The challenge that suppliers of life science products and services face — and that other product categories don’t — is that the marketing message is vastly more complex, and the sales process often hinges on highly technical details, which in part leads to sales cycles of months or even years. Of necessity, marketing plays a vital role in the overall sales process in the life science supplier industry simply because more knowledge is required to make a purchase decision about a mass spectrometer or immunoassay services than, say, copier paper.
It’s generally accepted in technical marketing categories that as much as 60 percent of the purchase decision has already been made before a prospect talks to his or her first sales representative.1 For life science suppliers, this statistic likely holds. For instance, what’s the first thing lab scientists do when they want to figure out which chromatography system to buy? Search the Internet. They look at supplier websites, portal websites like Biocompare, and trade publication websites, like LCGC.
Next, they may call colleagues or visit a colleague’s lab to see their systems in action. By the time they contact a supplier, they may know more about the competition than the supplier salesperson. In much the same way, buyers of raw-material testing services visit supplier websites, portals like Assay Depot, and publications like Pharmaceutical Technology. They may also consult with colleagues long before calling a supplier.
Today’s buying process underscores the need for companies to have an integrated marketing plan that includes a modern, well-designed website, professional sales support materials, an attention-getting trade show exhibit, and a strategic plan to place convincing marketing messages where prospective buyers are likely to see them. If our customers are more than halfway through the buying process before they talk to a sales representative, it’s important that they have a positive perception going in.
Sales keeps customers
Ideally, marketing and sales work hand in glove to achieve success. As important as establishing a firm foundation of perception through marketing tools is, the sales team is vital for driving important aspects of the relationship, such as client loyalty — not to mention the sales themselves. According to research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) involving more than 20,000 sales people, in the B2B space, the experience the client has with the sales team is a major factor in creating client loyalty. In fact, the subjective “sales experience” was more important to client loyalty than all other factors combined, including brand, product/service delivery, and value-to-price ratio.
Why? According to the CEB, customers view the products and services of competitors to be far more similar than they are different, so often the biggest differentiator is not the product or service, but the relationship and insights that sales representatives provide. Not uncommonly, when buyers move to a new company, they call the sales representative who used to service them because the relationship is as valuable, if not more valuable, than the actual product or service.
How important is a good sales rep?
Sales representatives play a vital role in the sales process and in the ongoing relationship with customers. So what makes a good one? According to the recent Sales Representative Performance Survey conducted by ACP-LS Life Science Services in conjunction with the Life Science Strategy Group and SCORR Marketing, 50 percent of respondents say the sales representative makes a difference in the outcome of the sale.
To buyers of technical goods and services, knowledge of their own company’s services and capabilities, as well as an understanding of the prospect’s specific needs, topped the list of most-important qualities for a salesperson to have. Perhaps not surprisingly, other important criteria include responsiveness, availability, and scientific knowledge.
Finding and retaining customers
Lead generation is generally thought to be a marketing responsibility, although at many sales departments, representatives are contacting prospects from subscription database services like BioPharm Insights or buying a LinkedIn service for a similar reason. Their job is made a little easier, of course, if the prospect they reach already has some idea of who they are and what they do.
Marketing tools, such as webinars, trade shows, and other promotions that include strong incentives to visit a website get people to engage with a company and its experts. Content marketing, comprising white papers, case studies, and other assets all driven by social media, presents an opportunity for you to shape perceptions about your company and its capabilities, as well as a chance to fully explain your market differentiators.
Once the client is in the hands of the sales team, it’s up to sales to build, nurture, and retain the relationship; and up to operations to provide quality goods and services; and then up to marketing to play a role in engaging and retaining them. If the general perception is that the products and services we sell in life sciences and drug development services are more similar than they are different, every bit of differentiation matters.
To be successful
With all this in mind, why do so many companies in our industry have less-than-stellar marketing materials? And shouldn’t we do more to support, train, and develop our sales teams? As commercial marketing and sales professionals in life sciences, it’s our job to take this message to our executive team, be leaders in the industry, and drive excellence within our companies. To be successful, we must also foster a strong collaborative relationship between sales and marketing and get these teams to work together to interest, gain, satisfy, and retain new customers.
- The Corporate Leadership Board (CEB), and Marketing Leadership Council®. The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing. 2012, P. 2.