Admitting When You Blew It – A Key Differentiator in Life Sciences Professional Services

January 4, 2011

What differentiates your company from the competition so that a pharmaceutical sponsor chooses you?

I recently spoke with Jim (not his real name), a global head of preclinical safety at a major pharmaceutical company.  We discussed how vendors and CROs who sell to his group spend far too much time talking about their “great capabilities.” He lamented that vendors are reluctant to discuss “mistakes” or “problems” and how to fix them.

Can you imagine entitling a case study or podcast “When We Messed Up” and sending it to clients and prospects? Crazy talk, right? Or is it?

“Decision makers at pharmaceutical companies understand that [stuff] happens,” said Jim. “The real unknown is ‘how will the service provider deal with those problems or mistakes?’  So at the end of the day, the big question we need to answer before we make an investment with a provider is ‘how much do we TRUST them? ’”

Far too often we spend time selling experience, technology, process and our global footprint. However for vendors in life sciences (clinical research organizations, technology providers or consulting firms) these capabilities are the bare minimum to be considered for the job. What ultimately will win you the business are those table stakes combined with a differentiator.

As pharmaceutical companies shift more of their resources to preferred provider relationships, it just may be the service and technology providers with enough confidence to talk about their mistakes that will start rising to the top.

How did your organization attack an unexpected problem during a client engagement? How did you remedy the situation?  Market that story.

Something to ponder as we begin 2011.

Not Another Webinar! Five Critical Things to Consider for Your Virtual Event

December 9, 2010

So how many invitations do you receive a day to attend yet ANOTHER free webinar? Recently I conducted an “audit” of my inbox and during the week of November 15-19 I was invited to 12 different webinars.  My “greater than 2 a day” average is at best … average …and my guess is that many of you are bombarded with far more invitations.

Ironically, despite all the choices out there, webinars continue to be one of the most effective marketing tactics for our clients.   There are many ways to skin a cat and certainly the same holds true for planning, producing and executing a webinar.  At a very high level …here are 5 Critical Things to Consider as you jump into the webinar fray.

1. content is king …. .. pick a hot topic and people will come.

2. feature the primary market
“Who do you want to attend your webinar?” Invite one or more thought leaders who fit the same profile of your desired attendees to participate as speakers or panelists.

3. panels work!
I often identify 3-4 questions around a hot topic and then recruit a panel of thought leaders from the primary market (see #2) to sit on the panel. This enables me to

a) promote a multi-perspective event
b) more easily recruit panelists as there is now no real prep work for them (i.e. no slides)
c) help our brand by sitting “up on stage” with clients or prospective clients
d) showcase our expertise without forcing our audience to sit through a capabilities presentation.

4.  convenience.
Typically, half our attendance results from our “day of event” promotion.” In other words, we generate lots of registrations 3-4 weeks out, but the folks that show up are largely driven by the ”day of” promotion. Why? Webinars are a “convenience” event for most. People are busy and there are a ton of webinars out there so even if your topic is terrific, your attendees will only attend if their calendar remains open on the day/time of the event.

5.  five minutes after.
What is your plan for the first 5 minutes AFTER the webinar ends? This is often the most critical question to answer in you planning as it ties in all the objectives you attached to the event. Three must haves:

i) have a plan on how to identify the attendees you want to follow-up with
ii) have content already prepared to follow-up
iii) have a plan on how to leverage the energy /success resulting from your webinar in the weeks that follow

There are many tactics that can be discussed to embellish or expand upon the above. In addition, as I mentioned at the onset, there is more than one approach to make this all work.   I would be happy to answer any additional questions.  Good luck!

Four Ideas to Produce Valuable Content

November 8, 2010

relationship marketing

engaging in productive conversations

Marketing is as much about engaging in productive conversations with your customer base as it is about targeting and messaging.  How do you begin these conversations?  Whether it is through social media or more traditional distribution channels like email or brochures, relationship marketing (and selling) starts with listening and then providing valuable content to your customers.

Good content is often seen by marketers as hard to come by.  Here are four relatively easy tactics to create valuable content for your marketplace.

1. Facilitate a Peer-to-Peer Discussion.  Identify a hot topic and then promote a discussion among individuals at different companies that represent your potential customers.  The platform can vary.  Your options include using a professional online community, partnering with an online discussion forum, producing a teleconference, or organizing a small face-to-face meeting.  Facilitating peer-to-peer conversations among your potential customers can be tremendously valuable for those participating, and also enables you to build credibility and trust within your marketplace.

2. Survey and Summarize Feedback.  Your prospects probably share similar business challenges but their perspectives on these challenges may vary.  These differences can be interesting and enlightening.  Create a basic 10-20 question survey around industry trends, asking your prospects and clients their perceptions on the most pressing external forces, internal factors and overall market tendencies.  Summarize these findings in a one-page executive summary to distribute to your marketplace.

3.  Interview a Customer. Use a webinar tool like MS Live Meeting or WebEx to conduct a five-minute telephone interview with a customer, discussing current challenges or perceptions on the overall market landscape.  Write a brief one or two paragraph summary of the interview and then link to a recording of the interview either on your web site or on a third-party site such as YouTube, WordPress or

4.  Summarize Your High-Level Insights.  Undoubtedly your team has a breadth of knowledge as a result of working with (and listening to) customers.  Listing some of these insights in a short blog post or executive brief can be potentially valuable to your marketplace.  See our recent post, Five Points to Consider before Introducing a New Technology, as an example.

As marketers, we must find creative ways to easily and inexpensively leverage the smart ideas within the “heads” of the individuals in our organization.  These ideas ultimately define who we are as organizations and they are critical to our success in becoming trusted advisers in our marketplace.  In closing, listed below are a few of the many blog posts that offer different and useful perspectives on creating or providing valuable content to your prospects and customers.

5 Steps for Curating B2B Content

7 Step B2B Social Media Content Sharing Strategy

What’s Your B2B Content Strategy?

7 Keys to Leading Highly Effective Sales Conversation

Social Networking in Life Sciences

October 6, 2010

(the excerpt below is from the September 28, 2010 commentary entitled “Next Gen-Social Media” published in Bio-IT World and    The direct link to the full post can be found via:

Present day technology has enabled us to facilitate valuable online communities in all areas of our lives: commerce, sports, health, match making, product reviews, etc.   Social media is like the “networking cocktail reception” that never ends (just without the open bar). In business and science, easy-to-use communication platforms enable networking and important information exchange. This in turn positively impacts productivity and solution generation.

Patients participate in blogs, online advocacy groups, or third party communities like PatientsLikeMe. They are able to collaborate, share solutions and therapy options, physician referrals, and rehabilitation approaches. Physicians collaborate through “doctor only” communities like Medscape Connect and Sermo. They advise each other on treatment options and share new insights on medications and devices. The benefits are just as rich for R&D. Online peer-to-peer consulting and collaboration can streamline processes, improve efficiencies and reduce the overall costs in drug development.

The challenge is developing and maintaining a self-sustaining, member-driven community culture. This is especially difficult in the heavily-regulated, conservative culture of life sciences where leaders are less apt to express opinions. However there are some best practices for making a life sciences community successful.

  • Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and Evangelists
    Our niche communities feature advisory boards of key opinion leaders and evangelists representing government, academic/research centers, biopharmaceutical companies and leading technology and software providers The board will influence community policies, programming, and content, and board members will contribute content including online discussions, guest blog posts, webinars, and face-to-face events.
  • Programming and Member Participation
    Our communities feature live events that tackle subject matter that is highly relevant to members. Some members are invited to sit on panels during the webinars and others may also be asked to be “question askers” in the audience. In a recent industry survey conducted by CHA, 74% of respondent said discussion forums are a “must have” for a closed, industry-specific community. Thus we are asking KOLs and other subject matter experts that make up the membership to lead online discussions leading to member-driven online discussions. “Assigning” member involvement is a critical task during the first 12-18 months of a community’s life. The ancillary benefit to your hard work is it allows you to nurture relationships with your most important peers and colleagues.
  • Product Reviews
    Ill-advised investments in new technologies contribute to the rising cost of R&D. During our last industry survey, more than 90% of respondents agreed that an online product review or evaluation forum would be valuable. An easy-to-navigate product review feature harnesses the power of the community and translates into smarter investment decisions by R&D organizations. Our latest community (called NGS Leaders) will enable members to rate and comment on various technologies like sequencers, informatics software, hardware, and more. The site will also allow members to search products by type or rating.
  • Inclusivity and Promoting Other
    We believe it is important to promote good content no matter if it’s our own or someone else’s. The mission of NGS Leaders is to further fuel the progress of next-generation sequencing so it may positively impact patients sooner. To that end we will promote other sources—like SEQ Answers and Genomes Unzipped—that are important to fulfilling our mission.

Niche, online communities like provide an environment to build trust and exchange ideas around the industry’s shared challenges. James Surowiecki proclaims in The Wisdom of Crowds, that “groups are remarkably smart, smarter even sometimes than the smartest people in them.”  In many ways online communities tap into this dynamic.

(the above excerpt is from the September 28, 2010 commentary entitled “Next Gen-Social Media” published in Bio-IT World and    The direct link to the full post can be found via:

Why New York Hurts Lebron’s Marketing Opportunity

May 14, 2010

marketing studio - sports business In the wake of last night’s Boston Celtics series clinching win over the top seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, there is much speculation that the “king” Lebron James, now a free agent, is going to end up a New York Knick next season.   New York of course is the “media capital of the world” and will provide Lebron with the biggest stage.  The biggest stage means the most money, right?

Why wouldn’t New York provide the best opportunity for Lebron to grow his business enterprise? This morning on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike, CNBC sports business columnist Darren Rovell explained why it’s a misnomer that New York provides the biggest revenue opportunity for Lebron.  In fact, the Knicks may slow down Lebron’s growth as a global brand.  I do my best to summarize Darren’s points below:

  • Lebron James was on national television 36 times during the 2009-10 season; it is unlikely this coverage can get any higher, no matter what team he plays for
  • National media coverage of a mega star like Lebron is not tied to his team, whether it be Cleveland, New York or any other city
  • Lebron’s Nike contract (his biggest revenue source) is not contingent upon the NBA team he represents
  • The guarantee in Lebron’s Nike contract will not increase based upon his team BUT does have a variable compensation component, tied to “Lebron” sneaker sales worldwide
  • Nike’s growth in the US is slowing, but the company is seeing double digit growth in China (where 300 million people play hoops, equaling the entire US population …think about that!)
  • Traditionally, sales of a sneaker brand in China is highly correlated with “winning NBA titles” (aka Air Jordan; this is exactly why Kobe Bryant is currently the “king” brand in China)

Kobe's championship rings has made him a king in China

Conclusion: In order to maximize Lebron James as a business (and sneaker salesman), he must not choose his next team by market size, marketing studiobut identify the franchise that will provide him the best chance to win multiple NBA titles.  Based upon the current make up of the New York Knicks roster, and their recent history of basketball operations’ mismanagement, it is fair to be skeptical of their chances to win, even with Lebron, in the near term.  Darren Rovell concludes that Lebron’s next team will be a franchise with a roster that has the potential to win a championship in 2011 or 2012 (this entire dialog of course assumes that Lebron and his advisers are choosing his next team strictly upon revenue potential ..a little presumptuous I know).

Write it down … Lebron James re-signs with the Cavs and makes another run at bringing his hometown an NBA championship (in my humble opinion).

How Twitter Retrieved My $100

May 3, 2010

A quick Twitter success story.  Recently coming home from the airport my credit card was double charged for the cab fare (> $100).  The City of Boston referred me to VeriFone, the mobile payment vendor, whose machines process your credit cards in many Boston cabs.

Upon calling VeriFone’s office multiple times, leaving numerous voice mails and without as much as one call back (not even one live conversation with a receptionist) I went social ….tweeting my scenario and frustration.  Within a couple hours I received a reply from @kramerATL (Ryan Kramer, Online Marketing Manager) in VeriFone’s marketing department.

I provided @kramerATL the necessary information from my cab receipt and in less than a day the $100 was credited back to me.  I immediately tweeted a thank you to @VeriFone and @kramerATL:

“@kramerATL, @VeriFone, awesome! thanks for the quick turn around, my first true customer service success story on twitter (as a customer)”

Yes, I wish I could have those 90 minutes of my life back ….. but at least the $100 was returned to me.

It’s yet another great example of how social media is bringing companies closer to their customers ….and vice-versa.  I guess the question is “are some companies investing in SM at the expense of traditional customer service?”    A good topic for another blog post, webinar or discussion forum.

Thank goodness for Twitter and thank you to @kramerARL!

Will Crisis Communications become the New Standard in Marketing?

April 8, 2010

It occurs to me in today’s modern era of communications that we are overloaded with information, and this in of itself causes stress.   Thus I am beginning to employ certain best practices, outlined in a risk communications workshop I attended in ’08, into our marketing approach.  Below I list a few highlights from my notes  (I give all credit for these concepts to Vince Covello and The Center for Risk Communications).

Most important message should always be first
Common sense? Sure, but how often do you send an email to your target market and not insert the call-to-action until the third, fourth or fifth sentence?

Well constructed visuals increases attention and retention by 50% or greater

I typically avoid using image heavy messages when emailing to a large list but I am re-thinking this bias and am certainly focusing on imagery (charts, diagrams, photos) in all our print pieces (yes, I used the subtitle as an excuse to use the photo.  Is that wrong?  It proved a point!)

During times of stress the adult brain processes information at the average level of a 6th grader
Today,  I focus on keeping our communications simple.  We avoid as much jargon as we can (especially jargon that is generated internally).

Rule of 3 (27-9-3)
“When people are stressed or upset, they often have difficulty hearing, understanding, and remembering information …and typically can only process 3 messages at a time.”  Expert crisis communication managers use a total of 27 words or less for all 3 key messages, with each key message averaging  9 words in length.  I love the concept and use this template as a guide in improving the effectiveness of our marketing communications.

27-9-3 in action
“The number of casualties is more than any of us can bear ultimately.
And I believe we will become stronger.
Stronger economically, politically, and most importantly, emotionally.”
– Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Sep. 11, 2001

No more than 3-4 bullets on a PPT slide
This is consistent with everything we have learned about great marketing presentations (and the Rule of 3 above).  You want a blog that absolutely sleighs this topic?  Check out  Garry Reynolds blog entitled Presentationzen.  Follow him on Twitter at @presentationzen.

In this crowded world of email newsletters, blogs, white papers, etc. a well thought out marketing strategy using risk communications best practices may be the correct path to grabbing our market’s attention. Email me if you want more info on the topic or how we are employing this approach at CHA.  You can also search “27-9-3 and Vince Covello” to access lots of additional content on the topic.


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