"Thanks for the presentation. We love the plan and the creative approach" said our client as we had just shared our deliverables on a project. "I just have one question. Your campaign is targeting the scientist, right? I mean, you talked about the scientist's buying journey and how to leverage content to influence them. I get that. But more and more we're finding that the procurement officer is the buyer, not the scientist. How will this campaign work with the procurement officer?"
It is a great question, and it's one that I have been asked nearly every time I have given a talk or presented work to a client. My client is correct that procurement is increasingly becoming a dominant force in the sales conversation for scientific products. To fully understand this dynamic and how it affects our work, we need to understand the role of procurement in a scientific buying journey, and then to delineate the responsibilities of marketing and sales on the seller's side of the transaction.
Procurement's role is to commodify all goods and services that are purchased by the organization they represent. Irrespective of what is being purchased, procurement officers need to ensure that the best product at the lowest possible price is delivered with minimal disruption to internal needs. It is the right objective, because every company needs a seasoned negotiator on their behalf to ensure the highest value is being delivered in every purchase.
To be clear, I firmly believe that there are very few products in the life sciences that are actual commodities, and those that have reached commodity status are typically because their manufacturers have embraced a different business strategy than differentiation. Practically every product in the life science is differentiable, and should be.
So if procurement's role is to commodify every product being purchased and the company selling the product wants to demonstrate value (to protect price margins), isn't it marketing's job to focus the marketing campaign towards procurement?
Marketing's role is to cast a seed of desire by creating value for products and to demonstrate its differentiation. The seed of desire almost always starts by a scientist recognizing that s/he has a need, which is also the first step of the scientist's buying journey according to the Content-Centric Marketing model for Science. Once this need is felt, the scientist will then explore all of the paths possible for fulfilling that need, and it isn't until the scientist has formulated a hypothesis about the path forward that they actually engage in a sales-related dialog.
Marketing's role, therefore, is to plant that seed of desire with the scientist. Since the procurement officer usually reacts to the need of the scientists in the organization, marketing should focus only on the scientist, not procurement. By focusing our initial efforts on shaping the scientist's recognition of a need s/he didn't realize s/he had, marketers have an opportunity to generate brand preference and someone to champion the sale and fight off procurement's attempts to commodify the product's value.
The seed of desire never starts with the procurement officer. By the time procurement gets involved, they are fulfilling an order. A need has already been recognized (maybe by your competitor), and marketing has limited ability to directly influence the outcome.
If Marketing's job is to plant the seed of desire, sales' role should be to navigate the opportunity to close by identifying the people who only have the power to say "yes" and the people who hold the ultimate power by their ability to say "no." The sales team's role should be to get to "yes" by all parties and stay away from the fatal "no" answer. In almost every case, procurement does not have the power to say "no," but they do need to say "yes".
Here marketing can support sales by crafting a compelling value argument for sales to deliver to the procurement officer at the right time in order to win their "yes" vote. And if marketing's primary objective has been met by placing the seed of desire in the scientist's mind, then the sale is more likely to succeed by securing a "yes" vote all around.
I advised my client to keep the primary focus of the marketing campaign on creating that desire in the mind of the audience, and to develop specific communication to satisfy procurement. But to not confuse the two.
This article was originally published in The Linus Group blog, Best Practices and Provocative Thoughts on Life Science Marketing.
Hamid Ghanadan is President of The Linus Group. With a background as a biochemist, Hamid has been able to apply his first-hand experience in the science industry to his true passion: communication. He has spent the past 16 years refining his understanding of scientific decision-making behaviors and building marketing programs to influence these decisions. Hamid is also the author of Persuading Scientists, the first book in the business literature that focuses exclusively on marketing scientific products