Going Vertical: Professional Services Firms and the Life Science Market

For a services firm of any kind, the benefits of accessing the life science market are pretty straightforward. When a potential buyer in the life sciences can readily see that you understand their specific industry, they will automatically gain a level of trust and comfort in your ability to service them. By showcasing your expertise in the life sciences and by aligning your messaging and marketing efforts toward that vertical, you can project credibility.

Great. You recognize the value, but where do you start? Whether you’re a financial, real estate or legal services firm seeking to expand its practice, a clinical research services organization supporting clinical development, a venture capital or private equity team starting to invest in biotech, or any other type of professional services group, there are a few things you need to understand before starting out. These include reconnaissance, market research, and asking yourself some tough questions.

Understand the Competitive Landscape

Which of your competitors have owned this vertical for a while? Identify your top two-to-three competitors who are active in the life science sector. Identify their key client relationships and partnerships in this space to see who they know/how they’re maintaining their position.

What have they done well? If they’ve succeeded in moving into the life science market, they must be doing some things right. Learn from their example. Audit their website, messaging, advertising and public relations efforts. Take it a step further and audit their social media and paid search efforts to see what angle they are taking into the marketplace.

Where are they weak? Regardless of how far your competition has penetrated this vertical, they have almost certainly left ground uncovered. For example, perhaps they are strong in pharma, but really haven’t gained much experience in clinical research. Or, they may work well with early stage companies, but haven’t formed client relationships with market leaders yet. See what sub-sectors and core competencies you can own to get into the life science market.

Segment Your Audiences

Who is your primary target in your desired client organization? Even if your service is not scientific in nature, you need to understand scientific companies and scientific audiences, to understand how they operate differently from other organizations. In many cases, your primary target may hold an operational or business development role, but they have come from a science background. They will, by training, be skeptical. You need to prove your skillset, and that you understand their unique business.

Who is the secondary audience? Most organizations have one. This person is a main influencer to the decision-maker who determines whether or not your firm will be chosen as a partner. They may be weighing in for financial, brand, regulatory, legal or operational reasons. Regardless of why they are involved in the sales process, you need to understand who they are in the organization and what they care most about.

For both your primary and secondary audiences, it is absolutely critical that you also understand where they go for insight and information. Ultimately, this will drive your later choices about which channels to utilize in projecting your firm’s messages. Which content sources? Which shows? Which social media?

Understand the Key Influencers

Who has the ear of your life science audience? There are many influential individuals and organizations that steer the direction of the life science market. To extend your reach and amplify your messages, you need to form relationships with at least a few of these organizations and individuals.

In some cases, these may be regional industry groups, such as BIO in the U.S., Bio Industry Association (BIA) in the U.K., or the Massachusetts Biotech Council (MassBio), California Life Sciences Association (CLSA) or BioCom in the major bioclusters (San Francisco, San Diego and Boston), and even the Life Science Network, which connects individuals spanning all of these regions. There are many, many more, and most of these organizations hold physicial events, tradeshows and conferences that provide great opportunities for networking and reaching target audiences (even without traditional exhibits).

Social media is ripe with life science influencers—ranging from cardiologist, geneticist, digital medicine researcher and prolific Twitter mainstay Eric Topol and scientist and environmental champion Karen James to “recovering scientist” and early-stage venture capitalist Bruce Booth and the insightful editorial lead at Fierce John Carroll.

Some highly influential organizations include companies themselves that are changing the sector and business models through their own innovation. A good example of this is Johnson & Johnson’s JLabs, which has created a service-based model for fostering innovation across the young pharma and biotech companies that utilize its programs. Another is Human Longevity, Inc. created by genomic pioneer and icon Craig Venter, which is rapidly creating a disruptive model that unites discoveries and breakthroughs made through sequencing, bioinformatics, neurology, physiology and a host of other scientific disciplines.

Influence can also come in the form of media. A few of the most influential life science journalists are Matthew Herper, Luke Timmerman, and Adam Feuerstein, but there are scores of others right behind them.

Be Yourself.

What makes you and your organization indispensable to your primary and secondary audiences? Own what you do that provides the most value to your potential customer in this marketplace, and build your content strategy around that topic. You are already a subject matter expert in what you do. Own that. Just because you understand a life science company’s business and industry, doesn’t mean you should or can be an expert in their world. You don’t have to be. This singular focus will become the source of your content strategy and subsequent content that demonstrates you know what you’re talking about.

What do you do better than your competitor? Go a level deeper and emphasize key areas of your practice or strengths that can flank your competitors. If you have a great deal of experience and insight to offer in an area in which your competition is weak, then exploit it. If nothing else, it would help you build a greater knowledge in this area, to draw on when engaging potential clients.

At the risk of repeating myself, force-marketing your standard services to the life science audience without understanding or appreciating the nuances of their industry will do more damage than good. Alternatively, you can lead a vertical strategy creating around a discussion with your audience about how you can best adapt your services to help their business succeed.