In Part 1 of this article I reviewed common marketing challenges for a biotech startup. These common challenges, which may be obvious to many of us, came from an extensive study conducted by the Kellogg School of Management using an approach that included a combination of interviews with bio-entrepreneurs and research using industry journals, business databases, and newspaper articles. The first few issues were related to the common challenge of getting marketing involved early in the product research and development process, while the last issue spoke to the challenge of being effective with a more targeted marketing for niche markets.
So how can you get marketing involved early in the product research and development process to provide just the right input at just the right time without wasting your time or spending a small fortune? Here are a few tips to help you make the right choices:
Don’t try to do it yourself. Like many entrepreneurs, you may be tempted to do it yourself, at least early in the process. Don’t. Even if you have professional marketing experience, keep two things in mind: 1) it’s always good to have a second opinion 2) you don’t have the time to do all the marketing that is required and run your company effectively. Truth is you’re probably bright and able to do it yourself except for the huge learning curve in this market. By the time you learn what you need to know and then implement it, you could easily spend all your time on the marketing, rather than remain focused on all the other important things you need do for your business. Now what if someone else on your team has biotech marketing experience…should you delegate the marketing to him/her? Be very cautious about delegating the marketing to that person for the same reasons outlined above.
Think very carefully before spending your time and money to hire a full-time marketing professional. When you start selling a lot of product and expanding the complexity of your marketing program, then it may make sense to hire a full-time marketing professional, or even an entire team, to focus on your product. However, if you’re going to get marketing involved early in the product R&D process, then you have to think about whether it even makes sense to hire a full-time person. Early on you will likely want to hire a firm of professionals who can offer you “slices” of expertise in several different areas of marketing. What is the likelihood that one full-time person will possess and be able to execute all the “slices” of expertise you need to be successful?
Focus on marketing firms that specialize in biotech marketing. Going back to the learning curve concept for a minute, it’s important to focus your search on firms who have “been there and done that”. Otherwise, you could end up paying a firm a lot of extra money to learn about your market. Not to mention they may not be able to deliver just the right deliverable at just the right time if their in the middle of trying to learn about your market.
A good biotech marketing firm should ask you a lot of relevant questions. When you’re interviewing a firm, they should be asking you a bunch of questions about your goals, your current marketing activities, your competition, etc. The more the firm knows about what you’ve already done for marketing, what you’re doing now, and what you want to accomplish in the future, the more specific they can get about how they can help you.
Choose a firm that can offer specific deliverables for your budget. Firms will often work on a monthly retainer arrangement with fees correlated to the number of hours per month. Therefore, whether you want to start working on commercial viability, aligning scientific messages with commercial messages, or something else, you should be able to work out very specific objectives where the firm agrees to do x,y, and z for this dollar figure per month. Likewise, if you have a lot of marketing to do, or you’re in a position to accelerate your results by putting in more time each month, then you should be able to tailor an arrangement based on your needs and budget, where the firm does x,y,z and a,b,c for this much more per month.
A good firm should be able to show you specific examples of how they can help you before you spend any money. Take the time to explore specific examples with the firms you are interviewing. A good firm should not hesitate to offer specific examples of how they can help you solve your marketing challenges. After all, if they know what they’re doing, then they had better have some very specific ideas before entering an agreement with you.
Hopefully by now you’re beginning to feel more confident about how to solve the challenge of getting marketing involved early in the product research and development process. In Part 3 of this article, I will address the second major marketing challenge for biotech startups – being effective with a more targeted marketing for niche markets.