By Sheila Burns
Building a successful life science company today is more challenging than it has ever been. Increases in company consolidations, decreases in workforce resources, and shortfalls in federal funding and reimbursement have caused life science marketers to seek new ways to increase their customers’ share of wallet.
Product offerings in the life sciences can be both regulated and unregulated, depending on how close the product comes to actual patient care. Life science research is largely unregulated and affords scientists the opportunity to explore the mechanisms of a pathway or disease. As products move into the clinic, either a diagnostic, medical device or pharmaceutical, regulatory bodies govern the claims, manufacturing and use of the product. Thus, marketers must think strategically about the positioning of their products and the future direction to take.
There are three main categories of challenges marketers face in the life sciences. First is the need for long term strategic planning; second, the requirement for more significant product innovation; and finally, the importance of getting closer to the customer.
Practice Long Term Strategic Planning
As regulatory challenges increase with the FDA and issues arise such as access to sufficient patient samples, it is important to plan the product path early on. Does the product have the potential to make an impact in the life science research market and transition into the clinic? Does it have a future as a “bench to bedside” product? Is there a clear path to reimbursement? Are reimbursement codes in place and are they applicable to the offering? Mapping this pathway early on aligns organizational resources, budget expectations and the rate of market adoption.
Provide True Innovation
Incremental improvements are not enough for today’s scientific community. Customers need more than small time savings, decreases in workflow or an increase in sensitivity to change their purchasing behavior. As products are validated in the lab, it requires investments in both time and money to revalidate a product or process. A marketer can help the company achieve a truly innovative product by representing the voice of the customer during the development process.
Get Closer to the Customer
The life science market is a global community. Scientists and technicians are working in laboratories at all hours of the day and night. Therefore, it is important to provide a clear path of access to products, supporting data and ordering information.
1. Provide 24/7 access – The global life science community is working around the clock, seven days a week. Having an intuitive, easy to navigate web site populated with white papers, technical references, protocols and competitive comparisons reaches customers when and where they need information. Using electronic marketing to showcase new products and ideas enhances electronic presence. It is important to keep content current and updated.
2. Ensure sales and marketing alignment – It is essential to hire seasoned sales reps that have established contacts. Although this talent can be expensive, it is an investment that will have immediate return. The established customer relationships and knowledge of the laboratories goals and challenges is essential. More than ever before, marketing must align with sales by hearing the voice of their customers and providing customized tools addressing these specific needs. Using outbound marketing programs to nurture leads through the cycle and provide real time, tailored support to help close these leads is key to building a symbiotic relationship between the teams with a mutual understanding of the customer. In addition, it is essential for marketing to leave the office and visit customer sites. The days of marketing from the office and visiting trade shows as a sole source of customer touch are quickly disappearing.
3. Measure performance – Are processes working? Was the last marketing campaign successful? Create a dashboard to measure the key success factors of the product. It is essential for marketers to understand what is working and not working. Having visibility allows one to adjust those activities that are not effective in order to quickly replace them with more valuable pursuits. Dashboards should measure sales numbers, provide visibility for the lead funnel, track competitive activities, highlight product issues and showcase the effectiveness of marketing activities such as: promotional campaigns, web, social media, and trade shows.
Having a sound product strategy and a clear commercialization path is essential for success in the life science market. This aligns the organization and helps set milestones and goals. It is essential that marketers represent the voice of the customer within the company to guide R&D in developing a product that will be embraced in the competitive marketplace. Offering a product that has substantial advantages in workflow, cost or results will foster adoption.
Finally, get closer to understanding the customer. Be available when needed by providing a strong sales team, robust technical web site and third party customer white papers. Although company generated data is required, a key opinion leader in the field is invaluable. Making an upfront investment in representing the customer internally and providing the tools they need for adoption will ensure success in this dynamic market.
Sheila Burns is the managing director of Building 12Communications, a marketing strategy, brand development and commercialization firm in Austin. Sheila has over 25 years of experience in the life sciences market and has held senior level positions at Thermo Fisher Scientific and Applied Biosystems/LIFE Technologies. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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