Pharma Hygiene Products supplies process equipment used in pharmaceutical laboratory and production environments, ranging from a bucket to complex pipe fittings for flow equipment - all pretty standard stuff.
However, because of the ‘clean-critical’ nature of the environment, these products need to be certified to exacting standards of hygiene. From the customer’s point of view, sourcing certified equipment was far from easy, which, of course, was the opportunity the business successfully exploited.
But, the challenges were considerable. The industry is well established with a significant number of entrenched rivals. To make matters worse, because of the range of products involved, manufacturing everything was impossible. The business had to source externally, and many potential suppliers were also direct competitors.
The business had to be able to justify charging premium prices for a standard range of products to ensure profitability - not easy for a start-up with no track record!
This is, in many ways, a classic B2B market; a more or less standardised range of products is being sold to a significant industry with clearly defined needs. So, conventional wisdom indicates a focus on a combination of direct marketing and personal selling, supported by a range of on and off-line promotional and technical materials.
However, following conventional wisdom would have been a colossal mistake! Besides the obvious fact that such an approach needs a marketing infrastructure way beyond the resources of a small start-up, it would also have been entirely inappropriate. To understand why we need to start with the customer.
Who is our customer? The people we are dealing with here are skilled laboratory staff or process manufacturing specialists.
What are their challenges and priorities? They are responsible for the smooth running of significant research projects or the design and maintenance of complex manufacturing plant. Ensuring certified hygiene standards is very important and traceability is a major priority.
How do they buy? For most of their working lives, they are not interested! But, when they are, they know exactly what they need; they know the standards it must meet, and they need to locate and buy it quickly and with minimum fuss. Price is not the primary concern here.
The answers to these questions tell us a lot about what they don’t need! They don’t need constant badgering by their ‘account managers.’ They don’t need vast quantities of sales literature. Neither do they need any form of ‘content marketing’. For most of their working lives, they have better things to do than concern themselves with the details of hygiene-certified buckets!
However, they also tell us a tremendous amount about what they do need. When customers are in the market, they need to be able to precisely locate what they need fast, reliably and with no fuss; they require absolute confidence that it meets the required hygiene standards; and they need a purchasing transaction that is quick, reliable and hassle-free.
This thought process identified four vital critical success factors -
An absolute and on-going commitment to search engine optimisation. Potential customers aren’t going to waste time ploughing through reams of ‘stuff’ whether on or off-line. They will jump onto the web and search for what they want. So, unless you are in the top 3 results consistently, you may as well give up!
A functionally brilliant and professional website with a laser-like focus on ease of use, the relevance of information and the simplicity and reliability of the ordering process. Again, the customer won’t bother wasting time battling against a poorly designed user experience!
A simple, reliable and well-managed procurement process. The customer wants to place the order and forget about it, safe in the knowledge that the process works.
Building vital trust and credibility in the industry by providing easy access via social media to high value, relevant information.
These were the four strategic imperatives. All else was secondary.
A global customer base including GSK, Pfizer, Australian Nuclear Science and the NHS.
A genuine competitive advantage - the ability to charge higher than industry-average prices.
One of the ultimate accolades - being bought out by a major competitor!
Start with the customer. When it comes to customer acquisition, there is no one right way of doing it. The approach described here cannot be applied universally. Understand your customer; build your process from there, and don’t be afraid to reject conventional wisdom!
Know and focus on your ‘strategic imperatives.’ Understand what it takes to compete successfully and focus on that consistently. Don’t let yourself get distracted!
Think, test, measure and learn. In today’s business environment, there is no room for unvalidated guesswork. The tools are out there to help you measure commercial effectiveness. Use them and respond to what they tell you.
Invest time effort and money. Success doesn’t come without serious commitment.