This is the first in a series of three blog posts for Life Science and highly tehcnical markets
Each covering something special your life science SME has to make it successful against company giants in a specialised, niche market. Each post will talk in detail about the following topics...
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Author - Paddy Lavery - Business Development
Paddy Lavery, Ex-Marketing Director of TotalLab Ltd. Now owner and operator of Transitions. 17 years’ experience of business development and strategic marketing for technical businesses in niche markets. Prior to that 8 years’ experience as a research scientist with a degree in Applied Biology.
I’m going to share three things which you have, available to you right now, that makes you able to out compete competitive giants in the Life Science space.
For the past 17 years, I’ve worked in life science SMEs or start-ups delivering specialised, technical products and services to highly discerning customers. They are unique, exciting places to work in. You get to experience every success first hand. But I’ve also experienced facing big players in the niche market as part of that experience. Then the excitement and buzz felt across the whole business can be easily lost. Every way you turn is exhausting, trying to meet the threat on all fronts.
You’re either in a battle, recovering from a battle or waiting for the next assault. You’re fighting against big marketing budgets, big development teams and a large field sales force. Even if you have a well-defined product, the best in its class, customers can be distracted by price cutting, reams of technical notes and complete solutions offered by larger life science competitors.
I understand the unique business development and strategic marketing approaches required to maintain market share for a business selling complex technical products.
I’ll give you a headline summary of the three things I’m going to share with you over the next three months.
If you read no more, this is the one thing I’d like you to take away. You may even just read it then simply recall how you learn the same lesson.
“Put yourself out of harm’s way and make big advances against a large-sized threat by choosing not to fight on their terms.”
Putting yourself out of harm’s way might sound like retreating. And as advice could be hard to reconcile for the kind of maverick company or bold entrepreneur-led venture that many SME’s are in a technical sector.
It doesn’t mean run away and hide. It means stay out of reach of your competitor. Don’t get distracted trying to meet every claim with a counter claim or respond to every activity in the field, blow for blow.
This post will talk about how you can join up the expertise within the business. Then, share that openly with customers to create remarkable lead nurturing and product development.
Let’s start with the scale of the challenge you face.
What does “competitive giant” mean for you?
For me, it was life science companies of $4Bn and $2Bn sales. More than 10,000 and 8,000 employees each. With the marketing budgets, international sales teams and in-house support to match[1,2].
The big life science players YOU face may be more or less based on these terms. It doesn’t matter. The tactics I’ll share in each of the three posts over time apply to competing with whatever you define as a “big company” relative to you.
SMEs based on research and development to deliver specialised, technical products and services are unique and exciting places to work in. You get to experience every success first hand. But I’ve also experienced facing big players in the niche market as part of that experience.
It’s demoralising when they arrive at an alternative that a customer you have nurtured is compelled to evaluate too. Then you have to compete with them directly in each account and as a distraction in the wider market. For me, it was companies of $4Bn and $2Bn sales. More than 10,000 and 8,000 employees each. With the marketing budgets, international sales teams and in-house support to match[1,2].
You’re either in a battle, recovering from a battle or waiting for the next assault. You’re fighting against big marketing budgets, big development teams and a large field sales force. Even if you have a well-defined product, the best in its class, customers can be distracted by price cutting, reams of technical notes and complete solutions offered by larger competitors. The next section covers how being joined up helps you compete with this.
Being joined up and sharing that openly to customers
What does this mean in simple terms? It means using the scale of your business and how you can be accessible you can be to customers. A tactic to out compete big life science companies with several advantages;
- Show you are the experts in your field
- Create remarkable lead nurturing
- Responsive, market-led product development
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The paradox of a life science small business
Counter-intuitively life science SMEs can be a complex business with many moving parts. They are often operating with flat structures, each person wearing many hats, and many new exciting ideas or activities competing for attention.
They have a rapid pace of development. You must manage diverse inputs coming from the field that need to be kept visible as future opportunities. Without disrupting what has already been committed for the near term.
A life science SME or start-up can be sensitive to urgent customer needs, support incident or the potential of losing a major sale.
There is often an equal weight of ideas for what to prioritise next. That’s a lot of things to manage. And that’s before you step out and tackle big companies.
However, the same is true of a large international life science company selling competing products into the same specialised markets. But take the complexity of your business and scale it right up. They need a significant number of customers to make anything worthwhile, to pay for all that scale. Maybe 10-fold? A 100-fold more?
The dynamics of these large corporations create a space where a life science start-up or SME has the freedom to compete on their terms. You can offer things they simply cannot within their business constraints.
Here are some ways the scale of your business allows you to be joined up in ways that your big competitors can’t and how that makes you a threat to them!
Make your people and their depth of experience visible
Add up the total years of relevant experience in your people. That’s usually a lot, even in start-ups. The people you’ve hired have a wealth of expertise from where they have worked before and with you. And it’s yours to showcase to the market.
Remind your customers that they have DIRECT access to that depth of experience.
Most big companies couldn’t begin to make a similar claim without trying to track down a selection of relevant biogs from the dispersed teams they will have to deal with.
Sharing the combined weight of experience your people have can reassure customers that you know what you’re talking about. For example, your marketing team could all have degrees or applied experience within your customer’s field. It lets them know you have solid foundations of knowledge and see the expertise they have to rely on from you. It can make potential customers and partners see that you’re not a fly by night operator. They can be confident in you. You have employed the right talent to support them with your niche products.
Create memorable customer interactions using more than just your sales people
You only need a few customers (relative to big companies) to make substantial revenue gains for a business of your size. You can relatively easily, compared to big companies, let the top 30, 50 or perhaps even 100% of your best sales opportunities meet who is developing and supporting their products. You can go to each customer with a team of “joined up expertise” from many functions, not just sales.
Book appointments to discuss technical queries. Organise site visits where customers can talk to your tech and marketing teams about a specific issue with your products and services. Or get customers to demonstrate limitations and strengths of any competitor products that you must go beyond. You can do this at the ideal time in the sales process to nurture each customer based on their individual needs.
Potential customers can engage with your WHOLE company in a personal way. Which is more memorable than any professionally produced brochure, tech note or online advert they might see from a big company.
There are more benefits to engaging with your customers using the joined-up approach.
- Sales follow up becomes easier. It doesn’t even have to come from the sales person themselves. An open dialogue can occur directly between a technical person and sales opportunity. Managed well this shares the load and makes each sale understood. The whole team became interested and invested in supporting each sale while the salesperson can spend more time on the next significant sale.
- Motivation across the business. Having the “techies”, marketing, sales, meet customers together creates a common understanding across the business. That creates a buzz. This is where the magic happens. It takes you from silo-based thinking, making judgements on how your sales should be done, to creative thinking pointed towards a single objective that everyone will want to share in. From this cooperative place, you can react to opportunities fast, deploy your team rapidly overcome sales objections knowing the context. Your responsiveness as a team can steal ground from your big competitors before they have time to react.
In simple terms, you create a real-world experience of the specialised marketplace your in for your people and understand the customer needs. In this way, you become known as the “friendly” expert in your niche, able to speak directly with customers at all levels, not just a contract for signing sales orders. You can reinforce that with each customer interaction.
Put different disciplines in the same physical space for creative results
Let people in positions not typically involved in sales or marking contribute as early as possible in strategy meetings. This leads to creatively solving challenges in competing against big companies. This is especially effective when you’re faced with selling like-for-like products, hard to differentiate in the market.
A small office space is typical of SME and start-ups. This makes it easy to put people together who are often kept separate in larger companies. Sometimes separate buildings at the same site or in different countries. In every company I worked in marketing, support and research people have sat with each other for great effect.
I’ve seen putting the right people together work particularly well in a high-risk situation. In this example developing a new product to take into a market totally unfamiliar for the company but necessary for long-term growth.
A salesperson, technical specialist, developer, application scientist and marketing director all sat at arm’s length.
- Daily updates happened organically, without the need for disruptive and onerous meetings.
- The specific needs of individuals in each functional area were heard and better understood.
- Problem-solving in front of the actual product in development, all focused on a common objective.
The result was a product from conception to the first sale in six months!
There is an important factor to consider in how you make use of this. It’s noise. Or how different levels of noise disrupt each function. For example, answering incoming calls for a day next to a team focused intensely on product development can be a big distraction.
Done with consideration just overhearing conversations that naturally arise in one function by another can get the problem solvers inspired. I’ll share an example from my experience.
An established SME with a range of products that all required new collateral with screenshots of key data analysis steps about once every quarter. The final printed material went through many iterations, often amending images at each review step to keep up with development. That meant continually asking the software engineers for high-resolution images of data being analysed within software that was being made ready for release.
Quick to find a simple solution for a repetitive problem, developers coded a simple tool to generate 300dpi images from any view in the software for sharp printing. This resolution was also the recommended guideline for images submitted to journals, a key measure of success for customers. Our tool for capturing marketing images in-house became a useful feature for customers.
A simple change made a feature we could talk about, different to our competitor's like-for-like software. Images from our software, easily identified as our product, started to appear on presentations and publications. The best place to reach our target audience without the cost of online or print advertising.
Bring the life science market into your office
If have technical people who like meeting your customers great! That means you’re already in a strong position to take advantage of the things we’re covered. They are a powerful conduit, bringing market led information direct to the heart of product innovation. This means your technical team can activate and respond to market changes faster than bigger companies.
Not all personality types within specialist functions are confident being out in front of customers. Show them the impact of what you do for customers in other ways. This can include
- Keep it open for anyone to sit in the background during sales calls or customer demonstrations by screen-sharing.
- Get field sales and marketing teams to deliver their anti-competitor product pitches or product demonstrations internally. As if they were doing it to real customers.
- Bring customers into the office and give them time to join in technical discussions. Your customers often think like the people in your research and development team. They can communicate what they need directly, and things can be clarified there and then.
I’ve worked with, and briefly, inside, big life science companies selling the same high-end products to the same customers as the more dynamic SME or start-up competitor.
Stay ahead of your big life science competitors by choosing not to compete on their terms. You offer things they simply cannot within their business constraints. Things that connect your whole company with easily with the scale of customers you need to make sales growth. Things that make you remarkable compared to big company competitors.
The internal dynamics and limitations of the large-scale corporations create a space where a start-up or SME has the freedom to compete on their terms.
The depth of expertise within your company is available for you to join up in a responsive way. Making that transparent and connecting it to customers at each step of the lead to sales process takes you out of reach of big companies. This creates you with three main advantages,
- Personally, demonstrate you are the experts in your field
- Create remarkable lead nurturing and customer support that doesn’t just rely on valuable sales resource from an active sales focus
- Responsive, market-led product development
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- GE Healthcare Life Sciences, a division of GE Healthcare, is a $4.0 billion business serving researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and clinicians. GE Healthcare is a $16 billion unit of General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), employing more than 46,000 people worldwide and serving our customers in more than 100 countries.
- Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. develops, manufactures, and markets a broad range of products and solutions for the life science research and clinical diagnostics markets. Revenue: 2 billion USD (2016). Number of employees: 8,250. Business Segments - Life Science and Clinical Diagnostics. Number of Products More than 10,000
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