Entering the life science market: a review of eight things you should know.

As I covered in the last issue, there are eight things about entering the life science market that you should know. Please remember that I am not considering health care and insurance—these are separate sectors subject to very different market pressures.

As a recap, here are the eight things you should know when entering the life science market.

  1. The life science sector is both deep and broad. You must pay close attention to the specific sector you are targeting.
  2. Much of the life science market focuses on one or more stages of the drug and medical device development chain, from discovery and pre-clinical to clinical testing and post-approval.
  3. The various sectors are growing at different rates. There are many factors that are driving growth, and some that are shifting growth from one sector to another.
  4. The life science market experiences constant innovation, which appears in two ways: innovation in the technology that makes up the solution, and innovation in the understanding of the specifics of the challenge being tackled. The presence of both of these is part of what makes the sector unique.
  5. The life science market is a vast ecosystem of suppliers and customers. No longer is the market vertically integrated, dominated by a few large corporations controlling everything. Coming out of the recession, there is a significant amount of M&A activity.
  6. Different parts of the life science marketplace are subject to different amounts of regulatory scrutiny. The closer a product or service is to the end of the drug and medical device development chain, the tighter the regulations and the greater the scrutiny. Of course, this is a general statement, and each sector is affected by regulations differently.
  7. Global competition and cost sensitivity are rising, hand in hand.
  8. Different sectors in the life science sector have different tolerances for risk. Increased regulatory oversight typically brings reduced tolerance for risk.

I covered these eight factors in the last issue. Now, let’s turn our attention to the audiences that make up the life science market.

Entering the life science market: There isn’t one audience, there are many audiences.

Even within any particular sector in the life sciences, there is no single audience; there are many audiences. I use the plural form of the word deliberately. Many different people can influence the decision to purchase. This obviously applies to big-ticket items – such as a gene sequencer,

No can afford the luxury of focusing on a single audience type to the exclusion of all others.a flow cytometer, or a Phase II clinical trial – but it is also true of much less expensive products and services.

You don’t have to look very far to find examples, such as one life science company that sells reagents and enzymes typically costing less than a few hundred dollars. Even at this reasonably low price point, they have identified and profiled up to seven different types of audiences within a typical lab. In another example, a maker of lab supplies has identified several different types of buyers and decision influencers, each with its own role and amount of influence over the buying process.

The point I’m making is that no can afford the luxury of focusing on a single audience type to the exclusion of all others. Multiple audience types must be considered, identified and profiled to ensure that all of the important buying-process participants are being addressed.

Entering the life science market: Shoppers and buyers are retreating into the anonymity of the Internet.

For large-ticket B2B purchases, some interesting research by Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council shows that potential buyers are retreating into the anonymity of the Internet. Google reports: “Our research has shown that…today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. That means that 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 input from you.” (Source: http://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/b2b-digital-evolution.html)

The report spells out the implications of this: “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. They’re learning on their own, and there’s no room to teach them why what they’ve taught themselves is wrong.”

If you had to make a significant purchase, how would you proceed? You wouldn’t reach out to a salesperson until you had already formed some opinions. If you don’t believe Google, think about your own behavior. If you had to make a significant purchase, how would you proceed? If you’re like most people, you’d go to two sources—first, your colleagues, and second, your favorite search engine. You wouldn’t reach out to a salesperson until you had already formed some opinions and had some questions to which you couldn’t find the answers.

Entering the life science market: Shoppers and buyers are narrowing the gate through which they’ll let you approach.

As if it’s not enough that buyers are retreating, your audiences are also narrowing the gate through which they will let you approach. That is, your audiences are losing their attention span, while demanding information that is more and more tailored to their specific needs. In fact, a study of over 7000 buyers

“…bored in on what makes consumers ‘sticky’—that is, likely to follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others. We looked at the impact on stickiness of more than 40 variables, including price, customers’ perceptions of a brand, and how often consumers interacted with the brand. The single biggest driver of stickiness, by far, was ‘decision simplicity’—the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product and confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options. What consumers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity.” (Source: http://hbr.org/2012/05/to-keep-your-customers-keep-it-simple/ar/1)

You no longer have the luxury of long-winded communications to reach your audiences; you must get their attention quickly.

You must then hold their attention. And you can’t do this by droning on and on for pages and pages, or hours and hours. They will click away, searching for a source that provides them exactly what they want, in the form they want it.

Buyers are getting harder to find and harder to target. In short, buyers are getting harder to find and harder to target. This is true of buyers in every sector, and the life sciences are no exception.

Entering the life science market: audiences think themselves immune to marketing.

So, you’ve got many audiences, and they are all retreating and closing the gate through which they will let you approach. But wait – there’s more!

It is important to understand that many audience members are technically trained; many are scientists, but there are other types with other technical training as well. As I’ve written elsewhere, this technical and scientific training often introduces a bias—a deep skepticism towards marketing. Many doubt that marketing’s effects can be measured or proven. More importantly, many believe their rational approach to the world somehow gives them immunity against marketing’s effects.

Technically trained audiences are not alone in their skepticism. Most people have a multi-faceted attitude towards marketing; they are skeptical of its effects, while at the same time believing themselves to be immune to its obvious and overt pressures – and possibly even harboring some deep concern that marketing might actually be able to manipulate them against their better judgment.

Can marketing “manipulate” us? That is subject to some debate. However, there is some clear research that demonstrates that you don’t even have to consciously be aware of marketing for it to affect you. In other words, even subliminal exposure can affect your behavior. But it can only reinforce existing states; it is not thought to be possible to create a new motivated state via exposure to marketing. In other words, the fears of marketing’s ability to manipulate people into doing something they would not otherwise want to do are unfounded.

Though audiences believe themselves to be immune, when these people begin to embark on a purchase process of their own, where do they turn? They ask colleagues for recommendations, and they turn next to the Internet, both of which can be directly affected by marketing. It does little good to point this out, of course. They remain skeptical, convinced that marketing has no effect on them.

But if your audiences believe themselves immune to marketing, you have to approach them in a way that doesn’t “feel” like marketing. How do you do this? Many scientists try to accomplish this by using data and details.

Entering the life science market: technically trained marketers often put an inordinate amount of emphasis on data.

In addition to their skepticism, people with technical or scientific training often put an inordinate emphasis on data. This emphasis comes from a scientific worldview that values completeness and “answering every question” over the ease of comprehension. Scientists who author peer-reviewed papers do not care how long it might take a reader to work through the paper; the focus is on being complete and thorough, not on being easily comprehended. That approach works in a peer review environment, but does not work when buyers are retreating and narrowing the gate.

As an example of this over-reliance on data, we were once approached by a company that wanted to print a single graph on the back of all their business cards, on the home page of their web site, and on their trade show booth. They claimed the graph encapsulated some amazing science and deep insight into the science behind the risk for a particular disease state.

And so it did. But when we asked them what the graph meant to their audience, they couldn’t tell the story in less than half an hour. It was no surprise that this company hadn’t made sales numbers in four years: they couldn’t tell a compelling story that fit into a form (or timespan) the audience could consume.

Data can be useful. Data can be accurate and true. But data by itself won’t sell. Data can be useful. Data can be accurate and true. But data by itself won’t sell. They have to be encapsulated in a form that the audience is willing to accept.

Entering the life science market: technically trained marketers often put an inordinate amount of emphasis on the details.

People who are technically trained tend to put the focus on the details. This focus is part of the scientific worldview. But this focus only supports the last stage of the buying cycle (the stage of action, where audiences need reassurance). Unfortunately, it does not support the first two (precontemplation, and contemplation, where audiences need education and inspiration). You can read more about the buying cycle here.

As people progress through the buying cycle, they need education, inspiration and reassurance, in turn. Education should be focused on providing a general overview, so that the details can be placed into context. Inspiration should be focused on how your prospects’ situations can be markedly improved through benefits that you offer. Both of these types of communications should be short and to the point. It is only when audiences get ready to buy that they need the reassurance that details can provide.

If a strong emphasis on data and details is not the answer, how do we reach our audiences?

Entering the life science market: unique, valuable content is magnetic and will draw audiences to you.

The importance of marketing is rising. But I’m not talking about marketing in the old fashioned sense. The implications of the buyers’ retreat are clear: The importance of marketing is rising. But I’m not talking about marketing in the old fashioned sense—where a marketing vice-president exclaims, “I need to let my audience know about our new features, let’s run some ads.”

Drawing an analogy between marketing and hunting, this old-fashioned type of “push” marketing is like shooting randomly, hoping to hit a target that happens to be wandering by. For push marketing, the bigger and flashier the ammunition, the more likely it is to hit something (that is, to get attention). That’s why corporations will pay millions of dollars for a single spot on a Super Bowl broadcast. But once the ad runs, its effectiveness is over.

In contrast, the marketing most likely to reach retreating audiences is not “push” marketing, but marketing built on “pull.” As audiences retreat and narrow the gate, you must switch your approach. Rather than yelling more loudly to attract your audiences’ attention, you must draw them to you. You must now lure customers with relevant, unique thought leadership. To be effective, you don’t want to be flashier, you want to be more and more relevant to a very targeted audience. Unlike advertising, unique and relevant content can continue to draw audiences to you, long after the date of first publication.

I have written about content marketing extensively elsewhere. Any content marketing effort must be built on a deep understanding of the audience’s needs. It demands a steady, long-term effort. And it requires that you give away much of your thinking. Thought leadership that is hidden behind an “email gate” will never get seen by the search engines, so they can’t in turn direct audiences to it.

Entering the life science market: the relationship between marketing and sales is changing.

As buyers retreat and narrow the gate, more and more power shifts away from the seller and towards the buyer. Daniel Pink, in his book To Sell is Human, named this phenomenon caveat venditor—let the seller beware. This shift comes from the wide availability of relevant information. No longer can the sales function rely on the power that accrues from a monopoly on information. And no longer can marketing be responsible only for spraying some messages out into the environment, hoping to attract some attention. 

Power shifts away from the seller and towards the buyer.

No longer can the sales and marketing function ignore each other. The shift in power from the seller to the buyer requires a corresponding shift between the marketing and sales function. Sales and marketing must now align. The messages that the marketing function uses to draw audiences closer must be reinforced by the sales function when individual audience members metaphorically raise their hands to get noticed. Otherwise the audiences will be receiving inconsistent, confused messages, which will destroy trust and derail the buying process.

Marketing’s role has expanded beyond simply spraying messages out into the environment, like the town crier of old. Marketing’s new role includes three fundamentally different activities.

Marketing must now be responsible for attracting and then nurturing audience members, and for doing whatever it can to track and then profile individuals, so that when they do step out of the shadow of anonymity afforded by the Internet, the sales function can address their needs effectively.

Marketing’s role has expanded beyond simply spraying messages out into the environment, like the town crier of old. Marketing’s new role includes three fundamentally different activities.

  1. Attracting anonymous audience members. This happens through many techniques including the steady production of a stream of unique, relevant, valuable content, which requires a combination of brilliant thought leadership and editorial and production discipline.
  2. Nurturing audience members. This happens by engaging the audiences and providing something of value at each step, which requires an attitude of servant leadership—putting the audience first at every step.
  3. Tracking, profiling and scoring audience members as they move through the buying cycle. This happens through gleaning information from the trails left by audience members who gradually choose to abandon their anonymity. This requires a focus on measurement and minutia.

If these three activities were characterized by archetypes, then marketing has evolved from the Town Crier to now embody a combination of the Sage, the Servant and the Bookkeeper.

Activity What it takes to be successful Result A possible archetype
Content production Producing valuable, unique content or thought leadership. Requires editorial and production discipline. Attraction of a growing tribe of audience members The Sage
Nurturing Servant leadership; putting the audiences’ needs first Engagement and nurturing of audiences The Servant
Tracking & profiling A focus on measurement and minutia Scoring of leads The Bookkeeper


Entering the life science market: it’s not about automation per se, it’s about the benefits that marketing automation provides.

I’m telling you that your marketing function must simultaneously manifest the Sage, the Servant and the Bookkeeper. Does this sound impossible? Well, help has arrived for the last two activities. It’s called “marketing automation,” which is really a misnomer. In actuality, the prime focus is not the automation of marketing tasks that used to be undertaken manually. Rather, marketing automation focuses primarily on the increasing engagement with prospects as they traverse the buying cycle. So a better title might be: marketing “engagementation” or marketing “connectification” or marketing “processization.” (Alright, I can see why these haven’t caught on and why the term “marketing automation” has stuck around.)

Attracting, nurturing and tracking your prospects requires rethinking the way the marketing and sales function inside your organization relate to one another. In particular, you have to reassess how you gather information from your prospects, and at what point leads are handed off from marketing to sales.

Entering the life science market: you must clarify your unique value proposition.

When faced with multiple audience segments, many technically trained people who are responsible for marketing want to target their messages very narrowly – that is, craft messages specifically for each small audience segment. The advantages of this are obvious: messages that are tightly focused and specific can highlight benefits that are targeted to individual audience groups.

This can work, but two things must be true:

First: The separate audiences and their separate marketing message channels must not overlap; that is, the messages intended for one audience should not be readily seen by other audiences. Otherwise confusion can result.

Second: You must have a larger budget. Developing, articulating, maintaining and promoting multiple messages takes more time, more people and more money than a single message.

Unfortunately, these two things are rarely true. Given the pervasive nature of the Internet, it’s too easy for messages aimed at one audience to be seen by another. And whose budget is so large that you can target as many audience segments as you can possibly identify?

So where does this leave us? Staring squarely at the need to develop a hierarchy of value, each level articulated in a specific message, all linked to a value proposition that is relevant across multiple audiences. This is not always easy to do, but this is absolutely necessary for marketing success.

Entering the life science market: key conclusions.

So with buyers retreating, how can you succeed? Here are a few tips:

Begin with a concerted effort to understand your audiences. Target them specifically. Discover what type of content will educate, inspire and reassure them. Learn their buying triggers. Develop personas to characterize them.

Begin with a concerted effort to understand your audiences.

This means you must do research. But this does not always have to be formal quantitative research. Look at the traffic patterns on your web site. Does one whitepaper generate greater traffic and downloads than any other? This is an indication of the interests of your audiences.

If you do conduct formal research, be very careful in how you phrase your questions, as the skeptical bias against marketing can lead respondents to interpret your questions differently than intended. Also, you must use great care (and skill) in interpreting and filtering the responses.

Don’t ignore the marketing basics: clarify your unique value proposition, and express it in terms your audiences can relate to. And finally, don’t ignore the marketing basics: clarify your unique value proposition, and express it in terms your audiences can relate to. Lead with benefits; don’t lead with your science or your data.

As prospects gain power, fueled by the free information available online, the marketing function can – has to – step up and redefine its role. Google has pointed the way, stating “It’s Marketing’s job to influence the 57% of the sale that occurs mostly on the web, before Sales contact.”

If we do this correctly, we can make a profound impact on the future of our organizations.