SAMPS was previously Association of Commercial Professionals for Life Sciences (ACP-LS)

Overcoming Four Wall Syndrome

March 16, 2014

This is the author's second in a series of articles that discusses how small life science companies can successfully compete with much larger competitors. The first article remains available for review.

4_wallsThe best products and services are built on customer interactions, not office interactions.

I've worked with or for life science and technology companies of all sizes and I've found one practice to be very contagious regardless of revenue or headcount. It's called "Four Wall Syndrome" and is a behavior that has plagued commercial and development organizations for decades. This is not something you can prevent by washing with antibacterial soap or by taking a pill to cure. It's a mindset that so many companies fall into while trying to be successful—they think that they know for sure what their customer needs. The only preventive measure I know for this is to have an outside-in perspective when trying to create value for your customer.

How the mindset begins

The Four Wall mindset is so easy to slide into when a life science company starts to taste success or recognize growth. All too often they forget what got them there—the customer. Don't look at customers merely as entities that use your product or service. Think of them as sources of critical information on which you need to focus. Yes, there are a lot of smart people who work in the life science industry. Some of them are most likely working in the office next to you or down the hall in the lab. But, when you put a lot of smart people into a conference room to discuss what the customer needs without feedback from the market, the resulting product very well may be dumb. How can this happen? Without customer insight, KOL input, Net Performance Score (NPS),1-3 or a host of other avenues for product or service ideas and improvements, companies may be basing decisions on past experience, he said/she said, or the "I know best" attitude.

A Treatment for Four Wall Syndrome

So what's the cure? Focusing your efforts on customer problems and needs is a good start. Creating value is offering a tool or solution to the market that solves a problem or removes a pain point. Don't develop or engineer a product to have the best and greatest of everything, just the attributes that the customer really needs. This responsibilty doesn't fall on one person, but on the entire organization. Product managers are often tasked with identifying market/customer problems in the life science space and asked to formulate solutions, but it takes more than one person in a company to recoginize the value of customer feedback. R&D needs to understand the problem, the environment in which the customer is operating, and the key design and development goals. And last but not least, marketing and sales should know the customer better than they know themselves in order to discuss opportunities for adding value to their clients. Bottom line—it's a team effort to create value for the customer.

Options for listening to the customer (and to competitors)

Smaller companies might not have the deep pockets of a global competitor, but they have several strategic options at various price points to help identify what a client needs in a product.
Feedback can be collected in a plethora of ways, eg, customer visits, NPS, market research, or social media, among other tactics. The main point is that you need their input. For do-it-yourselfers, numerous forums exist where you can immediately tap into customer conversation. Scientist Solutions, Biocompare, LabRoots, and the San Diego Biotechnology Network are examples of vibrant online research communities, and while no commercial organization will advertise their plans publically, it might be possible to spot inklings of need from commercial commentary posted in LinkedIn groups such as the Biotech Marketing Groupand Life Science Commercialization.

Social media also provides an option for serious, long-term, and affordable research into customer expectations, so you might want to review Mary Canady's 7-step strategy for social media monitoring in the life sciences.

And if you're wondering what kind of research program your budget can buy, ask a vendor. You can find several at the SAMPS Vendor Directory that provide a variety of research support services at different costs.

Who wins?

The next time your product development team gets together to discuss the next great idea, make sure that one way or the other, the customer's voice is the loudest one in the room. Customers are more than a source of revenue for the company; they're a fount of information to support successful product and service generation.

The company with the largest budget or team of smart scientists doesn't automatically create valuable products or services—it's the company with the best listening skills.


  1. Reicheld F. The Ultimate Question. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; 2008.
  2. Answering the Ultimate Question. How Net Promoter Score Can Transform Your Business. Owens R and Brooks L. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA; 2008.
  3. The Ultimate Question 2.0. Fred Reicheld. Harvard Business Review Press. Boston, MA. 2011.

Terance Fisher

Terance currently serves as the Marketing and Clinical Segment Manager for ALPCO, an assay developer and provider to life science and healthcare organizations. For the past 10 years Terance has worked in various commercial operations and international business development roles with life science companies both large and small. He holds an M.S. in International Business and an M.B.A. with a concentration in Marketing. 
SAMPS, Sales And Marketing Professionals in Scientific research, is the first and only organization dedicated to sales and marketing professionals within the life sciences.

The association’s goal is to serve its members who work in commercial roles for life science products and services companies and associated businesses, globally.
SAMPS was previously named ACP-LS. We feel that SAMPS more clearly describes the membership, and will form a better foundation from which to expand this membership globally. 
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