Sales and marketing in times of COVID-19

As conferences are canceled, companies issue broad travel bans and whole countries are under quarantine, life and work is becoming ever more challenging for people around the world. Sales and marketing professionals in the life science industry are no exception. The cancellation list is growing fast so we’ve all got to pay attention. We came across one organization, Medscape, that is tracking some of the medical conferences that are being impacted “More Medical Conferences Fall to Coronavirus”. They are publishing a list that is worth a look however a free, one-time registration is required in order to view the entire article and all other content on the Medscape.com site.

The traditional way you interact with, engage your customers and generate many of your leads may – at least for now – not be available. Accurate sales forecasts are impossible amidst the uncertain and volatile situation but what hasn’t changed is that you still have to make your numbers. To make your numbers we believe that you just need to align your work process with 3 obvious concepts:

  1. Increase your targeted prospecting approach using contextual data
  2. Prepare a strategy for remote and virtual meetings
  3. Re-focus your budget on digital activities

COVID-19 accelerates the need towards a virtual outreach practice. We released a post on this topic in 2019, which today is more relevant than ever: Life Science Marketing - Beyond Conference Booths. We continue to help leading instrument and device manufacturers in life sciences with these challenging matters and we are happy to share our experiences with you.

The Impact is Now

We are already seeing the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on economies around the world with stock markets dropping at rates not seen in many years. But despite all of that economic bad news, the demand for your products and services hasn’t dried up and what you need are ways to interact with your customers and prospects and identify leads that aren’t reliant on you being at the same place at the same time.

One way of making this possible is by moving as much of your outreach as possible to a realm that also suffers from virus attacks on occasion but is immune to COVID-19: virtual engagements.

Virtual engagements may be the only game in town while COVID-19 is raging, they are viable, efficient, compliant with social distance policies and cost-effective alternatives for personal interaction even in less dangerous times. Already many companies extend the reach of their physical events such as seminars by bringing them into the digital world.

Here are some tips on how to make the best of a bad situation and up your digital game helping you to weather this emergency and benefit in the long run.

Move your Presentations Online

It’s almost too obvious to state but still warrants being pointed out: webinars are your friends. While it is certainly more personal to stand in front of a room full of people where you can gauge people’s reaction and adjust if too many pull out their smartphones, answer questions while looking directly at the person asking them and afterwards mingle and field informal questions, virtual meetings have their undeniable advantages:

  • They are cheaper – by a lot. Webinars cost on average somewhere between $100 and $3,000 – depending on technology and promotional cost. Can they be more expensive? Sure, but organizing a presentation at a major conference or tradeshow will definitely be more expensive and in some cases mind-blowingly more expensive.
  • Attendance is nothing to sneeze at either: ReadyTalk puts average attendance of webinars at 260 while an article in Medium lists it as 148. While these are very general numbers, not industry-specific and vary quite significantly, they are nevertheless interesting benchmarks. Whether it’s 260 or 148, it will not be easy to attract that many attendees to a presentation at a conference or tradeshow.
  • Anonymity can be a good thing. This comes back to attendance; there is little more mortifying than giving a live talk, presentation or demo at a conference with eight people sitting in the audience, three of which are clearly more interested in their cell phones. While that can happen with a webinar, nobody (other than you) will ever know. A good delivery and prepared questions and answers will leave all those who participate with the impression that the webinar was well attended. And we all know how important peer recommendations and approvals are. If not, there is a blog for that.
  • Webinars keep on giving – a well done, informative webinar has a whole second, much longer life as a on-demand resource on your webpage. We certainly believe in this and you can watch our latest webinar here. Whether you set a new record in terms of live attendance (like we did) or if it wasn’t particularly stellar, the webinar can still generate leads by simply sitting on your webpage with the appropriate cross-references in other marketing assets and maybe the occasional, timely promotion. Physical events, on the other hand, don’t scale and only a limited number of people can be reached. You might think that webinars are overdone and people get tired of them, but the healthcare industry is – like with many other technology innovations (just saying: social media) - lagging behind. This graph from Logmein shows that only 7% of all webinars are produced by the healthcare industry. Given the size and importance of our industry there is definitely room to grow and the saturation point hasn’t been reached yet.
    https://blog.gotomeeting.com/7-webinar-benchmarks-every-marketer-should-know/
    Industry chart from Logmein’s “10 Webinar Benchmarks Every Marketer Should Know”.
  • Webinars can give you a lot of information – if you think about your average trade show interaction what you typically come away with is a badge scan (if they have used their correct info) and maybe a few notes from a conversation with a particularly interested lead. Bare minimum data! A webinar can be much more data-rich if you use things like registration questions or even polls during the presentation to catch the feedback and input of the attendees. Additionally webinars can be linked to a digital footprint of where your attendees proceed afterwards on your websites.

Virtual Doesn’t Just Mean Webinar

Just like a presentation isn’t the only way of getting your message out at a conference or trade show a webinar is not the only virtual tool at your disposal. You can virtualize different in-person events with some planning and practice. Here are some suggestions:

  • The virtual panel discussion or fireside chat – in both of these formats a moderator leads a small number of experts in a discussion. Panel discussion tend to be longer, have more experts and are somewhat more formal while the fireside chats can be less formal and structured. In both cases a video format is preferable to audio only. Informative content presented by experts in a lively, engaging back and forth are critical to hold the viewers’ attention.
  • Virtual internal and external meetings – granted, nobody really loves them and there are many more ways of doing them poorly than doing them well. Active attendee participation is one of the main challenges. While in the same room a furtive glance at the cell phone may be all a bored attendee gets away with, while the possible distractions during virtual meetings – especially when working from the home office – are too numerous to count. A recent HBS article outlines best practices designed to keep participants engaged.

Virtualize your Lead Generation

Talking on the phone or having a video meeting with somebody you know might need some getting used to but is entirely doable with the right tools in place. Generating new leads is a whole different story. Sure, webinars and virtual panel discussions etc all generate leads but it’s a slower process than collecting business cards and badge scans during a conference. So how can you fill the pipeline with fresh faces being confined to your office or cube?

Let’s for a minute talk about lead quality. Conferences, especially large ones can generate long lists of “leads” and some will be real resulting in a sale in the not too distant future. But to be honest, many are not. People have their badges scanned because they truly are interested in what you have to offer but also to be entered in the raffle for a smartwatch, because you asked them and they didn’t want to be rude or because some time in the future they might actually be interested in your product and so why not? Unsubscribing is easy. In short, lead quality of many conferences is a very mixed bag: sorting through the pile and doing diligent follow-up takes more time and resources and might – or might well not – be worth it.

The next challenge is engaging leads from the first glance/contact in a highly personalized way. Your booth can only achieve that to a certain extent, after all, you don’t want to use a 12-point font for your backdrop to capture every bit of information that might be important to one of your customer segments. However, virtually, using personalization approaches, you have a much higher chance of providing (almost) each and every customer the type of information that is of interest to them.

The trick is to identify leads based on their research interests, publication records, the methods and techniques they use, and conferences they attend and then engage them with highly relevant-to-them content.

If you want to know more about how to personalize your lead engagement, there is a blog for that as well.

Adjustments for this year and future years

Sales and marketing in the times of COVID-19 require changes and adjustments but in the end only speed up a development that has been in the making and will continue long after the virus ceases to be the thread it currently is. The trend towards more virtual outreach and digital engagement is here to stay. We intend to produce a series of blog posts moving forward with suggestions to help you. For more information please book a demo to have us show you how we can help.