Life science marketing is getting more complex as prospects get more elusive

The world is changing. Shopper and buyers are getting more elusive. It’s harder to reach people and to influence them, isn’t it? In our last issue we discussed the rise of the “anonymous” B2B life science shopper – the one who uses the power of the internet to research alternatives, form opinions, learn technical specifications, and build requirements lists without stepping out of the shadows.

As we reported last month, Google has done quite a bit of research on this topic. What they found is so

It’s getting harder to reach people and influence them, which is one reason Google states, “It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57 percent of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact. “significant that it is worth repeating: “… our research has shown that, on average, business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete. That means for nearly two thirds of the buying process, your customers are out in the ether: Forming opinions, learning technical specifications, building requirements lists, and narrowing down their options, all on their own, with minimal influence from you.” They go on: “So what’s wrong with waiting for customers to come to us? Because by the time they do, they have hardened expectations about what they want out of a supplier – and at that point, your job is to take their order and fill it for the lowest price.” Which is why they state unequivocally: “It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57 percent of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact.”  (see for the complete article).

This call to action couldn’t be clearer. The changes in the way people are shopping (researching, evaluating and selecting) requires a fundamental alteration in the way we market and sell to them. From a tactical standpoint, instead of bombarding your life science audiences with messages in the hopes that some might

The changes in the way life science prospects are researching, evaluating and selecting requires that we change the way we market and sell to them.stick (outbound marketing), you have to lure your audiences to you (inbound marketing). While this sounds simple, the execution is more complex than you might first believe. We’ll cover this tactical execution in detail in our next issue.

In this issue, we want to talk about something more fundamental: inbound marketing requires at least two shifts in your thinking. The first of these: you must shift the way you think about how value is exchanged during the buying cycle.

Promotional activities lead to a single exchange of value in life science marketing

The shift from outbound to inbound marketing requires that the Marketing function abandons its previous methodology – simple interruption-based promotional activities – and enter into deeper relationships with customers-to-be. In the past, life science marketers were essentially trying to steal prospects’ attention by interrupting them. In return, they provided very little value, outside of the traditional promotional

The business environment is changing, digital technologies are changing and the relationship between buyers and sellers is changing. Interruption-based promotional activities are no longer enough.messages. There wasn’t much of real value in an ad, a piece of direct mail, a trade show booth, or in the majority of traditional marketing tactics. If you disagree with that statement, ask yourself how many of these outbound promotional pieces actually got saved by the prospects because they were seen as valuable.

With so little value having been provided by the Marketing function, it’s fair to say that the only value a life science prospect received during the entire buying cycle was the product or service they purchased ­– at the end of the buying cycle.

For many life science organizations, I’ve just described the current state of the art for marketing tactics: no value, just promotion. Despite changes in the life science business environment, the way digital technologies support the buying cycle and even the relationship between buyers and sellers, they continue to rely on simple interruption-based promotional activities. This is unfortunate, not to mention cripplingly ineffective.

Inbound life science marketing is built on multiple value exchanges

In contrast, inbound marketing is based on an expanded series of exchanges of value that are completed well before any sale is consummated. During these exchanges, the organization offers information and insight in exchange for attention (first), trust (second) and permission (third). The information and insight offered by the organization takes the form of life science thought leadership (relevant, unique, valuable content). It is exchanged for three things, in a specific order. First, the prospect gives the organization their attention. In today’s world, this attention has real value (which is implied by the phrase: “paying” attention). Based in large part on the value received, the prospect then gives the organization their trust. The fact that they trust the organization is made clear when they take the third step, giving the organization permission – as in, “Yes, I’ll give you my email address and thereby give you permission to start a dialog with me.”

There are new exchanges of value occurring during the sales cycle, well before the traditional exchange of product/service for money. These new exchanges will drive the future of life science marketing.

These exchanges are just the tip of the iceberg. As we’ve seen in previous issues, buyers need education, inspiration and reassurance as they progress through the buying cycle. The dialog that you establish with prospects gives you the framework to supply this education, inspiration and reassurance; providing value to the prospect.

Judging from the life science web sites we’ve visited recently, there is a clear demarcation between the organizations that recognize these multiple exchanges of value and those that don’t. For those that don’t, there are several common errors.

  • There are sites with no thought leadership on them. Without offering value to shoppers, how do they expect to attract and retain life science visitors?
  • There are sites with sales material that is trying to masquerade as thought leadership. Life science visitors may come once, but unless they find something of value, they won’t be back.
  • There are sites with thought leadership, but all of it is gated, requiring the life science visitor to supply their email address. This puts the cart before the horse by assuming that the contact information is somehow more important than establishing trust and a dialog.

In contrast, high-performance life science organizations recognize the multiple exchanges of value between a life science organization and a customer-to-be.

High-performance life science organizations understand – and are able to harness – the multiple exchanges of value with a customer-to-be.

The traditional exchange of value (the purchase) happens at the end of the buying cycle – as products or services are exchanged for money. For high-cost, long-sales-cycle products or services, the responsibility for this exchange falls under the purview of the Sales function.

The other exchanges (in which thought leadership is traded for attention, trust, and permission to start a dialog) happen before the traditional one. These exchanges occur as the prospect is “shopping:” researching, comparing, evaluating, learning, forming opinions, and narrowing down their options. These early exchanges are less physical and more ethereal, but they are no less real and no less valuable than those in which products or services are bought and paid for. These early exchanges are the responsibility of the Marketing function. They increase the engagement between a life science organization and the prospect. Ultimately they lead to a dialog, which precedes and facilitates the ultimate sale.

“Currencies of exchange” facilitate inbound marketing in the life sciences

There are multiple “currencies” at work in these early exchanges. That is, there are multiple things (in addition to money) the life science organization and prospects have to offer each other. The organization wants money. To nurture prospects to a point in the buying cycle where they are willing to pay, the organization offers thought leadership. In contrast, the prospect wants products or services, and enough information and insight to make a good purchase decision. To get to a point in the buying cycle where they are ready to buy, the prospect needs access to valuable, unique information and insight. In exchange, they offer attention, trust, permission and ultimately money.

These early exchanges drive inbound marketing and are fundamental to the future of marketing in the life sciences. Your focus must widen to support these early exchanges, or you’ll never nurture the prospect to the ultimate exchange – a completed sale. This “broader focus” is the first shift you must make in your thinking; the second one is the way you think about the relationship between Sales and Marketing.

The shifting relationship between Sales and Marketing in the life sciences

The seismic shift in power away from sellers and towards buyers is opening the door to a corresponding shift in the relationship between Marketing and Sales. A properly executed inbound marketing initiative will tighten this integration. Here’s how. In the past, when Marketing was only performing outbound, interruption-based promotional activities, the typical complaint from Sales focused on the quality of the leads being developed: “You’re giving us lousy leads.” Simultaneously, the typical complaint from Marketing focused on the perception that Sales wouldn’t ever follow up on and close the leads that were handed off: “You never do anything with the leads we give you.”

Inbound marketing allows (and even encourages) the tighter integration between Sales and Marketing.

Interruption-based marketing tactics seldom resulted in enough information to adequately profile or qualify a prospect. So it’s no wonder the Sales function was annoyed: the leads were not well qualified. And without well-qualified leads (and a clear understanding of the buying cycle), Sales couldn’t close them. It’s no wonder the Marketing function was annoyed.

As the Google quote so clearly states, generating and qualifying a steady stream of inbound leads should be the responsibility of Marketing. Once the leads have been identified and qualified, nurturing them will be the responsibility of both Sales and Marketing, depending upon where those leads are in the buying cycle. Early stage opportunities – stages one and two in the buying cycle (Precontemplation and Contemplation) – will be nurtured primarily by Marketing. Later-stage opportunities – stages three and four in the buying cycle (Planning and Action) – will be nurtured and then closed by Sales.

A well-implemented inbound marketing campaign allows the Marketing function to nurture prospects from their earliest indications of interest. In fact, given the multiple exchanges of value that are now occurring, the Marketing function must track, profile, segment, nurture, score and flag prospects. How else will prospects be separated into those that need attention right now, and those that are just “kicking the tires?” To put this another way, how else will prospects be qualified?

A well-integrated inbound marketing campaign nurtures prospects from their earliest indication of interest.

By handing off well-qualified leads, Marketing is delivering what Sales needs to be successful. Sales and Marketing can now be aligned around the same set of goals, linked by common metrics. The conversation shifts from “The leads you give us are horrible,” to “Let’s talk about when in the buying cycle the leads should be handed off.” And this is rapidly followed by, “What can we do to drive more people through the sales cycle?” Sales and Marketing are now more aligned.

Inbound marketing for the life sciences requires shifting your thinking and your behavior

Successful inbound marketing in the life science requires two shifts in your thinking, backed by corresponding shifts in your behaviors. The first shift springs from the recognition that there are now multiple exchanges of value during the buying cycle. During the earliest exchanges your prospect may be anonymous. Nevertheless, you have to support these multiple exchanges, providing education, inspiration and reassurance, primarily through unique thought leadership (backed by a host of other tactics).

The second shift is a realignment of the way Sales and Marketing work together to nurture leads. The goal is a steady stream of well-qualified inbound leads. Of course, you might get a steady stream of qualified leads by requiring the Sales department to make lots and lots and lots of outbound phone calls. But we all know that the quality of the resulting conversations will be very different if the leads are the result of inbound demand rather than of outbound solicitation or simple promotion. Because inbound leads are interested enough to take action, they are better qualified, and are much more likely to result in a closed sale than leads coming from outbound promotion.

Inbound marketing in the life sciences requires integration

As sellers gain power, marketers have to work smarter. And their campaigns have to be more integrated. Nothing is a better example of this than inbound marketing, which depends – more than almost any other marketing activity – on the interaction of many marketing tactics, all working together synergistically.

As sellers gain power, marketers have to work smarter.

In our next issue, we’ll lay out these synergistic interactions. We’ll attempt to strip away much of the hype surrounding inbound marketing and specify the key components and the specific approaches needed for effective inbound marketing efforts in the life sciences.

If you need help creating effective inbound marketing results, call us.