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

Quick Q&A With: Andy Bertera and Susan Bish

September 16, 2013

Andy and Susan will be joined by Joe Bedford to lead the session Being Different—Marketing Strategies to Create Greater Competitive Advantage, at the SAMPS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia on September 19th and 20th. Like all presentations at the Annual Meeting, the discussions will revolve around real-world problems and approaches to their solutions.

We asked the speakers to share some of the challenges, their underlying causes, and potential solutions that they'll be discussing in Philadelphia.

What trends do you see in research spending?

Although the life sciences remain relatively insulated to the impacts of the global economy, growth rates in research spending vary tremendously around the world—being different in different countries, as well as in different disciplines. Outside of Japan and driven by China, research funding is growing faster in the Asia-Pacific region than it is in Western Europe and North America. Research spending growth is also greatest in those areas of more applied research, particularly translational research that focuses on a greater understanding of human disease. The technologies that support this type of research, like next generation sequencing, are also showing growth rates that are often an order of maginitude greater than others.

Will the funding challenges continue?

The life sciences market is maturing, so for the most part the answer to this question is "yes." However, this again varies by location and area of research.

For example, although the US economy is improving, academic research funding is being hit by the sequestration of the federal budget that has now been in place for more than 6 months. Due to concerns, not only about the continuation of existing sources of funds, but also the approval of new research grants, researchers are currently being very conservative regarding their levels of spend. And, for once, this not only applies to capital equipment; reagent spending, which has been more immune to the ups and downs of the funding, is also being affected.

Looking globally, research spending in China continues to outpace most of the world, though the growth rates there are likely to slow. The funding situation in Japan has improved relative to the recent past. The situation in Europe varies by country; the UK and German governments appear to be maintaining the majority of their support for research, but the economic challenges facing Spain, Greece, and other countries has caused a decrease in their overall research funding.

How do funding challenges impact marketing efforts?

Any trend that decreases revenue and impacts a vendor's bottom line poses a risk to the entire marketing spectrum. Reducing marketing and administration spending is often a response to such a downturn, making it more difficult to craft and deliver a vendor's value proposition.

You intend to discuss how product and service leadership can differentiate an organization from the competition. What actions comprise this leadership?
It starts with a detailed understanding of your customers' needs, which requires that you truly place yourself in their shoes. You want to establish a level of familiarity that enables a vendor to know what actions will reliably drive customer loyalty.
The actions then run the gamut. Product excellence in terms of performance, information, and support; and operational excellence in terms of service and delivery, rapid turn-around on requests for quotes, etc.

Can an organization be great at everything, ie, product excellence, operational excellence, and customer intimacy?

It's much more realistic to pick one area to focus on and excel at, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore the others. Pick the area that makes the most sense to your business plan and improve it.

Has the Internet impacted a vendor's leadership efforts?

As with all walks of life, the impact has been huge, affecting how customers learn about products, what they purchase, and how they purchase it. The Internet created numerous new communication channels that enhance the flow of information to the customer. That's the good news. But many of these channels bypass vendors, adding to the challenge of delivering a value proposition and obtaining feedback from the marketplace. As a result, customers are further along the buying cycle when visited by a rep, moreso than ever in the past.

Who are the key players in leadership efforts?

Leadership can come from anywhere, but is typically at the vice-president level in an organization. Once an opportunity has been identified, some immediate tasks are to assess the human elements, eg, available internal resources; establish budget; and inspire delivery of a consistent message from all the customer touchpoints throughout the entire organization.
What are some common mistakes encountered in organizations that attempt to improve themselve by differentiating from the competition?

The common error is a deadly one—thinking that change will come easily or quickly. Companies often think that change is inexpensive, but it's not, monetarily or in terms of human emotions; that is, the impact on employee psyche.

The best leaders inspire their people to see change as personally valuable. They convert a possible employee response from "Oh crap, more work" to a true emotional attachment to the change program.

Can you provide an example of change via differentiation?

A highly regarded, but modestly-sized life sciences product manufacturer ("Company X") sought to differentiate themselves from their much larger competitors in a way that conveyed Company X as a high-value service provider. That is, what could Company X do to stand out in a crowded marketplace without dropping the bottom out from their prices.

Their first step was to assess their value proposition and those of their competitors. And so, Company X:

  • Analyzed the online presence and messaging of the competition and compared it to their own. Conclusion: Everybody looks the same, including us!
  •  Invested 2 months to qualitatively and quantitatively assess what was important to their customers. Feedback was segmented into "must haves," "nice to haves," and "minimal necessities"
  • Documented the core competencies within Company X that competitors could not match
  • Created a set of value propositions based on the results above, AND tested them with customers. The objectives were two fold
    • Identify high-value differentiators for which customer were willing to pay extra
    • Identify what Company X could consistently execute that would differentiate them from competitors

Company X then created the most effective, high-value proposition as indicated by the previous testing. Next, EVERY customer touchpoint throughout the organization was indoctrinated with the value proposition AND educated to ensure that they knew what they had to do to turn the value proposition into action. No department was excluded; no touchpoint was ignored.

Here's why the program succeeded:

  • Company X committed to a long-term rather than du-jour mentality
  • Executives bought into the program and assigned a project owner with cross-functional authority to ensure that all parties stayed on track
  • Company X reevalauted their research data to monitor for changes in customer opinion that could affect the redesigned value proposition

Alan Gerstein

Alan Gerstein, SAMPS Digital Editorial Director, is an interactive content developer experienced at blending the oft-conflicting needs of users, clients, and search engines. Along the way he has developed strategies and information solutions to better support the training and education needs of the life science research community. He also had the good fortune to lead the efforts of nearly two-dozen researchers to create The Molecular Biology Problem Solver.

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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