Life science marketers often hold many simultaneous viewpoints on why customers purchase products. Frequently, the attributed reasons include a hodgepodge of quality, price, ease of use, suitability for their application, adoption by others, various performance metrics and many other reasons that may be general or product-specific. All that gets a bit confusing, and is a bit over-defined if you ask me. I prefer to start from one attribute and then elucidate from there: life scientists make purchasing decisions based on risk.
Considering the scientist as a purchasing decision-maker, risk has two main components: financial and utility. Financial risk can be represented as price, although a more accurate representation is total cost of ownership (TCOO). If a product is very expensive, that makes the purchase more risky since there will be less resources to devote to other important endeavors and also since there are more sunk costs if the product doesn’t perform to the customer’s expectations. Utility risk pertains to the product ability to perform the functions that it is expected to by the customer. In other words, from a customer-centric standpoint: “In my particular application(s), how likely is this product to meet my expectations?”
The risk-based view can answer a question that leaves a lot of companies scratching their heads: why free samples are used so infrequently. It’s common for life science consumables companies, especially smaller companies, to give out free samples when a product is first launched in order to get people to try it. Most often, unless the brand is highly trusted, free samples fail their purpose and are left unused on the shelf. This is because giving away the product only serves to reduce one of the two main components of risk: financial risk. It does nothing to mitigate utility risk.
What life science tools and services companies should aim to do is reduce overall risk by lowering utility risk as much as possible such that financial risk does not need to be reduced and they therefore do not need to discount their product (or perhaps can raise the price on their product!) This gets to the heart of conveying value to the customer – that value should, as much as possible, be something that is experienced rather than something that is simply told. This becomes clear if you ask yourself: “What can we do to minimize utility risk?” Simply claiming that your product works would be pretty far down the list.
If you’re still not convinced, go out and ask a few scientists which of the following they would be more likely to purchase: 1) a product that claims to have better performance but you are unsure if it will work for you, or 2) a product that has lesser performance but you are certain it will work.
Performance metrics are undeniably important, and scientists have different reasons for purchasing different products. At the end of the day, the product with the lowest risk will be able to capture a greater market share than its competition.