A website can be an exceptionally powerful tool. It is, in essence, a block of clay – massively flexible and limited only by your creativity. For life science companies this flexibility can and should be leveraged as a key component of your internet marketing. When a scientist or other potential customer is on your website you have their attention, at least when they first arrive. Don’t squander that opportunity. Engage the customer, impress them, and you’ll be far more likely to generate a lead or create a sale. But how can a life science company go about doing that? Well, there are a few things we have to do before you get there…
Step 1: Know why people are going to your website. I’ve said it before and it’s worth repeating: Make friends with Google Analytics. Knowing where people are entering from, what search terms they are using, and how they are navigating your website can greatly help figure out why people are going to your site.
Step 2: Lead them to the information they want. We talked about this in a similar context before, so feel free to read our post “From Site to Sale” for more info on that.
Step 3: Make that information engaging! Is your technology complex? Use some interactive flash or a well-illustrated animation to show consumers why your technology is superior. Would customers want to know how to use your product? Make a demonstration video. Don’t just state your advantages – show them. Nothing is worse than a run-on page of text or a lack of information. Remember: showing is always more powerful than telling.
By escaping the paradigm of only having text and images on your website and using engaging media in meaningful and appropriate ways, you can not only improve customer engagement but also present information in ways that make it easier to understand for customers. Combine that with navigation that directs customers to relevant information and leads them into the sales process, and you’ll have a website that is a genuine sales machine.
A little under two weeks ago, we held a survey to gather life science manufacturer’s opinions of Biocompare as an advertising platform. We didn’t get a ton of feedback, but we certainly provoked some good discussion on LinkedIn. As promised, here are the results of the survey:
The sentiment expressed in comments was fairly split. The most common sentiments indicated a general appreciation of the exposure that Biocompare offers but dissatisfaction with the difficulty in determining the ROI of their advertising dollars spent on Biocompare. Sentiments such as “by advertising on Biocompare we have a lot of exposure [but] the direct relation to ROI is low or difficult to measure in the long term.” were common. Others spoke favorably of Biocompare, saying “I think they do a really good job overall for brand development (like advertising)” or “My company has advertised on Biocompare and I believe the MarCom group felt the exposure was good.” Others suggested other areas for improvement such as “the banners are dominated by couple of vendors which makes my eyes tired of looking at the same ad” and “more country-specific advertising options would be great such as country-specific promotions, languages, etc.” There were no highly negative comments.
To view all of the comments from the survey, as well as some anonymized comments from LinkedIn, click here.
As promised in our post two weeks ago on improving distributor performance, we wanted to provide some information on life science distributor selection. After all, part of getting the best performance from your distributors is selecting the right ones in the first place.
The first and most obvious thing that gets considered when selecting a distributor is geographic fit and territory coverage. Just because a distributor serves a whole country or region doesn’t mean that they have good coverage of the territory. For example, some distributors perform inside sales to the entire territory but only have outside reps for some of the territory. Many times there is a trade-off between coverage and specialization and / or coverage and focus. The companies with more complete coverage, more reps, a greater reach, and a more powerful brand are often the largest companies which almost always have very large and broad product offerings. A company like VWR has hundreds of reps globally, but are those reps really going to be thinking about selling your product line, or will it just get lost in a sea of life science equipment and consumables? Also, remember that distributor territories don’t have to be synonymous with “countries” – you can have more than one distributor in a country and still maintain exclusivity, you just need to subdivide the country into smaller territories. Companies approaching large countries like China or the United States seem to forget this and instead get caught up in an often non-ideal situation of having one company be the sole representation for a large country.
So you know your territory, but do you know who has the capability to sell your product within that territory? For more technical products, you may need a distributor who has the experience and educational credentials to effectively sell such equipment – especially if you don’t have an office in roughly the same time zone to provide on-demand sales support. Will your equipment require demonstrations or installations? Better choose a distributor with a solid outside sales force, or at least one who is willing to travel to get the job done. You’re also likely to be faced with a choice of working with distributors who sell competing products and therefore are familiar with your market and applications and may have a reputation for selling products like yours, or working with a distributor with no competing products and therefore only has your products to offer as a solution. There is no simple answer for this – it needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Are certain products generating most of their revenues? If so, which ones? They may offer a wider variety of products than they actually sell. If they have a few key products that generate most of their revenues, they may be hesitant to divert effort into selling other products. Be sure that your product line doesn’t become a “me too” in their offering.
- Does this distributor really want to sell your products? This may be the most important question, and the answer can be based on many factors including all those which we have already discussed. Even if a distributor seems like a great fit, if they’re not motivated to sell your products, they are likely to perform well below expectations. If a distributor is willing to take on your line but isn’t motivated to sell your products, should you work with them anyway? The easy answer is “no”, but this ignores one key question: could you make them motivated? There are tactics, including contractual terms and distributor management techniques, to do so.
- Would there be a significant imbalance of power in the relationship? I always hesitate to recommend a much larger and more powerful distributor to my clients unless they are very motivated to sell their line and show it in the terms of the distribution agreement or they have a close contact in a relevant position at the larger company. If there is an imbalance, chances are that they’ll feel free asking you to give and give, but won’t feel obliged to return any favors.
- Do you even need to work through a distributor? Could a partnership with another manufacturer, probably one selling complimentary products, serve you even better?
Regardless of the topic at hand or the region in question, there are good distributors and bad distributors. Some distributors will embellish their capabilities and you have to do your homework to make sure that they have the capabilities they state and that they’ll fulfill their promises. Don’t hesitate to ask to speak to a potential distributor contacts at other suppliers, or even reach out to other suppliers on your own in order to get feedback on their performance and / or validate their claims.
If you life science company sells through distributors, the performance of those distributors will be a large part of the success or failure of your company. By identifying and forming relationships with distributors who have the necessary capabilities and are committed to a mutually beneficial relationship, you’ll be well on your way to growing your international sales.
I saw a post on one of the LinkedIn groups I’m a member of for a webinar that was of interest to me. Long story short: it was terrible. So you don’t make the same mistakes that this company did when you’re creating life science webinars, I thought I’d share a quick tip.
Remember that a webinar (or an in-person seminar for that matter) is a form of content marketing. The lure is the promise of information that is valuable to the user. In order for your webinar to be a success, you must deliver on that promise. The content that you provide needs to address the reason that people are attending your webinar – the topic of the webinar in the first place. If your title and abstract don’t match the presentation, you’re going to hurt your reputation, not help your marketing effort.
Also, you need to balance the amount of content with the marketing message as is appropriate for your webinar. It is possible to have a webinar strictly about a product or service, and there’s nothing wrong with that and such webinars can have value to individuals who are seeking more information about such products and services, but if that is going to be the focal point you need to be up front about it. If you’re creating a webinar on “best practices in high-throughput nucleic acid purification”, for example, attendees are going to expect to learn something of value about high-throughput nucleic acid purification. If you make too much of a marketing pitch and don’t provide enough valuable information on the topic, you’re going to hurt your reputation, not help your marketing effort.
Life science webinars can be useful tools to gather an audience and positively project your brand image and services, but you have to do it correctly. Align the webinar with the desires of the audience to create value and you’ll find success.
There was a bit of a heated discussion going on in one of the LinkedIn groups that I’m a part of where people, including a Biocompare founder, were debating the value of Biocompare as a life science marketing platform. For the moment, I’ll hold back the opinions that were expressed in those posts as well as my own and those I’ve heard from others. What I think is valuable to know is what the life science products community as a whole thinks about Biocompare. To that end, I’ve created this quick, 3-question survey. I encourage you to share your thoughts anonymously, and the results will be shared on BioBM.com.
I have also enabled comments below, so feel free to add your thoughts if you would like to air them out publicly!
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Stanford vs. Roche Molecular Systems, which has implications for academic inventors who receive federal funding for their research. Stanford was suing Roche Molecular Systems, claiming saying RMS did not have the rights to a patent which described a test to quantify the HIV load in a patient’s blood, which is now commonly used. RMS had bought the rights from Cetus Corporation, a private company at which a Stanford fellow, Dr. Mark Holodniy, had been assigned by Stanford to conduct research and at which Dr. Holodniy had invented the HIV load test in question.
In their prosecution, Stanford used the Bayh-Dole Act to argue that the intellectual property was rightfully theirs. For those who may be unfamiliar with the act, the Bayh-Dole Act (also known as the Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act) granted universities, non-profit institutions, and small businesses within the United States the rights to intellectual property resulting from U.S. government-funded research. In defense, Roche Molecular Systems argued a simple point of wording. Dr. Holodniy’s contract with Stanford stated that “I agree to assign” intellectual property resulting from his fellowship at Stanford to the university, while his contract from Cetus stated that “I will assign and do hereby assign” such IP.
Despite that the Bayh-Dole Act states (albeit extremely verbosely) that rights to government-funded inventions lie first with the funded firm, then with the United States government, and lastly with the individual inventor, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that Cetus indeed rightfully owned the IP that they sold to Roche Molecular Systems. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that the Bayh-Dole act does not automatically strip employees of the rights to intellectual property and because of the weak wording of Stanford’s contract (saying “will assign” instead of “do assign”) that Stanford never actually held the rights to Dr. Holodniy’s invention in the first place. You can read the full case syllabus and opinions in this pdf on supremecourt.gov.
What is of significance here is that Justice Roberts affirmed in the court opinion “the general rule that rights in an invention belong to the inventor”. This would indicate that companies, universities, and other institutions may need to have a very clear and explicit agreement that the individuals turn over their intellectual property to their institutions or else the individual may actually retain the rights, especially when the work is federally funded.
DisclaimerBioBM Consulting is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice. If you have any questions regarding the law, please refer them to an appropriate licensed legal professional. For questions related to patent law, especially as it pertains to life science or biomedical patents, we highly recommend Gordin IP.
Any bioscience company that sells through distributors is familiar with the problem: some distributors just don’t pull their weight. I spoke with a global laboratory equipment company recently that has about 100 distributors globally, excellent territory coverage, and no direct sales so all of their sales come through distributors. They told me that the 80/20 rule is in full effect with their distributors – 80% of their sales from 20% of their distributors. Even more extreme, over 50% of sales came from their top 4 distributors! They put in a great deal of effort trying to convert poorly performing distributors into well-performing distributors, but they were doing so in a very cost and time intensive manner and with moderate success at best. Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but Imagine how much a company like that would stand to gain from improving the performance of even some of their distributors.
If you sell through life science distributors, you are probably in a similar situation. You most likely have good distributors and not so good distributors (and probably some downright bad distributors), and wonder what you can do to improve distributor performance. We hear that same question over and over, and I thought I would share a few tips on how to get more from your distributors and grow global sales while improving your distributor relationships and building trusted long-term partnerships.
One of the most common factors in poor manufacturer-distributor relationships is poor communication. Note that poor communication can be both a cause and a symptom of poor distributor performance. Many companies set up distributor newsletters or make calls to them to ask open-ended or performance-based questions, and while these efforts are better than nothing, they rarely address core problems and often lead to one-directional communication. To improve your distributor relationship, and thereby improve your distributors performance, your communications should provide value to your distributors. One way to do so is to build a social-like platform for discussion and dissemination of materials and information. Customizable, easily built solutions from companies like Ning, SocialGo, or Groupsite provide inexpensive solutions that will not only get you communicating more with your distributors, but will also get your distributors talking amongst each other. Just remember when implementing any solution for communication – if your solution is not easy to use, distributors won’t use it. Chances are they’re not going to go out of their way to communicate with you.
Another common factor for poor life science distributor performance is motivation. In order for your distributors to sell your products, they have to want to sell your products. Are you properly rewarding distributors? Are you providing sufficient training and support? Are demo-intensive products eroding distributor ROI? Perhaps they have another product line which is their “bread and butter” and they are hesitant to place focus elsewhere? Lack of motivation to sell could be caused by many reasons, and each will have a different solution. Talk to your distributors one-to-one, build a relationship based on trust, then make use of that trust to get straightforward answers from them as to why they’re not selling. Sometimes the problem isn’t the distributor at all but other factors pertinent to a local or regional market that may appear to be problems with a distributor. Regardless, trusted distributors with whom you have build a good relationship will give you straight and honest answers.
There is also the chance that a distributor you have selected is not right for your company and / or product lines. If your product doesn’t fit their expertise, if the sales techniques required don’t fit their sales methods, if they offer too many competing products, etc., there may just be an irreconcilable difference. Sometimes there just isn’t anything you can do, and you need to be able to recognize that and move on.
Regardless of the reason, if a life science distributor has poor performance and isn’t improving (or you have reason to believe they won’t), you need to replace them. In future posts, we’ll discuss distributor selection, contractual terms that can be used to help motivate distributors up-front, and ways to replace distributors that will minimize disruption to your business.
I’m guessing most companies do, but I’ve ran into a few that aren’t so I feel the need to say it here: use Google Alerts. For any small company, life science companies included, Google Alerts is an easy and free way of monitoring what is said about your company online. You can set up alerts for mentions of your company, your products, anything. Also, it’s an easy way to keep track of your competition – you can set up Google Alerts for mentions of their company, brands, and products as well.
If you’re involved in marketing or PR for your life science company you definitely be receiving Google Alerts. For small life science companies, executives probably should as well. For people in sales or business development it’s good to keep track of what is being said about your product and the product positioning of competitors. For support or applications scientists, it could be a good way to keep up with people posting methods or problems with your products on forums or anywhere on the internet.
Google Alerts takes almost no time to set up, alerts can be received “as-it-happens”, daily, or weekly and via e-mail or RSS. And did I mention that it’s free?
If you have a great biotechnology innovation and you want to start a company to commercialize it, you’re almost certainly going to have to write a business plan. Even if you’re not going to try to obtain investment capital, in which case you would undeniably have to write a business plan, you should still write a business plan to make the case to yourself and anyone else involved in your start-up company that the company is viable and you have an understanding of what you’ll need to do to be successful. Most life scientists, however, have never written a business plan and likely don’t know how to properly compose one. While business plans for established companies or internal use only are not totally uncommon, we will focus on the business plan most relevant to bioscience inventors – an externally-focused business plan for start-up companies.
Every business plan is different, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to stick to any particular format. If you can make a better case for your business by changing the format, then do so. After all, the point of the business plan is to state what your business will be doing and why it will be successful. Making the document look and feel like a standard business plan is secondary. Whatever you do, just make sure you include all the necessary information.
In general, I like my scientific business plans to include the following sections:
- Company Overview – The company overview should be a one to three sentence description of your company. This should be very similar to your elevator pitch. It should be to the point, effectively get the readers attention, and explain the company as concisely as possible.
- Mission Statement – Your company’s mission statement should effectively state the purpose of the company. Don’t brush this off. Write a mission statement that will be able to guide the strategy and high-level decision making down the road. A mission statement is not a marketing tool, but it should read well.
- Management – Introduce your management team. Give some background on them and highlight their strengths as it pertains to the venture and their position within it. A poor management team can easily drive away investors, so be sure that your team looks good both on paper and in person. You should have enough talent on your team to realize your objectives. If there are any key skill gaps that will be addressed through outsourcing, be sure to address those in your operating plan.
- Market Analysis – This is where you really start to get into the meat and potatoes of the document, so to speak. The market analysis should give information on competition, market size, trends, challenges and opportunities the market presents, etc. As appropriate, you’ll need to be both descriptive and quantitative, and you will definitely need to back up your numbers. Do your homework, include references as appropriate, and make sure you back up your statements.
- Scientific Background – This is where you start talking about your product specifically. Since scientific products are highly technical in nature, you will need to show that your product will work as you claim and also that it will meet the needs of the market that you have just identified. If you can, reference published literature. If you’ve built a working prototype, show some results of testing.
- Marketing Plan – How will you market your product? How will you position your product within the marketplace to achieve the projected market share and hit your targets? What marketing channels will you use? You’ve addressed the market in your market analysis, but this is where you address how your company will interact with that market.
- Operating Plan – How your new biotech business will operate. You don’t have to go into minutiae, but if there are any important considerations, make sure to include them. Address operational difficulties and areas that would not be considered obvious. Again, if you plan on outsourcing anything be sure to address that here.
- Projections – The projections, which can also be referred to as the “financial plan”, etc., is where you will make the case that your venture is worth investing in. Extend your projections out to a relevant but not-too-distant time point. What should that time point be? That will be different for every company and would be based on your projected product development time, how long you project until your product goes to market, and what the life cycle of the product will be, and any other relevant factors. Revenues always involve some guesswork, but make sure that your cost estimates are very close. Also, don’t overestimate your revenues or no one will believe that you’re capable of hitting your targets. It’s better to have a slightly worse financial outlook that’s defensible
- Long Term Vision – Are there any important long-term goals or achievements for your life science start-up that would be important to partners or investors? Do you have plans for expansion into new markets to build on successes in your company’s early years? Those are some things to think about when writing a long-term vision.
- Disclaimer – Ever read a corporate financial statement where they give a disclaimer about “forward-looking statements”? You need to include something similar to protect yourself from liability. It won’t be a full section, per se, but it should constitute some small print at the end of the body of the document. Basically, your disclaimer should state that projections are subject to risks, not guaranteed, and that you nor your company are liable if they turn out to be incorrect.
Keep in mind this is just how I frame many of the scientific business plans that I write. I don’t even always stick to this format, so you shouldn’t feel obliged to either. This is merely a guideline.
A few other tips… Graphs, charts, and supporting data that is too long to put in the body of the business plan should go into figures and appendices. You’ll probably want a copyright notice in the footer. Don’t forget to include trademark symbols next to any slogans or names that you plan on claiming.
Some may want to include a section about risks and projected difficulties to show that you understand your limitations, are addressing them, and have contingency plans in case any of them become problems. I sit on the fence about this. While I certainly think you need to have thought about these issues in the event that they are asked, I don’t always think that including them in a business plan is a good idea. The business plan is supposed to sell people on the idea of your business, and listing all the drawbacks doesn’t do that. If there are obvious risks or obstacles, however, then you should definitely address them.
At the end of the day, your life science start-up should be able to create a business plan that is every bit as “bulletproof” as your idea. If you’re not a veteran at starting companies then there are likely issues you haven’t thought of. The creation of a business plan is a good way to expose those issues so you can address them before attempting to attract investors or launching your company and having unrecognized issues impact your bottom line. Remember that the business plan should show the value and merits of your idea, your understanding of the marketplace, and your ability to execute and realize commercial value. For maximum effect, don’t hesitate to modify the format and structure of the business plan to the unique needs of your biotech start-up and keep in mind what the purpose is and who your audience will be.