a product portfolio, but often these portfolios are not viewed in a strategic manner. While aligning current company competencies with current marketplace needs is a simple way to have successful products, a broader view of the product or service portfolio is necessary to ensure greater corporate, and long-term, success. In this post, I’ll go over some of the broader considerations of managing a product portfolio.
Note that many companies discuss product portfolio management to effectively be the new product development project selection process. While new product development project selection is an important part of product portfolio management, I believe this viewpoint to be too narrowly focused, as existing products need to be factored into portfolio management as well, and there are issues related to portfolio management that are indeed independent of new product development. I will discuss new product development project selection in more depth in a later post, as it is a critical business process, but for this post I will simply try to address some common questions relating more globally to product portfolio management in the life sciences.
How many products are the right amount?
Deciding how many products should be in your product portfolio is a difficult question, but there is a correct answer that requires balancing a multitude of factors. First of all, and arguably most importantly, is the amount of products that you can profitably develop. If you have the skills and the market need exists for more products, then building more is usually a good idea. Also important, however, are risk and the scope and goals of the company. If your product portfolio is too small or too narrow, then you may be exposing yourself to a large amount of risk by putting too many eggs in one basket, so to speak. On the other hand, if you have too many products you may lose focus of your scope and your goals, or simply lose the ability to effectively maintain or all of your product lines.
Should product X be in our product portfolio?
Again, if you have the skills to build a given product and the market need exists for it, then it is usually a good idea to build it. Before diving in head first, however, be sure you know the opportunities and threats of doing so. Also, if a given product is sufficiently outside the rest of your product portfolio, then other problems may arise. Your customers not view you as having a competency in that area and this can hurt customer confidence in that particular product or product line, adversely affecting sales. Furthermore, a disparate product from others in your portfolio may incur large marketing cots, as the effective economies of scale achieved by co-marketing (effectively marketing for many products at once) may not exist. For older products, you periodically need to ask if the product is still worth supporting. This should not be a simple question of if the product is obsolete, however, but rather will the profits from making or selling the product meet the desired rate of return. Ultimately, strategy and rate of return are the most important deciding factors in deciding if a product should be developed, maintained, or scrapped.
How do I know my product portfolio has the right mix of products?
Your developed product portfolio should accurately reflect your core competencies and the current needs of the life science research market while your product development projects should be addressing anticipated future needs. Make good use of market research to figure out exactly what those needs are with respect to your business.
Notes for life science distribution companies
If you’re a life science distribution company your job of product portfolio management is in many ways much simpler since you have no product development costs. However, there are still costs associated with bringing on a new product or product line, so having as large an offering as possible is often not a good strategy. Also, consider your strategic positioning within the life science marketplace and align your product offerings to that positioning. If your strategy involves certain segments of the life science market, leverage your product portfolio to gain a reputation as an expert “go-to” seller within that market segment. Since you have less variables to deal with than manufacturers, fully-quantitative, even automated, processes for dealing with portfolio management processes are also sometimes possible.
Effectively managing your product portfolio will not only ensure that your business is profitable in the short- and mid-term, but by aligning with strategies and goals can help lead your bioscience company to long-term success.