The airline industry does a masterful job of selling travelers on the destination, not the actual bundle of services its companies provide in getting you there and back. Their evocative communications show sundrenched beaches, iconic architecture and carefree vacationers having the time of their lives and creating lasting memories together.
I took the photo above during a business trip to Amsterdam in 2017, and it reminds me of the picturesque Sunday afternoon walk I was able to squeeze in among a week of meetings. Not surprisingly, I didn’t photograph the security line at the airport on a Saturday night, waiting at the gate with unhappy road warriors, careless baggage handlers on the tarmac or take a selfie while not getting much sleep due to a shrinking and uncomfortable airplane seat. The beautiful destination is forever in my memory and my digital files, the grueling journey there and back is not.
In healthcare, biopharma companies often talk about selling the destination (outcomes) and not the journey (science & medicines), however many haven’t yet fully committed to telling their stories to their key stakeholders like the airlines. And while we collectively moan at most of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads on TV, they do a good job of highlighting the emotional benefits of medicines (being a better mom, dancing at my son’s wedding) in addition to the functional ones (I can garden again, I can sleep through the night).
Biopharma innovators—particularly those “selling” new technology solutions to their life sciences colleagues—are no different. They also must focus on the destination (value) instead of the journey (algorithm, cloud, API) for most of their stakeholders. Fortunately we have a few decades of learning from consumer tech companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google that have done an incredible job positioning their technologies to customers as a means to an end, usually a more colorful, connected and creative life.
Below are three themes I keep in mind when I help biopharma marketers craft and deliver a story that resonates with the real needs of their audience.
Let inventors invent, and let marketers market
Each of us has strengths and weaknesses, and the most effective companies are made of people with diverse backgrounds and complementary skills. When a tech company is in startup mode, the primary function is to create the product. During that phase the company is staffed mainly with technologists who are well suited to the primary function.
Sell the value, not the technology
Soon however, a need emerges to communicate with customers about the product and what problem it solves (its value). That’s when company founders and other leaders must engage people with different skills to translate the technical specs into a value story for each type of customer. Many technologists think this is ‘dumbing it down,’ but if done well it demonstrates to prospects that the company clearly understands the prospect’s problem and has developed a solution to take that problem away.
“Selling is essentially a transfer of feelings.” – Zig Ziglar
Use words & visuals appropriate for the audience
Words alone are usually not enough, although a good jargon-free analogy helps non-technical folks understand concepts more easily. Marketers may find themselves “pitching” to a room filled with people from Operations, Sales, Procurement, IT, Compliance, Digital Governance and more. So the story must be simple, visual, and clearly connected to the problems faced by HCPs and patients.
This leads to another perspective on selling (and new product development): The Jobs-to-Be-Done approach popularized by author and Harvard professor Clayton Christensen. What is the job that your solution must do for the customer? The classic example is a customer shopping for a drill. Does the customer really need to buy a drill, or simply create a quarter-inch hole? If the latter, she has several choices to solve her problem: Rent a drill, buy a drill, use something else to make the hole or hire someone else to do it. Another example of this is Uber. A customer’s job-to-be-done is to efficiently travel from his home to a restaurant before his appointment. He expands the choices to solve the problem with this thinking, rather than narrowly defining his problem as, “I need a car.”
Ask yourself not what are you selling, but what is the other person buying? This simple reframe will expand your possibilities and enable you to convincingly sell the destination instead of the journey.
Author: Joe Shields
Photo credit: Joe Shields