On March 20, 2019, I had the pleasure of participating on an experts panel at the ABCT: Accelerator for Biosciences in Connecticut event with the UConn TIP – Technology Incubation Program. About 60 people attended, from biotech entrepreneurs through consultants and economic development officials.
Lessons learned from the panel
1. Learn to hire well, delegate, and trust. It’s easy as a founder to fall into the thinking trap that you need to do everything. If you communicate business goals and performance metrics clearly, you can successfully turn over strategic and tactical work to new hires or an outsource agency.
2. Don’t skimp on branding and marketing foundation assets, especially your content and website. Biosciences have a lot of R&D and regulatory expenses, so there’s a tendency to short change marketing and branding. This hurts the ability to raise more capital, distributors, and potential partners or acquirers. For example, if you have a quality product, why promote it via a second-class website?
3. Document your business goals and communicate them often internally. Don’t keep the business goals only in your head. Agree upon your business goals and then develop sales and marketing Goal POSTs — performance measurement, objectives, strategies, and tactics.
For example, if a primary goal is a second capital raise, your marketing plan will have strategies and tactics focused on brand awareness and valuation. If your goal is first revenue, then your plan better have inbound and outbound lead generation, along with brand awareness.
4. Be influential. If you’ve started a life sciences company, you most likely have expertise in a niche field such as immunology, lab management, or regulatory roadmaps. Share that knowledge in published content and speaking engagements.
5. Always be promoting and selling. If today you’re thinking about getting more sales, you’re probably six months behind.
Mary Howard, Wally Haddick, ABCT; Christine Slocumb, Clarity Quest
Questions from biosciences leaders
Here are some of the questions that came up during the Q&A session with summary answers.
What’s the difference between sales and marketing?
Marketing lays the groundwork for sales, educates the market, empowers salespeople with qualified leads and enablement tools, and nurtures those qualified prospects that are not yet ready to buy. Sales often continues the education at a deeper level and then gets the prospect to sign the deal.
If you consider a simplistic prospecting funnel, marketing is responsible for awareness and interest with a little enablement thrown in during the decision phase (e.g., developing an ROI calculator for sales). Sales ideally operates in the decision and action phases; however, good salespeople also know what interests potential customers in a vertical.
Which role should you hire first, sales or marketing?
These roles are often confused and combined in startups. However, you’ll get the best results if you hire specific individuals for each function. In my experience, the personalities and drivers of great salespeople are very different from excellent marketers.
I’m biased here, but I’d always hire marketing before sales. You’ll need six months to one year of marketing preparation and foundation work before you want to start to generate revenue through sales closes. And in biosciences, you’re more likely to need more capital or awareness before you can even start selling unless you’re in consulting or software.
Even if you’re ready to start selling, the sales force will need a polished website, sales enablement tools, content and collateral. It’s far more effective to have those in place before sales joins. If you bring in sales without marketing, the hunters will make up their own brand stories and create their own collateral because their job is to close. This is definitely not optimal as you may have multiple salespeople each telling a different narrative about your value propositions.
What are the best first marketing channels for biosciences startups?
Where and when you spend your marketing dollars depends on your goals. If you need more capital, brand awareness campaigns using public relations and thought leadership (e.g., speaking engagements) are important.
If you are looking for incremental revenue, then look to prime lead generation channels such as digital advertising, email outreach/nurture, and search engine optimization of key terms. Of course, both tracks require a quality content library of case studies, white papers, executive briefs, use cases, etc.
How do you capture the voice of the customer?
Simply, you ask. Understanding what your customer needs, their pain points, and their view of your brand is vital in growing your business. Our agency performs win-loss-churn interviews with current and past customers via phone and digital surveys. Companies who perform this research on at least a quarterly schedule receive invaluable insights that improve their products, services, on-boarding, and sales processes.
What is account-based marketing (ABM)? Who should use it?
Account-based marketing (ABM) aligns sales and marketing processes that build personalized relationships with a very specific target list of accounts. See our post “Yes, you can conquer ABM“ for a detailed implementation plan.
How much do marketing automation systems cost?
Marketing automation is great at handling repetitive tasks involved in communicating to customers via email or social postings. Most MA systems price based on the number of contacts in your list. Basic marketing automation systems, such as Mailchimp, start at $350/month. Systems with more features like personalization and lead scoring will cost you $800 – $2,500/month. Hubspot, Pardot/Salesforce, Act-On, and Marketo fall into these ranges.