Life science companies, and indeed companies in many industries, often get caught up in thinking about their products or services in terms of their features and benefits. Customers are often grouped by demographics. This type of thinking, however, often doesn’t lead to the best solutions for your customers needs.
There is a common saying that circulates among business and marketing aficionados (that I believe originated from a Harvard business professor) that no one wants a quarter inch drill – they want a quarter inch hole. If there was a tool to perform the task of making a quarter inch hole that was better suited to the job than a quarter inch drill, people would use it. Despite that, most companies selling drills focus their marketing on the drill, not the holes that the drill produces. When not focusing on the tool, many marketers focus on the customer or the market – trying to segment them into demographic baskets based on any of a wide number of criteria.
What doesn’t get the necessary amount of focus is the job that needs to be done. While life science companies actually do a better job of this than companies in many other industries, many life science marketers still lose sight of the purpose of the tool. No scientist has an inherent need for a thermal cycler. What the scientist needs is more copies of a genetic sequence. The thermal cycler manufacturer that will be positioned to have the highest ROI is the one that understands that and focuses on the job that needs to be done – amplification of DNA.
I won’t spend any more time on this topic because I don’t believe there is an epidemic lack of focus on the jobs that life science tools are meant to perform. However, there are many exceptions, and there have been many instances when a life science marketer or an entire company lost focus on the job that needed to be done and placed a highly disproportionate amount of focus on the product or the customer. Be sure you’re not the one that loses focus. Ask yourself on occasion what the jobs are that your products and services are being “hired” to perform. If you don’t have a solid answer, or if you’re not basing decisions on that answer, then it may be time to refocus.
Consider this seemingly obvious statement: the reason your life science company can sell products or services to scientists is because they have needs. These needs, in turn, create demand for solutions. Life science marketing is the tool by which we identify those needs and pair them with the solutions we offer. However, scientists don’t want you to solve any old problem, they want you to solve their problem. The closer you can get to conveying a solution to an individual scientist’s particular problem, the closer you’ll be to generating a lead and / or making a sale.
Yet how close to solving specific problems are life science marketers really getting? It is very common to see the same message sent repeatedly across different channels to different audiences. Even on life science company websites, where it is very easy to customize lots of content for specific needs, we most often see an incredible lack of targeting. While non-targeted messages still drive product and brand awareness, they do ensure that prospective customers will think of your products or brands on their own when a need is recognized (some more information on that topic can be found here). Therefore, a lot of marketing is effectively going to waste because it’s not the right message, and in many cases not delivered at the right time. The right message is the one that matches needs with what you have to offer.
Only a certain amount of market segmentation is practical. With too much segmentation, you end up tailoring messages and solutions to extremely small, niche audiences and going beyond the point of diminishing returns. However, few life science marketers have that problem. The far more common problem is leaving too much on the table – not segmenting the audience enough.
For example: If you’re going to be growing a cell line, ultimately you don’t care how well an arbitrary cell line grows on a given surface. You want to know if your cells, or at least highly similar cells, grow well on that surface. Life scientists do a ton of cell culture. The research component of the cell culture market (as opposed to cell therapeutics) is estimated to be worth about $600m, and we estimate the plasticware component of that alone to be almost 60% of that. That means about $350m are being spent by research laboratories just on cell culture plastics. That’s a very large market – about half the size of the market for sequencing instruments. And while there are many cell lines, there are certainly a lot of popular cell lines out there. But even for those popular cell lines, go around to the websites of manufacturers of cell culture plasticware and see how many provide information on the use of the popular cell lines with their plasticware. Look for application notes, data, protocols, anything. Chances are you won’t find it.
Scientists don’t want to waste their time trying solutions that may have worked for someone else who has a different application. They want solutions to their specific problems. The closer you come to demonstrating that your products will solve their particular problems, the closer you’ll be to generating a lead or a sale.
I’ve heard a lot of talk among certain groups of life science marketers recently along the lines of rethinking who the scientist really is. Specifically, that scientists are complex people just like anyone else, and that marketers who try to target them need to realize and embrace that (as if anyone thought that they were really just single-minded laboratory robots). I think this conversation is going far enough to risk derailing the necessary relevance of life science marketing.
A lot of this conversation is based around scientist-led efforts to redefine who scientists are. For example, the “This Is What A Scientist Looks Like” tumblr blog, or the ongoing #IAmScience movement that culminated in this video.
Of course scientists are more than just lab robots, but being scientists and pursuing scientific endeavors is the commonality that binds them together into a group of like interests and traits. There is a large difference between understanding your scientific audience and attempting to appeal to them as something other than scientists. If you put aside the scientific ties that bind them, you now have a giant undefinable group of wildly varying anybodies, and that’s not targetable.
The fact is we’re not selling them solutions for outside the lab. We’re selling them solutions for the lab. An analogous example: Xerox doesn’t portray people doing extracurricular activities outside the office because that’s not what they sell solutions for. They find innovative ways of portraying the problems of office life, such as accountants asking the Michelin Man to crunch numbers for accounts receivable while he throws tires are a giant gas station fuel dispenser monster. Xerox isn’t trying to redefine their audience, they’re trying to find innovative ways of portraying the problems they solve.
You don’t have to sacrifice relevance to gain appeal, and if you try to do so you will ultimately fail.
Contact forms are increasingly being used by life science companies (and web development companies) as a lead collection tool, but despite this very important function companies often don’t think through the design of contact forms well. For example, I was looking at a life science service company’s website today, and they had an extremely long contact form. There were about 12 fields for contact information – all required. While this is an extreme example, it does highlight the point very well. Contact forms are being misused by life science companies.
You may be thinking “Isn’t this focusing on minutiae? Contact forms aren’t that important.” If so, most people think like you. When designing a contact form they ask what information they would like to collect and that’s about it. That thinking, however, is completely backwards. Why? Contact form submissions, which essentially equate to leads, decrease dramatically the more fields you have. Evidence in a minute.
I’ve heard anecdotally that form submissions decrease between 20% and 50% for each field. That seems a bit exaggerated to me (anecdotes often are), so I looked into it. Thankfully, with creative Googling you can find a study on just about anything. A Chicago-based web dev outfit called Imaginary Landscape did our homework for us. They ran a pilot contact form on their website with 11 fields, then the next month decreased it to 4 fields. The results? They saw a 120% increase in their form submission rate. Conversely, this would mean a 62% decrease in submission rate when increasing from 4 fields to 11, or roughly a 12.5% decrease in submissions per additional field if we actually can apply an exponential mathematical model as the anecdotes would tell us we can.
It stands to reason, however, that as we make it easier to fill out the contact form, that we will lower the quality of the leads. There is almost always a trade-off between lead quality and lead quantity in any given situation in which leads are collected. However, scientists aren’t going to fill out a form and give out their contact info for no reason. We’ll simply get more people contacting us who are “on the fence” – and those are exactly the people that you want your salespeople to get in touch with so that they can sell them on your life science products and / or services.
Because of all these factors, life science companies and life science web designers must be minimalistic in their implementation of contact forms. Do not ask yourself what information you want from your customers, but rather what is the minimum amount of information you need to collect. Let your sales staff get on the phone and collect the rest after you have the lead in hand.
Why do scientists buy any given laboratory products? How do they make their purchasing decisions? That’s the magic question that all of us seek to answer. While there is no one answer, and what answers we can attribute are dynamic, there is something that holds true. To sell life science tools and other lab products, there needs to be value, and this value can come from many places, such as:
- Quality – value that comes from the product itself. The product may be more reliable, easier to use, technically superior to other products, etc. Scientists almost always desire reliable products that work on the first try and product consistent results. Building a great product is a big piece of the value equation.
- Service & Support – value that comes from your company. This is an ongoing effort to make sure your customers have everything they need to successfully use your product. For best results, your support to the customer should not only be reactive, but should include proactive support as well, especially to customers who are using a particular product or product line for the first time. While perhaps not as important as the quality of the product itself, this is another highly important piece of the value equation for laboratory tools. In a study performed by BioBM, over 60% of scientists reported having refused to order a laboratory product because of a previous experience with the manufacturer or distributor selling it.
- Marketing – perceived value created in the minds of scientists. The thing about value is that it either has to be experienced or communicated in order to be effective. Marketing is the communicator of that value, and how well you communicate that value will directly effect the perceived value of your products, especially for customers that have never used your products or dealt with your company before. If you haven’t communicated your product’s value, or if someone else hasn’t communicated it for you, scientists won’t recognize the value and therefore won’t buy your product.
If you fall short in one area of value creation, you can sometimes make up for it in another. For example, an imperfect product may be perfectly acceptable to a scientist so long as it is well-supported. Even if your product and support aren’t top-notch, but you make a compelling value proposition in your marketing and communicate it to a wide audience, your value will be understood and you’ll still get sales. (Note that the previous statements referring to lower value products be interpreted as lower value relative to similar products and not in absolute terms. Truly negative impressions of quality or support are difficult to overcome and you cannot be successful long-term if a high percentage of your customers are not satisfied.) The total perceived value is then weighed against the price and the customer’s price sensitivity when making the final purchasing decision.
Value comes from many places, and overall value is ultimately the driver of purchasing decisions made by life scientists. Understanding how to create and communicate value will make your laboratory research products, and your company, more successful.
As in most markets, players in the life science tools industry are always looking to get a squeeze a little more revenue out of their product lines. While price increases may erode demand and ultimately prove ineffective in helping the company’s bottom line, there are markets that are often under-served or overlooked by small life science companies. Efforts to expand into these markets often allow opportunities to grow revenues without much additional effort, and so long as your products would be a fit for the needs of the markets it could prove quite lucrative.
Small life science research tools companies often focus on their largest potential markets: pharma / biotech and academia. This focused approach leaves out a large swathe of potential customers as there are many other ancillary markets for life science tools. Forensic labs, food testing labs, environmental labs, and medical labs (at least for unregulated products / procedures) are all markets that may require little effort to expand into and are effectively less crowded due to many companies overlooking them.
Taking advantage of these often under-served markets may be as simple as creating new marketing communications directed at these markets and advertising through avenues that are higher-visibility within those markets. Product positioning can also be a major help. For example, developing protocols that are specific to the needs of those markets may differentiate your product from others who focus on more “mainstream” life science applications. You may be able to find distributors who specialize in certain markets and leverage their unique reach. Any of these things can be relatively low-cost, low-effort ways to expand your potential market size, and there are certainly other efficient ways to do so as well.
Chances are, there may be potential markets for your life science products that your company is not currently exploiting. Through marketing, distribution, and other means, you can take advantage of under-served markets and get more revenues out of your product lines.
Not all forms of life science marketing communications should be presumed to serve the same purpose and looked at in the same manner. Indeed, the audience themselves have a tendency to view various advertising platforms differently, and treat advertising on each platform according to their views of it. There are also technical considerations which make some platforms more suitable for branding and others for lead generation. By understanding the factors which come into play and how each method is likely to be perceived, we can align our life science marketing communications to be in line with our overall marketing strategy.
Generally, there is a large gap between digital and print advertising. Digital advertising is far more capable of easily promoting immediate action by allowing the process from advertisement viewing to lead generation and capture to be wholly smooth and uninterrupted. At no point do prospective customers ever have to get up from their computers. With print, calls to action are effectively asking customers to actively go and do something, be it make a phone call, go to a website, etc, and therefore are less effective for lead generation due to that additional motivational barrier. There are exceptions to this, however, as well as things that can do to augment any particular platform’s effectiveness at each. Print advertising, for example, can be made far more effective at lead generation by offering captivating promotions that provide additional incentive to take up a call to action. Digital advertising can be made more effective for branding through providing higher-value messages, such as in content marketing, and by increasing the quality of the advertisement itself (think along the lines of “production value” for movies). Social media marketing is an example of an exception to the rule. The rules of social media are different from most digital marketing and SMM is far more based around content, engagement, and other activities which are usually not geared towards short-term lead generation. Indeed, life science social media marketing efforts too heavily focused on traditional marketing and / or advertising are doomed to failure.
This understanding of various marketing platforms and their fit for different marketing purposes must then be reflected in the marketing communications across each platform. If we are looking for short-term revenues then we want to target platforms more amenable to lead generation and capture and design our marketing communications appropriately. For example, such marketing communications should have a strong call-to-action and, when possible, be directly actionable themselves (such as by being hyperlinked). If you are looking to improve your branding, then the marketing communication should make a broader, more generally positive sentiment about the company or product line, or provide value to the customer in ways that compliment and highlight a company’s competencies and products / services.
While not a dichotomy, many marketing platforms can be scaled based on their utility for lead generation or branding. By understanding the unique advantages of various marketing platforms, life science companies can better utilize those platforms to achieve their goals.
Almost all life science companies market via the internet these days. Of those, a vast majority have a method of capturing leads online – be it a contact form, an e-mail address, or even a post on the wall your company’s facebook page. Everyone always tried to have a fast response time to display their superior customer service to prospective customers, but it wasn’t until recently that we realized how important it is to have excellent response time to online leads.
A recent Harvard Business Review study found that online leads go cold incredibly quickly. Quoting the article: “Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.” Wow. This data implies that companies that responded in 24 hours or more are potentially losing 98% of their sales from online leads.
Not to say we shouldn’t take that information with at least a little independent thought of our own. This information was compiled by tracking leads across 42 different companies in no particular sector, and includes both B2B and B2C sales leads. I can personally speak from my own experience both as a former scientist and as one who sold to them that scientists act more deliberately than the average consumer and therefore leads likely don’t go cold quite as fast. Still, even if you apply such an assumption, the data is still overwhelmingly supportive of cutting your lead response time down to a few hours at most.
The researchers go on to offer some reasons as to why companies aren’t responding faster to online leads: “Reasons include the practice of retrieving leads from CRM systems’ databases daily rather than continuously; sales forces focused on generating their own leads rather than reacting quickly to customer-driven signs of interest; and rules for distributing sales leads among agents and partners based on geography and “fairness.” ”
What is your company’s average or median response time? Do you keep track of it? If not, this data certainly encourages you to do so. After all, you wouldn’t want to be the company losing 98% of its leads.