Anyone who has spent time in sales or customer support can recall a few customers who always demand more than others or are just notoriously stingy. Chances are that all life science companies have some, and they’re all cutting into your profits. While a few extra service calls or the occasional negotiated discount might not be that bad, when this type of behavior is repeated or taken to an extreme customers can become unprofitable. This effect is aggravated by a very common practice: cross-selling.
Denish Shah and V. Kumar from the Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University published an article in the Journal of Marketing which analyzed data from five Fortune 1000 companies. Their research showed that while only about one in five customers who cross-buy are unprofitable, those that are account for approximately 70% of companies’ total loss from customers. While cross-selling increases profitability from good customers, it also increases losses from bad ones.
Who are these unprofitable problem customers? There are many types, but in the life sciences we have noticed some that have a history of returning items, not making complete payments, demanding an inordinate amount of time from sales and service personnel, or requesting many demos or free trials before making only a small purchase.
The solution to minimizing the losses from these customers is not to stop cross-selling, and the authors of the aforementioned study note that cross-selling is definitely profitable in the aggregate, but it highlights the fact that there are such things as bad customers and companies need to shed them. However, unprofitable customers need to be flagged by sales, support, and / or marketing (this can be done very simply and easily in just about any CRM system) and these customers should either not be marketed to or should be “upsold” more profitable products to compensate. In some circumstances, especially for service companies, relationships with clients may need to be terminated altogether.
No matter what you do to limit the customer losses, do not cut back on service. It’s better to let unprofitable clients go than to offer poor or lacking service. Letting a customer go effects you one time. Poor service can leave a much larger impact.
Your company almost certainly has some problem clients, but chances are you probably wouldn’t be able to come up with a list. By keeping track of your problem customers and taking appropriate action to mitigate them, you’ll be able to increase your profitability with a very low expenditure of effort.
I think the concept of emotionally appealing to scientists gets taken to extremes. There are people who think that B2B scientific sales are largely emotionless and that customers in this sector make decisions using reason; therefore, emotional appeals have little merit. On the other hand, there are those that see emotion as underused in life science marketing; a hidden opportunity ripe to exploit.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that life science marketers shouldn’t neglect emotion, but that emotion should be built largely through user experience and branding (in other words, through the sum of customer interactions with a company) rather than through the kind of emotionally-charged creative that we see in TV commercials for cars or pharmaceuticals, for instance.
Along these lines, I took interest in the results of a recent poll from Harris Interactive (you can find it summarized here on Wired). I wasn’t so interested by the findings that Amazon is the most respected company in the states, but rather that on a 100-point scale they ranked as having the highest emotional appeal (defined by Harris as trust, admiration and respect). They beat Disney by five points. Keep in mind that Amazon is a company which most people only experience through a website and a number of brown cardboard boxes.
These results speak to the value of user experience in establishing emotional appeal, which in turn creates value through establishing brand preferences and driving customer loyalty. To all those who think you need impassioned communications to create emotional appeal, and also to those who think that life science companies can not be effective at creating emotional appeal, look at what Amazon has done with an e-commerce site and cardboard.
You’ve seemingly done everything right – you have lots of high-quality backlinks pointing to the relevant page and the page has an optimized title, URL, and header tags. You have well-optimized content and lots of it, and your domain and site have “aged”. You’ve avoided any “black hat” tricks that could get you penalized. So why aren’t your search engine rankings where they should be? It’s not an uncommon problem, and there’s generally only two answers: 1) You’ve underestimated your competition, or 2) Your clickthrough is poor.
If you know a few things about SEO, you probably heard a lot of talk about backlinks and content / page optimization, but those are by no means the only important factors in SEO. Your search results also need to appeal to the scientists that are doing the searching. Think about it: Google is in the business of helping internet users find the content that they’re looking for. People use Google more than other search engines primarily because of the quality of the search results. If a result isn’t being clicked on, then that indicates that it’s less relevant than other results. If it’s less relevant, then it’s in the search engines’ best interest to return a different result for that query that is more relevant and the experience is better for the users.
If you keep a close eye on your Google rankings, for example, you probably noticed that your rankings for some terms will occasionally bounce around a bit. That’s usually Google performing clickthrough testing – seeing if another result would be of more interest to the users.
So what is the life science marketer to do? A few things. First, pay attention to your meta description attribute. While this attribute is not included in Google’s algorithms that determine search ranking, this attribute is generally what will display as the descriptive text under the link in the search results and therefore effects clickthrough. Be sure that’s relevant and interesting. Including language used in the search term will help as well. Secondly, think about what searchers for that term will be looking for and what the page you’re optimizing is offering. Are searchers going to be interested in cell-based assay products but your highest-ranking result is a blog post? Conversely, may they be interested in informational content about pre-clinical toxicology but your result offers it as a service? Perhaps they are looking for stem cell culture protocols but your result is for a white paper. Regardless of the exact reason, you could be significantly impacting your clickthrough if your optimized result is not what the searchers are looking for.
Unfortunately, you cannot measure clickthrough in Google Analytics since there is no information provided about impressions. You can, however, use Google Webmaster Tools. The “Search Queries” menu will show you the ballpark number of impressions for any given search term, the average position in search results for that term, and the amount of clicks those impressions led to as well as the CTR (provided you have more than 10 clicks for the given term). Keep in mind that unlike Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools only retains data from the past 90 days, so if you want to keep track of clickthrough long-term you’ll want to export it.
You can do everything right – have high-quality links, well-optimized content, etc. – but if your clickthrough is poor your SEO will suffer. Life science marketers who measure and optimize for clickthrough will be rewarded with higher search rankings.
A little while ago we discussed the importance of adopting the scientist-customer’s perspective in your marketing to create communications that have a customer-centric viewpoint – showing an understanding of their wants and needs and offering a solution – rather than creating product-centric (or service-centric) communications. Having spoken to a number of companies about this point, I see a misunderstanding that commonly arises and it merits further discussion.
When bringing up this topic, the common response from a company’s marketers or executives is “But we already are thinking about our customers and their needs!” Simply thinking about the customer is still not optimal, however. Marketers should consider the needs of the scientists from the perspective of the scientists. You need to think like the customer! When you truly adopt their perspective you will be able to create communications that convey value in a manner that is sync with their own thought processes. In other words, you’ll be able to eliminate the gray area between their needs and your product / service. You will be able to clearly demonstrate value in a way that is meaningful to the customer rather than leaving them to “connect the dots” and try to understand the value proposition on their own. (A beneficial side effect of this approach is the ability to create better user experiences based on understandings of the mindset of the target scientists.)
It should be noted that your ability to adopt the scientists perspective will be limited by your understanding of the customer, so it is critical to speak directly with the customers to get a feel for their opinions and their mindset. Quantitative market research data can help, but speaking with your target market provides many more insights and allows you to better get a feel for scientist sentiment.
By truly understanding life scientists, and adopting their perspective when crafting marketing messages, you can create marketing communications that are more effective from the start.
One of the most timeless lessons in the art of persuasive communication is about 2350 years old and written by Aristotle. Rhetoric, and particularly the second book of Rhetoric contains fundamentals which every life science marketer with a role in marketing communications should understand and adhere to. In this book, Aristotle discusses what he believes to be the three essential elements of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Aristotle takes ethos to comprise wisdom, virtue, and good will, however these can more generally be summed up as credibility. The speaker needs to establish credibility before he can successfully be persuasive. Aristotle’s composition of ethos actually breaks down how marketers can do this quite nicely: we can show our wisdom and have the audience therefore trust in our expertise, and we can show virtue and good will and thereby have the audience believe that we genuinely want to help them and put their best interests first. Life science marketers should aim to do both, although the former is generally an easier sell.
Logos is logic, plain and simple. (Etymologically it’s not so simple – its usage by Aristotle means something more akin to “reasoned discourse” – but that’s not really relevant to this conversation). In order for you to be persuasive, reasons Aristotle, you must think logically and effectively communicate your logic to the audience. Logos is probably the easiest and most direct element for science marketers, however understanding what you need to explain and effectively explaining it are two different beasts. Many still fail at the latter.
Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Aristotle claimed that emotions have specific causes and effects and therefore one can understand how to invoke emotion in the audience and utilize that one can effect how they render their judgments. To be optimally effective, you cannot simply reason with your audience, but you must create an emotional connection that will help drive your desired action. This is often the least straightforward element of persuasion as it pertains to marketing. Many marketers do not even attempt to leverage emotion in their communications, but the most powerful messages almost always inspire emotion.
To create more effective marketing communications, utilize Aristotle’s three elements of persuasion: demonstrate credibility, clearly explain the logic behind your perspective, and appeal to the audience’s emotion. By incorporating all three elements you’ll more effectively persuade your audience to adopt your viewpoint.
Previously on this blog, we discussed why a number of commonly-used claims are meaningless (such as “high-quality” “reliable” “improved” and “consistent”) and also how marketers need to validate their marketing messages in order for them to be effective. However, life science marketers continuously cling to these facile attributes and fail to validate their messages. Many marketers who resort to the use of facile attributes want to make compelling, validated claims but fall into that pitfall anyway. In this post, focus on common reasons why facile attributes get used.
Reason 1: Poorly Differentiated Products / Services
It’s hard to make your marketing stand out if your products or services do not. Even if your products could stand out, if you don’t have a defined positioning it can be a difficult an imprecise process to determine what messages and product attributes to highlight. Without such an understanding, marketers often fall to facile claims. If the product really doesn’t have much going for it, this can be the fault of the product rather than the marketer, as vague claims are often the only ones that can be made in such a circumstance. What can be done? If you have not created a positioning statement for your product or service, do so. This will give you a better idea of how your product creates value and will therefore help you elaborate it. If your product really just lacks meaningful differentiation, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your product line.
Reason 2: Lack of Market Segmentation
Different attributes are often important to different market segments. If your marketing isn’t targeted to distinct groups, or if your product / service tries to be everything to everyone, then marketers often resort to using facile claims as these are the most general and broadly applicable (albeit least effective). What can be done? Cut your market into segments based on application, need, position, etc. – any segmentation that meaningfully effects how they would view your product. Create different marketing messages for each segment. If your product isn’t focused, especially if it is not widely adopted by the market, pick a segment which you can provide superior value to and tailor it to that market first. Use that foothold to expand into ancillary markets.
Reason 3: Marketing Laziness
Sometimes poor marketing is simply the fault of the marketing copywriter. It’s very tempting to fall back to facile attributes. They seem generally appealing (who wouldn’t want a “high quality” product?), do not require much thought, and make the marketer’s job quick and easy. What can be done? Proofread. Look for facile claims and “weasel words”. If you find them, think about how you can be more specific in order to make a more compelling claim.
Reason 4: Lack of Marketing “Ammunition”
It’s difficult to make specific, compelling claims if you don’t have anything to validate your messages with. How can you show that your product yields 40% more protein in 25% less time if you don’t have any data to show for it. How can you reasonably say that you offer the most mouse models of disease of any CRO if you’re not willing or able to discuss the lines? If you’re going to make meaningful, validated claims you need something to validate them with! What can be done? Work with your application scientists, talk to your customers, ask product development to do some testing, or get data any way you can. In addition to hard data, gather testimonials, form case studies, or gather customer feedback however possible. Other types of validation may be optimal depending on the product or service and the situation or claim being made, so determine what “marketing ammunition” you need on a case-by-case basis. In certain situations the gathering of marketing ammunition may seem very difficult, such as when marketing a new service, but rise to the challenge and get creative to validate your messages. If you’re a life science marketer, that’s part of your job.
In order to convey value beyond that of your competitors, your marketing messages need to be differentiated. If you find yourself making non-specific, general claims, figure out the reason why you’re doing so and you’ll be well on your way to fixing the problem and creating compelling, meaningful messages.
In most life science companies, marketing and product development work in somewhat close contact. Marketing (as well as sales) frequently relay customer needs to product development and help them to understand those needs and adopt a customer perspective. When it comes to their own craft, however, life science marketers often fail to follow their own advice and adopt that critical customer perspective. Instead, marketers tell the tale of their products, focusing on why the product is great rather than how it fulfills a need.
A while ago, we posted about the end of solution sales; how customers typically will be 60% of the way to completing their purchasing decision before ever contacting a supplier. This means that solution sales are becoming less effective. At 60% of the way through the buying journey, customers know what their problem is, what their needs are, and already have (at least superficially) evaluated a number of options. A sales rep who tries to work through all that all over again with the customer is wasting their time. However, earlier in the decision cycle the customer is far less certain about the nature of their need. In these early stages, customers generally seek information from colleagues or the internet (an unpublished BioBM study showed about 45% of scientists turn to colleagues first when considering a product and about the same number perform an internet search first). Marketers therefore need to engage in a sort of “solution marketing”, helping the customer to frame their own problem and needs and, in the process, showing how their products or services can fulfill those. Simply discussing your product’s technology, features, and benefits does not adequately do that job. Instead, marketers need to take on the perspective of the customer and frame their products and services around their needs.
To help guide you in creating customer-centric communications, ask yourself these questions:
• Does this communication ever address the customer? (with second-person language – “you” “your”)
• Did we clearly address the needs of the customer? Would our statement of this need still be valid if removed from the context of our product / service?
• What do we define first? The product / service or the customer’s problem that we are trying to solve?
• Did we clearly state how our product / service solves the problem? Do we offer specific solutions or simply general ones?
Product-centric marketing leaves a disconnect. The customer has a need, and the product provides a solution, but the customer is left on their own to decipher how (and how well) the product would meet their needs. Customer-centric marketing does that math for them by framing your product or service from the perspective of how it provides value and fills their needs. By adopting the viewpoint of the customer and creating customer-centric marketing communications, life science marketers can generate more demand.
Much of marketing is about measurement: be it in determining the success of that recent promotional campaign, determining how to divvy up ad spending, or making the case for your share of next year’s budget. The inherent problem is one that executives often cite: the difficulty in tying specific marketing activities to revenue generation. While “big data” analytics and bulky, expensive CRM and / or ERP software can sometimes be used to get a better handle on overall marketing ROI, such solutions still do a poor job of teasing out contributions of individual activities and are most often beyond the capabilities of small companies to meaningfully manage or to afford. We must therefore pick and choose how to measure success in life science marketing, and meaningful measurement means choosing the right metrics.
Quick note: There was an excellent article in October’s Harvard Business Review on the topic, albeit from the perspective of measuring overall corporate financial performance perspective rather than marketing performance (subscribers can read it here).
There are three common reasons why you may be using the wrong metrics. The first is overconfidence. Perhaps you’ve been seen a metric be strongly predictive in the past or have been told of its importance by a respected peer. If you get it in your head that the metric is important then it’s easy for that thought to stick, regardless of whether or not there’s a basis in fact. The second is availability. Quite simply, we tend to use those metrics that are easily obtained, that we frequently encounter, or that simply come to mind quickly. The last is because use of a particular metric is the status quo: it’s either what you’ve been doing or what you know everyone else does.
In order for a metric to be valuable, it needs to be predictive (there is a causal relationship; a change in A causes change in B) and persistent (the causal relationship is reliably repetitive over time). In marketing, you often will not have troves of various companys’ data to sift through; you merely have your own company’s data. You may be able to use historical data to determine if a metric is persistently predictive of the desired outcome, but for young companies or those who have not been measuring marketing metrics, there may not be enough data to reliably determine which metric is the best to use. Even then, however, you can still take steps to ensure you use the right metrics.
First, you need to specify what your goals are. What are you trying to change? In marketing, this may be sales, it may be leads, etc. Secondly, using either past data or, barring the availability of sufficient data, a subjective best guess, create a theory of what metric(s) will drive the desired change. Third, identify the specific activities that you can undertake to improve your metric in order to create that desired change. Lastly, evaluate your decision. Did the metric perform as expected? Was it both predictive and persistent? Were you able to control (read: “improve”) it by undertaking specific actions?
In order to reliably improve marketing performance, you first need to know what to improve. By using metrics that are predictive and persistent, you’ll be able to set a clear path to achieving your marketing objectives.
While a large part of a company’s brand is controlled by what a company does, this is not a compelling corporate image to project. It would be far more beneficial to life science brands to focus on why they do it, as “why” is simply an inherently more compelling proposition than “what”.
As an example, I’ve taken the first self-defining statement from five life science tools companies’ about pages and anonymized them. This is what I came up with:
- “[Company] develops and manufactures innovative scientific instruments and systems that exploit digital imaging technology for a range of disciplines.”
- “We believe in the power of science and appreciate its rigorous discipline. That’s what drives our passion for innovation, leading to transformative offerings that support endeavors throughout the world.”
- “[Company] develops, manufactures, and markets a wide range of laboratory instruments, apparatus, and consumables used for research in functional genomics, proteomics, and food safety.”
- “As a global technology leader, [Company] is taking action to harness the power of insights and transform them into knowledge to deliver innovative, differentiated solutions for our customers.”
- “Established in [date] as a cooperative laboratory of experienced scientists, [Company] is a world leader in the production and supply of reagents for the life science industry.”
Of those five, three (1, 3, and 5) are extremely straightforward definitions of what the company does, one (4) is a description of how a company does what they do, and only one (2) is a description of why they do what they do. Did you notice any particular one being more compelling that the others?
Your reason for existing can actually be a very compelling driver for both new customer acquisition as well as customer loyalty. Not only can it improve your current business, but also enable you to more easily enter new marketplaces. Furthermore, integrating this reason for existence into your company can motivate your employees and make you more productive and successful. I don’t mean to make it sound like a magic bullet, but your company’s reason for existing can and should be a powerful driver for both internal and external stakeholders.
There’s a great TED talk on the subject: