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3 Things Your Life Science Venture Can Do To Compete in a Market Dominated by Big Companies – Part 3

This is the third in a series of three articles for Life Science ventures competing against the dominant big companies

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...

1. Joined up

Being joined up and transparent for remarkable lead nurturing and responsive market-led development.

Read article 1.

2. Simplicity

Leveraging the simplicity and sharp focus of your business to provide expert and accessible
on-line content

Read article 2.

3. Personalisation

Personalisation of customer contact early in the lead to sales cycle.


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#3 Personalisation

This is a tactic companies are striving to use across all business sectors. The Coca Cola "Share a Coke" campaign in 2014 was a good example. Shoppers could choose personalised bottles and cans carrying names from Alex to Zoe and endearing terms such as "Friends" and "BFF". It reversed a 10 year decline in the sales of the drinks brand in the US.

It’s also an effective tactic you can deploy as a small business engaging with highly discerning customers in a technical sector. Your big company competitors may be using it too, but it’s not always the case. If they are I’ll challenge how effective that can be at their scale of operations later in this article.

What big companies in technical sectors increasingly use is marketing automation. This is a system to profile good leads from the hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of people who have a passing interest. An elevated follow up, on-line or in person on the ground, is triggered when a potential customer has reached a threshold of touch points. For example, when you’ve downloaded several pieces of critical content and registered for a webinar you flag yourself as a strong interest. A potential hot lead in sales speak.

With personalising marketing by an SME or small-business in a technical sector you can engage with customers faster and earlier than big companies using marketing automation.


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Why make this part of your life science sales and marketing?

On-line mediums make it easy.
Forums for specific applications and specialist customer groups exist stand-alone or inside LinkedIn. You have detailed knowledge of the current status-quo and innovations from living and breathing the focus of your business. So bring that to the discussion. You can get into an individual conversation and address a specific issue that a person poses. From experience it is important to identify yourself up front that you work for a company.  And it can be more effective if the conversation is with someone in your company with specific domain knowledge. For example technical engineer, support provider or applications researcher.

You can personalise down to the level of an individual person.
Your customer database and CRM system can be set-up, managed and segmented down to the individual. You can bring personalisation into an “awareness/interest/desire/action” marketing process earlier than big companies typically do. This means you have a personal conversation before the same prospect has triggered sales follow up in an automated marketing system operated by big companies.

Meet and exceed customer expectations.
The bigger the ticket price the more involved a customer will become and expect to be served in personal way. So it has even bigger impact when they don’t expect it! And you can do this with the relatively thin layer that exists between your people inside the business and people you reach outside the business.

Stand out.
Go to an industry show or conference and see the reams of publications, catalogues, brochures handed out in delegate bags. Then look at the bins and eating areas littered with the same. Look at competitor’s websites and see the pages of usual specification lists, promoted benefits, generic contact forms, and content about themselves. Sign up and you’ll see generic email alerts. There can be a lot from big companies. It’s all broadcasting. You have to stop what you’re doing and take notice. Harder and harder in a complex and time pressured working environment that customers are in. So how can you make people take notice? You can address them personally.

Learn from lost sales.
It’s not just successful sales that benefit you from having a personal approach. A personal response, off-the-record sometimes, on why the sale didn’t happen enables you to consider that in future. From this knowledge you get to generate high-value content to counter sales arguments in future, fast-track future product adoption and make it easier to go back and talk about the specific issue a prospect had when you have something new.

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How to make it work for you

The points I made about why you should adopt personalisation already include some of the how. But there is no one size fits all approach. It can mean different things to different customers in different organisation types, countries. It also depends on what resources you have to make your sales, marketing and support address customer needs in a personal way.

But essentially we’re talking about leveraging the small-scale and sharp focus of your business as an advantage.
3 Things Your Life Science Venture Can Do To Compete in a Market Dominated by Big Companies – Part 1

I’ll share more inspiration with three key approaches using personalisation to compete against big companies in your field.


Big companies in technical sectors are using marketing automation. But it lacks true personalisation. Big companies with great marketing automation and customer relationship management software need to get a large number of people in the funnel to support their level of product sales. You can use your sharp focus to keep attrition rates down with only quality leads going into the top if your sales process. The more personal you can get early on the more successfully you can do this and lower the attrition rate of leads.

You can be creative in how you deliver the level of personalisation your customers can respond to. You are not beholden to an established sales and marketing process that is slow to adapt to specifically approaching potential customers with a specific need. You have a clear advantage here when it’s a new product or service being sold into new markets.

An example of this, combined with some marketing automation, is sending out email alerts using a specific email delivery system.

One I’m most familiar with and would recommend is Extravision.

The most important thing for using automated mailing is the list.

By taking time to segment, and add personal details, you can more easily targeted who gets what, even within the same email alert project.

Then personalise a follow-up using the systems feature to show you who, down to the actual individual, has opened, clicked on a link, passed it on, and when.

Pre-conference email alerts can be made highly-effective considering the two features above.

For example, creating a list of names you have in your contact database within easy travel distance to a certain conference or trade show. You can send an email early to raise awareness that you will be there. Once you can see who was interested enough to open the email or click on a link for more information then send a personal offer to attend and meet to discuss something specific you know about that person or organisation.

It may be possible, if sent early enough, to create a personal focus to meeting them at the conference. Offer to buy them or an additional member of their team a delegate pass, send a request for them to bring data or a current project challenge and you’ll analyse it or brainstorm it with them respectively.

If you can see they are presenting on a topic that you have expertise in, send them your perspective, ideally as a publication or technical note and request a meeting to talk more.

Tactically what it’s designed to do is initiate dialogue for something highly personal and of specific interest to that person. More than a generic “please come and meet me at the stand to see our product/service”. Something everyone else is doing.

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In an ideal world you would segment down to the level of the individual and how you want them to realise the benefits of your products and services.

I’ll share an example to help you consider what you could do to make personalisation work at the individual level for all leads, not just those who meet a minimum number of touch points.

Example – 1/3/6 Campaign

We wanted to generate on average £1,000/person from nurturing 300 good leads in 6 months. We looked in depth at records in our contact database that matched the geography and the field that we wanted to support. We hand wrote 300 letters with information specific to their geography, lead source and also recognising technical presentations or articles they had published that found in the public domain. We followed up with a personally written email and then personal phone call. In some cases a call by the CEO to give the call to a senior figure in the sales process.

I’ll be honest it didn’t make the target for new product sales. But it did make going back to those customers and prospects much easier. Sales of support and upgrade contracts increased 300% in the territories we targeted.

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Meeting in person

Don’t forget the original personalised approach, which I talked about in the first blog post in this series. Where different disciplines in your company are joined up and visit the customer on-site.

There are also opportunities for personal meetings with key people at conferences. When they are away from their daily distractions. Having an exhibition stand is the usual way to have presence here. Big companies invest heavily in this kind of presence. But what they often are is just a meeting place. The real conversation happens off-stand in a session coffee break, personal dinner or arranged drink in a bar

That doesn’t mean an exhibition stand is pointless. It can be a good meeting place for you too. But you can make use of your detailed customer information, and where they are in the sales process. Pre-conference direct mail, invitations to an exclusive demonstration in private using their own data and a high-value give away offered with the person’s name can all work for you.

A high-value give-away could be a personalised sales quote, business proposal or technical report. I’ll share an example of how this targeted content combined with a customer site visit gained our crucial first sales of a new product in a new market.

Example  – Getting sales closed in the USA

We’d developed a new product for a highly-regulated market. Customers had their own specific production processes that needed to be monitored. In place were established alternative solutions that we were attempting to replace with the new analytical approach. Added to this challenge the strongest leads were all based on the East Coast of America. A different culture for business and our main competitor was US-made. The first choice for most US based companies.

These sites offered a critical start to sales of the new product but each was stuck in various states of evaluation, internal buy-in and purchasing. They were at risk of dropping out. We invested in a highly personal approach to them.

  1. We arranged couriering portable hard-drives directly to and from the named analytical scientist in each case so they could add their own data to us.
  2. We analysed the data ourselves and produced a bespoke report showing our results and where we could how they compared to existing solutions.
  3. We arranged an initial on-line meeting of the analyst, line manager and head of the functional group to talk through the results. We added any new information that came from discussion. The updated report was sent to them all individually. For each stakeholder we highlighted the sections addressing the important aspects for their role.
  4. We followed this up with a site visit to each of the 5 accounts. We visited 5 accounts in three states over 5 days. We arrived to each site with a presentation tailored to their analytical data and raw analysis results that they could open in a copy of the software, which we installed for them whilst there.
  5. We gave them training on-site and left agreeing that the next data set they produced and analysed would be analysed by us simultaneously at our UK office. So we could compare methodology and results to ensure they got best view of the software. Rather than leaving them remotely to find their own way with it.

It was sales campaign of high-investment in terms of time and money. But we achieved a 10:1 ROI. All sites purchased at least one installation of the new product and sales closed in the expected lead to sale time in each case.

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The Takeaway.

There is no one size fits all approach. That’s a definition of personalisation after all. It can mean different things to different people in different organisation types, countries. It also depends on what operations you can make personal with the people and resources you have available.  BUT you can more easily change how you’re product is developed, presented and followed-up then big company competitors.


So these are the things I have experienced directly. These are ways I see SME’s and start-ups out compete BIG players, the chest-beating gorillas in your market.

1.  Be joined up

2.  Leverage the simplicity and focus on your business

3.  Personalisation

The theme overarching them all is the advantage of a responsive and personable size of your business compared to big players

If you read no more, this is the one thing I’d like you to take away.

“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. 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.

The dynamics of these large, slower moving corporations create a space where a start-up or SME has freedom to compete on their terms. You can offer things they simply cannot within their business constraints.


The Challenges you face

Success against your big company competitors can creates a new / different type of challenge. It usually happens when you are celebrating a period of sales traction. You reach a critical mass of new customers and word of mouth is spreading. Then you get side swiped by the competitor response.

Somehow the impact your technology, creative thinking and taking product to market against big players reaches a threshold. This triggers a bottom-up or top-down response in big competitor companies. Or sometimes both.

Sales people on the ground losing sales at sites they’ve come to expect with “big is best” with Big Company X start to register your impact within their peer group including product managers. These same people are under pressure to get more from the product range they have for annual sales targets.

The result is to attack your specific product, collateral to promote the same capability you have but on the back of consumables or discounts. Or a quick feature or crude interpretation of your radical new feature bolted on to match you on a spec list. This means existing customers and new prospects that you’ve applied the tactic above to get close to and ready to buy now have a duty to investigate this other option. Even if it’s comparing apples with oranges. And this slows down your sales momentum.

There are two cases I’ve experienced this directly. In both cases a new competitor product version came out in response to our sales success. The new versions from competitors had identical features, even to the same colour and style. Internally there was a lot of angry and reactionary discussions. But that is a waste of energy. Acknowledge it and move on. Be content with “imitation is the best source of flattery” and then get on with your agile development to create the next version, or use the tactics and advantages you to outcompete the big players again (hint there are three I’ve already blogged about here) and watch them try to keep up with you.

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