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

Review of the 2014 Annual Meeting

October 17, 2014

Plan on NapkinOn a cliffside overlooking the south Boston shoreline, the 2014 Annual Meeting picked up where the 2013 meeting left off. The larger venue hosted a larger audience from throughout the US and several EU communities who came to listen, debate, and propose how digital technology was impacting suppliers of life science products and services and how the SAMPS community could apply these changes to enhance their business results.

The meeting had actually begun the previous day courtesy of a pre-meeting workshop led by The Linus Group's Hamid Ghanadan who provided a process for designing and delivering truly impactful sales messages and tactics that enabled salespeople to better direct conversations with their clients.


Association president Chuck Drucker kicked off day 1 by reviewing the Association's past and where it was heading, which segued perfectly into a painful discussion about how technology isn't always good for life science suppliers, by describing the dynamics of reverse auctions. Not the sadistic sort, Chuck then explained that one of the Association's goals is to educate members and the SAMPS community about practices like reverse auctions, so that suppliers can speak with customers in a unified, logical, and convincing voice about how reverse auctions may not be good for pharmaceutical, biotech, and other life science product and service buyers.*

Be like Louis. Vuitton, that is. And Burberry, and other consumer businesses that've successfully merged online with face-time marketing. Qiagen's Andreas Hochberger made the case that the best B2C consumer practices could be applied in the life science market. It was a fascinating journey through the new—social media marketing—that circled back to remind us how the fundamentals, eg, service, financials, listening to the customer, must never be ignored. Another highlight was Andreas' blueprint that illustrated how the dozens of online and offline touch points created numerous opportunities to connect with various categories of customers at different stages of the sales cycle.

Back to the future. Catherine Juon took us back to the future. Though the talk was titled Your Handbook of Digital Marketing for Today and Tomorrow, the focus was four Rs worth of core principles: Really understand your customers; Reflect what you've learned; Reach your buyers where they are (their channels, but arguably where they are in the buying cycle); and Rigorously use data. While Catherine discussed her (and other's) favorite digital channels, the talk focused more on strategic principle than the specifics of a digital tactic.

Play the Trump card. "If your business is not a brand, it is a commodity."

What do The Donald and Julian Stubbs have in common? Among other possibilities, based on the quote Trump-eted above, both believe that branding still matters in a digital world. Even in a world burdened with reverse auctions, purchasing technology might have changed, but marketing has not.

Presenting sample strategies and tactics from Apple, Prada, Galderma, and Mont Blanc, Julian made the case that a buyer's beliefs, recommendations, and emotions still matter, and believable stories told properly can still shepherd audiences toward a sale.

Break out the breakouts. Survey's that followed the 2013 Annual Meeting suggested that daily events not revolve completely around presentations, so meeting organizers Guy Page and Kevin Goudreau organized 4 sessions and timed them so that participants could attend any two. Day 1 sessions, all highly interactive, included Content Marketing Best Practices and Available Tools, led by SCORR Marketing's Kriystle Buntemeyer and Effective Marketing and Sales With Limited Resources led by Jack Ball. Chuck Drucker, Director of Commercial Operations at Quest Diagnostics Clinical Trials and SAMPS President, moderated a comprehensive review of voice-of-the-customer issues during the session Voice of the Customer—How Do You Get It, Interpret It, and Communicate It; and Guy Page, of Pacific BioMarketing, led an interactive group for his session, Competing in a Digital World.

As the day-1 sun set on the western horizon, meeting attendees set upon the cocktail area for an Association-sponsored happy hour(s).

Day 2

A Page with free samples. Program co-chair Guy Page of Pacific Biomarketing began day 2 on an interesting premise, that if you consider the challenges that most if not all organizations face, eg, never enough resources, the need to innovate, never enough info to make solid decisions, "...we're all start-ups."

Good point.

Guy then presented strategies, processes, and tactics to increase the likelihood of a start-up's success. Beginning with the concept of the marketplace as a business's number-one mentor, Guy reviewed several approaches applied by Pacific Bioscience. Using templates (download here) that guide development of a marketing strategy, the audience was taken stepwise through the process and presented with real-world examples. Along the way the audience saw how customer segmentation, the role of persona creation, and competitor analysis fit into the overall strategic plan. Critical financial issues for start-ups were also reviewed.

Online engagement parties. Through two days and multiple presentations, speakers emphasized the critical importance of listening to the marketplace. Courtesy of JB Ashtin Consulting, Joni Bradley's presentation, New Ways to Engage KOLs: What's Trending, reviewed the principles behind identifying an appropriate key opinion leader and creating a working relationship, Joni reviewed digital platforms that can both identify KOLs and create dialogue between the KOLs and the clients that seek their input. The net (no pun intended) result is that with the advent of Internet-based, multi-person dialogue, it's now practical for companies to frequently converse confidentially with thought leaders, replacing the old once- or twice-annual dinner meeting.

An Archer who shoots from the hip. Next, a high-energy presentation by Stephen Archer, who after putting the audience through a brief set of calisthenics, shared his thoughts on How to Grow Without Differentiation. Starting with the importance of branding and the underlying tactics therein, Stephen played devil's advocate while debating the roles and tactics that bely service, strategy, talent, and execution. Very-interesting data showing the impact of different criteria (eg, brand impact, product and service delivery, value-to-price ratio) on contribution to customer loyalty suggest that sale experience had the most impact on return business.

After a vigorous discussion with the audience regarding the steps an organization can take to enhance service (eg, create an innovation-friendly environment), Stephen covered several internal and external actions that would lead to a better overall business performance (including the favorite, "Fire some customers").

The science of marketing. Deepak Mistry of Panasonic Life Sciences never really left the research laboratory; he just changed the questions asked from molecular biology to marketing and switched tools accordingly.

Early in his presentation, The DNA of Demand Generation: Developing a Life Science Model for Customer Engagement and Conversion, and consistent with previous speakers, Deepak urged the audience to PRECISELY define the target audience and their environment to truly understand the DNA of demand.

He then laid out a high-level strategy and tactics to create the demand, but all the time considering the unique attributes of scientists discussed throughout the Annual Meeting and in Hamid Ghanadan's book, Persuading Scientists.

Especially interesting was the evolution of marketing-content sophistication with time (in order of increasing sophistication: web pages, rich content (eg, video), personalized content, and currently at the top of the heap, marketing apps). Marketing apps by agencies such as Ion Interactive enhance promotional assets by adding interactivity as a means to enhance engagement, bringing the user one step closer to conversion.

ROI is arguably the Holy Grail for anyone seeking funds for marketing tactics, and Deepak’s quantitative approach, which enables very practical forecasting of results, brings closer alignment between sales and marketing.

The best of both worlds. CRO veterans Tom Sellig and Program co-chair Kevin Goudreau compared and contrasted the operational environs and strategic options within the broad spectrum of life science product and service groups. Why? Not to judge, but to give the audience an opportunity for introspection; to consider where their organizations fit, and whether the practices on the other side of the size fence might enhance their own operations.

Such comparison's can also reassure when they remind you of the challenges faced by the global leader and the limitations faced by the lightning-fast start-up whose technology could eventually replace yours.

And certain needs hold true regardless of size:

  • Build talented teams
  • Create a clear value proposition
  • Define clear differentiators
  • Align the efforts of sales and marketing
  • Innovate, innovate, innovate

Breakouts are in session. Questions, answers, and challenges flew fast and frequently while Kristine Marshall of Davita Clinical Research discussed Growing Your Business in a Flat Market; while John Nilon of J.N. Solutions, LLC worked the audience during his session Hiring and Motivating Top Sales Talent, and as Carlton Hoyt of BioBM Consulting dug into the details of The Superior Customer Experience: What Is It, How Do You Develop It, and How do You Use It?

Lets do it again. Not one to waste time, Association president Chuck Drucker focused his closing remarks on actions under way to enhance next year's Annual Meeting. Expect to receive surveys and friendly reminders about how your support and participation are crucial to the continued growth and productivity of the Association.

See you at next year's meeting!

*Contact Chuck if you want to be part of the SAMPS team that creates the Association's response to reverse auctions or to join a team to develop other guideline documents.  

Alan Gerstein

Alan GersteinAlan 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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