The Alexander Group recently hosted a virtual roundtable for Life Sciences & Analytical Instruments commercial leaders to discuss the topic of investing for growth post the COVID-19 crisis.

The conversation explored three key topics:

  1. Build the Action Plan–When will labs return to more normal capacity? How will this differ by segment? What indicators are we monitoring? How will companies approach the second-half of 2020?
  2. Prepare the Team to Act–What commercial model changes will companies make? What capabilities are needed? What investments are being made?
  3. Maintain Remote Work Momentum–What are commercial leaders doing to help their teams get ready for a more virtual-oriented selling environment? Which tools and investments are they making?

In a lively dialogue, commercial leaders shared their perspectives and Alexander Group practice leaders provided context from recent client work and research. The virtual roundtable began with two guest panelists–Beth Webb, GM global commercial cell & gene therapy of Cytiva, formerly GE Healthcare Life Sciences; and Mark Van Oene, chief commercial officer of Illumina. After opening comments by the panelists, we dove into these three topics with commercial leaders from Agilent, Waters, MilliporeSigma, Sciex, Thermo Fisher and others.

Build the Action Plan

Participants are planning for multiple COVID-19 waves. To understand the timing and impact, they are using IoT data from the installed based, e-commerce purchasing patterns, and customer engagement with marketing programs and training. They are closely monitoring and applying lessons learned from countries further ahead in the reopening process. VC and public grant funding are also being actively tracked.

72% of attendees believed a return to “normal” (defined as >80% of pre-COVID-19 lab capacity) will not occur until the first-half of 2021 (43% indicating first-half of 2021 and 29% indicating Q4 2020).

82% of attendees believed that pharma will return quickly and 75% believed biopharma would too. Less than 20% of attendees believed that academia, government, industrial or environmental end-markets would recover any time soon. Additionally, the group discussed the need to take unique approaches by end market. For example, clinical will require close monitoring of elective hospital procedures and testing.

The group called out the challenge of un-evenness–not all regions and end markets will recover at the same speed. There was no consensus on regional modeling approaches–many participants mentioned China as a potential bellwether, but others were unsure given government funding trends. The group discussed looking to Korea, Singapore and others as proxies for Europe and North America. While intelligence will be mined from how global markets respond, the group agreed there will be a need to act locally.

Participants shared that task forces formed at the start of the crisis have been working tirelessly to support customers, prioritize end-markets and develop programs to propel growth as things begin to turn.

They described second-half segmentation frameworks, fully formed outbound marketing programs, and territory action plans queued and ready for deployment. They are getting inventory ready and ensuring back-office teams are prepared to handle pent up demand. Though the group is not anticipating fundamental changes to quotas, they are making changes to sales compensation plans to align with second-half strategy and market realities.

Prepare the Team to Act

Participants expect lab and customer site access to be limited as markets reopen and possibly going forward. They are working to prepare their commercial teams to win in the coming months as well in a world of sustained change.

The group agreed customer preferences will guide the future of commercial engagement and admitted to feeling under-prepared for an increasingly “digital” world. They discussed the possibility that many buyers who once were office or lab based may continue to work remotely going forward, eliminating the need or opportunity to meet in-person.

In response, participants shared they will ramp up their “digital” capabilities and operate a hybrid model going forward. This includes preparing their teams with training and tools such as enhanced audio/visual equipment. One participant shared that their inside sales team (adept at running remote sales plays) has been integral in preparing field sellers to win in a virtual world.

Participants will make ready their models by trying new approaches. 86% of attendees will make increased investments in digital marketing, 74% in inside and digital sales, and 36% in lead generation representatives. They will fund these investments by shifting resources from more traditional field roles. 55% are anticipating a reduction in field sales coverage and 45% will pull-back on field marketing.

As demand stimulation motions shift from event and field based activities to digital, marketing leaders are challenged with developing new capabilities. Some participants described their digital marketing capabilities as nascent. The group agreed that digital marketing was going to be an important future growth driver. They specifically referenced the need for high quality, impactful messaging – “the signal in the noise.”

Maintain Remote Work Momentum

The events of recent months have pressured commercial organizations to rapidly adapt. Participants agreed that many features of recent commercial execution are here to stay. The group discussed the need to continue to build on change.

They agreed that technology and tool investment is most important to maintain momentum. More than 50% of participants will prioritize virtual selling tools, business intelligence and sales training. They agreed that cross-functional marketing, sales and service alignment will be an important enabler. 52% said that customer focused insights were needed as sellers are forced to forgo the benefit of in-person engagement.

Uncertainty and new motions present commercial leaders with challenges few have faced before. The roundtable concluded with a discussion about the difficulty nurturing a growth culture with a remote work force. Commercial leaders, like their organizations, will need to build new muscle to compete in a different world.

To learn more, please contact the Alexander Group to schedule a complimentary briefing. Please join us for our next virtual roundtable on June 4th as we discuss leading Life Sciences and Analytical Instruments sales compensation practices.

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