Inbound Marketing in the Life Sciences

For many marketers in the life sciences, the phrase “inbound marketing” is a new concept. Others are familiar with it. And a small minority is already implementing a full-scale inbound marketing initiative. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, you should know about inbound marketing because, when done well, it can generate a stream of well-qualified, inbound leads. One of the many ways inbound marketing is accomplished is through social media. Many entrepreneurs use apps like Facebook live, Zoom, along with their zoom virtual background images, and try to reach maximum number of people.

You should know about inbound marketing; when done well, it can generate a steady stream of well-qualified, inbound leads.The concept of “inbound marketing” is new enough that marketers haven’t settled on a single standard definition yet. Wikipedia says: “Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.” While this definition captures many of the key aspects of inbound marketing in the life sciences, it misses many important elements. We’ll see in a minute that any successful inbound marketing program really requires the carefully crafted interaction of many distinct components, so a definition of inbound marketing is less important than a clear delineation of what these components are, and how they interact.

No matter what your definition, the phrase inbound marketing suggests a tantalizing vision: a river of well-qualified leads with purchase orders in hand, heading your way. But this vision, as seductive as it may be, is not at all simple to achieve. There is a lot of hype surrounding inbound marketing in the life sciences, and seeing past all the glitz and flashing lights requires a special sort of “dual-focus.” You have to zoom in to scrutinize – and measure – the details of your individual tactics while simultaneously zooming out to consider – and optimize – the big picture. You also need to examine your marketing efforts both from the outside-in (taking an audience-centric view) and from the inside-out (optimizing your own inbound marketing strategies and tactics).

Inbound marketing requires a special sort of “dual-focus.” If you focus on only one level, you’ll miss the interactions and the synergies that can ensure success.Only by adopting these multiple viewpoints can you see, measure and control what is necessary for inbound life science marketing success. We’ll start with one particular viewpoint: the outside-in view of a prospect.

A case study of inbound marketing in the life sciences

Sales and marketing are changing, rapidly and dramatically. To visualize these changes, let’s imagine that somewhere, Susan and Joe work for a life science company that is getting ready to start the process of finding, comparing, selecting and negotiating the purchase of a product or service just like the one your organization currently sells.

Susan wants to make a good choice, so she asks Joe to find and compare suppliers. Ultimately, she wants him to compile a list of possible suppliers, develop a list of criteria, and use those criteria to eliminate the unsuitable options. In the end, she wants a “short-list” of well-qualified suppliers so she can choose a single, preferred supplier.

Think about Joe and Susan. Do they know exactly what they want? Are they aware of the latest trends in this sector’s products and services? Do they already have their selection criteria firmly in place? Can they identify the top suppliers, and what their relative advantages and disadvantages are?

Inbound marketing can work well when the product or service for sale is a significant expenditure, when closing the deal involves a salesperson and when the buying cycle is long. For most life science buyers the answer is no, particularly when the product or service is a significant expenditure, when closing the deal involves a salesperson, and when the buying cycle is long. Joe and Susan are looking for a supplier because they don’t already have the desired product, or this service isn’t part of their core competency. Otherwise, they’d be doing this themselves, not looking for a partner.

Given this lack of knowledge, what is Joe going to do? He’s going to research this sector. The first place he turns is to his trusty search engine. He might also reach out to his network of associates, asking for recommendations.

What Joe finds is staggering. One search yields hundreds of thousands of results in a fraction of a second. It’s easy for him to be overwhelmed, especially if he isn’t an expert.

As a result, one of the things Joe is searching for is clarity. He’s looking for insight and information to help him make a choice. He’s finding plenty of sales information of the “why you should buy from us” variety which Joe ignores. He knows this content is biased towards the seller, and he doesn’t need propaganda, he needs help in qualifying suppliers and their products and services.

The rise of the anonymous shopper in the life sciences

As Joe searches online, he’s constantly making qualifying decisions. Like most typical search engine users, he’s not going to look too far down the list of search results. In fact, 87% of all searchers click on one of the top 5 results. ( So suppliers with poor search engine results won’t even be on Joe’s radar screen. And these life science suppliers never even know that Joe is searching. He won’t show up on their web site analytics, because he never even visits their web site.

When he does visit web sites, Joe won’t linger too long, unless he finds what he’s looking for quickly. So suppliers with sites that have poor navigation or poor design won’t make it to Joe’s short list. These suppliers might know that someone visited, but they won’t know that it is Joe; he comes and leaves quickly. The only trace is a higher web site “bounce rate.”

Google reports “…business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.”Joe learns as he goes. His searches get more sophisticated. As they do, the search engines serve Joe pay-per-click (PPC) ads that are tailored responses to his search queries. Whether or not Joe clicks on a PPC bidding solutions ad or an “organic” result, many of the links he chooses take him to specific landing pages deep inside a supplier’s web site. These landing pages have content that the search engine believes is relevant to Joe’s life science search query. But as Joe gets more knowledgeable about what he’s looking for, he is better able to judge the content that the web sites are serving him. Those sites with poor content, “me-too” content, or content that is too sales-focused won’t grab Joe’s attention. He might visit the site and even stay awhile, but then he leaves. This supplier might see a healthy “time on site” metric in their analytics, but not much more.

As he searches online, Joe wants to remain anonymous. After all, he doesn’t want to fend off hundreds of phone calls from salespeople, at least not until he knows enough to ask qualifying questions to help him narrow the field. So he is researching without letting life science suppliers know that he’s shopping.

Joe is not alone in looking for information and wanting to remain anonymous. In fact, Google (you’ve heard of them?) has done quite a bit of research on this topic. Google reports “… our research has shown that, on average, business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.”

To summarize: Joe and Susan are shopping. They’re ideal customers, but you don’t even know they’re shopping and you certainly don’t know who they are. What could be worse?

The death of information asymmetry and what it means for inbound marketing in the life sciences.

In his latest book To Sell is Human, Dan Pink introduces a concept he calls “information asymmetry.” He notes that sales people used to have access to and control over information that the buyer needed to make a purchase decision. Because the seller had information the buyer didn’t, there was information asymmetry. Access to “restricted” information gave the seller increased power in the buy-sell relationship.

With the almost complete disappearance of “information asymmetry,” the rules of sales and marketing have shifted dramatically.Information asymmetry, so prevalent two decades ago, has largely disappeared (thanks to the internet). To be found, to be seen as relevant and finally to be trusted, organizations now have to give away information they used to keep under tight control. This is the phenomenon of content marketing, which I have written about extensively.

In a world of almost complete information symmetry, buyers don’t need to contact sellers directly until late in the process. Google puts it best: “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.”

To summarize: you don’t know that Joe and Susan are shopping, and not only that, they’re forming their opinions without any input from you. So if and when they contact you, they’ve already decided what they want to buy. Now they’re just looking for prices. Since you are entering the buying discussion very late, you have very little chance to influence their thinking.

Inbound marketing in the life sciences

Let’s return to Joe. As part of his search, he visits dozens of web sites. Many have Calls-to-Action, that is, a request for him to take some action, such as download a whitepaper, or sign up for a webinar. Of course, Joe won’t do this every time he’s asked. On many sites, he just visits and leaves. But on one or two sites, he finds helpful information. These sites are well designed, with clear navigation. It’s easy to find what he needs, and the content that’s available is unique, relevant and educational, without being sales focused.

If Joe is shopping, but you don’t know, how can you possibly influence his decision-making?

On one company’s site (let’s call them XYZ, Inc.) much of this content is available for free (which is why the search engines could find it and direct Joe to it in the first place). However, in some cases Joe has to trade his contact information for access to the offered content. Once Joe does this, XYZ can begin to build a profile of Joe. XYZ can now track every page Joe visits on the web site, how long he stays on each page, and the content he downloads.

Because XYZ’s life science content is relevant, unique and educational, Joe is more likely to share it, sending it on to Susan. In this way XYZ can reach beyond the gatekeeper (Joe) to the decision maker (Susan), influencing their thinking and their criteria for an ideal supplier.

By measuring and tracking Joe’s browsing habits on their site, XYZ can judge Joe’s interest in individual services or products. XYZ can use this information to remarket to Joe. For example, Joe can be sent an invitation to attend a webinar related to the white paper he’s already downloaded. XYZ can also build a profile of Joe, asking for a little bit of information each time he answers a call to action, such as signing up for a webinar or downloading some content.

Conversion from a prospect to a visitor to a lead – inbound marketing in the life sciences.

Joe, who started out as an unknown prospect, has been transformed to a visitor – in part by the interaction of “magnetic” content with good PPC (pay-per-click) and SEO (search engine optimization), all of which interact to make XYZ’s site rank highly and enable Joe to find the content he’s seeking. Not only has Joe visited the site, he’s been retained there (in part) through great site design and magnetic content, which converts him from a one-time visitor to a more frequent site user.

The correct inbound marketing tactics can convert Joe from a prospect to a visitor to a lead – passing this well-qualified lead on to the sales department.

Joe is ultimately converted from a site user to a lead, by (in part) trading content that is unique, relevant and compelling for a bit of Joe’s personal information. And by tracking and measuring Joe’s on-line behavior, XYZ can learn more and more about Joe, and ask for additional personal information, building a profile of his role, his responsibilities and his interests.

XYZ can track Joe and nurture him through the buying process using highly efficient marketing automation software. This ensures that each visitor is nurtured according to their individual stage of the buying process.

Once Joe shows enough interest, the XYZ marketing department passes his profile along to the sales department. Inside XYZ, the marketing and sales departments are now aligned around common goals. Marketing’s responsibility is seen as attracting, nurturing and qualifying leads, while Sale’s responsibility is continuing the qualification process and closing the appropriate deals. As Google says: “It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57 percent of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact…”

In the parlance of inbound marketing, Joe has been converted from a prospect to a visitor to a lead. And when the sales department calls him, he’s much more likely to take the call. After all, he has already shown quite a bit of interest in XYZ, their offering and their content. Joe is now more inclined to listen to the salesperson, who works for a company that Joe has come to trust. The sales department can now qualify Joe more completely.

Google says, “It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57 percent of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact…”This kind of situation happens every day on the web. In fact, it is the new reality of marketing. When Joe and Susan started shopping, they didn’t know about XYZ and XYZ didn’t know about them. But by following many of the best practices of inbound marketing, XYZ increased their chances of converting Joe and Susan from a prospect to a visitor to a lead, to a well-qualified lead and ultimately to a customer.

Joe is a good example of inbound marketing at work. Prospects are out looking and shopping anyway, and inbound marketing focuses on attracting them to get their attention. In the analogy of hunting, inbound marketing fills a trap with attractive bait and sets it in places that prospects are known to frequent. Outbound marketing sprays the landscape with bullets, hoping to hit a prospect.

This is the allure of inbound life science marketing: a steady stream of well-qualified leads, heading your way.

The difference between theory and practice in inbound marketing in the life sciences.

The situation with Joe and Susan sounds simple, and it is, in theory. But as Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Creating an effective inbound life science marketing campaign requires close attention to detail while also considering the big picture.

The fable of Joe and Susan has an interesting moral. It wasn’t any one thing that XYZ did that helped nurture Joe and Susan from prospect to visitor to lead to well qualified lead. It was a combination of things, a specific combination in specific proportions. This is the hard truth of inbound marketing in the life sciences. As we’ll see in our next issue, it’s not enough to have some content, an SEO campaign and a web site. There are many factors that affect the success of your inbound marketing efforts. Some are obvious, and some might appear obscure.

Marketing automation is simple in theory, but in practice, it’s the interaction of all these moving parts that spells the difference between success and failure.

Next month, we’ll examine the mechanics of inbound marketing more closely from the perspective of the life science marketing department. We’ll detail the approach needed for effective inbound marketing. And we’ll see how the various components of inbound marketing reinforce each other, interacting to drive results.

If you need help creating effective inbound marketing results for your life science organization, call us.